Saturday, June 30, 2007

Did I Really Commit to This?

Mi Vida Local starts tomorrow. I've been thinking about this challenge for more than a month now. I've even been living "la vida local" to some extent since the beginning of June. But with tomorrow looming as the official start of "mi vida local" month, I'm starting to get cold feet. I'm staring longingly at my last Diet Dr. Pepper and wolfing down a bag of Twizzlers, both of which will be completely off limits for a month.

I'm trying to think about all the great foods I will be able to eat, and all the fruits and vegetables I'll be packing away in my freezer or drying for later in the year, when the fresh stuff isn't around anymore and I'm tempted to buy one of those tasteless grocery store tomatoes or a bunch of imported bananas in December. I've been enjoying eating locally these last several weeks. The pleasure of eating has returned. I've actually lost a few pounds without fretting about food or counting calories. And the farmer's market has become my favorite weekend hangout.

But now, the intention of this challenge seems to be backfiring. With the strike of midnight marking the beginning of the end of life as I've known it--the convenience of one-stop grocery store shopping; the assuage of my sweats addictions with ice cream and chocolate and other processed non-local treats; the use of my spare time for things other than cooking, blanching, freezing, drying and otherwise preparing food--I'm momentarily wishing I hadn't committed myself to this project. The intention was to motivate myself to go a little further and try a little harder to live a local life. That's where I want to focus. Not on what I'm going to be missing out on, or how I'm going to manage to afford locally raised free-range meat on my limited budget. It will work itself out. Of that I'm sure. But whatever happens, and however I feel about this challenge in the coming days and weeks, be sure that I'll be sharing it all here.

Friday, June 29, 2007

TBR #6 - Still Plugging Along

I'm still on track with the TBR Challenge. I honestly can't believe that I'm managing to finish a book each month. Mind you, other people in the challenge average around 8 books each month, so the competitive streak in me feels like a bit of a failure. But in all honesty, I'm really proud of myself for sticking with this challenge for six months. It gives me hope that I can actually finish 12 books this year (and if I'm lucky, a few extra for good measure). I'm having a hard time staying away from the bookstore, but at least I'm plugging through the books on my shelves. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

For my sixth TBR Challenge read, I chose Me & Emma, by Elizabeth Flock. It turned out to be a great story, but at first I wasn't so sure. Flock told the story through the main character, Caroline, an eight-year-old girl from the country of North Carolina. Caroline lives a hard life, but she and her younger sister depend on one another to get them through the toughest of times.

I have to admit that I was a bit put off in the beginning by the voice Flock chose to give Caroline. Getting into the vernacular was a bit difficult at first and the narration in a child's voice seemed forced and uncomfortable in the first few chapters. Then something changed. Whether I was able to adjust and become more comfortable with Caroline's voice, or whether Elizabeth Flock's ability to hear Caroline truly improved, I can't really say. But in the end, I was not only pleased, but surprised, by the outcome. The story just wouldn't have been the same if Caroline didn't tell it.

Next up: Digging to America, by Anne Tyler. And as an added bonus, I'll be reading the newest collection of essays by Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Thursday Thirteen #5

I went to a meeting for a local writer's association last night. This is not something I'd normally do for a number of reasons, some of which are: 1) I'm awkward in situations where I have to make small talk with people I've never met before; 2) I break into cold sweats in such situations; 3) I have a deep-seated belief that I have to be liked by everyone, and inevitably I get an "I don't like you" vibe from someone in said new group. So, just in case I needed an out, or someone to talk to during awkward moments of silence, I called up a friend and convinced her to come with me. Below are the reasons I'm glad I have good friends who will help me step out of my comfort zone when I'm stuck in the quick-sand I like to call fear.

Thirteen Reasons I'm Glad I Stepped Out of My Comfort Zone (Thanks, Jess!)

1. I got to eat brie and fruit for dinner.

2. I got eat this dinner at a really cool cafe'/bar in one of my favorite parts of the city.

3. I met some really nice people who also happen to write.

4. These people are also really excited about writing, which makes me excited about writing.

5. It just so happened to be Open Mic night, so I got to hear these writers read some really great writing.

6. Listening to other people's stories was inspiring and motivating.

7. Hearing other writers talk about their successes gave me hope that a successful writing career really is an attainable goal.

8. I found a community of writers that I can be a part of.

9. These writers are encouraging and supporting of other writers.

10. There was a sense of mentorship among them that I've never experienced in a group of writers before.

11. I didn't feel like I'd have to compete with these people (although I'm sure after a few meetings I'd find myself doing it subconsciously anyway).

