What’s on the tube?

old radio

Sometimes ideas arrive in your life at exactly the time you need them.

Several nights ago I was reading Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich by Duane Elgin. He describes how the commercial medium of television has profoundly shaped our culture.

Television stations make their profits by selling advertising, and advertising is bought by corporations to sell their products. And where does that leave us?

Elgin says that it creates an impossible double bind for viewers:

“People use the consumption levels and patterns portrayed in TV advertising to evaluate their levels of personal well-being, while those same consumption patterns are simultaneously devastating the environment and resource base on which our future depends.”

Strong words. But they led to me ponder my own relationship with television.

When I was growing up, we had an old Zenith radio prominent in the living room. My sister, brother, and I would gather around it in the evening while my mother cooked dinner and afterwards we’d return until bedtime. I learned to tell time by when Sergeant Preston and his dog Yukon King arrived at our house.

TV didn’t appear in my life until 5th grade. I have a clear memory of the kids (and grownups!) gathering at a neighbor’s house to catch the first snowy black and white picture. I remember wondering what all the excitement was about—it didn’t seem like such a big deal.

My child, of course, grew up in a very different world. She learned to read by watching Sesame Street and had favorite friends in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

TV gradually grew to be a constant background in my own life as well. That started to change about 15 years ago. Maybe the content of programs shifted or maybe I did. But suddenly the commercials seemed louder, or perhaps there were more of them. Elgin in his book estimates that people now may see an average of 35,000 commercials in a year. That’s a lot!

I found, too, that as more and more channels became available the content seemed to be degrading. Was it the garbage in, garbage out mentality that dictated what writers were creating?

Plots became simpler and sensationalism blossomed into an explosion of violence and sexual content. The definition of G-rated had come a long way from that first view of Elvis Presley’s hip gyrations on the Ed Sullivan hour!

And so, when I moved to a smaller home several years ago, I took the opportunity to take a break from television. I did miss it at first. There were blank spots in my living, especially at night when I got home tired from work, wanting to zone.

At first, I kept up with my favorites—Downton Abbey and House—via computer streaming. I compiled a list of 100+ must see videos on NetFlix. And I’d go down to the video store and rent a half-dozen of the latest at a time.

And then, another shift occurred. I discovered when I traveled, I no longer turned on the   I entered the hotel room. I was out of the habit.

I found to my disappointment that most of the ‘bestsellers’ at the video store were eye candy. Oh, they were full of sensational images and loud decibels but, as Shakespeare once said, “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I seemed to cycle in and out of the NetFlix membership. But that, too, is fading and I find that I am not missing it either.

So what has replaced it? Yes, I’m back to radio. Only this time it is the new and improved Internet version. I have discovered Pandora, which is the audiophile’s dream come true. It custom designs a radio station that just plays the music you like (sans commercials, no less).

I started out with my old favorites: Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel, with a bit of Enya and Clannad thrown in for good measure. But the software allows you, in addition to hitting the veto button (I don’t LIKE that song) to also say, OK, give me a bit more variety. I find lately that it is sneaking in some very fine guitarists and vocalists, often from Indie bands that I didn’t know about. And I like it!

I also have returned to reading. Some of it is also popcorn—the latest best sellers and mysteries. But in addition, I find I am reading a variety of other work. In the stack right now is  a  photo-essay on Bamboo, Pablo Neruda’s poetry, a book on good writing (of course!), a book on conscious eating, and Duane Elgin.

Although I don’t feel deprived, I recognize that the path I have chosen would not fit everyone.

But I would offer, in this season of mass, albeit desperate commercialism, that you monitor what your children are watching, absorbing, and digesting from the TV fare? And I challenge you to become more aware of what is entering your own world, as well.

I submit that the primary world can be infinitely more interesting than the shadows on Plato’s cave wall.

The day Miss McNuttle took her clothes off

Amazing Teachers

I went to high school a long time ago, but I still remember Miss McNuttle.

She taught Latin, both Latin I and Latin II, and Senior Honors English. Miss McNuttle was the prototypical spinster, back in those days when there still were spinsters: thick rimmed glasses, gray hair back in a bun, hospital shoes. We used to joke that she was a nun reject–that she was so tough the nuns wouldn’t let her teach in their schools.

She was so tough she could drive our star quarterback to tears with just one look–that look, you know the one. She was the only one of our teachers that you didn’t talk back to, that you addressed with her complete title, Miss McNuttle. You didn’t pile out the door when the bell rang, you sat there until she dismissed you.

