Monday, February 21, 2011


I was a student (and Teaching Assistant at the UW-Madison) in WI for two semesters in 2005. Soon after arriving in Madison, I met my friend, Susan, who asked if I would like to co-steward the Music Department for the Teaching Assistants' Association, which is the oldest graduate student teacher's union in the US. In all honesty, at that time, I really had no idea what unions were about. I had never been a part of one. I knew my parents were in the Musician's Union, who negotiated their very meager salaries. I knew that my grandfather had been a union steward, but he was an accountant and I'm not sure what union he was in... I didn't know anything about Robert's Rules or collective bargaining. But, Susan's enthusiasm was infectious, I could tell we had similar ideas about politics, and the more she talked about what the TAA was all about, the more I wanted to be involved. I joined and I am so glad I did. The experience was truly rewarding. I feel very honored to have been part of the TAA. I swear to you, I have never met a more intelligent, compassionate, politically savvy, and civil group of skilled debaters interested in fairness and democracy in my life. I was truly inspired not only by the people I met there, but by the process that they took so seriously, with such reverent respect. It sounds cheesy to say it, but I would be lying if I didn't say that my fellow TAA stewards inspired me to want to be a better person. They inspired me to get off my butt and try to make a difference.

While a student at UW-Madison, I became very aware of the political situation on small and large scales and how that affected the money trading hands. I learned that public universities were becoming less and less public and more and more influenced by private interests. I learned that the state of Wisconsin has a great divide in ideologies between the more liberal cities downstate and the more Republican bent of the rest of the state. I saw how certain departments in the university (like economics) refused to be part of the union, whereas other departments (like sociology, english, and math) had a lot of representation. I saw how some TAs were way overworked grading papers and tutoring students for professors who only gave the class lectures, whereas other TAs were the primary teacher for a group of students who never saw a major professor in that area of study. (And, started thinking about how integral these TAs are to the wellbeing of the university.) I saw how some departments had so much money that their TAs could afford to sit around and play cards for several hours a day and had stipends to pay them to not work over the summer, whereas other departments had so little funding that they had to pass it around from one student to another, so that some students had to drop out of the program altogether because they couldn't afford tuition, or had to work several extra jobs even with their assistantship just to make ends meet. I think the politics of why some departments had more money than others and how that influenced their representation in the TAA had to do with where the money was coming from (national foundations? or corporate interests?) and also the politics of the major professors in each area (whose politics may have been influenced by money in a similar way). And, those are just a few thoughts from someone who has been away for a very long time about a very complex issue...

Here is a link to Susan's blog, where she has six great posts in a row about the situation, including lots of photos and good links.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I heard that 15,000 people rallied at the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison yesterday and that thousands are staying overnight to make their voices heard in opposition to Governor Scott Walker's barbarian budget bill that would end the collective bargaining process for all state workers. Videos like this and these photos from Susan's blog are so inspiring. Solidarity forever indeed!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Living well

Today I watched an interesting video about a study that was done of five communities around the world who have extraordinarily high life expectancies and what traits they have in common. I also found this article which sums it up.

One of the most intriguing findings in it shows that none of these people do any formal exercise, meaning they don't go to the gym or do other intense cardio workouts. They all do, however, walk a lot and are the type of people who take the stairs and ride their bike. In other words, they are not sedentary. They all eat mostly plant based diets, drink red wine in moderation, and eat small portions. Also important is that they have good social/family networks and take care to relieve stress on a regular basis.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Random Thought

A lot of people choose to buy unbleached coffee filters for their coffee makers because it's better for their health, but when is the last time you saw an unbleached disposable coffee cup? Isn't drinking from a bleached cup just as hazardous to your health?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Well, I was going to wait until March to exercise, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I really need to just start doing it. I'm in luck, because the elevator in my apartment building is doing some weird things that have inspired me to take the stairs. Also, this morning I went for a run. I have been complaining since I moved here that my apartment is poorly located for running. I have always enjoyed running on dirt trails, especially along or around bodies of water. It's hard to get used to the idea of running where I live now because I live right in the middle of a giant concrete hill, so all four directions lead to a steep incline or decline. There is no way around it. I could ride my bike (down a really steep hill?! no way!) or drive or take public transportation somewhere else to run, but my schedule is very busy and that would take a lot more motivation. Finally, I realized that I need to just embrace the uniqueness of my neighborhood and design a way to exercise that is based on what it has to offer. I am starting very small. This morning I ran up two really steep hills and then jogged around a bunch at the top of the hill and jogged back down. I only exercised for about 15 minutes, but it felt good! I think tomorrow I might try doing a combination of running and walking on just one hill. Maybe I will run up, walk down, and then try to immediately run back up and if I can't do that, just walk it multiple times. Oh - and I also quit drinking coffee today... It was a green tea only day and I totally survived (with a little headache, but not too bad). I guess change is in the air for me!

