this ain’t corny

Thursday, 18 May 2006

It's cliché to say you are what you eat. Journalist Michael Pollan examines the huge impacts of what we eat in his new book called The Omnivore's Dilemma. I haven't read the book yet, but I listened to two interviews with Pollan, introducing his exploration of the food cycle and its impact on public health, the environment, the economy, and the landscape. In particular, he focuses on corn, the premier agricultural product of America.

In the numbers

  • A farmer can sell a bushel of corn (equivalent to 56 lbs of food) for only $1.45 today.
  • At the supermarket, one dollar can buy 2,500 calories of processed foods (crackers, cookies, etc which are laced with corn products) or only 250 calories of carrots.
  • Over a few decades, we went from spending 18% of our national income on food to spending 9% now. During the same period, our spending on healthcare went from 5% to 16%.
  • Agricultural companies' investments in corn: they buy a raw ingredient at 4¢ and sell a value-added product at $1.00.
  • Production of each bushel of corn consumes 1/4 to 1/3 a gallon of gasoline.
  • A full one-fifth of our fossil fuel use goes towards our food!

Some tantalizing quotes from the interviews:

  • "Corn is the perfect industrial and capitalist plant."
  • "Corn is sipping fossil fuels."
  • "We prize cheapness in our food over quality, and we're paying the price. The irony is of course that a cheap food economy is incredibly expensive."
  • We are paying an "irresponsible price" for our food because its cheapness belies the huge costs in public health, environmental health, and your own health.

Take a listen to these fascinating interviews and check out the book too!

Michael Pollan on NPR's Fresh Air (as always, the wonderful Terry Gross really draws out her subjects and creates a riveting, flowing interview.)

Michael Pollan & others on Radio Open Source

The book The Omnivore's Dilemma at Powells.com

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matriarchs and cannibals

Sunday, 14 May 2006

Matriarchs
In honor of mother's day, I wanted to post a photo… taken last summer of my "matriarchal" family. But since I am unable to post a photo, you'll have to go to MyFlickr to see it!

"Matriarchy is a form of society in which power is with the women and especially with the mothers of a community."(-Wikipedia) My writing teacher has a fascinating, hopeful poem called Sarah and Hagar, about the mothers of the Jewish and Arabic peoples, respectively, and what could have happened differently if the mothers had changed the laws which left all property to the eldest male.

Cannibals
I've been cannibalizing some old blog entries because wordpress keeps giving me this message: "Sorry, you have used your space allocation. Please delete some files to upload more files." And I keep deleting and deleting image files and it keeps giving me the same message. I'm beyond frustrated with it. This is why I am trying to switch servers. I love photos, but I am not a techie, and I don't want to get bogged down in endless tech manipulations. My domain name jennhx.com has been down most of this week because of my new server setting up stuff. Their tech manipulations should have been done by now, but alas, no news… it tries my patience. My posts have thus been limited lately.

I love posting photos. I want to write, possibly professionally, but it's hard. It's much easier to post a photo and be done with it. I love taking photos and want to learn more about how to take good ones. But the lack of photos space on this free blog means I've been frustrated…

Too much is going on in my life that I'm unable to write about. Too many thoughts are swirling my brain

(I'm digging a hole/And the walls are caving in behind me/Air's getting thin/But I'm trying, I'm breathing. Come find me… –Joshua Radin)

making clarity difficult, nay impossible. Why this lack of clarity, I've many guesses but no certainty. I've been spending my time (with my counselor's support) meditating, walking a lot, trying to think positively, listening to Louise Hay, having tea with friends. And I've been spending my time (on my depression's urging) banging my head against the wall*, missing old friends, getting mad at friends who moved away from Seattle, wishing the past away, wishing the past back, cannibalizing the tiny bits of happiness I find, despairing at any change in myself…

…and knitting. I'm almost done with these infernal socks. I'm going to get them done today. I almost got them done last night but then realized I'd made a mistake on the toes so I had to frog.

