This American Life: One Year of Not Listening

One day last December I was busy sewing and listening to This American Life on NPR.  Even then I had a love/hate relationship with the radio program: listening to it seemed to me often like a cheap thrill and somewhat voyeuristic, but I often couldn’t resist and found myself sucked into the bizarre and heart-wrenching stories, always told with an insufferably hip soundtrack.  It was a very academic type of catharsis; it was, after all, public radio. I was a regular listener.

Until 12-19-08.

The theme for This American Life for that day was “Ruining It For the Rest of Us”. The main story was about a family in San Diego that decided not to immunize their child against measles, and how their decision made many people angry when a measles epidemic broke out in that city. The commentator was very biased against people who don’t immunize themselves or their children, and had such a strong opinion that I listened, appalled, thinking at some point there would be some balance. But there wasn’t.

I’m not completely for or against immunizations.  It’s not as simple as “belief” in a clearly effective–and life-saving– technology:  more nuanced questions are needed. What about the role of  Big Pharma and all the profit involved in  immunizations? Or, how about talking about what happens when we’re immunized against everything and anything?  Is this really healthy? Or, how about addressing the very real concerns of people permanently disabled and/or killed by immunizations? That’s not hyperbole, it happens, why do you think we have a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund? I recently met a nurse who travels across the country meeting people paralyzed or brain-damaged by shots; she creates federally funded, lifetime care plans for them. Sure, it’s statistically unlikely that you will be rendered a paraplegic by a flu shot; but, if it happens to you, that statistic is pretty darn personal. You probably wouldn’t have liked listening to that episode of This American Life last December, that’s for sure.

I guess that’s why I found the mocking tone of that episode so offensive that I’ve never ever been able to listen to that show, ever again. I know intelligent people who don’t get immunizations, or who get some immunizations but not all for their children; and they’re not whack jobs, either.

It was such an insensitive episode, too.  Which really shocked me; I think I almost felt betrayed, because This American Life seemed to always deal very adeptly with the gray areas in life, where what’s right and wrong is ambiguous. In this case there was no nuance: the episode focused just on stupid parents who were “ruining it for the rest of us” by not immunizing their children.

So, at the end of this year, to celebrate my one year CLEAN of This American Life and NPR in general, I donated money to some of my new favorite non-profit media: Free Speech TV, Link TV and Alternet.

Ira Glass, host of This American Life, is famous for calling public radio listeners during pledge drives who don’t financially support public radio and guilting them out about it. I found a clever blog that described this stunt. I wish Ira would call me. I’d tell him where my public radio money went this year.

Pat’s Lemon Cake

Pat is the manager of the NICU where I work; and she is a fantastic manager, a very gifted leader. Plus she’s very funny. Pat is from West Virginia and thoughtfully offered to translate for me by phone if I had any trouble the first time I went to Asheville, NC a few years ago.

Pat’s birthday is just around the corner. I will admit that I wanted to spend this evening working on my fiddle tunes; rumor is that a very superb Irish fiddler from Milwaukee is coming to Tucson this Sunday. But instead I made Pat a lemon cake; it was the right thing to do. Tomorrow when I actually taste it, it will REALLY be the right thing.

First I made zest, and being a bit lazy, I chopped up the peel in my very old food processor; the blade is a bit dull so I wound up with chunky-zest. I remembered into my second lemon to peel towards myself, not away, in order to avoid peel-with-pith. Pith is bitter. Yuck.

The zest is a bit….er…chunky. Maybe I should think of it as just chopped rind for marmalade.

Then, the Champion Juicer came out. This cake can only be the best. I could’ve just used bottled lemon juice. Cleaning the juicer once you’re done is such a pain in the you-know-what.

I followed this lemon curd recipe, which is fool-proof; I doubled it, and I added 1 less egg and half a cup less sugar. Just about every recipe I read is too sweet for me. Here’s the curd prior to cooking it for about 15 minutes on the stove top; the bowl on the upper left is frothy lemon juice from the juicer:

The lemon cake recipe I followed seemed simple; but I used less sugar, and I decided to use a Bundt pan instead, and I put lemon curd in the middle. Just to be creative. Here I’ve almost covered the lemon curd layer w/the last of the batter.

And here’s the finished cake, just out of my 1978 GE wall oven:

And here it is, cooled w/a layer of glaze and some lemon icing; I’ll take a photo of it once it’s sliced tomorrow. I hope it turned out OK and isn’t too dry inside.

