Monday, December 28, 2009


Some things I love, in no particular order:
outdoor activities
outdoor activity gear
planning events
telling people about nature
books and magazines
helping people do things better
learning about other cultures

How do I turn these things into a career?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Peace on Earth

Last week's Snowpocalypse in DC kept people from their last-minute consumerism, held up travel across the region, and gave the federal government a rare snow day. The snow began Friday night and didn't stop until early Sunday morning. It blew sideways at times.

It blocked our gate so we couldn't get out.

It piled up on the fire escape. 

But it was glorious, because for days, the story on tv, in the newspapers, online, was about the storm. We forgot about the health care bill, the ridiculous politics, the big sales on unnecessary stuff, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and focused on what was real, what was right in front of us. We helped each other wipe snow off our cars, we walked to neighborhood bars and puppet shows, drank hot cocoa spiked with Bailey's Irish Cream and Mint, had impromptu snowball fights, and engaged in spontaneous romping. We didn't go anywhere we couldn't walk to, and we spent the days and nights with friends and family, wrapped in sweaters and boots and scarves. For two days in DC, there was peace and love, which is what the holiday season is about, after all.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Nature is so cool

The past six months have included a whole lot of soul searching, after realizing that yet another fork in the career path may not be the right one. After thinking long and hard about who I am and what I want, I went back to 10th grade, when I wanted to be a marine biologist or a zoologist. I have always loved animals. My first word was kitty. I used to read all of those kids' encyclopedias of nature. I wanted to work at a pet store or the zoo or volunteer in the Plants and Animals room in high school. I watched hours of nature shows on PBS and the Discovery channel. I even wrote a letter to Jack Hanna (he wrote me back - I still have his letter). But science was hard and writing was easy, so I strayed toward environmental and travel journalism instead. I guess I thought being a wildlife biologist would be somehow "not cool" or too touchy-feely, but I've still managed to do a fair amount of writing about animals over the years, from articles about endangered species in the lower Missouri River to wildlife fact pages for a conservation NGO. And I still nerd out over random nature facts - on a first date to the aquarium years ago, I happily showed off my knowledge of pitcher plants and my ability to quickly spot animals in their exhibits.

I recognize that switching to a biological science-related career at this point would mean more schooling, and I haven't ruled out getting a second degree. But in the meantime, I aspire to become one of those people who really knows their stuff when it comes to nature and wildlife. So I'm volunteering at the National Zoo and ramping up my knowledge of local wildlife, starting with birds.

And let me tell you, spending three hours on a weekend afternoon talking to people about the plants and animals in the exhibit is bliss. I'm at the Amazonia exhibit, and there is lots to talk about - two floors full of fish, turtles, amphibians, birds, mammals, plants, and more. The best parts are when I get to talk to kids who know SO much about nature! They're as jazzed about it as I was when I was a kid, but I was so shy that I would never have engaged a stranger in a conversation about anything. But these kids know a lot, they're so curious, and they love learning. It's great talking with adults too - they're just as interested as the kids, and equally wowed by all the cool stuff they see. No matter what kind of mood I'm in when I walk down the hill to the zoo entrance, by the time I walk back up that hill on the way home I'm buzzing with happiness.

I could go on for hours about today's volunteer session, about the funny things the animals did, about the rare two-toed sloth sighting, the new bird, the funny fish face. And it's so fun to share that with the visitors who leave behind their cynicism, their adultness, their moodiness, and revel in the amazement of nature.

Speaking of which, I am grateful to the many people out there who share their love and knowledge of wildlife with the world through their blogs (and let us know about it through social media outlets). It's great to see such a strong community of writers and photographers out there, spreading the word that nature is fantastic and reminding us that we all need to pitch in to protect it. Keep up all of the great work!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Fallen by the wayside

I've been neglecting this space. I receive and process all of my information now in Facebook- or Twitter-sized snippets. I have lots of thoughts about important things, but other people get to them first, so I fear that what I would say in this space would now sound old and trivial compared to their well-thought-out postings. The growing season is nearly over, and my one pepper and one pea was all I harvested, and I have no other projects aside from trying to figure out what I want to do professionally and then finding a way to do it in Colorado. So all I can think to post in this space starts with I, I, I, and nobody really wants to read that.

But I'll atempt a thoughtful post anyway, because lately I've been thinking about relationships and egos and judging other people. A few years ago, lost in the trauma of some mid-twenties turmoil, I judged some close friends and pushed them away. I decided that my own turmoil was enough to bear and didn't want to maturely address my beef with them. One friend managed to put up with me anyway and we patched things up, and now our friendship is as great as it ever was. Another friend accepted my rudeness and let me pull away, and so we lost many years together. We recently patched things up too, or at least started to, but now we have a gaping hole of years to fill back in. As I'm rounding the corner toward 30, I'm finally able to understand where I was, let go of the ego, and get back the things that meant so much to me for so many years.