So it was with much trepidation that I signed up for her class my senior year. Actually I was planning on skating that last year, but my guidance counselor flagged my schedule and called me on the carpet for taking home ec, art, study hall and bonehead English. I can still see that stubby pencil with the smeared eraser as she worked furiously to produce a schedule that my parents–and she–could live with.

That meant me and Miss McNuttle finally met. I’d taken three years of Spanish–no Latin for me!–but I knew her reputation. She didn’t disappoint. That year we learned how to diagram sentences, how to do word analogies. We struggled through not one but two Shakespeare plays and wrote countless essays that were carefully graded in red and required to be resubmitted.

But the crowning glory was public speaking. She said that every young well-educated woman or gentlemen should be able to speak in front of others. We wouldn’t be passing her class until we knew how to do it. Some classmates resorted to ditching on the days we had to emote. Others chose the quickest way out, stammering red-faced through the ordeal.

One assignment was to memorize a famous public speech and give it to the class without notes. Some of my classmates’ siblings had had Miss McNuttle in previous years, and they clued us in: the best speech to give was the Gettysburg Address–272 words, less than two minutes of agony if you talked fast.

The noon before we all had to go before the implacable judge we skipped lunch and traipsed out together to the track in-field grass, sat there coaching each other, prompting when we got to word 253 and were absolutely stuck. We arrived at class that day in a unit and nailed it! Twenty-seven renditions of “Four-score and…”, one after another.

We thought we were off the hook, but Miss McNuttle had another assignment waiting for us. We now had to give a five minute speech demonstrating how to do something. What do teenagers demonstrate that would be fit to display in front of this teacher? We put our heads together and came up with a reasonable list: tying fishing flies, ironing a shirt, making a Christmas tree ornament (that was me).

We arrived at class that day in a buzz, props at the ready in paper sacks at the side of our desks. But Miss McNuttle, waiting until the last straggler breezed through the door, had a surprise waiting for us.

She announced that it was not fair to ask us to do something she would not do herself; therefore she would demonstrate how to get ready for bed. We all leaned back in our chairs, welcoming the reprieve, however short.

First she took off her glasses. Then she peered in an imaginary mirror and brushed her teeth. So far, so good. Then she pantomimed taking off her shoes, one by one, unlacing them and putting them side by imaginary side. The blouse was next, unbuttoning one imaginary button after another. The blouse must have been long-sleeved, for she tugged a bit getting the last bit of imaginary fabric over her wrist.

Unzipped and stepped out of her imaginary skirt. Stopped a heartsbreath and smiled at us. Unhooked her imaginary nylons one by one from the girdle, smoothed them and lay them on the imaginary bed next to her blouse and skirt. Tugged and tugged at the girdle and finally shimmied out of it, tossed it on the imaginary pile. Paused another minute, smiled again, and reached behind her. She unhooked that bra–that bra so real we all could see in, even though it wasn’t there.

Smile at us all one final time, took a bow, and walked out the room. We sat in stunned silence. Where had she been all our lives? When Miss McNuttle returned a few minutes later, we were still in shock.

This woman, this mild, meek spinster explained that she once trod the boards, been a Broadway star “in her youth”. She affixed her black-rimmed glasses firmly back her nose and looked at us, making eye contact with every person in the room.

“Now,” she said, “Let me see you do your demonstrations. Shouldn’t be hard. I’ve shown you how.”

Ratatouille Afternoon

Yesterday was cold and windy. An anomoly day in our late spring. Unsettling and unpredictable. So what did I do? I cooked! And the birds and the wind kept me company.

Disney and his cartoon rats not withstanding, RATATOUILLE has a long history in the annals of cuisine. The exact recipe for this vegetable melange came from the Joy of Cooking, but, this post will give you, instead, my experiences that afternoon.

Ready? Here we go!

The major ingredients:

all the vegetablesOlive oil, eggplant, peppers (they suggested red, I only had orange, what’s in a color), zucchini, onions.

