Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Let Go of the Shore and Gather Yourselves

To my fellow swimmers:

There is a river now flowing very fast.

It is so great and swift

And there are those who will be afraid.

They will try to hold on to the shore.

They will feel that they are being torn apart

and will suffer greatly.

Know that the river has its destination.

The elders say we must let go of the shore.

Push off into the middle of the river.

Keep our eyes open and our heads above water.

And I say,

See who is in there with you and celebrate!

At this time in history we are to take nothing personally.

Least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do,

Our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over.

Gather yourselves!

Banish the word “struggle” from your attitude and vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner

And in celebration.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

--The Hopi Elders

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Knitters Pack Lunch

Check out what the almost-too-clever Jennifershmoo is making (and get the links to the patterns) over at Vegan Lunch Box!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hope: our next step

Frankly, I don't want that version of America to survive -- the America of chain stores, and muscle cars, and grown men obsessed with video games, drugs, and pornography, and women decorated like cannibals, and the vast, crushing purposelessness of it all. I have no doubt we're heading into a convulsion that will wring much of this junk and dross into the backwaters of history. We're capable of being something better than this, of putting our time on earth to better use, including a more respectful treatment of the land we inhabit. This year and the next will be the years of letting go, and out of that we'll commence a re-becoming.

James Howard Kunstler

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Homegrown Mess

Our dinner came completely from our own garden.

To emphasize the DIY nature of the meal, we cooked it in our solar oven--making this almost a zero-carbon meal (except, of course, that fact that all the food was previously living and made of carbon).

We dug our very first little tiny pearls of new potatoes, then added our first-of-the-season tomato, a zucchini and a yellow squash, a few green beans, a chioggia beet, some yellow-stemmed chard, and a little basil.

It isn't the prettiest dish we've ever made, but I have never been prouder:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Gardener's Dilemma

I killed my carrots. Every single one of them.

It is a principal of gardening that you scatter tiny vegetable seeds in the spring, watch to see how many germinate and come to life, and then...

...murder half of them.

It is only through thinning out half the seedlings that the others have room to live. Carrot seeds are so small that it is almost impossible to plant them individually. If I didn't just scatter the tiny seeds, I might not spend the effort to plant them at all, to bring them to life.

We can even eat all our thinnings. How different is that from bringing produce to adulthood just to nourish us? Facilitating life and managing death purely to nourish ourselves is what annual vegetable gardening is all about. I have absolutely no moral qualms about snuffing the life of produce.

Or do I? Those poor carrot seedlings, so dainty and so slow to germinate.... I left them too long without thinning them, hoping for them to become strong enough to make it to adulthood. I just could not thin them. "Thin" them--what a pathetic word to convey the taking of life prematurely. (Good grief. Taking the life MATURELY doesn't bother me.)

So the carrots strangled themselves, wrapping themselves in each other's roots, unable to spread out.

* * *

Today's lesson from the garden:

There are times we have to make choices in order to move forward.

When I was 18yo, everything seemed open to me.

Each step I made toward one future simultaneously closed the door to another.

Soon, I had limited my options. Things that had been possible before were no longer there.

It is exactly through those limitations that we move further into the light, into life.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Local Summer Eating

This week we made a delicious Cream of Purslane soup--made with the most abundant backyard weed vegetable in our garden. After steaming the greens, we pureed them with local cream (but you could use yogurt instead if you had some in the fridge), stock made from the week's vegetable peelings, and a little bit of salt and pepper, and garnished with backyard basil. We only discovered how much we love purslane a few years ago--and it serves a starring role in many a summer dish.

We continued the meal with zucchini (from our garden) cooked down in pureed tomatoes that we canned ourselves a few weeks ago. South Carolina rice, the grain that often anchors our homegrown vegetable dishes, served as the base.

For dessert we had a handful of blackberries. David and Son had gone for a bike ride to the adjoining neighborhood/town of Silver Spring right before dinner--and they passed the lovely little backyard farm of an older neighbor who sells fruits and veggies from his yard. The berries were tart and plump--my very favorite fruit and a marker of the height of summer.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

* * *

Sometimes a book comes along at just the right moment.

For me, today's book is Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden And Your Neighborhood into a Community.