People do this all the time. They get in fights with friends, push them away, seek them out to reconnect. It's all a funny dance. We think it's okay to push friends away because we have no legal ties to them. Our relationships are fungible, disposable. But these friends I blew off are like family to me. They are my sisters, if not by blood, then by soul. Kicking them out of my life for good is just not an option. We met in college and bonded during some of our most formative years. We started our journeys together at the beginning of our adult lives. You can't just throw that away.

If that's the case with people we've known for less than half our lives, what then of the people we've known our whole lives? Of people to whom we are biologically connected? We may not like these people at times. We may disagree with their world views, we may feel we have little in common with them, we may not understand their actions. But they are family. We are obligated to care for each other, to look out for each other, even when we can't stand each other. We are more than just floating souls, we are clan. We are kin. So what then of some people who choose simply not to care about family members? Or worse, those who choose to hold family members hostage for their prior actions, for their bad choices or their life struggles? How can you choose to simply give up on parents or children, on siblings, on aunts, uncles or cousins, who care for you no matter what, because that's what family does? How can we choose to hold our friends, or our egos, closer to us than we hold our family?

I say this as someone who is part of a family in which we were just four people living in the same house, going four different directions. It's not a judgment, just an observation. I believe that my parents felt the same way about their upbringings, and we were always going different directions from other parts of our extended family as well. We were all always disconnected. But we're family. We share some of the same traits that can be traced back through many generations. We are alike in ways that we didn't develop by spending time together, because we only just started spending time together. Like it or not, we are connected for life and death, and we will pass these connections on to our families for generations after us. So how can we take such trivial matters as such serious slights? Isn't it our duty to just grin and bear it for now, because these things too shall pass?

It makes me sad that my entire extended family isn't close like some families are (or seem to be). Perhaps it's more like, we don't try to stay connected. I'm just starting to get to know my cousins, who are all closer with the other sides of their families, and I feel like we missed out on so much. I learn about the drama in the family of someone near and dear to me, who may likely be my parter in creating a new family some day, and I see how it parallels the current drama in my own family. And I yearn to patch things back together as well as I can, because I can't wrap my brain around the idea that if we don't like what a family member is doing, that we can just push them away and leave them to their own devices. That we're not obligated to try to help them, or at least try to understand them.

So no, neglect is not an option. If we don't like something, if we're not happy with the way something is going, rather than try to find something to replace it, we try to fix it. We have no choice. When you are deeply connected to someone, the labor may be long and difficult, and often expensive, but a cheap new replacement is just not the same.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A new place for an old sculpture

A few weeks ago I met up with a friend at the National Harbor. I went there expecting to hate it, all Disneyfied and such, but it was actually quite nice. A little empty, since many of the storefronts have yet to become occupied, but it seems like a lovely place to spend an evening.

Remember The Awakening, that sculpture that used to be at Hain's Point? The one we were dismayed to learn had been removed? Its new home on the National Harbor is pretty cool.

The photos, taken on my little camera phone, don't really do it justice, but it looks especially neat at night.

Kids can still play on the statue, and it's a moving image from just about everywhere on the Harbor.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Brought to you by the letters F and P and the number 30

A while ago, some fruit flies infested the apartment, likely thanks to some garbage we waited a little too long to take out. The flies attacked and killed the pea plant, or at least they contributed to its demise. White-hot sunshine and 90-degree days also contributed. All I got was one pea. Oh well. It tasted like heaven. The flies have also attacked the zucchini plant, which has yet to produce anything more than cheery orange flowers. Perhaps I should have pollinated that plant with a cotton swab or something. It's hanging in there, but I'm not optimistic.

However, the cat grass still grows, the parsley is hanging in there, and the basil is so sweet and tender that I mix it with tomatoes and mozzarella every chance I get. There's not enough yet for pesto, but perhaps that will come soon. The biggest news is that I have a pepper. A solid green pepper is growing on the plant, with pretty white flowers promising more peppers in the future. The whole plant smells like a pepper. If I can make a real meal with peppers from my lame little container garden, I will consider this little endeavour a success. Maybe I will stuff them with quinoa, mushrooms, red onion, and herbed feta. Or maybe I will melt them into a giant pot of stew with white beans and zucchini and chopped tomatoes.