Grasslands Bakery and Cafe: Day After Christmas

Just in time for the new year, my mom painted the new sign for my parents’ bakery, The Grasslands, in Sonoita, AZ:

I was visiting for Christmas; and it was quite cold, nightly lows in the low 20s: however, the pansies on the patio (my mom has a very green thumb) survived just fine:

It’s always hard to predict business when tourists and day-trippers make up most of your clientele; I was planning on having a nice sedate lunch when about 50 different people came in to eat at the same time. This is the dining room once most everyone had left; I would’ve taken a shot while the dining room was full, but, I was too busy in the kitchen!

Here’s a photo taken by India, who works for my parent’s part-time; she’s just a great help. This photo is my folks, me, and  my brother Frank, who’s visiting for the holidays from Madison, WI; this is how we looked after taking care of the lunch-rush:

We look so energetic. Not bad.

The drive back to Tucson is very scenic, in my opinion; though I’m always surprised by folks who visit from the East Coast or Midwest and complain about the lack of….green. This is the desert after all; what are they thinking? The drive is an hour. The view from the almost-highest point of the drive looks like this to the east:

I just love the space and in the 20 years I’ve been driving on this road I never get tired of it. Even though it’s an illusion, and we all are all bound to a less-than-free-wheeling life thanks to this-mortal-coil, whenever I drive and have this view I have at least a small, short-lived sense of possibility and potential.

From roughly the same part of the road, if you look the opposite direction you see the Rosemont Junction area east of the Santa Ritas:

This area is very possibly going to be the sight of a huge open-pit copper mine, though efforts are being made to stop such a catastrophe; a guard rail on the side of the row has this to say:

The last two words look to be “pit mine” but they’ve been scratched off, presumably by someone who doesn’t like the current view of things.

Port Kirwan Come Home Year: A Newfoundland Reunion

I’ve always thought it a bit bizarre that I have relatives–and quite close ones at that–who are from Newfoundland. I mean, how many people can say that? It’s a small, isolated part of the world and a largely misunderstood one at that. Rachel Maddow’s mother is from Newfoundland; so that’s already a very positive indicator.

Anyway, I’ve always wanted to go there. I think I’d really like it; I love austere landscapes. I’m less fond of the cold and damp but can make due for a short period of time.

Looks like 2010 is going to be my lucky year because in the little village where my grandparents–and my very favorite aunt–were born is having a reunion:  it’s called the Port Kirwan Come Home Year.

I contacted a distant cousin, Deanne Aylward, who lives in St. John’s and who has a rental home in the village; she says she’ll rent it to me for the reunion and I’ve already offered to provide a deposit. My Aunt Mary says she’ll make the trip, if she’s still alive and kicking (she’s in her very youthful mid-80s); she was born in Port Kirwan, and if she can make it, so can some of my other kin: and that means you, O’Neil and Aylward cousins: you know who you are!

Transcription Ambition: Organizing the Impossible

Yesterday, Sunday,  Gordon and David and Roz came over and we had some tunes around the dining room table; sounded very good. We’ll go at it again before Christmas.

I’ve been trying–slowly–to transcribe some of my favorite really big and juicy tunes:

The notation is like a scrapbook of where I’ve been tune-wise and where I’d like to revisit: since I’m neither a child prodigy or a teen fiddle phenom when it comes to Irish music, I need something to remind me of what I once bothered to learn–because tunes just go in and out of my head, it’s ridiculous, regardless of how often I may hum, lilt or play a tune.

So, writing them down helps; but it doesn’t entirely stave off the entire Second Law of Thermodynamics, as it applies to Irish music (which it does, I’m quite certain). The tunes I’m writing out now are  simply THE best tunes I’ve ever gotten, so I’m really motivated to try and retain them; they’re from Beanie Odell (of the band The Red Wellies)  in Asheville, NC. Beanie she is a very gifted performer and teacher of Irish fiddle, and she’s been kind enough to share with me not just many of her tunes but also her ideas about how I could improve my playing.

Beanie herself writes down tunes and her transcriptions are very nice indeed.  I’m not the only one trying to create some order out of the loopy endless curlicues that are Irish  tunes.

I hope I can move to Asheville one day. From an Irish fiddle standpoint, it would be just amazing. I’d have both fiddles and potatoes coming out of my ears, 24/7.

Another go at cloud fabric

I was so excited about the results of the fabric I dyed a few weeks ago that had cloud shapes on it, thanks to flour paste resist.

Sadly, as cool as that fabric turned out, it’s just not going to fit into the design of the new art quilt I’m working on.  Now I have a new idea, and I think it will work; I used reverse applique to make clouds: this design element will run on vertical pieces of fabric on either side of the piece.

Here are a few photos of one small part of the art-quilt-top in progress: the appliques are on the right side, they’re not that clear but it’s the general idea:

What I’m thinking as a successful design element doesn’t look all that outstanding here:

But I think it will look good once I have it assembled.

