Franklin Bear

Everett Bear

I have a long list in my head of things that I want to blog about, but when I think about those topics (fostering, having and then living with the fact that I had cancer, the experience of having Everett and our struggles with infertility, becoming disabled through social security, etc.) my head wants to explode. Mostly, everything that I want to share right now is just too emotionally draining. In order to write effectively about it, I would have to delve back into that brain space because that’s just how I write. I haven’t been sleeping lately, so those topics are just going to have to wait, lest I start to weep openly in Starbucks. Instead, I think I’m going to share a story about something that happened the other night.

We have a bedtime routine for Everett. I insist we follow it, even when we are tired and don’t feel like it. Everett sleeps better and then we do too. Ben was running his bath and I was holding him in the bathroom waiting for his little tub to fill with warm water and bubbles. Recently, he has begun to notice the artwork on the walls. He’s amazed by the little red elephant tile I have hung in our master bathroom.  And he smiles and laughs at the pop-art painting of a schnauzer wearing sunglasses and a scarf my parents brought back from a trip they took down south.

Not long before we found out I was pregnant, my Great Uncle Frank passed away. We were very close to him and his passing was a great loss to me and the rest of the family. Uncle Frank was well loved by his community of antique dealers and artist friends. His closest surviving friend, Ceil, has become like another member of our family. She never had children (although my understanding is that they tried for many years). Her husband has passed away as well, leaving her alone in their little rancher. She is in her nineties and is about as spunky as they come. I think because of her own fertility struggles, she has developed an extra affinity for me, and was beyond excited to hear our good news.

Uncle Frank was a great many things, but he had an artist’s sensibilities. He painted mostly still-life in oil. But as a present for Ceil one year, he painted one of her favorite teddy bears in watercolor. When Ceil found out that I was pregnant, she made the painting a gift to me and Everett. It is framed in gold molding and has a lot of yellow hues. Because we chose to do the baby’s bathroom in yellow, I hung it next to the mirror.

So the other night I was holding Everett and we were waiting on the bath. Instead of playing peek-a-boo with himself in the mirror, he was staring intently and smiling at the painting. I told him that that was Franklin Bear and that Franklin was part of his name too. “You are Everett Franklin after the man who painted that bear,” I said. He gave the biggest smile, reached out his whole arm, and opened and closed his hand in perfect replication of how I’ve been teaching him to say hello and goodbye. He did this several times. He has never done this before, no matter how much I prompt. I asked him, “Are you saying hello to Franklin Bear?” He smiled at me, gave a little laugh, and did it again.

I don’t know why I found this so touching; perhaps because I don’t believe in an afterlife. I think there doesn’t need to be some other place where souls go. Uncle Frank is in Everett, he’s in that painting, and he’s in our hearts. And isn’t that enough? I think it is. I think there is something beautiful about Everett smiling and saying his first hello to Franklin Bear. Uncle Frank may never know my son, but my son will know him through his art, his generosity, and the imprint he has had on our lives. Who could ask for a better legacy than that? In the end we are only the love that we shared with others.

Ok, so much for not weeping openly in Starbucks. Until next time, have a beautiful week and take time to appreciate and love the ones around you.

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Book Challenge 2013 (My Crazy Life)

I am writing this through a haze of pain and medication. Perhaps when I open this document to edit it tomorrow I will discover that all that is here is gibberish and an atrocity of grammatical errors and misspellings. Tuesday is my writing day. And by “writing day,” I mean – my mother-in-law graciously has agreed to babysit for me and somewhere in between the scrubbing of bathrooms, the laundry, the dishes, the banking, the grocery shopping, the doctors and vet appointments, and all the other things that must get done, I try to get to Starbucks for an hour to shove a salad down my gullet and write something of interest.

 

That didn’t happen this Tuesday. As usual, there were other demands. We had a wedding to go to (which was lovely), but Tuesday is my day. All the other days and hours belong to everyone else. But I just want one hour on a Tuesday to do something for myself that is not health related. That didn’t happen though.

 

So now I’m writing this blog at 10:00 pm on a Thursday. I’ve cleaned, and organized, banked, and scheduled appointments. The baby’s been fed and bathed and Ben is reading to him in the other room. My body aches after my nightly medical “routine.”  I’m in bed reading all the posts on Facebook, and all I can think about is how much I want, no need, to write. What I write is not important. It’s not important if anyone reads it, although that would be nice. What’s important to me is the act. I feel stagnant, physically drained, emotional without an outlet. There are times when I feel like I don’t have creative energy, but this is not one of those times. Right now I feel like I have too much creative energy, and no actual physical energy to meet the creativity’s demands. I feel like all that creativity is just sitting and it’s making me agitated and fidgety.

