Sunday, July 5, 2009

Independence Day

The Fourth of July.

American turned 233 yesterday to the crashing sound of fireworks and the spit and sizzle of the grill. People gathered in parking lots to watch the shows, waved American flags, jumped in the pool, shared potato and pasta salads, and spent time with families. Some did, at least.

I felt very much like an outsider last night. I took the boyfriend out to a Japanese sushi and hibachi restaurant, gave several forced laughs at our very bored hibachi chef and had patience with our newly hired, apologetic server. Notwithstanding, we had a lovely time, especially watching one of the restaurant employees run through the place with a motorcycle helmet on and watching the hibachi chef lose control of the fire show and send an eight-inch tongue of flame licking towards my wine glass.

We left the restaurant as the fireworks began. The parking lots everywhere were crammed with people watching and oohing, with children sitting cross-legged on top of vans, the Sonny's Bar-B-Que sign blazing light, the McDonald's vying for attention with an inflatable sign, and nothing but a fleet of cars, concrete, and occasional waving flags to be seen for miles.

Looking around at this dead landscape, I could not help thinking that America has a lot to learn.

What is patriotism? What do people love when they say that they love their country? What do they support more than anything? What separates America from Orwell's Oceanea, in which the proletariat have a dull kind of patriotism that can be summoned and used whenever Big Brother finds it useful?

What is a country?

It cannot just be land. Laws, government, cultures, and other trappings are also useless without the people for whom they exist. A country without its people is nothing, which means that if there is anything worth fighting for, it is the population of your country. The mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, annoying cousins, irritating coworkers, incompetent bosses, homeless people, alcoholics, drug addicts, the poor and the excruciatingly poor, the Buddhists, the Christians, the Muslims, the Jews, the Hindus, the agnostics, the atheists, the Wiccans, the Native Americans, the rich socialites, the murderers, the robbers, the uneducated, the highly educated, the ignorant, and the brilliant: those people are your country. All of them and more.

Are you proud of them? Would you fight for them? Do you think about them, all of them, when you wave your flag and sing for America the Beautiful? Would you do your best to help your fellow man before lining your own pockets? Would you rather have money in the bank or live in a country in which every single person has the right to excellent health? Do you know all your country's flaws, and do you ignore them or do you want to fix them? Do you listen to other human beings or do you just believe that if everyone thought like you, the whole world would be better off? Do you think that people in other, poorer, more ignorant walks of life have the right to your help so that they can be the best people they can be?

Are you truly patriotic or do you only love what this system in which you live can do for you?

Looking around that night, I saw people who were convinced of their self-importance. I saw pride in a hollow shell, hastily covered over by a flag. I saw people who cared about nothing more than to eke out their own lives without wanting to venture outside their horizons or to make their own marks on the world. I felt utter detachment and incredible pity for those people that night.

I never pledged my allegiance to the German flag, not once in four different kindergartens and four years of Grundschule--elementary school. I barely knew the national anthem. Yet we were proud of our culture--our history, our music, our writers, our operas, our art, our architecture, our food, our mistakes, our parks, our mountains, our forests, our folktales, our discoveries, and our scientists. I never had to recite a pledge every morning to restate, again and again and again and again, that I promised to devote myself to my country. Yet I loved it so much I cried nightly for weeks when I was brought to America. I missed it deeply, every part of it.

My sister left America again to live in Germany with my father. She misses very, very different things about this country.

Germany, she says, has no Taco Bell, no Victoria's Secret, no Doritos, no Kraft macaroni and cheese, and no Ramen noodles. Every time we go over there, we have to bring her some Taco Bell taco mix, cheese sauce powder, Ramen noodle seasoning, chips, and a bra or two.

Every time I come back from Germany, I step off the plane bearing opera tickets, train tickets, photographs, and restaurant cards to paste into a diary. I bring circles of wooden tracery I carved at my grandfather's for my mother, I bring countless German books, and I stow several bottles of Riesling into my checked luggage.

I know very well which country has the more beautiful, seasoned culture.

Yet America has the advantage of being a new country. It has not existed to make mistakes and learn for a thousand years. It has had two hundred and thirty-three. America is growing every which way; it's like a little runt of a kitten with a head too big for its body. And, in its own stumbling way, it is still very, very lovable.

I should just like to see America admit that it has much to learn and much to gain from other countries; that we are not the best--that no one is--that our worth is measured in the worth of our people, and that we have an exceptional amount of potential.

Think of it as a new translation of "independence".

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I have to post about this because, honestly, the more I read the angrier I get, and people everywhere react so hatefully to what is simply a lifestyle choice! I figure that if only one person reads this and leaves more informed, this post will have been worth something.

So! Veganism!

Vegans are generally labeled as crazy hippie health nuts and mocked. They are also told that they are starving themselves, unhealthy, welcoming osteoporosis, B-12 deficiencies, and protein deficiencies. They are told that they are shunning the perfect food for humans and embracing poison (okay, that judgment generally comes from Atkins converts). They are assumed to be scrawny, pale, and sickly-looking. Added to that, they are also seen as, essentially, terrorists. They are lumped together with all violent vegan animal rights fighters the way Muslims were lumped into the "terrorist" category right after 9/11 . And, when they are not fighting these labels, they are perceived as snotty, holier-than-thou, annoying, stupid, and malnourished. What's a vegan girl to do?

First of all, she's going to delve into explanations.

