Monthly Archives: May 2013

It Takes a Village to Grow a Gardener

Coypu Courtesy of Wiki: Eat Your Vegetables!

Coypu Courtesy of Wiki: Eat Your Vegetables!

While I was sitting on the porch this morning, broccoli seedlings at my feet, a man arrived to repair the crumbling porch steps. We didn’t discuss the steps much.

The experienced gardener generously complimented me on how my garden was coming along. I have two cherry tomato plants, not started from seed and confess that it is not a beautiful garden. We commiserated on the difficulties of starting bell peppers from seed. Out of two sets of ten seeds, started indoors, I have one minuscule pepper plant. First I overwatered, and then underwatered the second time I tried.

When discussing the tomato plants, I explained that the tomatoes doing well thus far are Golden Globe cherry tomato plants. I have never succeeded in producing larger healthy fruit. Also an organic gardener, my morning mentor gardener suggested that a bit of lime around the base of tomato plants would be helpful against blights. The horn worms require me to be more vigilant. That means spending more time outdoors in the garden.They always seem to find the largest, plumpest tomatoes, just as they are almost ready to harvest. When I find the happily munching horn worms, I just toss them along with their bounty into the ivy or compost pile.

Robert, my mentor gardener of the day, made me more consciously aware of gardening culture. He has thirty tomato plants in his garden, and donates the surplus to his neighbors and either VFW or VVA.

Not only was Robert happy to share expertise and encourage my novice efforts, but he shares the physical fruits of his labor as well. Are there grumpy gardeners? Thus far, my efforts begun in early April have demonstrated that not only plants are cultivated in the gardening process. So, it seems, are the people tending the plants and the soil they grow in. The smell of earth, the dirt under my finger nails, and caring for the little seedlings and tender young plants will, I hope, cultivate me as well and make me worthy of this giving, sharing sub-culture.

My past solo efforts have not been very fruitful. Maybe my efforts as a novice accepting help from the gardening community will, with persistence, bear enough ripe fruit for me to share.

Beware of a woman bearing summer squash! So far, I have three surviving plants. Four of eight seeds sprouted and one poor donated and transplanted seedling was mercilessly weed-whacked. So the world may not be overrun with summer squash just yet. Is it possible to grow too many peas? The first crop is sprightly and soon ready to flower. With success comes temptation and the desire for more. It often turns out that there is a clutch of baby bunnies being raised inside the garden enclosure, so planting more may stave off disappointment should Peter Rabbit and his family come calling.

In theory, I do not object to eating rabbit. Eating wild rabbits as well as the deer that are destroying our forests here would help our threatened Sourlands survive. Eating wild boar and nutria (large rodents also called coypu, species m. coypus) that are uprooting native plants and destroying swamps in Louisiana would also be a public service. In practice, all of the above critters are quite safe from my clutches or landing in my All-clad cookware. The pots and pans will be brimful with peas, carrots, and broccoli anyway!

Big, Yellow Bouncy Ball by Circespeaks

Big, Yellow Bouncy Ball by Circespeaks

True confessions of the erstwhile politically correct blogger: I love sports. I watch NBA basketball. At this very moment I am sincerely hoping that the Golden State Warriors do “mess with Texas” and the San Antonia Spurs and win game 5 of this playoff series. Once again, we have young, male, mostly black or brown bodies, as a commodity. NBA players are well paid, and probably doing what they love best, but these players are a commodity nonetheless. At some level we all are commodities. The Alzheimer’s patient in a nursing home, unaware of her surroundings, unable to recognize anyone, provides work for those who care for her. So, for now, I am just going to enjoy this game. Unrealistic role models another day.

Some confusion arose on Mother’s Day during game 4 OT of GSW vs. Spurs when someone wanted to know who the GSW are. Adding to the confusion, I explained in all sincerity that the “Garden State Warriors” are a lesser known NBA team. As Recently as Sunday, Oakland was firmly planted–as firmly planted as possible in earthquake territory–in California, the Golden State.

It is half-time now, and I am confident (sports talk…really, I don’t know, but the Spurs are in more foul trouble) that the younger GSW team will win. The rock is not the only bouncing ball I love. Why do I love the pink playground balls of my youth, fuzzy green tennis balls, and, yes, big, yellow bouncy balls? I don’t know. The inflated, thus spherical truncated icosahedron, the soccer ball, has played the biggest part of my life (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truncated_icosahedron.) Not the traditional “soccer mom,” I also played myself and have the scars to prove it. The ball I once loved best was a tiny red rubber football I named “Fifth,” my transitional object at the age of four or five.

