Blog Archive

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Recent Interview with My 11 Month Old

My Baby: Daddy, why haven’t you posted any of our conversations for the last two months?

Me: Ever since you actually started saying words, I’ve felt uncomfortable making up what you would say to me.

My Baby: Everyone knows that these “interviews” are just projections of your internal dialogue, a way of making your always-keep-it-complicated politics palatable…like when you tried to mix iron drops in my sweet potatoes. So why stop now? You should keep casting me as the Marxist Feminist, the naive radical without real experience in the world.

Me: You’re making me feel stupid.

My Baby: No, you’re making you feel stupid.

Me: Oh, right.

My Baby: Let’s pick up our conversation where we left off in October. I was saying that crises can also be opportunities. We live in a world where money and goods move from one country to another so fast that all social structures, including families, are always on the verge of collapse. You think your daddy has a good job in a Michigan car factory. Boom! That factory is on the Mexican border. Slam! It’s in China. Kablooeey! Myanmar. The union is gone and the health benefits are history. Daddy has to make ends meet and asks to mow the lawn of the CEO who moved the factory, but the Mexican guy who migrated here after his factory moved to China charges less.

Me: You’re depressing me.

My Baby: No, you’re depressing you.

Me: Right, I forgot.

My Baby: What you need to remember is that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) successfully organized the janitors in Houston and that they went on strike until their employers gave them contracts guaranteeing full-time work, health benefits, and a living wage. What you need to remember is that the Democrats took control of the US Congress and although that doesn’t mean fair trade policies will automatically prevail, it does mean our demands for protection of labor rights and the environment will not fall on completely deaf ears. What you need to remember is that even if the US government doesn’t change, the efforts of Brazil, India, and dozens of other developing countries, combined with the efforts of scholars, NGOs, and grassroots activists, have already stopped the Doha Round negotiations. What you need to remember is that mommy has way more opportunities to get a good job than she would have had fifty years ago and that the Salvadoran nanny we would have to hire because the government doesn’t provide childcare just might organize the other nannies with SEIU one day soon. Remember that Barrack Obama is just the beginning, that there are going to be legions of interracial leaders who seem to defy the old rules, people who don’t even remember when the world was divided between so-called capitalists and communists.

Me: I don’t know, BabyG. You’re just telling stories. The first story made me depressed. Now I’m supposed to be elated about the messed up world you are inheriting? You’re not even a year old, how can you tell me about hope?

My Baby: Our birthday is only three days away. I’ll be one. You’ll be twenty-nine. Together we’ll be thirty. That’s how old Jesus was when he taught the world about love and hope. This is a time to be excited.

Me: You’re right, I am excited. We’re going to get lots of presents! Boogey boogey boo, tickle tickle.

My Baby: Daddy, I feel like you are not listening to me.

Me: No, I am not listening to me. Ha! Got…me?

Monday, December 18, 2006

If you're driving alone from Ely to Elko @ 75mph @ 12am & your tire pops & you can't change it, & Triple A=Triple F for the environment THEN what?

According to our friend C's younger sister Kathy, you just call up the new, fantastic auto club you joined after canceling AAA's policies that made you sick because:

1) They oppose mass transit and energy efficient cars.
2) Their marketing strategies are aggressive, like credit card companies that hide key info in fine print.
3) They don't recognize same-sex partners as spouses.
4) They lobby for more highway building.

Remember that? The policies made you very, very angry, and so you cancelled that bad membership (and, knowing you, you called up to do it so you could let them know why.)

And, since you've never been one to be left in the lurch, you joined up with those fantastic others, the peeps at the Better World Club...who work at "balancing economic goals with social and environmental responsibility" by, for instance, kicking back a percentage of their profits to environmental cleanup and awareness.

Now it's midnight and you're all alone in the dark Nevada desert with a three-legged car, and instead of having nobody, domp dah dee dah!, you call up your rescuers just the way you would if you had AAA. Then you yourself kickback on the hood of your non-SUV, maybe even your Hybrid or veggie-oil-run-Volvo, and you await your rescue while perusing the galaxies, and hopefully remembering what it was you thought about stars when you were six years old,and thought a lot about the night sky. It could make you smile.  

Of course, I think that when you get home you'll want to shoot an email off to the Better World Club. Suggest that while AAA's environmental policy is horrid, it also can't be denied that the Better World Club's name isn't nearly as catchy (BWC?).

Ask them to say no to liberal frumpiness...beg them to come up with a catchier name. (Says MaGreen to the kettle that called the pot black...)

Keek!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Vegetarian Smarty Pants'

Woesy are the tales a number of my non-culturally-vegetarian friends have told about declaring their food choices to friends, lovers, family, and parents. Though many families come around to at least accepting their wayward muncher's habits, it almost always takes at least a very uncomfortable Thanksgiving or so before it happens.

My own father now not only accepts it, but enjoys cooking vegetarian meals for me and GreenDaddy when we come home. I suppose at a certain point, when you live far from your family, a good solid fact like "M. is a vegetarian" is a treasure. My dad may not know the particularities of how my tastes have changed, so he has a hard time finding just the right birthday gift, as he used to love to do; sometimes he and I spend torturous hours together because we're not even sure enough about each others' changing tastes to have good conversations...but he can count on the no-meat thing in our relationship, and I can tell he relishes it.

His meals say to me: it's true, we don't know each other as deeply as we did when you were a child, but look at this wonderful pasta I've created without the beef I'm so fond of...I made it because although I don't know everything about you, I know something important about the choices you make, and I want you to see that I'm still listening to you, I'm still helping you to be whatever it is you've become, even if I don't understand it.

Besides cooking me vegetarian suppers, these days, my father brags about me. He brags, according to all his friends, about my sweet husband, my weighty baby, and my handsome intelligence. He's always bragged about my smarts, though he makes fun of the vegetarianism even as he supports it. But now, thanks to the heads-up from T., I can explain to him that it is because of the very smarts of mine that he loves to brag up, that I don't eat meat. I can say, "Dad, I can't eat steak. My IQ is too high." Yuk, yuk, yuk.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I Need Your Birthday Cake Recipes

Purpose of this post: I'm begging for recipes & ideas

Well, we're having people over for BabyG's birthday and the question is: what do I do about cake?

The memory I'll indulge: Once my grandma made my father a sandwich cake, which she was very proud of, and which he still describes with shudders. I think there were spam layers, some sort of chopped veggie layers, and cream cheese layers. On white bread? Something like that. She made it because dad said he hated cake, and she wanted him to have a cake he'd like.

Moral: In most other ways I'd love to emulate my grandmother, but I don't want to bomb on the cake-thing.

BTW: I hate cake. And so does GreenDaddy.

Why cake matters: The photo, I guess. Maybe she'll have fun digging into it. I'm not sure.

Important note: I am a terribe baker. But deep down, no matter what I write afterwards, I want BabyG to have cake.

And: If at all possible, whatever cake, or cake variation I make...I'd like it to be impressive.

And: I realize my expecations are high and as of yet undefined. Please bear with me.

I am of twenty-two minds a few of which are:

1) Cook the baby some sugar free cake and don't jolt her into sugarhood.
a) But what kind of cake...not carrot. We are stealing friend Cos's
birthday open house idea, and so think we won't also steal the
delicious carrot cake his birthday starred.
b) Recipes anyone...? Or ideas about kinds?

12) Cook a cake alternative. I've read Jello is fun (but ew!...)
a) Any other ideas/opinions about this?

17) Cook her a massively chocolate cake with sugar and the rest.
a) Do they make "healthy" chocolate cakes?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Introducing our New Line of Blog Action Figures: GreenDaddy, MaGreen & BabyG


Last week GreenDaddy suggested that we'd have to kill Green Parenting for when I go out on the job market next year, because if people Googled my name something might spook them. So that night I painstakingly changed all our names to fit the others in BlogLand. It’s only half done…the rest will soon follow. I had been considering doing it anyway, because I can’t stop worrying about the saftey of posting both pictures of BabyG and her name. I figure I can get away with one or the other, safely. I love the sound of her name, I love writing it…but I would rather post photos.

This issue brings up what I can already see will be a great challenge for me as a parent: naming boundaries in the name of BG’s safety. I’m not a real rule-maker sort of person; I don’t want to be over-afraid. But because of mistakes I’ve made in my own life, I know I error in the direction of not-enough-consideration-of-possible-dangers. I want to be more thoughtful, more wise in choices I make for BG.

This choice making comes up in so many different ways. In the simplest of ways, it’s just letting her explore. The other night we were at a restaurant, and she was standing up on the booth, holding onto the edge of a cement table. I worried she was going to slip and hit her chin on the cement edge, even though I was right next to her and she couldn’t fall far or hurt herself badly. But I wasn’t hovering over her, I wasn’t that vigilant. If she slipped I knew it would hurt, but I thought it was better to let her explore, to stand there, to be a baby. And then she slipped and banged her chin, and she bit her lip and she howled. And I felt so stupid and terrible. The woman sitting next to me said, “I was waiting for that,” and gave me a tsk tsk look.

I tried to explain that it’s so hard deciding what to let the baby try. Or how hovering you should be. But she just looked at me like I was insane.