I made my choice primarily because of health reasons. Fruits and vegetables are the best food a human being can possibly ingest; combined, they contain all essential nutrients, minerals, vitamins, protein, and amino acids. Some typical deficiencies we are accused of include:

  • Vitamin B-12, necessary for the proper functioning of the nervous system and brain, was available from plants before we began washing and cleaning them so thoroughly. Now, we can get all we need from nutritional yeast, spirulina, and fortified foods like soymilk; we don't need supplements at all.
  • Protein, among other things, transports substances throughout the body, produces enzymes, and helps cell growth, repair, and replacement. Contrary to the "normal" conception, widely available sources of protein exist in vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains, and soy. However, too much protein is seriously dangerous. It leaches calcium and other minerals from our bodies, leading to osteoporosis, impairs the kidneys, and accelerates aging! The longest-lived people are widely acknowledged to be the traditional Japanese. They do not overdose on animal protein. They eat fruits, vegetables, sea vegetables, rice, fish, and tofu. Traditionally, they do not eat massive amounts of animal flesh. Yet they live longer. Coincidence? Nope.
  • Calcium keeps bones, nails, and teeth strong; the loss of calcium is linked to osteoporosis, which is a horrific condition. Dairy is the most widely acknowledged source of calcium. However, dairy also has a huge amount of protein in it, because it is specifically designed to grow a 40-pound calf into a 2,000-pound cow. It has so much protein in it that it truly does leach calcium from your bones. Vegans get their calcium from foods with a normal, low amount of protein in them like broccoli, leafy green vegetables, sprouts, garbanzo beans, molasses, soy, kale, collard greens, and nuts. Unless we do not plan our diets well, we do not suffer from calcium deficiencies.
  • Vitamin D, which kicks calcium into action, is easily available from the sun--which is easily said, but the sun is not comfortable to bask in all year-round, and we also tend to protect ourselves with sunscreen to avoid skin cancer. If I had a private garden or balcony, I would lie nude in the sun in mid-morning, before the rays get too hot and damaging, for about fifteen minutes. I don't have a private outside area, so I take morning walks in the spring, summer, and fall wearing shorts and tank tops. Milk is not a good natural source of vitamin D, because it has to be fortified. You can buy supplemented vegan foods if you absolutely need to; you don't need fortified milk.
  • Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids: found in nuts and seeds and their unrefined oils, along with borage oil and evening primrose oil. Fatty salmon is by no means necessary to the human diet.
The argument I always come across and absolutely hate is this one: that humans are omnivores/carnivores and are designed to eat meat, that we evolved to eat meat. NEWSFLASH: NO, WE'RE NOT!

Why not? Let's look at the most common arguments:

1. We have sharp canines! They are there to chew meat!

Compare your canines to those of, say, a cat or a lion. Do you really think that your puny, flat teeth qualify as canines? Please! Carnivores' teeth are there to tear off meat and swallow it. They don't spent time chewing. Their jaws function like a pair of scissors: they literally shear the flesh off with their teeth and swallow it. Like herbivores, humans chew their food in a side-to-side circular motion so they can break it down before they swallow to release the digestive enzymes. Carnivores don't need to. Our canines are pathetic but excellent for eating fruits and vegetables.

2. We evolved to eat meat. We're omnivores. Our systems can clearly handle it! We're meant to eat meat!

I cannot believe the ignorance of this argument. In order to digest meat, our stomachs use hydrochloric acid, which is indeed present in our stomachs. However, carnivores and omnivores have up to 10 times as much acid. The pH of their stomachs is generally 1 or less than 1 without food. If ours drops below 4 or 5 without food, it's time for medical intervention. We can technically digest meat, but it takes a whole lot longer. Additionally, carnivores and omnivores have a comparatively small digestive system; their small intestines are 3-5 times the length of their bodies. Their stomachs are large, which allows them to kill about once a week and then spend the rest of that time processing the food. Herbivores' and humans' small intestines are 10-12 times the length of our bodies. We are told to eat at least twice to three times a day. Some people, especially elderly people, eat five times. We have to have intestines that long because of the difficulty of breaking down fiber and to allow for adequate nutrient absorption.
Omnivores, across the board, are more similar to carnivores than to herbivores. Bears and raccoons can accurately be described as carnivores with a primitive digestive system who have adapted to a herbivorous diet. Many scientists believe that bears hibernate because their primary source of food (they are 70-80% herbivorous) is not available in the winter. In support of this theory of hibernation because of food unavailability, polar bears (who have no access to plants) hibernate in the summer, when seals cannot be hunted.

The Comparative Anatomy of Eating
, by Milton R. Mills, M.D., explains all this at length and in detail, and this chart summarizes individual points excellently:

Jaw Type
Carnivore: Angle not expanded
Herbivore: Expanded angle
Omnivore: Angle not expanded
Human: Expanded angle

Jaw Motion
Carnivore: Shearing; minimal side-to-side motion
Herbivore: No shear; good side-to-side, front-to-back
Omnivore: Shearing; minimal side-to-side
Human: No shear; good side-to-side, front-to-back

Teeth (Canines)

Carnivore: Long, sharp, and curved
Herbivore: Dull and short or long (for defense), or none
Omnivore: Long, sharp and curved
Human: Short and blunted

Stomach Capacity
Carnivore: 60% to 70% of total volume of digestive tract
Herbivore: Less than 30% of total volume of digestive tract
Omnivore: 60% to 70% of total volume of digestive tract
Human: 21% to 27% of total volume of digestive tract

Stomach Acidity
Carnivore: Less than or equal to pH 1 with food in stomach
Herbivore: pH 4 to 5 with food in stomach
Omnivore: Less than or equal to pH 1 with food in stomach
Human: pH 4 to 5 with food in stomach

Length of Small Intestine
Carnivore: 3 to 6 times body length
Herbivore: 10 to more than 12 times body length
Omnivore: 4 to 6 times body length
Human: 10 to 11 times body length

In conclusion, our systems are not formulated to eat meat!


3. There is too much suffering in the world to worry about animal cruelty! Let's deal with world hunger first, or war, and then we can tweak the little things. Animal rights are a waste of time when you could be joining the Peace Corps!

Animals raised for their dairy and meat require so much food that, were the entire world to adopt a vegan diet and subsist entirely independent of meat, eggs, and milk, we would produce enough food to feed every single person in the world. Not eating meat means that approximately 90 animals every year don't go into your stomach. That is a lot of meat and, therefore, a lot of grain that could be used for better purposes--feeding the hungry instead of stuffing our faces with food that is bad for us and makes us sick. And which comes to our mouths contaminated with horrific antibiotics, steroids, hormones, pesticides, and waste matter. Ew.

4. I have a farm/know someone who has a farm and our animals are raised humanely and wonderfully before they are slaughtered!