Which is good, because I'm turning 30 in five months from Friday. It wasn't a big deal until Sunday, which is when 30 was everywhere. CBS Sunday Morning was celebrating 30 years on the air. A car dealership on Route 1 in Maryland was having their 30th annual Labor Day sale. In the year she turned 30, Julie Powell taught herself to really cook by working her way through Julia Child's cookbook (I drooled my way through "Julie and Julia" Sunday night). I hadn't thought much about 30 until Sunday, when the world reminded me of the olio of experiences in my past that haven't amounted to much. Nothing noteworthy, anyway, just a grab-bag of opportunities through which to grow in some way. Kind of like my motley crew of windowsill greenery.

So now this pepper means something. It's my opus. If I can grow one measly little pepper in my little apartment in the city, I will have something to really show for my 30 years of life. I will have grown a plant from a seed, coaxed it to bloom in the bright afternoon sun, nurtured its fruit, and nourished my body with its harvest. It's a little thing, really, this pepper, but growing food is not such a little task. I don't think you can really preach about sustainable food systems unless you've actually grown any of your food yourself. Growing your own food, even one vegetable or herb at a time, changes you. Computers and cars, work deadlines and gym memberships, they are all nothing when you realize that you can pull your own food from your own dirt, aware of the miracle of life you have created.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

I has a pea pod

The container garden is creeping along. My pea plant has produced one pea so far. When it became apparent that the pod was not going to get any bigger, I plucked it from the vine, popped it open, and ate the one pea inside. All that work, all that time spent mulling over it, and it took me 10 seconds to eat its fruit. But oh, it was good - as fresh as it gets, and extra tasty because I grew it from one dry pea to a 14-inch vine in a clay pot in my bedroom window. Actually, I find it a little funny that it went into the soil as a pea, which grew into a plant, and produced another pea, this one edible. And now there are two more pods growing, likely helped along by the stinky organic fertilizer I gave it. Hopefully each pod will grow more than one pea. In the meantime, I will have to enjoy the bounty of sugar snap peas from the farmers market - little gifts from heaven. There is just nothing quite like a handful of fresh sugar snaps. Oh, if only the season were longer...

We have some other harvestables in the windowsill garden as well. The parsley is growing strong, the basil has sprouted but hasn't gotten much taller and the cat grass is tall and half-chewed by the cat. The zucchini plants have exploded out of the container and many flowers have bloomed, but as the seed packet warned, the first flowers are usually male and produce no fruit. Fingers crossed that we get some girls in that pot soon. The pepper plants have finally started to grow taller - I think they like it hot - but no sign of fruit anytime soon. Maybe in the next month. So, no feast for me this year, but this was just the beginning of my experiment. Knowing I can grow a pea pod in my window sill gives me hope for acres full of peas in future residences, and perhaps this season I can eke out a couple of meals worth of zucchini, basil, peppers, and parsley. If nothing else, this endeavour has reminded me of just how amazing nature is, that we can put some seeds into some dirt and grow something that will nourish our bodies and souls.

Le Tour

It's Tour de France time again. I've been watching the race at work in the background, and I'm a little torn because I'm cheering on team Garmin Slipstream, and yet despite all attempts to the contrary, I can't help but cheer on Lance Armstrong's comeback on team Astana. I didn't want him to do well. I wanted him to let the young guys take on the tour, a passing of the torch. I was slightly smug about his 10th place overall standings through the troisieme etage - still a good showing, all things considered, but still behind some of the Garmin upstarts. In today's team time trial, a challenge that doesn't appear every year in the Tour de France, Garmin took the lead, losing two racers early on but eventually clocking in with the fastest time, with two other teams to go. All this despite Phil Liggett's assertion that they surely couldn't keep up the pace and finish with the fastest time with only 5 of their 7 racers (I think this has to do with both some laws of physics and a team player mentality - I'm still learning about racing strategy and such). At the first checkpoint, Astana and Garmin had the same time, but Astana was really booking it because a fast final time would mean that Lance could take the maillot jaune (yellow jersey the stage winners wear) from previous stage winner Fabian Cancellara on team Saxo Bank. Astana had to finish at least 41 seconds faster than Saxo Bank in order for Lance to take the jersey. In the end, Astana finished ahead of Garmin Slipstream (rats!) but only 40 seconds exactly ahead of Saxo Bank. I wanted to send an "in your face" to Lance, but in the end, I admit I'm a little disappointed for him. He's an amazing athlete, no doubt about it, for a 37-year-old or otherwise. If he does well in this race, maybe he'll call it quits for good (at least as far as the Tour is concerned), and focus his efforts on raising money for cancer awareness and spending time with his family. And as for Garmin, I was worried about Lance stealing the spotlight, but after their strong second place showing today, the press won't be forgetting about them anytime soon. Ride on, boys. Ride on.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

By the way...

