Monday, December 29, 2008

it's the most wonderful time of the year

i've been meaning to post several more festive photos, but there was something amiss with blogger and i couldn't until now. so although christmas and new years have passed and the snow is now depressing dirty-gray (and you can see everywhere the dogs have been, if you know what i mean), it's still quite cold, blustery and oh-so-hot toddy-worthy here! cheers!






when it first started to snow we thought it was fun and creative to make "snow chutes;" after a while we just scraped and shoveled and tried not to swear like a sailor. only the canines continue to find pure, pure joy in it...













sort of an old fashioned photo, in honor of the most snow we can remember in years...



























i'd like to come in now, please!






















shimmery christmas ribbon with foothills behind
























i like christmas treats, too!



















i just can't get enough of that cold white stuff!




















all this playing in the snow is hard work!

Monday, December 22, 2008

more wintery wonder





southerly twilight view...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

it's beginning to look a lot like christmas

really it is. and usually it isn't. most decembers it is mild (average temp of about 45F or so here) and rainy, if anything. we cheer ourselves if it's blustery and freezy-rainy (it's sooo cold; let's have a hot toddy!). but this year? shoveling snow--lots of it. closing off parts of the house that are just too darned cold to try to heat. sleeping by the fire. staying home because it's too treacherous to drive. calling each other on the phone: "how much do you have? we have four inches more; that makes 16 in all...did you lose power last night?" buying a propane stove in case we need to cook by the side of the house, the outside.

come now, we plead. this is western washington! but it's true. very snowy and cold.

it continues. and we're loving it.




only seven more reindeer needed...


it's wet, but not exactly like rain...





on the warm side of the glass...







this plant will never be the same...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

other observations

one more advent muse and a bunch of miscellaneous ones...

*
at advent we wait in hope for the arrival of god's gift to us, the christ child. our president elect admonishes us to "be the hope we've been waiting for."

*
the country wanted change so badly, it voted in a president with a very meagre record; that is change.

*
barbara walters voted sarah palin one of her most interesting persons of the year and interviewed tina fey as a result.

*
labor unions want to vote in a " card check" measure that requires all workers to disclose what they vote for; this is sure to produce discord.

*
to honor president-elect obama, washington d.c, will keep its bars open until 5 a.m. during inauguration week. now, that's change i don't think we need.

*
housing in d.c. during inauguration week is sold-out. keeping the bars open might help those without lodging attend the inauguration. but will they remember it?

*
recent taxpayer funded bailouts of companies that are "too big to fail" leave taxpayers feeling they are too small to succeed.

*
the same economists who lament that consumer spending is down counsel consumers to pay off their debt.

*
the presidential candidate who positioned his opponent as representing "bush's third term" has now appointed two members of bush's team to his own cabinet. obama: bush's third term?

*
martha stewart, the media mogul who served time for insider trading, suggests that citizens "suck it up" when it comes to paying taxes. what a great country.

*
people say the iraq war is too expensive; whereas world world II pulled our country out of depression.

*
the first-lady elect receives kudos from the public for wearing j-crew, but fasion designers love her because she wears clothing from the runway.

*
to protest the killing of a teenager by police, greeks are rioting in the streets, wrecking at least 21 vehicles, several store front windows and a building. fighting fire with fire?

*
hillary clinton, newly minted secretary of state and jeb bush, former governor of florida and possible 2010 senate candidate, could face it off in 2016 in a general election. might the clinton and bush years not yet be over?

*
being a u.s. senator is the only job in america that gives employees a leave of absence in order to try to land a better job and still get paid 6 figures doing it.

*
those who signed bad loans and are now in home foreclosure may get sweet, new deals on their loans, while renters who didn't get into bad loans get nothing. how much might self-respect buy them?

*
people never seem to have free time, but they do have lots of free minutes.

*
fast food mongers lament that $.99 burgers now cost about $1.09, while the true price of hamburger is about $2.49/lb.

*
americans obsess over inhaling chemicals from the environment, all the while eating food that is grown with chemicals.

*
gas has not been this cheap for about 6 years, but the economy hasn't been this bad in about 30.

*the washington state and the university of washington football teams have a combined record of 1 win and 23 losses. they do know that the point is to win, right?

*
it used to be that the romans battled the barbarians in the coliseum; now the humanitarians host a bowl game in the boise state stadium (no one dies, except maybe careers).

*
bose and ipod headphones help drown out environmental noise, but what about the noise inside our own heads?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

advent aphorisms

~
christmas, a season for reflection and thanksgiving, tends to be the most stressful, greedy time of the year.

~
christ came to bring peace on earth to people of goodwill, but most people just want peace on earth.

~
this christmas planned parenthood is offering gift certificates, so you can gift the gift of death to those you love.

~
most people want love and friendship for christmas and go to the mall to find it.

~
at the washington state capitol, displayed by the creche and the menora, is an atheist poster that denounces religion and god; so visitors are wished happy holidays and happy un-holy-days at the same time.

~
the atheist poster at the washington state capitol building was stolen the other day, thereby proving that it wasn't the grinch who stole christmas but the jews and christians.

~
the most valuable gifts--kind words, time with children, intercessory prayer, a home cooked meal, a care package of necessities--are the least obvious ones.

~
in the retail world, the sign that christmas will be a success comes the day after thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day of the year; the real sign that christmas is a success comes each easter morning.

~
at christmas we celebrate christ, god's free gift, and many of us go into debt to do it.

~
the first christmas the magi traveled thousands of miles to bow on bending knee before the christ child; now children travel two miles to the mall to beg at santa's knee.

Monday, December 1, 2008

tramplings and taking things back

*

over the weekend i watched with horror at the reports of a walmart worker being killed by "black friday" shoppers at a long island, ny shopping mall. shoppers, many of whom were reportedly angry that the store had closed during the night to restock, not only busted the door off of its hinges, but also trampled the worker and four others (including a 8 months pregnant woman) in efforts to beat other shoppers to the best deals. shoppers tromped on, over and by the 34 year-old employee, crushing his trachea, and apparently, not noticing or not caring as paramedics worked to save the man's life. while the worker, sadly, died the other four were treated at the hospital and are recovering.

authorities, thankfully, are pouring over security camera footage hoping to identify the killers, hoping to catch glimpses of the perpetrators' greedy faces, make positive i.d.s and prosecute the hell out of them. while i share the sentiment, i do wonder if it's possible to do this. isn't the very nature of a mob the fact that identities become blurred, thinking fuzzy and actions robotic and frenzied? won't the "mass-ness" of the act be what's prominent on the tapes? won't the pictures show an anonymous, hurried, chaotic, breathless, adrenalized blob of dark winter coats and heavy duty winter boots moving en masse to the electronics department where the x-boxes are marked down 75% and the big screen t.v.s are $400 off? won't the films show that, true to mob motion and mentality, the people in back surged forwared and the people in front kept on moving, almost as if against their wills?

there can be no true justice done here. it's down to only a matter reparative degrees now: shoppers at an american store trampled a human being to death and didn't notice or care enough to stop and help, let alone give a damn. decency has already died in the dock as a store clerk--who apparently was a seasonal employee just trying to make an extra buck--has died from irreparable physical damage incurred as he was opening the door of the store where he works. no more christmases, hugs from family or breaths of any kind for that guy, all because greedy AMERICAN people--"civilized," western people--had so little self control or decency as to avoid trampling another person to death while they walked through the doorway of a consumer outlet.

in a society where liberal humanists and other enlighten individuals call for the end of war and protection of the environment, citizens trample each other in hopes of getting the best price on toys. it makes one wonder just where this society is headed. it makes one want to vomit, pray and scream all at once.