Yeah? They're still slaughtered. What percentage of this nation's meat comes from independent farmers and what percentage comes from factory farms? Our schools and military are supplied with billions of dollars of meat from factory farms. It's cheaper, because the conditions are so revolting. Undercover videos of kosher slaughterhouses revealed the same inhumane treatment as regular slaughterhouses. Proof of animal cruelty is everywhere on the Internet. Do you want to eat a chicken that lived in the same battery cage (with less personal space than a sheet of paper) as a dead, decaying chicken that nobody cleaned? That had disgusting infections? That had bird flu? That was picked out of a drain filled with vomit, feces, and cockroaches? I'm sorry, but I value my health more than factory farms and inhumane slaughterhouses do.

5. If we don't kill these animals, there are so many cows that we'll be overrun with them! They will eat all of our grains and invade our houses and eat crops meant for humans! And then they'll eventually die anyway, and some will be murdered by predators! So why try to get them released from slaughterhouses if they'll just die anyway? They're safe in their farms!

Safe to look forward to death. Would you put yourself through that? Would you be okay with living imprisoned, with no free will whatsoever, with your children torn away from you, to face slaughtered death? Or would you rather live on your own, eking out your living however you want to, but free to look at your own child, stretch your limbs, walk in whichever direction you choose, or actually look at the sun?
And we would not be overrun with cows, pigs, chickens, etc. Why do you think there are so many? They are forced to reproduce! If they weren't forced to, their population would decrease drastically. Don't pretend that we have as many cows to slaughter as we do because they freely reproduce that much. They're injected with hormones, steroids, etc. to make them as fertile as possible. Stop making them reproduce, and the large animal population won't be a problem. Plus, the methane gas production that is drastically cutting into the ozone hole will decrease dramatically.

6. Cows' udders would explode if we didn't milk them. They need to be milked. We're doing cows a favor and benefiting at the same time. It's a symbiotic relationship.
When women have babies and feed them with formula, do their breasts explode? Do they produce milk when they do not have newborns? No! Neither do cows. If we didn't tear calves away from their mothers, they would drink their mothers' milk until they are full-grown, and all the milk would be used as it is supposed to be.

7. Vegans are annoying and militant. They are crazy.

The most vocal vegans are no more annoying or militant than Christians who believe that they must convert others and bring them to Christ. I cannot count the number of times people have knocked on my door, interrupted me, and refused to believe me when I say that I am very confident in my own thoroughly thought-through and researched beliefs and do not want to be converted. There are terrifying fundamentalist Christians who shoot abortion doctors and there are wonderful, peaceful, kind, intelligent people. It's the same with vegans, although to my knowledge no one has committed murder for animal rights. We're just people with our own beliefs. We truly are.

8. If we aren't supposed to eat animals, why are they made out of meat? Yummy!

You know this answer to this incredibly idiotic question. You're made out of meat. May I eat you?

9. But it tastes so good! And we can eat it, so why shouldn't we?

We can smoke. We can do drugs. We can sexually abuse children. It feels good, so why shouldn't we?

10. Vegans are stupid. Don't they know that, in their zeal to protect life, they are killing plants? Oh, the poor carrots! Veganism is a waste of time. They should just kill themselves and save the plants and everything else.

One: plants do not have nervous systems and do not feel pain. Two: we are biologically created for plant ingestion. Three: isn't it better to do everything you can for a better world than to give up and just promote world destruction in the form of pollution, cruelty, and murder? Isn't it better to promote understanding and compassion wherever we can than to self-destruct? I think so. Don't you?

Any comments, questions, or criticisms--I'm happy to answer them!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Keeping Men In Love

One of my favorite things in the world is to do sweet things for the boyfriend. Hold off on labeling me a 1950s housewife, because, I promise, I have excellent reasons.

At this point, he and I are still in our idealistic state of the relationship. We've been dating for almost a year: he calls me "Hey, pretty" and takes out my trash; I wear short skirts and wash his dishes. I love this state of things and truly believe that the best relationship will live on as well as it begins. I try to do everything I can to make him think I'm wonderful, because--let's face it!--life is so much better when your significant other adores you! With that in mind, I have a few pointers!

