Tuesday, January 17, 2012

study abroad

After yet another lunch with my co-workers started out with me exclaiming "I can't believe that in Arizona someone can get away with doing X!", one long-suffering office buddy noted that my time in Arizona is like a study abroad trip. In a few weeks I get to return to the coastal comfort of living in a generally politically progressive place and tell stories about the wild things folks do out in Arizona. Among the things that have been shocking me lately:
  • On Martin Luther King Day (yesterday), the Tucson school district banned a number of books dealing with themes of race, ethnicity and oppression, including works by several local authors, Paolo Freire, and The Tempest (I never knew Shakespeare did colonial critique, but I'm certainly curious now!)
  • This morning I went to a state senate committee hearing that advanced a bill to make participation in the National School Lunch Program (federally-funded free and reduced price meals for low-income kids) non-mandatory for public schools in Arizona... how can you turn down free federal money to feed poor children?
  • And then there are all the guns, and the fact that an establishment that doesn't want you to carry a weapon inside must clearly state that at the entrance (like this sign my roommate took a picture of outside of a Starbucks):
But mixed in with those "can you believe it?" stories will also be a lot of stories of folks being faithful here. Collecting signatures. Holding vigils outside the offices of officials who create these and many other policies. Hauling brass bands out into the desert to play for immigrants detained in the middle of nowhere. Coaxing real food out of desert soil with minimal water. Providing free healthcare for those being denied it. Leaving food and water in the desert for those who get lost or stranded crossing the border. Turning vacant lots into sunflower fields.

Monday, January 9, 2012

books of 2011

I have a bit of a memory problem where books are concerned. Two weeks after reading a novel, I'm lucky if I can remember the name of more than one major character. A month or two later, and I couldn't tell you a thing about the plot. A year out, and I'm lucky if I can even recall whether I liked it or not.

A couple months after I read Toni Morrison's Beloved towards the end of 2010, Mark, wanting to test my literary amnesia, asked me the name of the grandmother (a central character). I couldn't remember it. A few days later I received a triumphal text with the words "Baby Suggs" (the grandmother's name, of course). Only problem is, he had read the book ten years before.

While I couldn't make myself magically start retaining the details of what I read, I decided that keeping a list of the books I read was a place to start. Reviewing that list at the end of 2011, I also found it to be a good way of marking a year past.

Breathing Space reminds me of how Heidi Neumark's words opened up space for me to cry with the weight of the stories people told me as I prepared their taxes. The Time Travelers Wife, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian all came from a Brooklyn roommate, when lots of time on the subway meant I could go through a novel a week. The New Jim Crow was from a sermon recommendation at my NY church home, and changed the way I understand justice and law enforcement in the US. Young adult fiction in Spanish is for the anxious summer of wondering what moving to Arizona would be like and if I would, in fact, be capable of doing the job I was assigned. And there is more serious stuff too, Dreams in a Time of War, Strength in What Remains and Half a Yellow Sun, all accounts of war in Africa, were difficult to return to in the evenings after days of conversation about poverty, race and class.

Here's the list (just don't ask me too much about the books!):
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Breathing Space by Heidi Neumark
Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
Dreams in a Time of War by Ngugi wa Thiongo
A Shorty History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
En Busca de Milagros by Julia Alvarez (translated)
Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal by JK Rowling (translated)
Sweet Charity by Janet Poppendieck
All You Can Eat: How hungry is America? by Joel Berg
The Ground Beneath her Feet by Salman Rushdie
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngoiz Adichie
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Vergese
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

growing vegan

In the last days of 2011 I did some journaling in response to the same set of reflection questions I answered at the end of 2010. Best books I'd read, what were my greatest challenges at work, who had been important in my life - no problem. But I got stumped halfway through: How had I grown physically in the past year?

I didn't run any races, take any classes, or reach any yoga goals in 2011. To be honest, I hardly did any exercise at all. But as I thought about it I realized I did start making one significant change - I began cutting animal products out of most of the meals I cook at home. I don't see myself ever going all the way, but am enjoying my new mostly-vegan-at-home routine. In my half of the fridge right now I have some eggs (for the occasional quick source of protein), a stick of butter that's been there for quite some time, a hunk of good Parmesan cheese that I use once or twice a month, and mayonnaise left over from a recipe I made back in September. I'm using more avocados, almond milk, dried beans and coconut milk, and none of the cow's milk, yogurt and cotija cheese that were my fridge staples seven or eight months ago. I still eat as I used to when not cooking for myself (dairy, eggs and sometimes fish), but the joys of a fellowship stipend don't allow too much of that.

Mark Bittman has some simple vegan recipe suggestions this week, and I made one of them tonight: Sweet Potato Stew (to which I added garbanzo beans).

All brown and out of focus...delicious!