Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Defending Jamie Oliver

I happened to catch the debut episodes of Jamie Oliver’s new show “Food Revolution” purely by accident, and (ironically enough) while eating a mint Oreo Blast from Dairy Queen (I excel at contradiction). I confess that I watched his “Naked Chef” program a handful of times and never really cottoned to it, and when I heard that he had been awarded a TED prize I thought it must have been a spoof from The Onion. I was exceedingly skeptical about this new program, particularly when I saw Ryan Seacrest’s name attached to it.

But after watching it, I found myself smack in the middle of the pro-Jamie camp. I was shocked to see how much resistance he was met with, both in the actual community as well as the vitriol spewed online after the program aired. I really can’t understand how anyone in their right mind could be opposed to anyone trying to improve people’s health. It baffles the mind that anyone could legitimately think that eating pizza for two or three meals per day is perfectly fine and normal behavior for anyone, let alone a bunch of six-year olds. I mean, there have been occasions where I have eaten Ben and Jerry’s for breakfast – but come on, even I know that’s not a good decision. Certainly not an every day thing!

It’s so contradictory. Something like 2/3 of our population is overweight (myself included). Type II diabetes rates are skyrocketing for children, a population that historically did not develop it (as opposed to Type I diabetes). Culturally, we vilify overweight people, even when they aren’t technically overweight (I’m thinking of those size-10 women who are considered “plus sized” -- give me a break). We say that people are fat because they are lazy and make bad choices. We demand that they pay for two seats on an airplane. Most of us think that it is ok for overweight people to pay more for health insurance.

But, damn, don’t take our pizza away!

If Jamie Oliver teaching kids the difference between a tomato and an onion, or that French fries are actually made from potatoes, is such a radical act – I mean, what does that SAY about us??? I don’t know about you, but it sort of terrifies me.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Let There Be Sheep

My friend and her 4-year old daughter (almost 5!) came to visit this weekend. The 4-year old has recently developed an enormous enthusiasm for sheep --a girl after my own heart! (Although, when I explained to her that yarn comes from sheep she gave me a very blank look that said either "who cares" or "what on earth is she going on about".) We heard a lot about sheep over the course of dinner, and afterwards I had a brain spasm and remembered seeing this really cute pattern at Purlbee for stuffed lamb pillows. The minute the 4-year old saw them she wanted one, so we set to work. We improvised the materials a wee bit, using gray felt and some left-over cotton quilt batting. I love this sort of project, where you use up where you have and still wind up with something pretty darn cute! And, it only took about an hour from printing out the pattern to sewing on the ears. The bow was the 4-year old's idea (she was quite insistent on having one, and don't you know it's MAGENTA, not PINK. This girl is big on magenta!).

Then today, we visited Drumlin Farms and saw REAL baby sheep!

Some were just a few days old, and almost the cutest thing you ever saw. The absolute cutest thing was a little girl, I'm guessing not much older than one, who ran up to the fence, pointed at the baby lamb, and happily shouted "COW", looking totally and completely pleased with herself. "COW". What a riot. And the more we laughed, the more she giggled and pointed and said "COW". Maybe ignorance is bliss, but the next time I discover I'm totally wrong about something, I plan on laughing and saying "COW" as loudly as I can. Enjoy the fail.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mid-Week Update (The Random Sort)

1. Admittedly, I have not watched much American Idol this season, but it seems to me that they should just put us all out of our misery and declare this Kristal Bowersox woman the winner by default. Although: I must confess, I want desperately to take a pair of scissors to her hair. My middle-agedness is catching up with me.

2. I slog on with my Tomten knitting. I have crowned this project with my Most Stupid Decision Ever award (crafting category). I used the wrong yarn and my gauge went whacky and now I have a baby sweater that I am hoping will fit my friend’s 4-year old daughter. Every night I knit a couple of rows, sigh deeply, and give up; why I have continued on is, frankly, beyond me, although it does resemble my dating history. You know - find something completely unworkable that makes you utterly miserable, and then hang on for dear life, hoping beyond hope that This Situation Can Be Saved. When really, you’d rather never set eyes on it ever again…but the idea of starting something new is just too overwhelming to consider.

3. Last week my ipod went missing. It was a silver Shuffle that I bought before moving to NYC and might as well have been implanted in me, as I used it daily. It was pretty inconceivable that I had anything that small for three years and never lost it, and it was pretty beat up anyway, so when it went missing I was sad but not surprised. Off to Target I went, where I used a chunk of my tax refund to buy a new Nano, which I justified by calculating that if I use it every day for the next two years (which is exceedingly likely), my cost is something like 20 cents a day. The peace of mind that comes from being able to block out noisy kids on the commuter train? Priceless.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I went to work on Monday and found the old ipod on my desk. *sigh* I was tempted to see if Target would take the new one back, but as I’d already loaded it and fooled around with the settings, I figured it was pretty doubtful, and not exactly ethical (I mean, it’s not Target’s fault I’m disorganized). I am consoling myself with the fact that the old one is on its last legs anyway, but it does make me feel a little wasteful.

