Monday, January 31, 2011


This is my 8th entry in my This I Believe series.


None of the remaining topics are really jumping out at me, demanding to be written about. So this one is dedicated to the adorable mid-thirties lady in the white coat behind me at Meijer tonight. Here’s why…

This topic, society, was a little bit depressing (much like “prejudice”) when I read about it in my students’ writing. Several of them were actually quite negative about society, expressing pessimistic beliefs that are, I’m sure, rooted in a blue-collar upbringing. How do “we” (collectively) get to the point where we only acknowledge the negatives?

I believe that when we wallow in negative outlooks, it’s basically a self-fulfilling prophecy because that is all that we see and understand. And really, my case in point lies in the Meijer store tonight, when I had to scrounge for a free cart and waited nearly 30 minutes to get through the check-out. There was seemingly a lot to be grumpy and negative about. No doubt the cashiers were hearing lots of negativity, too. I was a cashier in a grocery store for a couple of years long long ago. I remember those nights. I remember the scowly lady who wanted to write a check when going through the cash-only line. It’s so easy to let those negative events affect you and color your way of thinking about people.

But I believe that society, while a collective noun, is mostly individuals who fit together in some sort of patchwork puzzle. I don’t suggest that I’ve much experienced this first-hand, but I listen and read and absorb this information in a manner of ways. I grew up in a white community, attended a white public school, chose a largely white private college, and now teach in a white public school that is situated on the outskirts of a white community. Circular, don’t you think?

But I believe that society isn’t just color variations, though I think when I went to college I probably felt this way. Society is a collection of thoughts and ways of life, different professions and sports affiliations, contrasting routines and eccentricities. In other words, a “white” community can be multi-faceted, too. I mean, look at my “brown bag sisters” from college—three charming, idiosyncratic, experienced, knowledgeable, creative, empathetic white women, all born within 5 months of each other, all from within a 100 mile radius in northern Indiana. The same yet…way different! But, we’re still a society, albeit a small one. And, frankly, I find much to be optimistic about with these girls let alone many of my students, colleagues, and friends who live in my city and all around the world. SO MANY good things are happening all over the place that I find it inherently hard to be pessimistic.

And my new friend, the mid-thirties lady in the white coat, you were so nice to chat with in an otherwise unpleasant situation. Thanks. I choose you to represent my society, the one that I want to live in. This, I believe.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

songs & stories

Abby has been big into music lately, grabbing her CDs and asking to listen to them. Great. We love our kids music!! But really...some of those songs...why are they kids music?

Ben questions "Charming Billy" which talks about Billy Boy who found "the love of his life." Unfortunately, "she's a young thing, and cannot leave her mother." So Charming Billy fell in love with a child. Creepy.

I wonder about the song that talks about the burning of Scotland. It sounds rather violent.

And then there's the nursery rhyme in her book that has the person throw an old guy down the stairs because he will not say his prayers. Hmm...questionable. I generally skip that one.

Lest I overlook the obvious, there's always "Ring Around the Rosie," the nursery rhyme about the plague. But that one amuses me more than anything.

Mother Goose, you are a titch concerning.

P.S. I just finished Under the Tuscan Sun, and while I'm not going to officially post about this, I will mention for anyone out there who was inspired to read Bella Tuscany and may want to read this one because of the movie, it's NOTHING like the movie, which I kind of knew going in. They share a name, a house named Bramasole, and a general setting. That's it. Not a bad book, but Diane Lane's character is, alas, fictional.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Omnivore's Dilemna

I know that this is technically the second book posting of January, but this is outside of my New Years Resolution (NYR) parameters. This one is personal. This is a book that I've heard "Have you read..." in reference to it probably five or six times. Apparently, to run in the circle that I run, which is to say fairly health conscious, eco conscious people, this is a must read. So I read it. Here are my thoughts (and before anyone says, "Oh wait, you also need to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I assure's sitting in my room right now, already checked out from the library)...

