Wednesday, December 11, 2013


It's been so quiet right?

It may seem so, but under the surface, SSW is undergoing a major makeover. All my spare time goes into it. I get home from work after the sun goes down, start dinner, and rush to the computer to continue the all-consuming project. It's something brand new that doesn't exist anywhere else. And in an odd way, I just feel like I'm just along for the ride.

When the mystery is unveiled, I hope you enjoy it as much as I. :)


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Spots of Brilliance

There are some brilliant beings out there.

As a teacher just coming off of the September scary-wave, I am relieved to note that things are starting to settle down -- at least until the parent-teacher conference wave in a couple of weeks -- and I want to highlight these lovely ones who have made my hectic life oh-so-much better.

One: Bonzai Aphrodite. This gal (her actual name is Sayward Rebhal) has a way of honestly telling it like it is and making you love her even more when things don't go as planned. Every time she puts a new post on her blog, it feels like my favorite magazine showed up in the mailbox. (Is there any feeling quite like that?) Her recent post on making coconut peanut butter changed my snack life. No joke. I swear, if you do one thing this weekend, make this stuff. It took me, let's see, about three minutes? Fast, amazing, and it wowed my friends at work when they tried it. I dip apple slices in it, but you could use it in anything. Divine. And did I mention it is fast to make?

Two: the Weeping Katsura in our front yard. We planted this tree when we first moved in, about five years ago. She (?) is gorgeous and silly all at once. And in the fall -- listen up, here -- as her leaves begin to dry, she smells like cotton candy. Cotton candy. Thank you, Weeping Katsura, for making the strolls through the yard as intoxicating as a walk through the State Fair.

Weeping Katsura, beginning her fall disrobe.

Three: The app called Shazam. Ryan loaded this onto my iPhone and it allows you to press a button to find out the name of the song you are listening to. It's magic, I think. Thanks to this app, I heard a song by Frank Turner called Recovery and one by The Mowgli's called San Francisco playing on a college radio station and could quickly identify both. Each makes me happily bop around the house like a teenager, which to my mind makes it worth its weight in gold. (If an app can weigh anything, I suppose.) My musical tastes have needed revamping and Shazam expands my horizons.

Frank Turner, "Recovery"

 The Mowgli's, "San Fransisco"

Four: The site Animoto. I've only made two videos on it so far, but it is so much fun! The videos come out great and it makes you look like you're actually a creative techie. The first one is of our family get together this August in Lake Tahoe and the second is the Baby Shower for my brother Josh and my sister-in-law Caitlin. Love.

(These are a little clearer, I think, if you follow the embedded links above.)

Five: Fall leaves. It's Fall Fashion Week for the trees over in our parts here and they are delivering. I love it when they are so eye-popping, you almost drive off the road.

Six: This page. 

Seven: Morning Glories. Last fall I was busily digging up half the yard and neglected to put some of my vegetable garden to bed. Which ended up being a good thing, because all the morning glories I'd so carefully nurtured to grow on the fence around the garden self-seeded over the winter and grew into a wall of flowers this year. Here are a few that remain clinging to the edge during these chilly days. I'll never have to plant a morning glory again! Laziness paid off.

Eight: the Beautyberry Bush I planted last fall. Behold:

Nine: Claudia Chapman from My Fascinating Life. I started following her blog when we were going to adopt from Ethiopia and I have continued to follow her, despite our leaving that path behind us. Her wit is hysterical. And, man, the gal can write. And she just published her first book, Hypothetical Baby, which is on my toppling to-read list.

Ten: Elizabeth Gilbert's new book The Signature of All Things. I am devouring this story.

What spots of brilliance have shown up in your life?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Lobster

The lobster may be the gateway animal for veganhood.

For coastal New Englanders, lobster-eating is a summertime luxury. The bib, the mound of steaming corn-on-the-cob, the watery cracking of the shell, the large silver pot, the thick colored elastics. Native residents and visitors look forward to hot, sandy days on a damp towel overlooking the Atlantic and the subsequent late afternoon feast.

Here's the elephant in the room for my family members, though: I was never keen on the taste of cooked lobster. I remember enjoying it just one time as a kid, though I think that had more to do with the big bowl of butter. But after that day, I found the richness and texture of the delicate, pink clawmeat off-putting. As much as I love the ocean and the mysterious beauty of its plants and animals, the idea of tasting anything from it makes me gag. (Seaweed can occasionally be tolerated under heavily-seasoned conditions.) I even forced myself to retry lobster several times as an adult, thinking my tastes had matured, but no.

In short, not eating lobster was easy.

But as a kid, I watched their dark maroon bodies waving and arching frantically as they were taken from the brown paper bag and lowered into the boiling water before being let go to sink. It seemed horribly wrong. Their claws were even clamped shut, so their last defense for living was taken. The lid was pushed down and the clanking noises from inside the pot made my eyes widen. I knew how much it hurt to have a drop of boiling water hit my skin and how much the mark hurt for the next couple of days. What would it be like to have your whole body lowered into a tank of it?

And what got me was that it never seemed to bother anybody else. Perhaps it did, and nobody else was speaking up, lest it exacerbate my angst. But it was so unimaginably cruel and barbaric to me. I'd run away and cover my ears tightly so I wouldn't have to hear them fight the edges of the pot.

I find it hard to believe that I was the only child or adult bothered by this. We're usually not charged with killing animals ourselves. Instead, most of us pay the service of having others do it for us. Seeing the animal alive immediately before we kill and eat it is a unique experience nowadays. And for me, at least, it made me consider all animals' experience of death for my palate.

The argument has long been that lobsters don't feel pain. It's a rather self-serving argument, when you think about it. We can dump them in scorching water and not feel bad about it. And it's simultaneously fascinating, because most people would acknowledge that cows, pigs, and chickens experience pain, but that doesn't stop us paying others to kill them. We know they are in pain, but we do it anyway. So what makes people so defensive about lobsters' pain? Why go to such lengths to explain it away?

An ABC report from 2005 noted that animals with simple nervous systems, like lobsters, didn't experience pain. 
"I think that individuals, based on their heritage and their genetic makeup, do project their emotions onto animals," said Richard Cawthorn, director of the Lobster Science Center at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada, who supports the research finding that lobsters do not feel pain."When people do anthropomorphize animals -- even cartoon animals -- it reflects our needs and our desires," said Stevens. "It's more of a political agenda than any kind of scientific or social discussion of the issue."
Excuse me while I compose myself after reading those snooty remarks. A political agenda? How is it political to protect someone from being hurt? We call that empathy, buddy, not politics. And what's more, he works for the Lobster Science Center, whose website reads  -- get this --  "Our research is based in the areas of lobster and crustacean science, focusing on the health of lobsters, crab and shrimp as they are a significant part of the economy in Eastern Canada." A significant part of the economy? And who has the political agenda here? Methinks someone wants to keep his job and eat lobster. (And don't even get me started on the word anthropomorphize.)

Later studies, though, showed that crustaceans were, in fact, feeling pain. D'uh.

In 2009, NBC reported the work of Robert Elwood, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at The Queen's University in Belfast, and Mirjam Appel, a colleague. 

Elwood and Appel gave small electric shocks to some of the crabs within their shells. When the researchers provided vacant shells, some crabs — but only the ones that had been shocked —left their old shells and entered the new ones, showing stress-related behaviors like grooming of the abdomen or rapping of the abdomen against the empty shell. 
Grooming, as for a person licking a burnt finger, "is a protective motor reaction and viewed as a sign of pain in vertebrates," the researchers wrote.
...If crabs are given medicine -- anesthetics or analgesics -- they appear to feel relieved, showing fewer responses to negative stimuli. And finally, the researchers wrote, crustaceans possess "high cognitive ability and sentience."  

