Saturday, May 30, 2009

15 Books that Stick with Me

I've noticed that the memes that appeal to me the most are the ones that are book related.  I had lunch this week with a new friend, and talk turned to work histories.  My friend was not remotely surprised to learn that I'd spent twelve years managing a bookstore.  He saw my passion for books and reading in our interactions (and we've got a great novel swap happening at the moment!)  

The challenge: choose fifteen books that continue to stick with you.  Feel free to say why they've stuck or not.  Stick with you, of course, is totally open to personal interpretation.  For me, these are the books I come back to again and again.  Something about the book captured me.  These are in no particular order, by the way.  

1. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name ~ A Biomythography by Audre Lorde. I read this shortly after I came out and shortly after Lorde's death.  I felt like I was learning some of my history. I re-read it periodically.  I love Lorde's voice.

2. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.  This was the first book by Lamott that I read.  I fond myself laughing out loud.  And, her advice on writing and life is spot on.

3. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  Pollan's book about food, what we eat, and how we eat has changed how I look at food (and sometimes) how I eat.

4. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.  Barbara Kingsolver is my favorite novelist.  This is certainly my favorite novel.  I'm a sucker for multiple voices, and this is so well done.

5. Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy.  I'm also a huge Piercy fan.  This is another multiple voice novel, set in and around World War II.  Piercy's characterization is amazing.

6. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  Atwood is yet another favorite writer.  This classic fable shows what could happen when theocracy is brought to an extreme.

7. Watership Down by Richard Adams.  I first read this one in junior high.  I've re-read it several times since.  Adams makes a world where animals think, talk, and order society seem possible.

8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling.  I'm a huge fan of the series, but I think this one is my favorite.  (Mind you, this could change at any given moment!) Dumbledore's mentoring of Harry is wonderful to watch (and the ending, completely unexpected, at least by me).  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would be my other choice for favorite in the series.  I love it when good triumphs.

9. The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.  The first time I read this novel (set in the future, time travel is possible, historians use it to study events in history) I was on a business trip.  The novel was so gripping I resented every time I had to leave my hotel room and stop reading.

10. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson.  This is the newest book on my Top 15 list.  It taught me so much about what is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it gives me hope for the future.  I give it away as often as I can.  I also donate to the Central Asia Institute.

11. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien.  I tried to read The Hobbit several times as a kid.  I hated it.  I gave up.  When the movies came out, I tried again, and started with The Fellowship of the Ring and I was totally drawn in.  Now I've read the repeatedly.

12. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.  Ehrenreich, an investigative jounralist, goes under cover in three minimum-wage jobs: a housecleaner, a waitress, and a worker at Wal-Mart.

13. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. This is a hard novel to read.  But it also gives a glimpse into women's lives in Afghanistan.  I was haunted (and continue to be) by it.

14. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I read this series over and over again as a kid.  In the 4th grade, I had gingham dresses and a sunbonnet.  As young adults, Marie and I took the Laura Ingalls Wilder tour in South Dakota.  I still have a soft spot in my heart for these books.  

15. Roots by Alex Haley.  I read it first on an educational challenge in 6th grade.  My social studies teacher was looking for a project that might challenge me, so she suggested it.  She had to get my parents' permission for me to read it for her class.  I was a sheltered little white girl living in a monochromatic town.  This novel opened my eyes to other realities.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend in Milan

We spent Memorial Weekend creating our new gardens.  On Saturday, we build our new bed.  On Sunday, we hauled soil.  We'd had 5 cubic yards of topsoil delivered, but because of the lay of our property, the dump truck had to dump it farther than we would have liked.  Today, we filled the other small beds with soil and then planted all of the beds.  

The largest bed (from right to left) is: tomatoes, carrots, brussels sprouts, beans, peas, zucchini squash, acorn squash, and then space for potatoes and onions.

The left-hand small bed has chives, salad greens, spinach, and cilantro.  The right small bed has oregano, two kinds of basil, and parsley.  We also planted six tubs of patio tomatoes, which are on the deck.  Oh, and we added some annuals to our mini flower garden.  When it was done, we took Birdie for a ride and picked some rocks, to add to Michelle's repairs to the pond.  

I'm sore and tired, but I'm also really contented.  Mostly, my work isn't physical; it's far more cerebral.  I found working physically hard very satisfying.  And, I'm already anticipating a summer of fresh veggies.  Michelle is cautious, calling this a test year for the garden.   I'm hopeful. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009

That's a bear

I went hiking this morning with Sally and her daughter Isobel. She was showing me some trails we might use for the upcoming "St. Barnabas Hikes" outing next Saturday.   I brought Bird and they brought Clover, their "dog in law!"  Clover is a great dog.  She can run off leash and comes back when she's called.  I was a teeny bit jealous, since Birdie can't ever be off leash.

