Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Adventure

In life so far, I've...

Happened upon turtles on their first day of life braving the new world in Cozumel, Mexico.

Sat in a beer hall at Oktoberfest in Munich.

Was blessed with a clear view of the Matterhorn and wondered how many adventurers were on it. Switzerland is the home country of my parents, who were both born there.

Pondered the life of women across the world, whether she is selling vegetables on the streets of Tangier, or...

Maintaining traditions, performing in a flamenco show in Seville.

Watched the sun smile over a Lisbon castle.

Found out it was possible to fall in love: with a city, Paris.

Found out it was possible to fall in love with an entire country: Italy. La dolce vita is for me.

In the charming Disney Pixar film Up, a young couple, both adventurers at heart since meeting in early childhood and later married, long to take a dream trip to Paradise Falls. They meticulously save their coinage in a jar but they keep cracking it open when real life gets in the way - an accident, a home repair, and such. Now elderly and the wife having passed away, the old man looks at the photo album of their life together with a note from his wife at the end of thanks for the adventure, and encouraging him to go have his own. Their life together was the real journey more than any faraway land.

While I've been blessed to have seen many places, money and time are limited, and most often my traveling will only extend to my armchair (reading books, poetry or blogs, eating, films and so on). But I remember the sentiments from Up, and give you today's favorite four letter word: live. Live the adventure of life every day.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Facebook Status: Not On It

Why I'm not on Facebook:

"Friend?" I believe it was Paul Rudd who said so rightly, "If I wasn't friends with you in high school, I don't want to be friends with you now." I understand morbid curiosity (who doesn't wonder about old flames). But who wants people you have to take out your high school yearbook to remember involved with so much intimate detail in your life? Quality, not quantity, is what I value. I take issue with their use of the word "Friends." I really treasure friendships, and don't think it's about some ridiculous numbers game.

Too much information in our information age, and not of the quality kind. I agree with Betty White's Saturday Night Live monologue: it sounds like a total waste of time. A friend of mine said of the overdose of information people provide constantly throughout the day (what they ate for lunch, are they vacuuming, did they just grocery shop), when she asks "How's it going?" she wants to know in life, not what you just did in the last hour. There was an article some time back warning not obesity, but vanity is America's new epidemic in part because of sites like Facebook. I tend to agree.

Like so many I know, I long for days of just catching up over coffee, writing a long letter (even in e-mail form), having a nice long chat on the phone. One of my least favorite four letter words: busy. Everyone seems too busy to make time for people anymore, and catching up with friends to me isn't knowing that they're at the gym.

Maybe it's our youth obsessed culture, but adults seem to be behaving more and more like teenagers. A 10 minute wait at a restaurant? People are whipping out the gadgets since one can no longer just sit with their thoughts. Perhaps the status is: 10 minute wait at the pancake house.

Just say no: to mass thought. Partly, I'm a stubborn, independent minded Scorpio who tends to not want to do things everyone else is doing, but I'm also a little disturbed by the idea of mass thought.

Ridgewood, New Jersey middle school Principal Anthony Orsini boldly told parents of young teens this in a mass e-mail: "There is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!...They are simply not psychologically ready for the damage that one mean person online can cause, and I don't want any of our students to go through the unnecessary pain that too many of them have already experienced." Read more.

As someone who personally experienced bullying as a young teenager, I cannot imagine having to go through it with my tormentors having Facebook as an additional tool. I also think Orsini's comments speak to the mass thought of doing something everyone else is doing and that no, it's not a necessity to be on Facebook just because that's what everyone else subscribes to.

I don't doubt the positive aspects of Facebook in helping artists, social justice movements, promoting small businesses and the like. But it's just not for me, and if that limits getting the word out about my blog (and I know other bloggers not on Facebook feel the same), so be it.

I am proud to be among the numbers not on Facebook.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: The Erasing Conscience

NOTE: Some spoiler alerts if you haven't watched Mad Men.

"You're going to have a lot of first kisses. You're going to want it to be special, so you'll remember. It's where you go from being a stranger to knowing someone. And every kiss with them after that is a shadow of that kiss," Betty Draper tells her young daughter Sally, in one of my favorite quotes from the show.