Elwood was also quoted in a 2013 Business Insider article titled "SCIENTIST: Yes, That Lobster You're Boiling Alive is Probably in Real Pain."     

Elwood told AFP [Agence France Presse] it was impossible to prove beyond doubt that the animals feel pain, but the research results were "consistent" with pain and added: "Perhaps we should err on the side of caution." 
Elwood said billions of prawns, crabs and lobster are caught or reared for human consumption every year and treated in "very extreme ways." 
"Crabs have their claws torn off and the live crab is thrown back in the sea. Lobsters and prawns have the front half of the body torn off from the abdomen which is kept for the meat. The nervous system in the head and thorax is still functional an hour later." 
The biologist said many people assumed that because crustaceans do not have a brain resembling that of vertebrate animals, they could not feel pain. 
"Crustaceans are invertebrates and people do not care about invertebrates," he said. 
"More consideration of the treatment of these animals is needed as a potentially very large problem is being ignored."
So yes, Virginia, animals do feel pain. Being thrown in boiling water tends to hurt a lot.

Lobsters provide people with a unique moment of seeing the animal as someone living and fighting to stay alive, not as an inanimate thing. That we argue so strongly against their feeling pain is very telling. We don't want to think of ourselves as someone who would intentionally cause suffering. 

But I wonder if there are other kids and adults out there who are watching how lobsters react to being put in that pot. I can't be alone in this. If I were, people wouldn't be arguing against it so strongly, because who cares what one piddly naysayer thinks. 

Nope. I suspect there are many others whose conscience is nagging them on this issue. And who knows where that might lead?


PS. Since I was small and pushed my nose up against a lobster tank, I've longed to free them. I dream of buying the entire tank of lobsters, renting a boat and taking it far far out on the ocean (away from lobstermen's traps), carefully removing the blasted elastics, gently placing the lobsters back in the icy water, and letting them go. They will float downward to the ocean floor, far from boiling pots, and live out long lives. 

Yes, I realize it doesn't make much sense to pay for them, as it only supports the industry that kills them. But I dream about it anyway. Because if I were born a lobster, I would hope someone would do the same for me.

Sunday, June 30, 2013


About three weeks ago, I wrote a feature for Our Hen House called "Just a Joke."  It centered on how humor either includes or excludes others, and how we can react when the latter form is used to make light of animal abuse. A week or two after the feature was published, it was quoted in a front page Yahoo article. This was amazing and incredibly flattering, and yet a bit nervewracking at the same time. (I don't mean to sound falsely self-deprecating, but I kept thinking, "Why on earth are they quoting me? I'm just  ... me." I think I will forever feel like my dorky nine-year-old self.)

The article talked about a Red Robin restaurant commercial that had upset many vegetarians. (I hadn't actually seen the commercial at that point.) I vowed not to look at the comments section, as they can get notoriously nasty. But after only a few hours of being up, the article had garnered over 13,000 comments. Gulp. (A good gulp, but a gulp nonetheless.)

Some of the people followed the link to my original article on Our Hen House, and left comments. Let's just say most of them didn't agree with me. And a few were livid. Which is fine. I'm completely good with engaging dialog, as long as everyone remains respectful.

What surprised me, though, was my own internal reaction to someone's suggestion that I was acting enlightened. I felt my defenses go up at that word. "I don't act enlightened!" I fumed inwardly.

I thought about that comment off and on for the next few days, mostly because it bummed me out. I  really make an effort to not come across as Ms.-Buddha-on-a-hill-smugly-smiling-down-on-the-little-people, since I'm clearly bumbling and tripping along the path along with everyone else. (I just happen to babble as I bumble.) But the more I thought on it, the more I wondered about that word, what it really meant, and why its connotations were so negative.

Merriam-Webster defines enlightened as this: "freed from ignorance and misinformation." And I thought, "Well, hold on now. That's not so bad." I was ignorant before learning about what is done to animals. (Turning back to Merriam Webster, ignorant means "unaware; uninformed.") I wasn't idiotic, stupid, or cruel. I was just unaware. And misinformation? I was chock full of it. I thought humane slaughter was quick and that the animals didn't suffer. I thought cage-free meant beautiful pastures. Wool? A wonderful haircut in the summertime. What's wrong with that?

And I began to realize that I am enlightened. And that's not a bad thing. It's something we all strive for. Don't we all want to be freed from ignorance and misinformation? I took one of the best courses of my life recently, on teaching science to elementary grades. Upon learning oodles of great teaching techniques, I realized I'd been a woefully inadequate science teacher despite my best intentions. I immediately applied the newly learned strategies to my States of Matter lessons. The changes that took place in my students as a result took me by surprise. Suddenly they were enamored with the scientific process. Kids were voluntarily writing in their Science Notebooks during recess -- recess! -- expanding on their new ideas and questions. They'd lie on their bellies, tongues sticking out the sides of their mouths in great concentration, furiously writing away. And I wondered if one of these intent writers would someday discover the cure for cancer. Thanks to a terrific university teacher, I was enlightened, and now 24 kids were enlightened. I was grateful that he freed me from ignorance and misinformation. Grateful and humbled.

Being enlightened on anything means you know more than you did before. And then, if you choose, you can pass that information on to others! This is especially powerful when it means suffering for victims -- especially voiceless ones who need all the allies they can get -- might lessen as a result.

Enlightened doesn't mean "you're a complete ding-dong, let me explain things to you." It has nothing to do with being a more moral or superior person, if that is even possible. It's just mindblowingly cool. When you read a captivating book, you are enlightened in some way. You are changed. I started following a blog about a couple that has an adorable child with Down's Syndrome. It enlightens me every time I read it. My many misconceptions get an education. The way I view the world is altered.

So I'm fine with enlightenment now. And the amazing part is every person is enlightening in some way. We all have many things to teach or pass on.

There's this fun game we sometimes do at school in Morning Meeting. You start with your group seated in a circle and the first person throws a ball of yarn to someone else with one hand while holding on to the end of the yarn with the other. The new person holding the ball of yarn (who is attached to the original thrower by that long, connecting strand of yarn) holds her piece of the yarn and throws the ball to someone else. And the process continues until the whole class is connected in a cool, spidery web. It's that interconnectedness that really illustrates enlightenment. We learn, we share, we get stronger from each other.  

You bet I'm enlightened. Wouldn't have it any other way. It's a badge everyone should wear with pride.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Serenity's Return

(Written last Sunday, but my website host has been acting funky the last two days, and I haven't been able to publish.)

Ahh.... calm is settling. As I sit back this lovely Sunday evening, all the laundry is done, a fantastic dinner is sitting happily in my belly, the kitchen is clean, and the house is regaining a sense of order. Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book plays spunkily in the background. You haven't lived till you've heard her sing "It's Too Darned Hot." What a great tune.

If anyone is following this blog with any regularity, I extend an apology for being so silent. I always find it disconcerting when a blog suddenly goes quiet. "Are they okay?" I wonder. "Have they stopped posting for good? Did something bad happen?"

Nope. All is well. I've been productive and, as much as I missed writing posts here, there was an angry and disgruntled line of  "you-can't-put-us-off" tasks awaiting. Many are now done (or partway done) and I'm feeling sheepishly proud of myself.

For two months, I have been decluttering like a woman possessed, and last weekend we had a monster yard sale.

A while back, Tammy Strobel's You Can Buy Happiness (and It's Cheap) arrived at my library. I was immediately smitten by her story and inspired to simplify a life that had become very spread out.

I'm also a huge fan of Peter Walsh, of Oprah fame. Several years ago, I got his book It's All Too Much and subsequently shed layers of stuff that no longer held importance in my life. Recently I came across his newest book in the library entitled Lighten Up! which focuses more on finances, clutter, and life choices. Very eye opening and just what I needed to hear. It was good kick in the pants.

