Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In which I present a poem: Mamaw

“Mamaw,” according to,
is “hillbilly or southern talk for grandma.”
I’m not southern but maybe was a hillbilly,
because that was her name.

Mamaw made egg noodles from scratch.
Strung all around the kitchen,
everywhere you turned.
Thin pieces of dough hung out to dry,
just like laundry.

Which she also hung out.
Didn’t get a dryer until the new house was built
somewhere around 1974.

I liked the old house better.
It had drafty windows and whole rooms closed off in the winter
to keep the heating bill down,
but it also had an attic and places to hide.

But they built the new house.
One level concrete ranch.
And stopped keeping chickens.
And started doing laundry inside.
And every Sunday we came over for dinner and watched TV.
First “Hee Haw” and then “World of Disney.”

But Mamaw didn’t totally give up her old ways.
In the fall we foraged mushrooms in the woods.
And I can still see those egg noodles
Hung out to dry.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Occupy the vote

It's fall.  And you know what that means!  Time to get out the vote!  Now, I've heard quite a few reasons for not voting, with reasons ranging from apathy to anarchy.  Here's my response.

I don't have time.
I don't buy it.  You have time to stop for a double latte, don't you?  Or go for a run?  Or eat lunch?  Polls are open from 6 am - 9 pm.  I don't know about other locations, but it takes me about 10-15 minutes to get in and out of my polling place.

I don't know any of the candidates, so I'd rather not vote at all.
Well, the best solution is to learn about the candidates.  To check your polling place, view your ballot, and get contact information for your elected officials, go to this website in Monroe County:

It's the day before Election Day.  You don't possibly expect me to learn about all those people in that time, do you?
Okay, I know it's late in the game.  Although I'm generally an advocate of voting for the person, not the party, my guess is that there's a political party that lines up with your beliefs, at least roughly, even if it's not one of the major parties.  See who's running on the third party lines that may be more in keeping with your values.

The politicians don't really represent me and therefore I'm going to boycott the system.
This is an odd one to me.  Do you think the "politicians" care that you don't vote?  Actually, the status quo politicians are the ones who benefit when you don't vote.  They would love for you to stay home and watch TV/play video games/surf the internet.  Anything but get involved.

Voting doesn't matter.  It's all money and politics and no one cares about the little guy anyway.
This is the one I really want to talk about.  I agree that we need campaign finance reform.  But not voting does nothing to accomplish that.  Sit down while I tell you a little story.

In 1999, I was a project director for a university that was among the first round of grant recipients to implement legislation to reduce violence against women on college campuses.  The request for proposals spoke of the need to change the rape-supportive culture that is too often found on campuses, and to make sure that services were inclusive of the needs of all women, including women with disabilities, African American, Latina, Native American, and Asian American women, and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women.  Funded programs were expected to aim for fundamental change in social norms, and the concomitant policies and services.

In 2000, we elected a new U.S. President.  When the grant came up for renewal, the RFP included no talk of social change, no talk of women of color, of women with disabilities, of non-heterosexual women.  Instead, the RFP was aimed at improving facilities, such as increased blue lights and better police communications systems, and victims' services, such as victims' hotlines and counseling services.  All of those things are good and necessary.  But they are also very much about supporting the status quo culture that presumes that rapes will happen; we just need to deal with it.

That's a very different message from the first RFP which held out hope that social change actually could and should happen.  It was a great deal more challenging to continue to work for social change while also complying with the requirements of the second round of funding.  Inevitably the priorities of the project had to shift.

No doubt you now know where my political allegiances lie.  That's okay.  The message is the same.  Whether you preferred the first or the second set of priorities, the policies, and policy-makers matter.  Even those as far away as the federal government.

Okay, fine, I'll vote in a Presidential election, but what's the point of voting in the local elections?
Do you care about your school district?  About the health of your local economy?  About whether there are services for the needy in your town, city, and/or county? About any variety of issues from property taxes to lead prevention to accessible day care? About how your tax dollars should be spent?  Then you need to vote in your local election.