The big, yellow bouncy ball was a recent purchase. I miss having little kids in the house. There are still big, bouncy boys, but they don’t go with me to Target and plead for toys any longer. This time, I thought, I will buy the one that I like best. It just so happened to be a very large yellow ball, shot through with streaks of orange. My favorite colors!

I brought home a toy for a two-year-old and suddenly every male who entered the home, from 18 to 50ish, behaved just like a two-year-old. Glass ceiling lamps have rained down, inflicting injury requiring Steristrips. A ceramic candlestick, the last of a wedding gift set has been twice-broken and twice-glued since I brought that ball home. It has narrowly missed paintings, a plaster cast bust on the fireplace mantle, and other objects more of sentimental than monetary value. Given all the destruction this object has wreaked, I probably should have taken it outside, or popped it, and put it in the trash. Common sense does not reign. Shards of glass and ceramics continue to rain.

Thanks to a successful ACL reconstruction, I had a great time chasing fuzzy green balls on the Community Park tennis courts today. A student of tennis in New Jersey (where adult soccer is not readily found) I too, have been commodified. The instructor was inspired; I was inspired. It was a good day on the tennis court. My favorite strokes, the backhand and overhead, were favored in today’s group lesson and play. It was magical. That last steal and transition basket was magical, too.

Despite the teachings of my late and esteemed Professor Otto Maduro, at times I do my best to misrecognize the power and politics behind sports, and to simply enjoy the human spirit and body in action. My mom and I also enjoyed bouncing that yellow ball back and forth. And we didn’t break a thing 🙂

This Artichoke will Save the World

This Artichoke will Save the World by Circespeaks

This Artichoke will Save the World by Circespeaks

We, who are fortunate to have enough food to eat, spend time thinking about how that food arrives on our tables. We are also concerned about what it does, or at least should, in our personal views, consist. Two of my favorite bloggers have also written about the ethics of eating today.

What should we eat? How much control do we have over the means of production and the effect that food production has on both the people who grow and package our food and the animals we eat? These questions are examined today by both Rachel Marie Stone, (http://rachelmariestone.com/2013/05/13/eat-with-joy-justice/ ) and K Blake Cash, (http://kblakecash.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/vegetarians/ .)

Not only do veteran bloggers concern themselves with food and sustainability, but so do those whose livelihoods depend upon it. Without water, we can grow no food. The privatization of water is a disturbing subject. Water wars and concomitant environmental destruction in the U.S. West and in China, as well as ongoing drought in Africa and the Middle East are ongoing problems. That’s just a random sampling from the buffet, all selected from the too-little-water side, reflecting my San Diego roots.

So, what are concerned people to do? Cook and eat at home is generally rule #1. We typically follow this rule, but I wonder about economy-of-scale. If only we had communal cooking facilities. It could be my turn to cook the brown rice for many families this week, and the turn of another to roast vegetables, or…even make beef stew.

Composting, wasting little–depression-era style consumption of leftovers is practiced here–buying and eating less of the foods that put the greatest strain on the environment, and participating in a local CSA farm are among the things easier things we do.

Those who are not vegetarians (I am a former vegetarian, not so now) can buy and eat less meat. If available and affordable, it is better to buy pasture-raised meats and dairy products from grass, not grain-fed, animals. The best scenario is when these purchases can be made locally, so that the miles to market by the delivery vehicles and shoppers are minimized. Small, local, organic, community-supported agriculture is best. I usually shop at the local grocery store when not at the health food store.

When I enter the grocery store, a taxing flowchart weighs heavily on my mind. “No,” I remind myself, “it would be worse to drive fifteen minutes each way to shop in order to buy food from a corporate-owned grocer packaged in compostable containers.” When organic produce is wrapped in plastic on Styrofoam trays, I forgo organic in favor of less packaged produce. The Styrofoam is surely more toxic to the earth than whatever amount of pesticide and herbicide was applied to these two lemons/these two bell peppers is the answer I arrive at through applied calculus.

No. I don’t really do calculus, and though flow charts are pretty, and I am sure an engineer, or even I, could draw one of the thought process I go through in selecting every item I purchase, I don’t really have a physical grocery-item-selection flowchart. But I do obsess. It weighs on me and takes a toll. Shopping is no breezy task. The health of the environment rests heavily on my shoulders. I am of the “we are all complicit” school of thought. Furthermore, good intentions are just not working. New atmospheric carbon levels were just recorded this week. How depressing. And due to the storms and saturated ground, it was either two trees or our humble abode. The trees were coming down with or without help, so though it is always painful, I reluctantly gave the thumbs up to have them removed. The last time I resisted tree-removal too long it almost cost our neighbors their humble abode.