I spent yesterday complaining about happy-happy talk--but now I finally get what my partner David was trying to explain to me after he read my post.

He kept saying that stating things in the positive made it possible to move toward what you want to build. And I kept saying that the difference between saying you don't want to hurt something versus you do want to help it doesn't make any difference in how one decides to act.

So he goes to work and Son and I sit on the couch to read next to each other.

I pick up Heather Flores's book and just roll my eyes one (last) time as I start this quote: "Much of the work [done by activists] was about stopping something--logging, mining, violence, et cetera--and not much seemed to focus on starting real alternatives."

Yes, yes, whatever--I think. "But we must respond to the crises of logging, mining, violence, et cetera. That is what often produces true change!" I want to whine at the author.

But then, I got it, understood what she was saying. I sat up. My eye-rolling suddenly stopped and I heard Melinda telling me to stop complaining and start finding solutions.

Yes--that is it! One must define the problem, often in the negative, and then try to move forward with it. Not abandon it and not ignore it--but solve it. Sometimes the solution to changing the world is working hard to stop something. That is a positive step all by itself.

If one gets too stalled, either in the negatives or the positives, one cannot make a difference. You can cry all day, you can whistle Dixie--or you can actually work (even if it is just on ideas). As Flores says in her book, "Dreams of industrial collapse became prayers for communities feeding and healing themselves."

* * *

So I'm all for accentuating the positives of the future--but in crafting that future, we absolutely can't "eliminate the negative" as Disney would have it in the song.

We cannot abandon our efforts for positive change. But building that better future happens not through dreams or hope alone. It happens because of analysis of the past and present, analysis of plans. It happens because of hard work in the dirt, because sweat and mosquitoes don't stop you. (Hrumph. They stopped me today.) Dreams only become reality when we get past the simplicity of both the positives AND the negatives and on with the real building of what we want and need, as individuals and as a community.

So just call me Mister In-Between.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Happy-Happy-Happy, all the time

I have a whole list of happy, uncontroversial posts running around in my head, and a few even on my list of I-Can't-Believe-I-Haven't-Posted-That-Yet items.

Instead, I'm thinking about how much we avoid talking about the negative in this culture, even when we're living in its midst.

* * *

I listened to a few minutes of a fantastic radio discussion yesterday--and I am currently downloading the program to my iPod for some listen-while-knitting "entertainment." On the show, one scholar suggested that atheism was an unacceptable idea because it defined by the negative rather than suggesting what one does believe (as secular humanism does).

I found myself highly troubled by this correction. For those of us who do not believe in God, it IS precisely this "negative" idea that is at the core of any effort to behave honestly.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not at all saying that real believers are dishonest. I am saying that when a person (read "Purloined herself") says she believes in God (or maybe even when she goes through rituals that imply belief?), even though she knows in her heart of hearts that she really doesn't believe--but that so-called belief is socially expected, or socially expedient, or reassuring--she is not living an honest life. It is not helping her become a better person.

It is when we force ourselves to confront the fog and the voids in our lives that there is the most potential to grow.

(Yes, well... I am still waiting for that growth personally--but I, um have faith that it is on its way one of these days.)

The fact that I believe in our duty to other humans and the earth, and in equality of all people, and more-or-less in the inherent goodness of our hearts (despite all the real-life complications in human hearts) makes me a humanist. That is all fine and good--in fact, those beliefs are a big part of who I am. Not surprisingly, I have been able to find other nonbelievers as well as many believers from a great number of religious traditions who all accept similar things and can work together for progressive change--even when we are not coming from the same underpinnings. It is essential that we find each other and work across religion in order to address issues--but that does not mean I have found my own tribe, my own sense of who I am and what I can be openly, when I am in those groups.

No--what really defines my beliefs about religion, about the people in my tribe, is the negative, the absence of God--not the belief in unity with-or-without God.

* * *

This desire not to say anything negative stems, I think, from the Disneyfication of our culture: a complete turning off of the critical mind.

Critical, of course, has two meanings: that you are being negative, and that you are being analytical. At heart, the definitions are linked; the ability to be analytical means you sometimes wind up in negative territory. THINKING can leave you in lots of nots.