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is one lucky guy. The next few news cycles could have been all about him, and now they will be about Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson instead. Hopefully after the flurry settles, the good people of South Carolina will not forget that their governor up and left them for five days without a word, possibly using some state money for his jet-setting get-away.

Who's bad?

I never owned a Michael Jackson album, but many of my youthful memories include his music. I remember watching the video for "The Way You Make Me Feel" on my uncle's 72-inch television, way back before anyone owned large-screen televisions. I remember watching hours of VH1, back when they played music videos 90 percent of the time, and I saw the making of the Thriller video/mini-movie multiple times. VH1 also showed "Moonwalker" often, and for some reason the dance with the Elephant Man always stuck with me. As someone who loves to dance vicariously through others, I can't even count the number of times I got chills watching him, especially in "Smooth Criminal" when they do the leaning trick. In college, we had the mock dorm room that all the tour groups got to see, and we used to play Michael Jackson's music loudly in the hallways when the tours would come by. The digital morphing in the "Black and White" video was groundbreaking. It's sad that MJ got so weird over the past number of years. He was a legend, without whom none of modern pop music would exist in its current form.

MJ's death will likely overshadow the fact that today is the 25th anniversary of the release of Prince's Purple Rain album and the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon. We're getting older. The new generation is stepping up to the line now that the oldies-but-goodies are fading away into the ether. As an almost-thirty-something and thus too young to really remember the height of MJ's and Prince's careers, I likely have no right to lament this fact, but I can certainly sense the torch being passed. It started when Madonna and Britney shared the same stage. Until his recent run-in with the law, Chris Brown was being hailed as the next Michael Jackson. Who will influence the next 25 years of music? Who will lead the way to legendary status? Or in the Internet age, have we moved away from kings of pop and such? Where do we go from here?

RIP, Michael Jackson. There never has been, nor ever will there be, anyone like you. Thank you for all you have given to the world of music. May you spend a peaceful existence in the next life. May people remember not the demons that tortured you later in life, but your genius, your legend, your talent, and your kindness.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


A few weeks ago marked my one-year anniversary of finishing grad school, and in just a few weeks, I will mark my one-year anniversary in DC. I think this has been the fastest year yet. Standing on that mountaintop a year ago really did change everything. It's been quite a year. This is the first time I have lived in a city on my own, without my parents less than six hours away by car. And thus, the first time I have really, truly felt like an adult. It only took 29 years to get there.

I rode a motorcycle for the first time, despite my secret fantasy life as a biker babe. It was really scary at first, and now I can't wait to do it again.

I watched my younger brother marry the love of his life and start his own family and career.

In November I danced on my fire escape in the nation's capital when our first African-American president was elected. In January I huddled in the freezing cold on the National Mall to see him sworn in. And in May, I stood on the other side of the fence as he wished my mom a happy Mother's Day. Only having a conversation with him would be cooler.

I was active outdoors all winter long, unlike every winter past that was too hard and bitter to walk four blocks to the gym. Granted, DC winters are not like Chicago winters, but I definitely learned the value of fleece tops and wool socks.

This spring, I made my own yogurt, grew my own veggies, and roasted my own chicken. Cheers to being even more self-sufficient. I also joined the 21st century with a flat-screen HD LCD television and a brand new laptop computer.

I embraced a challenge at work and came away feeling much more prepared, capable, and confident. I learned to stop pushing pushing pushing for world change, opting instead to focus on creating a meaningful life for myself and seeking out the little ways that I can make a difference. I changed my diet, upped my weights at the gym, and lost six pounds, and for the first time that I can remember, I actually like my knees.

For the first time since high school, I fell in love. Real love, requited, reciprocated, gut-wrenching love. Who just happens to live 1,700 miles away. He inspires me to try even harder to be the best I can be, to let go of fear and embrace opportunity. He is my better half.

All of these things are wonderful. They bring me closer to the person I really want to be. Aside from the first real vacation I have ever taken without any family, I can't begin to guess what the next year will hold. All I know is that life seems to get better as I get older. I wish that life could be so good for others. I know so many people who feel such pain, and I wish that the warm rays of the sun would shine on them more often. I feel so blessed, so thankful for the life I have been given the opportunity to lead. Most days, I can hardly believe it, and that is definitely a first.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

City living: riding the bus and growing some goodies

Lately I've been relishing the characters on the bus, a sort of in-your-face to those who think the bus is for the proletariat. Last week, a little old woman was standing in the middle of the bus preaching in Spanish. I don't know much Spanish, but I assume it was preaching because I heard the words "padre" and "santos" a number of times. Yet she was so confident and happy that I felt strangely comforted by her. I was actually sad when she got off the bus. Until yesterday, the crazies were mostly like that - unobtrusive and occasionally amusing. But yesterday, an older man with a neck brace in a wheelchair got on the bus. The driver had to help him onto the lift and push him into the wheelchair spot, and when she turned him around I could see patches sewn on his shirt about the Vietnam war and a particularly lovely one that said something to the effect of Jane Fonda being a "traitor bitch". Yeah, it was that kind of morning.

