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For vegetables.

Here’s my easy, “eat more vegetables” secret for today:

Take whatever vegetables you’ve got and chop them up. Cabbage, broccoli, squash, mushrooms, turnips, carrots, eggplant, whatever. Chop up an onion or two, julienne style, like you’re gonna make caramelized onions. Mix the two in a big bowl with some oil and salt, maybe some chopped garlic, and then spread in a relatively thin layer on a cookie sheet in the oven. Bake at 375-400 degrees, stirring every now and then to even things out as they brown. When things are cooked and a little browned, remove from oven. Takes about 10 minutes worth of chopping and 20-30 minutes of not doing anything while it cookes in the oven.


You’re welcome.

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Something brilliant my coworker just said

“Nothing is the end of the world except the end of the world.”

So so true.

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The Marital Sky is Not Falling

Sound the alarms! Our kids are afraid of intimacy and can’t commit! The world is coming to an end!


I heard this story on NPR yesterday morning. and then my Dad sent it to me, just in case I missed it. Has Brenda Wilson been reading too much Laura Sessions Stepp? Yeesh. This reporter seems to be as about in touch with the youth culture as Stepp is.

I would argue that these and similar “news” stories are aimed at trying to explain to the panicking Boomer and older generations why their kid or grandkid isn’t married and providing them with grandbabies yet. What is wrong with today’s youth? Why are they waiting? What’s the cause?
It’s coed dormitories! It’s women’s liberation! It’s their friends! It’s their promiscuous ways!

My dad said Brenda Wilson’s piece really “helped him understand today’s 20somethings.” Up until recently, I was one of today’s twentysomethings, and I don’t think Brenda Wilson describes me at all, nor do I think that she describes the majority of the people that I am friends with.

I realize I’m actually (sadly) a little bit older than the generation supposedly being profiled here, and that our culture is possibly shifting so rapidly under our feet that I may not know what’s going on with the generation just a few years younger. But by all definitions, I’m more part of the so-called Millennial generation than Generation-X, so I think I can speak to what they’re about.

And I go on dates. And I don’t generally “hook up” first. And yeah, ok a fair number of my friends do, but just as many don’t, and I’m talking both women AND men that I know. Moreover, none of the date-first-make-out-second people I know are proceeding that way for religious or prudish reasons, but rather simply because we crave the kind of emotional intimacy and commitment that Barbara Wilson purports that we simply are not interested in.

In my view, the culprit is not the cultural phenomenon of hooking up (which has been around for um, ever). People are getting married later in life in every place in the world that women have attained a more equal standing in society. I read an article not too long ago about how women in Japan don’t want to get married as quickly anymore. Their reasons are similar to their Western counterparts.  They are putting off husband and family to focus on developing their careers. They are also reticent to get married because they don’t want to be shunted into the traditional subservient wifely role that Japanese men still expect them to fill.
Go figure.

I swear I am so tired of reporters, especially women reporters, lamenting the breakdown of romance, intimacy, marriage, family, and whatever else in young people today. Yes, the rules are getting redefined. And if women are truly to be equal partners to men in this society, that’s going to have to happen. And it will probably be really confusing and frustrating for awhile longer. There will probably be a lot more shifting around until we get it right, because we have a lot to figure out, and centuries of horrific inequality to correct.

And we unfortunately have people freaking out and fighting change tooth and nail at every turn.

I say, chill out! Young people have not changed that much. Most of my friends, even children of divorced parents like me who understandably have a skeptical attitude towards commitment, want love, intimacy, commitment, family, and everything in between. Many want more than what their grandparents were willing to settle for though: many want an equal partner, a best friend, a life companion out of the deal, and they’re not willing to settle (despite Lori Gottlieb insisting that all us girls in our early thirties should marry any nice  man willing to make babies with us before we hit 35).

Without clear gender roles, we have a lot more to figure out to get there. Back when women did the domestic labor, and men earned the money, when the man’s role was to try to get sex and the woman’s job was to withhold it until she got a ring, things were definitely simpler for all involved. Especially because a woman couldn’t do so much as open a checking account on her own until the 1970s. But I don’t think it follows that we should head back in that direction for the sake of simplicity. We humans are complex creatures. I am confident we can figure out this new landscape and make new rules (or live just fine without rules at all) without seeing the destruction of romance, intimacy, family and commitment.