Doesn't that sound romantic? Wouldn't the world of Mad Men seem more alluring if, well, everyone wasn't cheating on everyone? I tried to think of one stable relationship among the main characters - and couldn't. Can you?

When looking at the American Dream: Then and Now, I noted Professor Albert Lieberman, Executive Director, EMT Program, NYU Stern School of Business, said in the Mad Men season 1 extra, "Part of what I would call advertising environment is set up to make you believe that there's always more, there's always better." Doesn't this apply to affairs as well? The bored person always is looking for more, better, and when the opportunity presents itself, they take advantage as one does for fleeting pleasure of a consumer good? This seems to be the case in most of Don's affairs. Pete's fling with the nanny down the hall - true love? No way.

Isn’t it also true of the excessive consumption that so defines us (think material goods or food)? Done out of boredom, lack of fulfillment, the temporary pleasure of the new? Consumed because it's convenient, there, fills us with passing contentment? It seems all tied together to me.

There also seems to be lacking one thing: conscience. There doesn't seem to be much guilt at all for betrayed spouses, and Don's slew of mistresses all know and don't care about Betty and his two children. How about Sally Draper's teacher who starts bedding Don and openly stated she didn't care about his wife. I always thought the eighties were the "me" decade, but the writers of Mad Men will have you believe it's the sixties. Everyone seems concerned simply with, "me."

One of Don's mistresses stated mentioning Betty makes her feel "cruel." How often do we participate in consumer behavior that we justify as being okay so long as we don't think about it (regularly eating factory farmed meat where we don't think about the animals or the workers; polluting our air driving extremely fuel inefficient cars because the air quality isn't measurable). I think the absence of conscience applies here as well. Hasn't generations of "Mad Men" worked to disconnect us from the sources of our happiness so that we only think of our own? How often have I read the word "trained" when referring to consumer behavior. Do you want to be "trained" (just another word for controlled, in my opinion)?

One can only speculate on the fate of fidelity then and now, but we seem to be an even more consumerist society from the time Mad Men was set in. Awareness is growing (I think of the fair trade, organic, free range movements, etc.) but overall I can't help but think most consumers don't think a lot about this, and simply consume.

Do you think we're too much in the time of the "me?" and not in the mindset of the "we"?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Making Me Smile Right Now

Best yet, free or frugal.

Frugal: my community school Advanced Beginner French class, which breaks down to just $10 a session. I hope to travel again to France one day (I went for a week a few years ago to Paris). I simply love the language.

Frugal: finding albums at thrift shops like New York City's Housing Works, these just 50 cents each. Don't you adore album art, another dying art in our digital age?

Free: using the library to explore music more. I can't stop listening to Scarborough Fair, April She Will Come and The Sound of Silence on The Graduate soundtrack! The Simon & Garfunkel songs were my favorite part of the film.

The Museum at Bethel Woods: The Story of the Sixties and Woodstock is well worth a visit if you're ever in that area.

Free: rewatching the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a French film where every line is sung, with the stunning Catherine Deneuve. I loved Deneuve's feminine, simple style (including the bows she donned in every scene) and the color - color everywhere.

Free: watching partners in life by the lake in the park. Spring is in the air.

Frugal: drinking my morning cup of coffee out of this thrifted "Chorus Line" mug, $1, while listening to the nature's chorus line outside.

Frugal: eating vegan strawberry rhubarb pie from Old Hook Farm. The plate, also thrifted.

Free: walking with my favorite, four-legged friend (a rescue dog my family found on Petfinder).

The news is doom and gloom everywhere. Remember all the simple things in life that make you smile. Most cost very little, some nothing at all.

What's making you smile? Robins in the parks? Brighter days? Seasonal foods? A great piece of art (written, sonic, visual, dramatic or otherwise)? Declare it publicly or ponder it to yourself. Remember to smile often.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: Selling the Lifestyle of Mad Men

"The most brilliant dimension of advertising is that for the most part we who are tremendously affected by it have no sense that we are affected by it." - Dr. Bernard McGrane, Department of Sociology, Chapman University.