The man was obviously drunk or otherwise under the influence and spent most of the bus ride shouting obscenities, the only coherent words from his mouth. Until he looked over a guy sitting in a seat nearby, listening to his iPod. The bus driver had already threatened to kick the drunk veteran off the bus for his language, but she stopped the bus and made him get off immediately after he started shouting at the iPod guy and ramming his wheelchair into him. Wow.

At first I felt shaken up. I was already kind of tired and not in the mood for some crazy guy to ruin my morning. But then I thought about all the sad people featured in that show "Intervention" who deal with addictions, and I pictured this drunken vet as he probably used to be: a young man who was just living his life until he got drafted into the army, sent to some strange country, injured, sewn up, and sent home. Left to his own devices, perhaps ignored by the overwhelmed and underequipped VA, to deal with his pain the only ways he knew how. And I felt sad. Because 40 years ago, this man surely did not think he would end up this way, shouting at strangers and complaining about his war wounds. I hope he has someone to take care of him. I hope he at least has someplace to call home. After he got off the bus, a woman on the sidewalk started talking to him, and it left me with some hope that she would at least get him to a safe place where he could sleep off his buzz, get some food, perhaps move on, forgetting the stir he caused that morning.

He didn't ruin my day after all. Upon returning home, I inspected the container garden I had planted last week. Plastic and ceramic pots resting on wide windowsills, taking up the cat's sunny spot, filled with Organic Mechanic potting soil and some courageous little seeds. In the living room, mesclun greens, zucchini, and peppers bask in the sun, while rye grass rests in the bathroom and dwarf peas greet the day in my bedroom. The rye grass was first, its pointy blades poking straight up through the soil. In another week, it will be ready for attack by the cat, giving my spider plants a welcome respite from dear kitty's munch. The mesclun greens were next, although different varieties germinate at different times, so although it looks like clover right now, someday it will be a salad. And now, the timid pea shoots are pushing the soil aside, emerging in the afternoon sun. I've been putting frozen peas in many of my dishes, so the idea of plucking those fresh little globes from my bedroom window for a breakfast delight of scrambled eggs with mushrooms, peas, and cheddar cheese, topped with roasted red pepper and artichoke dip and scooped up with toast, is almost too much to bear. I can hardly wait.

The squash and the peppers take a little longer to germinate. I've been hoping to plant carrots, beets, and tomatoes as well, so once I know my current plots are alive and well, I'll tackle the root veggies and needy tomatoes next. I was so worried that nothing would grow, and instead the bounty is just beginning. Photos to come soon.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A loss of public art

Last month, a dear friend and I trekked out to Hain's Point, which is in East Potomac Park. It's a peninsula of sorts, with the Washington Channel on one side and the Potomac on the other. The east side provides lovely views of some large houses and Fort McNair; the west side is a great place to watch the planes land at Reagan National Airport. At the end, in the middle of a big field, is the reason we trekked out there, carrying bags of goodies from the Whole Foods salad bar at 5:30 on a Saturday evening: The Awakening, one of the few things my dear friend missed after moving away from DC. It's a giant sculpture that rises out of the ground, providing endless opportunities for climbing and admiring.

Except that it was gone. No scar in the earth from where it was dug up, no plaque commemorating the work of art, and nothing except some old wintered grass left in its place. We were saddened. Apparently the National Park Service had long ago lost its permit to keep the sculpture there, and perhaps the artist found himself so strapped for cash that he decided to sell it to a developer in February 2008. So now, The Awakening emerges from blocks of pavement in a new mixed-use development on the southwest shore of Maryland's peninsula, another tourist trap.

