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Archive for September, 2011

When our children were young, we would walk to the river and stand on the rocks in contemplation. Usually our daughter, who liked to be first at most things, would dig a hand into her pocket and pull out a speck of pocket dust. One by one, all four of us would throw our tiny pocket-sized flecks of cotton dust into the water. Because this is the start of the Jewish New Year, and we knew it was time to think about our “faults.” In this quiet time of self-examination, Jews all over the world were symbolically shedding their sins (my term) in order to start over – to begin anew. One by one, all of our shortcomings could be thrown into the river and washed away.

Growing up Catholic, I always knew that whatever I did during the week, I need only confess to a priest on Friday and all would be forgiven. I’m a sucker for pomp and tradition. I loved marching to a beautiful grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the forest around Camp St Joseph for Girls. Singing Ave Maria with the nuns there among the sun-dappled trees, gave me goose bumps. But in this ancient tradition of Bob’s family, we only had one shot at forgiveness. On Rosh Hashana God opened the Book of Life, and for Ten Days of Awe, He (or She) would inscribe the names of those who would be admitted to heaven. On Yom Kippur, the Book is closed. Ten days out of 365 to get it right. Ten days to make amends and start over.

Christian, Agnostic, Jewish, Atheist, Muslim, or Hindu, Buddhist or Hedonist, whatever you profess to believe – even you Secular Humanists and Unitarians out there, on these holiest of days in the Jewish calendar, I wish you a sweet year. And I sincerely pray that the Israelis and Palestinians will break bread together.

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What an amazing Tuesday morning. Half-asleep, I opened the kitchen door after serving doggie breakfast and immediately regretted it. There were two small polka-dotted fawns strolling by the tree line. I watched Miss Bean saunter belly-full out on the deck and stand perfectly still. What was she thinking? Now any normal dog would have either crouched down, trying the slow and steady approach, or started full throttle running off the deck. Not my Bean, not even a bark. She just stood there in rapt attention, finally settling into her usual “head between the rails” default position after they disappeared.

Bean on Guard Duty

To continue with a “less is more” theme for this tasty Tuesday, I thought I’d share a delicious Portuguese fish recipe that makes me think of my friend, Maria. Swordfish was on sale and I love cooking it this way. Five ingredients and one pan easy! First saute one garlic clove and half of an onion in EVOO. Then add one can of organic fire-roasted tomatoes and any other tomatoes and peppers from the garden. I cut the 1.3 lb swordfish steak into five generous chunks and placed them lovingly on top of this sauce along with a beautiful long, green Japanese eggplant cut into chunks that I found at the City market. Simmer for about 15 minutes and Voila! I served this over sourdough bread.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures but luckily I did for the next night’s dinner. My trinity rule of thumb is that you can eat leftovers for three days. The only exception is fish – two days max. So since I am still cooking for four, it’s important to creatively improvise with leftovers. Here is what I did with Portuguese Swordfish, take 2 – make a delicious fish stew by adding:

  • 1 small box of organic veggie broth + some water
  • chopped purple beans from the City Market
  • chopped okra fresh from the garden
  • more chopped peppers (include one jalapeno)
  • fresh herbs like rosemary and basil

If I had a sweet potato I would have added that too. Purple beans turn green when you cook them; and a 2 year old shelter dog named Miss Bean knows when and where to expend her energy. Either that or my prey-driven pup has developed compassion. Do we know when less is more?

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Perfect morning at the market. Bob scored a Popsicle, I ran into my Purchase Potters (otherwise known as Hawksbill from Charlottesville) and had a nice chat with Cynthia the bagellini lady!
SUNY College at Purchase was pretty experimental for a state school. I danced with Bill Bales and created a senior project you can still find in their library. Just ask the Rocker, he saw it when he was interviewing there. The bride has Hawksbill mugs, and I have their plates. Beautiful. Done rambling, see for yourself.

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Does morality matter? Is it an objective or a subjective experience? These are questions for philosophers, but last week I found myself tackling them while riding a stationary bike at a hotel gym. I like to read The New Yorker while exercising; expanding my mind a little as well as strengthening my knees. The article, by Larissa MacFarquhar, was titled “How to be Good.” Intriguing. It was all about one of today’s most brilliant philosophers, an Oxford recluse named Derek Parfit.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/09/05/110905fa_fact_macfarquhar

Parfit, after distilling the best ideas from Greek philosophers and more modern principles of morality like Kant, thinks there are universally true answers to moral questions, almost in the same way mathematics has concrete answers. These truths, obtained through intuition and critical reasoning, remain the same whether we humans are able to perceive them (hence the term “universal”), or not.  Buddhist monks have been known to teach from his first book, “Reasons and Persons,” much to his surprise. And now he has published an epic tome, “On What Matters.”