 

This is not the point of this blog, however. All of that is just a tangent. What I really want to write about is the reading, or lack of reading, that I did last year.

 

Usually, I try to shoot for fifty books a year. That is about my max capability. I am not a fast reader, but I read frequently. I always carry a book in my purse. Because I am often in doctor’s offices, and I get 10 – 20 minutes before appointments of uninterrupted reading done. I had also gotten into the habit of reading a chapter or three before bed. I read in checkout lines at the store or while waiting for Ben in the car. I also would read at Starbucks almost every day before I became pregnant.

 

When I got pregnant, all of that changed. The nausea was so intense; I couldn’t focus enough to make the words make sense in my head. I started listening to audio books and podcasts while playing Mindcraft. This worked great until Mindcraft refused to update on my computer for some reason. I watched a lot of television: The Wire, Sports Night, Homeland, Justified, Deadwood, Firefly, House of Cards, House of Lies, and Dexter. During this time, the final Wheel of Time book came out. I just couldn’t read it. This is coming from a girl who wept more when she heard about Robert Jordan’s death then she did when she was first told she had colon cancer. That’s how bad my pregnancy nausea was.

 

After Everett was born, I foolishly assumed the nausea would go away and I would have time before bed to read again. Ha! I knew the baby was going to be a lot of work and certainly I had heard about sleep deprivation and how intense those first few months are, but I really was not prepared for what was to follow. Everett was colicky and cried all the time. We had latch issues so I had to pump every three to four hours for three months straight. I struggled (and continue to struggle) with post-partum depression. I’m exhausted all the time, but I can’t sleep. These things do not lead to productive reading. Still, I did manage to get a few books in and I’m grateful for the time I did have. A year with no books would be too sad to bear.

 

So what did I read? Here’s my list according to Goodreads (which I update pretty religiously):

 

1. Narcissus In Chains, Laurell K Hamilton

2. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, Jenny Lawson

3. Cerulean Sins, Laurell K Hamilton

4. Killbox, Ann Aguirre

5. Dead Ever After, Charlaine Harris

6. Kushiel’s Scion, Jacqueline Carey

7. Kushiel’s Justice, Jacqueline Carey

8. Kushiel’s Mercy, Jacqueline Carey

9. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R King

 

*Spoilers*

 

Anita Blake:

The two Hamilton books were filled with sexy scenes and seriously struggled when it came to plot. I’m not even really sure what happened in Cerulean Sins except a lot of sex. And the worst part is that the main character wasn’t even really an active, willing participant in the sex. She was basically hexed with it. And although she enjoyed it while it was happening, she really had issues with it after the fact. I don’t know if I particularly like what these books have to say about women and sex. Anita is capable and badass in the first few books, but what she has become is bizarre to me. It’s like the author is trying to show that Anita has the power to do whatever she wants and it’s ok to be sexual, but the way she gets Anita to that space is to basically strip away her free will. Yeah! Sex is awesome! But you wouldn’t be learning this very important lesson unless the “monsters” made you… what?!

 

Sookie Stackhouse:

Dead Ever After was a disappointment. Not because I needed Sookie to end up with Eric, but because a lot of it felt phoned in. It was like Charlaine Harris was tired of these characters, but needed to write one more book to be done with them. Her writing didn’t feel like an act of love, it felt like a boring chore. And I’m sorry, but if the world was falling down around you and you had important information to give another person – a person whose life could be in jeopardy if you failed to give her the information – you would not wait until after dinner, rest, or whatever the hell other plot contrivance Harris could think up. That was possibly the most annoying thing of all. That and the fact that when Sookie does finally have sex with Sam, it’s like dropped in from out of nowhere. There’s no build, no lead up, just wham, bam, thank you mam. She just waltzes over to his trailer and they do it. After all the times they have been in situations where it would have felt totally natural for it to happen, it’s a total let down that that is how it happens.

 

The Bloggess:

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, however, was delightful. It’s one I had been eyeing for quite some time, but just couldn’t justify the expense of a hardback. I was super happy to find it under the Christmas tree last year. It was both hilarious and made me a little teary when she talked about her struggles with getting and staying pregnant and the love she has for her daughter. Mostly though, the book is hilarious and I feel as though I am a kindred spirit with Jenny. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do. Also, you should check out her blog at http://thebloggess.com/

 

Jacqueline Carey:

This was the second trilogy in the Kushiel series. I adore these books. The way that you can tell is that they are about 1,000 pages each and I still found time this year to read all three. These follow the character of Imriel, who was introduced in the third book of the first trilogy. I wish Carey had handled Imriel overcoming his abuse a little differently, but overall I think it’s a beautiful love story, if not exactly what I expected.