After watching Mad Men, I thought about:
Ordering a mai tai (one of Don's mistresses had it).
Drinking tomato juice as a starter a restaurant (Betty had it, no wonder she's so slim!)
Thought all those martinis looked festive and wanted to try one.
Looked up Maidenform bras on their web site (one show was devoted to Maidenform and Platex bras).
Thought the Ritz crackers and Utz potato chips on the top of Don and Betty Draper's refrigerator looked like fun accouterments for all those martinis.
Even thought it was fun when they we're all eating donuts one morning and thought - we should do that at work...gather and eat donuts!
Wanted to watch Bye Bye Birdie (a show centered around the beginning sequence with Ann-Margret).
Looked up Lut├Ęce (now closed) and Sardie's (the former, where they would entertain clients, the latter, where Don took another mistress).

I can't go on anymore, pathetic, I know. I pride myself on being an independent thinker, but even I fall into this glamorization of brands and product placement, which is what everyone at Sterling Cooper is doing in between all that hanky panky and hard liquor drinking.

I'm not alone. Basket of Kisses, an all Mad Men things blog, had a post about finding a coveted Chip and Dip that Pete Campbell returned. Would this be a desired item if not in the show?

Aside from a can of tomato juice that's ended up in my grocery cart, the show has influenced me fashion wise, although even before the show, I always loved vintage looks. Since the show though, I've raided my mother's drawers for vintage clothes and scarves she no longer wears, and have even begun carrying my grandmother's purse. You only have to do a google search of "Mad Men fashion" to know I'm not alone in craving the look. Check out "Will 'Mad Men' get groovy" from the Los Angeles Times which considers how the fashion will change as the times do. From the article,

"For the first time shopping was entertainment. Clothes were cheap and styles turned on a dime — some outfits so ephemeral they were made of paper. It was the forerunner of today's fast fashion." Shopping as entertainment - sound familiar? It's a national pastime.

Mad Men has also solidified that I love more retro looking houses. A pink bathroom love affair has even been rekindled, remember?

As for those martinis, one cocktail is my limit if I had one. Do you think the show glamorizes too much drink and smoking? Being a child of two smokers, I detest smoking, and it's my least favorite part of the show.

Has Mad Men piqued your interest in any brands, films or people? Do you think about how advertising impacts your behavior?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Vegan Eats: A Photo Essay

Did you know that 10 billion land animals are slaughtered every year in the United States, according to Farm Sanctuary? That's staggering. Americans eat far too much meat (and in way too large portions) if you ask me. Yes, we have freedom of choice, but choices impact healthcare costs, the animals' welfare, workers' conditions, and the environment. Want a hog farming operation in your backyard? Me neither.

Can't skip meat all the time? Skip it some of the time. Or a lot. As much as you can. I can't skip dairy and eggs in everything, but I do it as much as I can, and feel better for it.

Not feeling deprived at all savoring...

At Alice's Tea Cup, a pot of chocolate chai tea (so good!) with soy milk, $6, and a grilled vegetable sandwich (swapping cheese for hummus) and salad with sweet ginger dressing, $12.

Spaghetti with Trader Joe's meatless meatballs, which are also tasty as a sub sandwich. Check out their handy vegan list.

At Rutherford Pancake House, sharing vegan "Dayiasadillas" (with Daiya vegan cheese), portobello mushrooms, spinach, roasted peppers, and sweet potato fries, $9.95, and vegan sliders with a tamarind date sauce, $5.99

A chocolate raspberry cupcake, $3.50, at all-vegan Sweet Avenue Bake Shop in Rutherford, New Jersey. I haven't made anything out of it, but several people recommended Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World for at home baking.

Happy hour at Stecchino in Hell's Kitchen, New York City. Champagne with raspberry liquor, $6, and grilled bread with olives, $3.50.

My mock McMuffin with SoyBoy smoked tofu, vegan cheese (sorry, can't remember the brand!), and Yves meatless Canadian bacon. Do you ever stop to think about how a chicken, a cow and a pig labor in horrendous conditions to produce the traditional version of these breakfast sandwiches?

Yves lemon herb "chicken" skewer, grilled, over Spanish rice (I would do a less spicy pilaf with it instead next time since the skewer has a kick), with salad.

Some pre- and post-vegan week eats from this year:

Celebrating an early Mardi Gras dinner with Steve at The Delta Grill in Hell's Kitchen, New York City, the blackened tofu salad with Shiitake mushroom and couscous, $9. I love that tofu is popping up on more menus. Why shouldn't it be a protein choice? I know someone who is obsessed with counting carbs but when I ask about the chicken she eats almost every day, it's again, "I choose not to think about it." Why?