As a result, our house has been a bit frightening looking for the past few weeks as I've gone room from room, deciding what I wanted to keep and what I was ready to kiss goodbye. Boxes upon boxes of things that once were important stood in precarious Leaning-Tower-of-Pisa arches about our home. (On the upside, the cats had a blast. It was like Disneyland for them.) Among the cast-offs were tons of baby things for the baby that never arrived. Knitting paraphanelia when I thought I'd become a knitter. My enormous children's literature collection that wasn't being read. And big people books. (I'd say adult books, but that could be misconstrued.) So many books. What had I been thinking when I bought them all?

Naturally, a lot of feelings resurfaced like vague echoes. Decluttering can be a skewed and often unwelcome trip down memory lane. The baby stuff, in particular, was something I'd avoided for years, after packing it away in the attic. Out of sight, out of mind. Except it wasn't really out of mind. It was a weight I didn't realize I carried, like a sad ghost haunting me from above. Now it's gone and I feel like a new person.

There's still more to do. Even though I got rid of a lot of attic things, for example, I want to go back and do another sweep to organize what's left. We continue to sell things on eBay. But having so much meaningless stuff gone is an incredibly liberating feeling.

We finally finished the shed! It was my Dad's design and project and it's gorgeous! He did most of it, with Ryan and I just filling in here or there doing odd jobs on it. And now our lawnmower and other unsightly objects are finally out of our living room! Once we organize and clear our tools out, we can actually have people over again! And they can bring their kids without worry of the children getting into our saws! Luxury.

We're getting our life back.

I redesigned a large portion of our yard last fall and had a lot more work awaiting me in the past month as the soil awoke. There is literally a lot more ground to cover, but I've made great strides and am really thrilled with the progress! (Pictures will be posted soon...) Ryan disassembled the large fence -- we gave it away on craigslist -- and it's opened up the yard. We're at the point where neighbors are beginning to come by and comment on the amazing difference. I squirm like a child being praised for drawing a pretty picture.

I've also begun our garden. All the cold crops are coming up nicely and I'm putting in all our summer things tomorrow after visiting our favorite local garden center. Picking up my vegetable seedlings is one of my favorite tasks of the year. I can't think of a happier chore! [added Monday note: I just planted everything!]

I just began taking an 8-week, 3-credit online graduate course at Wheelock College about teaching science at the elementary level. I actually adore online classes, and I suspect I may be one of the only people who does. Taking classes in Boston, though, can take a huge bite out of your wallet, what with the exorbitant parking fees. So I'm content sitting home at my computer and doing the work from there. :) I have two one-credit courses after this one and then I am done with my post-graduate classes! Huge sigh of relief.

We had a big scare a week and a half ago when Sergio, one of our two indoor kitties, escaped the house unnoticed. He's gotten very good at slipping by me when I get home but I usually catch him right away. This time, though, he was gone. Just gone. He didn't hang around and howl after he'd gotten outside. There was no sign of him for about 8 hours. We'd searched the neighborhood from about 5:00 - 10:30, plastering posters of him everywhere and calling to him constantly. We finally came home dejected and heartbroken and settled into the living room, where we unenthusiastically ate our dinner whilst keeping our eyes peeled outside.

And then suddenly he walked up to the back door and meowed. I ran over, let him in, and sobbed. Sobbed like a baby. I thought my boy of 15 years was gone for good and my heart had been broken into tiny shards of glass. And then by some miracle he was back.

Every day that I see him now, I thank my lucky stars. He's such a sweet cuddlebug.

Meanwhile, our other kitty Kaci, has been rapidly losing weight. All the tests came back saying everything was as it should be, so we were mystified.  But she's been endlessly ravenous, so it struck us that she just wasn't properly absorbing the nutrients in her food. The vet gave us some different medication, though, and she's perking up quite a bit in just two days. She even seems to be putting on weight again. We'll bring her back on Wednesday to have them recheck her weight.

I never want to be the person that makes their animal companion survive miserably just for the sake of surviving a few more months. But if she can thrive again, I'm all for that! So we've got our fingers and paws crossed!

I've started to do more regular writing for both Vegbooks and Our Hen House, two terrific websites that I've long admired. Every two weeks, it seems, a new book arrives on my doorstep from a random book company, ready to be reviewed. (In the spirit of keeping the house clutterfree, though, I give the books away as soon as the review is finished.) It's work I love to do, though, as writing is just plain old fun and the subject matter always interesting.


So that's the scoop. I have many new ideas I want to write about and am glad to be back!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Born again?

About twenty years ago in one of my undergrad classes, I developed a crush on a boy. He was a tall fellow, with dark hair that fell seductively in his eyes in a kind of Hugh Grant way. (I also had a simultaneous crush on Hugh Grant, after seeing his break-out role in Impromptu.)

I'd had my eye on him but wasn't holding my breath. He was altogether dreamy and out of my league. But he was excellent eye candy, particularly if the topic of the lecture wasn't holding my attention. (Which it never seemed to do when he was around.)

That is why I was rather taken aback when he began to notice me. It was understated at first. Just a glance and a smile here or there. But enough to make my little heart go pitterpat.

Then things got more serious. He'd ask me a question about something the professor had said or would lean in close to make a quiet joke.

And before you knew it, we were walking together pretty regularly after class ended. I felt very Marcia Brady-esque, clutching my books and swinging my longer hair as provocatively as I could. (Though I've never been the provocative type, so heaven knows how ridiculous I must have looked.)

And one day, it happened. We were ambling over to our next class and I noticed that he seemed nervous. I felt pretty confident that he was about to ask me out somewhere on an honest-to-goodness date. (See? Marcia Brady all the way.)

"So, um, Katrina," he began.

"Yea?" I answered, super casually. (You must NEVER appear overeager.)

"Well, I was wondering .... Um ... " [smiles nervously]

(Here it comes!)

"See, well, I was hoping I could talk you into coming out with me..."


"... to, um, a meeting."

(Wait. What?)

I glanced at him confused. He pushed forward, now resolved to get through this all at once.

"Yea. Well, a bunch of us like to get together to study passages out of the Bible. It's really a lot of fun. Anyhow, I thought you might like to come and join me this Wednesday evening."

I stopped and turned to him, all calm pretense gone. "Wait. Let me get this straight. You are asking me out. To a Bible Study meeting?"

He laughed, "Oh man, no. Not that. No. It's not a Bible Study!" (Keeps laughing.) "No, we just like to look at the Bible together and then talk about it."

Are you confused? I was confused. And I turned him down gently, being a devout agnostic who gets kind of sleepy at the sight of a Bible. This fellow wasn't looking for a date. He already had a date. With Jesus. Who can compete with that?

Anyhow, I found out later that he'd had an interesting history before becoming born-again. (I'll leave it at that.) How I missed this, I don't know. I blame it on hormones. And his hair.

But I'd always been suspicious of born-again Christians and their seeming desire to convert people to their way of thinking. Now to set the record straight, I've been proven wrong on this before and have been very impressed with a few born-again friends. They were and are good people who never broached the subject of religion. They were funny, ordinary, and very thoughtful. The majority of born again Christians, though, freak me out a little. And that probably says more about me than it says about them. I'm not proud of it, as I realize it's pretty judgmental of me to feel this way. We all have something we're working on, don't we? :)

So why all this talk of born-agains?

In short, I sometimes fear that this is how people see me. That I see myself as born-again. That I am out to convert. That I have been brainwashed. That I have a book of rules I must follow.

But here is the difference between born-agains and my going vegan for ethical reasons. One need not follow any faith nor trust in any god. You simply open your eyes and click "play" to see what is happening to the animals we randomly call food. Animals who are just as deserving of life as our dogs and cats are. Animals who play. Who nuzzle. Who know fear. Who have nerve endings that work just as well as ours do.