 

Sirantha Jax:

I love this series and have two more to read. I may write an entire blog once I finish.

 

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice:

This was a perfect book to read after watching the BBC’s modernization of Sherlock Holmes. If you are a Sherlock purist, this might not be the book (or series) for you. I’ve also read a lot of reviewers who complain that Mary Russell is a total Mary Sue. I have definitely read worse Mary Sues. To keep up with Homes and not just be a female version of Watson, she would have to be pretty spectacular. I mean Sherlock has his faults, but he’s amazing. It would then follow that Marry Russell, as his apprentice, would have to be amazing too. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense for Sherlock to bother with her. I know later in the series they become lovers. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’m not generally one to have a problem with age differences, but the fact that he is first her mentor and plays a rather fatherly role – I do worry that the romance is going to feel a little bit icky. Just some thoughts…

 

So that was my year in reading. I also started, but did not finish several audiobooks, which hopefully I will find the time to complete in the near future. Audiobooks have taken a backseat to my podcasts. And podcasts have taken a backseat to the baby. I use to have time to listen to these while I drove, did chores, and worked on my art and crafts. Now I have the baby and all multitasking has to do with him and the other thing I am trying to accomplish. Plus, I don’t know if Sex Nerd Sandra is particularly appropriate listening for a 9 month old. I mean, I want him to be comfortable with himself, but I’m pretty sure learning about dominant / submissive sexual styles is not really appropriate or necessary.

 

So on that note, I will leave you until next Tuesday. Here’s to hoping I find that hour at Starbucks and that my mocha is tasty and full of caffeine.     

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Interlude

So last week was a blog fail. I had intentions of writing about my reading habits and books that I liked in 2013, but instead I spent the day with my head in the toilet. It was not a pleasant week, but I was lucky to have help from my dad and my mother-in-law. All three of us (Ben, Everett, and I) got sick to varying degrees. I ended up in the hospital, Ben took two days to recover, and Everett is over the stomach flu, but is having residual reflux issues. This has lead to many sleepless nights, calls to the pediatrician, and finally a temporary switch over to soy formula. My brother assures me that this will only help in our efforts to raise a liberal child, as soy is all the rage with liberals.

I really can’t believe that it’s already been a full two weeks since my last entry. Time moves simultaneously fast and slow. Certainly those days where I couldn’t get out of bed seemed an eternity, but looking back I can’t believe that last week was here and gone.

I did get some things accomplished between there and here. Ben and my project for Everett’s birthday has really started to come along. We’ve decided that we are going to make him a play kitchen. I’ve seen a lot of really cool ones that people have done and posted pictures of online. The difficulty level is certainly within our capabilities. I’d say only half as difficult as the sofa tub.

Several weeks ago, I contacted someone on Craigslist (a very nice elderly couple who are in the process of downsizing) and purchased a small wooden entertainment center for twenty dollars. Ben hauled it home in the snow and ice and it sat in his Jeep for about a week before he was able to get it into the garage.

The weather here has been pretty terrible; lots of snow, ice, and record lows in temperature. Apparently, we’re in the middle of something called a Polar Vortex. I’m pretty sure I used to like snow, but now it signifies long gaps in my ability to interact with other humans outside of Facebook. My anxiety is too great to take the baby out in slippery weather. Even with my new fancy OnStar equipment I don’t really relish the idea of getting stuck out with the baby with the temperatures so low.

Three weeks ago Ben and I went to a Reuse and Recycle construction store in York. It was an interesting mix of home items, some nicer than others. We did get a great deal on hinges (well below the price at Lowes), some hardware to make the “cabinets” a little more modern, and a rack we can repurpose for the little oven. We also got old wooden blinds that I’m going to paint, hang above his little sink, and put a picture behind so that when he opens them it looks like he’s taking in a landscape.

Two weeks ago I purchased a fruit printed material that I’m going to turn into the curtains for the window. And I found this awesome herb printed burlap that I’m lining with simple black fabric and sewing into miniature reusable shopping bags. Ben and I also went to the dollar store and Goodwill and found some awesome little wire baskets and colorful plastic cooking utensils that will be safe for him to chew on. It’s all coming together at an affordable cost. It’s amazing what you can do with a little creativity and elbow grease.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. When we finish the project I’ll do a full write up with pictures. Until then, I’ll keep you updated on the process. Next week I’m going to try and get that reading blog posted. For now, I’m going to try to stay warm, snuggle my little one, and try not to let the house fall to hell.

Hope life is grand wherever you are.