*

i found myself moving against the crowd this weekend, but not in the dramatic fashion depicted above. at least, not dramatic to anyone but me. due to an unusual number of outstanding november work reimbursements i found myself a little short at the end of the month. looking with dread at dec 1, the day an auto-w/d for health insurance will hit my account, i wondered what i should do. i decided to return some already-purchased christmas gifts to raise the bit of cash needed.

now, this is a strange endeavor, you can imagine. while stores crawl with crowds of shoppers looking for bargains, i was in the return line looking to make some money. at first i wanted to make up stories--"this wasn't the right size"--or concoct guilty excuses--"i'm so sorry. this just didn't work for me"--but after the first store (I went to two) something happened inside me. i felt free and responsible.

let me explain. of late i have been really trying not to put charges on my credit card, which sounds like it would be easy (just don't do it!), but since, as i mentioned above, i often purchase things for my job and then get reimbursed, every end-of-month finds me in crunch mode. i usually end up either borrowing from my savings or charging a few items, incurring the interest and chalking it up to vocational hazard. and since the last two months have found me with above-and-beyond expenses--car repairs and a tooth crown--my reserves are depleted and option #1 wasn't possible. i'm sick of charging so i tried to stretch my funds and it just didn't work. i was short. thus, the return-o-rama scheme was hatched.

i must admit that before freedom and responsibility hit me, a little shame did. i mean, come now, who returns gifts to make money? (answer: really greedy teens or really poor newlyweds). yet freedom came to me in knowing that in a culture where shoppers kill other people in a frenzied rush to acquire goods, i was, in a small way, bucking that system. i was calmly returning items, not slavishly clamoring for them.

freedom also came in realizing that i wasn't folding and relying on credit which is increasingly expensive these days, you may have noticed. responsibility came in knowing that as the cfo of company kelli i was making a wise choice for my investors (me!). i raised the capital i needed to stay solvent, and i know where to go if i want to buy those items back.

and really, do my neices and nephews really need the just-released kung fu panda movie that, like three months from now, will be marked down from $19.99 to $7.99? uh, no. do i need the raiders of the lost ark dvd just because it's $3.98 and just because harrison ford was really cute back then? again, no.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

On The Road (After Bed)

so, my last post lamented that my local pbs station wouldn't be airing a highly anticipated national series, spain on the road again ("rocky mountain high?). much to my delight and surprise a rep from kcts, my local station, emailed me right after the post went live to let me know that they will indeed be airing the series, just a month or so later than other affiliates. i said: great! i can wait until october.

well, tonight's the big night. i just checked the evening programming guide for kcts to see exactly when i can let myself be transported to spain and all things gwen and mario. i found out the airtime is tonight at 11 pm. now, is it just me or is that, like, BEYOND primetime? not to whine (more than necessary), but come now. spain on the road again is pre-empted by:

1. baseball (apparently a dramatic show, NOT a game)
2. conversations at kcts (not sure what this is, but please let it NOT be a donor drive)
and (this is my fave)
3. get ready for digital

the other day my friend kate asked me if i had seen the show on iTunes, since she knows i haven't seen it broadcast on tv yet and since the first episode download from iTunes is free and since every civilized person on earth has access to iTunes (being on par with having a flush toilet). i said, noooo, i'm waiting for the show to air to support my local pbs station.

smug little me.

not anymore. the gloves have come off. my enlightened liberal poise is taking a backseat (a spot way back in the trunk?) to facility. bring on the download, i say.

question: do you think the station didn't have to pay as much for the rights to air the show if they aired it after 10 pm? just wondering why (i presume) an infomercial for the switch to digital tv in '09 would pre-empt gwen and mario. or why it would pre-empt ANY show at all.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

rocky mountain high? (on the road again, part 3)

everyone, stop what you are doing. i just found out some very sad news: my local pbs station, kcts, will NOT be airing, spain on the road again. i know, unconscionable, but true. i just downloaded the kcts september schedule. in the september 20, 7 pm time slot they will airing--wait for it--JOHN DENVER. please, feel free to locate kcts' email and send them very stern reprimands!

i'm going to have to get creative. i'm not normally about doing the bit torrent thing (aka, internet rip offs) but i'm definitely tempted on this one. maybe i should buy myself an early christmas present and just pre-order the dvd set...

ideas?

Friday, September 5, 2008

on the road again and soon

so, the time has come. finally. you'd think it was months and months since i blogged about the upcoming pbs series, spain: on the road again. but it's only been a few weeks, since august 12. i think it's that weird time thing that happens to us when we're excited (how the trip to disneyland takes forever to come and christmas morning eons to arrive, that sort of thing).



check out the site. mario will be blogging about the series, which is pretty cool. i did notice, and react with an understanding laugh, that his blog does not allow for comments. i'm sure he doesn't want to deal with a bunch of silly remarks. i can imagine them coming from all directions:

(the food enthusiast): "mario, i just LOVE your dad's deli in seattle" (that's something i'd prolly say if i ever got to eat at his dad's deli--read my august 31 post to see what my whining is about)

(the food network junkie): "mario, why DID they cancel molto mario? is fine living network REALLY a sister station?"

(hormonally charged guys): "mario, is gwyneth paltrow as hot in person as she looks in the movies? what was it like to spend 4 whole months in spain with her?"

(sycophants of any gender): "mario, where do you get all your orange shoes?"

(mothers/mother-types): "mario, don't you catch a cold from always wearing shorts?"

so, no blog responses from The Great One. that's okay, i'm looking forward to the sights, sounds and smells of italy (at least the imaginary smells coming through my tv) and i'm okay with not becoming mario's blogger bff.

it also looks like mario's "fellow travelers" will be blogging and i must say since my friend, kate informed me that mark bittman is pretty cool, i look forward to hearing his thoughts. and honestly, i have nothing against the girls, i really don't.

on a more contemplative note: i think we all pretty much get it now that there is no such thing as the simple release of a movie or show, at least not high profile ones. gone are the days when you just showed up at the theatre (with your nickel) and "saw the picture." gone, also are the days when you looked at the current listings of tv guide to see what's on. now it's about the release, the preview of the release and the preview of the preview. the fact that this is my second blog about a show that hasn't even aired is proof of that. not to mention that the series will be feature on an upcoming oprah episode and also graces the cover of this week's people magazine (which, incidentally will be the second time people has covered the show. may 12 was the first time).

i wonder if mario, who comes across as a very down-to-earth-guy (but a savvy one at that) ever just shakes his head at all the goings on?

ah, well. cynicism aside, i'll admit it: i'm excited to watch the series. bring on september 20, the day the first episode will air.

now, if only i could keep the wine cupboard stocked with rioja...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

not so salumi or sam


a few weeks ago i had a thought that put several acts in motion: i would like to spend more time in seattle. i live about 60 miles north of seattle in a town that offers daily affordable train service to and fro, making the possibility of a driving- and parking-free day in the city possible, which is to say a stress-free and pleasant day in the city.

this is not to suggest that seattle itself stresses me out. on the contrary. i used to live there and immensely enjoyed it. the prospect of taking in the sights, sounds and tastes of downtown seattle more than two or three times a year (that is to say less like a tourista and more like a resident) is a really appealing idea.

part of the appeal of going to the city involves sam. sam, in this case, is not a person, but rather the seattle art museum. sam is known, among other things, for its first-rate exhibits and convenient downtown locale. the current exhibit inspiring impressionism, which looks incredible, will run to the middle of september when it will be replaced by yet another tantalizing one, that featuring the work of early 20th-century american artist, edward hopper.

sam, it turns out, is not only a great place, but a great price. doing a little research i found out that a yearly membership pays for itself in two or three visits.

instead of just thinking about seattle and sam and how i'd like to go more, i acted. i purchased a yearly family membership. in the process i found the moniker to be true: membership does indeed have its privileges. museum members routinely get discounts at taste. taste is the wine bar and cafe located inside the museum that features tapas (small plates), affordable wines, and best of all locavore (locally grown), organic and sustainable food. (what could be finer: art, responsible and yummy food, good wine...)

after pondering which wine might be good to sip after a long day reveling in art and pounding the pavement i checked my calendar for the next available day to go to the city. now, at this point it's important to tell you that my first choice of days to make this trip was a wednesday, but a check of the calendar informed me that the wednesday in question would not work nor, for that matter, would any days that week. the first availability was the following monday, the third monday of august.