It's not based on faith. It's based on documented reality. It's no longer denying what's really going on, no matter how awful it may be to initially watch and learn.

It's empathy. It's opening your eyes to what animal agriculture is hiding. (Why do you think they're falling over each other to create legislation that criminalizes those who film and expose the "industry standard practices," a new phenomenon called "Ag Gag"?) 

It's saying, "I would no more eat that bacon, which came from a scared and feeling being, than I would eat your family dog. I won't do it."

There is no rulebook nor set of guidelines. If I find a product hurts anyone, then I want no part of it. Nobody has told me I can't. I just won't. I won't hurt anyone if I can avoid it. And it's not hard to avoid.

Do I want to convert others? I don't know if convert is the right word. I want to inform. I want us all to know what we're doing. That we are paying others to hurt animals, in ways that are more devious that most of us could imagine. And if that information inspires someone to join the growing movement of people who are slamming their wallets shut against animal agriculture? If it makes them say, "Nope. You've lost my support folks. I won't pay you to do that anymore." Then I'm good with that, whatever you might want to call it.

No. I'm not born-again. I just unclenched my eyes and pressed "play."

And that's about all there is to it. No meetings. No newsletter. No church. No book. No faith.

Just facts. And a healthy dose of empathy.

It's really that simple.

Press play if you want to be informed. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Choice

My enthusiasm for holidays has waned with adulthood. I don't dislike them in any way, but I find more enjoyment in unplanned moments. A planned day comes with so many expectations (at least it has for me) that the real thing sometimes fall short, particularly when stacked against thrilling childhood memories.  Ryan and I stopped celebrating Valentines Day a couple of years ago, deciding to instead focus on surprising each other throughout the year. I'm not saying this is the right thing to do -- I admire people who go gung-ho making holidays sparkle -- but it works for me and makes me happy.

Patriots Day in Massachusetts, on the other hand, never disappoints. That is the day of the Boston Marathon. And while I'm no longer a runner (I did some bizarre damage to my knees back in high school on the cross-country team,) I find myself, year after year, completely mesmerized by the event. The day never loses its luster.

Last Friday at the school where I teach, a bunch of us were congratulating a colleague who was running it for the first time. In the midst of our excited chatter, we found out we all shared something in common: this annual Boston event makes us emotional, shedding proud tears for people we've never met.

The Boston Marathon brings out the best in humanity. There are no political candidates vying for attention. Nothing to buy. No gimmicks. No teams. Nobody we're told to hate. (I've never understood the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry.) Instead, it's simply witnessing thousands of people run by you who knock your socks off. Each one has an incredible story to tell, and each is fulfilling a dream, right in front of your very eyes. And you get the privilege of cheering them on! It just doesn't get any better!

Some parts of the individuals' stories are more obvious. Like the person that looked to be in his seventies who had on the sign thanking his doctor for four glorious cancer-free years. Or the woman running in memory of her late niece. Or the endless people selflessly raising money for a cause.

Every year that I go to the Marathon, I leave elated, thinking, "I can be great! I can be better! " It's like you get jolted by the energy there and want to literally run home to accomplish your own dream. Everything seems so possible, you can practically taste it.

Which is why yesterday broke my heart. And broke so many hearts. This wonderful event that allows us to jump and cheer for people we don't even know, people who look back at us, exhausted and smiling weakly; this event that wipes out cynicism from our rough-and-tumble city for a whole day; this example that there is great hope for our species to overcome and rise above any kind of wrongdoing. This event was attacked from behind.

This was traitorism of the worst kind.

People who did nothing more than to go for a dream and people who did nothing more than cheer them from the stands, saying, "I believe in you! I'm so proud of you! I knew you could do this!" These people now lie greviously injured in hospital beds, many on the brink of passing over into death. Some have already passed. Those who survive will never be the same.

And the question I know we are all confounded by is "Why?"  And a close second is, "Who could do such a thing?" There are no answers yet. And though they will surely come soon, those answers will bring even more questions.

My initial reaction is to physically hurt the person or people who did this. It's a primal, vengeful feeling, making my face hot and my heart pound. It makes me strangely wistful for placing the guilty party in a Roman arena with the victims' families and letting them do justice in whatever way they see fit. It's not a feeling I'm proud of or one that I would ever give in to. But it's there.

In fact, the more I ruminated on it, the more I realized that this is the opposite feeling from the post-Marathon elation. If good and evil really exist, then each of these opposing feelings represents these polar opposites within me. I have a choice now -- we all do -- about which way we'll go. And while I could never envision myself actually being violent, I know that that hot anger can still exist inside me, eating away at me.

So which do I want to entertain?

I choose the former. I choose to continue to be inspired by the runners, every single one of them, from the last person to cross the line to the first. I choose to work steadily towards my own dreams, buoyed by their example. I choose to look upon those who did this and think, "You simply have no idea how great life can be, do you?" And while the perpetrator undoubtedly holds no merit in what I or you think, I hold merit in it. And I choose inspiration.

Runners ~ keep doing your thing. And we'll be there to cheer you on.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Behold, My Friend

"I'm not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens." ~ Woody Allen.

A sketch I did from my art class a couple of weeks ago. I love this pose. She looks so reflective.

I turned 42 this year, and something unexpected happened. I suddenly realized I don't have forever.

Some might call this a mid-life crisis. I see it as the opposite: a mid-life wake up, like a friendly caffeine jolt. I haven't bought a red convertible or gone for Botox. Instead, I'm just looking at everything with fresh eyes, much as I did in my formative college years, but with the realization that I've got a diminishing time limit.

It was during college, in fact, when I discovered an effective technique for putting things in perspective: visit a graveyard. It sounds like I'm trying to be funny (or morose), but I swear it's quite practical and effective.

The epiphany was accidental. One beautiful fall day, the warm kind that makes every one of your senses burst with wistful nostalgia, a couple of friends suggested doing gravestone rubbings. I'd never done such a thing, but the weather was inviting and I was in the mood to avoid my schoolwork. So off we went, with cheap paper and some lumpy charcoal in hand.

It was an old graveyard, perfect for exploring. We wandered under brilliant foliage  -- Amherst trees just have a knack for fall color -- tripping over gnarled old roots which had forced tombstones to splay at odd angles. We read the epitaphs with interest, imagining what the buried occupants had been like. And then I saw a gravestone that changed my life with these spine-tingling words:
Behold, my friend, as you pass by
So you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you shall be
I say prepare to follow me.
Ah!! I still get goosebumps over it. I made just one gravestone rubbing and hung it on my dorm wall. I kept it for several years, even as the edges started to yellow slightly. And though it eventually got lost, its message became tattooed in my brain.

That person was alive! And now they ...  weren't? When you take some time to ponder that, it gets a little freaky. And, as they suggested, I needed to come to terms with the fact that I would, indeed, follow them. Someday I will not be alive. Not be alive! Do you ever just think on that? It's such an incomprehensible idea. It should be simple, but it's like we can't accept that there will be an end to all our drama. Regardless of your thoughts on the existence of an afterlife, it can make your mind spin in dizzy circles.

After that day, I found my sense of perspective changed. When difficulties arose and I had to make what seemed like a hard decision, I'd pack a snack and visit a graveyard to reestablish some common sense. (During the day, of course. I'm no fool.) The solutions always became very obvious once I sat among the greying stones. "What would the deathbed-me advise the college-me?" I would muse. Ends up, deathbed-me's advice never steered me wrong. She always pushed me in the direction of taking the risk. I'd never heard of anyone lament during their last moments, "Oh man, I wish I had been more cautious."

So I learned to be brave. Maybe not rollercoaster-brave, but tell-the-boy-you-like-him-brave. Apply-to-that-study-abroad-program-even-though-you-have-no-money-brave. Did I make an arse of myself on occasion? You bet. But I never regretted putting myself out there. I knew that I would regret the what-ifs. Those kind of regrets have always scared me. I never wanted wallow in what-ifs during my last moments on earth.