Just give us some time.

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Two videos on art and creativity

One from MoMA:

One from Ira Glass of This American Life:

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Stand by Me

This is awesome. See more at Playing for Change.

Playing For Change | Song Around The World “Stand By Me”

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Ok, people. Sober up.

So I know we are all riding high after Tuesday’s big win. The people have spoken, and they have said that they are tired of George W. Bush and his ilk, tired of the unabashed Republican cronyism that has plagued Washington, tired of neoconservative right-wing wackjobs running things.

Okay fine. That’s great. But if you take a closer look at what we have accomplished vis a vis our victory on November 4, we really haven’t come that far.

Okay okay I know – how Debbie Downer of me. I am sorry to throw a wet blanket on things. Look, I was jumping around screaming in the streets of Adams Morgan in the early Wednesday morning hours after Obama gave his acceptance speech. I spent two weekends and Election Day canvassing in Bumfuck, Virginia, talking to voters, handing out reminders to vote. Via the labor union for which I work, I sent countless e-mails to members about why they should vote for the Democratic ticket this year.

So don’t think I am not happy to have Barack Obama as our president-elect; I worked hard to make it happen (though not as hard as countless others.) I am excited to see him take the oath of office, as well as to see a majority of Democrats in the House and Senate.

But I am not expecting huge, sweeping changes. I am not expecting a savior.

The fact is that all sensible Americans have been so pistol-whipped by 8 years of a Bush administration that just a return to moderate, reasonable leadership seems like a big success. What? A president who won’t give away taxpayer’s money to the super rich? What? A president who believes in science, human rights, and The Constitution? What? A president who believe in listening to the people instead of calling himself “the Decider?” What? A president who won’t completely humiliate us on the international stage?

AMAZING! What a triumph!

Um, I think our standards have clearly dwindled in these past 8 years.

I echo the recent sentiments of blogger PZ Meyers, who said very plainly, our new president-elect is a moderate, standing slightly to the right of Hillary Clinton, also a moderate. And as Meyers points out, “the opposition is shrieking ‘socialist!’ at every suggestion, so don’t expect an easy road to accomplishing even the centrist plans of President Obama.”

We still have quite a an uphill climb even to get to a sane, moderate government. So don’t set your expectations too high. An Obama presidency isn’t going to be smooth, and there will not likely be any broad, progressive shifts in American politics. We still have a lot of wackos and greedy bastards in our government, and not all of them are Republicans. A lot of the Democrats who have wrested control from Republicans in the Senate, such as the recently elected Senators from Virginia, are a new breed of Democrat – more conservative than a Charles Schumer or Ted Kennedy. That’s not to say they’re all bad, but don’t expect your wildest liberal dreams to be fulfilled without a big fight.

Don’t expect a New New Deal anytime soon.

I am not saying that this is the end of the world. But progressives are fooling themselves if they think they have won. Our success is that we have begun bringing people back to the middle. It’s just that after 8 years of dragging us so far right, the middle looks like Marxism in comparison.

I am still optimistic about the future. That we, as a country, were finally able to reject the radical conservatism that began to take hold in American politics nearly 3 decades ago is heartening. That a historically racially divided country was able to elect its first African American President a mere 44 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed is a humongous milestone that we should be proud of. I am hopeful that a President Obama will be the type of leader that our international allies can admire, and that our foes will respect.

I am also deeply inspired by the increase in civic participation for this past election cycle. I’m not just talking just voter turnout, which was of course, unprecedented. I am talking about people getting off their butts and getting involved in the process. In Virginia, the Obama campaign was overwhelmed with volunteers on the days leading up to the election, to the point where many offices didn’t know where to put them all. I have always thought that the people of this country have been hungry for a leader that would inspire them to get involved – all they want is for someone to ask them to help, tell them where to go and how they can make a difference, and they will show up, ready for action. I saw that played out all over the country, as the Obama campaign got the vote out, raised money in $5 and $10 increments, turned out more young people to canvass and vote than ever, inspired friends who have never volunteered in politics in their life to show up with me at an office in Sterling, VA to do whatever they could to help.