A much more complicated issue of choosing boundaries and dangers your child your face is in discussing immunizations, an issue we somehow missed discussing on Green Parenting. There are three camps: 1) Don’t immunize because the shots might be detrimental to your childrens’ health (especially if they contain Mercury, though are made without Mercury now; you can ask your doctor what kind of shots he/she gives); 2) Pick and choose what you’ll give the baby…some might give babies shots for the most serious diseases, but not “mild” ones, and others might not give babies shots for sexually transmitted diseases; 3) Immunize completely because you don’t want your baby at risk for a preventable disease for the rest of his/her life and because the older they are, the more difficult it is for them to take the shots.

For me, this issue is about choosing between two evils nobody wants to think about: poisoning your baby accidentally or not preventing their susceptibility to a potentially life-threatening disease. You hope neither will happen, and probably neither will. I prefer the possible accidental poisoning, because I think it’s less likely to happen than the other. But I don’t know what is in the shots, exactly; they might have had adverse effects. I just don’t know, the way I don’t know exactly the effect of a medicine on me twenty years from now. But I take it. It is risky. I know they've changed vaccines because of the protests of parents over the last two decades -- they're much safer. And vaccinating BabyG means she won't be spreading diseases to other peoples' children. Also, BabyG will probably be traveling in countries where there isn't a vaccine blanket, like there is in the US. I'd also rather know now if something goes wrong, than spend my life afraid I've set her up for a gigantic disaster. What if she got polio? How would I explain that to her? I'll always remember my grandma's description of caring for five babies with whooping cough, two of whom nearly died…because her sister convinced her not to vaccinate them. It turned her completely off to "natural" parenting of any kind.

I really worried about giving the vaccines, and luckily, they didn’t bother her at all. I cried when she got them, though. It was so frustrating to do tons of research, and to find no clear-cut answer. Proponents of either side of the issue implied the parents on the other side were negligent or worried about the wrong thing. But many of my friends swung the other way, and didn’t vaccinate at all. They were just as worried about their choice as I was. There wasn’t an easy choice. This choosing the better danger; this choosing the boundary business in the name of a defenseless baby’s, my defenseless baby’s livelihood is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Anonymizing on the internet is another aspect of these boundaries. We chose, at first, not to be anonymous. I was always worried about that choice, though. It’s less clunky to use real names; it’s more ‘real.” But I always felt slightly uncomfortable. The gamble is that no crazy freak will come after the baby we named and posted photos of on the internet. Probably none ever would have.

But how would I explain to my child that I just felt safe...oops…if all this backfired? Or explain it to myself if something went even more wrong? It’s easier for me to be experimental with things like her falling and bumping her chin. And the funny thing is, it’s much more likely she’ll fall and bump her chin in a certain scenario, than she’ll get a disease or she’ll be bothered by a crazy internet viewer. And I allow her more leniency to fall in situations where the fall is likely; my fear is greater in these things like immunization or random crazies, they’re so much less likely, but the stakes are so much higher.

So now we're named like a superhero family, which I guess we can handle. I still have more names to change, and then it’ll probably be several months before you can’t find this website through our real names.

If it hadn’t been such a pain to change so many names, post by post, I would have had a contest to choose the best names for our family. I didn’t think of that until too late. GreenDaddy did think of choosing names similar to our real ones…Roy, Myra, and Lola or something. But in the end we both preferred being obviously anonymous to being secretly so.

This post is all over the place, I know. I’d love any advice on how to make good boundaries. On when to know if you’re loopy with ridiculous fear or loopy with ridiculous fearlessness. And does anybody know if there’s a find and replace feature that can be attached to Blogger?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Green, Socially Responsible Gift Giving

Dec 2007 update

Ouch, says my pocketbook. But, alas, I have never figured out how to extricate myself from participating in the winter holidays’ madness. Plus, BabyG and GreenDaddy have birthdays December 22nd. And BabyG’s Dadi, GreenDaddy’s dad, has a birthday the 26th. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

The main reason I can’t excuse myself from gift-giving frenzies is that I like giving, and I like receiving. My dad liked holidays, especially this one. My family didn’t do a lot of things well…but holidays and gift giving were good. We never had tons of gifts, we just always exchanged thoughtful ones. And this is still important to me. I liked sitting in a room with the whole family, opening things one at a time, mulling over each, remembering them. It’s the surprise I love most. I like adorning my family and friends with things they’ll love but not expect. And these days, I enjoy figuring out how to give people surprising, delightful, AND worthwhile gifts…which means socially responsible, green, charitable, homemade, or local.

In my green gift guide, below, I’ve sort of categorized the sorts of gift genres I like. Sometimes I construct a green gift; sometimes I get an item that I would otherwise label hoary from a local shop or a used store and feel better about it; sometimes I get a fairly traded gift from the web. Generally This list will grow with time, with your suggestions, etc. And please do make suggestions.

This is newly updated for 2008. A couple caveats: I welcome suggestions, but this is not a site to advertise stores. I mention stores I've been to or shop at, but the goal here isn't to amass a long list of deserving stores. Mostly it's a list of 'generes' of giving with examples I particularly like. So feel free to leave info about your store in the comments, but don't be offended if I never ad it. There are millions of organic clothing stores, for example...I note this, and suggest people google them rather than this list being over-wrought.

SUPPORTING LOCAL ECONOMY
Basically, the local version of any of the following is better than the internet-purchased version in terms of supporting local businesses. Local meaning a store owned by an individual in your community--probably not a corporation-- or a non-profit organization in your community. If the choice is from Amazon or Target, I don’t see a huge difference, especially if you’re sending it to an Auntie in Argentina or something.
1) Crafts, Foods, Clothes from Locally Owned Fair Trade Shops.
Most major cities have a few. In Houston we have an ever growing number, though I most often frequent: Corazon, Taft Street Coffee, and Ten Thousand Villages (which is a chain, but a worthy one…). Hey, see what shops sell fair trade products in your part of the states (there’s not a world-wide listing, yet…but Google…)
2) Resale or antique shops. I am not a pro at Houston resale. Mostly, I go to a resale children’s shop called Young and Restless. In Montrose I go to Bluebird Circle, but I know this city abounds with good resale I don't know about. I will quote a little birdie's comment on adult resale rather than paraphrase: "Blue Bird on W Alabama is the granddaddy of resale - good selection of furniture and so forth and they sort the clothes by size. Catholic Charities on Lovett and the Junior League shop in the Heights also sort by size, but the Junior League store is best for the size fours of the world. Salvation Army on Washington and Goodwill on the North Freeway are the largest of their brethern."
3) Gifty Foods or Crafts from Farmers Markets Etc. We go to Central City Co-Op and they sell little edible items. Friends like Bayou City Farmer’s Market and Mid-Town Farmer’s Market. To find other Texas or US markets, go to Local Harvest.
4) Support A Local Charity instead of a Mega-One In Your Loved One’s Name. Too many to mention…
6) Gift certificates to local venues…restaurants, your favorite baby shop, a masseuse, an art class, a composting class, a cooking class, a writing class
7) Memberships to a local museum…children’s, mfa, natural science, zoo. 
8) Pass to a National Park in your area…go here
9) Shops of all Ilks. Childrens’, bookstores, bikes, hardware stores, antique shops. Might cost a little extra, but hey, no shipping and handling and the monetary and environmental costs it incurs.

GIVING DOUBLE, aka, SUPPORTING CHARITIES, SERVICE, JUSTICE:
All sorts of charities are making it very easy for you to give in another person’s honor. Most send the person something representative of your purchase, be it a certificate, a photo, a turtle tracking system, or the National Green Pages.
1) Giving That Benefits People: Give a cow to a family in a loved one’s name via Heifer International ... conservatives in the family?  They're pro-Heifer, from what I've gleaned in my own family.  You can all feel good about a gift from there.  Or help a rural community develop health or social services (or a number of other options) via Seva Foundation, Oxfam.  
2) Giving That Benefits Social Justice. Purchasing gift memberships for your loved ones to Oxfam, CoOp America, Pacifica, whatever organization it is you think they’d appreciate membership to.
3) Giving That Promotes the Environment. Trees for Life.
4) Giving That Promotes Conservation. Nature Conservancy gifts to save forests and reefs
5) Giving To Benefit Animals: Adopt and track a sea turtle throughout the year at Seaturtle.org, Farm Sanctuary
6) There are numerous websites that offer much longer lists of the many different ways you can give these sorts of gifts. The ones above caught my eye for various reasons. But here are three good sites to goto if none of the ones I’ve offered tip your kettles: JustGive.org, NoMoreSocks (defunct!), Oxfam, National Resources Defense Council
7) Echoage is a company that you ask guests to give $20 to for a gift (birthday is the idea on the site) and half that money goes to buying one gift for the child, the other goes to the cause of the child & parents' choice.

GIFT GIVING THAT PROMOTES EDUCATION , IMAGINATION &/OR IS SUPPORTIVE OF BUILDING FAMILY COMMUNITY:
There are millions of sites, so I won’t go into detail. But I like the ideas over at NoMoreSocks.
1) Scientific Toys
2) Board Games
3) Craft Items
4) Costumes, puppets…
5) Music
6) Photo related I have used Zazzle a couple of years to make mugs, aprons, t-shirts that make grandparents happy. Zazzle has a lot more options than similar sites for standard items. I am newly impressed with the sites Moo for unusual photo gifting options and the site QOOP because it makes nice photo books.