Ends up, though, the boy eventually liked me back and we spent two wonderful semesters together. And I found some hefty scholarships that made a year abroad eating French bread a reality. And if I professed my crush to a boy and it wasn't reciprocated? Well, I wouldn't have to always wonder if he'd been the one. He wasn't. Next! (And to save you the suspense, I found him. He was worth the wait.)

See? It's a very practical strategy.

As we get older, we sometimes forget these earlier lessons, and I'm no exception. I've found myself becoming more cautious as the years passed. Until I hit 42. And then the college-me knocked on the door and said, "Um. Is it just me, or are things getting a little, I don't know, safe?" 

College-me and deathbed-me now hang out around here in a helpful way. And I'm looking at things in a new/old perspective. For example, where will my rekindled love of art lead? I haven't a clue. And I don't care, really. I just love drawing. Goals no longer feel important as they once did. The process, as so many have noted before, seems to be the real gold.

I notice that writing is playing a bigger and bigger role in my life, and I'm not sure where that is going either. But I want to make more room for it, because it somehow just feels right.

This month, I've been going through my possessions and realizing that I don't use most of what I have. And I'm learning to let go of those things. And when I do, I feel my life open up a bit more to who I'm becoming.

That sounds all fancy-pants ethereal, but I'm not sure how else to describe it. This is clear, though: you've got to clear the spiderwebby things out if you want good things to come.

Gotta love a graveyard. 


 Five minute sketches. I love these because they force you to just go quickly and not get mired in the detail.

A longer one. There is something so relaxing about drawing these calm poses.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Podcast Addiction

I love podcasts. I listen to them while cooking, cleaning, folding laundry, walking, and commuting. They can really stretch your own little world out and make unpleasant tasks fly by.

One of my favorite podcasts is Our Hen House, which is run by a powerhouse couple in New York City. The mission of Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan is "to change the world for animals," and that they do. Every Saturday morning a new episode comes out, and I am always ready with coffee or tea in hand. They start off my weekend like two friends dropping by the house to catch up.

Every now and then, I'll shoot them an email, suggesting a book or movie they might want to check out. They have some very entertaining and well-spoken reviewers on there who constantly open me up to new literature and film. So many of my "new favorites" stem from those reviews. They are very responsive to emails and always write back with genuine gratitude. Somehow they balance the fine line of friendly/funny/approachable with professional/high quality. And there is the occasional swear word thrown in, which keeps everything light and humorous. It's a great balance of everything. You learn a lot, you feel connected to others who care about animals, and you get entertained. What more can you ask for?

Last Saturday, I sent them a link to my Powder review, raving about the movie and suggesting they watch it, if they hadn't already. Now I was not angling for anything other than sharing my enthusiasm for this film. I've never done an interview in my life and am much more comfortable writing than talking. Plus, as I mentioned, they have a couple of regular and engaging reviewers on there. So I was shocked when Jasmin wrote right back and asked if I'd like to review Powder on their upcoming episode. Despite the Cindy-Brady-red-light feeling in my gut -- that's a Brady Bunch reference for you folks who didn't grow up in the 70s -- how could I say no to talking with two marvelous people about something I loved?

So we got to chat the next day, and they are as fun, sweet, and hilarious in person (well, by phone technically) as they are on their show. The new episode came out today and you can hear it directly on their website.  You can also subscribe on itunes, which I highly recommend. (It's free, for anyone unfamiliar with how podcasts work.)

So I hope you take a listen. And I really hope you see the movie.

Do you have any favorite podcasts?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


All photos are shared with permission from Rowdy Kitten's Flickr  page. 

When I was about eight, the new neighbors moved in. This was good news as the previous folks were a little grumpy and, as I recall, a bit obsessed over their inground pool. Many a loud and rowdy party ruined my more contemplative moments of sitting on the warm earth of the vegetable garden, saltshaker in hand, eating tomatoes off the vine and reading one of my Little House on the Prairie books. (The aptness of that title will become apparent in a moment.) The new people didn't have loud parties and, even better, they had a daughter about my age.

The girl invited me over one day and let me explore their camper. This was a pivotal moment. While it wasn't a particularly attractive abode -- it had those garish tones of tan and orange plaid that plagued the seventies -- everything was adorably little and had a domestic, transformer quality to it. Look! This table turns into a bed! And this storage box turns into a seat! It was like a dollhouse come to life. I was in love.

And, I soon discovered, it wasn't just campers that had this cozy snug-as-a-bug feel to them. Boats did as well. We weren't boat owners ourselves, but I often accompanied my mother to the idyllic New England seaside town of Scituate, where we'd buy corn fritters dipped in maple syrup and sit on the docks feasting on them. My mother would usually settle herself on a less splintery corner of the dock and disappear into a book. I, on the other hand, would walk and jump the length of every dock, peering into the bobbing motorboats (that smelled faintly of gasoline), completely fascinated by their tiny fortlike proportions and hidden lower levels. There seemed to be no wasted space. It was a compact house that you could take anywhere! (Anywhere wet, that is.) During every visit, I'd pick out the boat I'd most like to have and would daydream about sailing the world in my fort.

One would think that the infatuation with all homes tiny and portable would disappear with adulthood, but my imagination clung to them just as it has to the thought that maybe, just maybe, I can figure out how to fly by if I only flap my arms hard enough. (If you haven't had nighttime flying dreams, you're missing out.) My eyes always light up at the sight of tiny cottages. The desire for a boat disappeared as soon as I learned how much money and work it was to maintain. Unless, I suppose, you actually lived on the boat.

Recently, I came across an online article about the new Tiny House movement. My fevered fingers quickly led me to Tumbleweed Houses. Talk about cuteness. I wanted to move in to several of these cottages-on-wheels immediately. They were compact and multi-purpose like a camper, but adorable and cool in a way a camper can only dream about. In fact, these bulky cousins suddenly looked like sulky, misproportioned teenagers compared to the tiny houses. Oh, to live so simply and be able to drive your home to a new beautiful location on a whim! The whole world must look so different from that vantage point, I mused. The only problem with entertaining such a venture was what to do with all my stuff. Our stuff.

Ryan and I are relatively good at not letting things accumulate in our home. We're not spartan by any means, but you don't feel overwhelmed walking through our house. (Except for the room that houses all stuff from our half-finished shed, which we are in the process of building. That room is crazy cluttered.) About twice a year we routinely purge our closets, not because we are particularly organized but because you hit that moment where -- ahhh!!-- there's just too much. And the weird part is that we're not big shoppers. A mall trip is a rare and avoided chore. This isn't due to lofty ideals, but simply because malls make both of us tired and cranky. People at malls, particularly those in parking lots, have the tendency to be ninnies. Upon entering a mall, I can practically feel myself starting to morph into ninnydom. It's exhausting.

It's a strange fact that stuff accumulates, even if you do lack the shopping gene. By chance, last Saturday I heard  the lovely ladies of the Our Hen House podcast discussing an article from the New York Times that had inspired them to purge their home of excess stuff. "These are my people!" I thought. Though I suspect there's a lot more of us in the world than one would think on first glance.

(And here I will shamelessly promote that yours truly was interviewed this week by Our Hen House for a movie review of Powder, which will air this coming Saturday! Squeal! Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan are two cool gals who are totally dedicated to, in their words, changing the world for animals. Check out their website. And definitely subscribe to their weekly podcast. It's highly entertaining and informative!) 