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2012′s Fifty Book Challenge (A Retrospective)

Disclaimer: I started writing this blog roughly a year ago and never ended up finishing it due to pregnancy complications and the subsequent birth of our son, Everett. It’s been a crazy year, but I’m finally getting to a place where I think I will be able to blog consistently again. This is largely due to the fact that my wonderful mother-in-law has agreed to babysit for us on Tuesdays. This gives me a little free time to breath and also run approximately 1,000 errands. Still, a quiet hour at Starbucks is an amazing opportunity and I plan to take my free time seriously. I have books to read, cross-stitches to finish, curtains to hem, and things to say. And this platform seems like the way to go. I love those beautiful journals for writing down your thoughts, but to be honest, my handwriting is shit. And although my spelling has greatly improved over the years, I still rely heavily on autocorrect. Plus I’m a sharer. Ok, I’m an over-sharer. Sorry folks. Just wanted to let you know what you were getting into.

So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the books I read over a year ago. Next week I plan on writing a list and review for 2013, which will be much shorter as I only read about 10 books last year. The rest of the blog has been slightly modified from it’s original writing so that it makes present-sense.

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This past year I’ve learned quite a bit about myself and my reading habits. I’ve discovered that nausea is not conducive to reading. Prior to experiencing an extended stint of hyperemesis gravidarum (beginning in August and continuing until the day my son was born), I read forty-eight books. After I started feeling the need to vomit on a regular basis, I read just four. I believe I was well on my way to an all-time reading record for the year, but alas, we will never know.

Also, I’ve discovered that I may have a commitment problem. Here are the books that I tried to read in 2012, many of which I am well over a third of the way through:

1. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clark

2. Changless, Gail Carriger

3. Under the Vale and Other Tales from Valdemar, Mercedes Lackey

4. The Sagan Diary, John Scalzi

5. Hyperion, Dan Simmons

6. The Blinding Knife, Brent Weeks

7. The Gunslinger, Stephen King

8. American Gods, Neil Gaiman

9. Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson

10. Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay

11. Kushiel’s Scion, Jacqueline Carey

12. The City and The City, Chine Mieville

Wow. So that’s a little depressing. Also, when I look at this list I realize that I haven’t even “lemed” any of them. I’ve enjoyed each to varying degrees and have a bunch of weird reasons for not finishing. For example, the Brent Weeks book was  borrowed from the library the week it was released. I couldn’t finish it in my two week allotment, but because it was new I wasn’t allowed to renew it. Then I got caught up with a bunch of other books and haven’t had the time to take it out again. Kushiel’s Scion was awesome, but I picked that one up at a used book store. Some of the pages were a little grotty. Apparently it was so good that the previous owner couldn’t put it down… even to eat. When the morning sickness hit, it became untenable. Back to my shelf it went.

Another thing that has changed my reading habits is my participation in Felicia Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Hangout. I’ve talked about this a little through Facebook, but it really has opened my eyes to an entire new genre of fiction. I always thought that romance had to be silly or unintelligent, but there’s a whole sub-genre of romance that I’m discovering is a lot of fun. Now I’m not purporting that all Paranormal Romance is written for rocket scientists, but there were some novels that I read for the book club that were really smart and thought provoking and also fulfilled my need for a little fantasy (which is my genre of choice). Also, it was really nice to read books with female protagonists. In fact, forty-seven out of the fifty-two books that I read in 2012 either had females as the main protagonist or had female first person perspective in a multi-perspective narrative. This is compared to the previous year where only twenty-seven out of fifty met this criteria. The idea of reading female-centric books was not one that I intentionally made, but I find it interesting nonetheless.

So, without further ado, here are the books in 2012 (mostly in order):