GIVING THAT GROWS:
I forgot this on my original lists, and it has been a longtime favorite gift of mine: sending seedlings or windowbox gardening kits to friends throughout the country. Last year I sent tomato plants to several relatives via Windowbox.com -- though they messed up two orders, they resent one and credited me money for the other, and I had a good experience. Windowbox promotes gardening for people w/o the space, which I think is a fabulous idea. Still, this year, my gifts will come via Seeds of Change because they sell organic plants and work hard at preserving biodiversity. You can buy a truffle tree for somebody to reap the benefits of, rent vines you get the bottles of wine from...

SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE ITEMS FROM SOME FAIR TRADE SHOP OR ‘GREEN’ COMPANY (ORGANIC, FAIRLY TRADED, AND/OR vegan):
Basically, you can get the green version of about anything, but it costs…Also, check to make sure item is really green…ie, many yoga mats from green companies are made out of gassing plastics. Many green things aren’t “fair trade” and “vice-versa.” I’m happy when I can get both (and can buy them locally!)…but it doesn’t always happen. I’d shop around for most any of these items…you CAN find good deals if you look hard enough
1) Clothes: Buying new (or used!), organic, worker friendly, fairly traded, and/or vegan clothes or wallets, bags, or shoes.
2) Crafts: Buying fairly traded crafts from around the world for your loved ones try Global Exchange, Bright Hope, Ten Thousand Villages, World of Good
3) Food Items: AKA fairly traded coffee, teas, chocolates…Global Exchange, CafĂ© Campesino, Shaman Chocolates, Glee Gum
4) Personal Care Items: Soaps, salts,at stores like Our Green House.
5) Toys: Wood, cotton, pvc-free…Kid Bean, Toys from the Heart, Peapods
Portals to find the stores that sell these goods: Co-Op America, Eco Mall, Global Exchange
6) Jewelry: Buy recycled gold etc from GreenKarat.com
7) Movies: Buy movies that support women filmmakers at WomenMakeMovies.com
8) Health equipment. Healthy yoga mats at stores like Natural Fitness.

SITES WITH MORE SPECIFIC GOOD IDEAS FOR GIFTS YOU CAN PURCHASE
1) The Green Guide via Grist
2) Co-Op America’s Green Pages
3) Environmental Defense
4) Tree hugger

BETTER WHEN THEY’RE USED…:
1) Books are good to give used, as they’re not particularly environmentally friendly. And it goes against the idea of local, but these days, it’s pretty easy to get a new-looking used book online. Or go the other way and get a funky old edition of a book, or an illustrated old edition…
2) Jewelry. Want to avoid supporting icky work practices in the mining industry & yet still get your sweetie some kind of bling? Antique jewelry is a good choice…
3) Baby/Kid Things. You can get good wooden baby toys and avoid those nasty plastic chemicals. Or a snowflake dress some baby only wore once. Or black patent leather shoes a baby wore twice. Or cool costumes for babies, kids, toddlers…
4) Furniture. Buy a crappy old table and refinish it. Or if you’ve got the dough, buy a refinished table.
5) Wrapping Paper. I’m ahead of myself here, but as long as you’re out, used stores (and your attic and about everywhere you look) is full of papers or cloth that make inexpensive, cool looking, distinctive wrappings.
6) Doo-dads. You know who you’re shopping for better than I do…go hunting!

HOME-MADE, CHEAP, OR FREE (AKA TIME)…GOOD FOR KIDS & STUDENTS OF ALL ILKS:
1) Bake. Deliver the goods to friends in lieu of purchased gifts
2) Books. Construct them yourself, write a poem or a story, or uses photos…or both…
3) Ornaments, picture frames, magnets. Go to a craft store (or a used store) find materials, and concoct them.
4) Calendars, cds, videos. Use the computer to make calendars or cds or a video
4) Compose. Songs, poems, stories, plays, portraits, dances…
5) Work. Clean out somebody’s garage, cupboards, paint their porch, weed their garden…
6) Sculpt. With clay or snow or granite.
7) Cross pollinate these and other ideas you have…
8) Puppets. Make puppets for the kids in your life…

HOARY GIFT GIVING:
A few trashy gifts that are not fair-trade, environmentally friendly, local, organic, or educational always slip into my giving. I don’t stress out too much, because I go out of my way to keep their numbers down. Last year I knew somebody who needed a talking Jackie Kennedy doll, so I will look locally and/or used…but I’m not holding my breath.
1) One way around this is to buy your gifts through sites like HEARTof.com, which is a portal you enter before shopping at regular places like Amazon or the Gap...but if you do enter these places through the HEARTof hurdel 75% of your purchase money goes to a charity of your choice. Similar organizations that give less money -- 35% -- are GreaterGood.com or IGive.com.

GIVING FRESH AIR:
1) Surprise the family with an outing to some outdoor place on your gift exchange day…an orchard, a sledding hill, a river, a park…bring snacks


***This is newly updated for 2007. A couple caveats: I welcome suggestions, but this is not a site to advertise stores. I mention stores I've been to or shop at, but the goal here isn't to amass a long list of deserving stores. Mostly it's a list of 'generes' of giving with examples I particularly like. So feel free to leave info about your store in the comments, but don't be offended if I never ad it. There are millions of organic clothing stores, for example...I note this, and suggest people google them rather than this list being over-wrought.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Green Parents of Hatchet Cove Farm

On this blog, we’ve chronicled our efforts to defy the SUV-centered, socially-fractured, concrete and strip mall, Velveeta cheese and microwaved broccoli culture of this great city Houston. Today’s post, however, is a break from our urban struggle. We had the honor of interviewing two young organic farmers from Maine – Bill Pluecker and Reba Richardson. They have a beautiful toddler and are visiting Houston to see their brother, who is a friend of mine, for the Thanksgiving holiday.

I always tell MaGreen that our baby should grow up to be an organic farmer and she tells me that I have a romantic notion of organic farmers’ lives. So I jumped at the chance to talk with Bill and Reba. The interview did indeed disillusion me of my romantic ideas about the organic farming life, but it also renewed my respect and admiration for organic farmers. Their lives are clearly not an escape from the tribulations of modern life. They are busy and overwhelmed. They have a hard time balancing family life and work. And yet, the satisfaction they get from their labor is so clear. And they look so damn healthy. Not like appendages to computer workstations. I want to become an organic farmer just to have such a strong, vital body.

To hear the interview, click here – interview of the green parents of Hatchet Cove Farms.

If you live near Friendship, Maine, I would like to encourage you to join their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. You can reach them at 207 832 2264.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Plucking the Tofu in time for Thanksgiving

The last post was a little long and self-indulgent. But my nostalgic demon had to have it before I could get on to what I wanted to write, which is more on the topic of Green Parenting, and is short and sweet... Although it is another cooking post, but I promise it's the last for awhile.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks learning how to cook tofu. I haven't learned sooner because I'm terrified of marninades. But since I've been an on-off vegetarian for over ten years, I figured it's about time I got over that hump. Oh, and when I write, "I've been learning to cook tofu" I mean, actually, that I’ve just tried the same two recipes twice: A Veggie Loaf and a Veggie Cutlets with gravy.

I’m doing this partially in order to provide my family with tasty food on Thanksgiving, but mostly because I just miss hearty food supplemented with a vegetable, sometimes, and beans and/or pasta doesn’t always do it for me. I'm not experimenting with the Tofurkey because that's my friend Chuck's territory.

I found the recipes at Vegweb.com, and since I really hate most tofu-based meat replacements, and I really loved these recipes, I decided I ought to share them. I don’t know how long the link will work, as they’re special Thanksgiving recipes, but if it breaks, go to VegWeb.com and look up holiday/Thanksgiving recipes.

The two I like are Thanksgiving Meatloaf and Marc’s Cutlets -- and note, something like fifty other people also gave them five stars... And I'm sure I don't need to tell you these hardcore vegan/vegetarian types are generally pretty damned stingy with the stars. Both recipes are really well flavored...

My special notes for anybody who actually decides to lift one of these recipes:
Veggie Cutlets: a) you eventually turn the marinade into a gravy GreenDaddy is a huge fan of, and which will allow us to finally have gravy on Thanksgiving; b)I pressed, then froze, then thawed the tofu before marinating; c) I dipped the marinated chunks in egg to make the breading stick better, added chopped almonds to the breading to make it more glamorous, and cooked it in the oven instead of on the stove. GreenDaddy likes the baked, which are crunchier; I like the fried, which are fattier, but still crunchy.

Meat Loaf: I didn't try, but think you could use the old tofurkey-collander method to make this shaped like a dead and plucked turkey. I also accidentally purreed the onions on my first round of making it, and I think it made the recipe better, it wasn't at all crumbly like the second round was.

So there you have it. And if anybody out there can point me to any other types of tofu recipes...please do!

Catalogue of Thanksgivings...

The first Thanksgivings I remember were celebrated in the house I grew up in, which was attached to my dad’s bar, the Three Legged Dog Saloon. He invited anybody without family to join – that usually meant men working on the oil rigs, women who had crushes on my dad, ‘barmaids’, and a few Utes who lived on the reservation the bar was in and were regulars. People crowded around a table filled with generic Thanksgiving fare that my father always made himself: turkey, potatoes, beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pies. Lot’s of wine, too, but that was store bought. I was usually the only child, but I relished that role. Everybody was extra kind to me because of it, especially on this day when everybody missed the vestiges of real families and a little girl fed their nostalgia as much as the food and the tradition did.