Last point:

Some countries' citizens are so grateful to vote that they will risk their lives to vote.  Is voting a panacea?  No, not at all.  But it's the least you can do.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Eat food, mostly plants, organic and local

Well, the complete advice, stolen from Michael Pollan, is: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. (You should go read his article. I'll still be here when you get back.)

I think Pollan's advice is pretty darn good, but for what it's worth, I'll share my own priorities when it comes to making choices about what kind of fuel I'm going to use to keep my mind, body, and soul in good shape for as long as possible. (And I don't emphasize the "not too much" part, because if you're following this advice, it's not really an issue. There's rarely a risk of eating too many locally-grown, organic, unprocessed fruits and veggies.)

1. Eat food.

When Pollan says, "eat food," he means, don't be confused that everything that is edible is actually food. Many things are "food-like substances." You know, like the orange powder in the box of macaroni and "cheese." Or that Twinkie you snuck. Or the diet soda you can't live without. (Been there, done all of those things.)

Those items are barely, if at all, food. Look at their ingredients list. Do you recognize the ingredients? As Pollan says, if your grandmother wouldn't recognize an ingredient as food, it probably isn't. Instead, it's a chemically produced compound that happens to be edible and probably exploits our innate physiological responses to sugars and fats. Remember, not everything edible is food.

This advice is in keeping with T. Colin Campbell's advice to eat whole foods. If it comes in a box or a shrink-wrapped package, chances are that it's not whole food (although I have heard tell of shrink-wrapped apples...why??) Anyway, I prefer to avoid processed foods as much as possible, although there are exceptions...I'll get to those later.

2. Mostly plants.

Pollan and Campbell's research (and many others) emphasizes the benefits of a plant-based diet. They vary, in that Campbell recommends no animal products at all, and Pollan is more moderate. I wrote in my last post about my own reasons for a plant-based diet, which includes no dairy or flesh food of any kind, eggs from my own chickens, and occasional locally-sourced honey.

And now, 2 more criteria that I've added.

3. Organic as possible.

I don't like to eat chemicals disguised as food, and I don't like to eat food that's been sprayed with chemicals. I know that eating this way can be more expensive, but when it comes to food choices, I'd rather spend more money on food and less on health care bills. (I don't mean to imply that all health problems can be avoided through diet, but I am convinced by the research that diet can at least reduce the risk of most major diseases.)

4. Grown as close to home as possible.

As evidenced by the pictures from my garden throughout this post, I love to grow my own food.  I grow several types of herbs, tomatoes, green beans, Swiss chard, peppers, tomatillos, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cucumbers, squash, carrots, beets, spinach, mustard greens, and bok choy.  I just put in some brussels sprouts, a first for me. These are all grown on a very small urban plot.

Still, I couldn't begin to grow all the food we need, so I spend a lot of time at local farmers' markets, and can and freeze as much of the local harvest as I can.

Now, applying these 4 criteria sounds great, in theory.  In practice, it's a little harder.  For example, is it better to drink locally-grown goat's milk, or processed and packaged soy milk?  Criteria #1 and #4 are in conflict with #2.  For now, my choice is to primarily make my own nut milk (but locally grown nuts aren't readily available, compromising criteria #4), and supplement with packaged almond or soy milk. Overall, though, I do have relatively few processed foods in my pantry. In fact, I ran a 5k this morning where we had to bring a canned food item for a food pantry, and I struggled to find something!

This approach requires one thing that a lot of people struggle with: time. It takes more time to can, freeze, and cook most of your own meals. Still, I feel there are few better ways to spend time than providing a healthy and truly satisfying meal for myself and my family. I have a full-time job and I am a doctoral student, 2 time-consuming activities. However, I also have the benefits that come along with adequate financial resources, and as someone who has in the past struggled to make ends meet, I know how much time being financially stressed can suck up, from transportation difficulties to child care to lost sleep from the worry.

However, a quick internet search turned up some creative ideas and resources that may be helpful. I just found The Poor Vegan website, for example.

Check out those barbecue tofu fries!

Another great resource is 101 Cookbooks, which focuses on in-season produce and easy-to-replicate healthy recipes. The recipe archive is well-indexed, and includes a list of vegan and vegetarian recipes.

