Tuesday, July 31, 2007

You MUST read this book!

No, not Harry Potter. Although I'm one of those Harry Potter freaks who has read all the books at least three times (except the last one, which I've only read once so far, but give me a week or so and I'll probably re-read it), and I don't truly understand how anyone could "try" reading the Harry Potter series and "just not get into it," I won't judge you for it. In fact, that's exactly the way I feel about the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Meh. It was good but it didn't rock my world.

I'm talking about Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's the story of her family's permanent move to their farm in Appalachia and commitment to eating only what they could grow themselves or find locally for an entire year. Kingsolver is probably best known for her novels, especially The Poisonwood Bible, but she has written a lot of non-fiction essays, mostly about social injustice, the environment and family life, and she has a background in biology. I've read absolutely everything she's written, even a book from the early 1980s called Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983, which started her writing career.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is certainly not the first book about a person or family embracing agriculture and living off the land, but it's the best one by far. Kingsolver has a wonderfully fluid prose, a ripe sense of humor, and a tone that is graciously opinionated without crossing the line into preachiness. She is a truly committed environmentalist, and lives by the simple principle that one should not take from the Earth more than one can give back to it.

So why should everyone read this book? Because it's brilliant, fascinating, inspirational, and addresses the one area of our daily lives where we can all make a difference. Food. We all have to eat, after all. And it turns out that the growing, processing and transporting of food is a huge factor in what's killing the planet and using up all of our fossil fuels. And if you're not "into" the whole environmental movement (which you should be, but that's a whole other blog entry), consider this: the food system in America is also making us sick, with everything from E. coli (from beef grown in feedlots) to obesity (high fructose corn syrup and trans-fats in everything).

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is not just a tale of how we're all dooming the planet with our eating habits. Much more than that, it's a case for preserving small farms (which are disappearing at an alarming rate) and caring for communities by buying food that is grown and produced locally. Not to mention how much better food tastes when it didn't travel very far from its origin to your dinner table. (Have you ever tasted a grocery store tomato or strawberry in the middle of January? It's not even worth it.)

It's an intelligent book. Kingsolver tackles some complex issues, like the importance of bio-diversity in heirloom plant and animal species, and how vegetarianism and especially veganism are not necessarily environmentally sound, and manages to do so without being confusing or condescending. She also doesn't expect everyone to go out and buy a farm and grow all their own food. Homesteading is a shit-ton of work, and it's foolish to idealize it too much. Obviously, most of us are not freelance writers with a farm handy on which to grow acres of tomatoes and squash and turkeys and then write a best-selling book about it. Some of us are urban dwellers with small children and career plans that don't allow for an entire summer's worth of hoeing and canning. But that doesn't let us off the hook. There are ways to find food locally, and lucky for us, there are many resources on how to find them listed throughout the chapters and in the back of the book.

Lastly, there's Kingsolver's love of her home-country, Appalachia. She's lived in many places, but was born and bred in Kentucky, my home-state, and their farm is in southwest Virginia. I don't have deep roots in Kentucky, but I grew up there (we moved to a small town in the bluegrass region right before I started kindergarten) and reading her book makes me nostalgic. In fact, I've been listening to Dolly Parton the last two days and feeling a little homesick. (Incidentally, there's an heirloom variety of tomato named after Dolly Parton...guess what it looks like?) Kingsolver's love of place and community will draw you into her story as much as her agenda for writing the book in the first place.

Go read it. You'll know what I mean.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter (no spoilers, I promise!)

After my rather unsavory evaluation of UPS a few days ago, I just broke down and bought another copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Amazon refunded my money for the one I'd ordered, which I still haven't received, and likely won't until next week. I'll spare you the details why; it's fairly complicated and not so interesting to most of you.

So eventually, I'll have two copies, but will only have paid for one (though they didn't refund the shipping charges, which really chaps my chodes, seeing as the shipping was the problem in the first place, but I'm not going to make a big battle out of four bucks). I started reading Monday night and got through 176 pages in two hours. I finished the book last night after another 6 hours or so of reading off and on throughout the day.

This book blew my mind, but not because of the crazy plot twists and cliff-hangers. Unexpected and exciting as those things were, I was most impressed by the character development and moral/ethical themes J.K. Rowling addressed in this book, as she has in the others. I won't discuss the plot or characters here except to say that in the Harry Potter series, Rowling did much more than write an epic tale of good vs. evil. She has some very powerful moral messages about the importance of love, friendship, loyalty, integrity and resourcefulness, as well as the terrible corruptive nature of power and collective fear. President Bush could learn a few things from these books. I wonder if he's read them.

