Thursday, November 8, 2007

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge

I'm trying to get back on the environmental wagon... and Crunchy Chicken conveniently has a new challenge right along the lines of what I was already considering (with little anticipatory shivers). The idea is not to literally freeze your posterior regions but to set your thermostat at least a degree lower than you normally would. And I'm all in favor of lowering heating bills, which are not pretty in a drafty, gas-radiator-heated apartment. Last year I was cold all the time and still had high bills, so I figure if I'm going to be cold anyway I might as well keep the thermostat at 67 during the day and 62 at night.

It's just starting to dip into the 30s at night here, so I'm starting to look for Warm Solutions. The newest idea: whenever I'm cold sitting still (which I can be, even at 67 with layers of sweaters and socks; I was the child who wore sweatshirts in the summer until my mom told me to change because she was hot just looking at me), I get up and wash dishes or mop the floor or polish the table. Brooks already says, "Everything is so clean around here!"

Lower bills (we hope) and a cleaner house! Yay for environmental consciousness!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hard to plan

I just encountered the following quote in someone's e-signature:

"Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an
inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day." - E.B. White

Does anyone else relate? (On optimistic days, anyway...) Now that the rainy fall weather is upon us, should we add the inclination to stay in bed with hot chocolate and mystery novels?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Drive-by Blogging

In the first four weeks of the semester, I gave three ten-minute research presentations(equivalent to a 5 or 6 page paper), took two Greek exams, and wrote and administered one. It felt like finals in September.

In the next four weeks, I took three more exams and went out of town to deliver a paper at my first academic conference. Now it's the middle of the semester and time to start working on final projects.

So I fell out of the blogging habit much sooner than I anticipated. But I have learned some interesting things:

1. There was no Homer.
2. Thucydides was really writing tragedy.
3. I still love Antigone.

In other news:
1. Jena is back!!
2. We are Orthodox catechumens, to be chrismated at Easter (if we die before then, we still get an Orthodox funeral).
3. Acorn squash stuffed with quinoa, walnuts, and parmesan cheese is the hot dish of the season in our household.

Monday, August 27, 2007

First Day, or Am I Grown Up Yet?

Today I taught my first class. I was sick to my stomach for an hour beforehand and talked fast all the way through, but it seems to have gone off reasonably well.

When I arrived, the classroom was still occupied by the previous class and several freshmen were waiting in the hall. "Are you here for Greek?" they asked.

"Yes," said I.

"Are you an upperclassman?"

Well... I suppose you could say that. "Actually I'm teaching it..."

"OH. Sorry!" And they got wide-eyed and vaguely apologetic.

I guess I do at least look older than 18.

After that I had my own three classes (Athenian Empire, Survey of Greek Literature, and Latin Prose Composition)with only 10 minutes between each. One professor gave me permission to bring lunch to class, but I forgot that everything I eat for lunches these days is crunchy and the noise embarrassed me too much to eat it until later.

Then, in a final spurt of goodness and discipline (not to mention getting up at 7 to have coffee with Brooks before his early class), I went to the gym on campus. I hope this will become a reasonable MWF schedule that will keep me healthy and academically on-track most of the semester. Tuesday and Thursday of course are nap days. One can't expect too much.

Goodbye summer!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Banishing Clutter (or What the Well-Dressed Woman is Wearing)

My vague anti-clutter feelings reached critical mass this weekend. All the stuff in our small apartment makes me feel claustrophobic even when the sun is shining, so I fear for my sanity when winter returns.

I sorted through the books, which were overflowing all the bookshelves onto the floor in three or four places. One box went to the used book store; three boxes went into the closet. I still like some of my modern history books, remnants of my B.A., but I can't see myself reading them for at least five years now that I've changed fields.

I recruited Jena to help with my wardrobe. Under her stern eye, four large grocery bags of clothes and shoes -- worn, ill-fitting, or unfashionable -- were dismissed from service. Perhaps one-third of what came out of the closet went back into it.

Brooks tackled the big closet under the stairs, and disposed of several boxes of knicknacks and old dishes. (Now I can see the entirety of the full-length mirror at the back of the closet!) The Goodwill delivery from both projects took up the whole back seat and floor of the car.

I felt rather weepy that night, despite how happy I was about all the stuff going away. I don't miss any of it; in fact, I'm still spotting things that need to go. But somehow it was still a wrench. Why is that?

Jena continued her role as personal wardrobe assistant by making up a list of all the things I needed to make the clothes I had left a)go with each other and b)look a bit more polished for teaching. By the next day, she had also located all the items online and within budget. All I had to do was approve and enter my credit card number. I did look askance at the green moccasins (I like green shoes but I've never really liked moccasins) but Jena said, "TRUST me. They're SO IN this year," and ordered herself a pair of lavender ones. Finally, she provided a list of more expensive winter items to acquire as I manage to save the money later. So I have a streamlined closet and a new wardrobe, with no shopping required! Everyone should have a Jena for these occasions. Too bad she can't write my Greek syllabus, too...