For me, the important thing is to be thoughtful and intentional about one's food choices. You might make different choices than I make, but if we are both doing our best to nourish ourselves and our world through what we eat, we can't help but improve both.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On going (almost) vegan--And why

I wrote here about my intention to go vegan between May 9 and July 4. I promised to try to blog along the way, but, um...that didn't happen.

However, I did go vegan, and still mostly am. The first week was just slightly challenging, but because I was already vegetarian, and had been vegan before, it didn't take long to get into the swing of things. I complemented my diet with vegan-related reading and adventures.  Today's post will focus on WHY I've made the change to a plant-based diet, and my next post will focus on HOW.  My two reasons are based on animal welfare and human health.  (An animal-based diet also has significant implications for the environment, but my views on that have not changed for a long time, so I'm not focusing on that here.  Still, it is one of my reasons, and I encourage you to read up on it, if you aren't aware of the effects.)

For one, I re-read Peter Singer's Animal Liberation. His principle argument is that animals are sentient beings with their own interests, and that to ignore these interests is morally indefensible, in much the same way that ignoring people's interests on the basis of sex or race is reprehensible. Anyone who has spent any time with animals knows that they have definite desires and moods, and that they can also have quite a bit of intelligence.  I have to agree with his central premise.  If you're inclined to disagree (or agree), read the book.  He makes the argument much better than I ever could.

So, as far as my own ethics, I really cannot justify eating animals or anything they produce that has been gained via inhumane conditions, since I don't need them to survive. And, in fact, the second book I read leads me to believe that not only do most people not need animal products to survive, they are in fact quite bad for us.

I'm speaking of Cornell professor T. Colin Campbell's The China Study, which reports his own research, as well as decades of nutritional research, that indicates that a whole foods, plant-based diet is the best for promoting health and preventing a myriad of diseases. Again, he makes the case much better than I could, so I encourage you to read the book before deciding if you agree or disagree.

(These books are just a couple of those that have influenced my thinking.  Another is John Robbins' Diet for a New America; his latest work is The Food Revolution.)

The health impact of diet was punctuated by the recent news from my mom that, a decade after she had open heart surgery, she now needed to have stents placed. Although her numbers are kept low in part by medication (whereas mine are not), our actual blood cholesterol profiles are similar, with both of us low in good (HDL) cholesterol and high in triglycerides. Mine are only slightly concerning at this point, but I wonder how much worse they would be if I had a more animal-based diet. (My mom is okay, and I hope I will be able to persuade her to change her diet even more than she already has.)

My vegan adventure was volunteering for a work party at Farm Sanctuary. (That's where all the pictures for this post are from.) It was so great to spend time with the animals and contribute to an organization that has done a great deal to improve the conditions of farm animals in the U.S. Also, as someone who grew up in rural Indiana, amidst horses, pigs, and cows, I still cherish the fresh country air and good honest physical labor.

You may have noticed that my title says almost "vegan."  We do still have our backyard chickens, and I eat their eggs. I know exactly how they are treated and I feel very comfortable that they are living a happy chicken life. Although I bought them from the farmer who raised them with great affection, I know less about where they originally came from, and I will need to consider that if and when we decide to increase our flock.

Also, in my post of May 9, I wrote, "learning about local and sustainable food systems has led me to believe that meat and dairy can be humanely raised and in some situations may be the most sustainable option. So, I have added locally-raised goat's milk yogurt and cheese, as well as butter." I feel less comfortable with this statement now. For one, Peter Singer writes about how most agricultural practices involve separating mother and child fairly early on, which undoubtedly causes distress for both.  I need to learn more about this.

For now, I am not eating any other animal products than my own girls' eggs. I do plan to visit the local goat farm, which offers regular tours, and see what I learn and how I feel after that. As one of my friends said, "You probably won't be happy with how any animals are treated unless you're taking care of them yourself." That's probably true, at least when it comes to food-producing animals, but for now I am maintaining a somewhat open mind on the subject.

Based on this, I'm uncomfortable with identifying with the label "vegan," although I am grateful for the contributions that vegan activists have made towards raising awareness about inhumane treatment of farm and research animals.  And I am happy to join forces with vegan organizations (such as Farm Sanctuary) in common cause to improve the lives of animals.

