Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Breathing in, I am breathing in... Breathing out, I am breathing out...

Breathing in, I am breathing in... Breathing out, I am breathing out...

Breathing in, I am breathing in... Breathing out, I am breathing out...

Breathing in, I am still water... Breathing out, I am calm...

Breathing in, I am still water... Breathing out, I am calm...

Breathing in, I am still water... Breathing out, I am calm...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Well, I guess you don't really realize what's important to you until you almost lose it. At about noon I heard my mom let out a huge gasp, "There's a leak in the living room roof!" she cried. This isn't the only leak problem she has. As a home owner, she was seeing dollar signs and a big hassle unfolding, since the guy she asked to fix the other leak still hasn't come to do it, after many months. I am so impractical, I don't have any idea about stuff like that, and am pretty useless at helping with it. Then, all of a sudden, I saw it. The leak was right over a small tray table I had set up in my mini music studio. On the other side of the room was a bookshelf housing hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars of music books I have accumulated over the last almost 20 years. On this side of the room, however, sitting on the tray table were two 1-1/2 foot high stacks of looseleaf papers. Soaked. So, with the generous help of my mother, we carefully took apart the papers and set them out, trying to save them from ending up stuck together and ruined. On the floor and on tables all over lay sheets of music, page by page -- mostly compositions written by friends (Josh Nemith, Andre Myers, Jeff Letterly), photocopies of other music I've worked on with translations and expressive markings, a transposition of a Grieg song that took me hours to input in the computer lab at NEC, which I don't happen to have on disk, a handwritten a capella vocal piece written by my brother (which is most likely the only copy). The music that was bound had to be hung up, so hanging on a clothes line in the basement are Berg's "Vier Letzte Lieder", Harbison's "Mirabai Songs", David Dies's "Lorca Songs", a song cycle by Robert Paterson, songs by Chris Bailey, Monteverdi's "Confitebor tibi Domine", etc. etc. All over the basement floor is an orchestral piece written by my first boyfriend ever, which I screwed up in performance because I couldn't see the conductor. I decided to throw away some of the things in the pile that seemed replaceable, including photocopies of articles and music from Dr. Laura Schwendinger's composition seminar "Contemporary Text Setting", which I took in Fall 2005 at UW. But many of these things would require much cost to replace. Getting composers to send you copies of their music is somewhat akin to getting the phone company to send a refund. Ironic, though, that I was just talking about the emotions involved in going through papers. And fate would have to force me to do it. What I saw, as I was in this process of saving my music, was a look at my life's work so far -- a look at what has really been of importance to me over the last decade plus. I feel like this was a test to see how important music, and more specifically contemporary art song, really is to me. I was teary thinking about each composer, each repertoire class, and each performance I had put my heart and soul into. Finally, I also realized how much emotion I had buried inside about how hard it was to find myself in Madison, WI alone and unsupported, trying to make sense of how I would carry on without funding. This whole year I have been trying to figure out what I really want to do with my life, whether teaching voice is something I can really feel good about, whether opera and classical singing is something that is worth while, whether all of this has been in vain because I am just not on the same page with the rest of the singing community. I have been testing the limits of my emotional resources, considering going back to school and learning a whole new craft. But today I found myself face to face with pieces of paper which represent what is important to me, what I have put so much love into year after year for fifteen years. I love the music. I love the process. I love sharing it and learning about it. I love languages. I love knowing about the physiological mechanism that makes singing happen. I love the relationships -- meeting and talking to composers about their work. Uff da!
A woman who volunteers for the organization I work for was explaining to me last week why she thinks it's so important that the organization focus its work solely on the eradication of nuclear weapons and not get distracted by other social justice and anti-war work. She was saying that she thinks a nuclear holocaust would be the absolute worst thing in the world and she doesn't want her children or grandchildren to have to see that happen. I had been trying to explain to her that many of the young people involved in Peace Action feel that it's impossible to not make connections between the issues and that it's impossible to focus solely on the issue of nuclear weapons and that she needs to be aware of the reasons why, even if she doesn't agree. In my mind, the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina that has been told in the news most recently on NBC in a report by Brian Williams and in the documentary by Spike Lee, is a prime example of how our national priorities are screwed up! It is clear from all of the news accounts that I have read that 1600 people died as a result of failed levees, not as a result of the hurricaine. And the money that could have been spent on actual "homeland security", the REAL safety and well-being of our own American people, is mostly going to protect the interests of a few, greedy, wealthy people. The interests of the military-industrial complex are not in the best interest of most Americans, let alone most people of the world. Of course a nuclear holocaust would be horrible and educating people about the reality of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is an essential part of the work, but to ignore the other very important work that needs to be done to rectify national priorities and educate people about the implications of the military-industrial complex and just plain try to help people in need who have been forsaken by own government is irresponsible, if you ask me.