After that, there were Thanksgivings I spent in Salt Lake City, which I never enjoyed as much because they were formal and lacked the chaos I associated with the day. And then there was the college Thanksgiving I forgot about until seven or eight at night, when my friend Nick Jackson and I went to a convenience store and bought a couple turkey pot pies (only in Minnesota do convenience stores carry pot pies). It felt hip and I was impressed with our ingenuity.

In New York City I cooked my first bird in a fast-cook method, because I didn’t realize how long it took to thaw a turkey. My college friends Wi Sorenson and Eric Heaton refused to eat it because, though I found it tantalizingly juicy, they were convinced it was raw and might kill them. I was congenially distressed.

In Houston, I spent a few Thanksgivings with the same friends, usually at the Wolfes’ fabulous abode. About sixteen close friends from the writing program all smoked up before dinner, and we ate Steve’s incredible food, and passed out all over his house, our sleep sound as Rip Van Winkle’s (which was appropriate as Van Winkle himself was a creation of one of our friends’ great, great, great, etc. granfather.).

When that group broke up, I hosted several at my little blue house. These events were like my fathers’, filled with people I knew, but usually not very well. We drank wine and argued and flirted and had a good time. Finally, I became a vegetarian again, as I had been in college. My first vegetarian Thanksgiving was actually a vegan one, which I spent at my friend Chuck’s. We awaited Janice Blue, host of Pacifica’s Go Vegan Texas, like she was the Easter Bunny, and when she arrived with her Textured Soy Protein Turkey, the countless sweet potato, corn, and barley dishes immediately appeared not only less oppressive, but ordained.

By then I was dating GreenDaddy, and my mom joined our first Thanksgiving together – it was the first Thanksgiving I’d spent with a family member since I was 18. My friend Kate was going to bring a turkey, but she was very stressed, and for the only time in the history of my knowing her, she bailed on bringing it over late on in the game --the night before Thanksgiving. My mom needed a turkey and was worried it would never thaw in time…but luckily, Houston isn’t Myton, Utah, and not all turkeys are frozen. We went to Whole Foods, picked one up, and cooked it with our friend Jenny’s help. Mom came the following year, but the year after that she was too sick; and now she’s coming again this year.

For the first time in years, we’ll have Thanksgiving at the Wolfe’s again. So the Houston Thanksgivings come full circle. And actually, a good chunk of the original Wolfe Thanksgiving participants will be at this years’ event. And my mom will be here, so I’m excited. Steve and Diana will have a turkey, Chuck will bring Tofurkey, and I will bring some foods derivitave of the Americas…Amyrynth stuffing, probably, and I’ll also bring either vegy loaf or vegy cutlets.

And it’s BabyG’s first Thanksgiving. She had a mild bout of Scarlet Fever and had to take Amoxicillan, and since then has refused most food outside of breast milk, so she’ll be vegetarian this year…though she’s about the size of a big turkey.

Thanksgiving is a holiday I’ve spent with so many people, many of whom I no longer am in contact with, and many of whom I still see daily. I like that. I like that my father modeled it as a night of community and that I continue to celebrate it in this way. That’s about as profound as I feel like being, and after over a week of no posts, I feel like owe more to the blogging world. But I just wanted to say I like Thanksgiving, and I am happy to have a little baby girl and a fabulous husband to celebrate the next couple dozen or so with.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My Pasta Recipe and the Wagon

Last night, for the first time in months, I concocted my standard pasta dish -- a core recipe I goof around with about every time I make, depending on the attributes of my pantry, but that turns out "good" about 90% of the time.

  1. You boil shredded kale or collards with penne noodles -- or you mostly boil the noodles, then add spinach about thirty seconds before you take the noodles out
  2. Meanwhile, you saute 6 garlic cloves and a hot red pepper in about 1/3 c. oil, along with any other vegetables you'd like to star, and usually whole walnut pieces.
  3. You add a little marinara sauce...store-bought works out okay, if you're pressed, because of all your other additions. Even plain Pomi (boxed tomatoes) sauce, or chopped tomatoes, works. If you use about 1/3 c of oil in the sauteeing, use about 1/2 cup of tomato sauce. Or use less oil and more sauce. Let it all cook until you have the noodles & greens drained.
  4. Then mix in sauce w/noodles & greens. Add about two tomatoes diced fairly largely, and fresh Parmesan. Salt it. It's very tasty.
  5. Sometimes I puree lots of nuts & basil & add that when I am combining the sauce & noodles & greens. Or I add nuts and shredded parsley. I often add carrots to the saute, or a leek, whatever vegetable looks handy. Last night I added shredded yam to the boiling water (which neither added nor detracted, so was sort of pointless).


I generally make this about once every couple weeks, maybe a little more frequently. It is always spicy and comforting.

Last night GreenDaddy said, "Wow! I just thought you were going to use bottled sauce on spaghetti." As if I were Queen Ragu©

So since I've made this non-bottled-sauce thing for years I thought: "Since when have I ever done that?" And then I thought a minute more and remembered how demented my comprehensive exams made our eating habits...for at least three months, we had broken all major rules of food:

We ate out almost every day, and ordered in a pizza once a week, at least.

When we almost bankrupted ourselves accomplishing the former, I bought lots of frozen dinners -- "natural" -- but, what does that MEAN?, right?

One night, GreenDaddy asked what I wanted do for dinner, with the cringe he had recently developed specifically for that question. By this point, the word "frozen" put tears into his eyes, and stressed as I was, I took pity and found some pasta in a cabinet. We had no store-bought sauce -- I never buy that shit, right? -- and no Pomi or garlic or peppers or carrots or nuts or basil.

But I recalled that during my white trash past, we often dumped a can of cream of mushroom soup over pasta and called it fabulous. So I dumped a can of Organic Wolfgang Puck Mushroom Soup over the pasta.

Campbell's soups always have the benefit of tasting like something salty but not exactly repulsive. They recall, at least for me, the tastes of childhood. So even if they help you make something foul tasting in concept -- like Tuna Casserole or spaghetti with fake sauce -- it's a fondness-inducing sort of foul taste you're creating.

Not so with the Wolfgang Puck organic cream of mushroom.

So that next day I went out and bought four bottles of tomato sauce and GreenDaddy went out and bought three. And we ate bottled tomato sauce on spaghetti one night, and frozen dinners the next, for about three weeks straight.

[[Okay....This blogpost is interrupted, officially. Something just busted into the attic. A critter. How do I get it out without going up there???}}

[back to the blogpost]

So one thing the comps have made me, you're noticing, is long in getting to a point. But I do have one.

After all these years of conscious eating and serious choices, just how did our 'greenness' go poof so completely in a matter of months? And it wasn't just the food. On the few occasions I cooked, I didn't even take the scraps to the compost, because GreenDaddy is too harried to turn the soil, and I'm scared of it. And I haven't made all BabyG's baby food -- she's eaten lots of organic, pre-made baby food. And a couple weeks ago somebody stole the kitchen recycling bin, so I stopped recycling some kitcheny things.

Which isn't to say I'm not on track now. But how easily did we, the people with a website called Green Parenting, fall into Greyish Parenting! I just read Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony and a running theme is: "It isn't easy."

And that's such a bummer. Especially when you really, really believe you ought to be green.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

More Thawing of My Jello Brains: Halloween

Saturday I spent making our Halloween costumes, and then went to our friend Kate’s fabulous Halloween party, where BabyG fell asleep and we stayed later than we expected. I even got to return, after putting BabyG to bed at home, because we’d swiped Nicole’s purse on accident. I got to stay up till one or two talking with Kate and Nicole, the last of the partiers.

On Halloween itself, I completely didn't know it was Halloween. I thought it was Wednesday, not Tuesday. All night long I was convinced the School District had announced kids had to go out a day earlier. Don't ask me why I came to this conclusion: I just saw kids dressed up in a grocery store and decided it was the wrong day. When trick-or-treaters came, I gave them candy, but I still thought it was October 30th. I said to 13 year old next-door-neighbor-boy, in a tone of voice suggesting that he was on my side and thought Halloween should be celebrated on the 31st: "But you're having your party tomorrow, right?"

"This would be my party," he said, mortified, rolling his eyes the way 13 year-old-boys with loopy neighbors are apt to do. But me? I thought, "How sweet, Ben's getting moody and sulky for no reason at all." But still didn't think it was Halloween. Not until I got online, and I saw the date, did it occur to me.

BabyG was in bed by the time I realized she should've been wearing the Itsy Bitsy Spider outfit I made her. At Kate's, she was the spider, and I made GreenDaddy into a water spout, and I was the sun and the rain. These were the first costumes I ever put any real thought into…and the itsy bitsy spider was the first Martha Stewart ‘recipe’ I ever followed. It was a no-sew costume, which I mistakenly thought meant simple and not-time consuming.

I used tools I’d forgotten about: a razor, wire, duct tape, a glue gun, and cardboard. It was very relaxing and all-consuming, much to Raj’s chagrin, as he had a paper to write. He put off all his work until my comps were over, and then I spent my first “freeday” and his first “workday” slacking.