A Beginner's Guide to Prayer

I picked up this book early in the summer from our church library, looking for help in restructuring my habits in the midst of all the cerebral examinations of theology we've been doing (see Brooks' long posts). Despite being a Christian all my life, I am still a beginner when it comes to any kind of habit of prayer. Fr. Keiser of course writes from an Orthodox perspective, but I think much of his approach would be helpful to all Christians trying to establish a solid prayer life.

The reasons he gives for doing so are far from legalistic:

"Public worship and personal prayer are the twin support beams of the spiritual life for any believer. All our growing will take place within the framework they provide" (6).

"Why bother with the effort of a disciplined prayer life at all?...We pray as a response to love, and we pray in order to love" (8).

He encourages a mixture of written and spontaneous prayers, starting out with written:
"Nothing can color our image of God like the words that we use to communicate with Him....Using written prayers that have been tested against the teaching of the Church can help us keep to sound doctrine so that we do not end up worshiping ourselves" (27).

I appreciate written prayers, finding that they often say what I wanted to say without having fully realized how to express it. They also take away the excuse that I am feeling too uncreative and unexpressive to pray on any given occasion.

Fr. Keiser's advice about forming a personal rule of prayer is drawn from Scripture and the church fathers, with a healthy dose of practicality for the busy and easily-distracted realities of our lives and a common-sensical balance between emotions and discipline.

Written, spontaneous, and non-verbal prayer all contribute to the same end. The whole point, as with all the spiritual disciplines, is to grow in communion and likeness with God, which is genuine wholeness and the deepest authenticity.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Belated birthday reflections

I don't know if I've lived up to my goals for my first thirty years, because I've never been able to envision life that far ahead. It's rather a surprise to me that I'm here already. However, my thoughts earlier in the summer about authenticity without perfectionism were motivated in part by a concern that I would turn this milestone into another impractical and depressing checklist opportunity. At least for the next week or two, I've resolved not to make resolutions and not to compare myself with people who have families, careers, and PhDs at 30.

Brooks has drawn up a gratifyingly adventurous list of all the things I've done in the last year. I also had a lovely chat with my cousin the other day (hi Lori! the book just arrived!) and she inspired several Helpful Reflections.

First of all, I realized that I have much less inclination nowadays to try to be someone else. I still don't think I do a good enough job of being me, but that's a different stage of development.

Second, she reminded me that growth is a combination of intentionality and epiphany. There is a place for analysis, and there is a place for letting things happen.

Third, it struck me this morning that almost all the blogs I've been reading this year, whatever their various issues, have in some way emphasized incremental growth over drastic and ultimately unsustainable change. The Orthodox approach to spiritual disciplines has a similarly practical bent. God doesn't usually re-make someone in a day; it's the persistence of working at it that develops the virtues and disciplines. I think this may be my next Big Issue.

I've always been convinced that I have no self-discipline, but that's because I always assumed that I ought to be able to remake myself in a week or two if I just tried hard enough. When I look even just at my summer through my normal lenses, it looks like a failure. I didn't make a dent in my reading list, I didn't pray every day, I didn't get in shape, I didn't organize my whole house, I didn't minimize my environmental impact, and my squash and cucumbers were abject failures. But if I look at the small sporadic things, I did start praying and exercising once or twice a week, I did throw away or recycle several boxes of stuff, I eat less meat and dairy, I use less water and fewer plastic bags, I got the best tomatoes ever from my backyard, and I read at least parts of books in three languages. Not to mention that I spent more time with my sister than I have in the last seven years combined. From that angle, it doesn't look too shabby.

And finally, the birthday party reminded me of how many smart and interesting friends I have, because the ones who came also represented to me all the ones who couldn't come, and I marvelled at them all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

a quick update

1. Yes, I did get all my hair cut off. Pictures will be forthcoming next week because...

2. We are going to Brooks' brother's wedding over the weekend.

3. Jena is planning a fabulous birthday party for me the weekend after that! We are hard at work already.

4. and the weekend after that, we're going to Philly to see my mom, who will be there for a jewelry trade show.

Maybe after that, I'll start thinking and blogging again.

Oh, but

5. our book club starts meeting tonight (thanks to Steve!). We are reading The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Reflections may emerge in writing.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A poll

Because I'm indecisive.

Should I cut all my hair off like this or just trim to a nicer version of what I have now?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

try my tomatoes...


the reddest tomato I've ever seen, with an equally intense flavor


my cooking show audition?


the jointly-labored results


the festive conclusion


outdoor shakespeare (an earlier day)

As suspected, the blog has suffered from my increased occupation: a lot of running around with Jena and a reasonable amount of studying, plus a lack of mental discipline to try to extract and express interesting thoughts. School starts again at the end of August so I'm trying to finally read all the books I've just been dabbling in.

Monday, July 2, 2007

food and society

Local Food Month started yesterday... and my freezer is still full of the non-local meat I bought before our vegan month.