None of this is fun! Amazingly enough, I enjoy eating and drinking and don’t worry much about calories. Once the food is on my plate, I live for the moment. But I’m convinced that I take food far too seriously. How can that be? Without food, living things die.

The return of fun: I enjoy drinking local beer (and Belgian beer as well, so I am not a purist.) Maybe it is only a symbolic gesture, but I am once again starting a garden this spring. Thus far, the most exciting and bizarre thing I have going is one artichoke plant. The peas are doing beautifully, as is the Romaine lettuce. I promise not to deprive my local health food store of business, as the rabbits may eat it all, and I have no livestock on the premises, nor the ability to grow spices from the far east or tropical fruit–yet.

Maybe, just maybe, I hope, my little raised bed gardens will reduce the number of trips I make to the store and the packaging and transporting of our food. Why must every head of lettuce, cilantro, parsley, arugula, spinach, collards or kale have a paper and metal band wrapped around it?

Yes, I feel completely helpless regarding the building of dams in China and even more so about the draining of the Colorado River.

I’m certain that the rain that falls unbidden from the skies and my lone artichoke hold the key to saving the world. Then I recognize the risk that my artichoke, lettuce, peas, and rich soil of home-cooked compost are just lulling me into complacency, as my neighbor is lulled by driving her Prius or Tesla. Circe does lulling well, and the results are generally not gratifying. Are we all lulling one another?

The Raw and the Cooked: Boxers in Gym Class, Oh My!

The Raw and the Cooked, an iconic work in linguistics and anthropology by Claude Levi-Strauss, demonstrates the oppositional categories that we firmly hold in our minds. The mind/body conundrum is one with which I have wrestled a bit here. Why does this matter? Ignoring the entire grey scale, or should I say “brown and beige scale” in between black and white, is a relevant example. Categorizing people as either black or white, as either male or female, without recognizing intermediate positions, is a widespread form of social oppression.

Naked and covered, or naked and dressed, is also such a category. Why does this matter in the Western world? At a time when many of our young people are being criminalized for nonviolent, victimless crimes it does. The widespread incarceration, largely but not exclusively, of minority youth, damages the fabric of our society. No youth of any race, ethnicity or skin tone is immune to this all out for-profit war on the young. Privatized prisons profit from the captive bodies of our young people–primarily black and brown males–slavery of our times. A new book on this subject is The new Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. (I am in line to borrow a copy at the local library, so have only heard parts and read reviews to date.) The facts, not just statistics, but facts, are appalling: we are the most incarcerated nation in the world. Not so many years ago, young male bodies were a commodity sent to Vietnam. Today, there is an illusion that those serving in the armed forces do so by choice: some do; some don’t. Those of low socioeconomic status may have no other option, and gamble with their very lives when they “voluntarily enlist.” The voluntary enlistment of guardsmen and women, forced to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, is most certainly a fiction.

Today my subject is not quite as dramatic, but may, nonetheless, severely impact the future of a high school student. If hearsay is correct, a young man changing in the gymnasium of our public high school has been charged by police with sexual harassment. If these charges are upheld, he will become a registered sex offender. I know nothing about this student other than that he is 18, and will thus be charged as an adult. If he must register as a sex offender, his prospects of future employment, not to mention his reputation, are at stake.

This is the sort of overreaction to any minor infraction that makes it nearly impossible for young people to negotiate the world today. The offense this young man committed was not one of public nudity, but of changing from pants to gym shorts while wearing boxers. Boxers and men’s bathing suits cover the same areas of the body. Police involvement in a high school student’s efforts to get to class on time and be changed for PE so as not to lose credit, is yet another symptom of our societal need to control every minor nonconformist act of the young.

A recent New York Times article by Erik Eckholm reported that criminologists agree that police presence in high schools does not prevent crime, but does funnel many students into the courts (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/education.) Student behaviors typically brought to the attention of the principal or vice principal are now matters for law enforcement, and high school students are caught early in the dysfunctional loop of our criminal justice system.