Ok, I'll get off my soap box now. Here are some articles of interest I found in the news today:

Bush & Katrina: Return to the Scene of the Crime

Katrina Survivors: Simply Blown Away

Ex-FEMA Chief Blames Administration

Race relations still tense a year after Katrina

Monday, August 28, 2006

I have too much stuff -- boxes and boxes of books, sheet music, compositions written by dozens of friends, old school notebooks, research papers, novels, foreign coins, photographs, CDs, poetry, journals, recital gowns, political t-shirts, running clothes, pots and pans, dishes, glasses, spices, yearbooks, letters, blankets, pillows, furniture... My parents keep asking me to go through all of my boxes and get rid of things, to reduce my burden on their already crowded basements. But I am overwhelmed at the thought of dismantling my entire life in a place where it can be observed by inquiring eyes. And yet I don't have a home of my own to take all of my belongings to. So they want me to be free to pursue a career that might make me a nomad, but they'd rather I didn't leave any of my things with them. Do I choose to live in one place so that I can have all of this "stuff", all of these material items I have collected for thirty-three years? or do I let go of everything so that I can travel light on the road ahead? I know if I were to go through my boxes I would be able to reduce their contents pretty significantly, but that is a huge task, an emotional task. There is something huge about going through a box of papers -- the memories, the emotions conjured by a piece of paper.

"I'm a coward, I can't entertain any thought more dangerous..." "I remember that you climbed upon my bed to help me draw the patience tree..." "Oh, I am thinking I have found my lover..." "Dear Pam, Well, I finally got off the post bus and I'm sitting here in a pub in Ullapool..." "Good paper, but I think you need to develop more of your own voice instead of stringing together the words of others..." "Dear Pamela, Happy Birthday! Love, Grandma" "Love, Al" "Love, Randy" "The little fish cries, his mother has been taken by Nets" "Send me an autographed copy of your first novel" "Has anyone seen Jezebel? I'm worried about her. -Bryan" "It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches."

My whole life is in a bunch of boxes, in my mom's basement, in my dad's basement, and there are the books which I have unpacked onto a bookcase in my room, some clothes, and all of my music surrounds the yamaha keyboard, which sadly replaced the piano several years back. In the last fifteen years I have never lived in a place with three levels. I am used to having one or two rooms, in which I keep everything, where I can keep track of it all and go through things as needed. Here, my bedroom is upstairs, the place I practice is on the first floor, and most of my belongings are in the basement. Everything is spread out here and there are places where my things clearly don't belong. I want my life to be contained in a place of my own, so that I may choose what to do with it and I may have a collection of material things which to call home, but for some reason I can't decide where I belong yet, I don't know for sure where to set up shop next. One day at a time. Patience.
In Blackwater Woods
by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