* * *

I am part of the facilitation planning committee for a community visioning process. One person suggested that we ask groups to start out with a list of things they were seeking and a list of things they actively wanted to avoid. Very quickly, others jumped in that we did not need to ask for "avoids" and if anyone suggested one, we should help them reframe it as a positive. (Don't want things to harm the environment? Say we want to protect Mother Earth. Don't want jackhammers running at 7AM? Say you want to maintain peaceful mornings.)

All that is true: you can almost always cast the negative in reverse positive terms.

But WHY do we feel called upon to censure the language of avoidance? Why can't we embrace the negative sometimes, even "learn from our mistakes" as they used to say? Everything now has to be sanitized of anything that might suggest failures, complexity, sadness.

We are trading in the authentic for the romantic comedy version of our lives.

* * *

Yes--I wallow way too often in my own private underworld.

Sometime the demons get the better of me. Even when I make sure all the closet doors are firmly closed and the door to the basement is shut and locked, spray lavender on my pillow--the demons still seep out and enter the room.

When I deny they are there, that all is happy-happy, I am literally denying my own life. When we do it as a culture, we are shutting down our brains and losing our true selves to what is real and honest darkness.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Very Special One Local Summer #6

We set our table with some fridge-weary kale leaves that we let dry:

For dinner we had grilled portobello mushrooms from Pennsylvania, roasted asparagus spears from New Jersey, baby potatoes from Maryland, lamb shanks from Maryland grilled over fresh rosemary from our neighbor's yard, and slices of gorgeous Chioggia beets pulled from our own garden. Yummy. (Who knew you could get local asparagus, one of my partner's favorite vegetables, in July?!)

To top the meal off, we had a non-local treat: a sour cream chocolate chip pound cake especially requested by the birthday boy.

Happy 40th Birthday, David!

* * *

We began the next day with pancakes made from the remnants of various flours we had been grinding during the month. There was a bit of oat, quinoa, amaranth, winter wheat, and millet. On top of the pancakes we served some homemade cow's milk cheese (like chevre but we made it with cow's milk) and homemade blueberry jam (details coming soon). What a local way to start the weekend!

Friday, July 11, 2008


Check out Alice Waters discussing the presidential candidates in the video over at at Grist!

(Due to technical difficulties, I have removed the actual video--but please click through.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Monday, July 07, 2008

Pewter and Bronze

I showed you a corner of the Seraphim shawl as it was blocking, where you could see the radiant yarn (Blue Heron mercerized cotton) and the beautiful beads. I promised some modeling shots... may I present my lovely friend Carol showing off the shawl to its best advantage:

In this last photo, she is posing with Amy's daughter. Thanks, Amy, for lending me your camera!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

One Local Summer #5

My current vegan challenge is only about CAFO animal products, so while we're home, we still eat meat, milk, and eggs--all from "our" farm.

For this week's one local summer meal, we combined leftovers:

A beautiful salad of arugula, salad turnips, and radishes, all from our CSA, topped with fresh peas from the farmer's market...

...and fried rice with leftover with farm steak and South Carolina rice (both above-linked in their original dishes) combined with farm eggs, CSA radish greens, farmers market green onions, and our own garden's swiss chard. A real kitchen-sink meal that left us fully satisfied in almost every way.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Industrial Vegan...

...or CAFO terroir?

At the Smithsonian Folklife festival, I am struggling with my month-long pledge to myself not to eat CAFO animal products.

I thought about bringing my own food but decided it would be interesting to get something from one of the festival vendors. Surprisingly, there is nothing vegan here that I can find other than Lime Fizz and watermelon. (Note to self: Follow Chile's advice and check first next time. Duh.)

Am I really thinking of getting a ConAgra-owned Tofu Pup from a side stand on the Mall instead of this, which of course is not exactly terroir but is about cultural traditions and it is from an independent restaurant:

Nakey Tshoem
Chicken (shredded), fiddleheads, cheese, chiles, onion, garlic, ginger, and special seasonings served with Bhutanese rice

Ema Datsi
National dish of chiles with cheese, served with Bhutanese rice

Bhutanese cuisine, influenced by those of Tibet and India, links the country's eastern Himalayan environment and traditions, including food production and consumption. Chicken Nakey Tshoem includes nakey, which is a type of fern, and tshoem, which translates literally as "curry," but in Bhutan the name refers not to spiciness but to a hearty stew served with rice. Ema Datsi is the national dish of Bhutan and is the undisputed favorite of the Bhutanese. Its main ingredients are chiles; a fat-free, fresh cheese; and onions. As a side dish, it accompanies almost every traditional meal.