12. I got to talk about books and writing for hours without boring my non-writer and non-reader friends.

13. I realized that fear is no reason to stay home when you want to get out and get involved.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Mi Vida Local" Rules

In preparation for my Local Eating Experiment, I've been paying very close attention to what I eat and where it comes from. It turns out that, while local produce is plentiful this time of year, eating locally won't be as easy as I had expected.

Many of my cooking staples are canned or bottled and they don't come in "fresh and local" versions. Think chick peas, kidney beans, olive oil and soy sauce. Then there are the dry ingredients that I can't seem to find local versions of no matter how much I try: flour (and bread and pasta), sugar, and rice. I've even asked local bakeries about their flour and sugar purchasing, and they all get these ingredients from other states. The closest I can get is one state north or one state south, and then I'd have to have it shipped to me anyway, defeating the whole "local" purpose.

Finding local dairy products has been a major chore, too. I've found local cheese at a nearby Whole Foods, and at one of my local farmers' markets, but I can't seem to find any local milk or yogurt. I'm going to ask around at the market this weekend to see what else I can find. As for meat, I've found a local farm that also raises beef and various poultry, so if I'm in dire need of animal protein, I know I have a source. Trouble there is, the cost may hinder me from indulging. Local, organic, naturally raised meat doesn't come cheap. Thankfully, I don't eat much meat anyway, and sacrificing it for the sake of my wallet won't make me too crazy. A couple of pounds should last me all month.

So far it looks like if my little experiment turns into a lifestyle (which is my long-term plan) I'll still be buying a good amount of food from the local grocery stores. For the month of July, though, non-local purchases will be extremely limited.

I've come up with the following rules for my experiment:

  1. Purchase produce from the farmer's markets only. If I can't find it there, then it's not in season and it's not local. This means no canned veggies, no frozen veggies and no bananas, mangoes or avocados. I'll have to get creative with my recipes, but I'm ready for the challenge. If I can make Swiss Chard tasty, I can find plenty to do with the variety I'll be able to find during the month of July.

  2. Purchase bread from local bakeries only. They may not get their flour locally, but most of the bakery owners I've talked to swear that at least the rest of their ingredients are local. I'll have to take their word for it. And at least I'll still be supporting local businesses.

  3. Avoid canned and frozen foods. This includes canned and jarred sauces, soups, cand fruits and vegetables, multiple-ingredient condiments (i.e. salad dressings), and canned meats, to name a few.

  4. Avoid processed foods. On this list of no-nos are prepared desserts, processed cereals, and packaged meals and snacks. While I don't buy much in the way of snack foods these days, I do tend to rely on frozen meals like Lean Cuisines and Smart Ones, or frozen veggie burgers. They make easy workday lunches, and quick dinners when I get home late. But the more ingredients in a food, the more "cumulative miles" it has likely traveled by the time it gets to the grocery store. So for July, I'll have to plan ahead for dinners and make my lunches from leftovers.

  5. Buy only locally raised, organic meat. I'm even going to avoid the meat already in my freezer for this month. If I want to eat meat, I'm going to have to shell out the cash for non-corporate meat. Eating local isn't my only reasoning for this. I'm feeling more and more guilty about eating animals that were raised by factory farming (otherwise known as concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs). Luckily, I live near a bay, where crabs are plentiful this time of year. Now if I can just find a local fish market that actually sells local fish.

  6. Buy local dairy products where they're available. Since I know I can get local cheese, I'm not allowed to buy Kraft or Land O Lakes. I also know where to get local eggs, so I'm limited to those. I'll do my best to find local milk and yogurt, too. But if all else fails, I'll have to head to the dairy case at Giant.

  7. No canned or bottled soda or water. My Brita pitcher and Pur faucet filter will be getting plenty action in July.

Of course, I can't have rules without exceptions:

  • I found a free bread machine on Freecycle, so I'll probably try my hand at making my own bread at least once this month. This will obviously involve a few exceptions. Flour, yeast and other dry baking ingredients will have to be purchased from a grocery store. I'm still investigating my options in this area. I'll be avoiding any "special" ingredients that I can't get locally, though. If it's not essential for the recipe and it's not local, then it won't be in my bread.

  • I can use three of the basic pantry ingredients that I already have as much as I like: spices, vinegar and oils.

  • I can use a limited amount of canned beans (one can per week). (I might give dry beans a try, instead, but I've never had any luck with them. They always stay crunchy, no matter how much I soak them.)

  • I'm allowing myself the use of ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, which I already have in the fridge and which I only buy a couple of times a year. No bottled salad dressings, though. Those I have to make from scratch if I want them.

