Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Treatment at Tea & Sympathy

I wonder if she'll be in the crowd today at Will and Kate's nuptials? Patricia Routledge, who played Mrs. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet), one of my favorite sitcom characters ever, from Britain's Keeping Up Appearances. Surely this will top luxury cruising on the QE2 and put that Lydia Hawksworth in her place once and for all.

If not, she should be. After all, as she says, it was only an accident of birth she wasn't born someone more important.

Perhaps she and Emmet could do a duet to entertain the crowd. I'm sure he'd love that. It always brings the over seventies to their feet.

The royal fever is sweeping America. Even the library has caught it.

Shall we go to New York City's Tea & Sympathy in spirit to toast Will and Kate? Any excuse to revisit memories there and meals eaten by myself and dear mates, including Kristin who pens the poetry blog Wordfall, and Jennifer who authors Heart Laundry and has a writer site.

How does a pot of fragrant blackberry tea sound? $4.50.

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie (lentils, onions, carrots, celery, eggplant and parsnips), $14.95.

Cheese and onion pasty with a salad, $13.95.

Off of the dinner specials: mushrooms (shiitake, portabella and button) in a vegetarian gravy on grilled white toast, $8.50.

Cream tea anyone? Rosie Lee (half English Breakfast, half Earl Grey)...

with scones and clotted cream and strawberry jam, $10.

Rhubarb crumble in warm golden custard, $8.

Pineapple upside down cake, $5.

Sticky toffee pudding, $8. After ingesting such heavenly comfort food, I wondered, as Daisy asked Onlsow, "Do you think we'll be slimmer in the afterlife?"

Pop by Carry On Tea & Sympathy next door for cups that will be almost as nice as Hyacinth's Royal Doulton.

Congratulations! And as a poster I read reassured us, "Keep calm, Harry is still single."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Save Our Family Farms

A "Thanks for the Memories" photo collage at Demarest Farm, Hillsdale, New Jersey

Flashback: a crisp autumn day, childhood. Age, too young to remember. I am watching apple cider being pressed. The aroma of donuts is sugary perfuming the air. I stare in awe at a scarecrow watching over a pumpkin-dotted patch.

I couldn't relive those memories, since the two farms, Van Riper's and Tice's in Montvale, New Jersey are no longer there. Van Riper's, which had been around since the 1700s, became an A&P supermarket, and Tice's is now a strip mall with a Victoria's Secret, Gap, and other chain retailers. Depressing.

Do you have fond memories of visiting a farm as a child, and do you enjoy visiting them now?

Earth Day weekend marked the re-opening of Demarest Farm, which has been family owned since 1886 and operates from April through November. I'm already dreaming about their juicy summertime peaches, but my taste buds will have to be patient.

On a rainy day, I couldn't sit yet on their inviting picnic benches.

So I sat with my mom next to a cheerful geranium plant. My feast: corn chowder soup, an onion roll and blueberry iced tea.

Go lightly: we bring our own silverware to avoid the plastic.

A bunch of this asparagus came home with me for homemade asparagus soup (I add a potato, onions or shallots, some vegan stock and salt and pepper - that's it).

Cider donuts! Wash it down with a cup of their complimentary coffee. Real coffee from a pot - not those wasteful plastic single serve pods that will linger in our landfills generations after we drank the coffee.

Farmers' hats overhead seem to be bowing to the wagon wheel and an era of family farms gone by.

Visit Local Harvest to find family farms, farmers markets, CSAs and more near you.

Very little that we shop for can truly be called a "need." Food is. Support family farms, and give thanks for the nourishment they bring to body and soul. Let's cast our vote with our dollars for farms.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: Keeping Up With the Joneses, Younger and Younger

"Keeping Up With The Joneses," according to Wikipedia,

"The phrase was popularized when a comic strip of the same name was created by cartoonist Arthur R. "Pop" Momand. The strip debuted in 1913…and ran in American newspapers for 26 years, and was eventually adapted into books, films, and musical comedies. The "Joneses" of the title were neighbors of the strip's main characters, and were unseen characters spoken of but never actually seen in person. In the 1936 book, "The Next 100 Years", C.C. Furnas notes: "Keeping with the Joneses" descended from the spreading of the peacock's tail. An alternative explanation is that the Joneses of the saying refer to Edith Wharton's father's wealthy family."

Whatever the origin, even amidst our shaky recovery from the great recession, possessions remain bragging points among Americans. How many social situations do I find everyone whipping out their latest gadgets and talking about which ones they were going to acquire next. I don't think anyone's impressed by my flip phone (which the Verizon guy actually told me I was in the 90s for wanting). Perhaps they would be impressed by how much credit card debt I have: none.

More from Wikipedia.