1. The Paris Wife, Paula McLain

2. The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, Alexander McCall Smith

3. Crossed, Ally Condie

4. The Laughing Corpse, Laurell K Hamilton

5. Bloody Bones, Laurell K Hamilton

6. The Black Prism, Brent Weeks

7. Beyond the Shadows, Brent Weeks

8. Circus of the Damned, Laurell K Hamilton

9. The Lunatic Cafe, Laurell K Hamilton

10. Burnt Offerings, Laurell K Hamilton

11. The Killing Dance, Laurell K Hamilton

12. Blue Moon, Laurell K Hamilton

13. Obsidian Butterfly, Laurell K Hamilton

14. Bluebeard, Kurt Vonnegut

15. The Nerdist Way, Chris Hardwick

16. Dragonsong, Anne McCaffrey

17. An Uncommon Reader, Amos Henry Hawley

18. If I Stay, Gayle Forman

19. Dragonsinger, Anne McCaffrey

20. Dragondrums, Anne McCaffrey

21. Rosemary and Rue, Seanan McGuire

22. The Iron Duke, Meljean Brook

23. A Local Habitation, Seanan McGuire

24. The Walking Dead, Vol. 1, Robert Kirkman

25. Girl Genius, Vol. 1, Phil Foglio

26. Gabriel’s Ghost, Linnea Sinclair

27. Grimspace, Ann Aguirre

28. Enclave, Ann Aguirre

29. Deadlocked, Charlaine Harris

30. Redshirts, John Scalzi

31. Demon Angel, Meljean Brook

32. The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, Alexander McCall Smith

33. Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey

34. Desperate Duchesses, Eloisa James

35. Daughter of the Blood, Ann Bishop

36. Heir to the Shadows, Ann Bishop

37. Queen of the Darkness, Ann Bishop

38. Kushiel’s Chosen, Jacqueline Carey

39. Kushiel’s Avatar, Jacqueline Carey

40. An Affair Before Christmas, Eloisa James

41. Duchess by Night, Eloisa James

42. Ill Wind, Rachel Caine

43. Feed, Mira Grant

44. Moon Called, Patricia Briggs

45. A Bone to Pick, Charlaine Harris

46. When the Duke Returns, Eloisa James

47. The Magician King, Lev Grossman

48. Wanderlust, Ann Aguirre

49. Double Blind, Ann Aguirre

50. Cold Days, Jim Butcher

51. This Duchess of Mine, Eloisa James

There are lots of things that I could write about each of these novels. Some I enjoyed more than others, but overall I found 2012 to be a very enjoyable year for reading. Many of these books are part of a series. Perhaps when I complete a series (or at least catch up) I will write a blog for each. Let me know if you would be interested in reading something like that in the comments section below.

I have lots of ideas for  blogs, and intend to post minimally each Tuesday. I’m hoping to sneak a couple more posts in per week, but we’ll see how my health/energy holds. There are lots of things that I want to talk about: motherhood, my experiences with fostering, projects I’m working on, my breast reduction, dealing with social security, living with the fact that I had cancer, my secret aspirations to someday to standup… Hopefully you will enjoy reading about my crazy life and the myriad of experiences and nerdy things I love. Till next time :)

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CSA: Food for Thought

I don’t remember the first time that I heard about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Having grown up in a small town, the idea of buying local fresh produce seems only natural, but I am certain that CSA is fairly new to my vernacular. Vegetable stands in the summer and fall are commonplace here in Central PA. Every summer my mother would take us on “adventures” that often culminated with stopping at fruit and vegetable stands where we would purchase fresh sweet corn and tomatoes. We would take our prizes home for dinner. The twins would savor their tomato and mayo sandwiches on white bread like little kings. I would devour ear after ear of corn covered in butter, salt, and pepper. Later mom would admit that these “adventures” were due to the heat. Our house was not air conditioned, but the car was. We would drive and see the beefalo, which we thought were hilarious with their shaggy coats and long horns. We would laugh as mother drove slowly passed their grazing fields; our noses pressed to the glass of the backseat window.

My grandpa frequently drove to Carlisle to visit the military base and to shop at the commissary. He enjoyed our company and would often take me or the boys with him. On the way home we would always stop at the orchards and buy fruit. Memories of sticky peach juice dripping down my chin and through my fingers remain firmly planted in my mind and serve as a happy reminder of our relationship and the sweetness of summer.

My grandparents’ backyard had several fruit trees and we would pick apples and pears for canning and grandma’s pies. We built tree houses in those trees and swung from their branches. We would walk barefoot through the fallen mulberries and our feet would be stained purple with their juices for weeks. We would wander along the hedgerow in search of wild raspberries; always going together, mindful of the dangers of sinkholes and imaginary monsters lurking behind the bushes.

Later I would move to the city and would learn to shop like everyone else at the grocery store. I would bemoan the white-centered strawberries and tomatoes. I subsisted largely on frozen chicken breast, cheese, and pretzels. Eventually, I found a small market with fresher produce, and on nice days I would walk the forty-five minutes from campus for a half a pint of raspberries, only to turn around and walk home with my prize. I would savor each berry and smile to myself at my good fortune. Surely I must have looked strange in my pleasure. A man once stopped me on the street and remarked that he could tell I was “trouble” due to the sparkle in my eyes. I laughed at this, told him he had no idea, and continued back to campus.

When I was diagnosed with colon cancer, my shopping and eating habits had to change dramatically. With the ostomy I was encouraged to eat “soft foods” and things that would slow down my system. I ate a lot of grilled cheese, oatmeal, and peanut butter and jelly. Then with the reversal of the ostomy, I found that there were many things that I could not tolerate. Eating became a chore and I was often too exhausted to cook; something I had previously prided myself in and enjoyed a great deal.