Why didn't the National Park Service fight for the sculpture? Why haven't they replaced it with other artwork, something else for people to admire on a sunny day? We suspect it's because Hain's Point is not a tourist trap. It's not easily accessible by metro train or bus. There are no fancy restaurants or hotels nearby, just a scrubby golf course and some nice playground equipment. On that chilly Saturday afternoon, we were a couple of white faces among a diverse crowd of latino and black residents of DC and nearby neighborhoods who were picnicking, fishing, and flying kites. If anyone deserves public artwork to admire, it's the people whose income taxes (exorbitant in the District) keep the metropolitan area afloat during times when fewer tourists can afford to flock to the better-known memorials and museums. DC doesn't need more concrete playgrounds like National Harbor, it needs more community involvement. And it needs to support more artists, without whose creativity and hard work the city would be just another slab of asphalt. Please, National Park Service, bring public artwork back to East Potomac Park.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Going back in time

Recently, I have read items from a couple of books about current events and culture that were written either before September 11, 2001, or just after George W. Bush took office but before the Iraq war. I would love to call these writers and have lengthy conversations about how they now view what they wrote then, given what we've all been through. Because what they wrote then makes no sense now. It's like watching a movie or tv show filmed before 9/11 in which anyone can walk through the automatic sliding doors of the airport and right up to the gate, ticketed or not. Remember those days, when you could wait for you loved ones' airplane to pull up to the gate in the chairs usually reserved for passengers, instead of on the cold tile next to the baggage carousel? It may be such a little thing, but it reminds us of how much has changed in these 7 and 1/2 years.

One of these books I've been perusing is "Partly Cloudy Patriot" by Sarah Vowell. One of the reviewers uses the word 'droll' to describe the book, and droll she is. She has a lengthy chapter about the election in 2000, and her comments meld with the chapter about Al Gore to contrast the bumbling foolishness of the president we got with the egghead president we actually elected. This chapter was written just after Bush's inauguration, and she couldn't possibly have guessed what would ensue. In any case, this was all put in the context of the horrors of high school, in which the jocks rule the school and the nerds get teased and ridiculed for their inability to do pull-ups in gym class. Sarah pined for the day that nerds would run the world.

Now they do. And as much as our country has changed from the beginning of Bush's presidency to the end, it has changed doubly in the month since then. A country run by propeller-heads - if they can fix what's wrong, we may never go back to brush-cutting plain-talkers again. I shudder to think about what could happen if we get this wrong.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Cruel joke (and revolt of the parentheses)

Aside from a short jaunt off the wagon, I've been vegetarian for about 3 and 1/2 years (although I still eat sustainably raised and harvested fish, eggs, and cheese). It was mostly for environmental reasons, but also an attempt to maintain a healthy diet. (Do M&M cookies count as a food group?) Being vegetarian leads you to learn to make really weird meals out of things that shouldn't go together but have a complete array of vitamins, carbs, and proteins, so you shove it down and don't share with others for fear of the dreaded "you eat this?!" look. But despite my salads with beets and fennel, despite my oatmeal with protein powder and flax seeds, despite my scrambled eggs with mushrooms and peas (YUM!) and my 4-times-a-week gym habit, I couldn't lose weight and often felt gross enough to wish I could wear sweatpants to work.

Enter a dalliance through the local chain bookstore one Friday evening, in between a boring workday and dinner with friends. The Buy one Get one Half off shelf called my name. On it, a book called Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type. Grammar wonk that I am, I refuse to read anything that has a number instead of a word in the title, and am far less willing to read any diet book whatsoever. But I might have just fulfilled my Recommended Daily Allowance of said M&M cookie food group, and thus, the guilt won out, so I picked it up and glanced inside. And what of this blood type diet? What do my platelets wish for me to consume? No wheat at all (except for Ezekiel bread, which is not a loaf of baked flour at all, but rather a living thing itself, apparently) and no corn either, no coffee (wha?!), no dairy (blasphemy!), no peanut butter or other legumes (okay, now this has gone too far). Alas, my veggie burgers and tofurky (main ingredient: wheat gluten), gourmet Trader Joe's-type snack crisps, lentil soup, corn tortilla'ed fajitas, have all been working against me.

Instead, meat. Meat, meat, meat. Bison and chicken and fish (oh my!). Many of my beloved fruits, veggies, and nuts are still okay, as are most beans and some other types of grains, like funny little quinoa. But basically I should be eating like a caveman. The "highly beneficial" foods include: meat (no pork), the gamier, the better; dark leafy greens like kale, chard, collards; almonds, walnuts, flax, and pumpkin seeds; berries (but not strawberries, those acidic little rascals) and other red fruits; artichokes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, red peppers, and other such roughage; pinto beans and black-eyed peas. Basically, a lot of the foods I already eat, but not some of the foods I always thought were best for me. Green tea is the new caffeine, vodka is the new taboo (I never liked it much anyway).