"Social status once depended on one's family name; however, the rise of consumerism in the United States gave rise to social mobility. With the increasing availability of goods, people became more inclined to define themselves by what they possessed and the subtle quest for higher status accelerated. Conspicuous consumption and materialism have been an insatiable juggernaut ever since."

Beyond the fun romp of the fashion, music, films and food of the 1960s featured in Mad Men, what intrigues me the most about the show is the idea of a marketed lifestyle that you should be coveting (regardless of if you can afford it), imprinting loyalty to brands, and how much our happiness is tied to possession and status (so we are made to believe).

What does Trudy desire? A posh apartment Pete, who is just starting out in his career, cannot afford. Don gets a raise: time to start shopping for a flashy new car. The living room in Betty and Don's house? In need of a modern redo.

What's disturbing is the idea of high-end products as status and even entitlements and that ordinary Americans should be living the life of "celebrities" (no talent required) and that concept is being sold on the extremely impressionable youth of America.

Consider passages from this New York Post article on excessive prom spending:

"This year, kids are spending wedding prices for proms," said Rashi Pinckney, manager of Oz Boutique in Forest Hills, Queens. "Everyone wants to be Kim Kardashian or Lady Gaga. It's increased by $500 since last year."

"These kids have taken it to a new level. Everything is taken into consideration, from dress to tanning to hair to after-prom. They don't skimp on anything," says Jon Liney, founder of

"The traditional white limo is a thing of the past, too. Now, it's a $9,000-a-night double-decker Hummer equipped with stripper poles."

Ever watch MTV's My Sweet Sixteen? Kids cheer at the end of some over-the-top lavish party when the gift arrives: usually a Hummer or sports car.

At a movie night out not long ago in the suburban town of Westwood, New Jersey, practically every teen had UGG boots ($150+ a pair), a designer bag, and an expensive smart phone. Are they paying for this themselves? I can't imagine. Should the parents of America be overindulging their teens because that's what everyone else is doing? A question that comes up frequently: Can people really afford this, or is it living beyond their means? It seems to me we're raising a generation of spoiled, entitled brand-obsessed teenagers. If they don't have to work for anything, how will they appreciate it?

Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Share Art (Earth Day Edition): Jerry Hannan's Society

"Why would I want a new car? The Datsun runs great. I don't need a new car. I don't want a new car. I don't want any thing. These things, things, things, things," Christopher McCandless tells his parents who have offered him a gift of a new car upon college graduation.

Chris' story was told in Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild that was made into a film directed by Sean Penn. He was a young man who saw the life ahead of him after graduation, one of Keeping up with the Joneses, a corporate job, and happiness so tied to materialism, and decided it wasn't the least bit for him. He headed off into the wilds of Alaska, and tragically never returned. Far from the world where he didn't feel he fit in, he found solace in nature. "All my destinations would except the one that's me, so I can breathe," signs Eddie Vedder on Guaranteed in the film's soundtrack. Nature accepts you for who you are. She isn't impressed by your latest promotion or possessions. Nature awes and inspires you.

Today is Earth Day, which is being forgotten falling on Good Friday amidst the Easter festivities. But our poor treatment of the Earth is easily forgotten. Only when it directly impacts a person - the water supply is polluted, say, or a cell phone tower is planned, does it seem to draw attention and cries of "not in my backyard."

Werner Herzog's "Encounters at the End of the World," is a haunting and dreamy look at the personalities who live in Antarctica, including its scientists. Many of these scientists, Herzog observes, doubt man's long-term existence on the Earth. Nature, they believe, will regulate us. I can't help think they are right. Why are we drowning out the warning calls?

On this Earth Day, I share the art of Jerry Hannan's Society, a cautionary tale pondering our modern day society's take and take attitude, "We have a greed, with which we have agreed." It was performed by Eddie Vedder on the Into the Wild soundtrack. Try and quiet the wants, focus on the needs.

It's a mystery to me
We have a greed
With which we have agreed

And you think you have to
Want more than you need
Until you have it all
You won't be free

You're a crazy breed
I hope you're not lonely
Without me

When you want more than you have
You think you need
And when you think more than you want
Your thoughts begin to bleed

I think I need to find a bigger place
Cause when you have
More than you think
You need more space

Crazy indeed
Hope you're not lonely
Without me

There's those thinking more less
Less is more
But if less is more
How you keepin' score?

Means for every point you make
Your level drops
Kinda like you're starting from the top
And you can't do that

You're a crazy breed
Hope you're not lonely
Without me

Crazy indeed
Hope you're not lonely
Without me

Have mercy on me
Hope you're not angry
If I disagree

You're a crazy breed
Hope you're not lonely
Without me

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Watching Jamie Oliver, Channeling Owen Meany

I can't stop thinking about Owen Meany.