third monday in august it was. after i purchased train tickets, i had another thought: salumi is right around the corner from the train station and the train gets in around lunch time: perfect! salumi is, as its
name would suggest, a meat shop and it is also a restaurant. it is operated by celebrity chef mario batali's family and is a seattle landmark (not to mention a vegetarian's nightmare). the meat is hand-crafted in the artisan style and it shows. the shop opens at 11:30 and the line at the door forms at about 11:29.

bizzaro but true for a foodie like me is the fact that i have yet to eat at salumi. i tried once, honestly i did. friends kate and omar, who were visiting one august week told me about the shop and together we made a trip there. but salumi was closed. and not just for the day, but for the entire month (apparently it is very italian to take a long vacation in august!). there was no chance of returning even another day during their trip.

i could not have been more excited to finally eat at salumi. the personal lead-up had been long and the reviewer ravings vast. let's just say food critics go hog wild about sinking their teeth into hot sopressata and lamb "prosciutto."


just looking at their online pictures makes one want to hide the hormel, that is for sure. so, salumi, it also was. we'd get off the train, grab a quick (or not-so-quick) sandwich and start the adventure off right. was this going to be a perfect day, or what?

or what. the saturday before the trip to the big city a friend told me that salumi is closed on mondays! yes, that's right, mondays. okay, i thought, no finochionna. we'll do that on another trip. i cheered myself with the thought that we could always grab a quick bite near the museum at etta's or maybe cafe compagne or even chez shea. we'd definitely not starve, that's for sure!

when we got to seattle, we realized that salumi is not the only place that takes mondays off. yep, so does sam. and to add insult to injury, sam is actually some mondays just for members. member mondays, as they are called which are normally the third monday of the month (OUR monday), but, for some strange reason, member monday in august was held the second monday.

not to be dissuaded--it was our first big day in the city in quite a while, after all--we made the most of it. we dined at etta's (somehow even the red hook ipa tastes better there--maybe its the grass-fed beef, home cured bacon and artisan cheddar cheese burger with, green tomato salsa and shoestring potatoes?), shopped at the filthiest ross dress for less you've ever laid your eyes on (there's even a seattle police officer working the door--no joke). we cruised the many shelves at elliot bay bookstore, where i bought several books, one of them anne lamott's grace (eventually) which was provocative enough to be the topic of a near-future post. we ended the day at--sigh--fx mcrory's, a sportsbar near the seattle stadiums that is well, a sportsbar (i'm not even going to give you the link, okay?). at this point in the day, i'll admit it: i did want it all to end. the day did go out with a bit of a whimper. but then the view of elliot bay and the puget sound on the way home was glorious. it's hard to stay grumpy looking at that...

there is always next time, as they say. and you can bet that next time will definitely come before impressionists leave sam and definitely NOT on a monday.

Monday, August 18, 2008

olympic hopes not dashed--yet

i don't know about you, but i've been soaking up olympic glory this past week, albeit from the confines of my comfy couch. i find myself engaging in the thrills and agonies of the contests, crying with those who get beat by that .0l second margin and cheering with those who win medals and break records. the looks on the faces of the winners--such ecstasy and pure happiness, if even for a moment, is exciting to watch. oh, and when our national anthem plays? foggettabout it, it's like a hollywood rain machine gets turned on in my eyes.

while i love the passion and excitement of the games, i also find myself feeling a little wistful, a little bit depressed when i watch them. i love watching athletes, who are in prime shape, young with so much of their lives ahead of them and so darned good at what they do. but from my vantage point (the couch and about 15-20 years older than most of the competitors), it's easy to feel like, well a loser.

growing up i had some olympic hopes of my own and, apparently, some good genes that may have enabled me to fulfill them. my father was a phenomenal athlete, performing just off olympic level in track and field. i played many sports growing up and found that most came pretty easily. i trained to try out for volleyball in college but decided to walk on to the basketball team.

as a pre-teen t i had tasted a bit of olympic glory in watching the '84 summer games held in LA. i wanted more. partly due to my dad and partly due to the wild popularity of long distance runner and american track legend mary decker slaney, i decided that i wanted to be a runner. i could just see myself standing on the medal stand, with a medal around my neck!

well, that didn't happen. life got busy, my running morphed into playing other sports and doing school and time passed. a lot of time. while, as i said above, i did play basketball in college, i only played for 2 years (much to my dad's chagrin), because the sport consumed my life, and i could see that, lacking pro-level skills, it held little future for me. besides, playing pro at that time (the 90s, before the wnba) meant moving to europe. it just wasn't practical.

so, back to watching the olympics. i'll continue to cheer and cry and boo and hope--with and for our athletes. and then i'll get up off the couch and do what the rest of you are doing, going about life, in all its agonies, glory, pain and ecstacy. but sometimes i might dream, just a little about winning olympic gold myself. toward that end i've, researched some, ahem, sports that i may be able to train for, even in my antiquated state.

check out the best options i've found.

i'm not much of a hot dog eater, but i do practice bikram yoga weekly. hmmm...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

on the road again

it's been, what, 658 dog years since i wrote here. i cringe to see that i've changed my oil since i actually posted some comments. but i think i'm starting to get why. i feel like i have to write something important. or i should say try to write something important (i'm not so uber self-confident to think that i ever achieve *importance* in much of anything i write!) anyway, to heck with gravitas and to heaven with gastronomy. i want to opine about an upcoming show i discovered, a pbs show that features the cuisine of spain, a road trip with mercedes coupes, a celebrity chef, and actress and groupies (aka, friends).

no, this is not a joke, although it does sound a little like the one that goes "there was a priest, a rabbi and a banker." it's for real. the show is called "spain...on the road again," and stars gwyneth paltrow, mario batali and two people i've never heard of but are apparently near and dear to "bats" and gwyn. the show's concept is simple yet oddly fascinating. take 4 unlikely travel buddies, give them sports cars to drive and point them in the direction of spain, where they are to eat just about everything they can get their incisors on for a duration of 1 season plus 1 month. film the trip and air it. sounds a little weird (can YOU imagine mario and gwyn chatting it up for 4 months??) but i'm thinking lovers of all things mario, gwyn, spain and/or food will find something to watch here. hey, i saw the youtube clip less than an hour ago and already i'm already thumbing through the spanish tapas cookbooks and decanting the malbec. but if you're having trouble wrapping your head around the concept, check it out for yourself here.

well, check out the show's site and then prepare yourself for the guilt that is inevitable (you'll be two-timing rick steves, and on his own network after all!). after you watch the show, which airs sometime in september on local pbs stations, check back here. i'd be interested to know if you found it better than any of the 43 food network shows aired on any given day that feature bobby flay grilling lobster tacos or rachael ray cooking a "yum-o" 30-minute meal.

Monday, May 19, 2008

desire for what?

i was standing at the grocery store register trying to avert my gaze from the myriad of fashion, gossip and home improvement magazines. funny thing. sometimes i try to steal glances at them without buying. as i'm putting my produce on the conveyor belt and while the person if front of me punches in their debit pin number, i try to consume the mag without anyone noticing. if i'm honest i'll admit that at these moments even though i tell myself i really don't care, i somehow do. i really want to quickly find out which star's having a baby, who's up for a grammy, who's dieted and lost 15 lbs. and if not that, how much a house in the wallingford neighborhood of seattle goes for these days. for whatever reason, i never, and i mean never, buy those magazines, but sometimes (many times!) i can't help but gawk. it feels compulsive at times. and compulsiveness feels out of control, and let's just say it: sinful.

on this particular day at the check stand i think about the compulsiveness of the glancing. it suddenly strikes me that the reason i try not to look at but sometimes can't help avert my eyes from these magazines is that i'm ashamed to look at them, like you'd be ashamed to be caught gawking at porn. porn, you say? well, yeah, i think some women's magazines are a form of porn. porn for women. they are meant to hook our eyes, stir up desire, instill a sense of dissatisfaction, pull our dollars from our wallets and keep us panting for more.

