Apr 1 2013

Baltimore Ignite #12: 17 unique speakers = thoughtful happiness


Last night, Roger and I watched Happy, the documentary by Roko Belic (a name with two four-letter potential crossword clues, for certain).  It inspired reflection about what makes me happy and how I want to move forward, with intention, through the remaining third to half  of my life. (It’s no surprise that these milestone birthdays get us in the thoughtful mood.)

The director analyzes happiness and identifies the component parts, one of which is the importance of gratitude, the attitude of being thankful for each day’s blessings, large and small.  The conscientious practice of gratitude can lead to more feelings of well-being and happiness.  Also, another important element of a joyful life is work and play that inspires “flow” (being fully involved in an activity).  I can’t describe happiness here as it is expressed in the movie–suffice it to say that you can see it on Netflix right now!

Ignite Baltimore, which held its 12th event last Thursday, is for me, the confluence of several ingredients of happiness.  Seventeen speakers, each armed with an idea, 20 timed Powerpoint slides and five minutes, speak about their own hopes, desires, discoveries, and ideas.  The only problem with being in the audience is that it’s like being at a tapas restaurant, a taste of many small dishes but a full meal of none.  It leaves me every time wanting to find these people and make them talk to me about their passions.

Held at MICA’s Brown Center, the tickets are an affordable $5 each, and the event has been a sell-out the last few times I attended.  In this session, we were excited to hear Roger’s colleague, Betty Walke, speak about her life-long interest in butterflies.  She described her childhood fascination with Lepidoptera and her recent journey to Mexico with her sweetheart and husband, Dan, to see the Monarch butterfly migration.  Walke, a master gardener, raced through a list of plants that will bring these creatures into our own yards and gardens.  I couldn’t write them down fast enough.

In addition, we heard Jason Briody, a digital forensic examiner, who spoke about how we do not realize the power of our phones, small computers that track our every word and move.  Unnerving?  Yes.  But Briody’s interest in his subject is as passionate as Walke’s is for butterflies.  Bobbi Macdonald, executive director of the City Neighbors Foundation, wrapped up the evening, speaking about teachers as change agents, a subject that hits very close to home for me.

How could I skip Garrett Bladow, a North Dakota native and cowboy, who, with humor and matter-of-fact facts enlightened us about the science of breeding cattle? Or Adam Ravestein, who envisions turning Baltimore blight into green space?

I urge you to visit the Ignite website and put yourself on the email list for notifications.  See you next fall.  I guarantee that when you hear these inspired speakers, you will be motivated to become an agent of change, too.  Did I mention that involvement in community and the world also leads to feelings of happiness?  Ignite Baltimore makes me crazy happy!



Aug 31 2012

The Leftember Manifesto


Recently, I heard a story on the radio that 40% of our food goes to waste.  (Here’s the link to the article published in The Atlantic.) The article clarified that not all of this food waste is in the home—some comes from spoilage long before it gets to the consumer, but I know Roger and I could work harder to eat what we buy, instead of letting it go to the dogs/chickens (literally).

In addition, purchasing and using food proportionally to one’s needs is financially sound.  We could use some financial bedrock right now.  I found a great article that lists 14 reasons why leftovers make sense. (Linked here.)

Finally, we are a week away from hunting season, when Roger begins to fill the freezer with venison.  It’s time to purge the freezer, pantry, refrigerator and cabinets.

Let the month of September be Leftember!!

This is a photo of all of the food and non-food items in the two cabinets and one drawer in the kitchen.

Our rules:

  1. All lunches and dinners will incorporate food we have in storage or in the freezer.
  2. We will not eat out more than one time in the month of September.
  3. We can buy new food items if they are incorporated into a recipe where the main ingredients are already in our home.
  4. We can buy staples like wine, coffee, flour, dairy products, sugar and tea if they are consumed without waste.
  5. We will purge all expired, stale, and otherwise compromised foods.  This will include a thorough cleaning of the cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer.
  6. Guests are welcome to bring rescue food.

Note:  In anticipation of my mania, Roger made an emergency visit to Costco today, allegedly to stock up, but I approved his purchases, which were not rash—unless you count the beautiful new vacuum.

Roger complains that this photo of our emptied cabinets is like hanging out dirty laundry, but a proper confession must be made in order to change our wasteful ways and enter the path to food conservation salvation.  Amen!