I sang in church this morning. I haven't gone to any church regularly since I left Boston, so it's been a while. My dad has been trying to get me to sing at his church since I got to Syracuse, so finally I consented. His church is unitarian (I'll have to write some reflections on unitarianism sometime...) and the service focused on a group of Sudanese refugees, aka The Lost Boys, who live here in Syracuse. I confess that I am still largely ignorant about the situation, because the young man who spoke to the congregation was pretty difficult to understand. What I do understand is that thousands of young men had to flee from Sudan to save their own lives after a very bloody civil war broke out and a humanitarian effort brought many of them to the United States (via Kenya). They came here as orphans with nothing (but each other) and are still now largely protected by various church groups. I was uncomfortable with the idea of singing in the service because I didn't feel like anything I could sing would really be relevant to the theme (I ended up choosing "Nacht und Traüme" - Schubert) and afterwards I still feel really uncomfortable with it, because almost everyone in the congregation came up to me afterwards and complimented my singing, but I barely saw anyone talking to the three Sudanese men who came to the service. Maybe it's because they, like me, had trouble understanding the english of the man who spoke and were concerned about starting a conversation in which they might have to spend half the time saying, "could you please repeat that?", but I fear it's really because they found it easier to talk to a young girl who seemed to not be in want of anything than to talk to someone who is really, truly in need of financial and emotional support. Did my singing actually in essense distract people from the true purpose of the service? I'm sure I'm just being paranoid (as usual) and that the service was as effective as it could have been. Who knows, maybe people will think of Sudan now whenever they hear Schubert? Anyway, someday I would like to be in a position to put on benefit recitals for causes/people I want to give lots of money to. I suppose I should start by finding a way to pay my own rent, but eventually...

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Today I went to see Jenufa at Glimmerglass Opera, which is located in Cooperstown, NY (also home of the Baseball Hall of Fame). The opera was written by the Czech composer, Leoš Janáček. I went to the performance excited to see my old classmate from NEC, Andrea Coleman, who had a small role, but I'll admit I was, and have been, feeling great inner conflict about the glorification of "classical" music -- the music of dead white men. Even when I arrived at this beautiful outdoor theatre in the middle of upstate New York's rolling farmland hills, I felt contempt for the mostly older, white, elitist crowd, who had driven in from western MA, CT, Albany, and other areas of upstate NY. I felt contempt for their trendy glasses and leather pants, their conversations about Beethoven and Bach, and their poofy grey hair that partly obstructed my view of the stage from my balcony seat. But here's the thing... the music was SO beautiful... and the singing was gorgeous... and the acting was incredibly intense. As the drama unfolded I found myself on the edge of my seat, angry in one moment, hopeful, and then full of tears. The issues presented in the drama were issues of people -- all people -- the darkness and the light. On the way out people looked different. My ears were more quick to notice the conversations about trips to El Salvador and my eyes noticed the hybrid cars and bumper stickers reading, "War is not the answer". I should know by now that my brain's need to generalize the way a group of people are is a flaw. You can't make a blanket statement about what all Americans are like or Iranians or New Yorkers or Israelis or Chinese or people going to the opera. I know better than that.
I bought a map of the US and put it up on my bedroom wall. Then I decided to put little sticky flags to represent all the people I could think of -- friends, family, old schoolmates, ex-boyfriends, etc. (I'm still working on it -- thus the people in the ocean).



After watching Spike Lee's documentary last night I sat up in my room and stared at my map for a long time, imagining each person, taking comfort in knowing that they are all most probably safe and well. Maybe some of us are depressed or anxious or stressed about life's decisions (or changes), but as far as I know, no one is in grave danger. As far as I know, no one I know is really ill or living in a war zone or in a place that has been severely affected by weather conditions. I feel a great sense of relief in that.

Friday, August 25, 2006

I just finished watching the 4-hour Spike Lee documentary, When the Levees Broke, about the tragedy that began in New Orleans a year ago and lingers to this day. It is going to be rebroadcast on HBO at 8pm on Tuesday, August 29th. It is worth seeing for so many reasons, but most importantly I think to understand the epic proportions of this disaster and the almost complete incompetence of the federal government in protecting its own citizens. See it!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Visitors!