before i totally confuse, confound or worse, scandalize anyone, let's quickly define pornography. some ethicists among us define it as: "the sexually explicit depiction of persons, in words or images, created with the primary, proximate aim, and reasonable hope, of eliciting significant sexual arousal on the part of the consumer of such materials" (the encyclopedia of ethics, 1992, 991). but interestingly, the greek word from which the word pornography is derived (porneo) can be defined as broadly as "idolatry." considered together, we might infer that porn is material that is meant to elicit sexual arousal and/or promote idolatry in the consumer.

i'm suggesting that magazine covers which showcase beautifully decorated and spotless houses (especially vacation houses) or those that feature thin, beautifully dressed women with long legs, dewy complexions and perfect hair, or those that exploit the heartthrobs, health crises and hairdos of top stars are meant to make us want, covet, deeply desire something else; a different spouse. a better house. a glamorous life. a thinner body. i'm also suggesting that the effort to make us desire these things is pornographic. no, it's not that we want those women, but we want to be like them. we don't want that exact home, but we want a better one than we have. we might not want that star's boyfriend, but we want a whirlwind romance like she has (or at least a passionate weekend at the Central Park Ritz Carlton, which we read all about in the style section).

one of the main problems with this female porn is that, like other forms of it, the material lies. nobody has nice hair all the time. no matter how luxurious a home is, it's just a place with beds and a sofa. no matter how hot that actor is, he's bound to get divorced or fall off the a list or at least develop a paunch.

lest anyone think i'm drawing dark lines on these mags where they don't belong, consider this. where reality really doesn't mesh with fantasy, photoshop comes to the rescue to create astounding photo spreads: legs are trimmed, zits removed and waistlines slimmed all with the stroke of a magic pen. so what's really pathic is that while i stand there gazing at the glossy covers and working up a nagging sense of dissatisfaction with my life, what i'm coveting isn't really real. it promises something that can't be delivered no matter how much you want it. if that's not a prime example of porn, i don't know what is.

i did a little poking around today and found out that others are thinking about and writing about our passionate relationship with our homes. now, nobody is using the word pornography to describe that desire, that's all me. but basically they're saying similar things. an article entitled "house envy", written by a finance guy, focuses not on the price or value of homes, as you might think, but rather on how the author's youth daughter desires to have a bigger and better home than her own. after visiting a new playmate at his home, a structure about 5 times as large as her own, she came home wanting to live in a "palace." the author's point and concern was that no one had to teach his daughter to want more than she had, to covet her neighbor's stuff. she lived in a perfectly good home but somehow wanted more, bigger, different. she's six.

the book, house lust: america's obsession with our homes, by daniel mcginn, which my friend kate introduced me to a couple of months ago also weighs in on the topic. it lists several reasons americans obsess on their homes. reason #5 is that our homes are a status symbol, a personal extension of ourselves, a part of our self-image.

it strikes me that as i have been moving through life, my status symbols have changed as the years have passed. earlier on i was focused on what clothing i wore, which shoes i had for which sports, how my hair was done and which friends gathered with me. in college i was aware of my car, boyfriends (or lack of them), whether or not my eyebrows were plucked and if i had drugstore makeup or not. these days, as i have been confessing above, i'm drawn to consider (obsess on) my relationship to my home. it's not that i don't care if my eyebrows are scrubby, my car old or my dating calendar empty. but there's something about this home thing that runs more deeply. maybe it's the magazines at the checkstand and maybe it's hgtv. and maybe it's that for every season of life there is a particular brand of temptation that tends to strike.

the next time i'm at the store, i think i'm going to try to breeze past the mags and actually talk to the grocery checker.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

girl whimsy

it strikes me that a lot of my posts are serious. i tend to muse about issues. that's okay but today i'm going a different direction. it's all about the fun. girl fun, that is.

yesterday my wonderful little (i mean big girl) niece came over for a couple of hours after school. she's three going on four. or maybe i should say three going on thirteen. she's very precocious, keen to show anyone listening that she can navigate the english language: "auntie, i would like a pink excavator when i grow up. oh, the elevator is what we ride in at the airport." (you see, there has been some confusion about those words--excavator and elevator--and now she has it figured out--but how i'm not sure, since all the adults in her life think the confusion is absolutely adorable and don't really correct her).


anyway, katie was with auntie yesterday. which means that katie says that she loves auntie a lot and fervently and auntie gives katie the world, or at least a second glass of milk and another animal cracker. katie also got a nice bath which was made extra nice because she didn't have to share the tub with her stinky brother who takes up too much space or her girl cousin who is her beloved nemesis. so no conversations like this: you are in my part of the tub. that's my horsey not yours. mine! mine! mine! etc, etc.

the afternoon got brighter and picture-worthy when auntie figured out a way to let katie paint her own toes and fingernails. it's simple: just give her pale pink polish and let her go wild. so here she is in all her cosmetological glory.

the diaper days and tantrums are in the rear view mirror now, thank goodness, and katie's graduation day from college is just over the horizon. right now, we must paint our nails. hopefully many times between now and then.



(notice the technique employed here with pinky in the air!)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

20

it hit me last night at the most random moment. i was watching dancing with the stars "results show", one of my cheesy pleasures. the band def leopard was performing "pour some sugar on me" while the professional dancers on the show danced a paso doble. (if this is jibberish to you, just focus on the fact that the 80s glam rock band was singing one of their hit singles on the show and dancers were flitting about to the music.). as i was sitting there watching the banderilla steps and the one armed drummer , i mused aloud, "i don't really like this band. i didn't like them 20 years ago and i don't like them now."

then it hit me like a pile of cassette tapes: 20 years ago. i listened to this song 20 years ago. when i was in high school. a senior in high school. i graduated from high school 20 years ago. not about 20 years ago, but exactly 20 years ago. exactly. suddenly i started sweating even more than lead singer joe elliott and the paso doble gang. this year is my 20th year class reunion.

now, i must tell you. i don't freak out about age stuff. not normally, i should say. i freaked out last year when one of my mom's acquaintances turned a bright smile toward me. i freaked out just a little when i went to seminary and lived with people 10 years my junior. but these panic responses didn't last long; in the first case i didn't smile back and in the second i gained life-long friends from the experience. somehow, however, the thought that i have been out of high school for two decades made me jump from my chair and want to go highlight my hair. or do more yoga. or date someone in his early thirties.

what was the difference? undoubtedly a number of things. here are a few. certain landmark dates--like one's 20th year reunion--are meant to be heavy, thought provoking, even course-correcting. you are meant to look back to those "good 'ole days," reconnect with friends from the past, hope that you look roughly like you did back then (or maybe nothing like you did back then!) and take stock of how life has gone for you, while trying not to play the comparison game too much and while trying not to drink too much and embarrass yourself.

another factor in this is that i currently work with youth from three churches. ever since i started in this ministry last year i have had tons of funny moments to realize a) i could easily be these kids' mommy, b) i could help them with their "high school musical" outfits because i actually wore those clothes when i was their age, c) i no longer know the coolest lingo and the latest cool songs (or should I say, "tight" songs?). i now go to the junior department in stores to scope out clothes to make sure that what i wear doesn't make me look like an alien, and i surf for top 40 pop song charts on the internet to get in touch with what everyone's listening to on their iPods. it's not so much that i desire to be cool, uh, tight, it's that i realize that if i am to understand some of their world i must investigate it as an outsider. oh, and i must get a great deal faster at texting.
i'm not ashamed about getting older and i'm not ashamed of what's happened in my life these last 20 years (thanks be to god for his grace). but boy, (and i'm going to sound ancient in saying this) living in a culture that worships youth and youthfulness provides plenty of freakout-able moments, i'm realizing. i can either become emotionally gridlocked, lock myself in my room and watch molly ringwald movies or I can move forward with humor and humility. time passes for us all, even for the young among us (some day iPods and pdas will seem quaint and ancient).

oh, did i mention that i was class president somewhere in there and it's up to me and one other guy to plan our reunions? where's my breakfast club vhs...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

new old nutrition

So I've gone two or so posts without talking about food directly. I'm breaking the "streak" today because of a magazine that came in the mail. It's called Prevention and it's marketed to people with Diabetes. Now, I don't have Diabetes and neither does anyone in my family--anymore. My father, who died a year ago, had Type II Diabetes and the magazine was his (or my mom's; she was trying to help him).