  • Lingerie is an absolute must. What man doesn't want to know that you look gorgeous under your clothes, and that he's lucky enough to get to peel them off of you? Besides, you get to wear the sexiest underwear possible all day long and feel as luxurious as a million pairs of Manolo Blahniks. Personally, I'm a Victoria's Secret addict, although they do need to work on branching out so that every lady can wear their underclothing. Little ladies like me can take much comfort in the new Victoria's Secret Miracle Bra. It looks rather strange to start with--the cups attach at the center with a rough, zigzagged edge and not so much as a bow--but once that thing is on, oh, boy. I wear mine whenever I want to upgrade from a 34B to a 34C, which is...often. Very often. Last season's rose pink is a stunning color and the fall colors are magical--bronze (as pictured), rosy lavender, plum, a dusty rose, and a clear blue-teal! So much more colorful than last year's dove-gray color spectrum! I just hope the horrid "retro" waist-high lace starlet panties have died. Really. I could not understand that design choice. Unattractive on every size, from Gisele Bündchen to Mother Earth.)
  • Dress like the knockout you are and that he loves! Your body is wasted if you let it sit around in T-shirts and baggy jersey knit. Take a style tip from French women and realize that style may be expensive, but your life is too good to waste on trash! Make sure every single thing you buy looks gorgeous on you, accentuates your good points, has an eye-catching style twist, and is something you are willing to clean and care for properly, otherwise it's a waste of your time, money, and closet space. I go shopping about four times a year: right after Christmas/early January, June (Victoria's Secret semiannual sale!), the end of summer, and after Thanksgiving. I barely ever buy anything full-price. My favorite sweaters (see picture above) are a silky merino wool; they began as $65 apiece and I bought them for $19.99 during an intense January sale. They're the sexiest sweaters I own, and yet they have an enormous but high cowlneck, huge sleeves that gather into tight, four-inch-high cuffs, and a slim, fitted waist that naturally ends just below my hipbones. They are provocative, sexy, gorgeous, elegant, and yet conservative enough to wear to a small Christmas dinner hosted by my city's mayor. Knockouts know their good points and the styles the love and they rock them! Ladies, you're too good to waste your bodies on trashy or cheap clothing. You've heard this countless times, but I promise you that you will be so much happier if you spring for less of the expensive clothing instead of more of the cheap stuff--in which you don't feel like your full potential anyway.
  • On that note, know your body. Know what looks good on you and what doesn't. I realize that many, many women love this style, but the ballooning babydoll shirts really do make you look like you're trying to cover up either fat or a pregnancy belly. They don't hide anything unsightly--they accentuate it and make it look worse. Please, please, please drop them! They are hideous, no matter how many celebrities wear them or how many famous designers insist on adding them to the runway or style racks. They are hideous. If you must wear something with an empire waist, at least make sure the bottom of the shirt is at least somewhat fitted. Unless you desperately want to look like a pregnant avocado, in which case--well, fine, go for it. I wouldn't.
  • Speaking about loving your body...I highly advocate putting a little effort into making your body something he appreciates. I'm not talking about the gym--heavens, no; I wouldn't set foot in one of those boredom chambers!--but about very simple things. Shaved legs and underarms. Moisturized arms, legs, and definitely your face and neck. Make the best of yourself. I don't advocate Botox, but neither do I advocate ruining what you've been blessed with. Lotioning up a little every day now saves your skin later. Brush your teeth or gargle some mouthwash if you wake up first. Manicures and pedicures are too expensive for many of us to do regularly, but at-home cleaning, filing, and a regular coat of clear, strengthening fingernail polish is beyond no-one's reach. I regularly wax my own bikini line because it seems much more attractive to me and I feel more hygienic; this doesn't go for every woman. My senior year college roommate thought waxing or shaving that area was unnatural and was a babylike denial of a beautiful, flourishing woman's body. To each her own. Just trim and keep in check.
  • For those of you interested in waxing, it lasts longer than shaving and is much, much less painful than laser hair removal (see this month's Marie Claire for testimony: ow!). It does hurt for the first few times, so never, ever, ever do it in a cold room and do pop a Tylenol a half-hour or so beforehand if you want to. I use GiGi salon wax, readily available at Sally's Beauty Supply stores across the country. They sell a very cheap, small wax warmer for $20--not listed online--and I've had success with the Coarse formula. I intend to try the Azulene wax next, as I don't like pain and "soothing for your sensitive areas" sounds marvellous. I do not recommend any of the Créme waxes. The one I'm stuck with spreads with intense difficulty and I stared at it for about an hour before realizing that this was as liquid as it was going to get. It's like a combination of melted sugar and butter, which is not ideal at all for waxing. On the other hand, it smells nice. :) By the way, I've always paid between $12 and $15 for a can of wax. I've been waxing for two and a half years and had to get a new can of wax three months ago. These are definitely worth the money. And, let me assure you, the smooth feeling and sparser regrowth are fantastic!
  • On another topic entirely, I tend to make the bed in the mornings so we can tumble into a luxuriously clean room in the evening. Being in a clean room, house, and apartments immediately makes you feel a lot better about yourself, and you also end up looking like you have more money. One half-day of cleaning makes for a huuuuuuuge upgrade in your attitude. So I make the bed. It's an easy way to make the whole bedroom look nice, and it seems to warm his heart.
  • I recognize that he hates doing dishes, so I do his dishes, even though we haven't been living together yet. The awesome payoff is that will I never, ever have to take out the trash again for as long as I am with him and that he thinks I'm a magically sexy saint. He's a keeper!
  • I never, ever, ever show that I'm seriously jealous of any girl he talks about, any girl who has a crush on him, or anyone he dated in the past. Ever. (Unless he knows I'm joking.) There is nothing as unattractive as an insecure girlfriend. Swallow the jealousy. It is a sick little emotion that will turn you inside out with hurt feelings and rage, but you have got to control it. If you keep being jealous, he will eventually react, and he'll give you a reason to be. So stop it!
  • If I know he's busy, I'll stop by his office with something for him to drink and a kiss. Every little bit helps.
  • The girls who have crushes on the man you're interested in are best dealt with one way: you need to befriend them. Not best-friends--good God, no, not unless they're actually worth your time!--but you have got to be nice to them, because you have got to give them the impression that they don't want to ruin your relationship. I'm not saying that best friends won't steal your man--one of mine did once--but, and this is so important--you cannot show them insecurity. He will notice, as will she, and that will be a clear go-ahead for her. Why would anyone want to date someone who is so insecure in her boyfriend's or husband's affections that she'll cringe or get up in arms the second another woman starts flirting? It's cute maybe once, when he thinks you're protective. After that--stop it!
  • Try your hardest to make friends with his mother. It always helps to have her on your side. Rarely will mothers take your side against his, but their support is a valuable and loving thing.
  • Remembering all of this, the most important point ever is to be a fascinating, passionate, motivated person in your own right. He cannot be your entire world. If he is, he will get bored. If you are not an amazing person without him, and if he is your raison d'être, neither of you will be happy in the long run. The miserable, alcoholic, domineering, sex-crazed, pill-popping housewives of 1945-1963 are excellent examples. They denied themselves everything but husband, house, and children, and they suffered miserably. The happiest women were those with careers and even just interests of their own, like painting or writing. They were terribly unhappy. This isn't the kind of relationship you ever, ever, ever want to find yourself in! Good Lord, we have a very short time on this earth, so make the most of it! Do things you really want to do! Kick your dead-end job to the curb (after snagging a better one--unplanned months out of work suck and companies are more likely to hire you if you can show them that other people also think you are worth employing)! Go on vacation to someplace you know you'll love and remember for years! Do lunch with the girls and talk about what you really, really want in life. Vote in your local elections--officials do affect your life once they're in office! Get into yoga or belly-dancing or salsa; they're excellent exercise, and the latter two do wonders for your sex appeal! Yoga, on the other hand, fixes practically everything from stress to physical pain. Expand your horizons all the time. Go to plays, to art gallery openings, to baseball games, and tune in to City Council meetings if the issues promise to be interesting.
  • Make your own life fun and other people will want to share it!

