Grateful List: Washington DC Edition

Friday, November 19, 2010

It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway.
I love My City.
Love. It.

In celebration of our nation's capital I've compiled a brief list of my favorite things.
Appearing in no apparent order, they are:

  1. Eastern Market
  2. Amsterdam Falafel
  3. Tidal Basin
  4. Kayaking the Potomac
  5. Kennedy Performing Arts Center
  6. National Cathedral
  7. Torpedo Factory
  8. National Arboretum
  9. Kenilworth Aquatic Garden
  10. U.S. Botanic Garden
  11. Hirshhorn Museum
  12. Phillips Collection
  13. Woolly Mammoth theater
  14. Westminster Jazz church on Friday night
  15. Biking the Mount Vernon/Capital Crescent trail
  16. Gravelly Point
  17. Cherry Blossoms
  18. National Portrait Gallery
  19. Buzz Bakery
  20. Mayur Kabob
  21. Restaurant Week (January/August)
  22. Newseum
  23. Shorts Film Festival
  24. AFI in Silver Spring
  25. Strathmore
  26. Woodend Nature Sanctuary
  27. Great Falls
  28. Hello Cupcake
  29. Miriam's Kitchen
  30. Thanksgiving Walkathon
  31. Dairy Godmother
  32. E Street Cinema
  33. Nationals baseball game
  34. Ben's Chili Bowl breakfast
  35. Georgetown Cupcake
  36. Old Town Alexandria waterfront
  37. Huntley Meadows
  38. D.C. LDS Temple
  39. Signature Theater
  40. Library of Congress
  41. UMD food co-op
  42. Bike to work day
  43. Three airports
  44. Crafty Bastards craft show
  45. National Gallery of Art
Whew! That's a lot of gratitude. And while this list is constantly changing, I consider myself beyond lucky to live in a city that I love. 

Wordless Wednesday

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On Food

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I recently finished reading Eating Animals by the brilliant Jonathan Safran Foer. Understandably food is a delicate issue. No other day-to-day experience is so universal (although one might argue the necessity of breathing). Food is not breath. Food is both communal and personal. Earlier in the year I touted the principles of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (primarily eating in season) in a newsletter for the US Botanic Garden. (After reading that, I gave up bananas.) Each author provides a different angle on the choices they've made. They are food advocate; one a recent vegetarian, the other not.

Approaching the holiday season is an appropriate time to tackle the idea of food gluttony to be more precise. Overindulgence becomes a competition sport. We roll from party to party, noshing on baby quiche, skewering chilled shrimp, and nursing a sugar comma for nearly a solid month. We take plates of goodies to social gatherings and even gift food to friends and neighbors. I'm part of that. I love that. Food is, and always has been, a prominent piece of my life. Shopping for and preparing it. Sharing it. Waxing eloquent (read: conveying guttural moans of delight) to both family and friends. Food is nearly always the first topic of conversation with my family members. Every. Single. One. We build traditions around certain dishes. We relish the stories savored in each offering. (JSF talks to the idea of storytelling and food, providing countless examples that the two are inexorably linked.) Yet this past Halloween I shared in every part of my family's annual holiday meal, except the main dish. I didn't eat it. I couldn't persuade my mother to use a meat substitute, and since I've given up red meat for good, this was the sensible choice on that occasion. And, apart from my mother, no one noticed that I didn't put a heaping pile of goo on my plate. But here's the rub, while I may have given up one animal product, I still eat chicken. I still love sushi. And turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas? Well, they are about as American as apple pie (hold the hot dog please!) and over inflated patriotism.