Owen Meany isn't real. He is a fictitious character. His story was told in John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, which was recommended by Cate at Liberal Simplicity. In a little league game in the summer of 1953 in Gravesend, New Hampshire, he hit a ball that strikes and kills his best friend's mother. The story that followed still haunts me long after I've read it.

Owen Meany was extremely small in stature and voice, virtually childlike into his adult years. He was not small in opinions. He was THE VOICE! of his school newspaper. Each time he appeared, his voice was written as ALL CAPS. He was not just a witness of the injustices he saw in society around him, he was an activist.

Jamie Oliver introduced the word activist to some students on episode two of his Food Revolution show. Activist, are you one for what you believe in? We need more activists.

Owen Meany faced bullies in school, so did I (though not to the extent he did). Jamie is facing bullies on the school board. No matter how old you are, and what situation you are in, bullies are everywhere. We must not be afraid to take them on.

Like Owen and Jamie, we must not fear change. The owner of Patra's fast food restaurant in Los Angeles resisted any efforts to improve the nutrition on his menu, even though it was later revealed his father died of heart disease due to a poor diet, and that all he had in the end was his food. Excuse me as I invoke the spirit of Owen Meany for the following editorial:





Find a family farm near you through LocalHarvest.

Watch Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution online.

Better than a mall: Old Hook Farm, Emerson, New Jersey.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: On Nostalgia

"Nostalgia, it's delicate, but Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It's a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a spaceship, it's a time machine. Goes backwards, forwards, and takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called "The Wheel," it's called "The Carousel." It lets us travel the way a child travels, round and around and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved." - Don Draper, Mad Men Season 1, talking about a Kodak Carousel that displays images invoking nostalgia.

Maybe because the news seems so dour lately, or perhaps it's part of aging, but I've been feeling nostalgic for more simpler times. In this CBS News story on nostalgia, Lemoyne College psychology professor Krystine Batcho observed that when something brings back memories, people are more likely to focus on people than items. "The things that people are most nostalgic for in their growing up years were simple things like having dinner with Grandma...or going camping -- as a family... Even if it's just getting together to have a simple meal, getting together to pray or whatever those experiences are that bring a family closer to one another." Something to remember during these trying economic times. People, not possessions, the soul remembers.

Looking back on my childhood, I recall simple "things": scratch and sniff stickers, my pink Smurfette lunch box, or earning prized Looney Toons eraser heads for getting enough gold stars in the third grade. But so much of what I remember are experiences, like...

Eating cherries and raspberries in an old farmhouse in Switzerland. We spent a lot of summers there as a child.
Making mashed potatoes with my grandfather, and eating them off of my grandparents' pretty blue plates in their home in Switzerland.
Sitting in a garden with my grandmother in Switzerland.
Dancing around the living room with my big sister to records.
Going swimming in the summertime.
Playing with our two cats.
Going sledding with my mom and dad in Van Saun park in winter, and making a snow man outside.

A new crop of enthusiastic sledders in Van Saun, on the same hill I went down as a child.

I think about smells too. One of my favorites, still is, is honeysuckle in the summer. Freshly mown grass transports me to a warm, sunny day in late June sitting in class longing for the lazy summer ahead. I think as adults, we should all get one summer off. Wouldn't that be nice?

The CBS article mentioned, "Nostalgia can be a lot about geography. So, if you grew up on the east coast, the smell of flowers made people nostalgic for their childhood. In the south, it was the smell of fresh air. In the Midwest, it was the smell of farm animals. And on the west coast, it was the smell of meat cooking or meat barbequing." Since I'm a vegetarian, good thing I grew up on the east coast.

What are you most nostalgic for? Don't life's seemingly simple pleasures and experiences sometimes seem the ones the memory most longs for? Isn't the memory trying to remind us what is most important in life?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

This Time, In Praise of Records

Maybe because everything is so fast moving and disposable in our modern age, many people are looking to the classics for comfort. Typewriters to defy our upgrading-obsessed world. Letters to record our thoughts in ink that cannot be erased by "delete." Vintage clothes that have lasted decades, while many cheaply made clothes of today fade after a few washes.

There's something about spending an evening at home listening to vinyl records that is so inviting. Unlike with an iPod which you can take anywhere, a vinyl forces you to be in the moment. Savor it while you can. Sit, lie, or dance to the music. You can be transported back in time. In a Golden Girls episode, Dorothy asks Blanche if she's donated to charity and Blanche says, yes, she bought a copy of the We Are the World album in 1985. Who didn't? I try not to romanticize any era too much (each time has its positives and negatives), but wouldn't it be nice to be in more innocent times? Before words like "sexting" was in teens' regular dialogue? When sweethearts grabbed for each other's hands and not a gadget on a date? No matter how fast and convenient a download can be, it cannot compete with flipping through the liner notes on a record and admiring the art.