  • I can also purchase (or use already purchased) rice, couscous and quinoa. I don't eat much of any of these, and I'll get them from the bulk bins for good measure. I'll avoid pasta for the month.

  • As for cereal, I'll buy rolled oats from the bulk bin, too. I'm an oatmeal lover, anyway, so this won't be too much of a change. At least I won't be buying the flavored, processed, packaged instant stuff like I usually do.

  • If I can't find a local milk/yogurt producer, I can get them from the grocery store. The yogurt has to be plain and in large containers, though. No processed, flavored stuff in single serving packages.

  • If I go out to eat, which I rarely do, I'll stay away from fast food and chain restaurants. I'll also investigate local-food restaurants in my area and do my best to patronize them. (My Love is very picky!)

  • When I visit my family mid-month, I get a 4-day reprieve. I'll have little say in what I eat, but I'll encourage local options when I can and stay away from non-local stuff as much as possible.

It seems pretty complicated when it's laid out like this, but the gist is really quite simple: eat locally as much as possible and be more aware of where my food comes from and how it gets to my table. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pesto Magic

Since I started enjoying the pleasures of local produce in May, I've rediscovered something that I didn't realize I'd lost: my love for food. Don't get me wrong, I hadn't stopped eating. I'd just stopped eating well. I don't mean I'd stopped eating "healthy"—although I did that, too—I just mean I'd stopped eating good stuff that has flavor and satisfies. I'd fallen into the rut of quick-fixes and the same-old-same-old. But not anymore.

I spent two hours in the kitchen this afternoon, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I made pesto galore—parsley and basil and cilantro versions of the famous sauce. I bought fresh herbs at the market on Sunday and knew I'd never use them all for garnishes and cooking, so I experimented with the food processor and some olive oil. I came up with some tasty sauces, sealed them in freezer bags, and stuck them, well, in the freezer. And this winter, when I pull out one of those little pesto packs, thaw it in warm water and toss it with some pasta, I'll remember tonight and smile, knowing that on the day I packed that tasty treat away I was thinking of the winter night I'd enjoy it. Delayed gratification at its best.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Secrets, Secrets, Secrets

I recently discovered sognatrice's bleeding espresso, although I can't quite remember how, and through her I discovered something called Sunday Scribblings. In preparation for my 14-Day Kick-in-the-Booty Writing Challenge, I thought I might jump onto the SS band-wagon. I can use a prompt every now and then, and the more writing goals I have, the more successful I'll be at writing. Every. Single. Day. For fourteen days straight (and then, hopefully, every day after that, too). So for my first Sunday Scribble, I have a secret. (Please disregard the fact that today is, in all actuality, Monday. Look, I haven't started the challenge yet, OK?)

Prompt #65: I have a secret...

I'm dying to talk about some things that are going on in my life, but for now, I have to keep it quiet. Suffice it to say that opportunities are opening up for me in some different areas and I'm excited to see how things play out. In the mean time, I'm doing my best to be prepared when things start moving forward full tilt. That means a lot of writing, reading, learning and preparation.

Through all of this, I've learned something interesting about myself. When I don't have any deadlines or objectives looming on the immediate horizon, I find myself being lazy and getting discouraged. It's just the opposite when I know (or expect) that I'm about to become completely overwhelmed. When I anticipate being busy, I always feel more motivated to get things done. I jot ideas, write queries and take on new projects. I get excited about the prospect of being so busy I don't have time to eat or sleep. (Yeah, right! As if I'd ever go without food or sleep, but you get the idea.)

Strange how it works that way. You'd think it would be just the opposite. If only I could find a way to bottle the "productive mode" so I can take a sip when I start to slack off. For now I guess I'll have to take advantage of this motivation and energy when it comes along. So today I'm acting on that creativity that's stirring up instead of sitting on it. Of course, next month, who knows.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thursday Thirteen #4

I've become very aware recently of the extent to which reading has influence my life — what I enjoy, my dreams, my awarenesses. Essentially, they've shaped who I've become and who I want to be. Books have informed my life, trained my imagination and opened my mind for as long as I can remember. And reading good books as a child made a reader out of me for life. The following thirteen are in no way and exhaustive list of all the books that have affected me. In fact, the list of children's books alone that I could have included here is so long it would take up at least a month of 13s. So here's a basic list of some of the most memorable books I've ever read, ones that have a special place in my heart because of something they taught me, or where I was in my life when I read them.

Thirteen Books That Have Influenced My Life
(listed in the approximate order they were read or experienced)

1. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

3. Are You There God, It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume

4. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee

5. She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb

6. The Bible

7. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

8. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

9. Travelling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

10. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

11. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

12. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

13. Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

What books have influenced you? I'd love to hear about them!