Time and rest are healing. Now that I’m not working I’ve found I have the energy to cook again. This is nice one many levels. Cooking is enjoyable. And because I have time to think and regulate what I’m putting into my system, eating is pleasurable again. Ben is happier and often has leftovers for lunch (which saves money). I’ve lost weight because I’m eating healthier. With all of this in mind, Ben and I decided that it was time to join a local CSA. We had talked about it last year, but there were too many things going on and we weren’t sure we would be able to keep up with the cooking and we didn’t want to be wasteful.

Photo by David Nevala

This year, with the extra time on my hands, we decided it was now or never. I researched several programs that have pickup sites close to where we live and decided on the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative. They are a non-profit, Lancaster County based, mostly-organic (they work with farmers who are working toward their organic certification too) farmers’ co-op. We decided that a ½ share of vegetables and a full fruit share would work for us. That turned out to be the right decision because we are just barely keeping up with what we get, but it’s been great for us.

The benefits of CSA are many. First, everything you get is at its freshest and most delicious. Eating seasonally is something that a lot of us have forgotten. Grocery stores have just about everything all year round, but often at the cost of flavor. I think there is something pretty great about only eating strawberries in May and June. They taste better and they are made all the sweeter by the anticipation.

Being part of Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative is educational. It means I know who is growing my food, how it’s being grown, and where it’s being grown. I have the opportunity to visit the farms and to meet the farmers. I know that through my purchase, I’m contributing to their livelihood in a very tangible way. And when they can afford to keep their farms it insures that not only will I continue to have fresh seasonal food, but that their land will remain a farm. That means that the beautiful drives through Lancaster County will continue to be beautiful.

It also means that when I have kids, I will be able to share my appreciation of food with them. I’ve heard from many participating parents that engaging their children with the other CSA members and with the farmers makes them more willing to try new things. This means healthier happier kids at mealtime! It also has broadened my tastes. For the first time, I’ve learned to prepare collard greens, beets, rainbow chard, watercress, and turnips. I have made coleslaw, red potato salad with dill, and baked carrots with parsley. I’m planning on grilling peaches and pairing them with pork chops later this week. My recipe book is quickly filling up with new recipes.

Because my food is grown in Lancaster County, it means that the cost (both fiscally and environmentally) is low. I spend approximately $23.00 a week on all the vegetables and fruit I could possibly eat. Our CSA also offers chicken, beef, milk, cheese, and eggs. All of their animals are free-range and grass-fed. This means the cow’s digestion is better, thereby reducing their “emissions.” Also, the grass processes the carbon dioxide and is easily renewable through field rotation (as it grows quickly). The beef of grass fed cows is leaner as well, which makes it lower in cholesterol.  There’s an interesting article about it on Mother Earth News that you can check out.

Finally, because it’s all local, there is very little shipping or packaging involved. That means less carbon emissions from trucks and less plastic that needs to be recycled. Even the boxes they use to parcel out our share are returned to the CSA for the next week’s pickup. As a bonus, my particular CSA is organic. That means that I don’t have to worry about pesticides or hormones in my food. As a cancer survivor, this is very important to me. I don’t need to be promoting anything in my body that would encourage the regrowth of cancer cells.

I would definitely recommend joining a CSA to anyone who likes to cook. It’s the best decision Ben and I have made in a long time. The cost is low and the benefits are great. Here’s an easy recipe for fresh beets that we’ve found to be delicious! More recipes to come.

Preheat the oven to 375.

Cut the tops and bottoms off the beets, but leave the skins on.
Place one beet in the center of a square of tin foil. (repeat for each beet.)
Pour approximately 1 tbsp. of olive oil over the top of the beet.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Wrap the beet in the tin foil.
Place on a baking sheet in the oven (just in case they drip)
Bake for 1 ½ hours.
Unwrap. With a spoon, scrape the skin off the beets (If the beet is cooked properly, the skin will just peel away easily – this wastes less of the meat of the beet then peeling beforehand.)
Enjoy hot or cold!

If you’re feeling adventurous, roughly cut the beet greens off the stems. Add 2 tbsp. of olive oil and a smashed clove of garlic to a frying pan. Heat oil with the garlic. Remove garlic before it browns. Add beet greens to the pan and place lid on top. Cook until the greens are fully wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Beet greens are high in vitamins and are delicious! Plus it feels really good not to waste any part of the plant. You can pretty much eat everything, but the roots!

Happy cooking and eating!