Wine Club and Lindt

So here I am, at a summer camp for especially gifted kids, living in a dorm with all the other teachers. Come the end of the day, the thing on everyone's mind is alcohol. So we started a wine club.

The theory is that we pay about $20 apiece and then we buy as much wine as we can, opening a bottle or two every night. I tend to steal the bottles afterwards to soak off the labels so I can paste them into my wine diary, but that's another miniature obsession altogether. ;) As a vegan, I have to supply myself with my own dessert, because living on cafeteria salads and overcooked green beans is only acceptable for the soul if you can have dessert afterwards. Cafeteria chefs don't understand non-dairy dessert like sorbet, so I've taken to carrying Lindt bars around with me. The one in my purse last night was a dark chocolate chili bar, which I brought out in a flash of inspiration when a Baron Philippe de Rothschild Mouton Cadet Bordeaux made its appearance.

The Bordeaux is a thinner red wine, without any defined legs to speak of. The Malbec from the other night had very visible legs running down the side of the glass; this one isn't half as heavy. It stands excellently on its own, and you can definitely taste the berry aromas, although my co-wine-lover thought she detected hints of chocolate. Naturally, the next step in the experiment was to try it with my chocolate.

This wine pairing is nothing short of stellar. It was knock-your-socks-off decadent. The chili kick livens up the chocolate and brings it up to par with the multilayered wine, and the wine isn't overpowering enough to wash away the wonderful chocolate chili flavors and leave you with chocolate winey goo in your mouth (yeah, I know, ew!). And the bottle is only $9.99 at Jericho Wine! It is a wonderful red wine, excellent for people who like their wines a little less deep and rich than Cabernet Sauvignons. "Round and crisp attack" at the start is a wholly accurate description, as is the expressive and long berry finish. Simply lovely!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Have you ever been interrupted by the absolutely lovely sound of a group of approximately twenty high-schoolers rehearsing several pieces of classical choral music in an acoustically ideal university lobby?

It was the most beautiful sound I have heard in months.

(I have to add, though, that if you really want to hear a sound that will bring tears to your eyes, all you have to say to a friend who knows what you're talking about is yiff!, and you will be rolling on the floor in uncontrollable, hilarious tears.)

Being around these kids is fascinating. They're bursting with all kinds of energy, and these are the kids who are gargantuous nerds at home but who can show their teachers up in Photoshop or Latin grammar. They go outside during their breaks and discuss their most recent German class, the seriously intense Social Studies debate about abortion or laws concerning religious constraint; they talk about Danté and Kant's categorical imperative and Aristotle while at the same time clutching a Marie Claire or a Seventeen magazine. These kids are so fascinating.

They inspired me today. I've been staring blankly at Tetris while watching a computer lab for about two weeks now (occasionally interspersed with the Evil level of WebSudoku) and was generally feeling miserable as a result. I ran across a couple of kids trying to teach themselves yoga and yelling at each other in French, and I finally decided to do something with all this time I've got.

A day into this burst of enthusiasm, I have four pages covered in rough sketches of female figures, three pages added to the beginning of a novelette, a lot of almost-forgotten recipes firmly cemented into Microsoft Word, and did a lot more research on the pros and cons of veganism. (I have to. Would you embark on a new dietary lifestyle with so much ridicule attached to it without checking it out first?) And--what do you know?--I feel absolutely fantastic. Productive. Far, far less lethargic. I'm loving every energetic minute of today. I cleaned my room this morning and I'm looking forward to falling asleep peacefully.

Now, if only I had an available kitchen. ;) But my juicer will have to do for now.

Have you ever noticed the spurt of energy that comes when you decide you want to start something? When you clean your apartment or your house, go to the gym (yeah, that was a three-week stint for me and never again), start a new kind of diet, start a new job, start a new year in college, start anything--you do it with a surge of energy that buoys you up for at least the first one or two days. If you're lucky, it lasts forever! If you're crash and get horribly bored. This is an absolutely brilliant way to recharge yourself--start something new! Start something interesting! I've done it before--zoned out on writing a horrific 40-page college paper, pushed it aside to go paint the river with a best friend, and realized that the paper wasn't bad enough to make me want to kill all human life. It was actually interesting. I finished the paper and got an A. Try it!

If you're continually bored, lackluster, tired--just push sleepiness aside and do something else! Teach yourself rudimentary Photoshop. Try cooking something new. Go to a restaurant you never thought you'd like. (I did that with sushi, and now I'm hopelessly addicted! I love it so much!) Pick up that instrument you haven't played since high school. Plant an herb garden. Read a book totally out of your usual genre!

Try Terry Pratchett's Going Postal (there is a brilliant laugh on every page), Christopher Hitchens' god is not Great (for believers and unbelievers, it's something to think about), Natalia Rose's Detox for Women (inspiring and so, so healthy!), Tracy Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring (brilliant, luminous writing), Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point (ever wonder how questionable phenomenons like Hush Puppies were catapulted into fame?), or Bryan Burrough's Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI (the Johnny Depp movie's coming out in July!). Try anything! Anything and everything! Life is only there for us to grab it and make it ours!

It's everything we ever wanted, if only we can make it so. So, ladies, let's do it! Let's sing because we can, love because it's fun, kiss in a surfeit of feeling!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sparkling Wine Love: Paul Cheneau Cuvée Cava Brut

I used to have a very firm view regarding sparkling wines. They are not Champagne, not authentic, and very often terrible. Admittedly, this meant that I never drank it, because college students on scholarship and loans can't afford fifty-dollar bottles whenever they want to celebrate something. I made do with a Rioja or Bordeaux--hardships galore. ;) But then--then I went to Macon, Georgia's Lemongrass Thai Bistro, and adoration bloomed.