May 26 2011

Good Read: “Grow The Good Life”


I just did an amazon.com book search on the keyword “gardening” and it returned 46,951 results.

The way I see it, the vast majority of those 46,000+ gardening books fall into one of two categories: documentary and how-to. The documentaries showcase great gardens and garden styles, and many that I’ve browsed are a joy and inspiration. On the other side, there’s a how-to on just about everything: tomato books, flower books, small garden-big garden books, compost books, etc., etc. If it grows or shows, there’s a book about it.

I recently and happily added a new book, though — a “why-to” book — to my garden collection: Grow The Good Life, by Michele Owens, one of the founding mavens of the hugely popular blog, Garden Rant. (If you’ve never checked it out, you should, at www.gardenrant.com.) I’m a big fan of the Rant’s inclusive, eclectic topics and good-natured, irreverent, sometimes boisterous style. Much of what I like about the Rant carried through to Owens’ book, only more so, and better so.

Owens’ book is an entertaining and informative read for everyone from the “live to garden” die-hards (ahem!) to armchair types whose garden is a single potted plant on a windowsill. It’s a worthwhile read for soil-deprived urbanites, too, as well as for people totally devoid of interest in growing anything, but who nonetheless share the basic human need for food and at least some dim flicker of desire to have a habitable planet at least for a lifetime or so.

“Thanks to my garden, I can take a stand against everything I find witless, lazy, and ugly in our civilization and propose my own more lively alternative.”  — Michele Owens

Owens makes a methodical, chapter-by-chapter case for the (mostly American) vegetable garden, going at it from the angles of money, superior flavor, health (exercise), beauty, right on up to (or down to) fundamental happiness. She brings in enough scientific and anecdotal data to make her arguments convincing, and in signature Rant style, the pace is lively and the language at once personal, clever and to the point — styled enough to be enjoyable without any excess.

There’s hardly anything Owens doesn’t touch on, wrangling connections near and far like a pumpkin vine gone awry. She reaches into history, biology, folklore, urban/suburban planning, big ag and big chem, the government, physiology and exercise science, her mother’s upbringing, you name it — all to make a compelling case for the backyard vegetable garden. And from cover to cover, the emphasis is on sustainable, organic practices. Even if you’re not a gardener, you’ll come away with renewed appreciation for your CSA, or find yourself giving more business to the organic growers at your local farmers market.

Now, Owens was not born a gardener, and the zealousness of the convert shows. Even though the book is a “why to” and not a “how to,” like any gardener, she can’t resist slipping some of her favorite tips, tricks and techniques in the back door. I found many to be welcome ideas.

Much of Owens’ practical advice tracks four general principles: “First, take care of the context in which it all happens, the soil. Second, diversify to avoid disaster. Third, pay attention to timing. And fourth, be a little Zen.”

My strongest endorsement of the book is that she really got me thinking about my own approach, which is pretty well-developed after some 40+ years in the dirt — I think I’ve had some sort of garden in just about every place I’ve lived, without exception, even when I lived off-campus in college.

Thanks to Owens, though, this spring I made much lighter use of my mechanical tiller, forgoing it altogether in a large portion of the garden. I’m more committed than ever to my mulch system, though I was surprised that, evidently based on advice of her upstate-New York gardening neighbors, she forgoes grass mulches. I cover every exposed inch of my garden with grass clippings, heavily; it does a fabulous job of keeping the weeds down and continuously enriches the soil. I’ve never felt that it’s made the weed population any worse.

The other thing she’s gotten me focused on is timing, which is always a challenge for me. I started our peppers indoors too late again this year, as usual, though my tomatoes were right on schedule. Everything else is late, thanks in no small part to an interminably long and wet spring. Our second season, planting for the Fall, is always late, too, but this year I’m determined.

It’s all a process, this growing your own food, from how you care for the soil to picking out the seeds, to timing the planting, to feasting in summer and canning for the cold weather and starting all over again. And Owens celebrates the process, in a big-picture way.

Woven through the book, in every topic, is a sense of gratitude for being able to grow food and enjoy it, tremendous respect for the ecosystem that makes it possible, and an acceptance of responsibility to leave the earth better, or at least no worse, for our use of it.

Those are values that resonate deeply with me. This is a book that makes us all better gardeners not necessarily in a technical sense, but dare I say in a moral or spiritual sense. It is a good life, indeed, when we tend our gardens — and thereby ourselves and our human family — with care, respect, and deep affection.