Here's the best news. Chocolate: okay. Beer and wine: okay. Sushi (with brown rice): okay (in fact, more than okay. Enter the kelp/seaweed food group). I think I can do this, if I can just get over the fact that raising animals for food is an eco-no-no. The famous favorite ag advice folks say to cut out the meat, eat less animal, plan a night of meatless meals. And here I am, chowing down on bison jerky and chicken stir-fry. It will be hard to slice off the cookie-and-muffin section of my food pyramid, but the franken-bread and quinoa helps. The book seems to be pretty scientifically based, from what little I remember from high school biology, but I'm still skeptical. However, it's been 10 days, and I feel better. No obnoxious diet-devotee testimony here, but my stomach feels better, my skin cleared up a little bit (pure coincidence, I say. There's a mega zit waiting to take over my chin, I can feel it). And I feel more satisfied when I eat. For what it's worth. I vow not to eat cow, and I promise to purchase my meat from the farmers markets and Whole Foods. There might be some cheese involved though. Feta, goat cheese, mozzarella, you better hide.

The caveman diet: all of the flesh, none of the fashion.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Coming round, full circle

"On a short, dead-end street lined with low-income apartment complexes, a garden grows. Almost-ripe zucchini and tomatoes hang from tall plants. The compost heap looks tidy and fertile. Weeds are nowhere to be found, thanks to upkeep by a few dedicated gardeners who can finally breathe a sigh of relief. They get to continue sowing the soil for many more years."

I wrote those words more than 8 years ago for an article in the Columbia Missourian about the Community Garden Coalition. (It was so long ago that the article isn't in the online archives anymore.) I got kudos in the daily staff email from the Editor-in-Chief, who said that I had managed to made even a garden sound interesting. (Maybe because gardens are interesting!) I was so proud - little old me, getting a shout-out from the chief.

Well, it has happened again. I scrolled down Grist's front page to find this posting: Food and the Beloved Community by Grist's ag guru Tom Philpott. It's about community gardens and the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., a speech given at the Duke Gardens during an MLK Day of Service event. It caught my eye because I read Philpott's column very often, but also because I had just signed up for the Rooting DC 2009 conference about community gardening, and had also talked with someone today about the civil rights and discrimination issues that the USDA is dealing with. So imagine my surprise when the very first line of the Grist piece, the note before the text, references the organization I helped start! Back in the day, Farmhand was just a bunch of stressed out students shoveling cow poop and cutting brush. The students who took over as Farmhand leaders have done some fantastic work this year, far better than I could ever hope to have done. I'm so proud that this little group has made such an impact that a Grist guru would participate in such an event and write about it in an internationally read and respected forum, no less! Another shout-out from the chief, free publicity for a deserving and accomplished group of students, and inspiration to keep working for change.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Shakespeare in Prison

I just watched the 2005 Sundance documentary "Shakespeare Behind Bars," about a group of prisoners at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in Kentucky who have formed a theater troupe and present Shakespeare's plays to fellow inmates and family members. This was after listening to "Act V," an episode of NPR's This American Life about a Shakespeare troupe in the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center that is part of the Prison Performing Arts program in Missouri. The two programs initially piqued my interest because I'm a big fan of Shakespeare's work. Of the many things I learned in junior high and high school, the classes that still stick out in my mind are the ones in which we read, nay, dissected A Midsummer Night's Dream and Macbeth, sifting through the words to understand not just the letters and sounds, but also the context of the lines and the inner motivations of the complex and tragic characters who said so much beyond those words. Shakespeare knew human nature well, and he understood the very real, very complicated situations he put his protagonists in. Which is why it is very a propos for prison inmates to be reciting Hamlet and The Tempest.

It was so moving to listen to the inmates in both shows talk about their experiences, what their life was like before being locked up, what they wanted to do when they got out (if they were eligible for parole). A few in the Sundance documentary even talked about the crimes they had committed. These are people who are demonized in cop shows, and yet you forget that they're criminals when you hear them working with the program leaders on a particular line of the play that they're trying to crawl into. You root for the ones who have been in prison for many years and are up for parole hearings soon, and your heart falls when you learn that they have been denied parole, deferred for 5 or 6 years, even though they have played leadership roles in the troupe and in the data lab where many of the inmates work. Aside from the diversion that play practice gives them each day, the inmates participate because everything else about prison life is so dehumanizing (daily strip search, anyone?), but when they're performing, when they're interacting with each other and with Shakespearean scholars in a scene, everyone is on the same level. Everyone is a complex human, examining their own nature and comparing themselves to kings and queens, sons and daughters. So many people say that they fear public speaking more than they fear death, but perhaps to these inmates, many of whom have stared down death, facing their inner demons may be the scariest thing of all. When a person has led a life influenced by poverty, broken homes, and abuse, how terrifying it must feel to dig down deep, expose their vulnerabilities through words written 400 years ago that they can often relate to, and perform in front of their peers. To do such a thing and receive overwhelming praise must feel so empowering.