However, many vegans are adamantly opposed to backyard chickens; unfortunately, some articles on vegan websites grossly misstate the conditions and risks of raising backyard chickens.  Having a relationship with animals is actually a great way to gain more respect and compassion for animals.  At the same time, it is true that one does not need eggs to survive and be healthy.

Also, most people who identify as vegan avoid honey.  And yet, there is a growing movement of locally-based beekeepers striving to keep a healthy population of bees around, as they are necessary pollinators, and Colony Collapse Disorder is a significant ecological problem. These choices, to me, are not clear-cut.

T. Colin Campbell prefers the phrase "plant-based," which I think is what I'm going with for the moment.  The identity label, anyway, is less important to me than the impact of my choices, for me, the animals, and the environment.

Next time--more thoughts on intentional food choices, and some tips on how to make the change!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Food & Garden Update

Most dinners in June involve some combination of greens from the garden, local veggies and/or fruit, and grains. The grain here is farro, grown not too far away by Cayuga Pure Organics, and available at Abundance Coop or online here.  That chicken-looking stuff is Gardein chik'n scallopini (vegan).  Most of our dinners are eaten outside these days; they are just waiting for us on the porch here in this picture!

We have had a LOT of rain (thought obviously not as much as other parts of the country) and cool temperatures, so things are growing quite well.  Including the weeds, but I left those out of the pictures!

For the first year, my carrots are very happy.  I already thinned them once, and I should probably do so again, but I have a hard time pulling up living things (unless, of course, they are inedible).

Perhaps from this picture, you can understand why we are eating salads for dinner every night!

Well, salads or something grilled, pizza, in this case.  I follow the directions from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes' web site.

One final salad for today.  This one with mint and greens from the garden, and peas and mulberries from the farmers' market.  Yum!

More garden pictures here.

What are you eating from your garden and local farms?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Remaining intentional

Traveling outside of my usual environs often provides me with a perspective I can't get in my everyday routine.  Sometimes it's a perspective on some problem or situation that's been troubling me, sometimes it's creative inspiration, sometimes it's a re-evaluation of that everyday routine. On a recent trip to Toronto, I got some perspective in all those areas.  For example, Toronto's a great place to be reminded of the fun of bike commuting.  Rochester's cold and rainy April has not inspired me to get on my bike as much I would like.

In particular, though, I realized that my food choices have become less intentional than they used to be.  I have been vegetarian for about 17 years now, much of that time vegan.  Then I began to feel uncomfortable calling myself vegan, because, really, it's impossible in our interconnected lives to be truly vegan, I believe.  Also, learning about local and sustainable food systems has led me to believe that meat and dairy can be humanely raised and in some situations may be the most sustainable option.  So, I have added locally-raised goat's milk yogurt and cheese, as well as butter.  However, some other much less local and nutritious items crept in, such as SunDrops in my trail mix.

Even before this trip, I had been toying with the idea of re-veganizing my diet.  And the amazing food I had on this trip sealed the deal (above, vegan "chicken" cutlets with mango and asparagus).  So, I am committing myself to eating vegan from now until July 4.  After that, maybe I'll add a few things back in.  Maybe not.  I'll try to blog/tweet about the adventure along the way.

In other news, though not unrelated to being intentional, check out these beautiful silk embroideries on display at the Textile Museum of Canada.  Millions of stitches in these textiles, all by hand.

It was a wonderful weekend away to celebrate my birthday and the end of the semester, and enjoy some much-needed time together.

And be reminded of what really matters.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Finding beauty

Hello, dear HandCraftedLife.  You were my first blog, and I do still care for you.  It is true that I have been distracted by various other online and social media sites.  But I still return to you when I want to be reminded of the beauty in life.

These pictures are from Lamberton Conservatory at Highland Park, and show that although it is still cold out, the plants and animal are responding to the lengthening days of spring.

And another place for beauty is the The Albright Knox Art Gallery. These pictures are from the current exhibit "Surveyor."