There are three categories of endeavor: eating more local food, eating less prepackaged/fast food, and making more things from scratch.

Dinner tonight was, through no real conscious effort, successful in two and a rousing flop in the third. The salad was completely local, including the first cucumber from my backyard (!!). The dressing was from scratch, and the croutons were made from the heel of a homemade loaf. But the burritoes were frozen from Costco. Sigh. Jena and I were planning and shopping for our little July 4th party and decided it was too late to cook.

But I'm not going to knock myself out over it; I want to be more conscious but I can't spend all my time and money on food pursuits this month. Making a dent in the comps list and preparing my first class for the fall are higher priorities. Jena and I were looking at the illustrated entertaining section of my beautiful Junior League of Houston cookbook today, though, and decided that sometimes we wouldn't mind being rich society wives who could spend all their time planning elaborate parties. We could join the DAR, for starters...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mistress Mary, quite contrary... does your garden grow?

I know you were all wondering. The garden is actually the contrary one at present, so I gave it some extra attention today, with frequent consultations of my gardening book. It doesn't seem like gardening is something one should learn from a book but one manages as best one can. I'm already thinking about what to try next year.

The daylilies had stopped producing, quite early in the season, so I dug them up and replanted them on the side of the yard. They may not survive it, but they weren't doing any good in the pot and the squash and pepper plants can use some extra room. I stuck a few more green bean seeds in the empty spot, though; they take less space than the lilies.

The lemon basil had gone almost entirely to flower and seed, despite being repeatedly pinched off, so I cut it back almost to a single stem to see if it will regrow. A few of the trimmings will go in tonight's green curry (with eggplant, red pepper, and green beans) and the rest will infuse a sugar syrup for herbal lemonade.

The cucumber and squash plants seem to have an aphid problem. They are crawling with ants, which is supposed to be a warning sign, but I haven't been able to spot more than a few of the pesky little varmints. So far I'm trying kitchen remedies; I don't want to use chemical pesticides and the organic garden center is too far away for a quick dash, so I'm removing them by hand and spraying with homemade insecticidal soap (Dr. Bronner's castile soap and water) and monitoring. Despite the bugs, the cucumber has just started producing a gratifying number of tiny knobbly cukes.

The squash, however, is not well at all. It has white and yellow blotches all over the leaves, and the one tiny hint of an actual squash has turned brown and shrivelled up. I suspect some sort of mildew and have just removed the worst leaves and sprayed with baking soda-water, at the book's suggestion.

I also had to cut off the first pepper, because it had some sort of rot and I didn't want it to spread. Fortunately the second one is growing fine so far. Also the tomatoes look fine; the little green ones are now big green ones, and the vines are taking off.

Any advice is welcome!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"pure, fresh, equitable, and simply outrageous"

My sister Jena is here for the summer, and we have already been discovering girly indulgences. We wandered up and down Connecticut Ave. near Dupont Circle yesterday, going into all the salons in search of the perfect shampoo. We happened upon a great little wine shop having a free tasting of four wines, each paired with a different chocolate truffle. The wines were mostly sweet and not my favorites on their own, but the pairings were excellent and the truffles themselves completely amazing. Krishon Chocolates makes everything by hand with only organic and fair trade ingredients. The "well-tempered chocolatier" even churns his own butter out of organic cream and juices his own fruit extracts. Some of the more exotic flavor choices include pomegranate, hibiscus, lemongrass, and lapsang souchong, along with the always scrumptious strawberry, ginger, and coffee. He also limits the amount of paper and plastic used in packaging. I'm not sure if the gentleman behind the table was the Main Man (although he talked about the production process in the first person) but he was exceedingly nice and I wish I could afford to patronize him regularly!

Brooks just walked up and asked what I am writing about. He writes long posts about Orthodox theology while I write short posts about chocolate. I guess the relationship has balance. I do probably think about theology more than he thinks about chocolate.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

getting out

Large black cop at corner table, getting ready to leave. Holds up Bible and book with pigs in the title. "This is great stuff. This is right where I'm at, you know?"

Small old Indian man with cane and checkered pants: "What is that book?"

Cop: "This here's about the Spirit."

Indian man: "What Spirit?"

Cop: "The HOLY Spirit."

Indian man: "Oh yes! When I was a boy in Madras, a French priest came to our school, and he sang this song 'Come Holy Spirit' in my language. I am so drawn to that! I love this Holy Spirit!"

The cop, the Indian man, and the Ethiopian coffee shop ladies banter about handcuffs for a few minutes before the cop leaves. The ladies go back to work (having been chatting with the Indian man about the friend he visits every day in the nursing home, and his next trip to India, while I eavesdrop shamelessly from behind Syme's Roman Revolution.) The Indian man asks what I am reading. We strike up conversation and he tells me,

"I was never married, but I used to tell people that I have two women in my room. They ask what are their names. I say, MUUUUU-sic -- I love music, Mozart, Bach, Tchaikovsky--and books. I read, I read, oh, I read everything. I lie in bed and write in notebooks. See? [pulls out notebooks] I write down what is inspiring and beautiful, and I read it to my friend Sonya [in the nursing home]. We are friends fifty years! She is Lutheran; I am Catholic; she is a beautiful, beautiful woman. A beautiful soul. She is not interested in sex either so we can be such good friends and talk about everything."