But making BabyG’s costume was a little bit of a coup for me. It’s definitely one of the things I’ve done in order to undo my own Halloween experiences growing up. I never had the cool parent-help-made costumes. I was always made out of whatever was laying around the house after the Halloween party at my dad's bar. One year my dad made me into a cone head…a Saturday Night Live skit based costume my dad had worn the year before. Another year I was half witch, half Snoopy, because my dad found green paint and we had a witch’s hat from one of the barmaids, and somebody picked up a plastic Snoopy mask at the grocery store. But the most memorable year was when I was eight or nine and I trick or treated wearing my step-mother’s fur coat, wearing dog ears, and told people I was a stray.

So I felt very hefty and supreme spending an afternoon constructing a costume for BabyG that looked like somebody (new to crafts) cared. Which isn’t really fair to my parents, because there is something to be said for the on-the-spot-creativity Halloween evoked in my family…on the spot thinking is probably one of the best traits I inherited from my dad, at least.

And of course, if you asked BabyG about it, she’d tell you she didn’t really like wearing spider legs. Luckily, her annoyance at the legs only enhanced her costume. Her pal Cosmo had a Superman outfit comfy enough to sleep in. I saw the question in her eyes: Couldn’t mommy have just found me some Wonder Woman Underoos?

Alas, dear BabyG, Momma couldn’t have. You will probably work hard to let your kids trick or treat in whatever get-up they can muster…but for the next few years, at least, I’m going to have to impress myself with my sloppy, well-meant craft-making, at your expense. When you’re old enough to vocalize, I promise to use the glue gun according to your specifications.

Digression for my Thawing Brain

Obviously everybody in the world is dying to know what I did with my first free moments after having taken my PhD comprehensive exams…which I won’t know if I passed until my graders tell the English department. IT COULD BE YEARS. But probably will only be days…

Because of Netflix, GreenDaddy and I watched The Bicycle Thief. It had a cute little boy in it. (But if my wife sold our linens to buy me a bike, and if the bike was stolen, and if without the bike my family would starve, I would not drag my son through the streets of Rome, looking for a bike that looks like all the others. I might try to get a loan or get help, and if after a few hours of that nothing gave, I would, first thing, enlist my cute son to help me steal some well-off-looking person’s bike and not even feel bad. Not because I want to teach him not to like rich people, but because I want to teach him how I like my family not to die of hunger. If I felt a little bad about it, after I started earning the big bucks as a bike messenger, I would take him to donate a bike to somebody else who might starve without it...because, dear me, I am a dirty hippy...so, if you ever find out the grizzlybirds at Greenparenting are starving and need something you have, better look out...)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Free Hugs ReUppies

Well, I took both comps last week but am not quite thawed out enough to begin blogging.

But I thought I'd wet my feet by learning to post a U-Tube video on the blog...and perhaps you've seen this video, but I've been in bookland for awhile. It was nice to see this on the way out.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

An Interview with Laurie Boucke, the Guru of Infant Potty Training

Laurie Boucke has been researching infant potty training since using it with her third son in 1979. She is the author of three books on the subject. Her most popular book is Infant Potty Training: A Gentle and Primeval Method Adapted to Modern Living, which has been translated into Italian, German, and Dutch. Her work on infant potty training has been written about in the New York Times, The Boston Globe, and other major newspapers. Her documentary, Potty Whispering, is scheduled to be released in November 2006. She kindly joined me for a live telephone interview from Boulder, Colorado on Border Crossings, a radio show on Houston's Pacifica Radio Station, KPFT 90.1.

Click here to listen to the interview. The whole thing is nearly forty-five minutes. She gives a brief explanation of the method at the beginning. We had a lot of fun doing the interview, so I imagine it will be fun to listen to. Also, here is a link to more information about infant potty training that is mentioned during the interview: pottywhisperer.com.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I Love My Poetic Husband

We've had a very stressful last week or so...BabyG got strep that turned into very mild scarlet fever...and was understandably, vociferously, and persistantly aggrieved...GreenDaddy got an unknown, draining sickness and a headache...I tried to study every spare moment...GreenDaddy's hardrive crashed with an already-three-days-late joint project on it...I started making the stressed-out grimace GreenDaddy hates...it rained inside my car which smells like rotting corpse breath, now...BabyG was too sick to do her favorite weekend-at-the-pool-with-Daddy routine...

And now my comps are a week away! I study every night until 2am because I get at least three, sometimes four hours of absolute alone time.

In all this muck, GreenDaddy wrote me a poem...And I wanted to post it because my concept of Green Parenting isn't just about junk mail, overgrown gardens, and the general lifestyle of dirty hippies: it's about relationships, and supporting not only the children in the family, but the grown-ups...and I feel so lucky to have a poetic, caring, supportive husband at this juncture that I could cross the street with my eyes closed.


A Great Vibration

When I took courses in physics I learned about particles
about the resonance of benzene rings
about the supposed measurability of all things
as if a meter exists for all phenomena
and if a given meter does not exist
it will be invented.

In philosophy courses I learned about limits to knowledge
about the failure of metaphors to describe the electron
about the difference between the wavelength for red
and the lived experience of redness
as if the connection between consciousness and the world
will never ever be understood.

And yet, at midnight last night,
when I walked out of the bedroom
there was a great vibration
not in the air
but in the substratum
in the ether
in the layer of the universe that Michelson and Morely
proved does not exist
and I could sense that it was coming from your head.

Your books were spread across the table
-- the classics, the masterpieces, the cannon! --
and you had turned them into something shimmering
like a thin layer of water
spilling over a dark stone.






 

Saturday, October 14, 2006

I Talk Too Much We're Rude, Deal With It

Friday, our blog was reviewed by I Talk Too Much, We're Rude, Deal With It, a group of people whose schtik is, for the most part, to say nasty things about other peoples' blogs. Not surprisingly, they were very angry about our site.

The reviewer was so put off he couldn't muster more than three sentences about why he hates it. Usually they devote at least five or six paragraphs. So we stunned him with horror, bascially. The best part to read in the reviews, really, is the comments, though.

Things that put people off:
1) GreenDaddy taking BabyG to the Pro-choice rally
2) The site design
3) Our "enviro-fascism"
4) Dirty hippiness of the site
5) They think their lives are not political, and by extension, that our attempts at Green Parenting are somehow more political than their blissfully ignoring the environment, society, etc.

A couple people on their site liked ours, which was nice; one woman defended Raj's taking BabyG to the rally.

I'm the one who put the site up for review because I just wondered what people in other facets of life think of a blog lik ours.

I'm actually very satisfied with the review, for some reason. Most of our friends, and commenting readers, think the way we do. I start thinking everybody believes the same as we do. It's a good reality check to remember a lot of people are afraid and/or annoyed by people consciously making choices.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Incompetent Gardener, Part II

I had a dream a year ago, before our baby was born that by this time I would no longer be the incompetent gardener. I dreamed that our whole yard would be edible and that I would have a rotation of plants that produced seasonal, organic food to supplement our regular groceries. I dreamed of turning our food waste into compost and using that compost to fertilize our garden, thereby avoiding pesticides and chemical fertilizers. But with childcare, my forty-hour work week, and MaGreen preparing for her doctoral degree exams, our yard looks rather pathetic. And BabyG has strep right now.

My garden plots are mostly overgrown with weeds. The six tomato plants I bought never produced a single tomato. They are scraggly vines. I should pull them all out, but I just look at them with disappointment every time I park my bicycle by the side of the house. The seeds I bought from Bountiful Gardens are slowly becoming unviable in the refrigerator.

Even the hardy chard and dill plants I wrote about in my last installment of The Incompetent Gardener finally died. It was these two survivors that "renewed my enthusiasm not only for gardening, but for the whole green parenting project." I was again on the verge of giving up on gardening altogether as a silly romantic yearning. Then one afternoon my neighbor gave me new hope. I'm not sure neighbor is the right word. He shares a long wall with us in the split duplex we live in. He is a union electrician and is given to walking around the property aimlessly, poking at the ground, or talking to the sky. When I saw him that one afternoon, he showed me his latest discovery, an oak seedling growing next to my tomato patch. Although my soil improvement and constant watering did not produce any tomatoes, a little oak tree thrived because of my efforts. A beautiful and momentous accident. I really want that seedling to grow up with BabyG, so I can tell her they were born around the same time and that were babies together. I dug it out of the ground and potted it in my compost so I can move it to a perfect spot this winter.

A few other survivors of my incompetence subsequently kept my hope alive. I planted an eggplant plant from the store and it grew huge. It has produced three eggplants in the same number of months. What I value about that eggplant is not the food it has produced, but that I have closely witnessed for the first time in my life how a flower turns into a fruit (or vegetable or berry or whatever it is). I am embarrassed to admit that I never saw how the blossom closes up and then slowly starts to fill out. How it takes on the purple color.



Another survivor is this basil plant we brought home from Whole Foods and stuck into the ground. It was destroyed by a tree trimming service we hired. I think they ran over it with a machine. MaGreen harvested the crushed plant down to a stump. Our neighbor really wanted the plant to live because he used the leaves in his salsa. I think his cravings coaxed the basil, and my gardening dreams, back to life

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Greendimes: another use for "Just One Dime A Day"

I keep not wanting to write because I feel like I've been off studying long enough that when I return I should have a fabulously written, hilarious, and/or life-changing post to regale you with. And I don't. But now GreenDaddy keeps dropping hints about the abandoned state of Green Parenting, and clearly, he is not talking about HIS having abandoned it. All I have time for lately is studying and eating and kissing my baby and, um, trying not to trip over ALL THE CREEPING MOUNDS OF JUNK MAIL THAT MAKE MY LIFE A WALKING, HOARY NIGHTMARE. You know what I mean.