I want to take this moment to recommend a beautiful sparkling wine: Paul Cheneau Lady of Spain Cuvée Cava Brut. It's a light, dry, bubbly white wine, rather toasty and refreshing, with hints of apricot and apple. Although it's a Spanish wine, it goes excellently with Thai food--I had it with a red curry and never wanted to leave the table. I'm now unashamedly in love with this wine, so much so that I've ordered six bottles. On that note, it's also stunningly cheap. Wineaccess sells it for $9.99, or $8.99 if you buy 12 or more bottles. Hearing the description of a bottle bearing a woman's figure, I thought it would be tacky, but it's actually absolutely gorgeous, especially in candlelight. I'm pretty positive that, were I getting married now, this would be my reception champagne of choice. (Unless, of course, I decide to throw my boyfriend over and marry a less wonderful millionaire, in which case Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut will be a necessity.) It is excellent and well worth far more than the $10 I am glad to spend.

Rioting in Valdosta

I'm currently working at a program which is essentially a summer school for fantastically gifted kids, rising juniors and seniors. We've got about seven hundred kids split up into different majors, which range from Math to Communicative Arts (foreign languages and English fall under this umbrella) to Dance. Then they get to pick from minors, and we try to shove them towards picking minors that they are new to. For instance, our Computer Tech minor has a lot of Visual Arts kids, a lot of CommArts and Social Studies majors, and, okay, a lot of Math kids. Theatre kids are seriously encouraged to go study Physics or Agricultural Science or Education or Latin--just something that they're almost completely ignorant about. And they love it.

They're being pushed out of the box every single second that they're here. It gets crazy, too--the day before yesterday, the SocStud majors wanted to personally study riots after researching Iran, so the natural conclusion was--to start a riot and study the effects. It was awesome and, okay, a bit insane. The supposed riot was about the ID cards all the kids have to hang around their necks, and although their teachers, the director of the program, and the president of the university campus on which we're holding this summer school thing all gave the project the OK, someone forgot to tell the RAs, who freaked out and called the police.

We had to step in and tell the cops what was going on, because they were getting ready to arrest a whole lot of kids, so everything eventually calmed down. I think the official reason for the arrests would have been congregating without an approved permit--you have to have a permit if you want to riot. However, the result is that we have a bunch of kids who hear about Iran and know just how terrifying it is to be up against law enforcement. True, they weren't in danger of their lives, and this was specifically a non-violent riot, but you can't tell me that these kids will remain blasé when they read news reports about Iran.

Personally, I believe that this shock value in education is fantastic. We've deleted it from our Social Studies and History books, resulting in bland heroes like Christopher Columbus and Woodrow Wilson who are such irritatingly inhuman do-gooders that they just don't matter to kids. No one cares about perfect people who are supposed to be heroes. But if you tell someone that Christopher Columbus wrote letters to Spain promoting the advantages of the New World by advertising that young Indian girls were widely available and used as sex slaves; the ones at nine years old being most in demand, then they care. Then that's something interesting. Then--oh, boy--those kids realize that "heroes" are often revolting and that they are better than their "heroes" are. And this means that they can do better than Woodrow Wilson, who led America through World War I and was one of the worst racists of his time.


Helen Keller didn't just fade into historical dust after blurting out "wa-wa". She went to university and grew up to explore the slums, the factories, the sweatshops; she learned about Communism, and, in support of the inhumanely downtrodden poor of this country, spoke everywhere in support of a Communist America. She experienced more than anyone could possibly guess out of the deified pages of American history books.

Adolf Hitler inspired absolute devotion in Eva Braun, a lovely, peaceful German girl who refused to leave him when the Allies neared their bunker, saying that she lived only for him. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a fondness for younger women and the FBI tried to blackmail him into halting his equal rights campaign by threatening to show a sex tape of him to his wife. (He refused.) There is good reason to believe that the FBI was behind Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death. These are fascinating and riveting historical details, which are left out of mainstream education.

In camps like the one I'm working at, kids are exposed to all of this and shock values of practically every kind. They are pulled out of their comfort zones and thrown into learning. The result is that they leave this camp more grown-up, more changed, more knowledgeable, and more inspired than they have ever been in their whole lives.

Isn't the present and future of this nation's children more important than deifying historical figures who, after all, don't deserve the annihilation of the very traits that made them human?

Well, isn't it?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Stereotypical Backlashing

I'm currently experimenting with veganism. Honestly, the most frustrating thing about this dietary lifestyle is not the diet itself but the intolerance and, occasionally, the blatant contempt and hatred vegans face from meat-eaters. I've been researching the dangers of this lifestyle for about three weeks now, and have come across some pretty vitriolic spite in the process. All you have to do Google "stupid vegan" or "veganism unhealthy" to get a sample. There are hundreds of bloggers who feel compelled to publish a "stupid vegan" diatribe. Why? I'm not sure, really. I think they actually think vegans are stupid. I think we irritate them, and I also think that "veganism" is automatically linked to every excess and piece of violence perpetrated and/or approved by PETA.

I won't go into arguments for veganism now, although I may desperately want to later. There are thousands of defensive comments, blogs, articles, books, and lectures out there. What fascinates me the most is the rampant contempt.

A few months ago, a friend of mine offered to buy me a Starbucks frappucino. I said "no, thanks very much"--which was odd, because I used to be a Starbucks addict. He insisted, and I explained that I was a vegan. I don't think I will ever forget his response:

"Wow, and I used to respect you."

If people choose a dietary lifestyle that is different from yours, and if they are not hurting anyone by doing so, why should it matter to you? Why do people feel compelled to impose their beliefs onto other people who are very happy as they are? It isn't only veganism--this interesting attitude has a very wide umbrella encompassing practically every religion, liberal and conservative political viewpoints, alcohol-drinkers, mothers who choose to abort, people who don't watch TV, people who eat meat, who have sex before marriage, who wear certain kinds of clothing, and men who take their wives' last names. I do not think that there is anything a person can do in this world that someone else does not object to, including breathing.

With that in mind, why?

Mostly, I believe, we dislike en masse on the basis of stereotype. Vegans are extremist, PETA-loving, unhealthy health nuts who want to eradicate steak. Religious conservatives are ignorant sheep, bleating "God!" instead of opening their eyes. Liberals, religious or no, are God-hating, country-damning, Socialist home-wreckers. Any woman considering abortion is a murderess. Anyone opposing abortion believes that women are inferior beings who abort as a form of birth control. Women who show a lot of skin are whores. Men who are vegetarians are hen-pecked pussies who will die from lack of protein. (Seriously? People seriously think protein is only present in meat and dairy? Weird.) So what does this make us?