4. Peanut Butter Cookie Lara bars! So here’s how I justify these, because they are admittedly expensive: first, I actually eat them, unlike the fruit I buy that inevitably goes bad in the fridge before I get around to eating it; two, they have fiber and protein that fill me up enough so that I am not compelled to buy a chocolate croissant on my way to the office; three, they are portable and I can eat them on the train with no mess; four, I both know and can pronounce every one of the ingredients (dates, peanuts, salt); five, they actually taste like peanut butter cookies, which is a huge plus since I grew up with a dad who saw nothing inherently wrong with eating actual cookies for breakfast (at least when my mom wasn’t looking). In a pinch, the chocolate coconut ones aren't too shabby either.

5. On Sunday, Ovation ran a Slings and Arrows marathon from which I could not tear myself away, despite having Netflixed the series twice. "I AM Darren Nichols. Deal with THAT." Ah, those Canadians...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Library

One of my favorite magazines is Spirituality and Health, and one of my favorite columns is written by Thomas Moore. In the current issue, he writes about building a spiritual library, and remarks about how libraries are changing as a result of technology. He writes:

"[Today] libraries are busy making the transition from the quiet house of revered ideas to the more mundane information center. The library is undergoing a process of secularization that entails a loss of soul."

Personally, I am struggling with these changes. I went to church as a kid, but the library always seemed like a much more holy place. I often thought that if I were God, I’d much prefer hanging out in a building filled with many different books about the vast world I’d created, rather than a building that only had just multiple copies of one book all about me (two if you counted the hymnal). Moore says this more eloquently, writing:

"[The] connections between the book and the sacred suggest that a library, too, is a holy place. It is a place where you go to reflect, learn, meditate, and incubate your thoughts."

The truth is, our church was very family friendly, and despite everyone’s best efforts there was a fair amount of rowdiness: kids climbing over pews, Matchbox cars being sent down the center aisle, an occasional foray behind the pulpit by a child looking for an errant ball or crayon that had escaped from his grasp. In the library, though, people behaved themselves: it was a quiet and respectful place, the silence only marred by the thunk of a thick hardcover on the mahogany circulation desk. It was a place where I TIPTOED. The librarians terrified me, partly because I was a quick and voracious reader at a fairly young age, and I always suspected they hated me for checking out so many books and returning them 3 days later. I really did read them, but you can understand their suspicions. (Years later, in an odd bout of kismet, I would find myself far upstate trapped in a speeding car with one of those librarians. At the wheel was a good-hearted but lead-footed elderly woman, who was hell-bent on giving me and the librarian a tour of her town. It was a harrowing experience.)

The library I grew up in set a high standard, and no matter where I have lived over the years, it is what comes to mind when I think “library”. It was actually really small, but it had high ceilings and it felt very grand to me. I loved walking up the path, and I loved the big leafy trees outside. I loved walking through the heavy front door, and I always felt like I had arrived somewhere important when the door closed behind me. I loved reading all the community notices on the bulletin boards that lined the tiny front hall. I loved the tiny little “study rooms” off the big main area, and I loved the small, twin curved staircases that led to a small mezzanine. The stairs were roped off with red velvet ropes, and it vexed me to no end that I was not allowed up there. I spent hours of my life imagining what treasures that space might hold. I also loved the card catalog, which was big and made of oak, with long and heavy drawers that had a solid brass pull tab that you grasped to pull them open. Those drawers made their own quieter thunk when shut. And the smell…indescribable, really, but even after a major renovation the place still smells the way it did when I was eight.

I’ve frequented many other libraries in my life. My college library was where I first learned how to type a paper on what had to be one of the first Mac computers ever manufactured, a small putty-colored box that was smaller than a television set. Later, there was the old library in midtown Memphis that was filled with sleeping homeless men (who quite frankly stank, but were quiet except for an occasional snore), and then the new shiny modern one with misspelled words on the sculpture out front (I think they were eventually sandblasted off and corrected). For awhile the Maine State library was my library, as it was within walking distance of both my apartment and office. It shared a building with the Maine State Museum, which was often filled with rowdy kids on field trips, but the library itself was always fairly quiet, perhaps because its patrons were usually grown-ups doing research.