Since I began this blog, I have become a Ph.D. student, along with maintaining my full-time job and a couple of part-time jobs here and there.  I'm loving what I'm doing, but most of my writing energy is going into my professional life right now.  I will still post here when I can, and I hope some of you are still following me!

If you want to check out my other online presences, here's the deal:

You can follow my HandCraftedLife blog on Facebook using the NetworkedBlogs app:

handcraftedlife--updates on stuff I'm interested in
CCEdJWhite--for higher education/community college-related updates
And, a real life paying gig:

Chronicle of Higher Education 2-Year Track Blog:

Oh, and I just joined  Search for Julie White.

Let's keep in touch.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On acting strange

I had the afternoon off from work today, so I walked to the bus stop around mid-day, amidst melting snow which revealed the detritus of urban living--wrappers, banana peels, and unidentified objects which I chose not to look at too closely. Sometimes it's better not to know.

So, I get on the bus, which is starting to fill up. Now, I'm usually one of a very few people dressed in conformity with the norms of the "professional" workplace, and today was no exception. (Don't let that image above, from the website, fool you.) This fact seems to either encourage people to sit next to me, or repel them until there is no other choice. I never know which way it's going to go. I generally don't chat with other passengers, but if they start a conversation, I'll participate. One time I spent the whole 15 minutes talking to a passenger who recognized me from work and wanted to know why he couldn't get in to the college.

Another time I saw a former student who was amazed that I was riding the bus. Most people around here don't ride the bus unless they have no other choice of transportation. (Truth be told, I prefer my bike, but today was too windy and icy to deal with.) He said, with a smile, "You haven't forgotten where you came from." I smiled, even though the first 12 years of my life were spent on a small farm with one parent a factory worker and the other a lineman for the electric utility company. I didn't ride any form of public transportation until I visited Chicago as a first-year college student. And I'll admit that I was slightly terrified at the time.

Today, the seat next to me remained empty for a few stops. A young woman got on, and said loudly to a woman in front of me, "ExCUSE me." A minute later, I hear her say, "Well, I SAID excuse me." I don't hear the other passenger's response. The young woman says, "Oh, well, you got mental problems. God bless you." And she moves directly across the aisle.

Next stop, a few people get on, including a rather grizzled looking older man, holding a napkin up to his nostrils. As with the trash on the street, I prefer not to look too close as to why he's holding it there. He sits in the seat now vacated, next to the passenger alleged to have "mental problems." Meanwhile, the woman across the aisle is talking on the phone, saying, "This woman has mental problems. I don't know what's wrong with her...I'm sitting across the aisle from her now." (If I could hear her phone conversation, I imagine the passenger in question also could.)

Another minute later, and the grizzled man moves to sit next to me. He says, in a monotone voice, "That woman has some kind of mental problem." At this point I begin to think I'm on one of those candid camera-type shows. It's getting surreal. I still can't bring myself to look at the man, still holding the napkin up to his nostrils, and I just sort of grunt something in reply.

Apparently displeased with my lack of enthusiasm, he moves to another seat in the back. Another person gets in and sits next to me, and the rest of the short ride is uneventful.

I get off the bus and walk the short distance home, frankly anxious for the fresh air and lack of drama. Still, I am glad for that bus ride. I'm glad to be reminded of the full diversity of human experience.

I'm also reminded of a conversation on NPR about how colleges should respond to students who seem to be in distress. Several of them said that college administrators should take strong action whenever anyone "acts strange." That seems an inappropriate bar for action; when someone is threatening, or disruptive to learning, yes, but whenever anyone "acts strange"?

By whose norms and values? There were quite a few people "acting strange," at least by some people's judgment, today on the bus. But I didn't feel threatened by any of them. Only can someone who never encounters people of different social classes, abilities, challenges, and ways of living, make such a statement.

It's too easy for some of us to go directly from our house to our garage, get in our car, drive as close as possible to our place of work, work with people who are pretty much just like us, then turn around and reverse the whole trip. When you're so encapsulated like that in your own private property and homogeneous culture, with little contact with fresh air, you can forget that there's a whole big world out there.

Get yourself out there! As long as you're nice to me, I promise to smile when you act strange.

(Now, go read Jenny Joseph's warning just to get yourself in the right frame of mind.)


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