Sharing the orange flavored tofu with veggies and (not pictured) brown rice at Empire Hunan in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, with my mom. We took half of this home in our reusable cotainers (which we bring to reduce packaging waste and food waste). We also had steamed vegetable dumplings and scallion pancakes with peanut sauce (vegetarian, yes, vegan, ?) End: lychee fruit.

A tofu scramble with veggies and Lightlife Gimme Lean veggie sausage, with toast with peach jam.

Escaping our cubicles, an outing to Lime Jungle in New York City with a friend. A vegetarian taco (hold the cheese), $3.25, filled with rice, beans, guacamole and veggies, a a cup of black bean soup, $3.50. Beans are my favorite protein source: they are inexpensive, easy to prepare and widely available (no special Whole Foods trip needed!)

Date night with Steve at Pancho's Burritos in New Milford, New Jersey, a raspberry margarita and mini spinach burrito with soy cheese, brown rice and black beans and tofu sour cream (look for the Tofutti Sour Supreme at Whole Foods and other retailers). The honey mutard dressing for the salad may have some dairy.

Before the Banff Film Festival in New York City, grabbing the Earth Mother slice (five from the garden), $3.75, at Two Boots, various locations in New York City.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Oprah's Vegan Challenge: Reasons and Results

"I choose not to think about that." The common answer I get if I ask someone what they think about the vast amounts of factory farmed animal food in their diet. Laughter often follows, on their part, not mine.

I think of a Mad Men scene (yes, I know it's not Monday yet!) where Don Draper mentions his wife to one of his mistresses and she asks him why he would bring her up and he's making her feel cruel. Isn't it odd how we rationalize if we put it out of our minds, it's morally alright? Isn't part of the advertising environment that so shapes our decisions - to make you feel good about your choices, no matter the consequences to others.

I respect everyone's right to eat what they want, but to me it's reprehensible the conditions animals are raised in, like filthy wire cages for egg-laying hens, or gestation crates for pregnant sows who cannot even turn around. Learn more about factory farming from Farm Sanctuary. Who wants to regularly consume eggs that came out of a hen crammed in a filthy wire cage with 5 other chickens who can't even spread their wings in a dark warehouse? I firmly believe in our Internet age with widespread availability of knowledge in so many cases the question is not a matter of not knowing, it's a matter of knowing, and not caring. Have we become so desensitized by corporations and marketers that people really don't care? A scarier answer to "I choose not to think about it" is "I don't care." An addition to my favorite four letter words list: care.

I gave up eating meat, chicken and fish when I was around 14, ate some fish in my late 20s, and went toward a vegan diet for a few years. I went back to vegetarianism because I tired of not being able to eat something with touch of honey, couldn't have a vegetarian pasta salad that had cheese at an office luncheon, or a piece of cheese at a picnic in the park. But I've been overindulging in cheese and sweets, so I did Oprah's one week vegan challenge back in February.

Since people always asked me what I ate as a vegan, and even as a vegetarian, here, readers, is what I ate all week. I usually take Trader Joe's soy creamer and sugar in my coffee or tea.

Breakfast: Amy's Kitchen breakfast burrito, Whole Foods Market organic orange/banana/pineapple juice, coffee
Snack: Silk vanilla soy yogurt with bananas, Twinings chai tea
Lunch: half a vegetable panini (River Edge Diner leftover), carrots, potato chips, seltzer with lemon
Snack: celery with organic Trader Joe's peanut butter
Dinner: Salad (romaine) with chickpeas, Amy's Kitchen non-dairy vegetable pot pie, a Woodchuck pear cider
Dessert: Almond breeze cappuccino swirl ice cream.
Passed on: homemade brownies at work in the morning, and a leftover cookie tray from a meeting in the afternoon

Breakfast: Nature's Path organic homestyle waffles with strawberries and kiwi, a slice of Yves meatless Canadian bacon, juice, coffee
Snack: soy yogurt with blueberries, handful of pecans, Teavana Earl Grey creme tea
Lunch: Salad (romaine with carrots), lentil vegetable soup (from a catered lunch), Whole Foods Market roasted red pepper hummus and 365 brand vegetable crackers
Snack: apple, chamomile tea
Dinner: at Alice's Tea Cup: grilled vegetable sandwich on pumpernickel (hold the cheese, sub hummus) with salad with ginger dressing, chocolate chai tea with soy creamer.
Passed on: cookies at a weekly Tuesday tea afternoon tea break, and trying my friend's banana nutella scone at Alice's Tea Cup. That was tough! They sometimes have vegan scones, but their baker wasn't in that day, blast.