…and reading. I finished (re)reading Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for the Knit the Classics read/knit along. This was one of my favorite books and I still love it. Austen's wit and social criticism ring well with me. I got complètement sucked into this book this week, could not put it down!

…and watching movies. I (re)watched La Gloire de mon Père, based on the Marcel Pagnol novel and featuring my first love, Provence! It's the sweet story of a boy discovering his father is only human, set in the beauty and mystery of the provençal countryside. I'm savoring watching the second movie, Le Chateau de ma mere!

In my writing class, I met a woman from Québec this week. We spoke en français for a few moments. I miss speaking French so much! But I was awkward and didn't exactly know what to say.

*not literally

latest colors & news

Friday, 7 April 2006

This month's Project Spectrum colors… Orange & Yellow!

orange books yellow books
I think there aren't many things representing orange and yellow in our house other than books! So I'll have to get creative. It's about time!

Knitting News
On the knitting front, I finally feel like i'm making progress. I turned the heel on Jeff's sock — it's the neatest looking heel because the stripe color changes right at the edge of the heel by coincidence! As for the top-down sweater, I completed the torso and am now working on one of the arms. These should go more quickly since they are much narrower than the torso section. Unfortunately I can't show pictures right now because both our camera batteries seem to have died. Grrr…

knit the classics
I'm delighted to be taking part in the Knit the Classics reading and knitting group. Reading classic books and knitting projects that fit the books… wayyy cooool. This month's book is Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, which someone at KTC says is the first modern novel. Don't know what my project will be yet, because I've got a number of projects on the needles and some in the queue already — but I'd love to knit the Eleanora Socks by Miriam.

In Other News
The reason for my increased knitting time is… Yesterday morning the dermatologist took another mole off my right calf. It's one that was already taken off twice, yes two times before!, but kept growing back weird. Here it was in all its weirdness (I was calling it the dark crystal mole):

dark crystal
Despite the fact that the previous two times the pathology reports came back negative, the dermato wanted to take this off completely to make sure, because of my history with melanoma. She took off the mole plus all the scar tissue around it. Stitches come out in two weeks. The lower leg causes several problematic logistics because 1) blood tends to pool up in lower extremities and 2) the skin is pretty tight there. Suffice to say, I have to sit with my leg up as much as possible.

Anyways, I'll spare any more details (although later I might just have to flash some stitches images once I can take the pressure bandage off!). For now, I'll try to soothe any grossed-out readers with a sweet image of Cooper resting on the back of the couch– I think he thinks he's taking care of me!

Cooper on the edge of a snooze

hello to happiness

Friday, 7 April 2006

Hello to All That by John Falk Hello to All That: A Memoir of War, Zoloft and Peace by John Falk (2005), a fascinating memoir of Falk's battle with depression, reminded me of my own here-now-gone-again depression issues. Falk lives what most would call a charmed life, but finds himself unable to appreciate it. For years he is filled with self-loathing because he cannot make use of the many advantages life gives him:

I became hyper-aware that I was somehow shut out from whatever it was that made other people tick. What the fuck did I have to do? I had tons of friends, family that loved me, had accomplished things, but it meant nothing. Why the hell did I feel so dead inside? I had tried so long and so hard to keep it together. (p 114)

For Falk, Zoloft is the magic bullet, bringing him out of clinical depression. However, living with depression for a decade and a half meant he did not learn to fully live and connect with people. He seeks a way to live deeper, fuller experiences, he has to push the envelope in order to catch up on all the living he's missed. Passing himself off as a war reporter, he enters beseiged Sarajevo, where he discovers that connections with other people — especially through helping others — are necessary elements of his recovery.

For some, Zoloft isn't the magic bullet it promises to be. I took Zoloft for eight years, but still struggled with these issues. So the search goes on. It's about learning, establishing habits that keep me healthy, and always, seeking inspiration to keep me going.