“Is the truth depressing? Some may find it so, but I find it liberating, and consoling.” Parfit

Why even try to explain his philosophy in 400 words or less? Because this morning I learned that the state of Georgia just put a man, Troy Davis, to death, and because I had always believed in the death penalty, and because, thanks in no small part to my children, I no longer do. Will there always be grey areas for me? Yes, but… Parfit’s main idea is that rules of morality, those which might be accepted by all, would also have the best possible consequences – this is called “…rule-consequentialism.” In the case of a state-sponsored execution, we have to ask what is the best consequence to a country, a state or the doctor pushing that syringe?

I wonder why our country is still imposing the death penalty. According to Amnesty International, we rank as the fifth highest country still performing legal executions; right behind Yemen, North Korea, Iran and no.1 – China. “The death penalty has been abolished for all crimes by every country in Western Europe. In Eastern Europe the Russian Federation has held a moratorium on executions and death sentences for more than 10 years.” What would Parfit have to say about this? If in fact he believes that  life, as do I, cannot be arbitrary, then neither can death.

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Hard driving, pure rock. Here it is, Parlor Mob’s newest video coming out of the shadows. Kudos to Mark, Dave, Paul, Tony and Sam! Release date 10/11 and don’t miss the Stone Pony show on October 14th which will feature Plus Plus Minus (Jed Higgerson of Hello Lovely, Lisa Cusack-English of boy/girl, and Quinn English of The Gay Blades).

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First weekend back from Nashville, Bob and I hiked up the hill to Monticello’s 5th Annual Harvest Festival, for the first time. There were banjos in abundance, heritage seed swappings, a demo from the White House Pastry Chef, hard cider tastings, and a cheese truck. Needless to say, I was in heaven. Found out that the President and his family only have dessert on the weekends. And their favorite dessert? Pie! Mostly fruit pies in season.

On our way back down the mountain, Bob said, “It’s like Woodstock, only without the mud.” He waxed nostalgically about the school bus, while I thought about the Newlyweds at the Austin City Limits Music Festival – a modern day version of Peace and Love. It felt like “Back to the Future” when the Rocker’s awesome new Parlor Mob music video debuted on my iPhone at a rest stop in TN… on the long trek home from the Music City, listening to an audiobook alternately with my son’s Rock and my son-in-law’s Bluegrass/Indie music. Check out The Bourbon Family, they are pretty great: http://bourbonfamily.bandcamp.com/

Bourbon Family

“And the seasons, they go round and round and the painted ponies go up and down.” Luckily Bob stopped me from singing Joni Mitchell in public.  Now I am inspired to keep bees and plant fruit trees. And maybe, just maybe, learn to play the dulcimer. And most definitely hit up a karaoke bar!

 

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While taking a little “What you can get for your money” house tour the other day, the one that stood out, for its square footage and general charm, sat directly across the street from one of the country’s oldest Head Start programs in TN. Situated in a Gothic castle-like structure, parents and buses were pulling in to pick up their children. And my first thought was, how can it be that we still need this program in our great country?

Poverty stats were simultaneously published by the Census Bureau. It seems we have the highest number of people living below the poverty line since 1993 – 15.1%. According to The New York Times: “Minorities were hit hardest. Blacks experienced the highest poverty rate, at 27 percent, up from 25 percent in 2009, and Hispanics rose to 26 percent from 25 percent. For whites, 9.9 percent lived in poverty, up from 9.4 percent in 2009. Asians were unchanged at 12.1 percent. ” With more budget cuts looming in local, state and federal budgets, I’m afraid our numbers will only get worse. Teachers and social programs will be the first to feel the chill of our deepening recession.

While teaching in a Jersey City Head Start program in the early 70’s, I took my children on a field trip. We walked around the neighborhood one day. There was an abandoned, burnt-out building sitting in the middle of a weed-filled block with a rusty old dump truck. It was a distorted page from a Richard Scarry children’s book. A tiny 4 year old asked me what was going to happen there, and later I told my class there would probably be a beautiful park there one day. I described the future playground. My aide said the city would just put a fence around it.

We can’t give up on our children. That’s not what Americans do.

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