Although Diabetes, of course, is a serious matter, I had to laugh at the cover. The header for the main story reads (or exclaims):

Defy Diabetes
LOSE WEIGHT NOW with
REAL Sugar! REAL Butter!
Potatoes! Cheese!
Even Chocolate!


This header amused me first because it is enthusiastic to the point of ridiculous, definitely not the style taught in writing/journalism classes. It also amused me because "real food" like butter, cheese and "even chocolate" are so foreign to many of us (especially diabetes sufferers diligent about diet) that they come off as nutritional silver bullets. Who would have thought whole foods like these would ever become revolutionary super foods, especially for people trying to regulate their insulin?

But what really piqued my interest was another header which reads:

NEW RESEARCH
How Fiber
Speeds
Weight Loss,
Cuts Blood
Sugar

Again, through "new research" we're discovering the wonders of fiber, especially how it regulates blood sugar, a hugely important topic for diabetics, whose very lives depend on the regulation of blood insulin levels. This is indeed good news, but I have to ask, is it news? It wasn't to my grandmother who ate high fiber cereals and breads, but apparently it is to several scientists quoted in this magazine.

As I read the cover and stories in Prevention I'm reminded of philosopher Thomas Kuhn's book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he said that scientific breakthroughs are huge paradigm shifts that don't happen quickly but which make a huge impact on the culture when they do occur.

Think of the Titanic trying to change course in the Atlantic (slowly, slowly and in that case not nearly fast enough). The nutritional community, like all scientific communities, is like a neighborhood gang (albeit a non-violent one): solidarity is king. Everyone in the gang shares the same vocabulary and keep their private objections private, until, that is, the day comes when it is overwhelmingly obvious that a change is in order. For medicine and nutrition this means everyone supports one theory or therapy until the gang decides that x disease warrants a shift in treatment or x food really does have certain benefits (or detractions). At this point, the shift gets underway. The scientific community, armed with appropriate studies and data, and briefed with certain talking points on a particular topic, issues a statement that "new research" has uncovered a scientific breakthrough. The whole community, aligned to this new thinking moves forward (with key spokespersons doing the talk show and morning TV circuit, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.)

Before this time, going public is anathema. Say a member has a new idea, some new data to share, a different direction he thinks the research should take. He must stay quiet or at least muffled until this same idea dawns on others, if he'd like to keep his job and his reputation intact, that is. If he doesn't toe the line, if he starts trying to spread the word about this new thinking without the rubber stamp of the group, the integrity of the gang comes into question. Sometimes the group comes along with him; usually they kick him out of the gang, leaving him hanging out there alone, labeled a quack or at least an outsider (not something a scientist or, indeed, a gang member finds very comforting).

So, when it comes to food research, like the "new research" that Prevention reported in its recent edition, it makes perfect sense why it all seems so painfully not new, so not revolutionary to those of us who are not in the gang, those of us who put less and less stock in what the gang says and who listen to other voices that seem to make sense, people like Michael Pollan and Nina Planck, not to mention whole foods store purveyors, naturopathic doctors and other "whackos" out there who have been promoting whole foods for decades.

Above I said the magazine amuse me. It also made me a little sad. My dad, and countless others, could have been improving his health and enjoying delicious, whole foods instead of eating artificial sweeteners and fats and having a rotten--and it turns out unhealthy--time doing it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

what are the elements?

I'm making up for lost time, or lack of posts. Here goes another one.

Over at my friend's blog, we've been discussing the Lord's Supper, also called Communion or the Eucharist, depending on which theological neighborhood you call home. It's been a great discussion thread, touching on issues of sociality, loneliness, fellowship, symbolism and more. Check it out. To add to the conversation, I'd like to ask:

What are proper elements for the celebration?



Here is what the Scripture says about the institution of the Supper:

I Cor. 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

and:

Luke 22:14-20
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

So, the from the start the institution of the Lord's Supper has entailed a prayer of blessing over wine and bread. If I am not mistaken, most churches for most of Christian history since that time have used as their elements some sort of fruit from the vine (juice, wine) and some sort of bread (cracker, bread cubes, etc). But not all churches, especially lately it seems. Consider this short story, written by a Reformed individual, no less, which seems to advocate (or at least okay) the use of other elements (in this case cookies and Kool aid.)

What say ye?

plastics problems and solutions

In addition to the foodie frenzy that's got me thinking a lot about what I eat, where it comes from and how its grown, I've recently started musing on the water I drink. My focus on water started when I added a new exercise element to my life, Bikram yoga. Bikram yoga is sometimes referred to as "hot yoga" because the studio temp is between 95 and 100 degrees F. Not surprisingly, this sort of yoga makes you sweat. A lot. Like constantly for the 90 minutes you're doing it.

I take a 32 ounce hard plastic bottle with me to class. By the time I walk to my car after class, I've drained the bottle and am ready to refill it when I get home. In all, I'd say I drink 3-4 of these bottles a day, which sounds like a ton (especially to a person like me whose two daily beverages tend toward coffee and wine!). But, again when you are losing as much fluids a day from the yoga, it's not all that much.

So back to the bottle situation. I've read lately about the ills of plastic garbage, especially that made by disposable plastic bottles. You know, the ones that pop up everywhere from boardrooms to bedrooms these days, the ones that come in pallet quantity at Costco and other huge retailers. Apparently plastics like these are creating a garbage raft in our oceans, what some have cleverly and nauseatingly called a "yummy plastic soup."

While I've known for a while that there is growing health concern over disposable plastic bottles because they tend to leach chemicals into whatever they are holding, somehow I was under the impression that hard plastic is a ton better. Hard plastics, like the popular Nalgene bottle, can also be found just about everywhere, especially (and ironically) in the packs of nature freaks (and yoga weirdos). I think I was tripped up by the logic of: soft=leaky; hard=not leaky. And of course, good marketing by Nalgene and others give hard plastic bottles the healthy, outdoorsy mystique (ie, people carry the bottle even if they never hike or ski because it's cool).

It seems that hard plastics aren't so groovy either, at least those that are made with certain chemicals. Apparently many of the same issues plaguing soft plastics also occur in hard ones.

Thankfully, some companies are helping us out by providing alternatives. One company, Kleen Kanteen, goes stainless steel. Think really cool WWII canteens. They offer several basic models for adults (bottom left) and babies ( right). They assure us that the plastic tops they use in all their bottles are non-leaching.

At the risk of sounding alarmist, let me say that who knew stainless steel would ever be such a God send. It's true that not everyone believes plastics are that bad (as the articles linked above demonstrate). But many do and find it challenging to live plastic-free (or plastic-less, at least). This is because plastics are prevalent and preferred, of course. Think of all the plastic fluid containers in your house, from the water bottles we've been discussing here to the plastic gallon jug of milk in your fridge. It's one thing to order (as I will) a metal canteen for your drinking water, but it's another to try to limit plastic use in other areas of your life. Consider that my local market won't carry my favorite local farmstead milk because it comes in glass containers (below right). So to get their milk you must go out to the farm, which is a great idea, but let's face it, not a step many can or will take.

Milk is just one product. Let's think of other things we put in our mouths or on our bodies that are commonly stored in plastic containers. There's toothpaste, toothbrushes, the container that holds your toothbrush, your shampoo bottle, your travel soap container, oh, and your kid's teething ring and his wet wipe container, and...you get the point.

