Word to your mother

by Trinity Hart, Education Specialist at the Indiana State Museum

Several months ago, a neighbor gave me a red wine vinegar “start.” Before it was given to me, I didn’t realize that, like sour dough, one required a “start” to make vinegar. In vinegar-making, it is known as the “mother.” When it came time to brainstorm activities and demonstrations for the Hoosier Harvest this October, I shared my “mother” with my supervisor, who remembered her “mother” sitting in the back of her fridge.

And so I began to research vinegar and how to make it at home. Although I had my very own vinegar “start” at home, it was through this research that I acquired a burning curiosity which quickly turned into a desire to become an aspiring home vinegar maker.

The mother ... ick!

A “start” or “mother” is the bacterial culture that produces vinegar. Yes, it is as weird as it sounds. The “mother” is a dark red blob. The only real likeness I can compare it to is —watch out, it gets kind of graphic here — that it looks like placenta. How do I know what placenta looks like, you may ask? I grew up on a farm in Oregon with livestock, and I’ve watched many births.

Anyway, back to the “mother” ship … during my research, I learned that my measly attempts to make vinegar were misguided at best. Turning wine into vinegar is relatively easy; I was just misinformed, and never followed through in educating myself.

Vinegar has been used for centuries. Historians are led to believe that it was discovered by accident by different cultures throughout the world. While wine sealed in a bottle without air can remain stable for an indeterminate length of time, wine left exposed to air will inevitably turn to vinegar. Any one who has left an open bottle of wine on the counter overnight knows it has a noticeably different odor and taste. Multiply that short overnight by several weeks and bacteria will form and act as an acetobacter. The acetobacter uses oxygen to convert the alcohol into vinegar. While naturally-occurring bacteria will form in uncovered wine, it may not be the appropriate variety of bacteria, thus the need for a “mother.”

Once you have acquired a “mother,” you merely add red wine, place it in a cupboard or somewhere that maintains room temperature, cover it with a paper towel or cheesecloth, and wait. The process is fairly simple and few things can go wrong. You can’t poison yourself or your family and you will end up with vinegar that is stronger, more robust and more flavorful than anything you have ever tasted before — so I’m told. I’m hoping that now that I am proceeding with the correct process, I may have my own vinegar ready for Crocked, Sauced & Pickled on Oct. 9. During this festival, I will be demonstrating the steps of making your own vinegar and you may even get to try my homemade concoction! As for finding a “mother”? I’ll have some tips for that, too.

For more information about the Hoosier Harvest and other programming, please visit indianamuseum.org.

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Something about water

by Danesa R. Stolz, Chief Naturalist for Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve

There is just something about water. Of all of our natural resources, there is no other as precious, as plentiful or as fragile. Water is essential to all life. And as far as habitats go, in my opinion, none is more precious than a wetland.

The Loblolly Marsh at Limberlost State Historic Site is teeming with wildlife ... if you know where to look!

Wetlands were once considered wastelands. They could not be farmed and they were a place where mosquitoes flourished. In order to rid themselves of the nuisances associated with wetlands, people drained them, plowed them and attempted to control them.

But we were wrong and now know that wetlands are important. Hopefully, we have come to realize this before it is too late. It is essential that we protect wetlands. Wetlands are valuable resources. They sustain more life than almost any other habitat. At least one-third of the nation’s threatened or endangered species live in wetland areas. The productivity of wetlands, their cleansing ability and their water storage capacity make them a resource to be highly cherished.

Join us for Wetlands and Watersheds at the Indiana State Museum on Friday, Sept. 10, 10 a.m. to noon and Sunday, Sept. 19, noon to 2 p.m.

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Day 4 of a 17-day Dig, Year 23

It takes a certain amount of passion to go back to the cave, year after year, digging out bucket after bucket … filling them up, pushing them out, screening them, packing them up for transport back to the museum, then studying them again under the microscope.

But that’s what Ron Richards and his crew have done for 23 years now … all from a limestone cave deep in the forest of southern Indiana. Dr. Carl Sagan once said, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” As the museum learns more about the Ice Age animals found inside this cave, it will give us a better glimpse into history of the land we now call Indiana. It is fascinating work!

Here’s my glimpse into what a cave dig looks like a la Indiana State Museum …

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I Wanna Check You for Ticks

That’s Brad Paisley … but applies to Peccary Digs, too … but more about the creatures of the day in a second. Day four of a 17 day dig = my second day. Started all wrong;  a knock-knock had me flying out of bed in my jammies, hair unruly, to find Ron Richards, museum paleontologist at my door … our alarm hadn’t gone off! OMG! Leap into clothing and out the door … cavers don’t need makeup or hair fussing. *whew* Luckily its a 40-minute drive to the cave, which is plenty of time to drink coffee and wake up.

Many creatures today … spiders (again) and butterflies and ticks. But the real find of the day was a copperhead snake! Yes, they are venomous. Neal reached down for something next to his chair and the snake moved; thankfully it didn’t strike, but chose to slither away instead.   

The other interesting find amidst over a hundred buckets full of cave dirt was a shark tooth, probably over three hundred million years old, from a geological period of time when Indiana was covered by water. The buckets are brought out of the cave and carried to the screeners, who carefully wash off excess dirt and rock, picking through for anything unusual, which they set aside in special containers.  The rest is put into plastic bags, brought back to the museum, and carefully studied under microscopes.