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Community Building

Where I grew up, everyone knew everyone. It was a stereotypical small town, where you couldn't do much without someone else (usually your mother if it was something bad) finding out. There was plenty of gossip and not much to do with your time. But it was a community. It was a place where you knew your neighbors and could count on at least a few of them to be there for you in a bind.

When I moved to a new area, states away from everyone I knew and loved, I immediately found a makeshift community at the church I attended. I had a group of friends and knew several older couples who supported me and helped me when I was in need. There was always someone to help me move, lend me a few dollars, or have me over for dinner when I was feeling lonely. If I hadn't found that place and those people, I don't know how long I would have lasted here.

Now that I'm no longer attending a church, and most of those close friends have moved away or moved on with their lives, my community has crumbled. And I need it back. I'm lost without a support system. I'm trying to build a city of support again, but it's not easy. It turns out that people aren't always open to friendship or even basic neighborly interaction. The only people I see regularly are my coworkers and My Love. While it's a good start, it's not enough for me.

So I'm making more of an effort to get to know my neighbors. While some of them are less open, I've found a few that have become the beginnings of a tiny community. They've brought me into their fold and I'm gradually expanding my connections to those around me. I'm also making more of an effort to hang out with a few friends who I've never been that close to, but who I enjoy being around. Maybe with more time, we can build deeper relationships. And I'm trying to rekindle a few friendships that have fallen by the wayside, because of life, kids, moves and more. I've decided being "busy" isn't a good excuse for not seeing and talking to the people you care about.

I realize that the way I'm describing my need for a community may sound selfish, but it's not. I don't just want people around me so that they can do things for me when I need it or fill my time when I'm lonely. I want people around me so that I can help them, too. Part of what I desire is to feel like I belong to something, like I can make a contribution in some meaningful way to my little corner of the world. The best way to do that in my mind is to build relationships. Relationships allow us to influence one another. They allow us to teach. They give us the ability to grow together.

Yes, having a community of people that I can trust, that support me and encourage me and smile at me when they see me, is important to me. But I know that if I don't know the people I live near, if I don't have people around me that trust me, too, if I don't support and encourage and help them when I can, I'll wither up and die, like a plant that hasn't been watered. More than a community that gives me, I need to give to a community. I'm lost without one.

Kammie's Kick

I'm a sucker for personal coaching and motivational quotes, so when I found Kammie a few months ago I couldn't get enough. The negative-thinking me needs some positive reminders on occasion. And I'm always looking for challenges to get my butt in gear and create the life I want instead of complaining about the one I have.

The newest Passion Meets Purpose challenge is to make a commitment to do something for 14 days straight that will shift a project, goal, plan or idea from stalled into overdrive. I've been in a bit of an exercise slump for several months now, but I know I'm capable of a regular workout routine. I did it for over a year, in fact. All I need is a jump start to get my body back in the habit. So for the next 14 days I am committing to 30-60 minutes of physical activity. It can be any type of physical activity that moves me (pun intended): yoga, walking, Pilates, jumping rope, strength training. But it has to be done. Every day. No excuses.

And when that challenge is done, and I'm working out on the regular again, I'm going to give my daily writing practice a kick in the pants. I've been writing more, but I'm still not at an everyday level yet. (Yes, my last "commitment" lost momentum quite some time ago.)

I know that if I can do something for 14 days straight then I can do it for 30, 60, 90, or 365. With Kammie's kick in the pants, some jiggly parts that are growing, and some new writing projects coming my way, I'm thinking positively and believing that this time things can be different and I can reach my goals.

If at first you don't succeed, right?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Farmer's Market Creations

It's 9:40 on Friday night and while I type this I'm smelling the scents of spaghetti sauce floating in from the kitchen. I'm cooking a huge pot of my mother's famous sauce, complete with real Italian sausage and hand-formed meatballs, for a neighbor's birthday party tomorrow. All he asked me for was my presence and a pot of spaghetti. How could I possibly turn him down? He is turning 60, after all. It's a momentous occasion.

Since I can't leave the house, or do anything that takes extended periods of concentration because I have to be available for stirring and seasoning at regular intervals, I figured I'd post some of my recent Farmer's Market creations. (Sorry I don't have pictures.) Give them a try if you're feeling like you need a little local flavor in your life.