This is what I hope Obama will continue to inspire in America, and it is the one point he drives home time and time again that I truly believe in. This election was not about him. It was about us. He alone cannot change our country for the better, and indeed, with a crumbling economy, skyrocketing healthcare costs, two wars, and angry, rapacious Republicans plotting their return to power, he may, alone, fail in many of the goals he has set out to accomplish.

But We The People have the power to help him. We have the power to keep the pressure on, to hold our elected officials’ feet to the fire, to speak up loudly against tyranny and cronyism in either party, to demand that our representatives do what we hired them to do – fight for a better future for us, our children, and our children’s children.

So if you, like me, were inspired by this election, inspired by Obama, and got involved by knocking on doors, making phone calls, or even just cajoling your friends to vote, don’t go back to the couch. Stay involved. Stay informed and engaged. If we don’t see the kind of change we want over the next four years, we should keep pounding the streets, writing letters, standing up to our government, living the change we seek. Our government can only act with a mandate from the people – so speak out and step up!

Don’t be disheartened and disengage again if Obama doesn’t turn out to be the savior of our country. He is just one man. He is just a start at turning America around in the right direction. We have to keep the momentum going if we’re ever going to see the kind of future that Americans deserve. Let’s not fall asleep at the wheel again. We cannot ever again afford to allow our country to be taken from us.

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The Power of Words

There was once a wise sage who wandered the countryside. One day, as he passed near a village, he was approached by a woman who saw he was a sage, and told him of a sick child nearby. She beseeched him to help this child. The sage came to the village, and a crowd gathered around him, for such a man was a rare sight. One woman brought the sick child to him, and he said a prayer over her.

“Do you really think your prayer will help her, when medicine has failed?” yelled a man from the crowd.

“You know nothing of such things! You are a stupid fool!” said the sage to the man.

The man became very angry with these words and his face grew hot and red. He was about to say something, or perhaps strike out, when the sage walked over to him and said:

“If one word has such power as to make you so angry and hot, may not another have the power to heal?”

And thus, the sage healed two people that day.

— Author Unknown

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There’s been lots of worry recently over plastic bottles and other food containers, and what is safe and what is not.

Here’s what’s safest: #2 and #5.

#1 is okay (it’s what most bottled water is sold in). But you don’t want to repeatedly reuse it these kinds of bottles – they don’t hold up super well over time.

#3 is PVC. Very very bad. Dioxin, phthalates, and other carcinogens. We should not be using this stuff at all.

#6 also not cool. Polystyrene. Styrofoam, generally.

#7, which is what your Nalgene bottle is made of (although apparently not the new ones), is bad. Releases bisphenol A, which is an endocrine disrupter, (acts like a hormone in your body. Bad bad bad.) Canada banned BPA, and there has been a real worry that a lot of baby bottles are made of #7 plastic. Hormone-like chemicals + babies = bad news. Actually hormone-like chemicals + adults = bad news too.

#2, #4, and #5 are fine. At least for now. My Rubbermaid water bottle that I drink from at work is made of #5 plastic. I’d recommend you chuck that Nalgene.

Apparently all that mess about canned vegetables being much less healthy than fresh veggies is not so cut-and-dried. Heat-sensitive nutrients like vitamin C break down in canned veggies, but other phytochemicals in vegetables, such as the ones found in corn and tomatoes, actually increase when they are exposed to heat. So pile on the corn and tomato salsa I guess.

Apparently, our shoes are ruining our feet, and we should all either walk barefoot, or buy expensive shoes that are almost like walking barefoot. At least according to New York Magazine.

I’m somewhat skeptical, as I felt like the article was pushing a particular product pretty hard, but I did find it interesting that women who wear high heels all the time actually cause the tendons in their feet to shorten, thus causing them to eventually only be comfortable in high heels.

I also thought it was interesting that historically, shoes were not made for walking, but were rather a sign that you were so rich you didn’t have to walk.