A-hem. Speaking of junk mail, I just paid $36 to have this organization called Greendimes write letters to all the junk mail senders to take me, Raj, all our alter-egos, as well as the alter-egos of the people who moved away from this address years ago but left their trash-mongering names behind, off their lists. I could have paid $3 per month, but I opted to have them write letters once a month for a year because we're neck deep in mail here.

But wait! There's more!

Also, every month, these people are going to plant a tree to help replenish the world with more junkmail sources. (Remember: a tree is just another name for the Junkmail Bush). Right. Really, I think they're going to plant the tree to symbolically counter-act all the trees junkmail has killed...100 million a year, they say.

So we'll get twelve trees planted in our name, somewhere in the world...and our mail will no longer consist of things that come almost daily and that go straight the recycle bin: UFO related offers, chain letters, Marlboro coupons, and half-priced psychic readings...all meant for Aaron Fance (God DIME you Aaron Fance, wherever you are!); credit card offers in my name but good for anybody who opens the mail and sends it in (God DIME you too greedy people!); and, most peeving, of late, Party City Haloween ads filled with seven year old girls dressed like hookers...which is too depressing, really, to damn with a cheesy pun.

Anyways. Greendimes is a fairly new business, it seems. They have good customer service. I'm excited to see if this system works.

They also want other people beside me to join. I think you might as well. (And they're not paying me to say this. They don't even know what Green Parenting is.)

Well, now, toodle-oo. I'm off to study more books -- or actually to study the Too Late the Phalarope Summary on BookRags. I read the book but now they're all blurring in my head and I need something to sort my ideas out. ...but no more chatting, people, because my comps are just 13 DIMES AWAY...)

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Recent Interview with My Eight Month Old

Me: I’m not sure I want you to grow up thinking that we live in a Global Capitalist Patriarchy in perpetual crisis like you implied in our last interview. I want you to be happy. I want you to go hiking more than I have and spend less time shouting into megaphones.

My Baby: But Daddy, have you considered that another word for crisis is opportunity?

Me: I think I read that once in a Deepak Chopra book. Or did I hear that on the Oprah Winfrey show?

My Baby: I want you to be serious.

Me: OK. So you are saying that crises are openings. Ways out. Chances to create a different world. Opportunities to resist.

My Baby: Not just opportunities to resist, Daddy, but opportunities to live more joyfully.

Me: Give me an example.

My Baby: Well, we’ve talked about how capitalism tends to tear apart communities, social structures, and families. Even Sweden has elected a new government that plans on reducing state support to women and families on the grounds of making their economy more competitive in this era of globalization. It’s a race to the bottom. Families are preserved only in so far as they hide costs like childcare. On the other hand, as Rosemary Hennessey points out in Profit and Pleasure, women in paid employment can often live outside of traditional kinship ties. They can choose to refuse marriage. They can choose to be lesbians. They can choose to enter a heterosexual marriage. They can choose to leave one.

Me: So you want to be a lesbian?

My Baby: Would you be OK with that if I did?

Me: I want you to try to create the most meaningful and joyful life for yourself as possible. If that meant being a lesbian, I’d be fine with that.

My Baby: What if I think being a cheerleader for a professional American football team is the most meaningful and joyful life I can live?

Me: No.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Compact

I joined the Sierra Club last year so that I could vote against the board take-over attempt by anti-immigration forces. To my delight, I received a backpack, which we use as our diaper bag, and several publications, both in print and online. A couple of day ago I was reading a Sierra Club publication called The Green Life. It had an article about a little movement out of San Francisco called The Compact. People who agree to the Compact promise not to buy anything new for a full year. They can buy fresh food and medicine, but not new clothes, bike seats, vacuum cleaners, cell phones, or couches. The idea is to consume less and leave less of an ecological footprint.

That idea has been circulating in my head. I think I have probably unintentionally lived by the Compact in the recent past. When I was living on a teaching assistant salary, I may well have not bought anything new for a year, except for books. I have never enjoyed shopping. When my mom took me to the shoe store once, I remember sitting down to try some sneakers on. There was a scraggly haired guy – an Eastern Kentucky mountain man type – at the other end of the bench. He looked at me and said, "These are the first new shoes I'll have bought in five years."

"I have to get new shoes every year," I said. My feet were growing after all.

"I would keep wearing my old ones, but they've got big holes in them now," he said. The tattered shoes he held up were completely beyond repair. I had never seen anything like them. At that moment, to my mom's dismay, I decided that when my feet stopped growing I would wear my shoes out just like him.

So not only do I not enjoy shopping – every minute spent in a store I could be picking at my guitar or napping or talking with my grandma instead – I enjoy the familiarity of heavily used objects, the concavities worn in by one thousand footfalls. As my good friend Hosam pointed out to MaGreen last Tuesday, I only have three pairs of pants. For me, not buying stuff is a preference not a virtue. That said, I don't think it would be possible for new parents to live by the Compact. Newborns equal stuff. And if your children are older, living by the Compact would surely be a shortcut to what I call the Gandhi effect. That is, you might become famous for your lifestyle, but at least one of your children will deeply resent you and try to do everything to oppose your ideals.

All childless people should try the Compact, especially college students in San Francisco. For parents, maybe it is a worthwhile thought experiment. A mental exercise, but not an ideal. Some baby gear has to be bought new, right? Like carseats.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Male Primary Caregiver Tells All

A few months back, I heard from my old friend Darragh. He had seen our blog and found my email address. During the time we hadn't been in touch, he had become a dad too. His wife, who I went to medical school with before I quit, is training as a surgeon. She is half Chinese, half white. Darragh, who is from Ireland, is staying home as the primary caregiver, or PCG as he likes to put it. I'd like to share a mini-interview we did by email.

What's it like being a male PCG?
We are in a small town in Ohio called Gallipolis. Jocelyn is two weeks into an eight week rotation in a rural hospital. We love it here, the town is on the Ohio River and so is the small house we stay in. There are great hiking trails in the area. I use a Baby-Bjorn when hiking; both Meilyn (the baby) and Deckard (the dog) love it.

Being a male PCG, I obviously have a strong bond with Meilyn due to the time we spend together. We have exclusively breastfed her since birth, with the help of an electric breast pump. When Jocelyn feeds her directly from her breast it keeps the physical and emotional bond strong between them.

Another observation I have is that I will dress Meilyn with comfort being the primary concern and the child will stay in these clothes until they are dirty or no longer comfortable. Women in general tend to inflict their habit of constantly changing what they wear onto the child. She is not a doll. Men rule O.K.
What are your thoughts on childcare as an Irishman living in the States?
My biggest fear of raising a child in America is the quality of the public education system here. Ireland, although not flawless by any means, has an excellent public education system. All social and economic classes educate themselves together as private schools are virtually non-existent. Ireland also offers free third level education across the board (not means tested). This system not only reduces the poverty cycle but helps cement a singular sense of community that has a greater social conscience. A far less abrasive class and social system exists in Ireland than in America, in part because of this. I believe high quality education exclusively for the wealthy is immoral.
What do Americans take for granted that they should question?
As a guest in this country I am always uneasy criticizing America, especially in these overly patriotic times. The blind patriotism is diminishing slowly but surely and giving way to a more subtle blend of undiplomatic international arrogance. Despite my preceding statement please note that I do not want to convey the notion of a sinking hell that is America and Ireland or anywhere else for that matter as a shining beacon of social moral virtue. We are not concentrating on the imperfections of Ireland (of which there are many) or elsewhere, at this moment in time.

A society that cannot constantly examine its flaws, re-think, re-position, renew itself militarily, socially, and economically is a country that is not evolving, a country that is doomed. I am glad to say that America will always be a country that has a disgruntled public voicing their opinions. I say to all these people whether they are the minute men (with whom I disagree) or they be the anti-war protesters (with whom I do agree), "Shout louder, keep kicking the elephant or the donkey whomever it may be."

To live in a time that quells these voices, such as the firing of Peter Arnett by NBC, uncontrolled wire-tapping, and every other violation of civil liberties that hides under the disguise of the Patriot Act or the “war on terror,” has lead this country down a blind path. This leads me to Abu-Grab, one of the greatest single unanswered injustices in the Iraq war. I have heard celebrities on late-night talk shows make light of these horrors, to the cheering of the live audience. It is at times like these that I can understand how some German citizens took the path they did in WW2 (blind, ignorant patriotism). Am I over-reacting? Can I see the woods for the trees? Please tell me.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sunday in the Park with Daddy



BabyG and I attended a rally in support of women's right to choose. Even though I like to talk about politics with friends and family, I generally do not bring up abortion. People have such deeply entrenched positions that discussions never lead anywhere. The vocabularies of each "side" are so overdefined and embattled that even if two people want to have a meaningful conversation about abortion, it can be difficult. The terms are set. The arguments have been rehearsed. When I taught writing at the University of Houston, I told my students not to write about abortion because I have never seen a college paper that manages to present the issue from a fresh perspective, or that showed the writer had listened to those who disagreed with them. I won't pretend to make a unique contribution to the debate.