It was a long day of hauling heavy buckets, shooting dozens and dozens of photos and video, and sweating. But what an honor to be part of something as cool and important as this. We are literally picking through history! More tomorrow!

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‘Diggin’ Up Bones’ and other Famous Songs

Cave digging is exhausting. That’s just one of the things I learned today, on my first paleontological dig with museum staffers and other volunteers. We’re in southern Indiana, clearing out a cave, on an expedition that has been repeated nearly every summer for 23 years.  Hauling 60 to 70 giant buckets full of rocks and mud uphill for a few hours is a workout! And my shower tonight ranks up there with the best showers of all time; dirt and sweat and mud had permeated every crevice of my body! When you can actually smell your own self, you KNOW you need a shower! And luckily the tick I found had not yet fully attached itself … 

Some other things I learned: helmets are a very important piece of caving equipment. As I hauled those buckets to the mouth of the cave, I probably hit my head on solid rock approximatedly 24 times. And its a good thing I’m not as terrified of spiders as my sister and my daughter, because I was definitely sharing quarters with at least a dozen big juicy ones (as long as they stayed on their side of the wall, I was okay with them being there).

Balance: this is a surprisingly important skill when you’re climbing uneven hills and when you’re teetering on rock, trying to heave a heavy bucket onto a metal roller system to get it out of the cave. I was not keen on slipping and falling face first into the mud! 

So about the music … do you ever get some song stuck in your head? Well, when you’re in a group of people, its really not nice to push that song upon the others, because then THEY get it stuck in THEIR head! First it was the old country song “Diggin’ Up Bones,” then it suddenly became  Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” since my husband and I are the resident “paparazzi” on this dig. Speaking of which … here are some photos …

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I’ll take Wanda Hickey over Ralphie any day …

by Stephanie Smith, Lead Sales Associate, The Indiana Store at the Indiana State Museum

For years, people have teased me about my dislike — actually it’s more of an irrational fear — of the movie A Christmas Story. It’s probably been over 15 years since I last saw the movie, yet iconic moments from the film — like Santa kicking Ralphie down the slide — are still fresh in my memory. I was already afraid of department store Santas, so I’ll admit that I probably never really gave the movie a fair shake. Last Christmas season, when my boss mentioned carrying the A Christmas Story book in the museum shop, I was surprised that the author, Jean Shepherd, was a Hoosier. Granted, this did nothing to quell my dislike for the movie, and now with new knowledge, my dislike for the movie transferred to the book as well. I did however want to try and read other works by Jean Shepherd.

My choice was the collection of short stories called Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and I loved it! As a longtime Prairie Home Companion fan, I found that Wanda Hickey’s served as a humorous, homespun tribute to Indiana. So when the idea of the Indiana Store Book Club came up, the book selection for the inaugural meeting was easy. I’m extremely happy to announce that the meeting is set for Sunday, Aug. 29 at 4 p.m. and all are welcome! And after the meeting, stay for a special extended hours shopping event at the Indiana Store. Book Club attendees will receive 20 percent off their purchases!

Oh … and if you’re wondering what I watch on Christmas instead of the 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon, I watch The Godfather. Yes, I do consider Don Corleone less frightening. And yes, I know how strange that sounds!

Contact me at ssmith@indianamuseum.org to R.S.V.P. for the book club meeting. Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories is available for purchase to book club members at a 20 percent discount at the Indiana Store.

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The Wabash Washboard

by Ange Albsmeyer, Indiana State Museum volunteer

I have been a volunteer in the Indiana State Museum conservation lab for about eight months. My job is to do some of the more basic tasks around the lab to help free up conservator Gaby Kienitz to work her magic in repairing, cleaning and restoring museum artifacts. I have vacuumed dust off of the sport coat Ernie Pyle wore to a meeting with Eleanor Roosevelt. I have photographed a 19th century floor sample coffin, cleaned stage props used by an acting troupe from the late 1800, and helped repair an 1830s quilt. And I’ve had fun doing all of it — and learned a lot about Indiana history along the way.

But my favorite project to date has been the restoration of the Wabash Washboard — a handmade, one-of-a-kind musical instrument used by Paul “Hezzie” Trietsch of the 1940s novelty band the Hoosier Hot Shots. The instrument will be featured in the upcoming Odd Indiana exhibit that opens on Sept. 4.

Hezzie’s washboard is more than just a rhythm instrument — he could play fairly complicated melodies with the attached horns and cowbells. If you watch the video “She Broke My Heart in Three Places,” at the end of the number you can see how skillful a musician Hezzie was on his Wabash Washboard.

From years in storage after hard use on stage and in the studio, some of the rubber bulbs on the horns were missing or needed replacement. The original duct tape holding the bulbs in place was slowly peeled off and preserved — parts of which may be returned to the instrument because it would look more authentic than using all new tape. The replacement orange bulbs looked too shiny and new next to the originals, so umber coloring was used to “age” them to blend in with the original horn bulbs.

I like to think that Hezzie would be pleased (and maybe a little amused) at all the work that has been put into bring his Wabash Washboard back to life. Oh, and though the instrument will never again be used on stage, the new bulbs have been tested and sound as good as new, too!

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