My aunt and uncle and their dog, Barkley, came to visit for a couple of days on their way home to Florida. They were in Maine for the summer, where my uncle is music director at New England Music Camp. We went for dinner last night at a really great Italian restaurant called Aunt Josie's, where we ate Italian food the way the real Syracuse Sicilian Americans do. Mmmmm... It was good. Especially the canoli!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Do you ever wonder where your tax dollars go? The National Priorities Project has compiled data for most mid-size and major US cities about how your tax dollars were spent in the year 2005.

Where do your tax dollars go?

It's pretty interesting.

And another thing that's interesting is the part called Federal Budget Tradeoffs. Hmmmm... which would I rather spend my money on? Tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of the population or music and art teachers? Hmmm.... let me think...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Yes-Men Taunt Halliburton

This article is from May, but it's the first I've seen it. The Yes Men rule!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Well, what do you think of this new format? This one actually has a place for me to put links on the page, so that's the major advantage of it. Also, it's kind of pretty. But... it's kind of annoying that the text box is not very wide. I wonder if I can change that?
Well, just when you thought I was done talking about my trip to Boston last weekend... The thing is, it turns out that my new camera phone is only as convenient as it is to email each picture individually using the keypad, in other words, not very. I've decided that the only way this camera will be worth using is if I buy a little memory card for it. I wonder how much those cost? Anyway, the point is, I finally got around to emailing myself all the pictures I took on my trip last weekend, so I thought I'd share some more of them. The first batch is from Lisa and Jason's place, where I stayed. This is the view looking both ways on their street:




and here's a nice tree:



Here is a picture of Lisa using the sepia filter:



and a picture of the two of them using the negative filter:



Here are a few pics from the Boston Public Library:






I regret not getting any pictures of that room with the tables and the little green bank lamps...

Here are some pictures from Commonwealth Avenue, which is a lovely street where rich people live. In the median of the street there is a park with trees, benches, and a walkway. There are also some groovy statues:








Here's a picture of my dad, who so kindly drove and paid for the delicious Indian food. He spent the weekend in Plymouth (home of the famous and very overrated rock) with an old college buddy:



Well, gosh... I guess that's it. Oh, one more thing, can you guess where this was taken?

Friday, August 18, 2006

My friend, Susan, wrote a blog entry today that got me thinking about why there isn't mouse-flavored cat food? (although that had nothing to do with her blog entry : )) It seems really silly to me to feed my cats animals that they could never catch and eat in nature, like a cow. Why not make cat food from animals that cats would normally eat? Anyway, I decided to do a google search for "mouse flavored cat food" and it gave me a list of 23,500 websites!!! (though none of the ones I looked at answered my question). There was one claim, that I was unable to substantiate, that said Purina had a formula for mouse-flavored cat food at one point, but the cat test subjects rejected it! So, if that's true, I wonder if cats prefer to eat these other animals when given the choice? or if mice taste better raw than cooked? I did find one particularly interesting website about the "ideal" cat diet, that is along the lines of some of the reading I did that made me start making my own food to begin with a few years ago:

catnutrition.org

Also, I have discovered a cat food that claims to use only organic animals that have been humanely raised:

Pet Promise

though this still doesn't solve the problem of buying food that is shipped thousands of miles before it is eaten. Since I am an idealist, I guess I think there must be a better way. If I could come up with a good recipe made from humanely raised animals (like Plainville Turkey) and local produce, I could make that for my kitties. Heck, maybe I could sell it to other people, too? Or, I could make a nice turkey stew for my mom. : ) I realize this still doesn't really answer the question of why there isn't mouse flavored cat food, but now it occurs to me that if humans were able to catch mice to begin with, we probably wouldn't have evolved into a culture that keeps domesticated cats.

Thursday, August 17, 2006



La-la-la-la! La-la-la-la! Me-ow, me-ow, meeeeee-ow!!
I am really curious to know who makes up the titles listed under "In the News" on yahoo.com. The actual Associated Press titles are perfectly logical, but then someone at yahoo must decide they need to be changed. For example, the AP story titled,

"CBO says deficit will drop then climb"

was listed as

"U.S. budget deficit seen falling, then climbing".