This pledge of mine is not easy.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

Now I am off for a swim!

Photograph by Singlefinlove

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Confined Feeding

Chile can make us do things we've been putting aside for too long.

Her Quit Now challenge asks participants to think about their everyday choices and what they will mean in a peak oil world.

Last month I officially signed up for the challenge of not using the clothes dryer. With one small exception, my family made it through the month with, um, flying colors (or at least waving-in-the-breeze dingy-whites).

I also managed to make the switch from shampoo in bottles to shampoo bars, and from disposable kitchen sponges to hand-knit washrags.

* * *

This month I pledged not to buy bread but to make it myself all the time, using grain we grind ourselves. I love making bread but often don't get it done for any time other than Shabbat.

(Well, we already blew it once. Last night we bought pita to go with our its-too-hot-to-cook hummus and tabbouleh picnic....)

* * *

I made another pledge, one that I've been struggling with intellectually for some time and only sometimes trying to live up to:

I will not eat CAFO (confined or concentrated animal feeding operations) or factory farmed animal products this month.

In the next few weeks, I'll write more about why I chose this action and what my issues with this decision are. But for now, a little history:

I was a most-of-the-time vegetarian for many years.

"Most of the time," you ask? I've always eaten whatever my mother and grandmother put in front of me. And I've always eaten foods culturally important to the people and cultures we visited on trips. (That meant eel in Quebec, pork barbeque in South Carolina, tako poke in Hawaii.)

While I was pregnant, I craved meat and eventually decided to honor that craving and eat all the liver I wanted. For years after my son's birth, I continued to be vegetarian except on the first day of my menstrual period when I ate beef.

We kept a vegetarian house, partly to make it easy for our kitchen to remain kosher. I ate meat out at restaurants during my monthly exceptions.

Then Peter Singer and Erik Marcus entered my life. When I read about how dairy cows and laying poultry worked into the industrial agricultural system, I began to feel that eating no meat but continuing to support the system nonetheless by purchasing milk and eggs was something I could not do. We began to buy soy milk and artificial egg powder, as well as TVP and more tofu and tempeh than we had been eating before in our dairy-and-egg days.

Then, Son had significant reactions to the soy he was eating. We cut out the soy for a brief experiment--and his weight and height both soared instantly. He had been a tiny child--and now I believe it is because his body could not absorb nutrients well because of his food sensitivities. (He is now very average size-wise and doesn't have significant food issues of any type.) I'm not saying that children cannot be fed well on a heavy soy diet--just that this particular child could not due to the reactions of his gut.

After a lot of soul searching, long conversations into the night, and reading in the philosophy section, David and I decided to buy both meat, eggs, and dairy from a nearby farm. I have been extremely pleased with this decision.

I swapped utterly, from keeping to a vegetarian diet at home but eating meat out, to keeping an omnivore's kitchen but eating vegetarian out. Or at least that was my plan. David kept to his word far more than I did.

We never said we'd be vegans when we were out--but a lot of my hair-pulling was from the fact that I truly believe a factory farm is a factory farm. Whether the animal is killed for meat or just de-beaked and de-tailed and crowded beyond belief in a dark warehouse full of its own shit really does not make much difference to me.

Ordering the cheese omelette instead of the burger really doesn't make me feel better about my ability to be a moral person.

The funny thing is that my belief that a factory farm is a factory farm pushes me away from not only animal products produced industrially but PLANT products produced industrially--and that means almost all soybeans and other meat analogs. I'll write more about this in coming posts, but for now...

...I am going to keep my meat eating and my dairy and egg consumption to our own kitchen, where, yes, we will cook animal foods, all from animals living on a farm we have visited, raised by a farmer we know.

* * *

I've already blown it. July 1st at knitting group, I decided to order eggplant fries. I did not ask if they were vegan. Even though I realized they might have some kind of egg dip, I decided they probably did not given that they do not have a thick-batter coating.

What a wimp I am. I'm going to have to learn how to ask again.