He says he likes to read about the great philosophers, and he always skips to the end to see what they did and said at their death. He tells me about Plato, Pascal, and Voltaire. "I don't say I am not afraid. Everyone is uneasy about the unknown. But what I know is so beautiful! and when I have done what God gave me to do, I am ready!"

I ask what he did before he was retired (he is 83). For the next twenty minutes he tells me how he was a teacher in India and came to Chicago without a green card. After a job transporting mail on the railroad, he managed to get into Loyola for a masters in social work because the head of the department knew the priest he had studied under in India. Then he was alternately a teacher, a social worker, and a missionary of sorts (I couldn't always understand his English). He talks with deep emotion about the priests who had mentored him. "They gave me so much; GOD gave me so much, I must give to others, to share the love of God, the love of Jesus. I don't want to waste any minute of my life! People say in letters, you are a leader, well, you know, a leader is someone who loves other people and lifts them up to do more than you yourself have done. Jesus says this, you know, that his disciples will do the works he has done and more also. This is a leader."

He shows me a poem he is writing about the Holy Spirit, and a campfire song written by his boyhood mentor.

I need only nod and smile understandingly to keep the flow of words coming. I half-watch for closing time so I can leave, but am also moved by his warm-hearted enthusiasm.

The Ethiopian coffee-shop lady tells him about someone in Africa who is 140 years old. "He eats honey every morning! Is so good for you! Keep you strong." She goes across the street to buy him a loaf of bread ("Whole wheat. Is better.") so he can eat honey on it.

I leave to collect my vegetables from the farmers' market before it rains, happily reminded how many interesting people there are in the world, and how worthwhile it is to occasionally venture out of the house to find them.

Monday, June 18, 2007

world's second-best cherry cobbler

cherries from last week's CSA box and apricots from the organic grocery = natural goodness
simple crumb topping = old fashioned comfort
dashes of triple sec and cardamom = subtle flair

(The world's absolute best cherry cobbler involves a deep dark chocolate souffle topping... I'd better make sure I didn't lose the recipe when I left my cooking job! One of the serendipitous perks of that job was that I made the cobbler once for a big dinner party before an evening lecture, and they ran out of time for dessert. The regular inhabitants were on diets so I got to take the whole thing home. Yum.)

I wish I were a better photographer because I love food pictures. I don't like taking pictures during events because it makes me feel too detached from the experience, so I am happy to let the talented Brooks take over that job. But my favorite thing about cooking magazines is the photography. It makes me wish for an alternate career as a food stylist. That's also why I love this blog; I don't know her and don't remember how I found her, but the pictures make such magic of ordinary things. Her house seems to get its light from a different sun than mine does.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Environmental thoughts

Going back to my original reflections about authentic living in multiple spheres, I was going to start with the spiritual aspect but the blog and my attention got hijacked by the environmental aspect, mainly because of the timing of things like Low Impact Week.

I'm not sure how this interest got started for me; in some ways it feels like it sprang suddenly full-formed like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, but in others it just seems like a natural progression that was being held back by the chaos of the past year. After all, I did grow up in Oregon, and Dr. Mitchell did get us all reading Wendell Berry junior year, and I did write my senior thesis on early conservationist theory and landscape design. (John Muir is an absolute trip and you should all read his letters. One of my favorite quotes from that project was from one of Muir's political opponents who exasperatedly characterized Muir's ideal as "me and God and the rock where God put it.")

So, armed with vague notions about nature, anti-modernism, community, and the human scale, I have found myself initiating some moderate lifestyle changes. I also find myself periodically depressed about their effectiveness against the vastness of the problem. I am too much of a libertarian to want the government to mandate personal changes (although I realize that infrastructures need to be significantly reorganized), but also too much of a pessimist about human nature to think that everyone will naturally do what is best for the rest of the world. (Passing reflection: could we say that people are too good for unbridled capitalism and not good enough for genuine socialism?)

But the whole project for me personally comes down to love and authenticity, and the need to act accordingly remains, regardless of whether human action has any impact on global warming, or whether peak oil is going to arrive in 5 years or 20 or never, or whether genuinely sustainable technologies are going to develop quickly enough to save us.

It is about authenticity, because trying to live in harmony with natural processes goes against the modernist tendency to alienate us from the rest of the natural world. I admit I like being comfortable; I don't like being cold or hot or dirty, and I've never gone camping. But neither do I really think that natural harmony is only about being as uncomfortable as possible. It's about developing a different way of looking at reality, trying to cooperate with it instead of resisting it unthinkingly at every turn and automatically relying on technology to create new realities (as valuable and necessary as this may be at times; I certainly don't mean that we should just let people die of diseases or stop trying to make more efficient use of the resources we have).