Tangy Vegetables and Chick Peas Over Couscous


1 cup couscous, dry
1 cup water or broth
1 TBSP olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 spring onions, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 bunch Swiss chard (about 15 leaves), with leaves removed from stems, stems chopped into bite-sized pieces and the leaves torn or chopped into small pieces
3 TBSP lemon juice
2 large tomatoes, diced (or one 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes)
1 1/2 TBSP capers
1/2 cup chick peas


Bring the water or broth to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Remove from heat, add the couscous, stir and cover. Let it set for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic, onion and chard stems and cook until slightly tender and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice, spices and chard leaves. Cover and allow to cook for 1o minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the chard is wilted, add the tomatoes, capers and chick peas. Stir and cook for 5-10 more minutes until heated through. Serve over couscous.

Makes about 4 servings.

Chunky Basil Tomatoes over Pasta


8 oz. dry spaghetti
1 TBSP olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 or 5 large tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup basil, chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste


Cook and drain pasta and set aside.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add garlic and cook until lightly brown. Add tomatoes, basil, vinegar, salt and pepper and stir. Cook until tomatoes are soft and liquid has cooked down slightly, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Serve over pasta.

Makes about 4 servings.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thursday Thirteen #3

Thirteen Reasons I Almost Forgot About the 13

1. I had yesterday off for appointments and keep thinking today is Wednesday.

2. I had another post I wanted to get up tonight and wasn't looking frantically for something to write about.

3. I was cooking a great dinner of fresh produce, including a delicious portabella burger with roasted red pepper and a basil mayo sauce. If you're lucky, I might share the recipe in a future post. These things are my new favorite meal!

4. I had to get an article up at Feed the Soul for this week. (If you click that link, then yes, I'm on a major local eating kick and it's tainting every area of my writing and life. Please don't hold that against me.)

5. The refrigerator repair person is coming tomorrow at 7:30 AM to replace the thermostat, so I had to clean the refrigerator out as much as possible. He'll need room to maneuver in there.

6. My cat is being super needy and I've been required to cuddle and hold her as soon as I set my butt down anywhere.

7. I have a major, life-changing possibility on my mind and can't seem to focus on much else. (More to come later if it all pans out.)

8. I miss My Love. (Pathetic, but true.) He's working a lot these days and some weeks I feel particularly needy and lonely. Others, I enjoy the solitude and time to work on my writing and visit with neighbors and friends.

9. I was invited to two birthday parties on Saturday and I have to make a HUGE batch of spaghetti for one. This may seem simple, but it involves grocery shopping and preparation because the parties are back-to-back and I won't have much time for cooking on Saturday.

10. I'm trying to get through Me & Emma for my TBR Challenge this month and was trying to get off the computer before 9PM so I could read before I went to sleep. (Not happening.)

11. I've been revising a resume for a client and she emailed me with a last minute request right before I sat down to eat my dinner, completely distracting me from my other evening tasks. I'm getting paid to get her the job, after all.

12. My website is finally up and running. I'm still working on some of the content, however, which has been my first and foremost objective this week. With everything that keeps coming up, that's not getting done either.

13. It just slipped my mind, alright?

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Equal Opportunity Reviewing?

One of my favorite authors is taking on the New York Times' Book Review. Her beef? That the Book Review doesn't take women authors seriously. From what I've read today, I'd have to agree with her. After catching up on Jennifer Weiner's blog, and reading about her "Kanye West moment," I did a little research.

A simple search of the NY Times' website's book section turned up a few reviews each for some of the major female authors on the shelves today: Jodi Picoult, Sue Miller, Anne Tyler. Others were all but missing from the pages of the Review. Obviously this wasn't an exhaustive selection, and there are plenty of other female writers who may have been reviewed. But I still can't help wonder where reviews for the majority of women's books are. I know the books are being read. And I know they're being enjoyed--with or without representation in the Book Review. But is it fair that male writers seem to get more "face time," if you will, in the NY Times? And is there something behind this uneven treatment? Does the sex of a book's author make a difference in the way that book is treated? Is the NY Times' Book Review being *gasp* sexist? Or are there simply more male writers producing more quality writing? (I can't bring myself to believe the latter, considering the number of female names I see on the bookshelves at my local bookstores and the wonderful stories I've experienced that were written by the fairer sex.)

Jen's arguments are on-point, and the tone she gets from the Review's blogger, Dwight Garner, seems pretty heavily anti-romance. Whether the decision to look past female-written works is intentional, subconscious, or even imagined, it's certainly something I'll be keeping my eye on. I'd hate to write that Great American Novel, only to have it passed over in the review pile because my name isn't Steven, David, Richard or Dean.