Our destination was a little pond just off the Mahoosuc Trail.  We were just shy of the pond when Isobel said, "Mommy, Clover is chasing a bear."  Sure enough, Clover had treed a bear cub.  It was pretty tiny and VERY cute. And, it didn't look particularly happy to have been treed!

We never saw the Momma bear, but we decided to turn around then and there.   In general, bears won't hurt you if you are hiking.  But you never want to get between a Momma Bear and her cub.  

The worst part was that it really freaked out Isobel (who is 5).  She wasn't really relaxed until we got back to the car.  

For me, it was kind of exciting (and a little adrenaline producing).  It was my first bear in the wild in NH and my first bear cub ever.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

bumping against the system

I went to the doctor's today for a physical.  It was my first appointment at this medical clinic.  The people were incredibly nice.  I really like my new health care provider.  We discovered that we lived in some of the same towns in Western Mass (though not at the same time). 

But, starting in a new practice is always dicey when you're gay.  First, there's the form.  Are you: Married, Widowed, Single or Divorced.  We'll I'm married.  But not legally.  Several years ago, I started making a new category on the form and circling it.  I write in partner.  It hardly even phases me anymore.  

And then there's the "Are you sexually active?" question.  You never know whether your healthcare provider is going to be cool with gay people.  So, I always hold my breath when that question comes up.  Today it was fine.  In fact, I think my new provider (a great nurse practitioner named Alice) thought it was kind of cool.  I think, if I understood her, that she has a gay kid.  

I was relieved to have gotten through the two potentially dicey parts unscathed.  Then, things got more complicated at the end of the visit.  I had to go and register with the lab, because the lab is run by somebody other than the medical office and their systems don't talk.  So, I went in, and had to give my info all over again.  This time I had to respond to questions being asked by a lab tech sitting in front of a computer.  You guessed it.  First, the woman asked, "Are you: Married, Widowed, Single, Divorced." 


"You're what?"


"Oh, I don't know if that's in there.  Let me see."  And then, imagine our surprise, when out of the drop-down menu down came Life-partnered.  Wow!  I was pretty psyched.

So then, she asked me who should be contacted in an emergency.  I gave her Michelle's information.  "Relationship?" she asked.

"She's my partner."

"Oh.  Let me find that on the list."  Another drop-down menu.  Options included: friend, husband, grand-daughter, niece, and at least fifteen other choices.  Big surprise, partner wasn't on the list.  In the end, we had to choose "significant other."  But, that choice really annoyed me.  Michelle is my wife (though not legally, of course).  She's my partner.  Significant other is a descriptor for a boyfriend/girlfriend.  And yet, we had to use it because it was as close as we could get.  

I think I might have been less annoyed had the category life-partner not existed in the drop-down list.  But if you're going to have it on the one, you REALLY need to have its corollary on  the other.  Most days, I can live with the ways that my life and love are invisible, or worse.  But most days, I don't bump up against it quite so obviously.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Friend's Wedding

My friend got married a few weeks ago.  It was a lovely wedding, small and intimate.  The setting was gorgeous: a small park near where he lives.  The day was beautiful.  It was warm, the sun was shining, trees were blooming.  My friend and his new spouse are clearly in love.  I stood among the small group of guests, grinning from ear to ear.  He's been a good friend for a number of years; I love seeing him so happy.  

So why am I left with a bittersweet feeling, after what was, in many ways, a perfect day?

My friend is gay.  [Note: THIS is not the problem!] He grew up in a religiously conservative family.  Some of his family still don't know he's gay.  Heck, some of our friends still don't know he's gay.  The members of his family who do know chose not to be present for the ceremony.  It broke my heart.  They missed something wonderful.  For a variety of reasons, my friend's marriage has to be on the down-low.  I understand the reasons, and I support him in his decisions.  

And yet, I found myself feeling a bit melancholy.  It was odd to be so happy and feel so sad at the same time.  At the reception, I kept looking at my friend and his new husband, so in love, and feeling sorry that the people who've loved him the longest were not there.

On the other hand, this was my second legal gay wedding (since our wedding was totally illegal).  When I came out in 1988, I never expected to see legal gay marriage in my lifetime.  Let's be real: when I came out in 1988, I never expected to live the out, proud life I live now.  So that when an agent of the state said, "By the power invested in me by the state of XX, I now pronounce you wedded spouses," I got a little teary.  Both times.  