My older son, who graduated from the local high school six years ago, reports that he routinely changed from shorts to pants in the gym, and that there was neither reaction nor repercussion. We must turn down the spotlights trained on non-violent behaviors of young people, occasionally trying to scramble over the virtual barbed-wire fence that education has become. We must save that energy to pursue corporate offenders whose actions have systemic, adverse social effects. There is no one too small to fail. Let us concern ourselves instead with the corporations above the law because they are too big to fail. Much effort is being put into anti-bullying campaigns, and rightfully so. These efforts are focused on preventing harassment and sexual assault among students. Yet adults, and a criminal justice system spiraling wildly out of control, bully an even greater number of young people.

Let us hope that the person “harassed” by the sight of a young man’s boxer shorts recovers in short order. Let us also hope that any person harassed by this sight never turns on the television, watches a movie, or opens a newspaper or magazine, wherein young men seductively attired in tight underclothing routinely appear. Let us hope that this nonsensical incident has already been laid to rest, and that this young man is able to pursue his post-graduation plans without interruption or blemish on his record.

“Draw the Circle Wide” A Living Legacy

We gathered together, quietly, anxiously, some reaching for tissues in anticipation of the tears bound to flow. Seated in the chapel, we waited for the celebration of life ceremony to begin. There are so many reasons to “draw the circle wide.” We were gathered that afternoon to celebrate the life and contributions of one extraordinary individual, an individual whose constant inclusion of the LGBT community was one important legacy.

We, the celebrants, also mourners, were not sure what to expect. Would our colleague and professor participate via Skype? Might he be too tired that day, at home with his family in hospice care, to participate at all? (Would a recording of his voice be broadcast, and would the voice of a living man seem like the voice of an Old Testament God from above? This imagined scenario made me ill-at-ease.) When every seat of the Methodist Chapel was taken, and latecomers were standing, we heard the surprising and welcome words,”All rise to welcome our guest of honor and his family.” We rose, apprehensively, and then, as our beloved professor, colleague, and friend was wheeled to the front of the room, and slowly turned to face us, the clapping and calls of joy and greeting continued for many minutes.

The pithy, yet heartfelt, words of welcome concluded with an invitation to those present to step forward to share. People of all ages, from around the world, and in many languages, spoke not just of our professor, father, friend, but directly to him. We were reminded by one colleague that this vital man of powerful intellect who loved life, family, friends and justice–as well as a good party and music–so ardently, was also often angry, exacting, and demanding. Though slightly reduced in stature and stamina by illness, before us was a familiar person: gentle, helpful, yet often intimidating, and always life-affirming, fully himself. Some tried, but were barely audible when they stood to speak; some sang; others told of being homeless and being invited “home,” not merely once, but as family. All went forward to bestow and receive a kiss.

The ceremony ended with tossing of colorful confetti, which we rained down on one another. We sang as our esteemed teacher and his family left the chapel. The song was an embrace: we held hands in a convoluted ring, singing “Draw the Circe Wide” as they slowly and deliberately moved away. “Amazing Grace” indeed! Atheists, agnostics, believers in a transcendent God, and in the sanctity of physical earthly and human community, a spirit moved through us and united us. This communal spirit and the strength of the man in the wheelchair– unflinchingly, graciously, even joyously attending his own celebration of life ceremony–was a testimony to one life and to all life.

Brandi Chastain: Role Model

Brandi Chastain IconicBrandi Chastain is, to understate the case, an accomplished soccer player. She is best known for her game-winning goal, a penalty kick, against China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. After scoring the winning goal, Chastain whipped off her jersey and fell to her knees in a celebratory pose male soccer players often strike. The sight, not of Chastain’s bare chest, but of Chastain’s sports bra became an international subject of debate, her spontaneous act defining for a time, her career, but also opening the conversation of women as athletes. Male soccer players routinely show bare chests without commentary, so why the furor about a victorious, but not seductive, pose? Chastain’s “sports bra seen round the world” (Jere Longman, NYT, 5 July 2003) offered more coverage than does the top of many a cheerleader televised during professional sports broadcasts. The bare female body and the bare male body occupy different spaces in our communal cultural imagination. Chastain’s removal of her shirt, not to seduce or titillate, but to celebrate a victory, was outside of the norm. Once she had donned a soccer uniform, Chastain was an “athlete,” no longer a “woman,” so it was shocking to many to see the sweat-soaked bra revealed.
Authorized nudity is acceptable, but unauthorized partial nudity, not designed to pleasingly display the beauty of the female form is unacceptable. The practice of putting little girls in two-piece bathing suits that cover their nipples–at an age when girls’ nipples look no different from that of their male siblings and peers–is part of our early indoctrination into this double standard. There are no soccer or basketball games in which girls or women spontaneously play shirts and skins. Standards of dress and beauty take much spontaneity out of the lives of women.