You can read Jen's blog post, check out her repartee with Dwight Garner, keep an eye on the Sunday Book Review, and decide for yourself. Maybe if more people start taking notice and requesting a varied and representative sampling of available reading material the Editors will change their ways and think twice about their selections.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Going Local

Last summer, I bought a locally grown tomato from a local farmer and I didn't think anything about it. It was a tomato. I just handed over the money, took it and went on my way. Later that week, I sliced it open and took a sweet, juicy bite. It was a flavor I hadn't experienced in years. I couldn't believe the difference between that deep red tomato and the orange-y semi-ripe impostors I'd been purchasing at Safeway and Giant.

Despite the amazing taste, the memory of that flavor quickly faded. A few weeks later, my memory was jogged while I was visiting my family. I found myself eating home-grown tomatoes again and as I tasted the one I was slicing for sandwiches, I moaned out loud with pleasure. My Aunt was in the kitchen with me, putting cheese and cold cuts on a platter and I found myself relaying the story of my farmer's market tomato from a few weeks before. I told her how amazed I had been by the difference in flavor between these home-grown versions and the ones I'd found in the stores. "I had forgotten how great they can taste," I said.

To this, my Aunt replied, "I can't even stand those store-bought things. I won't buy a tomato after the season ends."

"Really?" I asked, incredulous. I could hardly believe that she could go 8 or more months without tasting a tomato, even if it was a watery, unripe version. For whatever reason, it didn't really occur to me that she was eating the way we were created to eat. I mulled over her statement for a few minutes. Then we sat down to lunch, and the whole conversation slid from my mind. I guess I had other, more pressing matters to think about. Whatever the reason, I wasn't concerned about my mediocre produce experiences. I continued to buy cucumbers and tomatoes and mangoes and lettuce all year long. And I barely paid attention to the taste they were missing.

Something changed this summer. The farmer's market opened the first weekend in May and I was there, looking for produce that hadn't even matured past the first stages of growth. And then I came across a book that taught me a few things about agriculture and eating locally. I started tripping over articles on Community Supported Agriculture and the 100 Mile Diet. I tasted Swiss Chard for the first time. And I realized that what I buy in the grocery store comes from miles and miles away, when I could be buying food that is grown, processed and assembled right in my back yard (or thereabouts).

So I've done some research and I've decided to participate in a bit of an experiment. I'm not going militant-local, and I'm not prepared to go as strictly local as the Kingsolver family did, either. But for the month of July, I'm going to commit to local eating. I'm working on my personal set of rules and I'll post them when I get closer to my start date. This month I've been experimenting with my options and looking into local products available at my grocery stores.

I'm already eating local produce, so that won't be a big change. And really, a month of local eating this time of year shouldn't be difficult at all. Now if I were planning to eat locally all year long, that would take a lot more planning: freezing, drying, canning, raising my own livestock. I don't have all the equipment and space necessary for a winter's worth of food storage. But we'll see how next month goes. Then I'll think about preparing for a full year of local living next year.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Open Letter to Barack

Dear President Senator Obama,

I recently finished your book, The Audacity of Hope, and I wanted to take a moment to tell you that I am officially on your side. You have my support in all upcoming elections, so long as you don't screw things up, of course.

But before I start gushing over how much I like you, let me introduce myself. I'm a 31-year-old woman living in a mid-sized city. I've been a city girl for seven years, but I grew up in a small, rural community in Upstate New York. I'd like to believe that the experiences I've had in both settings give me a pretty good understanding of the needs and issues that are important to both the "city slickers" and the "country folk." I'm also a new home owner and a single, working woman who hopes to have both a career and a family one day. Because of these goals, I support programs that encourage community improvement and involvement, quality health care for both those who can afford it and those who can't, support for working-class and low-income families, quality child care, environmental conservation, and sustainable and organic agricultural practices.

I'm what I like to call a liberal conservative (or a conservative liberal, if you prefer). As a Christian, I used to stand up for Republicans solely because they often shared my personal views on matters of my faith, no matter what their political views on many other issues that directly affected me. Having never been very interest in politics, and having never understood clearly how important politics were to my own life, it seemed easier to toe the line and ignore the other stuff. But as I've grown personally and spiritually over the last few years, I've found that there are many issues on which I don't agree with the Republicans.

Which brings me to you. You have plunged me in the river of politics and I've come up a convert. I've been born again politcally. No matter what party you belong to, I believe in you. And anyone who can restore my hope in the government of this nation deserves my vote. Your youthful outlook on the future of this country inspires me. Your thoughtful, honest opinions on all of the major issues that impact our country, however idealistic they may seem, have rekindled my faith and interest in politics.