My current public library is cited by several sources as being the first public library in the US, which I find fascinating. But here’s my complaint: the library isn’t a quiet place any more. I can handle the clacking of computer keys and the whirr of a printer here and there. But hardly anyone seems to abide by the no cell phone rule, and I haven’t seen anyone try to enforce it. Everyone talks in a regular voice, not a whispered hush. Kids chase each other around the stacks. Teenagers gossip with their friends. It's just like church now! The other thing I've noticed is that most of the traffic seems to be in the DVD movie section. I realized last weekend that more than anything else, the library has become a Blockbuster store, just with better architecture. They even have video games.

After a particularly loud and rowdy visit, I grumbled about it on Facebook. A friend of mine chastised me for wanting relative quiet in a public place. “Everybody shut up, it’s a public pool! It’s a public tennis court!” he chided me. I suppose maybe it's old fashioned to want quiet these days, and perhaps it is simply a sign that I am really headed into middle age and am soon going to start all my sentences with, "When I was a girl...". But, like Moore, I can't help but feel that libraries - while clearly public spaces - are less a community recreational center than a sacred community space, something to be not just used, but...valued in a certain special way. "Don't let progress remove all traces of the sacred in our libraries, only to enshrine the quantitative life and the preference for information over wisdom", Moore writes. For me, I suppose can't fault libraries for changing with the times, and I can't fault people for checking out DVD's instead of literature, but I too worry we are losing a certain sacredness. We're certainly losing the silence.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Happiness Project: Aim Higher

I'm following along on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project challenge. This is my eighth installment:

It's March now, and I have hopped back on the Happiness Project Bandwagon. This month's topic is work, which is something I very purposefully don't write about here except for the most basic of things. (I have a job. It is in Boston. I take the commuter train to get there.) I do this because for starters, the point of this blog is to NOT be about work. The point is to be about all the other things I love to do with my life. I also refrain from writing about work to retain some modicum of privacy and because I would never want to risk getting into trouble at work for writing something here. It's the trade-off I make for using my real name.

But as it happens, I've been thinking a lot about work lately, and I've decided to delve in just a bit here. Specifically, I've been wondering why it is perfectly acceptable to spend forty or so years of one's life working in an office, sitting behind a desk and computer? Who decided that was a good idea?

On the one hand: I've raised a lot of money sitting behind a desk, writing grant proposals to fund a myriad of really great and meaningful projects. In the grand scheme of things it's a pretty cushy job in that I make enough to support myself, I have health insurance and vacation days and paid sick time. I get to work where there is (usually) heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. I'm not working in a factory or a retail store and I don't have to stand on my feet all day. Plus, I can at least delude myself into thinking those projects would not have been done without my involvement in them. I really have no right to complain.

But on the other hand? If I'm totally honest? The idea of spending the next thirty years doing the same thing feels so soul-sucking that I cannot even contemplate it for more than ten seconds. The minute the idea flashes across the inside of my brain I immediately push it right back out. The truth is, when I look back at all the jobs I've had over the years, I can easily pinpoint the days I was happiest and I can tell you I was NOT sitting at a desk. I was wandering around downtowns taking pictures with my office's ridiculously great high-end digital camera. Complete and total bliss, so much so that at my current job, whenever I see one of my coworkers getting to take pictures I am overcome with jealousy and it's all I can do not to physically tackle them and wrest the camera out of their hands.

Does this mean I should have been a photographer? I'm not sure. The truth is, I never really considered any sort of creative work to be WORK. I grew up in very working class rural Maine where pretty much anyone who was an artist was considered to be a crazy ex-hippy "flatlander" (which is Maine-speak that means "not born here"). Work was any honest trade (usually involving manual labor) that you could do to survive, to keep a roof over your head and food on the table and shoes on your kids' feet. The notion of "being happy" or "loving what you do" wasn't really ever discussed. When one of my English professors in college tried to convince me to switch my major to English, I dismissed him out of hand because I was in college so I could get a good job...not to pursue writing essays or, God forbid, poetry. English was easy for me and I liked it, so therefore it couldn't ever be WORK. Instead, I studied political science where I struggled but still got good grades...mostly because of how well I wrote. (Go figure.)

I bring all this up because Gretchen Rubin says in her video this week that "you can choose what you do, but you can't choose what you LIKE to do". Amen, sister, and I plan to ponder that a lot this weekend (while hopefully finishing the Green Monster that is my Tomten jacket). Another bit of advice from her is to find new ways of challenging yourself at work, and as it turned out I had a perfect opportunity to volunteer this week to take on some additional work in a different area. I'm also seriously pondering starting a new blog that focuses on one particular area of my field that I am really interested in and passionate about. (More on that later, if I decide it's worth pursuing.) And then finally...while not exactly work related, my "big project" and my "learn something new" project this year was learning to play guitar, which I have not touched since my lesson last week and must delve into immediately. Apparently I am not that motivated by "Hey Jude".