First of all, The Omnivore's Dilemna, by Michael Pollan, is divided into three sections: (in a nutshell) corn, organic, and foraging. My first impression, which lasted throughout the entire first section, was really underwhelming. I wasn't hugely impressed with the resplendent monotony of the corn section. At that poitn, while I was generally enjoying the text enough to keep reading, I wasn't riveted to the pages. It was depressing to read about and sure, further validated some of our household practices, but I was still kind of left wondering why this book was SO exciting/enthralling for everyone to recommend it to me. Pollan absolutely knows his stuff. But it was a bit much too sciency for me. Still, like I said before, interesting enough to keep going, especially because there are definitely some good moments in this section. Truly, the most compelling aspect of it is that I know people who farm and could envision them doing this work. And it's certainly not un-interesting, the story of field to table. McDonald's really became synonymous with all of the ills that are incorporated into corn/soybean farming in this country; this particular fast food chain definitely did not receive a positive review.

The section on organic farming, however, I found to be fairly fascinating and much more of a gripping narrative. Undoubtedly this is spurred by my fairly recent conversion to this "genre" of food. Most interesting to me was that Whole Foods, the organic-ish market that really sells that lifestyle, came off in something of a negative light as well...almost, dare I say, as the McDonald's of the organic world. Really the only reason for the negative implications associated with Whole Foods in this section came from the tie to oil in order to stock a supply of organic food year round. While Pollan never comes out and says it, I think that even he has to admit that the notion of refusing to sell out of season produce/food that has been shipped to markets across the U.S. that was grown in other places is foolish. It just is. While regrettable that we can't have fresh produce AT ALL (save for local greenhouses, who are still tinkering with nature) during the winter season, that doesn't mean that we should forsake such a portion of our diet for months on end because it takes oil to bring it to us. Pollan narrates a week-long adventure living/working at a truly sustainable & organic farm in this section, and this story was, in my opinion, the best part of the book. It's incredible how nature takes care of itself given the ability to do so. And it also cements the notion in my mind that food is a gift, once which we are fortunate to savor and enjoy (yes, even meat!), but that also comes with responsibilities. When there is a face and a story behind the $12 chicken, then you know what, I'm okay with paying the extra money. Be conscious of what you choose to eat; be conscious of how you eat affects people and the environment around you; savor what you eat. Don't gorge on cheap food just because you can afford it. There's a price to pay for that, too.

Finally, the foraging section, while quaint, totally oozes California (where Pollan lives). This section revolves around "the perfect meal" that the author cooked with all local ingredients while also incorporating at least one element of all of the different kingdoms that Pollan foraged/gathered/collected himself: animal, vegetable, fungi, and mineral. This essentially was a story about a) hunting and killing a wild pig and b) hunting and collecting mushrooms. Yes, this guy chose to hunt and kill on purpose, but the part that I find gratifying in this is the sense of revulsion that he experienced after he saw pictures of himself from that primal man moment--the vainglorious arrogance of human kind unfairly killing wildlife using unnatural means. I'm really anti-hunting for sport. It was a touch disgusting to read about his excitement after he formed his plan until he realized his aversion to stalking-killing animals. (At least that's how I interpreted it.)

All in all, not a bad read. In fact, a lot of thought provoking moments, and as far as I can tell, these are largely not politically motivated. This guy is an investigative journalist and teaches journalism at Berkley. While living/teaching in/at Berkley essentially clues us in on what are likely his political leanings, he really does a nice job staying middle of the road as an investigative journalist is supposed to do. I kept waiting for him to divulge his motivation behind these pursuits, but I really think that the guy is just motivated by curiosity. And, he's published before under roughly the same umbrella of thought, so this appears to just be his niche.

So...have you read The Omnivore's Dilemna by Michael Pollan? No? You should. Soon! :-)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

contagious happiness

When toddlers are happy, they're the coolest, happiest, FUNNIEST, most geniune people.

Case in point. Abby woke up from a nap, which usually means that she's in a super mood. She had her snack, which also usually means that she's in a super mood. Then she turned nutters on us.

Running from the living room to our bedroom back to the living room back to our bedroom back to .... shrieky laughing. Continuously. Funny stuff.

Then she started going in circles around the coffee table like she was chasing herself. Funnier stuff.

And it's always a riot when she plays peek-a-boo by putting a blanket over her head, but when she starts walking around before she takes the blanket off of her head, she runs into things (gently bumping, really). Funniest stuff.

It's been a laugh a second around here since 3:00 this afternoon. What a fun age!!