I appreciate your candor. I'm thankful for your acknowledgement that politics is about compromise and that good politicians will be open to reasoned, well-thought 0ut and effectively presented debate. I applaud your encouragment of other politicians to open their minds to different policies and points of view. I am grateful for your political youth, for your "still-wet-behind-the-ears" (but well-weathered nonetheless) outlook that has prevented you from becoming easily influenced by money, power, and the fear to lose a race. And I know that if you were to ever get out of hand, if you were to ever forget where you came from, your wife would firmly grab you by the collar and bring you back down to earth.

Keep up the good work, and don't be afraid to want it. Just don't ever want it so badly that you'll do anything not to lose it (like some of those older folk). Your fresh perspective is exactly what this country needs.

Your faithful fan,


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Thursday Thirteen #2

With electricity prices set to go berzerk this month in my area, and the price of gas rising faster than my anxious heart beat, I've decided it can't hurt to try to live a bit greener. Plus, I've been listening to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and it's prompted me to act a bit more gently and thoughtfully toward my community (and my environment). Hence, this week's Thirteen.

Thirteen Ways I'm Trying to Be Nicer to My Earth

1. Unplugging chargers and appliances when they're not being used. You wouldn't believe the energy chargers burn even when there's nothing hooked up to them. And anything plugged into the wall, whether it's turned on or not, is still using electricity.

2. Consolidating car trips. Planning out my errand running and doing it all at once rather than making multiple trips during the day or week cuts down on the gas I use and the pollution I put into the air.

3. Eating more local produce. I love the Farmer's Market and this time of year provides plenty of local fresh fruit and vegetable options. Buying from my local farmers saves energy normally used to transport wholesale, tasteless produce from across the country to my local chain grocery store. It also supports local, small farms and puts money back into my own community's economy. Plus, the people are really nice.

4. Using fewer paper towels. Instead of reaching for the disposable versions, dish towels are my new go-to for spills and the like.

5. Drinking my coffee and tea from a mug instead of those disposable hot cups at work. I must be saving tons of trees with just this tiny change.

6. Reusing plastic ziploc bags and avoiding using them whenever possible. It's amazing how many of these things I can go through when I'm not paying attention, and reusable storage containers work just as well in most cases.

7. Carrying reusable cloth bags to the grocery store, Wal-Mart and farmer's market. I'm also trying to reuse the plastic bags that I already have or taking them to the nearest store that has a bag-recycling drop-off, instead of just tossing them in the trash. Did you know those plastic grocery bags last centuries (1000 years?) in the landfills?

8. Gradually replacing the old, leaky, inefficient windows in my new house with triple-pane, super-delux, energy efficient ones. Turns out the new windows can save me almost 50% on my energy bills.

9. Freecycling. I found this website when I was looking for cheap options to decorate and furnish my new house. It's a great way to get rid of stuff you no longer use and find stuff you're looking for without buying more stuff that will eventually just end up in a landfill. If you're interested in reducing your consumption, this is a great place to start.

10. Saving money to replace my ancient appliances. My house has the original furnace (50+ years old) which, as you can imagine, isn't very energy efficient. I also have a very old stove, refrigerator and washing machine, and a not-quite-so-old clothes dryer. None of them are Energy Star approved.

11. Buying more organics. While I'm not ready to go completely organic, I'm investigating ways I can incorporate more organic products into my recipes and my budget.

12. Turning off the water while I brush my teeth and wash my face. This should save gallons of drinking water, as well as energy needed to heat it.

13. Taking shorter showers. I'm pretty quick in the shower, but I'm trying to shave off a few more minutes most days of the week.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I Heart Barack

I just finished reading The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. I really wanted to read this book because I've gotten a great vibe from him and hoped to learn more about who he is and what he stands for politically, socially and spiritually before the elections rolled around. In general, I'm not much of a politics-watcher. In fact, I've become pretty disillusioned by the whole political machine over the years since I pulled my first lever. I have to say, though, that after reading this book, I've fallen madly in love with Barack's attainable idealism.

He has effectively restored my hope and interest in politics and the future of this country. Reading this book has refreshed my memory on the history of politics in America and taught me more about what it's like behind the scenes of politics. While he obviously puts a Democrat's spin on all of the subjects he covers, I personally believe that no matter what your political party, this book should be required reading. I think it could be a great way to get more people interested and involved in the political arena, whether by getting to the polls and voting, supporting or starting grassroots efforts in their communities, or tossing their own hats into the ring.

I hope my opinion doesn't change as this election unfolds.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What's That On My Thumb?

Nooooo. Is it? What? Could it possibly be? Why, yes, I think that is a bit of green on the end of my thumb! Despite the fact that the Green Thumb gene is absent from my DNA, I seem to have overcome my disability, at least partly.