The AP story titled,

"Aniston denies engagement to Vaughn"

was rewritten as

"Jennifer Aniston denies engaged to Vince Vaughn".

Now, I'm not saying either story was in any way worth reading, but I'm mystified as to what the plan is in dumbing down the titles. The title about the fishing feds was the actual AP title. Funny they didn't change that one.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

This just in, Feds Catch Drug Kingpin While Fishing.
I'm sorry, but do we not teach grammar in the schools anymore?
Which one would you buy for your child?






Historical Armory Square? Does this city need a copy editor?
I really love jumping to conclusions because for that moment in which I have made a sweeping generalization about something, I feel somehow more at ease in having reduced a complex issue into a simplistic one. Thus, this evening, when I turned on the television to see if there were any interesting talk show guests and found that all three major networks had shows in which a white man was interviewing another white man (Conan O'Brien/Harrison Ford, Craig Ferguson/Matt Dillon, Jimmy Kimmel/some band with five white guy members), it seemed pretty clear to me that this experience served only to strengthen my theory that white men own everything and dominate all media messages. But I'm jumping to conclusions, right?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I was called an idealist on two occasions this past weekend. Once by my father, who called me a *utopian* idealist after I said I thought people should try to watch as little television as possible, and the second time by my friend, Jason, who thinks it is unrealistic to try to bring an end to war. Well, maybe I am an idealist, but I'm ok with that.

Monday, August 14, 2006

So, unfortunately I didn't get to see everyone I would have liked to see in Boston, but I'll just have to go back again sometime soon. It's hard to see everyone and everything in such an awesome city. No offense to anyone else I spent time with, but the highlight of the trip by far was seeing my friend Susan and meeting her baby, Daniel, for the first time, and her brother Joseph. It was so neat to meet Daniel because I spent so much time with Susan while she was pregnant, but I moved away two months before she gave birth. I seriously almost didn't leave Madison just because I was sad about that, but thankfully, I finally got to meet the sweet little guy.



The three of them are so chock full of goodness that the light meter on my little phone camera couldn't handle it:



My other wonderful Bostonian friends who I got to see were Lisa and Jason, who I stayed with (unfortunately I only got a picture of Lisa... well, I had a picture of the two of them, but it was a negative image...)



I also got to see my friend, Jonah, who I forgot to take a picture of (damn it!) Saturday at noon for coffee. I missed seeing my friend, Dominic, who I was supposed to call later that day, because after walking from the Boston Public Library to Harvard Square and then across the bridge to Allston on JFK Street, I was pretty exhausted. So, instead I went back to Lisa and Jason's place where we watched an awesome Akira Kurosawa movie. On Sunday, I met up with my buddies, Marsha and Adam.



We went to a service at Trinity Episcopal together, where we all used to be choir soloists.



On the way to Boston AND on the way home I got to eat at a really delicious Indian restaurant in Lee, MA. I have eaten the dish, Malai Kofta, at probably at least a dozen restaurants in many different cities all over the place. The Malai Kofta I ate at this restaurant was by far the best. Also, there was a lovely view overlooking the water. Great recommendation, Dad! Unfortunately, the only picture I got was of the pappadum, which tastes the same everywhere.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I just got back from Boston. It was a great trip and I'll write more about it tomorrow. I'm exhausted, but I had to post tonight because of an ad I saw in a rest stop on the Mass Pike tonight that I found profoundly disturbing:

Friday, August 11, 2006

So, the story with Vana goes that Bryan was travelling to visit his then girlfriend, Elisa, during summer break of 1993 (I think), and came across a box in a supermarket that said "Free Kittens". Again, the lack of detail in this story is totally unsatisfactory. From what I understand, he took Vana thinking that Elisa would like her as a gift, but when he got there, she broke up with him and wasn't interested in the kitten.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

This is one of my best friends.