As luck would have it, a book I had seen online and put on hold at our library arrived on Saturday. It's called You Can Buy Happiness (and It's Cheap). The author, Tammy Strobel, describes a journey many of us can relate to, at least the initial part. When their journey began as a couple, they had lots of things. Lots of things and lots of debt. Tammy described not feeling fulfilled by her work or life in general, despite having a super husband, stable job, and overall good health. Ultimately, they saw their possessions as barriers to financial and emotional freedom, and they gradually shed them. They continued to move into smaller and smaller spaces until, one day, they decided to move into a tiny house on wheels, built by the fine folks at Portland Alternative Dwellings. The results they experienced in finance, health, time, career, and overall happiness were astonishing. Astonishing and yet not that surprising once you think on it a bit. In fact, the more you look at their lives, the crazier and heavier most of ours seem.

We are only here on the earth for a very short time. We all say this and understand it, but every once in a while it really hits you, be it a particular birthday, a death/birth, or that random moment when you realize that nobody's asked for your ID in a really, really long time.

This is it. This is your life. Is the way you are currently living one that is intensely satisfying? If it is, my hat's off to you. If not, let's boogie and sculpt our lives into a shape that makes us grin.

I know I'm not there yet. I've got it pretty good and have nothing to complain about. But I'm not at that hard-to-define moment of peace and purpose. It's coming. How, I'm not sure. But I can feel it coming towards me and I'm walking steadily towards it, step by step, like that kid on the sun-bleached dock.


If you want to learn more about Tammy and her journey, you should visit her blog at Rowdy Kittens. (Great name, no?)

P.S. Don't forget to tune into Our Hen House this Saturday! I'm crossing my fingers that I don't sound like a dweeb. If I do, don't tell me. 

Friday, March 15, 2013


Year Two as a happy vegan gal is rapidly approaching. Of course, anyone who might read this blog with any regularity knows that I reflect a lot. Since delving a bit into the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, I've become more comfortable with this side of my personality and less prone to apologizing for it. The Thinker, after all, is a sculpture that is regarded with awe. You don't hear of many people admiring a piece of artwork called The Multitasker or The Chatterbox. It doesn't have quite the same appeal, does it?

In the midst of this ongoing reflection, I'm often taken aback that I didn't give up eating animals much sooner. Memories of roadsigns along the way begin to resurface. Like the time when I lived in Indiana and a humungous truckload of pigs passed me on the highway. Their snouts were coming out of the holes in the side of the truck and one of those pigs looked at me from between the slats. Our eyes actually met. Then the truck pulled ahead. I was pulling off at the next exit anyway, which was probably the safest thing for me, as I had begun crying in gulping sobs. I pulled to the side of the first available road and put my little Toyota in park, noting that my hands were actually shaking on the steering wheel as I tried to pull myself together.

For the life of me, I cannot remember my frame of mind afterwards. Why didn't I give up eating animals once seeing that? After coming face to face with the eyes of someone's dinner, perhaps my own? I have no answers. It's like trying to remember what sight was like with my two eyes, after having injured one substantially at the age of nine. I simply have no recollection of seeing the previous way. And I don't mean that in a snobbish "I'm so evolved" manner. I simply cannot remember and feel a little confounded by that memory lapse in both situations.

About six years prior, there had been another roadsign. Like the pigs on their way to slaughter, this one left an indelible mark on my heart. It was a movie called Powder. I think I saw it in a theater, and so many scenes stayed with me. Every now and again, I'd mention the title to friends, but no one had heard of it. Wondering if it was as good as I remembered, I started a little google search and saw, to my amazement, that the film got bad reviews left and right.

So tonight, almost twenty years later, I decided to sit back and rewatch it and see if my memory's raves had any merit.

I don't know what those reviewers were talking about. And I don't care. Because this is one powerful movie. The many tears I shed earlier have now dried on my face, leaving it feeling a little -- hey! -- powdery and sticky in a been-at-the-beach way.

The basic idea of the story is that a boy is born after his mother is struck and killed by a lightning strike. The boy (Jeremy, aka Powder) has some very unique characteristics as a result and is completely white with no hair. Fast forward to his latter teen years and he is in his grandfather's home, with the grandfather having just passed away of natural causes. The boy is taken by the state, after having been hidden away from strangers for his whole life. Along the way, Jeremy (Sean Patrick Flannery) gains a stray ally here and there (Mary Steenburgen, Jeff Goldblum, and Lance Henrikson) while enduring the torments of small-minded people. He's this kind, gentle soul who only wants to be back in his familiar farmhouse and away from the taunts of others. He's so believably sweet and scared, he breaks your heart. Animals sense his kindness throughout the movie and are drawn to him.

The scene that made me loathe hunting more than I did before was one in which Jeremy is in the woods and comes upon several older boys and a deputy (Duncan) who have just shot a deer. He sees them whooping and congratulating each other as the deer lays dying at their feet. Duncan has already made his distaste for Jeremy known and gets threatening as Jeremy approaches the wounded deer. Jeremy, crying, puts his white hand on the writhing deer's neck and grabs the arm of the deputy with a firm, powerful grip. Duncan instantly starts crying and falls to the ground, spasming each time the deer spasms. Jeremy finally lets Duncan go, and the deputy curls up on the ground, crying and shaking as the boys surround him and look at Jeremy in fear.

When Jeremy is later questioned, he says calmly but with sadness in his eyes, "I let him see. I opened him up and I let him see. He just couldn't see what he was doing. So I helped him."

Later the sheriff (Doug) finds Duncan at home and discovers that he has relinqished his rather substantial gun collection. When pressed, Duncan finally opens up to his boss.
"Let me tell you something, Doug. You ever tell anybody I said this, I'm movin' out of town. 

"That ... kid? He lays his hand on the deer while it's still shakin'. And then he touches me at the same time. Now I can't figure out why, 'till my heart starts pounding and I'm shakin'. And I'm feelin' myself hurt and scared shitless in the goddamn dark. That's the worse thing I ever felt. It's like I could feel that animal dyin'. Hell, it's like I was that goddamned thing. 

... Now ... I just can't do it anymore. I can't look at something down the barrel without thinkin' about it. I tried it ... I'm tellin' you, he took whatever's in that goddamn deer and he put it right into me."

It sounds a little forced as I even read over those words, but boy I found the whole thing so well acted.

Now the obvious problem here is, Did they use an actual deer in the film? It does look like it, and I have serious qualms about that if they did. But I can't deny that the movie had a huge effect on me.

I actually haven't given that much of the film away for those who are intrigued. It's a wonderful tear-jerker with a pretty phenomenal ending. Ignore the bad reviews and its disappearance into obscurity. This movie needs to be seen. It's rare that a older movie exceeds your memory's take on it.

I'd be curious if anyone else has seen Powder or plans on seeing it? Or, for that matter, what roadsigns did you encounter along the way to "Veganville"? Or what roadsigns are you encountering as a non-vegan?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

This Week's Menu

Week's already under way, but here it is... (Weekly menu explained here.)

SATURDAY (b-day celebration)
Thai Coconut Corn Stew (double recipe) (Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan 102)
Rosemary Boule Bread from Whole Foods 
Toasted Coconut Cupcakes (Vegan Cupcakes Over the World 87)

Cocoa Coconut Chili (Eat Drink, and Be Vegan 94)
Rosemary Boule Bread from Whole Foods

Red Lentils
Berbere Kale

Mac and Trees (Appetite for Reduction 184)

Hottie Black-eyed Peas and Greens (Appetite for Reduction 119)

Broccoli Cashew Teriyaki Tofu Stir-fry (Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan 122)

Curried Chickpeas and Greens (Appetite for Reduction 228)

Have a good week, y'all!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Good Hodgkins

Here's a conversation that is becoming pretty common nowadays.
"I saw something on the news last night about what they do to those poor animals in factory farms."

"Oh, I know. It's awful. I can't even watch. That's why we buy humanely raised meat."

"Oh, so do we! Well, we do when we can. I just want to know that the animal had a good life, you know?"