Today, April 16, is National Record Store Day. I stopped in at my favorite shop, Music Merchant in Westwood, New Jersey, which I've been patronizing since I was a teenager. Do you patronize any record shops, or have in the past and miss doing so? As of late, I've be browsing thrift shops as well for steals on records.

These timeless albums, Carpenters and The Sound of Music, were part of two crates of records found disposed of by the curbside many months ago. Countless gems were in the collection, from the Gigi soundtrack to Elvis Presley.
Aren't we forgetting about and throwing away so much that is great about American culture? When it was less about gimmicks and shock value (ahem, Lady GaGa). When it was just about the music, and an entire album was worth listening to, not just a download? When we didn't hear "tweets" from our favorite singers except their actual singing, and didn't take out our music to drown out other sounds of technology (like people's distracting cell phone conversations)?

I also love the community feel of record shops, book stores, the library and the like, with their more personal, human connection which we all need, over the online alternatives (Amazon, Netflix, etc.) The shop owners and librarians know me by name. That cannot be said of a computer.

The song was so right, the times they are a-changing. Change is constant. But we can tailor the times to a world we want for ourselves. I'm so glad records are part of mine.

Now, a night with Simon & Garfunkel awaits.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Letter Praising Books

Dear readers,

I'm writing to you in letter format again, since I'm hoping to keep up the awareness and art form of letter writing, even if it's composed over e-mail or other technological form.

This week, I got a delivery of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies from a co-worker, with the most beautifully written thank you note on a stationary with her name attached to it. I thought I couldn't remember when I last received such a fine note, and this one from a child. Even on Christmas cards, I barely get more than "Merry Christmas." Truth be told, I don't recall receiving any letters in the mail since my college years.

Here's the reason for today's letter...

Some women covet shoes. Others bags. Here's what draws me like a moth to a flame: books. Filled with words that move me and stay with me, actually become part of me, ideas that challenge me, stories that make me dream, time that knows no boundaries.

Books: actual turn the page, put a bookmark in it, flip back to a cherished passage you were lingering over - those books. I hope they remain stalwarts.

I considered this recent New York Times article that Amazon will begin selling $114 Kindles which will include ads as screen savers and at the bottom of the home screen, and selling special offers. Why does consumerism need to be infused in every element of our lives? Shannon Hoon sang in Blind Melon's No Rain, "All I can do is read a book to stay awake, and it rips my life away but it's a great escape." There's no escaping commercials.

I don't despise eReaders the way many book lovers do. A friend thinks they will co-exist peacefully among books. And promoting literacy in our age of arts and education cuts is a good thing.

But I find so much of what I read through thrift shops and library book sales. I discovered my favorite new author, Keith Donohue, at thrift. His latest, Centuries of June, is coming out May 31st, and I'm actually giddy. Giddy over a book. My last read, Witch Child, which still haunts me and my mother is now enjoying, was 25 cents from a library book sale. I would have never been exposed to either if the physical books weren't bought and passed on. I love passing on a cherished book once I've read it (I keep a few for my own).

The New York Times wrote a beautiful love letter of an article to typewriters, and I thought of the parallel to books. Here are some of my favorite passages from it:

"Manual typewriters aren't going gently into the good night of the digital era.

For one, old typewriters are built like battleships. They survive countless indignities and welcome repairs, unlike laptops and smartphones, which become obsolete almost the moment they hit the market. "It's kind of like saying, 'In your face, Microsoft!'

Young typerwriter afficiandos...chafe against digital doctrines that identify human "progress" as a ceaseless march toward greater efficiency, the search for a frictionless machine.

Louis Smith, 28, a drummer from Williamsburg, stated "It's about permanence, not being able to hit delete. You have to have some conviction in your thoughts."

I loved this, and I consider the concept of permanence in our world of texts and e-mails gone so quickly, stories never passed on, and a book outlasting decades while gadgets get upgraded.

I'll write again soon, as I have a fine book calling my name. As you can see, I have far too much to read, but in my book (pun intended), that's the best kind of excess in life you can have. Happy reading.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution: Do Something

There are many things that are overwhelming in this world when we watch the news and can leave us feeling helpless, but we do have control over what food we put in our body, Gene Baur, President and Co-founder of Farm Sanctuary has expressed.

I thought of Gene's thoughtful words as I watched the premier episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (airing every Tuesday at 8 PM EST time on ABC (Watch the shows online). Like his approach or not, I hope we can agree on some of his goals, including less processed, healthier foods for all groups, and better school food, including eliminating flavored milks. One parent spoke of children drinking chocolate milk and pouring chocolate milk over cereal. I, for one, use almond 'milk' on my own.