Breakfast: Trader Joe's maple and brown sugar oatmeal, half a grapefruit, English breakfast tea
Snack: Soy yogurt with frozen strawberries; handful of pecans, tea
Lunch: a slice of cheeseless veggie pizza and salad (iceberg/olives/tomatoes/). We have pizza/salad luncheons every Wednesday at work.
Snack: peanut butter/celery; a pear
Dinner: Salad with avocado, red beans and rice, scoop of Ciao Bella banana mango sorbet
Passed on: white cheese pizza

Breakfast: Veg "McMuffn": SoyBoy smoked tofu, vegan Cheddar cheese and a slice of Yves Canadian bacon on a Whole Foods wheat English muffin, orange/pineapple/banana juice, coffee
Snack: soy yogurt with blueberries, pecans, Twinings Irish breakfast tea
Lunch: 365 (Whole Foods private label) vegetarian chili with half an avocado, veggie chips and roasted red pepper hummus
Snack: a pear, dates
Dinner: spaghetti with 365 organic marinara sauce and Trader Joe's meatless
meatballs; red leaf lettuce salad, a Tofutti cutie.
Passed on: Betty Crocker German chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. I really wanted this! My sister kept saying, "Can't you pretend that it's a commercial on Oprah and you've gone to commercial break?"

Breakfast: soy yogurt with sliced bananas, half a grapefruit, coffee
Snack: half a pumpernickel bagel with tofu dill cream cheese and a blood orange. We get free bagels and they have tofu spreads every Friday. We're an office that likes to eat!
Lunch: Rising Moon Organics garlic and basil gnocchi, a romaine salad with shredded carrots and chickpeas
Snack: celery with peanut butter.
After work happy hour at Stecchino. Champagne with a shot of chambord (raspberry liquor), grilled bread and olives.
When I got home: a pear and hummus and chips (too tired to cook!)
Passed on: a cheese platter at the happy hour.

Breakfast: Peanut butter and jelly waffles, slice of Yves Canadian bacon, juice and coffee
Snack: dates
Lunch: grilled soy cheese on whole wheat bread and my mom's homemade vegetable soup. There was some honey in the whole wheat bread.
Snack: I went to commercial break. I had a piece of the cake. :-(
Dinner: red leaf lettuce salad, Yves lemon chicken skewers over Spanish rice.
Passed on: picking up any sweets from my trip to local farms (muffins, pies, etc.)

Breakfast: Trader Joe's organic corn flakes with almond milk, coffee, juice
Snack: yogurt with sliced bananas
Lunch: At Rutherford Pancake House, shared quesadillas with roasted red peppers, mushrooms, spinach and Daiya vegan cheese with sweet potato fries, vegan "sliders" (mini veg burgers), a root beer
Indulgence: splitting a chocolate raspberry cupcake at Sweet Avenue Bake Shop (best vegan bakery!)
Dinner: Leftover gnocchio with a red leaf lettuce salad.
Passed on: sweets at the church coffee hour. There was also a bake sale held by the kids raising money for a retreat. I did buy some cookies to share with coworkers.

My verdict: I generally feel much better (morally and health wise) eating vegan, but accept I, like most people, don't have the willpower to pass on every non-vegan item that comes their way, especially in our abundant food culture. The cake at my mom's house was huge and I remembered hating having to obsess over every single food choice when I was doing veganism strictly all the time.

I'm an advocate of eating as much as a plant-based diet as possible (the more, the better) but don't believe strict veganism is something achievable for the masses. Eating smaller portions and wasting less food is something we should all be doing. I'm not an advocate of perfectionism, but do think we should take ownership for our choices and how it impacts others (the animals, the workers, the environment of the people with factory farms in their communities). I hope that's a challenge you'll join me on. Let's leave the laughter out of feigning ignorance.