According to the Luther Luckett website, the annual cost per inmate is more than $16,000 of the taxpayers' money. That's a year of college tuition. It's just under the January 2008 poverty line for a family of three. At an average inmate population of 1,073, that adds up to a very large operating budget. We're spending this much money on people who will be locked up for 20 years or more, but what are we doing to keep them from coming back, spending another $16K on them for each year that they return to a life of crime? The Warden Tom Daily, at the beginning of the film, wishes that the inmates would just put the prison out of business by returning to the outside world and not giving the courts a reason to send them back to jail. How many wardens feel, as he does, that each day of an inmate's life should be spent preparing them to leave?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fast food guilt trip

I never thought I'd devote this much interweb space to fast food, but then I came across this great piece on Grist about the Whopper Virgins. I had only ever seen the tv commercials, but the actual website has a longer video about the international taste test. The writer makes a better point about food and the United States' role in world cuisine and nutrition. After you watch the videos on the Whopper Virgins website, check out this 20-minute piece from Mark Bittman. Then go get yourself a real meal, preferably home-cooked with fresh ingredients. Don't do it for the environment. Do it for your tastebuds.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Playing with food

Food combinations you may not have thought of that may change your life:

~Salad: mixed greens, diced cooked beets, crumbled goat cheese, sliced fennel bulb, artichoke hearts, balsamic vinegar, olive oil. Emphasis on the fennel. Add tuna or other fish and use honey mustard dressing for another variation.

~ Breakfast: one scoop Berries and Whey protein powder, 1/2 cup quick cook oats, 2 tbsp. toasted flax seeds, 1 cup water. Tastes like the strawberries and cream instant oatmeal packets, yet much better for you. Substitute sliced almonds or walnuts for flax seeds.

~Broccoli slaw: buy it prepackaged or make your own with shredded broccoli stems and carrots. Use liberally. Good with chopped cucumber, tomato, and cottage cheese.

~Trader Joe's Roasted Red Pepper and Artichoke Tapenade: Great on veggie burgers and in pasta.

~White Bean and Basil Hummus: almost as creamy as alfredo sauce when thinned out, but much better for you. Also incredibly addictive when used as a dip with chips.

~Almond butter: sorry, I still think peanut butter wins this one. But almond butter is a healthier option and can do anything peanut butter can do.

~Snack: Greek yogurt, toasted flax seeds, honey. Add fresh or thawed frozen fruit, jam, and/or granola. Substitute agave nectar for honey for a low glycemic index kick.

It's a fine thing we do here in this city

Working for the federal government has its perks, among them being the ability to do good for the nation and the world. But let us not forget the roles we play in our local ecological setting, for the extirpation of one can mean the loss of a whole lot more. As Sasha and Malia Obama prepare to start classes in their new D.C. private school tomorrow, may the Obama family not forget that although the international cameras may be trained on their every move, they are now residents of this fine city as well. And so, Battered D.C. Awaits Arrival of a Presidential 'Partner'.

A new year, another reinvention

On December 29th, 2001, during a pensive trip home from college for an abbreviated winter break, I made some pretty big decisions about my life that set me on the path that led me to where I am now. I have come to refer to it as That Fateful Day. Since then, I have considered that my personal new year, a chance to look back during a time when it's cold and dark and slow and everyone is readying their resolutions to proclaim two days later when the ball drops. Each year, I have found myself pining for variations on the same themes, but due to recent developments in my life, I find that I have reached the end of my list with most of my goals checked off. So what is there left to say? What can I pine for now? The usual things that other people ache for: money. love. lose 10 pounds. get a new hobby. buy a home. Time to start doing the things that people do when they stick their toes in the mud and let it ooze up over their feet. For many years, I spent this Fateful Day looking both backward and forward and I didn't stop to think about the very space I was in. So maybe that's my new goal: try to perfect the things I'm doing right here. Among those will be rediscovering my creativity, which surely means another change in direction of what I put on this page. I'll be learning how to use my camera to its fullest extent, seeing things differently through its lens. Like:

My dear kitty is, of course, a supermodel in her own right, and lots of digital space was filled on two photo shoots with a sunbeam. Not to brag or anything, but...

There will be more resolutions and new mottos for a better way of life, but those words may be couched in new promises and deeds, for we only do what we can with the things that each day gives us. Something to consider: if you don't precisely articulate your conscious desires, your unconscious patterns will come true instead. So cheers to living out our conscious desires, come what may.