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Tales From New York: American Girls

There was a time when waiting for the mail to come was enjoyable. A time when it wasn’t all bills and mortgage offers. I don’t know how they knew to send the magazine to my house. I’m certain my parents would have stopped it if they could. I can remember checking the mail after school before Mom got home. I was so excited when it arrived. Pouring over each page in my living room. Book bag and jacket forgotten, left in the middle of the hallway floor. American Girls were the gold standard; the toy I coveted above all others.

I was never really into dolls growing up. Mom says she remembers me sitting in the family rec room with a book and precisely turning each page in imitation of my elders. I was probably three or four years old and I couldn’t read, but I desperately wanted to. I quietly reenacted what I thought it would look like if I really was reading: a miniature version of Plato’s cave shadow; the idea of reading without the reality. Growing up there was no shortage of books. I had children’s encyclopedias with information about space and how to make homemade playdough. I had books about dinosaurs, poems by Ogden Nash, and stories about a mouse on a motorcycle, goneaway lakes, and friendly bulls.

Perhaps that’s why American Girls appealed to me. Long before my parents ever conceded and sent away for my girl, I had the books about her. Back then, there were only three choices. You were either a Samantha, a Kirsten, or a Molly. Samantha was always my favorite. Even after the red-headed Felicity was added to the collection with her beautiful blue ball gown, I wanted Samantha. I’m sure part of it was the fact that we had similar hair, but I think another part of it was that there was something about her spirit that I identified with. In some ways she was living a privileged life, but she was also a bit of an emotional outcast – having been orphaned. Her best friend was poor and she had a tremendous amount of compassion and did her best to help. Her stories tied in with the idea of women’s equality and the right to vote.

During my recent trip to NYC with Kristin and Adrian, we did a lot of walking. Adrian wanted to go to a brewery and had his phone set for walking navigation. This gave us the opportunity to walk all over Manhattan from the MoMA to the brewery. Of course, being New York City, his reception was less than stellar and we did some back-tracking. We ended up walking through Rockefeller Center while an episode of 30 Rock was taping. Jane Krakowski and Judah Friedlander performed a musical number with the interns as the chorus. We walked passed Magnolia Bakery, where I was tempted to “mack on some cupcakes.”

And then we walked past the American Girl store. Correction: And then I stopped mid-stride and demanded that we go in the American Girl store. Adrian, being male, simply did not understand. Kristin, being of an age, told Adrian he could wait on the street corner by himself while she accompanied me inside.

The store was huge. If someone had taken me there when I was a child I may have had an aneurysm and died from overexcitement. They had all the dolls on display. They had all the little outfits set out to full effect. There were scenes, the dolls posed with all their accessories. There were pets. There was a doll hospital where the performed repairs. You can have tea with your doll.

The original girls are no longer available, but there are new dolls. Now you can pick out one that looks exactly like you. This was something that I was vaguely aware of as I recently read an article about a photographer, Ilona Szwarc, who has done a series of portraits of girls with their American Girl dolls. These portraits are provocative and thought provoking. The idea that children are malleable and are in the process of a metamorphosis, that they are constantly in the process of forming ideas about themselves and the world around them, and that the American Girl phenomenon is an extension of that process.

Does the girl come to identify and know herself through the doll, or does the identity exist and then the doll is chosen to reflect that identity? It’s a sort of chicken or the egg hypothesis. I think that’s the magic of American Girls. Because unlike other dolls, which seem to exist for young girls to mirror the act of mothering, American Girls exist as a mirror of one’s self. I never played mother to my American Girl. I played history. I learned about the world around me: about factory fires, children working to support their families, and the suffragettes. I learned about the wars that shaped our world and was given a marker by which to judge my experience as a girl growing up at the end of 20th century. American Girl provided me with a perspective on the privileges and limitations placed on me due to gender. A complex, although admittedly not always accurate, lesson for a seven-year-old.

And so, while my brother stood outside on the bustling streets of New York City, I took a few minutes with my sister-in-law to bask in the nostalgia of my childhood. To appreciate what I was given and to remember hours of hours of playtime with friends. Kristin and I reminisced and talked about our shared history as an American girl with an American Girl doll.

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Tales from New York City: The MoMA Addition

Ok, so even for me that last post felt a little morose. I swear I started with the idea that I was going to do a recap blog about my experience in New York City, and that is not what came out. I guess the heart wants what the heart wants… Anyway, my trip to New York was awesome. I spent time with two of my very favorite people, saw a lot of really cool things, and ate a lot of really great food.