It is about love for other people, because I don't want to consume more than my share, in order that other people, anywhere in the world, at present and in the future, might have enough. I can't ensure that they will have it, but I can at least avoid wasting what they might otherwise be able to use.

It is about love for the planet in all its beauty and variety. I realize Christians have tended to dismiss this as "worldly" and unimportant (although the tide is turning). But the more I am drawn into sacramental theology, the more I acknowledge the vast and mysterious significance of physical things. One of these days, I want to pursue my suspicion that Orthodox theology provides a much deeper and more organic relationship of spiritual and material things than does the Western tendency to dichotomize the two, and try to work out its implications for environmental thought.

And for right now, it means making reasonable changes like recycling, gardening, and cutting back on disposable goods. It means trying to develop community. As an introvert, it's easy for me to retreat into loving people from a distance and allowing my lifestyle choices to substitute for meaningful interaction with real people. It means doing what I can, out of love and not out of guilt and peer pressure, to change the way I look at the world and act within it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

the work of her hands

beautifully paperless

early summer preserved

All the Pretty Horses

I finished Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses on Thursday, and we watched the movie on Friday, so I have a few thoughts to add to Brooks' review.

It is a beautifully written book. Any of you who like Hemingway would probably like it; McCarthy shares his fascination with tough men and strong-minded women, battling the elements despite their internal and external wounds. He has a similar economy of language (especially in dialogue) but a bit more fluency of description. The images are never wasted, though. I have a tendency to skip the scenery when I'm reading. Here I couldn't because it was an audio book, and by the middle of the book I realized how integral the scenery was, not just to the setting, but as icons of his central theme: the interrelationship of violence and beauty.

I'm not sure I agree with Brooks about the women being more effective agents than the men. I think they are more aware than the men of the impotence of all human action against the inexplicable violence of the world, because their greater level of social constraint deprives them of the illusion that they have any control over their lives. The Duene Alfonsa articulates most fully the second theme of the novel: individual responsibility for the things that happen to you even when you have no control.

The importance of place, the struggle of the old world against the new, the coming-of-age, the combination of tough-acting expediency with integrity and a sensitive conscience that might just allow survival--all these things come into play in a narrative that is never forced or heavy-handed. I was afraid all the way through that McCarthy was going to throw some Kafka-esque twist into it and pull the rug out from under all the carefully balanced struggles of violence and beauty, choice and vulnerability. In the end, in this novel at least, he is still a Romantic in the stoic Hemingway tradition and the tenuous balance holds.

The movie made a valiant effort, and was beautifully filmed, but didn't capture the central problems of the book. I read a few reviews: Ebert liked it and realized that it wasn't plot-driven but was meant to convey the feeling of being an adolescent cowboy born too late. Others accused it of being too slow and having no plot or character development. I was at a disadvantage for assessing it because I had read the book so recently that I was essentially re-reading the book with the scenes in the movie as shorthand, but I felt that it was rushing from one episode to the next. It followed the book's structure and dialogue, but it was too heavily weighted on the beauty side of the scale. The violent events happened but without really challenging the attitude of the youthful adventurers. The problem of control and responsibility never emerged at all. I'm not sure how much sense it would really have made if I hadn't read the book, but maybe someone should volunteer to watch it first and then read, and tell me what you make of it. Any takers? Local friends can borrow the audio book; the reader is quite good.

In any case, the book is definitely on the short list for my 2007 Book of the Year. Funny how I'm getting through fiction much faster than the other things on the sidebar list.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Vegetable Obsession

Emily accused me of being obsessed with my plants. Actually I am obsessed with all produce.

I have been waiting for weeks for the Tuesday farmers' market to start in my neighborhood (I never manage to make it to the Sunday market that started a few weeks ago). The day before yesterday was the big day! There were only two vendors, but one not only had a beautiful selection of organic produce--eight kinds of lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, swiss chard, green onions, broccoli, asparagus, strawberries (I passed on the strawberries, since I probably have enough for now!)--but he also turned out to have one CSA share left. (Community Supported Agriculture is an arrangement by which you pay a local farmer a lump sum at the beginning of the season and he brings you a box every week of whatever is growing.) I tried to find one about a month ago when I first found out about this system, but all the farms I found online already had sold out all their shares. So I signed up and I get my first box next Tuesday! He said it would be a lot for two people to eat, so I'm hoping Jena and Adam will want to share it with us when they get here for the summer, if it does turn out to be too much.

Local Harvest is a good start if you want to find... well.. your local harvests.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Low Impact Update

Confession time.. and then I'll talk about something else. I promise.

1. Electricity and gas: Not bad. The rain and the temperature drop enabled me to convince someone that we could open the windows at night instead of running the A/C. Temperature is one of our biggest disagreements regardless of season and energy-saving efforts. Lucky for me this experiment is happening in summer instead of winter.