"Exactly. At least it was happy. The humane stuff costs a bit more, but we buy less meat now, so it all works out and we're spending the same amount as before."

"Right? And it's a lot healthier too. All organic. No pesticides and no hormones."
I say this dialog is common because it's one I proudly took part in many times. And it's one I hear repeated.

To begin, I think it's interesting that we call the animals in question "it." It's much easier to purchase and eat an "it" than a "he" or "she," but that is exactly what we're buying. Beings. It brings to mind the chilling scene in Silence of the Lambs, when Buffalo Bill (the serial killer) lowers a bucket with lotion to young woman he's holding prisoner in a pit and says, "It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again." When she begs to be let go and cries that she misses her Mommy, he gets very affected for a moment, but he pulls himself back by telling her "It puts the lotion in the basket!" He even begins to make fun of her screams. We can do whatever we want to an It, and feel no remorse. We can even make jokes about its fate. But a He or She? That's completely different, isn't it? It makes sense why so many farmers refuse to name animals. (So often I'll see a picture of a pig posted in a non-food way on facebook and someone will always, and I mean always, comment, "Mmmm.. bacon!" It's chilling to me that people do that and also disappointing because it's so incredibly unoriginal. But often people's first reaction is to make fun of the animal by labeling it as an It to be eaten.)

The reason I bring up the outlined conversation above is that I heard it the other day between two women in the supermarket and it reminded me of something, but I couldn't quite remember what. Like it was on the edge of my brain but I couldn't bring it forth.  Some funny situation.

And then it came to me today. Factory farm animals vs. humanely raised animals.  It is just like that scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm with the "good" Hodgkins and the "bad" Hodgkins. If you haven't seen it, the main character on the show is just this outrageously obnoxious person who is a complete ... ninny. (There's another word, but I am striving to keep this blog PG.) Anyhow, in this scene he claims that there are two forms of the disease and that one is "good," in that the chances of survival are greater. Everyone keeps remarking to him that it's not really good, just slightly less bad. Take a peek below.

Is humanely raised meat better than factory farmed meat? Technically, I suppose, it is better in some ways, but just barely. Though a few things need to be cleared up about humanely raised animals. (I wrote a post about this word humane, because I find it so distasteful.) First, they all come to the same grisly end. Most are, in fact, sent to the same exact slaughterhouse as their factory farm brethren. Some of these animals, though, may have enjoyed a few more inches of space. A rare few enjoy that idyllic farm we all daydream about and which always seems to be plastered on all the humanely-raised meat labels. But overall, the animals still get treated very badly, and receive the same "standard practices." (Beaks, feet, tails, horns, testicles, ears, and teeth are cut off without anesthesia, for example.)

But just for fun, let's suppose for a minute that humanely raised animals all do get raised on beautiful farms. They have wonderful food. They get to go out to green pastures or peck for bugs in the warm sunshine. People affectionately clean them and name them. Ahhh... Heaven.

Then one day a truck comes to take them away to what we would all deem a living hell. Some may say that's alarmist talk. But what would you call it if it were you going to be slaughtered? I've seen a lot of footage of this and there is simply no other word for it. It's hell. (There goes my PG rating.)

I had one friend tell me they knew of a person who had a truck come and they did the slaughtering right there on the farm in the truck. As though that blew any theories about inhumane treatment out of the water. But to that I say, "That's humane?"

When I ate meat, I drew comfort from knowing that an air bullet thing went through the animals' skulls, which knocked them unconscious. "At least it's quick," I used to tell myself. The unfortunate truth is that when that air bullet is blown into some of the animals' brains, it very often doesn't do the job. The animal goes through processing alive. This is frighteningly common. (And for goodness sake, when is an air bullet going through one's brain good?)

If we were talking about slaughtering humans, would there be factory farm meat and humanely raised meat?
"This humanely-raised human had a great life. We fed it well and it had a safe place to sleep. We let it out during the day to enjoy the sun and the company of other humans. We protected it from harm so that its life was never threatened by predators. Sure it's sad that in the end we have to cut its throat, but that's the way of the world. It's a symbiotic relationship. We feed the lesser humans and protect them, and in exchange, they give their lives to us so we can continue to live. It's natural." (Creepy eh?)

This kind of argument I'm putting forth will certainly raise the hackles of some, who might shake their heads and say, "Well come on now, humans are different. These are animals! You can't make that comparison." But what is the difference really? Intelligence? There are many humans who have lower measured intelligence than some non-human animals due to different brains. Do we kill them? Are they less deserving of life?

Maybe it's that we're more moral than non-human animals. But again, turn on the news and I'm sure you'll find plenty of cases of people not being moral. (I find, actually, that non-human animals are much better examples or moral behavior, at least as I define moral.) So maybe moral behavior isn't how we distinguish who does and doesn't get eaten.

We all have the same or similar organs that serve the same functions. Eyes, ears, skin, feet, legs/fins, mouths, and reproductive organs. We all have nerve endings. We all experience fear and we all know the feelings of sadness and grief. What makes a non-human animal's fear or pain less than ours? Think about it. Why do we think we are so much more important or deserving? What's the damned difference? (PG-13)

Humane meat is a bunch a malarkey, just as is good Hodgkins. I invite you to ruminate on this. How would you feel having your leg hoisted up by a chain and then facing a knife? And why would a non-human animal's reaction be less deserving of sympathy than yours? Just think about it.

If you made it this far, thank you for doing so. And I hope -- boy do I hope -- it might make you think on humanely-raised animals differently. I hope that when/if you buy packaged meat, that you remind yourself that that animal was not an it. It was a he. Or a she.

And maybe you'll look into a non-human animal's eyes and realize that there is no difference in our collective desire to live.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

This Week's Menu

What an exciting week ahead!

Though nothing huge is planned, it's my February vacation from teaching AND it's my birthday week. I was blessed with never having to go to school on my birthday. That's a big life-long gift right there. Well done, parents. :)

I'm very taken with a new-to-me cookbook called Appetite for Reduction by the famous Isa Chandra Moskowitz, a prolific author who also runs the website Post Punk Kitchen. It's one of several cookbooks I bought all at once with a gift certificate given by a student's family. (Buying a stack of new cookbooks is one of the funnest, most luxurious feelings in the world.) Every single thing I've made from this cookbook is a winner. Better yet, the recipes are all relatively simple and quick to prepare. Ding ding! Jackpot!

While the book focuses on healthy low-fat food, I bought it when I'd heard the recipes were out-of-this-world delicious. The rumors were right. This gal knows her flavors.

So with my free schedule this week, I'm going full-tilt trying out recipes from the book I haven't attempted yet. I'll also be honing my new banjo skills, sketching, writing, and maybe going to see a movie or two. And I'll probably start planning some dates for things I want to do this summer. (Among those are visiting some of Newport's mansions, going back to Farm Sanctuary, visiting Woodstock Sanctuary, and going on a mega-family vacation to Lake Tahoe. I can hardly wait!)

For more info on "This Week's Menu," check out this short explanatory post. 

Red wine and Kalamata Tempeh (AFR 157)
Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes (AFR 54)
Berbere Kale

40-Clove Chickpeas and Broccoli (not really 40 cloves, but it's a good, catchy name) (AFR 125)

Caribbean Curried Black-eyed Peas with Plantains (AFR 129)
Brown Basmati Rice
Berbere Kale (I told you we eat a ton of this stuff. So good.)

Mac and Trees (AFR 184) (Basically, pasta, broccoli and a cheezy-sauce.)

Pasta de los Angeles (AFR 177) (It was described as "Mexican pasta." I'm intrigued.)
Berbere Kale (Once you make it, you'll understand how addictive it is.)

Going out somewhere for my big day! Maybe Red Lentil? Mmmm...