Another parent simply observed of school food what also sums up the state of our nation's food supply: It's not okay. Repeat after me America: It's not okay.

Jamie approached a local fast food restaurant operator to revamp his menu to make it healthier, and when he asked him where his meat comes from, he had no idea. He gave a vague explanation of the supplier and admitted he knew nothing about it.

Blame shifting: it's become ingrained in American consumer attitudes as part of the entitlement culture. It's not my fault how the animals are raised or the end quality, it's the producers (even though I'm contributing to the demand). Wasn't it Don Draper in Mad Men who talked about the role of advertising is to make you feel okay about your actions? Wasn't he so right? We'll justify our bad behavior right and left with any excuse we can find to help ease our conscience.

The owner also said he wouldn't make milkshakes at home for his kids with the artificial syrup he uses in the restaurant and when Jamie, who wanted him to use real fruit, asked him to treat his customers like his children, he balked. I thought of the extremely disturbing film Food Beware: The French Food Revolution about the food culture in France (the highest pesticide user in the EU) in which farmers would not eat their own food. Not good for mine, but good for others.

When a customer was asked which quality food he preferred, it was the better one. Which one he'd buy, the cheaper one. Do we spare any expense on our entertainment budget? Do we cut out cable, expensive phones (with service plans), upgrading that television? But when it comes to life's basic essential, food, we're quick to cut costs, no questions asked. I ask a question: Why?

Plastic Nation
Jamie was rightfully horrified that school meals are being microwaved in plastic. I often wonder why people are not the least bit concerned to eat pesticide laden produce and factory farmed animals on a regular basis, but they won't drink tap water. I consider this selective fear. Consider the exposure to the plastic that the bottled water sits in (for who knows how long).

Convenience foods are a major part of our food life. At work in my office in Manhattan, I see people heating up those Lean Cuisine type foods (in plastic trays) almost every day. The plastic question gives me pause. It's in everything. I don't usually heat up food in it (I put the food on a plate and cover with a paper towel), but I heated up rice from Trader Joe's to go with my steamed vegetable dumplings, and it was packaged in plastic. I won't be doing that so much anymore. I also consider plastic holds soup I get at the farmers' market, and my organic peanut butter, tofu, hummus etc. are all packaged in it.

I'll be blogging about Jamie's show, as a vehicle for dialogue and provoking thought about our food culture. I don't want to be part of a culture that feigns or embraces ignorance, or one that is controlled, and hope you don't either. I want to take ownership over my actions and the results on others. I do not expect perfect, ideal food choices out of anyone, since I don't do that myself.

When I saw reference to a "Do Nothing" congress in The New York Times, I thought how much we've become a "Do Nothing" population when taking accountability over what's going into our body (and children's bodies) and into our Earth. Let's become a "Do Something" food culture for positive change. Don't be afraid of change, especially if it means a healthier you and healthier family.

When Michael Stipe sang in R.E.M.'s "I Wanted to Be Wrong,"
"Mythology's seductive and it turned a trick on me, that I have just begun to understand.
I told you I wanted to be wrong but everyone is humming a song that I don't understand."

I thought not of any war (which is what the song is about), but of my own enlightenment path with our food culture. Moreover did I relate to these simple words he reminds me in UBerlin, "Don't forget the change will save you."

Learn more about Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.

Check out Gene Baur's book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: Four Stories

Her name is Betty. She appears to have it all, but appearances are always deceiving. She puts saccharin in her coffee instead of sugar, because the forces (also frequently known in society as "they") told her it's better, that sugar is bad for your health. Yet she smokes and drinks even while pregnant because that's what was done. She is an example of the great paradox of how we compartmentalize our bad behavior and change what's easy and convenient and keep doing what's not and remain in denial.

She predictably buys Heineken at a grocery store for a dinner party when it was on display, because marketers studying our behavior know us better than we know ourselves. She is the "made" consumer. I look around at our very homogenized culture (at a rare mall outing, everyone seemed to be in "uniform," literally: UGG boots, grasping Blackberry, toting expensive (fill in the blank...Coach, Louis Vuitton, etc.) handbag.

Her name is Sally. She is Betty's young daughter. Betty catches her smoking in the bathroom, trying to emulate adult behavior, which youth so often does. But instead of simple games of dress up, America's youth seems more corrupted than ever. Sexting is now part of our vocabulary, and their toys (expensive phones with monthly service plans, pricey clothes and bags, seem bewilderingly entitlements). When Betty has a new child on the way, Betty buys Sally a Barbie as a gift from the baby. Buying happiness. Isn't that the American dream? What Sally wants is time.