Harvard professor"Finding happiness in a Harvard classroom," a recent story on NPR's All things considered, discusses the most popular course at Harvard these days. According to the course description, it covers the "psychological aspects of a fulfilling and flourishing life." While some laugh it off as not serious enough for Harvard, students are flocking to this course; required readings include philosophical treatises on happiness, Ellen DeGeneres comedy, the Dalai Lama, and articles from the new field of positive psychology. If I were there, I'd probably enroll too. During my student years at University of Washington, I took an honors seminar on The Examined Life. While it didn't focus directly on happiness, the seminar asked the question of whether we are better off living without thinking, or if examining our life can lead to more understanding and awareness. I guess I believe the latter. Hence, writing this journal on-line…

The Harvard course's instructor, Tal Ben-Shahar, offers NPR listeners the following advice:

Six Tips for Happiness

1. Give yourself permission to be human. When we accept emotions — such as fear, sadness, or anxiety — as natural, we are more likely to overcome them. Rejecting our emotions, positive or negative, leads to frustration and unhappiness.

2. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable. When this is not feasible, make sure you have happiness boosters, moments throughout the week that provide you with both pleasure and meaning.

3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well being is determined by what we choose to focus on (the full or the empty part of the glass) and by our interpretation of external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity?

4. Simplify! We are, generally, too busy, trying to squeeze in more and more activities into less and less time. Quantity influences quality, and we compromise on our happiness by trying to do too much.

5. Remember the mind-body connection. What we do — or don't do — with our bodies influences our mind. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits lead to both physical and mental health.

6. Express gratitude, whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile.

I guess ultimately it's a balance between getting your biochemistry in place and the hard work of learning to accept life while taking care of yourself.

By the way, the Center for Positive Psychology at UPenn is looking for on-line study participants.

book lovers

Sunday, 26 March 2006

I love books, too. But I'm not crazy! Most of the books I read these days are from the library, so I don't have the $5,000 per year book storage costs that this couple had before they built shelves on every wall of their condo.

lotsa books The Washington Post story about true bibliophiles. (Thanks for the link, Mom.)

I am on a book-buying moratorium (which I mostly adhere to), since we ran out of additional shelf space years ago. I even donate books occasionally! Jeff sold an entire bookcase of military history books on Ebay over the last six months. But I guess that just seems to have made room for more of my books. I have to admit that all my Russian textbooks are still in boxes somewhere. But that's because… what if I want to start studying Russian again? And all the French language books my grandmother sent me on birthdays and Christmases… I can't get rid of those because, well, it would just feel wrong to get rid of them. And so on…

Speaking of books, I just finished reading the Autograph Man by Zadie Smith (a library copy). It's the story of a 30-something (alcoholic) man searching for the autograph of his career. On the way he (drinks a lot,) discusses Zen and Judaism with his childhood friends, (drinks some more,) travels to New York for an autograph conference, (gets completely drunk there,) hurts everyone he loves, and searches for the meaning of life (while completely plastered). Just like real life, huh?The writing is beautiful — both colloquial and lyrical.

For a better review check out Powells.com.

a blustery tuesday

Tuesday, 7 March 2006

On this chilly, blustery evening, Jeff and I drove to the Hilltop Pub at the top of Queen Anne to grab a bite to eat — and I wore my new clapotis wrap. I know you still can't see it very well but there wasn't much room for Jeff to take a picture.
hilltop wine

I got my participant certificate from the Yarn Harlot. Remember, boys and girls, the words I CAN are in PARTICIPANT.

olympics certificate

Here is what Jeff worked on during the olympics: an M.C. Escher jigsaw puzzle. He deserves a medal for this!

Escher puzzle

And Cooper was working on… his tan! Lazy-bones kitty.
Cooper by the fire Cooper lazybones!

Last night I finished reading Fannie Flagg's Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man. A sometimes laugh-out-loud, sometimes tearful coming-of-age story, Daisy Fay is a quick read providing interesting commentary of 1950s US society.