That said, I won't be silent either. I firmly believe that my daughter and all other women ought to have the right to choose what happens inside their bodies. I believe that if abortion is thought of as an abstraction, it is easy to condemn. But the particular stories behind each decision are far more difficult to judge. And I believe that criminalizing abortion creates a public health catastrophe.



The rally itself was very calm. It was at Bell Park off Montrose. The temperature has finally cooled here in Houston. BabyG had been grumpy, but when I put her on the ground next to her friend Cos she relaxed and enjoyed herself. There were some speeches, but none of them were shrill. There was a wonderful vibe of love and community.

Friday, September 22, 2006

On Chanting

I have chanted my whole life. It has taken me too long to admit that to myself. That I have always chanted. That I can't escape it. It has taken becoming a father.

My family is from India and I was taught to chant Om. I think that when most Americans think of chanting Om, it is something bizarre. Laughable. Woodstock hippies chant Om. Even for those who are into yoga, I think chanting Om must feel exotic. But my exposure to chanting was from a very early age. First my dad gave my brother and me instruction in Prana Yama, or breathing techniques. Then when the Hindus in Mobile, Alabama, where I grew up, got a group meeting going every month, I learned more about chanting from Dr. Virupaksha Kothandapani. We called him Dr. Pani for short.

Dr. Pani taught us that there are four parts to expressing Om. The first is an aa sound. Then the oh sound. Then mmm. And finally silence. He explained the cosmological significance of each segment. He explained that the four parts blend together. He discussed the way your lips should move. How the sound comes from the depths of your body. How your chin might vibrate. How there are really two parts to the silence. The first part where there is no breadth and the second part when you take in breadth. We discussed whether you should keep your eyes open or closed or half opened. I took him so seriously. The way only a child can. If Dr. Pani knew how seriously I took him, I think he would have had second thoughts about those lessons.

At the beginning of each meeting, the whole group – about one hundred people – would chant Om together ten times. People said that chanting Om together relaxed them. That it made them momentarily forget their problems. It got them ready to discuss scriptures. One month, at the beginning of the meeting, during the chanting, on about the fifth or sixth Om, a tremendous and indescribably feeling washed over my entire body. My whole sense of self and being got subsumed in this totally overwhelming joyousness. I started crying. Part of me wanted to jump up and explain what had happened. But I thought that people would think I was a fool or seeking attention. It was 1986. Eight-year-old Indian-American boys didn't declare they had experienced satchitananda in 1986.

X

For a long time, when I chanted I tried to recover the intensity that I felt when I was eight. And without success. I had to portage around what was going on in my mind too often. By the time I was sixteen, when I closed my eyes the image of some girl I was infatuated with was likely to fill my mind. When I was taught Hinduism, the central lesson was a verse from the Gita that goes like this, Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana, Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani. It roughly means that you should act according to your duties, but you should not be attached to the fruit of your actions. Attachments spiral into animal like behavior and suffering. So any attachment – as in lust for the red-headed goth who I saw in the hallway everyday between first and second periods – was not an appropriate beginning to start chanting from. So I stopped chanting.

A few years later, when I was a sophomore in college, I was a volunteer DJ for the college radio station. So I had access to the station's library of recordings. I would pick out five albums a week and listen to them in my room. I was desperately trying to figure out my taste in music. I came across a CD in a hardcover booklet. It was called Deep in the Heart of Tuva: Cowboy Music from the Wild East. The recordings were of Tuvan chanting, which is a kind of multi-tonal throat singing. One person sings in such a way that they produce at least two clear notes – a really high top note modulated into a melody above a guttural base note. It sounds kind of like an air-conditioning unit or a jet engine or a vacuum cleaner. I didn't come up with those comparisons actually. They were in the liner notes. I think the whole packaging – the title of the album, the booklet, the liner notes – tried to help Americans appreciate something very bizarre. I'm not criticizing the album or the packaging. But I think the album meant something else to me because it brought me back to chanting, back to what I had done before.

The thing about Tuvan chanting is that the singers aren't monks. They are mostly nomadic people. Shepherds. They don't chant to rid themselves of lust. They chant with the passion of men and women who live in the world. They chant for their animals, their yaks and their sheep. They chant for their lovers and their children. They chant to evoke spirits, demons, and ancestors. That wordly, celebratory, bodily aspect to the Tuvan chanting blew open a big door for me. It was one way back into the spirituality I grew up with, not the scriptural discourse of being unattached, but something else.

My dorm room was next to Michael Kraskin's. He was encouraging me to collaborate with him as a cellist and as a composer. We were sound designing a performance that David Terry was putting together, which has subsequently become the subject of episode 44 of their podcast, Catalogue of Ships. I spent so much time on music that I nearly failed a really important organic chemistry exam. If I wasn't working out a new section of the score with Mike or at one of David's insane rehearsals, I was in my room by myself practicing the cello, listening to the Tuvan chants, or chanting myself. I had a little tape recorder and I would record my chants. I kept trying to hear the multiple tones that I knew were already there. If I could hear the different tones, I thought I could tease them out. It felt crazy. But Dr. Pani had already taught me the basics when I was eight. I mean I wasn't Tuvan chanting back then, but the shaping of the lips, the contouring of the mouth, and the diaphragmatic breathing he taught me were exactly the right preparations for Tuvan chant.

I count those performances with Michael for David's play as a major accomplishment in my life. I played the cello as I had never done before. I even brought some chanting in. I was studying to be a physician, but I thought maybe I should be an artist.

A few weeks later, on a weeknight, sometime after midnight, I sat down on the floor in my dorm room to chant softly. Then I stopped and focused on my breathing. Then I started to feel an energy work its way up my spine. When it reached my head, I lost sense of time. Unlike when I was eight, there wasn't a whole room of people to worry about. By the time my ecstatic experience ended, I could barely walk. I was frightened. It seemed like I had experienced what the Hindu scriptures described as an endpoint, but I did not want to go back to that place and lose myself there, or deceive myself into thinking I was all of a sudden enlightened.

I gave up Tuvan chanting. I gave up meditating. I stopped collaborating with Michael and David. And I got the highest score on the next organic chemistry exam. I completely annihilated the curve.

X

Over the following years, the Tuvan chanting would creep back. I went to medical school. I quit medical school. I lived in Chicago. I lived in New York. I moved to Houston. I would chant for my friends. Then I would try to stop again. When I first met MaGreen, there was this party we were both at. It was poolside at a fancy apartment complex. We went swimming and there was a waterfall you could sit underneath. I just had the urge there to chant in accompaniment to the water with MaGreen and some other new friends there listening. It felt right. But then people asked me to do it again and again like it was a party trick. And that saddened me. So I swore off chanting again.

MaGreen understood that the chanting was sacred to me, which I appreciated. She understands the quivering line between the sacred and the silly. However, she's a bit tone deaf. She really values the lyrics in music and the overall effect of music. But she doesn't sing or play an instrument. We can't make music together. That's something I have had to silently forgive her for.

So when MaGreen went into labor and started to moan in a chant-like way, I was really surprised. That was about a year ago. On my birthday. Our daugher BabyG was born on my twenty-eight birthday. We had gotten to the hospital at midnight. We thought MaGreen was in full-blown labor, but when the midwife drove in she told us to try to sleep because active labor hadn't started yet. I slept until six am. I woke up to MaGreen's moaning. It was a high-pitched moan with an even higher tone ringing above the main note like a lone fire truck hurdling through the night sounding its sirens. Not to clear traffic but to align all the elements in the universe to focus all the forces from above and below calling them to the cause. Outside the hospital, the city was waking up. Jets howled, the buried pipes and cables whirred, lawnmowers, compressors, and heaters groaned, whined, and growled. The highway was one long wail. But MaGreen outmoaned it all, the whole city. Her moan was beyond any of my chanting. It was beyond any of the recordings of Tuvans I had heard. Her moan emanated from the walls and floor as if her moan never wasn’t there. It was not accidental like a leafblower’s whistle, like an air-conditioning unit's dueling drones. It was a sound beyond profit, beyond time-use and opportunity costs and comparative advantage, beyond concrete spilling over steel. She moaned with singular purpose. She started crying for air because she moaned it all out of her. Then she moaned some more.

I used to think chanting was something I would pass on to my child. But when I remember Lila's and my birthday, how MaGreen moaned, I think that maybe sound is not arbitrary. When I listen to BabyG chant herself to sleep in the car seat, I think maybe sound isn't just an artifact of particles or waves or wavicles. Maybe the phenomenological experience of sound isn't just an accident of evolution, a footnote of survival and selection, of frontal lobe development. And maybe chanting isn't just a culture or a tradition, or even a higher order physiology. Maybe to think I should pass chanting on to BabyG is like thinking I should write the moon and the stars into my will.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How many more milestones till grown up?

Here to report that our daughter is already an energy conservationist. Which is my fancy way of saying: she prefers not to crawl.

I suppose the guy at littlegeneva would suggest it's because the whitish half of her wants to go one way and the brownish half wants to go the other. Or maybe it’s not about race. Maybe it’s a Hindu/generic-American-spiritualism thing.