Her name is Jezebel and I adopted her along with her friend, Vana, in January of 1997 from my friend Bryan, whose parents wouldn't let him take them with him when he moved back home to Detroit after an emotionally tumultuous break-up. Bryan and his former roommate, Dave, were classmates of mine at the Eastman School of Music, where I did my undergraduate degree. The story goes that Dave found Jezebel as a kitten in a snow bank during a snow storm during the winter of 1993-94. I can't even imagine what that must have been like -- how little she was or really what the circumstances must have been like. I have never been satisfied with the lack of detail in that story. All I know is that when I adopted Jezebel and Vana I had never had cats before and I was so clueless as to how to take care of them that I didn't even have a cat carrier when I went to pick them up at Bryan's house, which he also abandoned, by the way, with lots of furniture and other stuff, including unpaid rent and utility bills. I found a very overloaded kitty litter box in the basement, which I left there, and in the kitchen, a box of Purina cat chow and a water bowl. It's not really that surprising that Vana let me, a total stranger, pick her up right away and take her to my car. She was actually really sick at the time with a bad case of pyometra that nearly took her life. Neither of them had ever been to the vet before, but Jezebel was healthy enough to run like mad when I tried to pick her up. She ran right out the door at one point and hid under the house for a couple of hours. I was so overwhelmed with frustration at my lack of preparedness for the situation that I laid down on the floor and started to cry at one point. In a matter of ten minutes or so Jezebel was lying right on top of me purring loudly. That was the first time she made me laugh and then that made me cry some more.

More on Vana later...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Yesterday we had a march to commemorate the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki sixty-one years ago. I was part of a coalition involving four other people representing a total of four local groups (PA, SPC, AFSC, CAN) who put the event together. Most of the others had been involved in the event for several years already -- the Syracuse Peace Counci has commemorated the event every year since the bombings. Since I was new I was a little worried that something I was responsible for would go drastically wrong, but luckily that wasn't the case. After the march three of us met with someone on staff for our local congressional representative (Jim Walsh) about why the US shouldn't attack Iran, but rather should pursue diplomacy. Here are some pictures from the march:

This is me talking to a local radio guy.



I bet this banner has been around for a while.



Here are some pictures of the parade and more awesome signs:







I helped to make two props for this event. One was a banner that says, "No Pre-emptive Strikes" and the other was this "Peace Dove". Unfortunately... my mom overheard someone on the sidewalk ask, "What's the goose for?"