This topic is both encouraging and frustrating: encouraging that we have options like metal canteen water bottles, but frustrating that we need them. We are arguably the most developed and wealthiest nation on the planet with the safest water source, but we're too lazy or too ignorant to figure out how to drink it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

the most publicized coffee break in the world

So, I'm sure you've all heard--or felt--that Starbucks closed early on Tuesday for "retraining." Okay, just looking back at that first sentence makes me want to get all comic bookish on you: Egads! Zoiks! Blam! Starbucks closed early? Whatever are we going to do? Maybe it's the cynic, or the slightly jaded ex-"partner" in me, that wonders what the angle was for such a move. Has quality declined that much or so sharply that such a move was needed? Will the drinks really be that much better on Wednesday morning? Hmm. So I got to poking around into this little mystery and here are some ramblings that came out of my search.

To start, I heard about "the story" on today's morning news, the day after the fact. That alone should give pause to several people I know who think I go ape over Starbucks (and who thus give me Starbucks stuff in my stocking). No, it's not that I hate them or their coffee --I've been known to grab a cup while cruising around Target or to meet friends at one of the three stores in my town--but I seem to have a reputation for a being a devotee when I'm really not. I think the Mac Donald's factor comes in to play here: you don't like it that much but it's familiar and the farther you are from home the more comforting the brand--and the clean bathrooms--are. I've spent a considerable amount of time away from home--in places with truly crappy coffee--so I've frequented Starbucks in several countries and states. But I digress: my point is that I never would have noticed that Starbucks closed early unless someone writing the morning "news" shows thought it was newsworthy.

So although I'm not a daily Starbucks pilgrim (if I can help it), I did find it interesting that the company closed its 7,100 U.S. stores for 3.5 hours in order to "retrain." Maybe it's because a long time ago I gave up the lattes, the extra shots, the soy--everything that piles on top of your drink to make it $4--and settled for the short drip coffee with room for cream, or on a splurge day, a tall with room americano. Both drinks are under $2, which would still seem highway robbery to my grandma, but which by today's standards is a bargain. And both drinks are super hard to mess up, the first being coffee perked into a pot and the second being an automated shot poured into a cup with hot tap water added. So, I must have been out of touch with Starbucks' sudden need to retrain 135,00 baristas in basic drink-making, which Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz cites as the reason for the company's Tuesday evening coffee break. Schultz, who just regained control of the company in January in order to win back some of the 40% profit loss the company incurred in 2007, put it a little more dramatically: "Your drink should be perfect...We have to get back what made this company great, and that is to have the courage and curiosity and commitment to do things that have not been done before."

Like what, put, a petting zoo by the condiment bar? Or a merry-go-round by the drink case? They've automated nearly every machine in every store, have drink making down to a science if not really an art, and bring in mass-produced baked goods to every outlet. Plus, they're hawking cds on their own label and promoting kitschy major motion pictures like Akeelah and the Bee. Pardon the cynicism, but what's next, spa treatments and wheat grass drinks? (Oh wait, they do sell those from the dairy case). Well, worry not. We won't have to speculate long. Schultz plans to roll out a new save-their-retirement plan at the March shareholders meeting, complete with "five bold innovations." Saddle up the ponies.

In the meantime, we can only wonder (hope?): could it be possible that "bold innovations" or not, the sun might be setting on the coffee giant's empire? Gone are the days when everyone looked to Starbucks alone to set the cool tone--and high prices--for coffee. New (and not-so-new) kids are in town: Peets, Carabou, Tullys (not to mention the thousands of coffee shops that have been around for years in cities like San Francisco and Berkeley). Peets and others who bother to do branding seem to work their brand very similarly but possibly better (be the "third place" for your customers by providing cool atmosphere, comfy chairs, beaming baristas, at least not crappy music, etc). I know, I know, naive me thinking that maybe Starbucks will just fade away, or at least become even more mediocre, playing even more Paul McCartney albums. In a free market economy there is always a way to rebrand, to recast your image and make your customers forget you sucked last year. But it was not so long ago--the 90s really--that the bohemian coffee shop down by the Pike Place Market went from a local hole in the wall to a national conglomerate--starting with airports, moving on to major metropolitan areas and vacations spots. Not long after that it became an international brand, hitting Canada, Great Britain, then Japan and, you get the picture. Back in those good old days the expandability of the brand seemed endless (think selling expensive coffee to tea drinkers in Tokyo). But honestly, where to from here? Ceylon? The company stands to shut down 100 U.S. stores this year and lay off 200 corporate workers. Do I see clouds forming near Starbucks' blue skies?

Who really knows. But what the heck, my prediction: Starbucks will circle the wagons by ditching the stores that suck the most and will focus on international expansion, which by some stroke of luck or genius is already working. Case in point, in 2000, when I briefly worked at the flagship store in Seattle, I attended a barista training session with new managers who were being trained to start up stores in their respective countries/cities: London, Barcelona, and Vienna. When I met those people I thought, this company must really be bullet proof, that, or these people have drunk the Starbucks' version of the red kool aid and really believe that they can sell American mass-produced coffee in cities that were brewing and selling coffee long before Boston hosted its famous tea party.

Apparently, Starbucks' kool aid is pretty good (maybe it looks and tastes like a vanilla latte?) because the company's international profits are up around 8%, with the company slated to open stores this year in India, Israel, Istanbul...the moon, the end of the yellow brick road, the worm hole that the characters from Lost went through when they crashed their jet. So while I don't go out of my way to frequent Starbucks here in my own town, the next time I'm in Ankara I'll make sure to dash in, use the bathroom and order my short drip coffee with room for cream. Or maybe I'll splurge and order my tall with room americano. I will be using their toilet paper, after all.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

a tale of two italies, part 2

I'm feeling inspired to return to Italy. A favorite local wineshop is planning an agritourism trip to Tuscany this fall and I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out what I could sell to scrape cash together to go along. Since that's not realistically going to happen, I'll have to settle for a vicarious trip to the land shaped like a boot, contemplating author Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love: A Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.

Whereas the other book on Italy I reviewed earlier this month (Italian Days) began with no insights as to the the author's intent, with the opening chapter dropping the reader into Milan, it's worthy to note that Gilbert's book differs quite a bit. The introduction informs us that the book we are about to read is an account of the author's year of "self-inquiry" which took place in Italy, India and Indonesia (2). She further clarifies that the book we are holding is a "sincere spiritual investigation" and an effort to "find balance." Her inquiry, "as all quests for truth," is "methodological," not a "spazzy-free-for-all" (1-2).

This of course, begs several questions, such as: what method did the author use? What method could help her find "everything across Italy, indonesia, and India") (emphasis mine)? And, while we're at it, why these three countries specifically (save the fact that they make for good alliteration)? The answers, I believe, both help manage our expectations about what the book will actually accomplish and also give insights into the author's bias, her preconceived ideas about how she will accomplish her goal. The book is structured like a string of Hindu or Buddhist prayer beads, with each of the three sections (countries) containing 36 stories--36 being 1/3 of the total number of beads strung on a prayer necklace. The book as a whole is Gilbert's own 109th bead, representing the spiritual insights she gained from her year of spiritual exploration. So right off we learn that from the author's point of view what we are about to read is more than a memoir or travelogue; it's a spiritual search. We also realize that the stated method of this search is particularly Eastern, specifically Buddhist or Hindu.

Still we haven't learned why the author chose the three "I countries", especially Italy. It's been a while since I visited Italy, but the last time I hung out in Florence I didn't see too many prayer beads, ashrams or gurus! The simple answer (woven throughout chapter one, "Italy: Say It Like You Eat It or 36 Tales of Pleasure") is: Gilbert has an affinity to all three places, and during a year of crisis (horrible divorce, personal emotional breakdowns galore), found herself dreaming of these places (she took Italian classes to feel sexy again) and even visiting them for work (a writing assignment in Bali). So the concept was born: spend an entire year living off a publisher's advance, writing about her spiritual (and not-so-spiritual) experiences in those three countries.

It should be said at this point that Gilbert is an immensely talented and lauded writer, which explains why a book like Eat, Pray, Love is a best-seller (New York Times #1) and has been received in Oprah-esque style ("...fun and inspiring. You will laugh, cry, and love with a more open heart." ~Rocky Mountain News). The book's off-beat concept along with the author's witty, self-deprecating style come off as diary excerpts from your zany but likable friend's recent trip around the world.