But something is shifting. When I learned, in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, that turkeys cannot reproduce naturally I felt ashamed. As I watched documentaries like Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation I am haunted by what Michael Pollan, another food advocate, calls The Omnivore's Dilemma. Should I care? Does it matter? What choices am I making to make a difference? The scriptures indicate that the flesh of beasts and the fowls of the air, have been given to us by the Lord and are ordained to be used with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly. And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.* The trouble is, this was written at a time when meat was processed more humanly. People knew where their meat came from then. In fact, most of them were the farmers earning their livelihood from the poultry, pigs, and livestock they processed. That doesn't exist anymore. Factory farming is the norm. It turns my stomach and makes me angry. But I still eat butter. I indulge in ice cream and yogurt far too often. I'll never give up cheese. So how do I reconcile being a crusader against meat consumption while still eating products that clearly come from the same slaughtered animals? While nearly half of the year is spent crafting recipes from my CSA and farmer's market finds, when it's easy to let go of carnivorous cravings, I'm standing on the verge. Ready to commit to a life with no meat. At least for now. My choosing to not eat fish and chicken is a personal choice. It's a hard choice, but it's one I feel I need to make. It isn't one I can force on others. It is one I will often have to explain. It is a decision I'd like to talk reasonably about, but it is one that makes people uncomfortable. When I read jaw-dropping statistics, when I look at the giant corporations that are not interested in feeding the poor but turning a profit, when I know that animals don't live a life that they are naturally suited for (roaming, nesting, producing offspring, enjoying fresh air and sanitary living conditions), when I feel healthier eating grains, lentils, fruits, and vegetables, when I know that by abstaining from meat I am not contributing to environmental pollutants caused by factory farms (which produce 99% of all consumed meat), when I appreciate that I actually live in a place where I have the option to not eat meat, when I make amends for the cruelty that I am indirectly responsible for, then it becomes easier for me to give up this temporary sensory experience.

I will continue to struggle to allow other people, who are informed and have the facts, to make that decision for themselves and their families. I will continue to encourage others to seriously evaluate how they vote with their mouths and to make decisions to buy locally and try perhaps only eating meat for one instead of two meals a day or perhaps even eating it only two or three times a week. As I venture into a new world of advocacy I'd like to be open to the possibilities. Open to how this will create a dialog rather than a divide. I'm hoping it will. I am, after all, only one. But one, after all, is one more.

Be Human. Be Touched.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Last week a friend directed me to an interesting article that had somehow escaped my attention. I'm grateful he sent it. Go on and read it, or at least scroll through the images, it'll only take a minute.

"Touching Strangers" is a beautiful concept. The photographer places two strangers in position where they are physically in contact with one another. They sit or stand and then he opens his lens.

I've long lamented, we are a touch-deprived species. This is made more palpable by the solitude of self so prevalent in our western culture. Where else are people so vigilant about observing the social custom of personal space? Where else do people actually step away from you if you dare infringe on that invisible boundary? (Do you step away or do you stay put? I generally stay put.) Touch is something that comes naturally to us when we are children. We are coddled, held, stroked, soothed, washed, and kissed. Not only by adopted/biological caregivers, but often by strangers. Sadly, as we age, this overlooked sense is slowly snatched away from us.

As a single gal it can be hard to fill my weekly, monthly, and yearly touch quota. I don't live in close proximity of family. I don't hug co-workers, mainly for fear of a sexual harassment suit. I don't engaging in promiscuous behavior. So where does that leave me? Monthly massages. Which a degree. Invariably though, I'm left with an insatiable craving for more. More human contact. And while I am not one to claim 'physical' as my primary love language, I am a proponent that there is power in the intimacy of touch. (Confession: on occasion, I have to restrain myself from taking the hand of the stranger standing next to me on a crowded metro. That sounds bizarre, I know. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn't.)

In the early 60s the psychology of the day taught that indulging one's own children with excessive hugs or kisses (meaning more than once a year), was detrimental to their health. One brave researcher, Harry Harlow, studied this phenomenon in monkeys. He proved, in fact, the exact opposite was true. Noting that unconditional love and the craving to be comforted by touch was a necessary part of healthy development.

Images from 'Touching Strangers' indicate that some people are uncomfortable with the idea of touching a stranger; their body language betrays them. Others seem keener to the idea. The temerity of the project is intensified by the composition and color. It is both moving and striking. Reaffirming my conviction that to truly be human, we must allow ourselves to be touched.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Nothing happens, and nothing happens, and then everything happens.

-Fay Weldon

A poem.


And more...

All in one week.

Too fast?
Frankly, I'm a little speechless.

More Gratitude Give Me

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I store up my gratitude. It often goes unexpressed. While I may be quick to send a custom letterpress card after a road trip or birthday gift, I forget daily gratitude. We all do.

But today, during this traditional season of thanks, I'm grateful for:
1. A stranger that knocked on my window at a red light to let me know my rear passenger tire was low. Indeed it was. Frighteningly low.
2. Being invited to participate in a diversity focus group on my campus.
3. Butternut squash apple soup.

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