I drove up to Kristin and Adrian’s the night before and spent the night, which is always a good time. Then we took a bus out of Nazareth, PA the next morning, which was surprisingly cheap and easy. It took about an hour and forty-five minutes to arrive at the Grand Terminal. The ride was scenic and the conversation superb. Not to mention they indulged my need for Starbucks…

When we got to the city something very interesting happened to me. Now for most of you who know me, you will probably not believe this: I did not feel the need to take control. I did not immediately assess the situation and figure out where to go or what to do. We were standing in the middle of the metro trying to figure out how to buy passes and which track to board from, and I was completely cool with Adrian and Kristin taking charge. I don’t know what it is about the two of them together, but I just didn’t feel the need to figure it out or take over the trip. I just let them lead me around. And you know what? It was freaking liberating. I had the most relaxed and wonderful day as a result. I’m hoping I can take this feeling and apply it to other aspects of my life. I think my stress level would only continue to decrease as a result. Maybe I just need to hang out with them more and learn their Zen ways.

The main “purpose” of the trip was to visit the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). I was super excited about this because I’ve been to a lot of art museums in the United States and in Europe, but I’ve never been to the MoMA before. Kristin planned the trip because they were featuring a Diego Rivera exhibit. Seeing Diego Rivera’s work was wonderful. I didn’t realize that his time in Europe working on frescos so directly impacted the medium in which he worked and became famous for. I knew about the ill-fated project he had worked on for the Rockefeller’s and its ultimate demise. I had a general sense of his aesthetic, his political views, and his impact on Mexican culture and art – you know – the basics. But I guess I never really put it together how large and immovable his pieces were.

Instead of using plaster, he used a more modern material: cement. This made his work tremendously heavy and difficult to move. The curator of the exhibit did a wonderful job of displaying this to maximum effect. There was an xray of one of the pieces on display. You could see how the blocks were held together with wire and larger pieces of metal x-ing the entire piece as a reinforcement. Then the original art was viewable from both sides, suspended inside a wall. It was all very impressive.

His roots to Communism and his commitment to and love of the proletariat was evident in each piece. Also, although his fresco work has been criticized as being “flat” (due to the nature of the frescos being observed up close instead of high up on a wall or ceiling as is traditional), I found the pieces vibrant and expressive. I liked the distinct shapes of the people as they represented each aspect of the working class’ struggle against the rich and powerful. Although much of the fresco work on display depicted scenes of violence in the forefront, I found the characters in the back of the pieces equally compelling. Overall, I felt like I came away from the exhibit with a new respect for Diego Rivera and his work.

The MoMA was also featuring a Cindy Sherman retrospective. I will admit that before this trip I had never heard of Cindy Sherman. I have picked up a great deal of art history as a hobby. And I’ve certainly learned a lot through my work at the Mattress Factory and the State Museum, but there are definitely holes in my education – as I’ve  never studied art history formally. I’m specifically ignorant when it comes to photography. For those of you who are like me, here’s the skinny on Cindy Sherman. She is an amazing photographer, and an artist who is widely considered one of today’s premier contributors to the field of contemporary art. She takes photographs of herself as different personas. She uses makeup, prosthetics, and costuming to metamorphosize herself into completely different people. The contrast between pictures is such that one might never realize that they were looking at the same person. She portrays women with all their complexities: with all the beauty and grotesqueness that is placed on women by accepted social norms and by themselves.

Her most recent series portrays women in different stages of the aging process. At first glance, one might see a typical portrait. But at a closer look, and certainly when seen together with the whole series, it becomes clear that there is an underlying panic behind the eyes of what should be a confident woman. Each piece subtly shows a different way in which women try to forestall the wheels of time. Whether it’s with clothing, makeup, cosmetic surgery, or a chosen activity, it’s made clear that none of these women are comfortable in their own skin. I found the work both tragic and compelling. Certainly, an apt portrayal of the modern woman’s plight in a world that is ever-focused on youth and attractiveness.

The M0MA is an amazing building. We saw a lot of other art, including a new print exhibit and some of the permanent collection. About three hours in, however, we were all pretty tired. There’s only so much one can take in before it becomes a blur. I would definitely recommend the experience to anyone who has an appreciation of art. Modern Art is not just paint splattered on the wall; it’s a reflection of where we are as a culture. Even if you don’t appreciate a particular piece, even if you question why it’s there, then realize that it has fulfilled its function. Because when you deny that it is art, you have fundamentally defined what art means to you in that moment. Take note of what that is, because that will undoubtedly tell you as much about yourself as it does about what you are looking at.

As a side note, the MoMA gift store is awesome. I picked up a set of coasters for Ben (I felt bad he couldn’t come along, and also he’s always looking for coasters in our house). They are made of cork and shaped like pieces of bread. They came in a little bread bag and only cost $10.00. There were a lot of really cool “artsy” household and kitchen items. I had to show some major restraint while in there, so be forewarned.

More to come: The American Girl Store!

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