**UPDATE (1/13/11)
I've been doing about 15 minutes of exercise and 15 minutes of stretching. I start with running up one of the steep hills, walk down it, and then repeat that four times. Then, I do some weight training. The stretching part is actually the hardest part. I am really stiff. I know it's not a lot of exercise, but I'm trying to do this 6 days a week and hoping it helps get me going in the right direction.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Getting To Know You

1. When's the last time you took a leisurely, recreational walk around
the neighborhood where you live?
2. When did you last spend time looking at the stars?
3. When's the last time you sat somewhere and watched the sun set or rise?
4. When is the last time you went on a hike in the woods?
5. When's the last time you went canoeing or boating?
6. When is the last time you ate raw fruits and vegetables?

[Me: 1. Saturday; 2. Tonight; 3. I can't recall; 4. Last August; 5. I went kayaking a couple of years ago; 6. Today!]

A Vegan Mistake...

Today I made my first major dietary mistake since taking on veganism. I didn't eat enough protein or maybe even just enough before teaching and I totally bonked. On Mondays, I work from 9-5 at my office and then jet over to teach five half-hour voice lessons in a row from 6-8:30pm. I had a protein shake for breakfast, raw fruits and vegetables for lunch, snacked on nuts, and ate some three grain bread in the afternoon, but by the time I started teaching my second student, I realized I really should have eaten much more and definitely should have eaten something high in protein before teaching. Unfortunately, I ran out of steam and it was really hard to concentrate. Well... now I know!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sunny Sunday

I bought a blender today. I have been meaning to do it for a long time and today I finally did. I decided that getting enough protein needs to be a priority and that a protein shake in the morning would be a perfect way to achieve that end.

My first concoction was a cup of almond milk, 2 bananas, 3 tbsp of vegan soy protein powder, two large handfuls of spinach, and about half a cup of orange juice. It tasted great even though it might sound a little strange. The only thing that I think would have made it better would have been if the bananas had been more ripe.

Do you ever make smoothies? What are your favorite recipes?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Vegan Update

Well, I made it through my first week of veganism and feel pretty good, I must say. I have already invented a new favorite dish of whole wheat rotini pasta w/ sauteed onions, mushrooms, spinach, and sun-dried tomatoes (in olive oil) and lentils. It is very delicious and lasted me several days the first time I made it. I liked it so much that I made it again tonight. I've been eating Kashi 7-Grain cereals for breakfast. They have one that tastes a lot like Grape Nuts and another that is puffed. Both taste great with rice milk. And for lunch, I have continued eating raw. I actually just finished week five of eating only raw fruits and vegetables for lunch. I snack on nuts and sometimes Lara bars during the day. That's about it. Not too difficult, much more healthy than how I was eating last year, and I'm feeling fine. My awesome neighbor leant me a book called *Becoming Vegan* that was written by a nutritionist and has a lot of good information about how to make sure I'm getting all of the nutrients I need. After reading a couple of chapters, I've decided to step up the tofu and also start taking a B-12 supplement. I'm already supplementing my Vitamin D and taking 2 tbsps of blackstrap molasses a day for iron. I am feeling good about this slow and gradual approach I've been taking to get back my health. In January, I eliminated refined flour and sugar. In February, I became a vegan. Both of these efforts have dramatically increased my consumption of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy plant based foods. I am thinking that March will be a good time to get myself back into the routine of exercising regularly, but until then, I want to really concentrate on tweaking my diet the best that I can. I have lofty goals for my health this year that I want to stick to for the rest of my life, so I'm in no rush.