Black bean, zucchini, and olive tacos

I don't usually put desserts into my menus, as I only make them when inspiration hits. Which tends to be on Sunday afternoons, but you never know. So quick little trips to the market for any necessary items are allowed. You see, having chocolate chips just laying around the house is bad for me. Good, but bad.

So there may be desserts in my near-future, but I just don't know what they might be yet. Stay tuned! 

Monday, February 11, 2013

This Week's Menu

This may be a bad idea. It's something that I may ultimately leave by the wayside. But I thought it might be interesting to anyone considering leaving animals off the plate, whose main question was "But what would I eat, exactly?" It could also prove enlightening to anyone who thinks I live on tofu and sprouts.

My new goal has been to do my grocery shopping on Saturday morning, after a splendiferous yoga session at Mystic Fitness. (The name sounds all mystical and incensey but they're lovely and very down-to-earth. The perfect balance of centering yourself, getting a good workout, and not taking yourself too seriously.) So I'm going to aim to get my menu planning and shopping list done on Friday night after work.

It occurred to me to post my weekly menu. This may seem like a huge step for narcissism, and believe me I can see why it would appear to be so. On the other hand, it might prove helpful in showing that vegan food can be phenomenal. (It can be equally possible to have a super lame vegan food, but I love food far too much to settle for blah.)

This is just an experiment. If it sounds like the most boring of posts, well, you may be on to something. But as my mentor teacher told me years ago, if you're going to make mistakes, make them big, beautiful mistakes. Don't be shy about it.

So with that in mind, here is this week's menu of dinners. It's short, as I hope to normally post a week's worth on Friday nights or Saturday mornings and this week is already well under way. I've not mentioned lunches because they are always leftovers from the previous night's meal. All the meals are quick and easy. I'm often tired after a day of teaching and I like to keep my time in the kitchen to a minimum.

~Thai Coconut Corn Stew (Dreena Burton's Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan)
~Rosemary Boule Bread (I buy it half-baked at Whole Foods. Preheat your oven to 400, then pop the bread in for 10 minutes only. Gorgeous fresh baked bread comes out. You have to ask them for the half-baked at the counter; it's never displayed as it needs to be kept refrigerated.)

~Cocoa Coconut Chili (Dreena Burton's Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan)
~Rosemary Boule Bread

~Soy Chorizo Black Bean Stew (Kathy Hester's Vegan Slow Cooker)

~*Chickpea Piccata (Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction)
~Berbere Kale
~Quinoa flavored with a bouillon cube 

~Curried Chickpeas and Greens (Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction)
~Ginger Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Apples (Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction)

~Tortilla Soup (Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction)

* recipe I haven't tried yet! :)

Last night was the perfect night for Thai Coconut Corn Stew and fresh bread. It was my best batch yet, which may be due to shoveling and roof-raking our way out of a blizzard. Nothing like working hard outdoors in the cold to make food taste great.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Big Hair, Big Cars, or Big Ag? (oh my)

I walked the halls of Hanover High School in the age of big hair. The late eighties was a time when the female gender valiantly fought gravity with industrial-sized cans of Aqua-Net. I joined their ranks for a short while, sporting an embarrassing Joan Jett spiky hairdo in eighth grade that unfortunately didn't deliver the coolness factor I longed for. (Neither did the fluorescent-everything phase. Dang it!)

After a short while, I realized my new do was not bringing in the social riches I'd anticipated. Also, I had fine hair which didn't take well to onslaughts of hairspray. To use Eddie Izzard's words, it "collapsed like a flan in a cupboard."

Around this time, though, I learned that AquaNet was responsible for a mysterious, invisible hole in the ozone layer, so it was just as well. And I felt better, knowing I was no longer contributing to worldwide destruction through my stubbornly cornsilky bangs. By the time graduation rolled 'round, I was one of about four girls without big hair. I'm not making this up. My friend Nancy and went through our yearbook and counted.

As the years went by, though, it became apparent that it was not, in fact, Aqua-Net that was ruining the earth, but our big, bouncy, gas-guzzling cars. (Even so, the big hair went away. I think we all got tired from the effort. Plus we had our midriffs to start working on.)

In the last few years, though, the real culprit has been found. Transportation doesn't hold a candle to it. And hairspray quakes in its presence.

Animal agriculture is the worst contributor to climate change. Its effect on global warming is monumental. But we're not hearing a lot about it.

It's not because the research hasn't been done. Back in 2006 the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a report that blew our worries about big cars right out the window. Or it should have. But most people never heard about it. I certainly didn't. It was entitled Livestock's Long Shadow. The report contrasted the environmental effects of transport against those of animal agriculture. There was no contest. Here is a telling excerpt:

Says Henning Steinfeld, Chief of FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior author of the report: “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.” 

Here and there, you'd hear little blips of information, but it was mostly done in a joking manner. I found out about it -- and I'm being completely serious -- through NPR's funny show Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me when one of their quiz's correct answers focused on the alarming amount of methane in, well, cow farts. Which is funny, when you think about it, but still. Why weren't we all curbing our animal-eating habits? Small and efficient cars became the new thing, both for the environment and for our collective wallet. Reducing or eliminating animal products on our plates would have had the same double-whammy effect, but most of us didn't change a thing.

Four short years later, the United Nations again pulled our attention to the catastrophic results of animal agriculture, this time insisting that a drastic change in our diets was necessary. (The United Nations for crying out loud!) The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) released "Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production,"  a rather lengthy report that cautioned us to go to a more plant-centric diet in order to slow down the deleterious effects of global warming.

Food production is the most significant influence on land use and therefore habitat change, water use, overexploitation of fisheries and pollution with nitrogen and phosphorus. In poorer countries, it is also the most important cause of emissions of greenhouse gases (CH4 and N2O). Both emissions and land use depend strongly on diets. Animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives.

And further along the report: 

 “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."

Did you catch that on the news? Probably not. I don't know anyone who saw it. But that's a pretty big deal. If we were indeed focused on halting climate change, it should have been shouted from the rooftops. Instead we heard crickets.

Last month, President Obama was sworn into his second term. Among many things, he addressed climate change, which was heartening. Not surprisingly, though, animal agriculture was not even mentioned by the more renowned talking heads following the speech.  I didn't hear one word said, and believe me, I was on the ever-hopeful lookout.

If the United Nations has made such a big deal about the harmful effects of animal agriculture, why isn't it even being discussed? 

While I'm no Rachel Maddow, I can say this: the lobbyists for animal agriculture are very, very powerful. Look at Oprah, one of the most influential women of our time. She had the ex-rancher Howard Lyman on her show in 1996. When she learned that cows were eating other ground-up cows, making Mad Cow Disease possible, she stated, "It has just stopped me cold from eating another hamburger." She was subsequently hit with a suit for defamation from The Texas Beef Group. Though Oprah and Howard ultimately won two years later, it scared many people from saying "boo" about this nefarious industry. (They're just plain old creepy!)

There's more -- much much more -- to say on the subject, and I will be devoting a post to the devastating effect of fishing on our climate. But I did want to get this out there. Because most of us are completely unaware of it. And the fact that it is being hidden from us is, in my mind, downright criminal on several levels.

This ain't no fad. Even if one could argue that animals go through no suffering [they do], and even if one could prove that eating animal products is healthier than eating plant products [it's not], the stubborn fact is that our diet is well on its way to destroying the world we love. Sounds melodramatic. Even as I type this, I'm a little anguished, thinking, "How can I say this without sounding like a tree-hugging alarmist?"

The truth is, I'm not sure how to communicate it so that others will take heed and not dismiss it as simply interesting food for thought before they eat their meatloaf tonight. The facts are there, though, as much as we might wish them away. And as John Adams once said, "Facts are stubborn things." Global warming is not going to go away because big hair is out. It just isn't.