In the final paragraphs of the final chapter of her book, Owens succinctly and eloquently captures the spark that lights my own passion for gardening: “…there is a lot of pleasure to be had in reshaping the little piece of earth that is under our control. Thanks to my garden, I can take a small stand against everything I find witless, lazy, and ugly in our civilization and propose my own more lively alternative…There are few things lovelier than a vegetable garden at dusk, and few things more satisfying than going out in the evening to pick the food you’ve grown before dinner with family and friends. To share the fruits of your labor is to give your love to the people you care most about.”

Sorry. I’ve given away the ending. But like a true classic, this is a book that can be savored even if you know how it ends.

May 25 2011

Gardening (&) Empires


Jamaica Kincaid, novelist, gardening columnist, and writer who’s written for the Village Voice and The New Yorker, says, “Most of the nations that have serious gardening cultures also have, or had, empires. You can’t have this luxury of pleasure without somebody paying for it. This is nice to know. It’s nice to know that when you sit down to enjoy a plate of strawberries, somebody got paid very little so that you could have your strawberries. It doesn’t mean the strawberries will taste different, but it’s nice to enjoy things less than we do. We enjoy things far too much, and it leads to incredible pain and suffering.”

Our labor in the garden is free, but it’s sweet, hard work. I concluded a long time ago that we pay far too little for our food. Kincaid offers an interesting perspective on why this is so. I’m sure I can speak for many gardeners when I say that nothing tastes as fine as what comes from the garden. It comes at a dear price, but one that I am happy to pay.

Mar 28 2010

Food, Inc.


On Friday night, we watched Food, Inc. The marketing caption says, “You’ll never look at dinner the same way.”  The documentary includes interviews with Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma).  The director, Robert Kenner, hopes the viewers will be alarmed by the dangers of modern food production, and he was successful with us.  We are now going to try more seriously than ever to be locavores.  We watched this on cable, so if you’re interested, should be easy to find.  Meanwhile, does anyone know where we can get affordable local chicken?  We were going to raise them ourselves but have decided to put that off until next spring.foodinc

Nov 26 2009

Happy Thanksgiving


Happy Thanksgiving to All. Nothing could be better than Roger’s sweet potatoes.

Nov 16 2009

On Balance And Emptiness


Here’s my take on the Jazzways 6004 concert.  And thank you, Natalie, for another wonder-full night!

On Balance & Emptiness on RogerThat!

Sep 27 2009

Ken Burns’ National Park Series


Since Noah and Emily have gone home, Roger and I are trying to get back to the normal routine of our household. It’s suddenly quiet, and we are missing our grandson and his mother.   This week’s “routine,” though, will be watching the National Parks series filmed by Ken Burns.  If you missed the first two hours, detailing the beginning of our national park history, you can watch it online at this link: 


We’re looking forward to the next installment tomorrow night on WETA at 8:00 p.m. 


Here is an excerpt from John Muir’s essay, “The American Forests.”  Tonight, we learned a great deal about John Muir and his love of the wilderness.  Like many people, I’m sure, we’ll be headed to the library to read more.

“THE forests of America, however slighted by man, must have been a great delight to God; for they were the best he ever planted. The whole continent was a garden, and from the beginning it seemed to be favored above all the other wild parks and gardens of the globe. To prepare the ground, it was rolled and sifted in seas with infinite loving deliberation and forethought, lifted into the light, submerged and warmed over and over again, pressed and crumpled into folds and ridges, mountains and hills, subsoiled with heaving volcanic fires, ploughed and ground and sculptured into scenery and soil with glaciers and rivers, — every feature growing and changing from beauty to beauty, higher and higher. And in the fullness of time it was planted in groves, and belts, and broad, exuberant, mantling forests, with the largest, most varied, most fruitful, and most beautiful trees in the world. Bright seas made its border with wave embroidery and icebergs; gray deserts were outspread in the middle of it, mossy tundras on the north, savannas on the south, and blooming prairies and plains; while lakes and rivers shone through all the vast forests and openings, and happy birds and beasts gave delightful animation. Everywhere, everywhere over all the blessed continent, there were beauty, and melody, and kindly, wholesome, foodful abundance.”

Aug 8 2009



The top two political news stories last week appeared to be the Republican/Democratic opposition concerning health care and their split over the confirmation of Sonya Sotomayor.  It seems that nothing productive can be done in the name of CHANGE that doesn’t include the test of who can shout his point of view (whether it’s right–and often it’s very wrong) the loudest.