Over 200,000 people died as a result of the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- the vast majority of victims being women, children and elderly men, largely in horrific ways -- their hair falling out, skin melting off. The cities were reduced to charred shadows of buildings. Then why, we must ask, has our government continued its proliferation of nuclear weapons so that we now have 150,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs in our nuclear arsenal?
I have lately become very aware of my inner conflict regarding the role of technology in my life. On the one hand, I have come to really LOVE this computer I've been using since my mom bought it several months ago -- so much, that I can't imagine what I'll do when I move out of this house. Ah, sorrow! And, though I was really very conflicted about it, I did finally renew my cell phone contract and ended up with a totally groovy little phone that *takes pictures*!! Ok, maybe that's old news for a lot of folks, but the novelty has not faded for me a bit. I can even check my email on the thing, reducing my need for this awesome computer, but not eliminating it by any means. Simultaneously, of course, I am at odds with cell phone towers, that girl who answered her cell phone during a meditative pose in yoga class (YMCA-Boston- 2003), people who walk down the street who look like they are talking to themselves with no shame whatsoever, hazarous waste from computer parts, etc. And added to the things I'm at odds with when it comes to technology is its relationship to the food I eat. I just finished *The Omnivore's Dilemma* by Michael Pollan, which I really enjoyed -- well, obviously -- it's the first book I've actually finished in several months now, though I'm half-way through several others. Though I struggle with a few of Pollan's points regarding the naturalness of meat-eating, I feel I owe him much gratitude just for making me think a lot about where all the food I eat comes from. The subtitle of the book is "A Natural History of Four Meals", which explains how he outlines the book, by taking four different meals and tracing all the ingredients back to their origin. The first is a meal from McDonalds, which leads him to fields and fields of government subsidized corn (revealing that these subsidies make the food cheaper to buy than to grow, which makes the farmers who do dependent on the government subsidies, you see). Frankly, the part about corn is fascinating. He also follows a cow from a ranch to a Confined Animal Feeding Operation, AKA factory farm. I thought that part would be harder to read than it was. Truth is, I feel a bit easier knowing what goes on in those places than I did anticipating knowing it. That is to say, after reading about it for the first time in years, I feel prepared to unequivocably denounce factory farming without getting too overwhelmed emotionally. The second meal he follows is one purchased at Whole Foods market, which reveals the reality of "Big Organic" and the struggles involved in maintaining (or rather, not really maintaining) the standards of organic farming in large scale operations. One of his main talking points in both sections relates to how most of our food travels at least 1500 miles before we eat it, and thus, how much it depends on petroleum. This leads to the third section, which stresses what he deems to be an ideal farm. This farm in Virginia does things in a manner that can only be called "old school", before the corruption of fertilizers and pesticides, when the key was in creating living ecosystems within the farm -- timing and intense management being the most important factors. In this section one of his main talking points, among many, is the importance of buying local. The final section is about a meal which he simultaneously calls ideal and unrealistic. This is a meal which he pays not a cent for because he hunts, grows, and gathers it all himself, with the help of some "expert" friends. He thoroughly details his trepidation, elation, disgust, and remorse in learning to hunt and in the killing of a wild boar. Then he learns to gather mushrooms and scavenges fruits, vegetables, and yeast from his Berkeley neighborhood. All in all I finished the book intensely interested in knowing more about where my food comes from -- feeling unsatisfied that I have never ever grown any food myself and that there are foods I regularly eat that I have no idea where they come from or what they look like in plant form or what the process is that gets them to my grocery store.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

I had a good cry this afternoon. I was chopping up a really dark purple onion and my eyes started stinging like crazy so I had to go to the other side of the room and wipe my eyes (after having washed my hands, of course -- I've made that mistake before -- owww!). Anyway, I've decided to write out the recipe for the delicious biryani I just made. Now, keep in mind, I didn't use a recipe and this is going to be far from exact, but I thought I'd give it a try.

Biryani à la Pamb

You will need:

1 c. basmati rice
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 big portabello mushroom
1 medium tomato
1 small eggplant (or broccoli or spinach can be used if you really don't like eggplant : ))
1 medium purple onion (or any other onion would probably be fine)
1/2 c. raisins +
1/2 c. cashew pieces +
1 can coconut milk
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 tbsp. Thai Red Curry Paste (or Indian curry paste works fine)


First, make the rice (1 c. rice to 2 c. water -- boiled simultaneously and then simmered until the water is absorbed)
Then, chop up the onion and sautée it in some olive oil on med low heat in the biggest frying pan you have until it becomes somewhat translucent.
Next, chop up the mushroom, tomato, and eggplant and add it to the onion, continuously stirring it.
Then, add in a generous handful of raisins and cashew pieces. (Lots taste very good in this recipe)
Next, add most of a can of coconut milk, a can of stewed tomatoes, and a tablespoon of red curry paste, stirring continuously. (Depending on the size of your pan, you may not want to add the whole cans)
Then, gradually add the basmati rice to the mixture (again, you might not want to add all of the rice, depending on the pan)
At this point you may want to raise the heat, if there is too much liquid in the pan, or add more mushrooms &/or eggplant.
I like to let this cook on relatively high heat long enough for the basmati rice and tomato sauce to make a bit of a crust like hash browns on the bottom and then mix it in and lower the heat a bit.