That said, I wasn't into the first chapter but 10 pages before I started arguing with this book. Maybe it's because I am so Italy-crazy that I took umbrage with a book that positions Italy as a sort of non-stop pleasure dome ("36 Tales of Pleasure.") I mean, just because the author's divorce starved her of 20 pounds, along with her taste for food and a sense of pleasure in life, and just because in Italy she found those 20 pounds, ate gelato at all hours of the day and was tempted to kiss (etc) handsome Italian men during her stay, does this mean that Italy represents pleasure? Or I should say, is it ONLY about pleasure? This was never a question for Gilbert since she openly admits she went to Italy searching for pleasure (60), and thus the "36 beads" on Italy are all about pleasure (and learning more Italian and going on-then-off Zoloft, and eating a ton of pizza, and weaning herself off her toxic relationship with her New York lover, and trying to avoid having sex for four months and...).

By the end of her Italy excursion, Gilbert notes that she's ready to move on. Well, boy that makes two of us. She ends her stay with a quick trip to Sicily, since it is "the most third-world section of Italy" and thus good preparation for her next stop: India (60). She also adds, seemingly an afterthought, that Sicily was a good visit since, quoting Goethe, "without seeing Sicily one cannot get a clear idea of what Italy is" (?). By this point I have reconciled myself to the fact that Gilbert's Italy is very little like Frommer's Italy or my Italy for that matter. That is okay (it's Gilbert's book!), but I'll admit it is more than a little strange to read a chapter on Italy that mentions relatively few landmarks, vistas, historical references, museums, philosophers, artists, Catholic figures (Mary? Christ??). It's not that Gilbert mentions nothing or no one, it's that well, she mentions herself more. A lot more. In fact, the chapter, as the book, is really one personal discovery after another. Her search for pleasure resulted in her discovering how to love herself (and gelato).

While self-discovery should, I think, be a goal of every traveler, it feels very decadent and well, silly, to position it as one's first priority (didn't E.M. Forrester's A Room with a View teach us that?). Reading Gilbert's Italy made me want to find the author at one of her cafe haunts in Rome, give her a big hug and then take her to the Coliseum where hundreds (thousands?) of Christians were thrown to the lions. Then we'd hop on a vespa and go to St. Peter's Church to gaze at the frescoes of the stanza della segnatura, which depict a 16th C Italian take on the interplay between philosophy, faith and beauty and which provoke us today to think about how we regard the interplay of these three topics.

In the end, I would say read this book for its humor and honesty. But expect to look on at a lot of navel gazing and to avoid seeing much about Italy itself. Do expect to find precisely what the author went to Italy looking for: a sense of joie de vivre or as Gilbert says, pleasure, which as we already know is easily found in a country that outfits officers in Armani, celebrates wine like it is holy water and produces the best ice cream in the entire world. If you would like to find in it--as I did--rich cultural and spiritual connections, don't bother reading the chapter on Italy. Go right to the chapters on India and Indonesia, where gurus and ashrams abound.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

the raw (real) deal

So I did something yesterday that before about three months ago I never dreamed of: I bought raw milk. What is "raw milk," you say? It's milk that's well, milk. It goes directly from the cow to the container to your glass--just like Bessy the Cow (and God) intended. Real milk (let's just agree to call it what it is from here on out) is non-pasteurized and non-homogenized. That is, it is not heated to 145 degrees for 30 minutes ("gentle pasteurization"). It is not heated to 161 degrees for 15 seconds ("standard pasteurization"). It is not heated to 280 degrees for two seconds ("ultra pasteurization"), and it is certainly not heated to 280 degrees and then stored in aseptic boxes that have been sterilized with hydrogen peroxide ("ultra high pasteurization" or UHT). As a result, real milk lasts about a week in the fridge, while other types of milk last longer ( two or three weeks for "standard," eight weeks for "ultra," and (yikes!) up to ten months for UHT.) Heating the milk to these high temperatures is meant to safeguard the quality of the milk, to boil away bacteria that can cause food borne illness. Most of our milk travels a far distance from farm to grocery in large tanks. Along the way it undergoes some level of this process.

Homogenization, which here in the US of A followed on the heals of pasteurization, is a process that blends the fats in the milk (the cream that rises to the top) with the rest of it. By quickly straining the milk through a fine mesh, homogenization marries the two parts. This is apparently a plus for us milk consumers; we just don't want to see that thick yellow stuff gathered at the top of the jug or (sigh!) and it's an inconvenience to shake the jug and mix it all together before we pour a glass. The downside of homogenization, besides the fact that it's not really necessary anymore (it used to be that milk was portioned out from big containers, giving some customers an unfair amount of fat from the milk, while skimping others) is that the yellowness of the cream in milk is a barometer of its quality; the yellower the milk the better the quality. I wonder if we saw our industrial milk (and butter before it's dyed) for what it is--white with very little yellow hue--if we'd think it was pure due to its whiteness, or if we'd recognize its low quality ?

One thing is becoming increasingly clear to many people: real milk tastes wonderful and offers many health benefits. Any form of pasteurization depletes many of the vitamins, available calcium (the kind that your body can use), proteins and omega-3s in milk. This is why most milk (even the pasteurized/homogenized "organic" gallon in my fridge I bought last week) is fortified with vitamins D and A. It's not that Bessy didn't pump out some good milk with good vitamins, fats and proteins (especially if she dined on grass and not corn mash!) it's that they were destroyed in the fire. You see, real milk contains heat-sensitive folic acid, vitamins and essential fatty acids (those little entities that unlock the calcium, aid vitamin absorption, etc). Real milk also contains good bacteria that pasteurization, by design, destroys. If you've ever known anyone to take acidophilus pills, their system needed those good bacteria from foods like real milk. Real milk, it turns out, benefits human health in several, formerly unknown ways; it combats cataracts, arthritis, even some forms of cancer (thanks to Nina Planck, Real Food for these stats).

If real milk is so great, why aren't more of us drinking it? The reasons are complex and manifold. One reason is concern for public health. Along the industrialized food producing-buying-consuming chain, which, let's be honest, is where most milk these days comes from, milk tends to spoil before it reaches our glasses. Milk is rather delicate, not liking long roadtrips in big stainless steal vats. As well, apparently sanitation on large dairy farms can be, ahem, a soft science, with Bessy standing in muck past her hooves, eating corn products that make her sick (so she needs antibiotics,) and with milkers not being as sanitary as necessary with their work (it would be easier to use good hygiene when milk is going to your neighbor rather than to a faceless, nameless consumer far, far down the highway). As a result industrial milk is an easily tainted product--one often in desperate need of a hot anti-bacterial bath. Another reason is accessibility: many of us live far, far, from Bessy's home and so can't just run out to our barn, or anyone's barn for that matter, and pick up a jug of the good stuff. Historically speaking, at the lowest point of Big Dairy's past, dairies near big cities ran amuck (literally), with cows called upon to munch on whiskey mash that was left over from the distillery down the road, and where, as a result, the milk produced was far from anything we might recognize as coming from a cow (and that which we wouldn't dare pour on our wheaties).

Reforms have happened in the 100+ years since Dairygate, yet pasteurization--a direct result of the tainted milk and poisoned milk drinkers from that period--remains. Industrialized production churns on, I believe, not primarily for health concerns, but instead because of convenience and easier profit.

So that's some of the info I have gleaned on the topic of late. Now I challenge you to educate yourself on this issue. The culmination of my study found me standing in front of the cold case at my local food co-op (it turns out I am just a little too far from Bessy's barn for a quick milk run to the farm). There I stood gazing through the glass at a half gallon that looked like all the others, save this: "our family has been producing fine dairy products for three generations and this non-pasteurized, non-homogenized milk is a product of a small herd of dairy cattle managed in a traditional, sustainable manner under I watchful care." I was frozen there for a second; it may have appeared from my stare down with the dairy case that I had happened upon a road-side bomb or trip wire. But years of indoctrination about the social and nutritional responsibilities of pasteurized milk gave me pause.