Her name is Peggy. She's trying to navigate and advance in the all boys club where people refer to their secretaries as "your girl." She's mocked when she gains weight, even asked to test out a weight loss device. She wants better pay and better treatment. Some losses (pay), some battles won (the private office). She at times seems to do almost anything to fit in (going to a gentlemen's club, smoking pot). She strikes me, like Betty and Sally, as being extremely lonely.

My name is Catherine. I don't envy people like real life Betty Drapers for being thinner, attractive, having the dream wardrobe, clothes, and family, because one has no idea what life is like for other people unless you've walked in their shoes.

I don't want to be a "made" consumer and mindlessly consume. I am an independent thinker, and I question things all the time. However, I don't make the right decisions with every choice, and know standards of perfection will set you up for failure and misery.

I'm not afraid like Peggy to go outside my comfort zone (although I would never do drugs). Like Michael Stipe in R.E.M.’s sonic poem Blue, I try and see outside myself. I look at my decisions and think, how will this affect the animal, person, planet? I wonder, when, how, why, where, did the pursuit of happiness become such a tunnel vision focus, only concerned about our own happiness, regardless of its impact on others? Perhaps it has always been that way since we displaced the Native Americans.

There's a scene in the film Julie & Julia where Julie Powell says in a fight with her husband, "What do you think a blog is? It's me, me, me day after day."

I don't aspire to have a "me, me, me" blog or life, and I hope you don't either.

But I know there's a little bit of Betty, Sally and Peggy in all of us. We're all imperfect, a contradiction in terms, sometimes lonely (hopefully not too much), want recognition, trying to figure it out.

My least favorite four letter words for this post and learnings from Mad Men: (don't) envy or (be the) same, and self (it's not all about you).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Share Art: Indian Names

A Native American dugout canoe that was on display at the Steuben House in River Edge, New Jersey, thanks to the Bergen County Historical Society. George Washington watches over it, in a room he stayed in while headquartered with the army. With a new nation begun, an ancient civilization would soon be forgotten, or perhaps, seemingly just erased.

"Our injustice and hard-hearted policy with regard to the original owners of the soil has seemed to me one of our greatest national sins," Lydia Huntley Sigourney lamented. A singer from upstate New York, Natalie Merchant (the former lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs), transformed poems into sonic shape for Leave Your Sleep. One of them (on the double album) was Indian Names by Sigourney, "who was once the most popular American female writer of the nineteenth century, with an astounding seven thousand articles and eighty books published in her lifetime [born 1791, died 1865]", according to Merchant. Isn't it amazing how household names fall into obscurity? Merchant has talked about the project being about the past pulling her back and her pulling the past forward. On my own path, including the writing process, I very much relate to those sentiments.

"In 1822, at a time when most good Christian women in New England joined the temperance movement or advocated for the rights of slaves, Siguorney paid tribute to the Native Americans in an epic poem, 180 pages in length, Traits of the Aborigines of America," Merchant writes.

Artifacts from the past remain at exhibits, but think of how many names are of Indian descent. Lydia reminds us their spirit is very much with us, and rightfully so as the namesake of the lands, rivers, and mountains they revered and protected.

Reflect on these haunting words, in the moving poem (watch a live version of Merchant here).

Ye shall say they all have passed away,
That noble race and brave,
That their light canoes have vanished
From off the crested wave.

That 'mid the forests where they roamed
There rings no hunter's shout;
But their name is on your waters,
Ye may not wash it out.

'Tis where Ontario's billow
Like Ocean's surge is curled;
Where strong Niagara's thunders wake
The echo of the world;

Where red Missouri bringeth
Rich tributes from the west,
And Rappahannock sweetly sleeps
On green Virginia's breast.

Ye say, their cone-like cabins,
That clustered o'er the vale,
Have fled away like withered leaves
Before the autumn gale:

But their memory lives on in your hills,
Their baptism on your shore;
Your everlasting rivers speak
Their dialect of yore.

Old Massachusetts wears it
Within her lordly crown,
And broad Ohio bears it
'mid all her young renown;

Connecticut hath wreathed it
Where her quiet foliage waves,
And bold Kentucky breathed it hoarse
Through all her ancient caves.

Wachuset hides its lingering voice
Within its rocky heart,
And Alleghany graves its tone
Throughout his lofty chart:

Monadnock on his forehead hoar
Doth seal the sacred trust;
Your mountains build their monument,
Though ye destroy their dust

Learn more about Lydia Huntley Sigourney.

Learn more about Natalie Merchant's Leave Your Sleep, including a video on the project, which has very much stirred my own newfound interest in learning about poetry.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lessons from the Native Americans: Go Lightly on this World

In "Wampum Prayer" off of Tori Amos' Scarlet's Walk album, a sonic road trip around America, Amos (who has Cherokee blood on her mother's side) calls upon the voice of an old Apache woman. She describes it as bestowing a curse or a blessing on the settlers who have come to America and taken and taken and taken.