I also saw someone running barefoot in the 10K I did on Saturday. Makes me want to give it a try (though probably on a treadmill…)

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On drugs and mental illness

It’s funny how fast times change. When I was a kid in school, I didn’t know anyone who was on Ritalin. Acronyms like ADD and SSRI hadn’t entered the public lexicon yet. The only psychopharmeceuticals I had heard of were Valium (from the movies) and Haldol (from a novel I’d read). I remember how astounded I was when I discovered that my first college roommate took Prozac. Someone my age who seemed normal. Gradually, pills of all kinds were trickling into the mainstream. Now I am familiar with lots of them, from talking with friends, family, coworkers, you name it. I can easily rattle off several names – Lithium, Lexapro, Effexor, Paxil, Wellbutrin.

I’ve felt varying responses to the drugs that seem to have flooded American life. I know people who have said that these medications save their lives and make them normal and whole. I know others who have had or have tales of very bad experiences. In one case, I recall the trials of a friend whose parents chose a pharmacy as an answer to the emotional troubles of a dysfunctional family and the pain of being a teenager instead of you know, just talking about things or at least sending the kid to a therapist.

This kind of thing troubles me. Being a teenager is supposed to suck. And coming through all that pain and awkwardness is sort of a rite of passage to adulthood. It’s not a medical problem. And I doubt medication could have helped me deal with the social awkwardness and confusion at that time in my life. It could have, however, dulled my ability to deal with it adequately. I’ll never know – I did zero drugs in high school; I didn’t even drink alcohol. But nowadays the establishment seems to be a little less gung-ho about medicating teenagers for emotional trouble. Any mention of Prozac now carries the following disclaimer:

Antidepressants increased the risk compared to placebo of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children, adolescents, and young adults in short-term studies of major depressive disorder (MDD) and other psychiatric disorders.

I guess it ultimately troubles me that more and more, the response to even minor mental or emotional trouble (including PMS!) is to medicalize the problem, rather than recognize the complex forces at work on a person’s psyche. Or simply: if you’re sad (or anxious or shy or hyper), pop a pill.

There was an interesting story on NPR a few weeks back about how playtime for children has changed so much in the past several decades. Over time most children have less and less time for unscripted, improvised play, spending time rather with the television, with toys that do not require imaginative use, and at supervised “enrichment activities” like piano lessons and karate classes. Researchers have found that “time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.”

Could there be a causal relationship between loss of free playtime and a rise in ADD? If this is even possible how can we respond by drugging our kids? Just because we don’t have the time to really work on the actual problem?

The week before that NPR story came out, I happened upon an article in the Washington Post (while sipping the second yummiest* hot chocolate** I’ve ever had). The article was by Charles Barber, a lecturer at Yale University, who very eloquently expressed my sentiments on mental health. I recommend giving it a read.

I absolutely think that medication is appropriate to treat some mental illnesses. But I also think we have found that even with straight-up physiological conditions, a holistic approach to illness often results in more lasting health. I think this is especially true for mental health. Our ability to function mentally is tied to things like finding meaning in our lives and having supportive people to care for us and foster growth. And it’s also important to understand the mechanisms in our daily lives that lead us towards or away from a healthy mental state.

The film A Beautiful Mind is a wonderful example of how one can learn to cope with a pretty major (and frightening) mental illness. John Nash had delusional paranoid schizophrenia, and he learned how to live with it, found meaning in his life, and had a supportive family to cling to. Yes, it’s a movie, but the real Nash stopped medicating for his schizophrenia from 1970 onwards.

Just some food for thought.

To inject some levity into the subject, I offer you the music of Jonathan Coulton (who is playing at the Birchmere on Friday!)

Jonathan Coulton – I Feel Fantastic [mp3]

[I chose to edit this piece, because well, I just didn't like it as it was.]

* The yummiest hot chocolate I’ve ever had was from Butler’s Chocolate Cafe in Dublin. They had handmade marshmallows.
** I recommend The Lucy – semisweet hot chocolate infused with chipotle.

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Maybe this is why people are often pack-rats…

This article from the New York Times is awesome:

The Advantages of Closing a Few Doors

We can always tell ourselves that it’s good to keep options open, but is it really?

My friend Susanna shared it on Facebook. I know she’s thinking of it in the context of grad schools, but there are so many applicable contexts to the ideas in this article.

Man, the New York Times has some pretty kickass content. Good food for thought.

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