It means we're judging people based on stereotype. I grant you that sometimes it's necessary; waitressing comes to mind. But in general, we're spewing out dislike without knowing the whole of what we actually dislike--which, when researched, very often turns out to be a reasonable outlook. It means that we're walking around every day being critical of people who are smart, valuable human beings and who don't deserve stereotypical dislike. It means that we're a target of someone else's dislike. It means that whenever you crack open the opinion page of any newspaper, you will find a letter to incense you and make you unnecessarily furious. It means that we will be targets of the same contempt that we are showing other people.

Ladies, we are so much more than stereotypes. We are human beings, and as such never fit one particular picture. We are ten times as multifaceted as a hyper-dodecahedron. None of us deserve a mass blanket of contempt. You and I are better than that.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Some things are inevitable for every woman. Aging is one.

Treating age like it is a piece of waste that has just flown out of the toilet and landed just above your eyebrow is not.

It is stupid and ultimately more self-destructive than smoking. At least you get some pleasure out of smoking before you die. If you are not confident in your aging body and love it, you will certainly not attract a man who loves you for who you are. If you clearly hate yourself, why in heaven's name should he fall in love with you? Think about it.

What are the benefits of a youthful body? I know you can name dozens. What are the benefits of age? I want you to name ten in the space of two minutes. Can you? If you can’t, that is a clear sign that you need to get your head out of advertisements.

Ladies. Seriously. I know that hundreds of billion-dollar industries have poured zillions of advertising dollars into making you think that your crow’s feet, wrinkles, sagging eyelids, thinning lips, et cetera et cetera ad nauseum are things that must be combated at all costs in order to produce an attractive woman. But do you know what you are doing when you are buying into this?

You are dooming yourself to a lifetime of hopelessly wishing you were twenty-one and uselessly beating yourself up for decades as you get farther and farther away from your twenties. It is useless because you are going to age. You are human. It will happen. (Although you can delay it by not pouring junk into your body. You know this.) This mad craze for lotions, collagen, Botox, retinoid eye cream, wrinkle creams, crazy makeup, hair dye, and God knows how much else is costing you thousands of dollars in a last-ditch effort to approach ninety a bit more slowly. STOP IT.

Don’t get me wrong. Letting yourself go is unforgivable and stupid. But hating your grey hairs is, too. When was the last time you saw a woman’s hair go grey naturally, without any dyeing interference? I remember the moment I decided I’d damn all cultural prejudices and delight in growing gray naturally. I was sitting in the back seat of a car with my mother, riding across southern Indiana, and the sun struck her head just as it was setting. I have never seen anything more beautiful. Her hair sparkled copper, gold, and silver—especially silver. No artificial chemical products could possibly emulate hair so naturally stunning. If you do dye your hair, don’t do it because you’re afraid of your grey hairs. Really look at them. They are beautiful. They reflect more light and are more eye-catching than your colored hairs, which means that they stand out completely by themselves, in which they are unique. How sexy are your legs without a moisturizing lotion and high heels? How slim is your waist if you aren’t sucking in your stomach? If you are confident in your gorgeous, glinting, sexy grey hair, which screams maturity, intelligence, experience (and how many men would pass that up in bed?), and head-turning personal pride, you will automatically double your attractiveness in every sense of the word. Don’t you dare knock cougars, because they’ve got more guts and sex appeal than you do. They are attracting young men away from young women, who are supposed to be the epitome of vitality and beauty. They are fucking awesome.

Think about it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Restaurant Etiquette

I love going out to eat. Do you? I think it's fabulous. You don't have to do any work and you have a fetch-and-carry slave waiter who makes you feel like royalty, if he's doing his job right. If your absolutely stunning date is doing his job right, you're also luxuriating in a free evening. Or you could be having a brilliant time with your best friend or your group of girls, who will all be sure to be far more scandalous than any guy will ever have the balls to be on preliminary dates. You could be out with clients, piling on the fun so they'll pile on the business. You could be trying to scare away a creepy guy by sticking mushrooms up your nose. Any number of things. They're all fabulous.

Wanna know how to ruin it?

There are many types of restaurant etiquette, but they basically boil down into two kinds: one for the customer and one for the server. I have been both on a slew of different occasions, and, trust me, there are thousands of pet peeves on each sides. Want to hear the obvious ones?

The customer's greatest fallacies are:

  • Treating the waiter like a person who makes more than $2.13 per hour. Most of the time, that is all they make. That salary pays for gas to get to work, and that is all. Unless a new minimum-wage law is enacted for servers, almost every single restaurant will take advantage of their waitstaff and let you pay their salary. This sucks, but, in America, that's the way it is. (Don't do it in Italy; though; they can get offended if you tip them there.) It is NOT okay to leave a dollar tip per person unless you have only had a cup of coffee. It is never okay to leave a tip under 10% unless the server did a miserable job. If you're eating at a café and your entrée was around $8 or $9, don't leave less than $2 per person. It's rude. Moreover, don't you fucking dare send that poor server running all over the restaurant to serve your needs and then tip him or her forty-five cents. That is disgusting. You are exploiting your server. Stop it. Tipping an extra dollar will not hurt you and will let your waiter pay rent.
--Ladies, we're especially prone to under-tipping. Women tend to have separate checks and to tip much less kindly than men do. Frugality is laudable, but not when it comes to an extra dollar.
  • Being an unfriendly jerk. Ladies, beware! On your first dates, there are millions of men who will judge you based on the way you treat your waiter. Do you want to send a gorgeous, successful, funny guy running as far as he can because he's just seen how you treat people you think are subordinate to you? That is not sexy. That is rude. One of the first rules of having class and charm is to treat everyone, everyone, with respect. (Unless some guy is making you seriously uncomfortable. In that case, I firmly advocate everything from deprecating remarks to a swift kick in the groin.)
  • Making a horrific mess on the table. Oh, my God. I hate just eating with people like this. Sometimes I cannot help spilling things, like dipping oil for bread, but it's revolting to eat with someone who treats the tablecloth like a trash-collecting welcome mat. You have got to control this. Eating more slowly helps so much, as does the novel concept of making sure that everything on your fork actually stays on your fork until it enters your mouth and your lips close around it.
  • Bringing children to eat and allowing them to crumble crackers and scatter food all over the floor. Do you even realize what you are doing? You are trashing the restaurant! It makes you look like trash. The servers have to make the place look spotless for every other customer and you are making them hate you. Do you really want all the other customers to look at you and think "oh, my God, who is that trashy bitch who can't even keep her children from making me want to throw up my lunch"? No. I realize children will make messes. Just do your part to try to keep your area from becoming a saltine cracker pasta soda garbage dump.
  • Throwing your trash and your napkin onto your plate. It's gross. Your server will know you are finished if you put your knife and fork into the "five o'clock" position on your plate (okay, I'm left-handed, so mine end up in the "seven o'clock" slot), and if he or she is not familiar with this piece of etiquette, just stop eating. Eventually, your plate will go away. Do you really want to be so rude as to make a trash heap for yourself and the other people at your table to look at? An empty plate is an empty plate, not a garbage can. I hate, hate, hate eating with people who think it is completely okay to shred their napkins and then place napkin bits, straw wrappers, and sodden drink coasters into their plates while I still have food and drink in front of me. EW. Don't ever, ever, ever do this. Please.
Gross Server Breaches of Common Decency:

  • Don't call ladies "guys". "How are you guys doing today?" Great! We just lopped off ten percent of your tip for making us feel less than glamorous! How about you? We're ladies. I don't care what you snicker to your friends in the kitchen, your job is to respect us.
  • When you bring us refilled glasses, take the old ones away. I do not want my table to become a dumping ground for empty glasses.
  • Not cleaning off tables quickly. The surrounding tables feel encompassed by trash and you don't get your table turned in time to catch people who just don't feel like waiting long enough for you to get your act together.
  • Know your menu. Really. Top to bottom.
  • Try not to write anything down. I make exceptions if the party includes more than five or six people, but your memory is better than you think. In most cases.
  • Don't ever, ever touch plates or glasses anywhere near where food, drink, or mouths will go. Ew.
  • Dirty aprons are gross. I worked with a long white apron for about eight months and, sure enough, as it got dirtier, tips dropped drastically. Eventually, I was stuck spraying the damn thing with degreaser, soaking it, and then drowning it in bleach to get it white again before starching, ScotchGarding, and ironing, but it worked. I loved making $100 for a breakfast/lunch shift. It pays for the bleach. ;)
  • Do your customers a favor and remove all bits of trash from their tables when you check on them. Straw wrappers and other obnoxious things like that clog up the table and will guarantee you a happy little tip raise if you are that attentive.
Sometimes, though, you can make terrific mistakes and people will love you anyway. You can spill a tray filled with 20-ounce Coke glasses all over two small boys, and the mother will tip you 40% because she was so happy that it wasn't her kids making the mess.

One of the most lovable servers I ever worked with was named Paige. Paige was about fifty-five, smoked like an oven on fire, was somehow incapable of getting a haircut, and was about the most absent-minded people I have ever met. Paige and logic did not get along, she and problem-solving divorced long ago, and I think multitasking was aborted. She once asked a teenage girl at lunch with her mother if the girl was pregnant and then managed to wave goodbye to them with a solid ten-dollar tip for an eighteen-dollar ticket in her apron pocket. Hundreds of people loved her. It was inexplicable. Just being a lovable, nice person seems to make up for a helluva lot of mishaps.

The Why and Wherefore

Imagine growing up with your wiggly six-year-old butt plastered firmly to a red velvet-covered chair in the box of a German opera house the Kaiser used to visit. Imagine scurrying through gilded ceilings and marble staircases, weaving through about two thousand adults desperate for alcohol, until you finally locate one of about twenty backstage entrances. Imagine bounding down concrete stairs and discolored but clearly labeled hallways until, finally, after about seven wrong turns, you scamper into the canteen for the cast and crew.

The air smells like old wood, resin, thickly-cut French fries, Bratwürste, beer, wine, makeup, and a whole lot of cigarette smoke. The light is dim and yellow. Men in tails contrast fabulously with women in glittering tulle ballet costumes and the most fabulously huge gowns a soprano was ever corseted into. You join your father in the non-smoking section, happily clutching your Coca-Cola in a glass (no ice, of course; it's winter-time and this is Europe!).

The coasters are all gold and beige advertisements for Warsteiner beer. You watch, fascinated, as your father introduces you to the Queen of the Night (one of the opera's three!), the prima ballerina in Carmen: Bolero or to Hansel, who seems to inexplicably be a young woman! You meet the crazy-cool conductor, who is small, Japanese, and guaranteed to up the fun of every operatic production by jumping around like a flea on steroids whenever the music gets terrifically exciting. Imagine all of this being an everyday evening.

Then imagine moving to America.

Dude. America is seriously disconcerting to a nine-year-old German girl. It's fascinating and really, really, really strange. Everything is enormous (pickup trucks! What the fuck?), fifteen-year-olds can drive (dude, awesome!), you have to ask people (especially Southerners) to repeat everything about five times before you give up in embarrassment (hey, perfect stage American English is spoken by practically nobody), and you can refill your own drinks at any fast food restaurant, instead of being really excited about once-a-month post-swimming-pool trips to the one KFC we lived near. A nerdy little German girl dropped into America can learn a lot of terrifically interesting things by just staying a little bit detached, watching, observing, and thinking a whole lot.

Now, terrifyingly, she's a woman. And she loves to write to and for women.

Seriously, girls? I have watched so many of my friends and acquaintances struggle: with food, diet, ethics, men, boyfriends, loneliness, beauty, fashion, personal style, class, etiquette, accomplishments, reputation, massive deluges of too much information--that I'm completely sick of it. I quit standing on the sidelines. I want you to know everything that I've gathered from three different countries, multiple eating styles, a degree in costume design, a passion for acting, countless books, countless friends, and countless frustrations. It's a hell of a lot of fun. ;)