I saw this poem on The Writer’s Almanac and decided that this is the kind of patriotism I want to support.

Patriotism  by Ellie Schoenfeld

My country is this dirt
that gathers under my fingernails
when I am in the garden.
The quiet bacteria and fungi,
all the little insects and bugs
are my compatriots. They are
idealistic, always working together
for the common good.
I kneel on the earth
and pledge my allegiance
to all the dirt of the world,
to all of that soil which grows
flowers and food
for the just and unjust alike.
The soil does not care
what we think about or who we love.
It knows our true substance,
of what we are really made.
I stand my ground on this ground,
this ground which will
recruit us all
to its side.

Jul 26 2009

Review & Thoughts: Hunting From Home


I just this minute finished Hunting from Home/A Year Afield in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which Natalie picked up for me for $4 at the Green Valley Book Fair, itself in the Blue Ridge near James Madison University.  I’ve been nursing my way through it these four days at the beach, wanting to stretch it out, not wanting it to end.  I’m inclined to send Christopher Camuto, its author, the $20 difference between the cover price and what Natalie paid, but realistically, I’ll probably buy another of his books instead.

This book is a year of intense observation, basecamped around the 200-acre Highland Farm in the southern Blue Ridge.  Camuto is intimidatingly learned and apparently, natively intelligent.  His writing, from my view, is full of profound thoughts and observations beautifully, and frequently poetically, captured.  I have to admit my bias to his subject matter, though.  Woods and birds and trout and deer, stars and seasons, time and mortality — well, I suppose in a sense he covers everything.  My one complaint is that the title is somewhat misleading.  It starts with grouse hunting, but then spends a long stretch on trout fishing, and on birds, before moving to trees, back to grouse hunting, and then the welcome climax of hunting deer with longbow and muzzleloader.  I’m no fisherman, but I enjoyed those parts very much, and I am not and doubt I ever will be a birder; I complained a bit about the detail there, but still it was enjoyable reading.

This was one of those books that makes me wonder why I would ever try to write generic cialis online best price.  A bit of the feeling I get from reading Faulkner.  Better than I think I’d ever be able to achieve.  (Take the compliment please, Mr. Camuto, but you know as well as I — Faulkner, that’s a stretch.  But it’s the same idea.)

Had I not met the love of my life, I would be easily seduced by the solitary life Camuto describes.  Just him and his bird dog, Patches, a cabin and a woodstove, 200 acres to learn and love, hunting, doing the work of living, writing…(sigh).  Natalie thinks we could work it out.

Hunting from Home
A Year Afield in the Blue Ridge Mountains

by Christopher Camuto
W.W. Norton and Company
Buy it on Amazon

Footnote:  Just googled Camuto and found that he’s on the faculty of Bucknell University now, the school that was at the top of my daughter’s list, but she didn’t make it in. :-(

May 10 2009

Happy Mother’s Day!


“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts.  A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”~ Sophia Loren

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your HEART go walking around outside your body.” ~ Elizabeth Smith

Beautiful thoughts sent to me from an extraordinary mother and friend.
Happy Mother’s Day!

Apr 15 2009

A Happy Thought



Mar 26 2009

Wise Advice I’m Just Learning


“We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell

Mar 6 2009



Natalie and I really struggled with Jane Hirshfield at the Dodge Poetry Festival last Fall.  Honestly, she got on our nerves.  But maybe that was a challenge to our graciousness…or to be more open-minded  In any event, here’s a nice poem of hers that I like a lot, lifted from the Writer’s Almanac:

Bees, by Jane Hirshfield

In every instant, two gates.
One opens to fragrant paradise, one to hell.
Mostly we go through neither.

Mostly we nod to our neighbor,
lean down to pick up the paper,
go back into the house.

But the faint cries—ecstasy? horror?
Or did you think it the sound
of distant bees,
making only the thick honey of this good life?

“Bees” by Jane Hirshfield from The Lives of the Heart. © Harper Perennial, 1997. Reprinted without permission.

Feb 26 2009

Country Living


“Just to live in the country is a full-time job. You don’t have to do anything. The idle pursuit of making a living is pushed to one side, where it belongs, in favor of living itself, a task of such immediacy, variety, beauty, and excitement that one is powerless to resist its wild embrace.”

— E.B. White

Ah, to be so fortunate!