"Everybody knows how to raise children, except the people who have them." P. J. O'Rourke

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


This is the 7th entry in my This I Believe series.


I’m going to preface this by saying that I had something that we’ll pretend was brilliant all pecked out and not saved on my laptop before I put it to sleep so that I could attend to the feeding circus with my favorite trick pony, Abby. When I came to turn in back on…nothing. Here it goes again.

I’ve been wanting to write another entry to my This I Believe series, and haven’t had any genius moments of insight into any of the remaining topics on my list. But yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which made me think twice about the topic of prejudice. Here’s what I see in one very specific part of my life.

I teach high schoolers…big, egotistical, arrogant, deceptively intelligent, hilarious, loving, frustrating teenagers. The curse about my job is the seemingly never-ending grading that crosses my desk. The joy about my job is the same thing. I have a special insight into some really cool, special, and scary places when I read teenagers’ writing, a trust that I don’t take lightly. It never ceases to amaze me that a student allows me access to their secret life when they intentionally illustrate their story on paper. Yet, it also bothers me to a great extent when I have to read prejudicial, hurtful, hateful writing. How do I flippantly mark what I know is inherently wrong?

Who teaches prejudice? And who decides what prejudice is acceptable and which is not? It is so frustrating to feel completely helpless in dealing with an attitude that will not be swayed. Such was the case when I graded the final installment of the assigned This I Believe portfolios from my senior Composition classes. Twice. Two young men who were unabashedly demonstrating unequivocal and unapologetic prejudice. Because that is the environment in which they have been implicitly taught.

There is still work to be done. There are still young minds who are being shaped by the wrong mold. There are still adults who don’t care about who is affected by their own (wrong) opinions.

I’m convinced that prejudice is manifested as fear more often than ignorance.

But Ben and I have the sobering task of most directly shaping Abby’s perceptions of the world. I’m deeply aware of this, not only in regards to her perceptions of race but also of gender, intelligence, and such. As with all babies, she is a beautiful example of non-prejudice. May we all be so.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy

Last year’s New Years resolution was a smashing success in our household. Costly, but money well spent. Something of a life overhaul that has become firmly rooted into our way of daily living. This year, I’m going all out…books.

With the advent of the coursework for my Masters degree, reading for pleasure was largely shelved. (That came across as rather punny.) After three and a half years of reading what someone else has told me I should read, I have found myself burnt out on reading for quite a while now. There have been times throughout, like during the summer, when I certainly “have time” to read (and really, I’m sure that there has always “been time” but like everything else, it’s largely a matter of making time), but the desire was strongly lacking. Since the fall of 2007, the most I have read for fun was the summer after Abby was born just because I was sitting down and holding her a lot, and there wasn’t much else to do. But then the coursework began again, and the sob story continued. Woe is me.

Actually, I’m not trying to whine. I’ve really enjoyed the reading more often than not throughout all of the classes that I took. But now, I’m done with all of that, and I feel like I have some reading time suddenly readily available to me. So here we go. This is my New Years resolution, version 2011. Read and blog about one book a month for this calendar year. This doesn’t really sound like a lot, but I know that it will definitely still be a challenge at certain points this year, like April and May when track season is at its busiest and everything seems to be due to be immediately graded. (These 3 paragraphs will not be included in every subsequent post. Thanks for being patient through them!)

Consider the following my first installment: Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy by Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun. I began it on New Years Eve and finished it on January 8th; so far…so good.

The most dominant thought I have after reading this book is how deeply it makes me want to visit Tuscany. As I read this, I kept trying to figure out when I could go. Maybe when Abby is three, we could leave her for a week…but I really want to have two weeks there if possible…would it be something we could do for our tenth anniversary? twentieth? The book is simply saturated with rich food descriptions, often very earthy and simplistic, sometimes complex and foreign. The food parts were definitely my favorite passages in the book, and thankfully, they predominated. My second passion in life—dreaming of my perfect house—corresponded well with the rusticity of Bramasole, the house in Under the Tuscan Sun. Admittedly, I bought this book at Half Price Books for $1 simply because I love the movie and have long wanted to read the books, so I figured this might be a good place to start.