 

First came the eggplant and zucchini. Eggplant has an unusual texture, punky, light-weight, almost like cork. This allows it to soak up all the good juices of the sauce. This recipe called for peeled. The skin is soft and thick, unlike the skin of a potato, which is thin and crispy. Eggplant is filled with tiny seeds. Good thing they are edible, because impossible to get them out!

egg plant

 

At this point I looked out the window to my bird feeder and spotted a canyon towhee. What fun! Unfortunately, several window panes and porch screens got in the way of what I saw. Look close.

canyon toehee

 

Back to the ratatouille. After you peel the eggplant, chop up the zucchini and saute both in olive oil. The zucchini remains, well, zucchini, but the eggplant becomes translucent, almost like my mother’s old-fashioned watermelon pickles, which she stopped making when watermelon rinds became too thin to make good pickles. Can you tell which is the eggplant and which is the zucchini?

closeup egg plant and zucchini

 

Oh, look! It is a feeder full of lesser goldfinches!

goldfinches

 

Back to the ratatouille. After the zucchini and eggplant have cooked, you dump them out of the saute pan into a holding pot and free the saute pan for the next ingredient, chopped onions. My original picture shows red onions for artistic effect, but these are really too strong, so I substituted sweet Walla Walla onions, just so you know:

onion

 

Oh! Is that a Lady Cardinal? I do think it is:

lady cardinal

 

Now, after the onions have become translucent, add the red peppers–pretend these orange ones are red:

gold peppers

 

It is windy today. When I went out to fill the feeder, the wind chimes greeted me with music, and when I stepped back inside, the kitchen was filled with wonderful smells!

windchimes

 

Where was I? Ah, ratatouille. Along with the onion and red (orange) pepper, you need to add some garlic. The recipe calls for three cloves, but I don’t like a lot of garlic, so I’m only adding two. That’s plenty. You don’t have to peel garlic; just whack it with the side of a knife and the skin separates right off. (This is also a picture of my favorite knife).

garlic

 

While the garlic is cooking….oh! The black-headed grosbeaks are back for the summer. I’ve got about six that visit the feeder, along with the doves and sparrows. This one is the boldest:

grosbeak

 

Then you add some thyme. Did you know there are over 400 varieties of thyme? Creeping thyme, wooly thyme, lemon thyme. I don’t have a lot of time, so I add some common garden-variety thyme from my porch pots:

thyme

 

 

A quail! I have dozens that visit the feeder all day long, and they crowd everyone else (well almost everyone else) out of the feeder:

quail standoff

 

After the thyme add some other spices: bay leave and fresh oregano and basil (these last two I got from my food coop basket) and tomatoes. I didn’t have fresh, so I used canned, diced. Just as good. 🙂

tomato and spices

 

What? Yes! I knew I heard Sir Cardinal out there somewhere as well. Always a joy to see him visit:

sir cardinal

 

The final result, after eggplant and zucchini put back in mix and cooked at low for a while to meld the flavors. It tasted wonderful!

entire mix

 

A great way to spend a windy, wild afternoon in the company of good food and good friends.

 

Push and release

800_6365

800_6365 (Photo credit: binkwilder)

Ever take personal training at the gym? The trainer ignores all your moans and groans, loads you up with free weights and says, “Push, push, push” and then when you’ve pushed ’til the cows come home and your tongue is purple, they say “release.” Feels pretty good, right?

My week is like that. Monday and Tuesday I work really hard seeing clients. Push, push, push. Hard use of emotional energy. Then Wednesday comes and I say, “Ahhh.”  I also teach classes for my local university online. I work really hard Monday through Friday, answering emails, grading papers. When Friday night comes, when I have pushed through the week, I can finally say, “Ahhh.”

We need both the push and the release. I had a  friend several years ago who had a terminally ill partner. She devoted her life to keeping him alive: doctor’s visits, alternative treatments, special diets. Even though she knew the ultimate result, she couldn’t stop pushing. Push, push, push, with no release. My heart when out to her, and I crossed my fingers that she’d survive after he passed away. There was no release built into her 24/7; she couldn’t afford it, and her own well-being suffered as a result.

One of the most demanding Olympiad events is the biathlon. The Scandinavians excel–they ski at top speed for miles and miles, then stop and shoot for marksmanship with a rifle that they’ve had slung over a shoulder. They have measured the physical ability of these competitors: the best in the world. They are able to go from the adrenaline rush of high-speed skiing to the absolute calm of marksmanship, in other words, the push and release.

I like to go visit the beach; do nothing but walk the sand, feeling in every core of my body the push and release of the waves crashing against the shore.  We originally came from the ocean. I am wondering if the push-and-release instinct is hardwired into our psyche.