2. Water: Better because I'm not just letting it run, although again I have no good way to measure. I've saved at least a few gallons by watering my plants with the shower water.

3. Food and packaging: The Tuesday farmer's market is finally starting (today!) so I should be able to get nice local produce for the rest of the week. Again, we didn't start the vegan thing until yesterday, but I found some nice new recipes. Packaging is my biggest problem...I didn't order the reusable bags soon enough so they aren't here yet and I've had to shop without them. I am going to take some of my plastic to the market this afternoon, though.

4. Paper products: Good. I only had four cloth napkins so I made a set of 6 (with matching placemats in progress). Also I've been using rags quite successfully in the kitchen and bathroom.

5. Garbage: I am recycling now, and taking stuff to Goodwill as I declutter the closets, but the packaging problem still makes the trash fuller than I'd like.

6. Driving: Well... it's one of those trade-offs. We drove an extra 90 miles round-trip, but had four people in the car and came back with almost 50 pounds of strawberries and 4 bags of spinach from the u-pick farm. Now I have to drive out again to get canning jars and stuff for jam.

So in general, I don't feel that the week itself has been dramatically successful, but it did give me the incentive to actually start some things I'd only been thinking about, that will last longer than just this week. And isn't that really the point?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Goals for Low Impact Week

My picks from Crunchy Chicken's suggestion list:

1. Reduce energy consumption -

I'm already pretty good about keeping everything turned off or unplugged, because we blow out fuses if we don't! I don't run the A/C during the day when Brooks is gone, although we've just started to hit our 90-degree weather so I might use it a little.

And as mentioned below, I don't have a dishwasher or washer and dryer.

For gas use, though, I'm going to try not running hot water when cold will do, and turning off the oven/burners sooner, using the residual heat to finish cooking. This is more comfortable when it's so hot anyway.

2. Reduce water usage -

This is my big wasteful area, since I don't pay the bill. It also means I can't really measure it because I don't see the readings, but I know I can cut back quite a bit.

taking shorter showers

turning off the water when you're brushing your teeth

being aware of water usage when at the kitchen sink -
turn it off in between tasks and don't wash dishes with constantly running water

saving in a bucket the water that is discharged while warming up the shower and use it to water plants
YAY for my PLANTS! Brooks laughs at me but I love them so much that I go out to look at them several times a day. (and no offense to Crunchy Chicken if she sees this, but I had to laugh at the original image of a bucket being discharged from the shower.)

3. Change your food habits -

try to buy organic and/or locally grown food
the farmer's market and strawberry-picking!

use cloth bags at the grocery store instead of getting paper or plastic
I've been wanting to do this for a while.

try eating vegetarian or vegan for the week (choose your level from egg/dairy acceptable to no animals products at all)*
We were already planning to do this for a few weeks starting Monday so I'm going to leave it as previously scheduled.

4. Reduce your dependence on paper products -

don't use paper towels
I don't promise to give them up forever, but I did just cut up some old sweatpants for rags and got fabric for napkins, so I can do without for a week and minimize thereafter.

5. Reduce your garbage output -

recycle everything you can (for your area)

donate used items to a charity (many have pick ups and drop off locations) instead of throwing them out or taking them to the dump


6. Reduce Single Occupancy Vehicle usage -

We can't really reduce this any more right now...but we are down to one car, Brooks takes the metro to work, and I am going to give up my 140 miles/week teaching commute in August.

7. Do something that lasts more than a week -

I don't think any of those additional things were particularly feasible right now, but besides some of the above things that may last, I did recently stop cleaning with chemical products. Baking soda and lemons do a beautiful job on my stained old white sink/stovetop/bathtub, and vinegar-water spray and castile soap take care of the rest.

Any other ideas?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Low-Impact Week

I've started several different posts trying to sort out my thoughts... and will have to settle for something short for now. Too much pacing the house and not enough Herodotus reading.

I may have finally broken myself of reading the anti-feminist mommy blogs, and have recently moved on to the hippie-liberal environmentalist blogs. (I mean both terms in the nicest way possible.) My verdict is still out on the whole global-warming issue and to what extent the sky is actually falling, but I have no problem at all with the idea that we middle-class Americans are still among the richest people on earth, and that our habits of thoughtless consumption are unloving and unnecessary.

Several movements are afoot to help people commit to lowering their consumption and carbon-footprint levels, in varying degrees and lengths of time. The Riot for Austerity a.k.a 90% Reduction is an amazing project but one which is far beyond me at this point (although her blog is the one that's been making my head spin during the last few days). I'm settling for Low-Impact Week, which starts this Friday. I'll try to have my goals up tonight or tomorrow.

I appreciate that these women are offering measurable goals and gradual steps toward environmental responsibility. And even if I'm not sure about all the statistics and what they mean, it's all very much tied to the corporate-consumerism that is so easy to dislike and so hard to resist. So I am glad for help in being more conscious about even the little choices, because they really do add up.