In Germany and Sweden, and in many areas of Western and Eastern Europe, men and women, old and young, wear tops or not, as they like at the beach and at public swimming pools. Grandmothers and grandfathers’ bellies spill merrily over the tops of bikini bottoms and tiny Speedos. Let the rebellion spread West! Why should women concern themselves with stomach fat after child-bearing or from medical causes (or beer-drinking) when many men do not concern themselves with stomach fat from medical causes or beer-drinking? Public pools and beaches should be zones of tolerance, where everyone present can let it (almost all) hang out.

The higher standard of beauty applied to women in the U.S., and against which it is incredibly difficult to rebel, is costly to women in terms of time and money dedicated to the pursuit of beauty. Appearance continues to define women in the U.S. in ways which it does not define men. Though I have staged some minor rebellions–no nail polish, no makeup whatsoever when I was younger–I too am guilty. No matter how I detest the neologism “mani-pedi,” and avoid nail salons, I fall prey to other travails and delights of fashion and vanity. Painting a wall the perfect color is satisfying, and so is putting together an outfit suitable to the occasion, and in which I feel comfortable and attractive. Despite assiduously refusing to subscribe to fashion magazines, I am a person to whom appearance matters. I have internalized dubious external standards. This internal divide is a source of stress. Though I do not aspire to wearing batik muumuus, and am comfortable with my generic sporty style, I wish I just didn’t care! Circe, who is almost always nude, had more time available and became an accomplished sorceress. She may not, however, have risen to her iconic, mythological station had she not seduced Odysseus.
Of all organizations, the ultraconservative Whig-Cliosophic Society of Princeton University (don’t ask, Google, or go to the MUDD Archives for primary source material) recently featured a panel that debated “Are women limited in our society? Does Freud’s claim that “Anatomy is Destiny” hold any weight today?” What is your view?

The Action Hero (Alter Ego) Versus the Procrastinator

Circe must abbreviate her words this evening. She works as procrastinating writers often do, against a deadline an hour from now.

Seeking the best word, I found “abridge,” “parse,” and “pare”, the latter of which I share here in visual thesaurus format from the thesaurus.com site. The visual thesaurus is brilliant! Sketched organic chemistry for word lovers! Check this out for fun. How or who determines which related words are nearer or farther from “pare,” at the center, & where on the 360 degrees each belongs? An algorithm or humans? http://thesaurus.com/browse/pare

Back to those alter egos. I was going to claim that I have no male alter ego, and I’m not sure I do, but perhaps posting a photo of myself as Diego Forlan belies that. (Where are diacritical marks to be found in WordPress?)

The Super Hero is taking a back seat to the Procrastinator tonight. Though left-footed, I am pleased that I did not feel any connection with Luis Suarez during the World Cup. Might too many concussions and headers be related to his appalling bigotry and behavior? Soccer (football) another day.

Circe Sleeps later….Image

Alter Egos

My alter egos have become part of who I am. Do most other people have alter egos? All discussion about young people today is about role models. The phrase “role model,” aside from suggesting a living person whom one should emulate carries very different connotations than does “alter ego.” My alter egos help shape who I am.

Circe is, finally, my first fully adult and powerful female alter-ego. She captivated Odysseus for a year and bore him three sons.

My alter egos, until recent years when Circe joined them, were young girls who saw life “through a glass darkly.” Alice of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Though the Looking Glass, saw life in a dream and backwards. My brother sometimes calls me “Licec,” also suggesting that my view of life is not straightforward. My other mystified and misplaced alter ego has long been Dorothy of Oz. I went to Oz (California) and was certain there was no place but home. There is not, but the Dorothy of Oz, challenging evil, living a dreamlike existence in which lions and straw men speak, and sleep comes unexpectedly in a poppy field, is the Dorothy I think of most often.

As a child I played dress-ups, and my alter ego then was the plucky little Laura Ingalls Wilder, the “Half-Pint” of the Little House books. The friend with whom I played dress-ups was forever doomed to be the less boisterous, more obedient Mary. It is from Laura that I must have adopted the pioneering spirit that sent me to the West Coast and remain convinced that drying clothes on the line and growing your own food is the correct way to do things. I admire Laura, who was often displaced, but never entirely upended. Laura, my first alter-ego, may be the one I am least like, but I should not decry or deny my practical side. Alice and Dorothy were also eminently practical even when confronted with the otherworldly.

The Wicked Queen is another one of my alter-egos. Snow White is not.Image