How do you feel about your diet, and about the conditions animals are raised in? Would you be able to gather the eggs from those chickens in battery cages? Or slaughter an animal? Do you feel okay about others doing it for you? Food for thought - literally.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: Let's Talk Fashion

"Fashion is always going to be a reflection of what's going on in the world," remarked fashion designer Peter Som. Consider his words, as we look at the fashion that appears on Mad Men in the early 1960s as compared to now.

"The rise of the cold war led to a fearful atmosphere in America and at the same time you had a booming economy so the result for fashion was a look that was conservative but also highly consumerist," observed Valerie Steele in a Mad Men season two DVD extra. She noted Anne Fogerty invented the term "Wife Dressing," which was defined by complete femininity, and was about dressing to please your husband and to help boost his career (personally I find that all hooey; the clothes were just fabulous). It also involved "going back to strict gender rules, so women were supposed to dress like women and men were supposed to be like men."

Jonathan Kanarek observed, "It represents a time when optimism was high and anything can be accomplished." Men donned the classic gray suit and white shirt. "In order to be taken seriously you wore a suit. That still holds true today." Does it? That's debatable. Have you seen The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, a novel about a WW2 veteran that became a film with Gregory Peck? It's now on my to-watch list.

President Kennedy, it was observed, single handedly killed the hat when he took it off for his inauguration, and from that day on, hat sales declined. It's a testament how we take our fashion queues from others and how impressionable the public is.

Are you as enamored at the fashion on the show as I am? Everyone looked like, well, grown-ups, where today in offices in New York City, it seems to be "anything goes" even if it's jeans and a baggy sweatshirt more suitable for a day of grocery shopping. I adore the more modest skirt lengths, the smart looking dresses, the scarves, the hair and makeup - just the glamour, period. Even Betty Draper's night gowns are feminine and flirty. And the men? There's nothing more attractive than a man in a nice suit, if you ask me.

I love the age-appopriateness dressing on the show. When Peggy wanted to advance in her career as a copy-writer, someone suggested she started looking the part instead of dressing like a younger girl. How much of fashion today is more targeted toward youth, which is so coveted by our society? Does age-appropriate dressing exist anymore?

What era of fashion do you look back longingly on? This era aside, I also love the flapper style of the 1920s and the glamour in all of those Busby Berkeley films of the 1930s. As a young girl, I loved Lucille Ball's style on I Love Lucy.

Looking at fashion today, I absolutely agree it does reflect what's going on. We're an even more consumerist society with cheap fashion at the ready and increasingly shorter attention spans and an obsession with labels. I don't find anything fashionable at all about all the cheap knockoff handbags (I am always amazed when I've traveled in Barcelona, Florence, or Paris, or walking in New York City, vendors are selling completely gaudy, cheap handbags, and women are buying them in droves). Even for the real deal, I don't think slapping a label on something and charging a lot of money makes something "stylish." Style isn't about a label, it's about a look.

It seems no one dresses up for anything anymore. At church, many of the older parishioners, some of whom have various health problems, come dressed to the nines, while the youngest ones look like they just rolled out of bed. I spot people on a regular basis walking around in pajama pants. So much for Sunday's best. Have we become a nation of slobs? At the risk of offending anyone, I kind of think so.We're definitely not dressing for optimism and anything is possible, quite the opposite, it's a bit of "I don't care."

What do you think? Do you long for more glamorous days? Should we dress more the part? Or do you embrace our fashion culture, which seems to emphasize comfort?

For women, are you an aspiring Betty, Joan, or Peggy, or men, do you love Don Draper's style?

For more Mad Men fashion, visit the Fashion File series of the AMC Man Men blog.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Letter on Learning

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it." Book of Hebrews, as quoted in Keith Donohue's Angels of Destruction.

Dear readers,

Since I can't have those "Here's what I learned in class today" moments at the dinner table, I've decided to tell you what I learned this week in daily life.