It's short notice, but check out Crunchy Chicken's ideas and see if you can implement a few.

In other related news, I finally managed to drop off my recycling today. The city told me that landlords were legally obligated to provide a recycling service, but Brooks thought ours had enough on his plate dealing with our building's inadequate and erratic electrical system. And I, being the take-it-all-on-myself-rather-than-rock-the-boat kind of person that I am, decided I could deliver it to the recycling center myself. Well... I did... after driving in circles around it looking for the entrance in a neighborhood where I really didn't want to get out of the car. Fortunately the phone number was on one of the gates so I called and they opened up. I'll probably do it again as long as I can keep it to one trip a month, now that I know where to go and that they do usually have the gate open.

But Herodotus awaits...

P.S. Sandwich of the week: grilled eggplant, roasted red pepper, and goat cheese on toasted sourdough bread.

P.S.2 I guess it wasn't as short as all that. Let's just say that short = rambling and inconclusive.

Seven random things about me

Now that I've been tagged twice to do this...

1. When travelling abroad (and two or three times at home), and whenever my American-ness is not immediately evident, I am most often taken to be from a Mediterranean country. This is despite the fact that my mixed ancestry is almost exclusively northern European. Perhaps I have my Mexican great-grandmother to thank for this chameleon quality, but I need to develop the modern language skills to match.

2. In high school I took fencing lessons from an instructor who cultivated a moustache and drove a Cavalier. He scorned modern sport-fencing strategies that allowed you to take four hits as long as you hit the other guy five times -- the "two dead guys scenario." His approach presumed that it was for real.

3. As a child, I loved spinach so much that I called myself the Spinach Monster.

4. I like candy corn. That makes it hard to really set myself up as a foodie.

5. I don't have a TV, stereo, microwave, dishwasher, or washer and dryer. This apparently puts me in something like a 2% minority of Americans.

6. We just got a Scrabble game. The last time I played was as a teenager, with Sara J, in a version that gave us extra points for playing words derived from our respective novels-in-progress and allowed us to trade letters and place words in irrational propinquity (kiernbug, anyone?). Brooks doesn't let me do that.

7. My dream vacation (other than a honeymoon in Istanbul) is to go bicycling in the Greek islands. But I already got the h. in I. so one shouldn't expect too much adventure in one lifetime.

I don't think there are seven people left for me to tag; I'm late jumping on this trend.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Several posts in progress...

both thoughtful and random.

but in the meanwhile, check out my tomatoes!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Walking through a Picasso

There's nothing like modern art to make the world seem wild and strange again.

Today was our last day before Brooks' second job keeps him away for 12 hours a day, so we had breakfast at Teaism and paid a visit to the Phillips Collection (to which I had acquired free passes). They were between special exhibits, but the permanent collection was just the right size for a few hours' browsing.

The collection ranged from van Gogh and Renoir (the famous boating luncheon) to Kandinsky and Klee. We want this one for our living room wall above the red couch. Looking at it full size makes you feel like you're about to fall through the window into the vast blue.

Walking home from the Metro, I found myself looking at everything as if it were in a cubist or abstract painting. All the colors were louder, the angles more alarming, the juxtapositions more vivid. Try it for yourself! You'll see things you never saw before.

Monday, May 21, 2007

What to do with pork tenderloin on sale

Or, a Successful Taco Experiment.

Cook the pork like this. Except I didn't have an orange so I used half a grapefruit, and added a liberal dusting of chipotle chili powder. And the loin was small so it only cooked for 2 hours.

Shred the meat and stir in a few big spoonfuls of the pan juices, to keep it moist and soak up the yummy flavor.

Assemble in corn tortillas with:

jack or mild cheddar cheese
salsa verde
finely chopped radishes and cubed avocado

I happened to have all these things lurking in my refrigerator but it turned out so good that I might have to do it on purpose next time.

Authentic living

I'm trying to figure out exactly what I mean when I talk about wanting to live more fully and authentically. In practice it often degenerates into trying to do more which is definitely not what I need. Heidi has a painfully close-to-home post about what happens when the perfectionist drive takes over.

But what is the solution? I don't think the answer for me is simply to stop doing things. The desire for excellence and the compulsion to action are good things. Using one's gifts for some noble end is a fundamental human activity, even though it can so easily run amok. I've been reading articles lately by people who are so burned out by the misuse of vision that I feel almost guilty for saying that I really want one. I want to work hard for something that I am passionately devoted to, something real, not just something that I create to keep myself on that addictive edge of being completely overwhelmed.

But right now I'm not thinking about any sort of "life purpose" (apologies; I hate the phrase myself). What about just life?

I don't want to be list-driven but I do want to be intentional, to identify my under-developed faculties, to take small steps toward wholeness in all the important categories of living. My categories so far are:

1. Spiritual
2. Relational
3. Physical
4. Environmental
5. Artistic
6. Intellectual

I hope in the next few weeks to reflect on each category and come up with an idea of what authenticity and wholeness might look like, and how to move toward it in a balanced way.