If so, we need to pay attention to what our body needs. Physical or emotional exertion, and then that relaxation release when we reach the end of the required effort. We need it; we crave it.

Push and release. Breathe. Repeat.  Ahhh!

 

Women’s revolution, Part II

Grandma. The Matriarch.

I am seeing an interesting phenomenon in my professional work: women of the Boomer generation entering their later years with the same independent attitude they’ve had throughout the last several decades.

Women of the forties, my mom’s generation, became the traditional housewives of the 50s. Daddy, the breadwinner, knew best, and mama stayed home with the kids and put three square meals each day on the table. Roles were defined and while women grumbled a little, they still gained (some) satisfaction keeping a spotless house and ironing all the shirts and trousers of the male family members. Their daughters were taught to do the same, and their sons (often) were treated as privileged beings.

These women devoted their later years taking care of Grandma and Grandpop, often taking them into their own homes to do it.

In contrast, the women of the “boomer” generation stormed the board rooms, got their own degrees (real ones, not the “Ph.D.–Putting hubby through school” variety), and became a potent force in the workplace. They divorced when necessary, not always adhering to the “stay together for the sake of the kids” mentality.

Their kids learned to be self-resilient, often taking care of themselves after school, sometimes being raised by a single mom. These women expected that husbands take an active role in the housework, cooking, and child care.

Not always a good thing, but just what was. And I am speaking in general terms here, not specifics, understand. There are always exceptions.

Fast forward to retirement age. In the past, traditional wives would put their own lives on hold, becoming the 24/7 caretaker to ailing husbands–often ailing because they had neglected their physical health in service to working to “provide for the family.” At least that was the rationale, although I still assert that smoking cigarettes and not exercising is a personal choice.

Are we seeing a different pattern with the “boomer” ladies? I think we are. They have gone into their marriages wanting an equal partner. They do not have a willingness to buy into the “wait on me hand and foot, especially when I’m ill” mentality. And they are getting  angry when they feel forced into that role. At least the ones I am talking to are.

So my question this morning is: who is going to take care of the “old guys” if the “wise women” stand up and start saying, “Where’s mine?”

I am thinking we might start seeing some older husbands (and some younger ones) step up to the challenge, turning into caretakers for their own maturing spouses, even as they chose to become more active co-parents when the kids were little and both parents working.

At least, I hope so. Otherwise, we’re going to be seeing a LOT of very full nursing homes!

 

Taming the wild thistle

artichoke

artichoke (Photo credit: wundoroo)

Ah, the mighty artichoke! According to legend, it was created by Zeus when he turned a rejected lover into one.  (Zeus had a habit of doing this).

Upset with the propensity for schools using Native American caricatures as school mascots, the Scottsdale (Arizona) Junior college adopted the artichoke for their mascot. At least their football stars must be healthy.

The artichoke is packed with nutrition, ranking seventh out of the USDA top twenty for  anti-oxident foods. It’s a good source of folate, dietary fiber, and vitamins C and K. Plus, artichokes look cool on the buffet table next to a delectable dip.

Have I convinced you yet?

My goal, when I found two in my coop food basket this week, was to learn how to cook them. And they can be a challenge. They are a thistle, which means the points of the leaves are prickery, hence the scissors; you trim each one.

Then you have to cut off the point. I tried two knives and found a serrated one worked best.

shot with teas

See all the pink leaves? Those come from the middle of the artichoke, once you cut off the top. You pull on these out–you haven’t lost anything by doing this: they are too small to hold dip.

all the equipment

After the pink leaves, you need to scrape out the inner stuff with the spoon. The official terminology for the inner stuff is  “a thicket of fuzz called a choke” according to the Joy of Cooking.  That takes care of the choke part; I’m not sure where the “arti” comes in!

Important to scrape it all out, because if you don’t it doesn’t go away, but rather, sits on top of the good part, the heart of the vegetable, like those fine fish bones you can feel on the tip of your tongue when you try to eat a piece of trout. (Ignore the trout, though, because this is a vegetarian recipe).

When you get through all this preliminary block-and-tackle work, the rest is a piece of cake.  Plunk the artichokes in a Pyrex dish and cover, then microwave for 5-8 minutes.microwaved artichoke

Nuke some butter to go with, and dig in:

artichoke with butter

The mortal remains fill a dish like lobster shells. And yes, I missed a thicket or two of fuzz!

mortal remains