We've come a long way.  We're making progress.  I now have hope that in my lifetime gay marriage will be recognized nationally.  I also have hope that more and more people who are inclined to distance themselves from their gay family members will come to see that we are the same people they have always loved.  I remain clear in my conviction (which is just as scripture based as those who would hold another view) that God loves all of us, straight and gay.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What do the moose think?

I walked Birdie up Milan Hill Road today when I got home from work.  First, I noticed all of the moose tracks.  The shoulder is very damp these days, and Milan Hill is clearly a moose byway.  Each day, I see fresh tracks.  In case you were wondering, the moose are definitely back!  In short order, however, all of the trash intruded on my moose euphoria.  There must have been twenty or more beer bottles in a third of a mile stretch, plus another couple dozen beer cans, some soda/pop bottles, and a digital pregnancy tester (I don't even want to know!).  Moose tracks and a beer bottle.  More moose tracks and three crushed cans.   

I found myself wondering what the moose think of all the shit that litters their home.  Do they notice it?  (How could they not?)  Does it disturb them?  And I don't mean emotionally (the way it disturbs me!).  I wonder: Does the trash get in their way?  Cause them to change their behavior?

And what about the people who toss their trash out the window?  I recently had a conversation about our disconnection from nature.  It seems to me that one of the symptoms of  humanity's disconnection from the natural world just might be the ability to litter without conscience.  

Milan Hill Road is a beautiful spot.  There are more trees than houses; you can see wildflowers by the side of the road.  There are several marshy areas right by the road.  And, on a good day, you can see a moose in a moose wallow.  How disconnected do you have to be to throw a beer bottle into this?

Sometimes I walk with a garbage bag.  But, it's kind of a losing battle.  Tonight, I was simply sad.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Poetry, after all

So, when I said several weeks ago that I wasn't a huge poetry fan, I just wasn't thinking.  One great reader emailed me a Mary Oliver poem and I had one of those head-slap moments.  Of course.  Mary Oliver.  Which got me thinking about other poets whose work I've enjoyed:
David Whyte
Billy Collins
Adrienne Rich
Emily Dickinson

My favorite poet, however, is Taylor Mali.  I first encountered him on a mix CD Meaghan gave to me.  (OK, what really happened is that she left it in the CD player of my car when she borrowed it, and I was so transfixed by Taylor Mali's performance that I kept it for weeks.)  The piece that grabbed me that day is called: Seventh Grade Viking Warrior.  It came up on shuffle on my iPod today, which is what prompted this post.  There I was, cleaning the bathroom and listening to tunes, and suddenly, I was weeping.

He's primarily a performance poet - and many of his pieces are on You Tube.  I'm not a giant You Tube fan.  I don't need to see babies doing strange things, or rollerskating cats.  But poetry, I like.  Poetry is a great use of You Tube.  Many of his poems are there; all you have to do is search.

So, here they are, my two favorite Taylor Mali poems.

Seventh Grade Viking Warrior:

Like Lilly Like Wilson:

The other cool think about Taylor Mali is that he is (or has been) a teacher.  He's passionate about teaching.  About teachers.  And about the high calling that teaching is.  Another great poem to watch is "What Teachers Make."  

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Behold Challenge: Day 6

I've been behind on posting some beholds, but I have been saving them up!

1. Behold! The sound of spring peepers that nearly bowls me over when I open the door to front deck.

2. Behold! The clear blue sky of spring in northern New Hampshire.

3. Behold! Red trillium, blooming in profusion in our yard and around our neighborhood.

4. Behold! Not one, but two, moose by the side of the road today.  

5. Behold! The joy of running outside in shorts.

6. Behold! The wonder of exploring a beautiful poem with friends and colleagues.  Check out David Whyte's "Working Together." 

Our Yummy Granola Recipe

This is the granola that my wife makes for us on a regular basis.  Many folks have asked me for the recipe, and I've forgotten who.  So, here it is for any who want to try it.

2 cups oats (quick oats are best)
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 TBS brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup extra ingredients*

1/4 cup maple syrup**
3 TBS flavorless oil
1 TBS water

dried fruit optional: dried cherries are particularly fabulous.

Spray a 9x13 inch pan with cooking spray.  Simmer syrup, oil, water.Mix dry ingredients together.   Combine wet and dry ingredients.  Either mix in dried fruit or top with dried fruit.  Bake for 30 minutes at 275 degrees F.

*You can use any combination of: any type of chopped nuts, flax seeds, pepitas, sunflower seeds, or chopped banana chips.
**Instead of maple syrup you can use honey or [our favorite] brown rice syrup.