(On a side note, thanks for all the well-wishes regarding the ultrasound I had last week. I had some blood drawn to test for several chromosomal abnormalities, and it came back negative, as I expected. This is good news, but I'm still having another ultrasound next week so they can take a closer look. You know, I think the easiest way to scare a pregnant woman unnecessarily is to give her an ultrasound in the second trimester.)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

UPS licks balls


I have already written a pissy email to Amazon informing them that I expect a full refund for my order. I don't know when I'll get my book because we are driving around a good chunk of the Midwest visiting family and friends. I may just have to break down and buy a second copy.

I am hereby staying away from all major news media and blogs that might reveal anything that happens in book 7 - that includes the comment roll in this entry in case anyone's feeling feisty - because I want to find everything out for myself.

Don't anyone dare call me and tell me what happens.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

ultrasound results

I hate getting ultrasounds, but unfortunately, it looks like I'll be having at least one more.

Let's start with the good news: the placenta is fine. The bleeding appears to have come from a hematoma outside the placenta. It's harmless and nothing to worry about.

The worrisome news: they also found a choroid plexus cyst (CPC) in the brain. The doctor explained it to me, but I couldn't quite wrap my head around it, so I googled it. CPCs occur in 1-3% of pregnancies in the 4th month, and most disappear by the third trimester. CPCs themselves are not harmful, but they are weakly associated with certain genetic abnormalities, so if one is discovered in an ultrasound, there is usually a follow-up ultrasound to check organ development and the like. I'm under 30, I have no history of genetic abnormalities in my family, I have every reason to believe that everything is probably fine. But I'm still going to have the blood screen and another ultrasound at 20 weeks to investigate further.

Of course, it's too early to really worry about all the things that could be wrong but probably aren't. But I was watching Daniel play in the back yard just now, thinking about how lucky we are to have such a healthy, strong child and realizing yet again how much we take for granted.

I wouldn't mind if some of you sent some good thoughts our way.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

one more thing down, lots to go

About 30 seconds ago, I emailed the proposal for my DMA final project to my committee. (We don't call them "dissertations" here, oh no. Dissertations are what you do if you're a PhD student, not a lowly performance major.) This is something I had aimed to do by the end of the spring semester; in fact, technically it should have been officially accepted by the end of the last semester in order for me to turn in and defend my project this fall. I'm assuming (or just hoping) that if I get everything done and turned in by the October 15 deadline (eek!) they'll let me defend it and graduate anyway. (My project, by the way, is going to be producing and recording a full-length CD of songs by American composers. I'll spare you the specifics, but it's going to be cool.)

Why was I two months late turning it in? For starters, I ran into some logistical snags just before my original draft was ready to turn in. I won't go into details, but let's just say that after emailing various people in the middle of May, I'm still waiting to receive some unpublished scores, one set from a guy who's on vacation, and another set from (ahem) the composer himself who can't find his own songs. Until I am assured I'll get that music, I can't find singers to do the songs with me...so parts of the project are at a standstill. I could have turned in the proposal with these unknowns; most projects end up different from the original proposal anyway. The point is to get your ideas down on paper so your committee knows you're intentions. But getting pregnant didn't help matters. The entire month of May I was so exhausted, it took 100% of my energy and then some to get through each day, which meant taking care of Daniel, practicing for SongFest, and ordering a lot of take-out because I was too tired to cook most of the time. It felt like a month-long hangover.

Now that my proposal is in the hands of my committee, however, I'm nervous. My teacher liked it (she saw a draft a little while ago), but I still worry that the others (especially the "academic" faculty members) won't find it scholarly enough, that they'll want me to bag the whole thing. It's that whole "What if I actually suck?" fear that many graduate students have, even after proving themselves time and time again.

Bah! Be gone with you, negativity and self-doubt! I banish thee!

There, I feel better.

Monday, July 16, 2007

quick update

As of Saturday evening, the bleeding, which was never heavy in the first place, pretty much stopped. I'm still getting an ultrasound on Wednesday to check things out, but it's encouraging that it didn't get worse and that I haven't been in pain. I figure if something were terribly wrong, I would be feeling bad by now, right? Thanks for all the good thoughts, everyone. I'll let you know how the ultrasound goes.

Friday, July 13, 2007

a little worried

I know that you all don't need to know or want to know all the details of my pregnant self. This pain and that discomfort, every moment of wonder and joy and anxiety...that can get a little boring. I myself enjoy only a certain amount of baby talk before my eyes glaze over. I've said several times that the great thing about pregnancy, assuming it's a normal and healthy one, is that your body does everything for you. As long as you eat right, get enough sleep and don't do anything stupid like shoot up heroin or go ski jumping, everything takes care of itself until the baby is born. This has thusfar been the case for me.