The biggest negative to me is the proliferation of monotony that saturates the beautiful shadings of the rest of the book. This is monotony with an asterisk, though, because what reads as tedious to me is certainly not without interest to many other people…in this case, these parts are for the people who are into art history and Italian history. Mayes gets boringly tedious about things like Italian gardens and cathedral after museum after monastery. And I’m all for a little bit of this, but after a while, I just didn’t really care anymore. Her “bread and butter writing,” the parts where her descriptions and language affinity really shine, is really where she remembers meals, Italian ways of life, and neighbors in quaint detail.

There is, I believe, a certain unattainability that is not directly addressed in the book, likewise. In other words, if she just came out and said, “You know what, I’m living a dream life—working and living half of the year in San Francisco; being Italian the other half of the year. I realize that this is largely unattainable for nearly every American. I’m not the norm,” then I could accept the book for what it is. Instead, she never does come even close to saying this. Instead, she talks about flying to Venice over Christmas Breaks. Flying to Florence on a whim. Buying a house in San Francisco that reminds her of her Bramasole. Redecorating ad naseum (in both Tuscany and San Francisco). Five acres of garden, terraces, and landscaping. Basically, she’s wealthy. She lives a wealthy life, even if her whole point is that this was a broken down house and she’s restoring it. Everything she does in this book is essentially beyond my monetary ability. She spends too much time trying to come across as normal and not wealthy. I’m not buying it, and it leaves something of a dissatisfied taste in my mouth after finishing this. Normal people don’t take one whole day off to drive around Tuscany buying cases and cases and cases of wine to stock their cellar. Normal people don’t spend a week in Venice just because it’s cold and rainy in Tuscany.

Regardless, the book is mostly enjoyable, though I’m not overly fond of Mayes’s overall writing style. Uber detailed and somewhat monotonous. Yet it’s still something of an insider’s vacation to an exotic locale, one which has a beautiful simplicity. I can dig that appeal.

(Unprecedentedly, I have blogged twice today. If you are one of the very few people who purposefully read this, check out my other post from earlier today, too. I wrote it while glorying in the warm, winter sunlight. Then the widget woke up...)

"ear" you go

This post is all about my little bug who caught a bug.

Ben got a cold. Then he gave it to me. Then we cumulatively gave it the Abb-ster. This one I can't pin on the kids that Abby's around all week. It's not necessarily a problem that Abby got a cold, but you've got to understand something. The kid does NOT act abnormally when she has an ear infection. This is her 4th go-round with a diagnosed ear infection since the beginning of October. The most prevalent sign that there is a problem (sans stuffy runny nose) is that she's not really eating much. But this is also not necessarily abnormal with her. She goes through these toddler-food-swings where one day she's ravenous for broccoli and the next day she won't touch the stuff, not even with "chee" in which to dip it. She's also been an erratic eater, so it's just not hugely unusual for her to give up her "normal" eating habits.

I feel bad for her a bit because it took us a long while to figure out her "normal" for ear infections. She must have been hurting for a while in past flare-ups. So today marked the FOURTH trip to the doctor (for various things--ears, 18-mo. check-up, ear check-up) since the middle of December. But she's such a trooper and even smiled at the doctor today, albeit when she was leaving. We've been working regularly on "please" and "thank you" and "sorry" for a couple of months now, and it's always hilarious when Abby says "thank you" for weird things. This is her best of the three phrases, and she volunteers it a lot throughout the day now. It's still so funny though when she says "thank you" after I wipe her nose or after the doctor checked her ears. She's crying, she's sniffling, and then she says "tank eww" with a quivery lip and big fat tears in her eyes.

She did so well this morning that I wanted to give her a treat, and we were pushing her "yogi" time (e.g. her morning snack--yogurt), so we swung through Dunkin' Donuts on the way home after going through the drive-throughs at the pharmacy, the bank, Starbucks (yeah, I give myself a treat and not her? that made me feel a smidge guilty), and back through the pharmacy. My little girl deserved a doughnut, I decided...which had never happened before. Plus it's right by the pharmacy. Why not stop?

I felt a little stupid ordering only one doughnut hole going through the drive-through. That's it. Just one doughnut hole. $.20. I get up to the window, start searching for a couple of dimes, the lady asks if the doughnut is for Abby, why yes it is, oh I don't have twenty cents, I'll have to give you a dollar, oh...don't worry about it! Take it! Free doughnut hole. Really? Thank you!!