The good news is I got over my mental block. Today I woke up and decided to make myself a latte from my good ground beans which I ran through my stovetop espresso pot and, you guessed it, warmed (not boiled!) real milk in a pan. I'm sure my family was amused (or irritated) at hearing how delicious that latte was, but I just couldn't stop oohing and aahing. Had I never drunk milk before, or what?

Above I said that I live just far enough away from Bessy and Pleasant Valley Dairy (Bessy's milkers) to prohibit a trip to the farm, to the source of all this bovine goodness I'm describing. As Joel Salatin, Michael Pollan, Nina Planck, et al suggest, however, I'm going to make at trip to the farm as soon as I can. That way, I'll see how things are run and, more importantly, shake the hands of the people behind this nectar of the gods. And maybe that's one of the larger points behind all of this: go to the source, do a little poking around and see how real the food (in this case, the milk) is that I consume and serve to my family and friends (this may take effort, but isn't it much more straight forward than trusting a USDA inspector or a factory somewhere in Dairyland with my health?) Oh, and before I leave for the farm, I won't forget to pack a cooler to stock up on all those good dairy products.

For any of you interested in finding a real (raw) milk farm or source near you: go to: http://www.realmilk.com/where.html

Just because I know Kate and I experience mind meld on this (and many!) topics, here's the connection for Miami:

Miami Beach: South Beach Wild Oats Market, 11th and Alton Road, Miami Beach 33139 (305) 532 8286 Ask for Dan. Regularly stocking and displaying Golden Fleece Raw milk in the dairy case. Delivery day has been Fridays. They are also taking special orders for other Raw milk products from Golden Fleece Farms.

Ciao Fellow Cow Lovers,

Kelli

Saturday, February 2, 2008

5 & 5

I'm such a blogger newbie that I didn't know I was supposed to put the following comments on my site when I got tagged by a friend to do it (http://kateortiz.wordpress.com). So here goes: five odd things about me and five places I'd like to visit/revisit:

5 things:

1. I grew up on an island.

2. I went to college in another country (Canada, but hey!, or eh…)

3. I was born with a strange little wrinkle in my left earlobe and I keep forgetting to get it fixed (but how do I forget, when my niece keeps asking if my ear is still broken?)

4. I, too, worked in a coffee shop, am a coffee freak and am known for being into coffee (I get coffee crap in my christmas stocking). But I, too, forget how many beans to grind for the french press. This irritated my dad to no end.

5. I grew up in a community church, was involved in YWAM, went to a Free Church university, joined Campus Crusade (sorta Baptisty) became a Presbyterian, went to a Reformed Seminary where I became an Anglican, and then returned home to work at 3 Lutheran churches. Can you say CONFUSED?

5 places:

1. I absolutely must go back to Slovenia. I’ve been twice, one time under “normal” circumstances (traveling through to Italy) and the other in a time of war (Kosovo). It is called “little Europe” because it features every climate in Europe–from the Julian alps in the north (by Austria) to the Mediterranean in the south (by Italy/Croatia). With the variety of climes, come tons of diverse activities, sites, scenes, etc. The capital city, Ljubljana, is situated on a winding river and boasts incredible Renaissance and Neo-Classicist architecture. Coincidence that Ljubljana means “beloved?” I think not.

2. Boston. Okay, maybe all that needs to be said here is that I visited Boston on business in FEBRUARY and loved it. But what’s more, the little place I stayed, the Newbury Guest House (http://www.newburyguesthouse.com/), was so cozy, I wanted to move in.

3. Italy (I can cruise through Sovenia on the way…). I am whacky for Italy. I know, join the club. So this is no surprise in many respects. My specific reason for mentioning it is that I’d like my next visit to be with my mom and sister. We’ve always wanted to go together. Maybe if our business starts making money, we can comp it!

4. Ireland. My peeps on my mom’s side are from there (name: Lewis; island of Lewis, that connection). We’ve always been more in touch with the other (German) side of the fam, so it’s time to honor the Irish!

5. Big Island, Hawaii. I know, really original. But my mom and dad spent much of their retirement together there and we have a ton of great memories. My dad, who passed away a year ago, wanted some of his ashes to be scattered there. Sorry to end on a macabre note, but just keepin’ it real!

Friday, February 1, 2008

a tale of two italies, part 1

During the last months I found myself reading two very different books about personal pilgrimages to Italy. I found the first book, Italian Days by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, a Brooklyn-born second generation Italian immigrant and acclaimed writer (New York Times, The Republic and several books), in a very unlikely place. I was leading a mission trip to an inner city church in El Paso, TX and pulled it off the shelf in the room where I was sleeping. I wasn't able to finish the book during my stay and had to leave it behind. But I was so engaged by the book that I procured a used copy on Amazon.com as soon as I returned home.

Harrison's book grabbed hold of me for several reasons. First, it is a travel memoir without being a travel guide. Some memoirs read like a Lonely Planet book. That's good if you are looking for that one particular panetteria in Rome or you would like to know the best places to park outside of Venice. Italian Days, thankfully, is nothing like this. Right from the start the author lets us in on what she is doing and where she is going. It's clear--from the first paragraph--that this book is far from a straight forward tour through Italy:

"1985. The Alps make you feel all starched and clean and clean as you fly into Milan--they punctuate the long transatlantic sleep of a nighttime flight; groaning bodies stir and strengthen and come to morning life as the mountains exert a rosy magnetic pull that won't allow you not to pay them the compliment of being crisply awake."

Second, the book is personal without being self-indulgent. We've all read those books where you think you might want to explore the inner workings of the author's soul with him--until you get 45 pages into it and want to slap him or harm yourself. Where she could allow herself to navel gaze, Harrison stops short, giving her reader access to whatever experience she's describing by broadening it. Here's an example, her description of Rome:

"I am happy here, when I or others have bruised my life, I close my eyes against the hurt and think of Rome: as possibility, and hope. And I feel more related to my environment and to my circumstances in Rome than I do anywhere else on earth...for the rest of my life I will love Rome and and think better of my life for having known Rome. Rome, rooted and ethereal, stretching from earth to heaven, casts aside so little and embraces so much--there's room for me. It is everything; it is elegant, robust, common, spectacular, vulgar, exquisite, and above all rare."

Third, this book is a travel memoir of the best order: It is a quest not a tourist trap. It is a book about a woman's return to an unknown ancestral homeland, her quest to understand the land, the people (her people) and, ultimately, herself. As such, the book makes clear how and why Italy impacted the author, not merely how she found (translation: ate through, saw the sites in) Italy. Harrison acquaints the reader with Italy (and secondarily, with Harrison herself) through its substance, its character. The book is full of questions and insights about Italy's Catholic history and beliefs, its myths, philosophies, architecture, art, and even recipes. She quotes everyone from Augustine to the Godfather films to the graffiti at the Uffizi and the effect is powerful. We discover that Italy may be Harrison's personal quest, her homeland, her destiny, but it also has room for us, too.

Somehow the author manages to reveal--teach us-- various aspects of Italian culture and history without our minding it and, it seems, without her even intending to. This is not easy to do in a non-textbook publication (the reader either feels dumb for not knowing it or irritated that he's being taught instead of entertained). Harrison manages the trick, I think, by using a poetic style. She's light-handed, breezy, even rapturous, at times. That said, I imagine it is precisely her style that will frustrate and put off some readers. An example of to what I'm referring can be found in her description of Bergamo:

"The piazza contains shops, a taverna, and several houses; it is not a stage set...young boys play soccer; it is a stage set...a fat priest with a bald pate, his brown tunic belter with rope, waddles by."

My overall impression of Italian Days is that it is honest. It really is about Italy and also the author's many splendid (and a few not splendid) days there. Harrison's knack for making this book located and locatable in Italy (she experienced particular places and we can too), while also setting Italy for us against the illuminating backdrop of art, philosophy, theology and archaeology makes this work stand out from the myriad of books on the subject.

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