The last couple days have been worrisome, though, and writing about it might help my anxiety, so here we go. I was meeting with my major professor yesterday at her house, mainly to talk about my dissertation project, but also to catch up on life in general. I was sitting on her couch, and at one point moved over so she could sit next to me so we could look at something together. She pointed to where I'd been sitting: "Is that you?" There was a stain. Not a big one, but it was definitely red and it had definitely come from me.

I didn't panic, but I was mildly worried. I came home, called the clinic, waited over two hours before calling back and finally spoke to a nurse on call. In the meantime I pulled my one and only pregnancy book off the shelf, a book I barely looked at when I was pregnant with Daniel, a book I'm not terribly enthusiastic about (mostly because of its annoying insistence on something they call the "pregnancy diet"), and looked up "bleeding in the second trimester." According to this book, what I was experiencing (and still am, to a small extent) - light bleeding, no cramps or pain or fever of any kind - is probably nothing, but possibly an indication of low-lying placenta or something of that sort. It's not that uncommon. It's also not the worst thing that could happen, certainly, but it's enough to make me a little nervous.

I'm scheduled for an ultrasound next Wednesday to check things out. Everything is probably all right, I keep telling myself, but it's still hard not to fret and worry a little.

ETA: Regarding ultrasounds - I only had one when I was pregnant with Daniel. It was around 9 weeks and it was only to confirm the due date. Those mid-term ultrasounds often raise false alarms, they're uncomfortable (your bladder has to be uncomfortably full for them to get a good picture), and they're not actually necessary as long as you're under 30 and having a healthy pregnancy. Most people assume the mid-term ultrasound is necessary and routine, but we opted not to do it when I was pregnant with Daniel, and we were really glad not to have to do it. I had intended not to have the mid-term ultrasound with this pregnancy, either, unless there was a specific reason (like 2nd-trimester bleeding, for example). Because of the bleeding, I'm having one on Wednesday, during my 16th week, to check the placenta. If everything's OK, which I dearly hope it is, then I don't plan to have another ultrasound at 20 weeks. Because we don't want to know the sex of the baby, and it really, really sucks to drink 32 oz. of water in 30 minutes and then have to HOLD IT while they're pressing down on your abdomen.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


I think he'll be a good big brother, don't you?

Friday, July 06, 2007


Sometimes you've just gotta have a muenster cheese and sweet pickle sandwich with mustard.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Malibu pix

I know, I know. It's about time (or past time) I posted pictures from my recent trip to Malibu. I didn't have room to bring our camera, but Uncle Joe has a sweet new camera phone, so he got some good shots with it. Most of these are Daniel, but in some of them you can get a sense of the scenery there.

Here's the view from above the ginormous sports complex at Pepperdine. You can see clear out to the ocean.

The outside seating at the cafeteria.

The Fountain.

Daniel on the beach.

Check out this posture!

Another view of the Pepperdine campus.

This one just made me laugh.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Farm Bill

Hey, everyone, go read Steph's latest post about the Farm Bill and why it's so important that it support small farmers and sustainable agriculture. Don't miss the part at the end where she re-lives her childhood canning experience. (Steph, I've got a story from Mexico that could potentially beat that, but I'll save it for another day.)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Summer Salads

Summer in Madison is hard to beat, not the least because of the great farmers' markets. The one on the Capitol Square is the largest of its kind in the world, and there are several other smaller markets throughout the metro area (like this one, where we usually go). Produce abounds: vegetables, berries, plants, flowers, and later in the season, squash, apples, melons...it's easy to buy more than you can eat. So just in time for the 4th of July, I'm sharing some of my favorite summer salad recipes. I usually don't measure ingredients, so amounts aren't too precise, but it's all to taste anyway. These are all very simple, and most delicious when made with vegetables fresh from the garden or farmers' market.

Potato Salad

Approx. 2 lbs yellow, red or purple potatoes (or a combination), chopped.
2-3 eggs boiled for exactly 11 minutes.
1-2 T. chopped parsley (more if you really like parsley)
2 tsp. yellow mustard
1/3-1/2 cup mayonaise (you can sub part yogurt if you wish)
1/2 tsp. paprika
salt and pepper to taste

Tomato-Cuke Salad
This one hardly needs instructions! Chop or slice equal amounts fresh cucumber and tomato and mix with a little sugar, a little salt, a little pepper, and a splash of cider vinegar.

German-style green beans

This is the vegetarian version. I think the original German recipe calls for bacon.
Cut 1 lb. fresh green beans into 2" lengths and boil briefly, just until crisp-tender, in salted water.
Sauté 2 T. chopped red onion in 2 T. olive oil until soft.
Add the beans, along with 1 T. cider vinegar, and some salt and pepper to taste.
Stir just until the beans are coated, then remove from heat.
Serve warm or room temperature.

Easy, no?