"In our hand an old, old, old thread.
Trail of blood and amens.
Greed is the gift for the sons of the sons.
Hear this prayer of the wampum. This is the tie that will bind us."

Native Americans tribes inhabited the area I live in (the northern tip of New Jersey) for 10,000 years. It only took a few hundred years to wipe most out through disease, alcohol, bloodshed and relocation, as was recalled at the Bergen County Historical Society's Lenape New Year.

From their site:

"The first Dark Moon after the Long Moon marks the arrival of Chwame gischuch, the Shad Moon, and the New Year of the ancient Sanhicans and Minisinks, locally known as the Hackensacks and Tappans. Native peoples returned from their winter villages, gathering at the narrows of the great streams, in places such as Acquackanonck (Garfield) and Aschatking (New Bridge), to set their fykes and weirs and catch smelt and later shad as these fish ran up the rivers in great numbers."

Reflect on the idea of living in harmony with nature, and how very far removed we are from that in modern times. Like the settlers hundreds of years before, we take, and take, and take.

Tobacco leaves, which were left on the animal after it was killed and the animal was asked for its forgiveness for its life. Consider the respect given to animals in the Native American culture, versus the exploitation that exists in factory farming today.

Wayne Pacelle, the CEO and President of The Humane Society of the United States, observed, "We have so much power in this relationship [with animals], and for so many years we've treated that power as license. That we could do whatever we wanted with it." Mr Pacelle has a new book out, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them.

Lower than the animals is how one Presbyterian minster described the Indians. Savages. Who are the true savages?

Nothing was wasted - animal, plant, material. Squash shells for bowls.

A red blanket from the Hudson Bay Company. The two stripes represented the numbers of furs the blanket would be traded for. How upsetting today to see people mindlessly wearing fur trims and coats with no care for the animals who suffered for senseless fashion vanity. No one needs fur today to survive. But the life of animals, disregarded in our culture. Most feel entitled to exploit them for their wants (not needs) of the day.

A snapping turtle rattle used by the medicine men. How often healing is mind over matter.
I recalled my friend Jennifer's tale of her father shooting a snapping turtle, and the often disharmonious relationship between animals and people. You can read "Why I Don't Like Pink" here.

Speaker Bob Wills from Sunrise Trading Post, holding up a deer hide (note George Washington watching over his shoulder). Deer are now slaughtered in New Jersey for being a nuisance. Again, who is the nuisance to Mother Nature - man or animal? I wonder this observing the litter lined roads on my bus in and out of New York City everyday, and on garbage night with the abundance of perfectly good items heading to the overflowing landfills. Even in economic lean times, we are the land of excess.

Mr. Wills recalled telling some Native Americans he thinks they have been wronged and would give the land back to them if he could. They replied they wouldn't want it - we've screwed it up too much.

"They live in the forest in nakedness, in sin and degradation. They make nothing of the land. They live worse than beggars," says Goodwife Anne, in Celia Rees' Witch Child, a novel based on the premise a collection called "the Mary papers" was found hidden in a quilt from the colonial period guessed to be from 1659. Mary says, "I want to shout, cry out about how little she understands. The Indians go lightly on the world, that is all. They make their homes from living trees, only take what they need before moving on to let the land replenish itself." Replenish, go lightly? Why can we not do the same?

When the old Indian man is dismayed to hear of colonists killing wolves, "He says everything has its own place in the world, wolves and men."

I love this photo of Mary (of Indian descent) who does the cooking in the Dutch out kitchen.

Gathering at the tavern after over hoecakes (corn cakes) with blueberry jam and hot cider. Maybe I'm romanticizing it, but I love the idea of the tavern as a meeting house for sharing ideas, lively talk of the politics of the day, local activism. Meeting of the minds often occurs online now, but wouldn't it be nice in person sometimes. How I wish, readers, we could all gather in a room to discuss our nation, which seems a bit troubled on its path.

As I admired on the daffodils popping up, one of Mother Nature's gifts for the eyes, I vowed to continue to go lightly on my path as much as I can, with respect for other species who have their own place.

"What do you plan to do with all your freedom? The new sheriff said, quite proud of his badge.
You must admit the land is now in good hands. Yes time will tell.

I used to think that her destiny should have been mine.
Big brave nation, but instead, her medicine now forgotten. Leaving terra." - Tori Amos, Scarlet's Walk.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Share Art, Make Art, Support Art

"Make art, make art," Glen Hansard said at the end of his Oscar acceptance speech for Falling Slowly with fellow Once costar Markéta Irglová in 2008 (watch it here). I recalled these words when reading this inspiring post on a poetry reading on Consciously Frugal.