I know that it was only one doughnut hole (and don't they regularly give a free doughnut hole to kids who come with their parents??), but it was just such a nice little gesture. It made my day. Thanks Dunkin-Donuts-drive-through-lady! You made my little ear infection really happy. She made that doughnut hole last all the way home.

Today really reminds me of when I was on maternity leave. I remember day after day of gorgeous sun lighting up the living room in the morning, cuddling and reading. I should have taken Friday off (happy birthday to voice), we'll probably lose some time later this week what with the snow coming through tomorrow, and I took the day off today. Only the second week of the semester, and already behind. Ah well.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

waiting on the next post to happen

I know exactly what I'm going to write about next, but I feel like this blog is just sitting here blob-ish. So this is just a quick note saying, yes, something is coming. And I'm excited about it. Not that it is in and of itself exciting, but this is my newest venture.

In other words, I have stock bubbling away on the stove, which just makes the house smell like a Saturday. A good thing. I didn't bring home any grading this weekend. A good thing. Abby's vocabulary is growing a lot lately, it seems (up to 40 words now). A good thing. And, my paycheck increased because of a change in tax contributions (I now receive $7 more / paycheck!). A good thing.

All in all, content. Here comes a quote; it's been a while!

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day." E. B. White

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Organic living, 4th quarter: 2010 New Year's Resolution Revisited

(By the way, is it New Years or New Year's? I'm going to err on the side of it being possessive.)

Here we go. The last post on this particular topic. One last run around the block.

Things that I have learned and/or realized:
*It's really uncomfortable to me to watch someone throw something away that is easily and fully recycle-able, like paper. Or cans. Or wrapping paper.
*Howard Co. has a kickin' recycling program, though we can no longer recycle styrofoam. It's really uncomfortable to me to throw styrofoam away, too.
*Eating much more vegetarian-ly has caused me to lose a bit of weight, kinda, though I've griped on here before that it hasn't. I measure weight gain and loss by the way that my clothes fit, which right now means that I'm starting to look for new jeans (which are, mind you, pre-baby jeans). This is an interesting and paradoxical situation for me coming straight out of the holidays where I have not abided by anything resembling moderation.
*I haven't purchased raw beef or chicken for...months.
*Organic living is really more about sustainable living for us, which means that when I just purchased a new pillow for myself a few days ago and was deciding between two different ones, I ultimately chose the one that was made from sustainable materials, taking that into consideration over the other one, which was not.
*I am trying to be more aware/conscious about all products around me, not just food. Meaning, that I factor this mentality into other purchases--lotion, toothpaste, shaving gel. Parabens and phalates are everywhere, unfortunately.
*Tom's of Maine toothpaste has an odd taste at first, but I quickly became used to it.
*I don't like the "green" shaving lotion.
*There is a branch of literature studies called "Eco-criticism."
*Abby enjoys recycling.
*Our family recycles a lot. Our garage becomes rather over-run by recycle-able packaging in 1-2 weeks. We have one bag of garbage in our kitchen approximately every 2 weeks. We empty the other garbage containers in our house about once a month. Our recycling - landfill garbage ratio is pretty good, I'd say.
*You can't recycle paper packaging with the waxy coating on it, like a cardboard milk carton.
*Eco-friendly cat litter is quite comparable to the traditional "clay" litter and way better environmentally.
*Our compost bin has really really reduced the amount of garbage that we throw out. Even though we have a garbage disposal, there is still a good amount of waste that can't be put in it (like carrots). We may not be around this house long enough to really enjoy the fruits of the compost's labor, but it still makes us happy that we have a better place to put this waste.
*Soy candles. Mmm.
*Programmable thermostat. Effective.
*Low-flow shower head. Relaxing.
*Cloth diapers. Easy to use. Easy to launder. Less guilt. That being said, Abby needs to embrace using the potty. It would be nice.
*Meijer is fairly organic-friendly. Marsh is not.

This has been the first "resolution" that I've seriously made. It's totally doable, and small shifts in our way of living that I already see as making a difference. Here's to a society that continues to understand the importance of such changes!