Any thoughts? How do you define authentic living? How do you fight perfectionism without giving up on excellence and hard work? How do you know when you get it right?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

a hopeful start


Day 1 of my backyard container garden.
Posted by Picasa

two kinds of tomatoes, and cilantro seeds around the edge

tuscan blue rosemary, oregano, cuban basil, and lemon basil

cucumber plant, green bean and nasturtium seeds

yellow squash, yellow pepper, daylilies

I'm afraid the squash and pepper will eventually overtake the daylilies but they'll be pretty until then.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My summer project


Better pictures coming later; I had only the cell-phone camera at home today.
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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Good Things

When I was a moody adolescent, my mother tried to help me look on the bright side by making me write three positive things in a notebook every day. It didn't last long, as I could seldom think of more than one. (Never underestimate the capacity for passive resistance to happiness of a child identified as a melancholy-phlegmatic temperament at the age of eight or so.)

I may not have changed much since I was eight, but, in the right frame of mind, small things make me happy to a disproportionate degree. And this weekend, the combination of big and small Good Things has been dizzying. (Well yes, I am on prescription allergy medication... but still!)

On Friday, I had lunch with a friend I hadn't seen or spoken with in at least four years, and rediscovered what delightful company we find each other to be. On Saturday, Brooks got his M.A. in English. The two ceremonies were long but the weather was beautiful and I brought out my white eyelet sundress from winter hibernation.

Brooks' family was in town for the graduation, so we showed them our apartment. Grandma Alice loved it, even down to the tiny kitchen, because it reminded her of NYC apartments in the '30s. Later, in old town Alexandria, we ran into the Wasson twins, whom I hadn't seen since last summer. I had an orange-chocolate ice cream cone. Finally, while the rest of the family took a taxi, Brooks and I walked all the way back from the waterfront to the metro in a slight drizzle, under streetlights, past a Spanish restaurant with its live band still playing in the window, still in my flouncy-skirt sundress and heels, feeling for all the world like someone in a black and white Parisian movie.

Today I found an antique/thrift store within walking distance and came home with a dusty-pink linen tablecloth with scalloped edges that fits my table perfectly. The house smells delicious because I'm roasting a chicken with herbs and garlic to take on a picnic to Mount Vernon tomorrow, since Brooks' dad and grandmother stayed in town for a little more sightseeing. In fact, I must go rescue it from the oven now...

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Thwarted Conservationism

After years of hibernation, my Pacific Northwest upbringing has emerged full-force. I have uncontrollable urges to stop using disposable products, to shun plastic bags, and to recycle everything in sight.

But somehow it isn't so easy here. The city won't pick up our recycling because we live in an apartment building with more than 3 units (4, in fact). The trash company, paid by the landlord, doesn't have a recycling service. My last resort will be to call the city again to inquire after a drop-off center; the website has not been forthcoming. For now, I continue to grit my teeth and throw away the tin cans.

The other day I was out of cumin, a spice on which I rely heavily. So I thought, "I can take this lovely empty glass spice jar to the organic grocery (extra points for being within walking distance) and refill it from the bulk section, with no interfering plastic bag." I was asked not to do it again, because the register scale was not calibrated to adjust for container weight, even though I knew exactly what it weighed empty. Why have a bulk section and not encourage re-use of packaging? Oh for my First Alternative days, where they hid all the containers and bags and we had to put everything in our old Nancy's yogurt tubs!

I did manage to get a re-useable coffee filter...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Time to begin...

Now that I have finished my first year of grad school (and slept 15 hours a day for 3 days), it is time to venture into the blog-world. I am excited that this new venture coincides with the first summer in 8 or 9 years that I haven't been working full-time.

I chose Magical Realism as a title partly because it is an artistic style that I like, although the examples I've encountered may be on the milder side of the spectrum, like Amelie and Dandelion Wine (I have yet to make it through a Garcia-Marquez novel). In broader terms, though, its curious intersection of the sublime, the whimsical, and the everyday sums up the perspective that I try to maintain. For me it goes hand in hand with my journey into the ancient Church, where the spiritual takes on all kinds of physical manifestations. Mostly, though, it comes down to being open and noticing all the surprises and mysteriousness in the world. I tend not to be very good about noticing, so I hope that starting to write again will help me start to notice more.

Although I have to do a lot of reading this summer on my M.A. comprehensives list, I really want to use the unprecedented "free" time to devote energy to as many of the neglected, non-academic spheres of life that I can. I am turning 30 in July, and I'm tired of living a just-get-by tunnel-vision-student life. Come September, perhaps I'll have established some good habits that will help me live more fully and authentically even when most of my time does have to be spent studying.

So expect some randomness as I sort out what this blog and I are about and what on earth I am supposed to do with myself without a Latin test every three weeks! And I swear the tree outside the living room window didn't have leaves until today. The green light is definitely new.