My herbs are thriving. My dill plant is about a foot tall. My basil plants are sprouting so many leaves that I'm making up recipes just to use it. My cilantro just bushed out today, and my parsley--while it seems to be taking a little bit longer to "establish"--is starting to send out new leaves, too.

And today, I purchased and planted two tomato plants: Romas for sauce and drying, and Beefsteaks for sandwiches and salads. Did you know that some tomatoes can do well in pots? It's amazing what you can grow in containers. I never thought I'd be able to grow vegetables in my tiny back yard. But it turns out you can grow lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, squash, broccoli, eggplant, beans and even carrots. I'm already planning next year's container garden.

That's if I succeed at getting these tomatoes to grow and produce. If not, I might decide to stick to the fail-safe herb garden. We'll see what the summer brings.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Farmer's Market Weekend

Yesterday, My Love and I got up at 5AM and took a spontaneous trip to NYC. We weren't planning to be there long. Just long enough to do a bit of shopping on Canal Street and walk through the Farmer's Market in Union Square.

We found a parking space a few blocks from Union Square and fed $1.00 into a meter to park for one hour--a bargain in the Big Apple. The weather was beautiful, and it was early enough that it hadn't gotten too hot. From a block away, we could see the white-tent stalls lining the perimeter of the park. We walked through the market and I bought a few of my favorites: two bunches of asparagus, a half-dozen apples, a half-gallon of apple cider, 6 maple sugar leaves, and one large tomato. There were flowers everywhere and a lot of great arts and crafts vendors, too.
This was the shopping I had come for, honestly. While I like me a little fashion shopping on occasion, I love to experience new markets. The people, the smells, the sounds, the variety, it all makes me smile with peace and memories. And the produce in NY is a little behind the produce down here, so while the asparagus is almost at season's end in Maryland, it's much earlier in it's life cycle up there. I would have gone nuts and bought much more than I did if we didn't have a three and a half hour drive ahead of us.

This morning, I got up bright and early, hoping to beat the rain to the farmer's market downtown to get the rest of my fresh necessities for the week. I stood in a line for 15 minutes for freshly shucked peas. I picked out two stalks of rhubarb for a rhubarb sauce experiment prompted by childhood memories. I got a half-peck of Fuji apples grown on trees in an orchard in Gettysburg. I also picked up some Swiss chard to try, some baby red potatoes, two bags of mixed greens for salads, and a bunch of spring onions.

I came home and promptly cooked up a breakfast fit for a queen. I sauteed three stalks of asparagus in olive oil, just until they turned bright green, along with left over mushrooms and two chopped green stalks from the spring onions. I chopped a small, left over red potato with a slice of red onion and microwaved them for 2 minutes. Then I sauteed them in olive oil, as well, until the potatoes were soft and crispy on the outside.

While the potatoes were cooking, I whipped up two eggs with a dollop of milk and started an omelet. I chopped up two basil leaves and a little bit of parsley, straight from my container herb garden.

When the omelet was done, I put the asparagus, mushrooms and onion on one side, sprinkled it with some shredded cheddar cheese, and topped it with the chopped basil and parsley. Then I folded the other half of the egg over the top and slid it onto my plate. omelet and homefries made mostly from fresh vegetables and herbs. A farmer's market breakfast big and healthy enough to hold back the hunger for hours, not like the usual oatmeal and English muffin I eat. I have a feeling I'll be spending a lot more time in the market and a lot less time at Giant this summer.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Let It Go

The time has come to say goodbye to my Spaces version of this blog. I had some great times over there, like the week I was featured on What's Your Story. And I met some great blog friends over there, too (plus many more), a good number of whom have also skipped Spaces Town. But the trouble of posting an entry at Spaces these days far outweighs the benefits of being part of the Spaces community. Hopefully, my regular readers will just update their links and blogrolls and read me here at Blogger instead.

I plan to eventually transfer my favorite Weight of My World posts to this blog, but for now I'll be leaving WoMW up. So you can still peruse my archives there. I just can't continue to maintain both blogs. Not only was I unbelievably bad at keeping two blogs going (I mean, come on, I can barely come up with enough time and material for one!), but Spaces has gradually accumulated enough checks in the Cons column to force me to jump ship. It regularly takes me an hour or more to format, categorize and post an entry because it’s just not very user friendly. I can’t use Spaces in Firefox and even in Internet Explorer it often causes my computer to freeze up. It’s just plain difficult, while Blogger is so, so easy. With all that’s going on in my life right now, easy is good. It’s great. It’s necessary, really.

So, here I am. A Blogger girl for real.

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