In any event we have already caught ourselves saying, "BabyG, Cos crawled a couple months ago, don’t you want crawl, too?”

I have caught GreenDaddy tipping BabyG over so that she might accidentally crawl.

And tonight, our friend Nicole came over, and suggested I set BabyG on her knees to inspire her. BabyG fell flat on her face and screamed.

My grandmother would say, “I never saw a baby who didn’t know how to walk into Kindergarten.” Meaning, of course, these first five years are full of babies moving at their own speeds, and worrying about these things is useless. I know she's right.

Cos’s mom, Kayte, has pointed out that BabyG was an early clapper. She also poos most all the time on the potty. And she has all that hair. Why should a kid who won so big in the hair game care about crawling?

The desire to see her put her proverbial pedals to the metal is less about wanting her do do what other babies do just for the sake of it. It's more specific. I love watching Cos cruise, being surprised by what sorts of things he loves to find...and I really want to see where BabyG would go if she crawls. Even though I know most of my life will be full of me doing just that.

Probably the Zen thing for me to do is to look at where she goes as she’s sitting. That’s not so hard, and actually, BabyG’s a pretty far-out sitter. She sings and makes raspberries and has long word-less conversations with herself, her toys, and her friends. She lectures the broken cell phone for long periods of time. She’s an entertaining, fabulous sitter.

But where will she WANT to crawl!!!! That's all I'm asking! I am terrible with suspense.

Sigh. I almost wish I didn't know anything about the stages of development so that one day she'd just crawl and I'd say, "I'll be damned, look at what the little tyke is doing GreenDaddy!"

And by the way, BabyG's not even actually behind on crawling. She's just fine. Lot's of babies aren't crawling at nine months. I'm just impatient. And excited. All flurried.

I’m sure all this is normal: freaking out over some dumb milestone slash learning how not to freak out. Anybody have their own stories about this sort of thing, from which I might glean whatever it is I need to glean?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

On Redemption and Race-Mixing

The company that hosts our website provides us with information about who visits our website. When we began blogging, we had about 100 "unique visitors" per month and now, a year later, we have over 3,500 per month. I don't know how this statistic is calculated, but I assume that around 3,500 individuals take a look at the Green Parenting blog and some portion of this number regularly reads our posts. Our host also lists the sites that link to ours. This week I noticed 200 visits from littlegeneva.com. I went to see what wonderful people decided to promote our blog. A tiny little confederate flag – the flag of the slave-holding states during the American Civil War – popped up next to the url. I knew I was about to see something interesting.

The basic argument propounded on littlegeneva.com is that the Bible tells Christians to marry within their race and that America's greatness depends on racial purity. The post with the link to Green Parenting was called "Reject Race, Reject America" and the title of the link was "Race-Mixers and Pagans," which went to my post about how MaGreen and I have different religious backgrounds. The post included a picture of Amba Ma, a Hindu goddess, with the face of Jesus spliced on it. I am pleased that my post seems to have really hit the mark for littlegeneva. Not only are we "race-mixers," but we are also pagans. We seem to epitomize exactly what he loathes.

I've shared this discovery with some of my friends and co-workers. They ask, "Aren't you worried?" As a matter of fact, I'm not worried by the link to our blog. I grew up in Mobile, Alabama. Racial insults and threats were not quite a daily occurrence, but they were common. At the nearly all-white school I attended, St. Paul's Episcopal, my classmates refused to touch me my first year there. I was an untouchable. The substitute nigger. They often called me by names including mix-breed. I always wanted to say, "I'm not a mix-breed. My family can trace back its Nagar Brahmin ancestors for fourteen generations. You're the mix-breeds. You don't even know where your families come from." I never actually said that. What I did do was trounce the rest of the students every year and in every single class including Bible Study. When I made a perfect score and they barely passed, I would clench my fist and relish my academic superiority, which did not help matters.

And yet, I never got beat up. I knew what lines not to cross and when I was in real danger. I spent time with all kinds of white people in Alabama. My Boy Scout friends and I had this game whenever we were out in the country where we would rate pick-up trucks for the number of Confederate flags displayed, the number of guns in the rack, and other such features. I remember one afternoon at Camp Maubila, the regional Boy Scout campgrounds, spent trying to teach some very poor white boys from Bayou La Batre how to spell words like "socks" and "shoes." The same day at dinner, the boy behind me in the cafeteria line grumbled, "hurry up sand nigger." So I grew up very much in my skin. I often wished I was white. Up until we left Alabama, I felt that I was ugly and undesirable. My pen and my intellect were my refuge.

Years later, when I visited India, my identity as a victimized person of color was turned inside out. I really was the pure-bred Brahmin. I was the light-skinned person benefiting from the privileges that my family there took for granted. I identified with the people my family and my ancestors looked down on and, arguably, exploited. Simultaneously occupying a privileged, high-caste position and the subaltern position of the substitute nigger has given me double vision. That doubleness feeds my empathy for the exploiter and the exploited; my questioning of gender norms; my passion for ecological balance; my impatience for economic injustice; and my deep connection with MaGreen, who grew up in very different circumstances from me but came out with the same basic perspective on the world.

I thought about writing a comment on the littlegeneva blog. But how am I to engage with someone who bases his beliefs on obscure quotes from the Old Testament? It saddens me that bloggers can create amazing communities, but the worldviews of these communities can be so dramatically different there is no potential for fruitful exchange. Littlegeneva sees the browning of America. He so energetically documents the sea change taking place here. It makes him deeply angry, as if he is being attacked. He thinks the British, European, White, Christian customs that were planted in America's fresh soil will be vanquished. I wish he could see what I have seen. Then he would know that if those customs can be redeemed from their awful pasts, it will be by the mix-breeds like my daughter.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Argumentative Indian: An Interview with Amartya Sen

Last February, I had the honor of interviewing Amartya Sen, the recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics. We talked about his recent book, The Argumentative Indian, a history of rational thought, skepticism, scientific inquiry, and secularism in India.

The interview was recorded for a radio show in Houston called Border Crossings, which has a South Asian focus. Although parenting wasn't the topic of the interview I did manage to squeeze in one question about raising children. However, I believe the whole interview is relevant to parenting. In all of Sen's writings, there is an amazing integration of different kinds of analytic tools, knowledge, and values. I think parenting requires the same kind of flexibility. And Sen always keeps in mind the goal of creating a more just world where every individual can choose the life she or he finds most meaningful. He is a father. When his second wife died, he raised their two children as a single parent. I believe that experience informs his thinking. For all these reasons, I think of Amartya Sen as a patron saint of Green Parenting.

Click on the following link for the interview -- Amartya_Sen_Interview.mp3. I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Let My Daughter See the Stars

I lived on the edge of a salt desert in a city called Dhrangadhra. The house had two rooms and a kitchen. All my roommates were social workers and engineers. They worked from ten in the morning until nine at night. I wrote reports about their work. Summaries of how many homes they helped rebuild after an earthquake. I told them I was a poet and they treated me that way. When my stomach could not hold food, they brought me yoghurt. They showed me the way along the shepherds’ paths to the temple of Sitala Ma. I was invited to dinner on a concrete rooftop.

I was told the name Dhrangadhra comes from the Sanskrit for stoney ground. When I say the name – Dhrangadhra – it feels like I’m rolling stones in my mouth. The local industry was the carving of statues. I saw women heaving rock out of the ground with pick axes. I saw men hammering out goddesses in the middle of the street.

In this city, on the edge of the salt desert, water flowed through the pipes once a day for half an hour. I was told we were lucky to have that much water. The year before water was driven in by truck. Every evening at about eight, the power went out. The whole city blacked out. At first, I had the generator outside the office fired up so I could keep typing up reports. Ultimately, I planned on the darkness. I left the office and walked to the house with two rooms. Though night had fallen, the social workers and engineers were still in the field. I waited alone for the black outs to come. And when they came, the earth disappeared beneath me and the stars emerged.

I had seen the stars – as in all of them – only once before. In rural Alabama, a field in the woods, just where you wouldn’t expect a brown boy to be. In Dhrangadhra, on the edge of a salt dessert, where the water flows through the pipes once per day for half an hour, where the lights black out at eight in the evening, I saw all the stars every night. That’s when I realized the gravity of the theft of the night sky.

I do not speak of stars metaphorically. When I speak of the stars, I do not mean an archaic worldview. I do not mean to evoke magic (although I am partial to the possibility of mysteries). I do not mean to bash science. My ancestors were skeptics and rationalists. When I speak of stars, I mean the stars themselves. Fusion. Plasma. Heat. Light. That throbbing area of methodical inquiry. I mean the spectacle of the universe, seeing it from our little corner. Considering. To put your self in perspective is the beginning of wisdom, well-being, poetry, ecological awareness, and the will to struggle. Seeing the stars is neither necessary nor sufficient for achieving this kind of perspective. But it sure helps. The most elegant poetry about stars I have read was written by our most eloquent voices for justice. Pablo Neruda, Ernesto Cardinal, Nazim Hikmet. Is this an accident?

Now I live under the perpetual glow of street lights. The sky in Houston is a giant emblem of our own opacity. Development as blindness. Dhrangadhra is so strange to me now. I’m afraid I might have made it up or read about it in a book. I have started this essay many times. I should have finished it years ago. But now I am a father. There is a new sense of urgency in me when I look up at the grand blankness of our nights.