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?