*Note: most of what I used was organic &/or local

Well, that's pretty much it. It makes a great meal and tastes better every day you eat the leftovers. I have made something similar to this on a number of occasions with slightly varying recipes. It's very flexible.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Why I'm a Vegetarian

The first impulse I had to become vegetarian came when I was about 15 or so. My cousin, David, had come home from college refusing to eat meat and since I had so much admiration for him, it didn't take long for me to consider what vegetarianism would mean in my own life. Also during high school, our beloved family dog, Suzie, died, and I had to deal with death in a way I hadn't before -- with someone who had been part of my life everyday for as long as I could remember who then got very ill and had to be "put to sleep". I had so much anger about why that had to happen. I was so disillusioned about the whole situation and why we couldn't have done more to save her. I remember sitting with her and crying the night before her death -- not knowing how to deal with the impending tragedy. Sometime not long after that I had a very vivid dream in which a white dog (Suzie was a dalmation) was stuck with a skewer and was rotating over a fire pit with a large section of her abdomen cut out, as if she had been carved like a turkey. It soon occured to me that domestic animals weren't that much different from animals raised for meat and that if I wouldn't want to kill my dog, I wouldn't want to kill a cow or pig or deer. I also read a book/cookbook by Lyndsay Wagner (aka the Bionic Woman) about vegetarianism that sealed the deal. It certainly didn't hurt that my mom is a great cook and liked cooking delicious vegetarian meals -- for that I am very fortunate. In the 17 years since my official decision not to eat meat I have mostly stood by my decision as a decision not to kill animals. It wasn't until reading Barbara Kingsolver's *Prodigal Summer* that I started to see that my decisions about food were more complex than I had thought, and in the several years since then I have realized that things are even more complicated. If the decision is primarily not to kill animals, there are many flaws. I have read that a combine harvesting wheat kills many mice, rabbits, and woodchucks. I also read recently that some organic farmers use fish meal to fertilize their produce. Still, I find there are two arguments for vegetarianism that are pretty rock solid. A creative meat eater might find ways to get around them, but the path would not be easy. The first argument is that most of the meat eaten in the US is produced on factory farms and no one would want to eat meat if they actually saw what goes on there in terms of the way the animals are treated or in terms of what happens to that "food" before they eat it. And the "Big Organic" companies are trying with all their might to create their own rules and sometimes actually write the rules about what the words organic and free-range mean. Finding animals that are free-range, organic, and humanely slaugtered -- all three -- is a rarity indeed. The second argument is related to the first. Something like 75% of the grain grown on US soil (mostly corn) goes to feed cattle. This is not only an environmental disaster, but it's a ridiculously inefficient way to feed people. Like in every other business these days, only a very few corporations are profiting off of these agribusiness giants, which serve only to wipe out family farms, destroy small businesses, abuse animals, and provide food products which are seriously delinquent in quality.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ok, so I take back everything bad I ever said about air conditioning. It was 97 here today and my office was so brutally hot that I took the mailing project I have to do home since we have air conditioning in one room. It's 10pm and about an hour ago we finally opened up all the windows and turned on the fans in the rest of the house (which we had kept closed up and dark to keep cool) hoping it would cool off enough to sleep normally. Well, it's still 85 degrees inside according to the thermostat, so I won't be trying to sleep anytime soon. It feels just fine in the room where the air conditioner is presently running, but that's not usually where I sleep, so I'll have to figure something out. Last summer, my apartment in Madison had a little balcony off the kitchen where I used to lay out my sleeping bag and pillow on nights like this. I'm not sure sleeping outside would be any better than sleeping in front of a window fan tonight. I might opt to sleep in the room with air conditioning. We'll see. It's really the humidity, not so much the heat, that's such an issue. It's damn sticky and uncomfortable.

On another note, my mom and I have started using iChat with my brother in Denver. It's still pretty novel to get to see the expression on his face while he's talking. Here is a picture I took during our conversation. I had just shown him my t-shirt that says, "I'm a Peace Voter" and he was showing me that his t-shirt says, "Funky Beats".



Is this the space age or what?