"Share art, share art," I thought as I read it. Art begets more art, wisdom begets wisdom, hope begets hope.

Ms. Irglová said,

"This is such a big deal, not only for us, but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling, and this, the fact that we're standing here tonight, the fact that we're able to hold this, it's just the proof that no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don't give up. And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are."

A keeper for the favorite four-letter words list: Hope.

"Share Art" will be a new feature on my blog, and I hope to share various art forms - the written word, sonic, dramatic, visual - whatever is inspiring and provoking thought. This won't be on any designated day. Please feel free to leave in the comments section any art form that is inspiring you, or art that you are creating (by pen, keyboard, paintbrush, craft table, on stage, and such).

Share the wealth of knowledge, and consider what is "wealth." Remember if you have life's basics (food and water, shelter, clothing) and you can read (think how many cannot), have a library card, a book, a newspaper, music making your soul soar to new heights at the ready - you are a rich soul indeed. If you are in good health - you're a millionaire in a whole other sense.

As I listened to the songs of protest on the Woodstock soundtrack, I thought how we need to write our own words documenting the times and stand not just as witnesses but as active participants. If you want a better culture (I do), create and support one. In our world of fleeting communications (e-mails, texts, and such easily gone), let's lay our words down for the times. No matter how small you think your voice is - keep using it for good. Share art, make art, support art.

I leave you with the fitting words from This Low by Hansard's and Irglová's band, The Swell Season:

Thread the light,
shine the light,
don't hide the light
live the light,
and give the light,
seek the light,
crave the light, and brave the light,
stare the light,
and share the light,
show the light,
and know the light,
raise the light,
and praise the light,
thread the light,
and spread the light.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: Dressing the Part

When thrifting Saturday at a bring and buy that is a vintage lover's dream, the cashier said she couldn't understand why so many young people are suddenly coming in to buy vintage fashion. Two words: Mad Men.

A recurring theme when discussing the clothes in a Mad Men season 1 extra DVD was how putting the clothes on made the actors and actresses automatically feel different, including how they carried themselves. Christina Hendricks who plays Joan said the clothes were so fabulous that she thinks she should dress like that all the time, and wondered why today we look so sloppy.

I love the idea of getting dressed up for sunnier times and not dressing in clothes that are so disposable. I adore the look of Mad Men but have no costume designer, stylist or unlimited income.

I also try and get as much as possible - clothes, shoes and accessories - secondhand: through consignment and thrift store shopping, hand-me-down's (never too old for those!) from relatives, and clothing swaps. I'd like to explore more garage sales too. I do this to save money (empowering!), reduce my impact on the planet (being mindful of the environmental impact of clothing production) and to not support labor conditions I cannot know of.

Here's a peek at what I wear when I'm feeling "Mad Men.":

Vintage bags: free, from my mom's closet. My dad bought the black one (he thinks in the seventies) in New York City for my mother and there's a duplicate one for my grandmother (now passed away) in Switzerland. The strap recently broke, but thank goodness a shop cobbler fixed it. I love going into the shoe cobbler, to promote fixing things (not disposing of them) and having such craftsmanship in the community. There doesn't seem to be much craftsmanship in anything these days.

My grandmother's scarf from Venice. I love all the scarves on Betty Draper. I have a whole "new" slew of scarves from my mom.

The pink pillbox hat, Renoir Arnold Constable Block, Hackensack, New Jersey, $10, thrifted from a bring and buy store across from Abram Demaree Farm Stand in Closter, New Jersey. I realized when I brought it home it's my third vintage pink hat, but who can say no to a Jackie O classic?

Gloves - why, why, why did they go out of style? The beige were my grandmother's and the navy blue were my mother's. My grandmother's pins, and my mom's earrings.

I used to "treat myself" (now, I think, waste money) at Anthropolgie on their pricey clothes. I now find their clothes second hand, like this dress which I frequently get "that's so vintage" when I wear it. (Note: needs ironing! Just out of the wash).

I bought it for $25 at Beautiful Little Secret consignment shop in Dumont, New Jersey. An aside: this dress is made in China, and no matter what the images you see in catalogues of women basking in French farmhouses or country fields, almost everything today is imported and under who know what labor conditions. Precisely why I buy secondhand.

Can we talk hemlines? I love this longer length (past the knees), and it's frustrating how hard it is to find it. I also cannot believe the extremely short lengths women in the professional world wear their skirts. Mini-skirts - not fitting for the office.

Do you enjoy vintage clothing or accessories? Do you have any cherished pieces from relatives?

While I love the Mad Men style, I also love "earthy", hippie-type clothing (more for the weekends), and am smitten with the 1930s and 1940s glamour (but don't experiment with that look enough). Do you love any fashion eras?