Then when I was chatting about it later, I realized they were sprinkled with parmesan cheese. What an auspicious start.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Lego my Edgar

Given the combination of my Poe fixation and yesterday's Lego post, I just couldn't let these pass:

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Plastic Dreams

The heat-plus-humidity stranglehold that gripped my home for the entire weekend has finally let go.

I am left, surprisingly, sad.

* * *

While I cooked breakfast (I fried up pancake batter leftover from the weekend with the first few local peaches), Son found an unopened Lego set in our Random Closet.

Both my parents and David's parents saved our childhoods in attics and basements, so many of Son's too-numerous playthings come from the early 1970s.

The '70s now seem like such an innocent decade. Did people see that at all back then?

Son's Legos, almost all leftover from David's childhood, are stored in a big box. It is an astonishingly large collection of plain blocks in a great variety of sizes.

Almost all of the blocks are red, white, or blue. Clearly, David came of Lego age in 1976.

* * *

1976. I remember drilling my much-younger brother, newly two years old, on how to talk as we watched Walter Cronkite on the television. He learned to whip out, "Bicentennial Minute!" at any opportune moment, saying it at lightening speed in his high lispy tones.

My brother celebrated his very adult birthday this past weekend. I still think of him as nine years old, my son's current age.

Poor brother. He had to deal with having three parents giving him instructions about how to live.

He still does.

* * *

The Lego set Son found in the closet this morning was double-bagged in plastic Publix grocery bags. I have absolutely no memory of this toy, but I would guess it is from Grandma and Grandpa (my in-laws) since Publix is the main grocery chain where they live most of the year.

The set comes with directions. The pieces are not necessarily easy to recognize as Legos. They all share the ability to link to those classic cubes--but now they are just parts of a particular whole, parts that come with instructions that tell you how to put them together, how to play with them.

Following the directions, we make a hard-plastic hot air balloon to take a few little Lego people on an Orient Expedition.

* * *

I lament the passing of the world that now seems to have allowed creativity. When we were children, we were given a chance to make whatever images came into our head. Those red-white-and-blue Legos turned into covered wagons, rockets, Big Foot's footprint, the Mouseketeers, castles, mountains, a hospital... whatever was relevant to our own personal and changing interests.

* * *

As I take a load of dirty laundry down to the washing machine in the basement, I glance at the prepackaged box of magic tricks.

When I was seven, I started to understand that nothing happened without human intervention. But in that age, it seemed that that intervention could not be mine.

Before receiving the magic set, all I heard when my uncles pulled eggs out of cloth bags was, "Magicians never tell!"

Someone else controlled things, someone pulled the strings.

God was a job open to anyone with the right directions.

I had such a sense of power in my hands that Christmas when I opened the magic box. That holiday when I turned seven years old, before the birth of my brother, my parents were telling me they trusted me enough for ME to be the ones pulling those strings.

What could I make happen in this world that had appeared so mysterious before I had the manual?

* * *

I look at my childhood ranch-style doll house, now set up on a little table in the basement. The dollhouse used to have working electricity. Tiny 1970s-style fixtures lit up its back corners. Son points out that there is no way to get from one floor to the next, except by magic.

My grandmother, long dead, knit complicated lace blankets for the beds and crocheted simple rugs for the floors. I, at age seven, cross-stitched a miniature daisy and put it in a tiny frame.

What was handmade looks timeless, still works, even though the peeling doll-house family now lives off the grid.

* * *

I pick up the pattern for the sweater I am knitting on this cool afternoon. It is the first time in days we haven't had all the fans in the house going at full blast. The quiet is wonderful, opening. The pattern sits on the coffee table where I put it, instead of flying under the sofa when the turning column of air lifts it. I look at it closely and imagine following the directions precisely.

K1, yo, k1, ssk, k3, k2tog, k1, yo, k1.

Symmetry, knit from right to left--not like my words.

* * *

Here I am, facing a new day, wanting for all the world for everything to be packaged up and self explanatory.

And yet, I know.

Now is the time to repair our lives and remake the world as we see fit, at this moment, in these difficult times. I know that what is of value is what happens when we pack away the carefully-constructed plastic designed to fit together in one way, pull the plug and try to make do with what we can create ourselves, and let the rules and instructions fly to the wind as we make our own maps.


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