I have so much to learn. This week, I met an 83-year-old man named Robert, who by lucky chance (for me) was seated next to me at the Banff film festival (think National Geographic, come to life on screen), which I attend each year with my sweetheart. Robert was telling me about this book: Slave: My True Story, by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis, a true story about a 12-year-old sold into slavery in 1993. He said it's one of the best he's ever read. I love readers. I once saw a man walking to work in front of me with a brown bagged lunch and a library book and thought - how great, he's frugal because he's bringing his own food, and he's smart and budget minded reading a library book! Anyway, Robert is a retired reference librarian, and I agreed with his sentiment that another lifetime is needed to finish everything one wants to read.

What are you reading? I'm in the middle of Celia Rees' Witch Child, about a 14 year old girl who may or may not be a witch fleeing England in 1659 for America. I thought about how witches were an easy source of blame, and how witches take many forms. I also thought about the displacement of people fleeing tyranny caused the displacement of others whose lands they occupied. It was Tori Amos (who has a Cherokee bloodline) who sang in a Cherokee edition of Home on the Range, "Jackson made deals, a thief down to his heels. Hello long trail of tears. The white man came, this land is my land this is your land they sang."

I've just ordered Ben Gadd's Raven's End directly from the author after seeing his stunning words featured in A Life Ascending, which follows mountain guide Ruedi Beglinger and his family in British Columbia. They said there's a belief if people who die who love the mountains, they come back as a raven to live there.

Here' a preview of that film.

"I believe that mountains have energy in them which get passed onto us as we travel in it. I believe mountains are fully alive," Ruedi says.

Isn't he so right? Do you get positive energy from nature?

I have so much to see. When a film was on showing footage of the Grand Canyon, my sweetheart, Steve, to the right, whispered, "I was there." He had gone with his brother in the B.C.-age (before Catherine). Robert, to my left, said, "I was there with my daughter." (He biked from New York to California after retirement. I get winded walking up a flight of steps). I thought - I need to see these things. Other than a childhood trip to Hawaii and California (I've been to the latter to San Diego on business as well), I haven't left the East Coast in my 35 years.

Robert might not have been an angel, but I'm so glad I spoke to him. Speaking to each other - something we don't do enough. Everyone's face down in their gadgets checking e-mail or Facebook status, missing it all (yes, as soon as the intermission began, poof, out came the gadgets).

I'm coming to peace with the fact that my time machine idea isn't so realistic, and I was inspired by Michael Stipe's reading of a poem, Blue, in R.E.M.'s Collapse Into Now.

"I am made by my times, I am a creation of now, shaken with the cracks and crevices. I'm not giving up easily. I don't have much, but what I have gold.

This is my time and I am thrilled to be alive.
Living, blessed, I understand this.
Twentieth century, collapse into now."

I am thrilled to be alive. I hope you are too, and you are filling your life with experiences that make it richer, and people that make you better, even if you only sit next to them for a fleeting moment.

That's what I learned in life this week. While learn wouldn't fit into my favorite four letter words, perhaps I can add, "Know."


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Orleans, I Remember

In R.E.M.'s song Houston, a citizen post-Katrina leaves everything once loved and familiar for Houston, thoughts racing. "If the storm doesn't kill me, the government will, I've got to get that out of my head...So a man's to put to task in challenges, I was taught to hold my head high. And so there are claims forgiven. And so there are things that are gone."

In "Oh My Heart" (from their new album Collapse Into Now), it is not an exodus out, but a homecoming to the beloved New Orleans, now "a city half erased."

"This place needs me here to start. This place is the beat of my heart.
The storm didn't kill me,
the government changed.
Hear the answer, the call, hear the song rearranged.
Hear the trees, the ghosts and the buildings sing.
With the wisdom to reconcile this thing."

I love the hopefulness of the latter song. Nature, so powerful a force, cannot be conquered, governments powers will shift, but will and spirit reawaken in the human soul. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button film set in New Orleans, based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald story, it was declared, "You can be as mad as a mad dog at the way things went, you can curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go."

Today, on this Mardi Gras, looking back at the few short days I got to know New Orleans (post-Katrina). She feels like an old friend you haven't seen in years, but you immediately feel like you've picked up where you left off like it was just moments ago.

The sun shining on Jackson Square.

Bananas foster at Arnaud's Restaurant.

In 1951, a chef at Brennan's Restaurant created Bananas Foster, named for Richard Foster, who served with owner Owen Brennan the New Orleans Crime Commission. Recreate it at home.

Cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe Du Monde.

Musicians filling the street with the sound of jazz.

Not wanting to leave the South without having had fried green tomatoes. Mission accomplished at Louisiana Bistro, where the chef made me a vegetarian plate like none I've ever had.

Remembering no matter how lush your surroundings in life and in your sendoff, we all have the same destiny.

Admiring architecture so unique to the city.

A rainbow smiling over the river. A smile on my heart, remembering New Orleans.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: The American Dream, Then and Now

Pour a glass of tomato juice or a mai tai, crack open the Utz potato chips and Ritz crackers, and welcome to my Mad Men Mondays discussion series. You do not need to watch the AMC show, about an advertising firm in New York City in the 1960s, to weigh in. This will be more about the themes of the show.

First topic - defining and pursuing the American dream over the years.

On a season one dvd extra, Chris Wall, Creative Director of Ogilvy & Mather, observed this:

"The whole notion of the American dream is really about moving from an industrial society to a leisure society where people went from kids working in factories and the Depression to postwar where you had lots and lots of affluence in the middle class.

The American dream was product. It's not like everyone could go to philosophy school. It was 'I could have a stereo. I could have a color tv.'"

On a Mad Men season three episode, ad man Pete Campbell told an elevator operator the American dream was to have a house, a car, and a television.

Flash-forward to 2011. Having lived in suburban New Jersey my entire life (born in 1975), it seems now that list today is a house (which you'll be convinced to renovate since marketers will tell you your interior is "dated"), two large, fuel-inefficient cars, multiple televisions and gadgets (with monthly service plans for parents and for kids) that you'll tire of and replace, and more.

Leisure time? In our gadget-always with you world, those lines are diminishing, and you'll be working to buy more "stuff." Alexander Lee (formerly of Project Laundry list, one of my favorite grassroots groups which encourages line drying laundry) observed how we sit behind desks and earn thousands of dollars to buy appliances.

How much "leisure time" is spent at Home Depot or Target changing something about our houses? As a renter, I'm not subject to the same temptations to make "upgrades" (a debatable term) to something I don't own. In a twist of fate - those dated interiors people despised are now becoming more popular because of Mad Men (how I drool over the Draper home over any gaudy McMansion any "real" (fake?) housewife is living in). Truth be told, I used to view a lot about my parents' home as dated - but now look at some rooms in a new light thinking, "How very Mad Men!"

Wages are stagnant and employers are getting more out of fewer workers (the former has the upperhand). To worsen matters, we've been conditioned into feeling entitled to more, and "needs" and "wants" aren't distinguishable. At least that's what Cablevision, Verizon, Best Buy, and the like want you to think.

As Professor Albert Lieberman, Executive Director, EMT Program, NYU Stern School of Business, said in the Mad Men season 1 extra, "Part of what I would call advertising environment is set up to make you believe that there's always more, there's always better. And if you can afford it, you should have it."

Can we afford it? Visa and Mastercard say yes. The average American family has no fewer than 13 credit cards, and household debt skyrocketed from $680 billion in 1974 to $14 trillion in 2008, according to "How to Restore the American Dream" in Time. Even if you can "afford it" at the time, who knows what card life's deck will hand you? Job loss, being out of work due to illness, expenses (like a costly car or household repair) are all unforeseeable factors we should save for. Another favorite four letter word I'm adding to my ever-growing list: Save. It's a more empowering feeling than a fleeting satisfaction from an object.

We expect governments to reduce waste - but where does that rule apply to ourselves? Has the American dream - as defined by consumerism - spiraled out of control, our wallets worse for wear? All the while, we're dreaming about our next furniture purchase or how our lives will exponentially improve once those new kitchen counters are installed. This isn't my American dream.

There was a line on Mad Men where someone asked how other people lived, and the reply was they're not as bored as us, they don't have as many things. Don't Betty and Don Draper seem the most dissatisfied, despite the dream house? Who has instilled this sense of boredom and dissatisfaction in our minds? Is it the same force that causes us to sit on the couch watching all of those housewives show. Marketers?

Reflect, aloud or silently, on your own path amid all this, fellow American dream finders.

Next week, I'll be discussing what drew me to the show: fashion.