Irish Music en route to Tucson….

Last year I met David and Roz when they came to Tucson from where they live in Kilshanny, County Clare, to visit their family here.  At that time, I’d just been playing the fiddle for 6 months after a nearly…..7 year break. I’d quit for 7 years because there just was no Irish music scene in Tucson–nothing worth my time– and I didn’t see any point in playing; it’s a social music, after all, and you can’t play it in a void.

Anyway. David knows any awful lot about Irish music; hell, he lives in County Clare. They’re coming back to visit Tucson later this week. No doubt we’ll have some good tunes.  Last time he was here w/Roz I gave them a small bit of fabric “art” that Roz liked; it’s not an original design of mine, it was a project I’d started in a class in 2005 taught by Velda Newman, who is famous for her quilted fruits, vegetables, flowers and fish, among other things.

Here is a photo from David and Roz’s Kilshanny kitchen, featuring the little quilted cantalope I gave them last year:

I was very honored that they liked this enough to hang up in their kitchen. Kitchens after all are very important places; the most important part of a house!  Can’t wait to make it back to Clare one day…

To Cook or to Quilt? That is the question.

If I could eat like your average American, I’d probably get more art and music done because I could eat fast food and frozen meals. I’d be more efficient. I’d probably compromise my health in the long run and end up w/type II diabetes by age 50….but, in the short-term, I’d be efficient. Efficiency is appealing to me, even though I recognize it as an unhealthy preoccupation and in fact largely an illusion: most of the stuff that is supposed to make is more efficient is a huge time-suck . One of my favorite quirky movies actually has efficiency as a theme and stars Anthony Hopkins.

So. I spent practically the whole day cooking so I’ll have healthy meals for the work-week ahead.  Or preparing, as is the case for a big batch of shredded carrot, coconut, pineapple salad I made; you can see it here, along with the leeks and potato that were soon to be chopped up into a gratin:

I really don’t feel well unless I eat well, and eating well to me is lots of fruits and veggies and much less refined sugar and flour and processed stuff. Though I do occasionally bust out and go crazy with a good baguette from my parent’s bakery. If it weren’t occasional, I’d be a blimp.

The Potato-Leek Gratin looks like this once assembled: it’s sliced potatoes tossed w/fresh thyme and garlic and olive oil, layered w/steamed leeks, topped with breadcrumbs–spelt breadcrumbs in this case:

And this is what it looks like out of the oven:

I also chopped and washed a big bunch of kale; so now I have some readily available yummy food.

But my cooking wasn’t done yet because Bearbear was out of dog biscuits. I haven’t perfected my dog biscuit recipe yet; the dough is a bit sticky, still, but here’s what the process looks like. You can see that the finished product is a bit….irregular. He loves them, though.

The dough is made from whole grain flour, dry milk powder, fresh parsley, wheat germ, chicken broth and some other stuff.

After kneading it a bit, I rolled it out. I’m a bit of a wimp and my rolling pin has a muslin sleeve, which keeps the dough from sticking:

I think I told my mom once I had a muslin cover for my rolling pin and she laughed at me.

These shapes look nice, but the dough really was too sticky and by the time I got a spatula to scrape my biscuits up and onto the cookie sheet, things were looking a bit less regular:

That’s OK. Bearbear liked them just fine.

Belly Dance Believe It Or Not

Dogged by back pain this past week, I really didn’t get much sewing done; it was hard enough to get in my car. I’ve looked into, practiced and paid good money for all kinds of old (such as yoga) and new (such as The Egoscue Method) approaches to healing-of-the-back; I have all kinds of braces, supports, heating pads; I have a battery-powered electrostimulation pack that looks like an old Sony Walkman, and it’s NOT used for anything naughty. Nothing has worked for very long; any attempt to do the obvious strengthening of core muscles just winds up hurting my low back, which has a bit of degeneration in the sacro-illiac joint, you can see it on an x-ray.

At a complete loss, I decided to try something really old, and very unlikely (for me): belly dance.

Though, I have yet to channel my inner Barbara Eden.

The first belly dance class I went to was really really bad. It was at a local fitness club which will remain unnamed. The class was a nightmare of belly-dance-meets-zumba: the kinesthic equivalent of combining baconnaise and chocolate.  My favorite line of the class was when the instructor did one demo of a wild hip swinging move and then said something like, “now, this can be either really good for your back or really bad for your back” without explaining how one could avoid injury. It was at that point that I walked out.

This didn’t put me off. I tried a different class a few days ago at a different location with a different instructor, and it was great! I’m actually optimistic that this very ancient dance could really help me heal my back pain. I’m very excited, though it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so uncoordinated!