Monday, March 26, 2007


I recently listened to Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” (I was driving up the Oregon/Washington coast, a beautiful landscape, which was somehow appropriate.) At times this book is overwrought. But overall, the book dipped down into my own history with food.

I grew up on a farm. My parents had an amazing garden. We lived off the garden in the summer, canned the abundance, and lived off that in the winter. I remember killing chickens. I remember knowing the calf you ate during the winter. My grandfather had chickens. I know about feisty, nasty Banty roosters. And I have gathered eggs.

And I have a personal rivulet into hippy dreams of utopia, imagining we might live in a happy group and grow foods. In the seventies, I gardened, made food from scratch (bread from wheat, and ricotta and cottage cheese from milk). In other words, I have a pretty good sense of where “real” food comes from. I had an aesthetic that said natural is good and so on. I have gardened, frozen foods, canned foods. . . . . .

Fast forward. In the middle years I’ve bought food, tried to keep my life engaged with something real, not always successfully. I can never resist potato chips. I go through this pass down memory lane to establish why I would respond to Pollan’s book.

A guilty pleasure and a continuing link to my more basic connection with food: i buy cookbooks. I love the idea of great food. Though I don’t always get around to cooking that great food. I understand the difference between food as at least a craft, often an art. And I have a sense of food that diminishes. of food that somehow taps into what is basic, beautiful, important.

So here are my current rules about food:

1. At the very least try avoid processed food. Eat food that looks like food. Vegetables, meat, lentils, bread, grain. You should know the history of a good before you eat it--grow it, raise it and kill it, harvest or gather the food from a living being.
2. Organic is expensive, easily bamboozles, but overall still gains something. Compost instead of chemical, no pesticides. You can still have processed, horrific food. But even then, you’ve probably helped the environment. I’d still go for recognized food over processed food. (Though I do love potato chips.)
3. You can grow your own and buy from local vendors. At least then, you have some sense of where your food comes from. I love farmers markets and have my favorite in Sacramento, and in Seattle (mostly the U-distict). If you can’t grow it, know who did.
4. Pollan’s book gave me some tools for making additional distinctions. That is what I admire about the book (despite it’s limits). Grass fed versus corn fed. That was a useful distinction. I also loved his descriptions of the genre of idyllic food, encouraged a skeptical way to read the brochures, the cartons on the food. That was one of the most useful contributions of his book--encouraging me to bring my lit crit background to food collateral. These skills have informed my decisions about what I bought this past weekend. Be skeptical. Natural.

Bottom line. I’m back to thinking about my childhood experiences (when I knew where food came from and what it cost) and back to my idyllic dreams of young adulthood (close to nature, what I think of as my earth mother phase). In those moments, i was thinking about food with a history I could describe. The farm is sometimes cruel, but at least it is open to view. Food probably should take time. What is more basic?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Lesson learned

Bevin and I drove to Missoula last night. Spent today meandering through Montana to idaho Falls, where we’re spending the night. Sunny day. Huge skies. A decent audiobook. Bev happy. A great day.

I’m trying to keep Bev up a little later. So when we arrived here tonight, we went for a walk, ate dinner, went for a walk, and went to a lounge for a drink. Bev had a diet coke, I had a pinot. ( I do realize that the coke probably works against the going-to-sleep-early plan, but this was my best choice.)

Downside: Idaho has not yet happened upon no smoking laws. Having decided, that 30 minutes of dense second-hand smoke wouldn’t kill us, we persevered.

Lo and behold! Lesson learned. Bevin is a great success in bars. A bar plays to all of her strengths. She loves to sip a drink. You don’t have to eat in bars. (Bev is a messy eater.) She loves to watch people. She loves to flirt. And bars are noisy. (Bev, happy can be weirdly noisy to the uninitiated.)

Not sure what the future is here. But definitely an enjoyable evening with my daughter.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Idaho elegy

Last July I took a road trip to Idaho to attend the funeral of a cousin. He was a contemporary of my brother, ten years older than me. I have become accustomed to the deaths of our elders. My grandparents, my parents, my aunts and uncles, they are now all dead. There are few of my relatives still living in southeastern idaho where I grew up. As a child, all of my relatives, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins lived there. Today i received a call from my sister, and my cousin Peggy has died. My cousin Bruce was someone I knew by reputation,, someone close to my siblings. Peggy has a place of prominence in my early memories.

In the most vivid of these memories I am 7 or 8 years old--a 2nd or 3rd grader, I suspect. She was 6 or 7 years older than me. She was my glamorous cousin, who doted on cute little red-headed Susie. Her mother had pretensions beyond us country folk. Her house had china figurines, beautiful pictures, a furnace, a picture window, and wall-to-wall carpet. And Peggy had store-bought clothes. Most of mine were sewn by my mother. I would stay over at my cousin Peggy’s house. She would comb my hair and dress me up. And I would go home with some of those glamorous store-bought hand-me downs. By the time I’m nearing my teenage years, I no longer have many memories of Peggy. I suspect she became too old to be bothered with this little cousin.

The irony is that this glamorous cousin is the one who lived her adult life in southeastern Idaho. She married a farmer and stayed there while the rest of us grew up, went to college, and moved away.

I saw Peggy in July when I went to my other cousin’s funeral. At this point, she probably didn’t know she was sick. She has spent the time since then battling cancer. She called my sister a few months back to tell her about her cancer and let her know that she was hoping to have one of the last couple of burial plots in the cemetery where my grandparents were buried. That was where my cousin Bruce, who spent his adult life in Manatoba, Canada, was buried. It seems fitting that Peggy, one of the only cousins from my mother’s family who stayed in Idaho, should have these plots.

I’m going to drive to idaho again, this time with Bevin. To say good-bye. To my cousin, again to my childhood. I did this last summer. It’s a very odd feeling to go back there. Especially to say good-bye to those who are nearer and nearer to being my contemporaries. But it’s also to look for myself, where I came from, who I am. It’s always hard for me to know exactly how I happened when I go back to my childhood haunts.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Twisted family plots

Almost a decade ago, I was asked to judge a Mormon fiction contest. Slogging through some very terrible novels, I came upon a mystery with a family plot--I can’t remember the details of the book, but I’m sure it was about a mother or a father, a daughter or son, murdering or sleeping with a family member. And the setting was Victorian England (I was working on a ph.d. in nineteenth century British fiction). I voted for this book, and that year the book won. The Mormon author of note for the Association of Mormon Letters, Anne Perry.

A Mormon author unlike the others. I discovered that she was already a best-selling novelist, and a Mormon convert. Talking to a friend, I learned that Anne Perry also was one of the girls depicted in the troubling movie “Heavenly Creatures”--the friend who helped the daughter murder her parents. (The movie was also an intro to Kate Winslet, actress, and Peter Jackson, director). Anne Perry the pseudonym she took when she came out of prison.

Since then I’ve mostly read the Monk series of detective fiction. The policeman whose memory has been lost. The nurse from the Crimean war, Hester. The two eventually marry. Always, those twisted family plots.

I took the opportunity in Menlo Park to go to a reading by Anne Perry. Heard her talk about a regular writing schedule and teaching Sunday school.

I won’tjudge this woman’s fiction. I just read it with continued fascination. I would like to be as spunky, brave, outspoken as Hester. Right now I’m listening to a Pitt mystery--Charlotte and her husband. She’s also spunky, brave, outspoken. And her husband, like Monk, is an outsider, odd, but a good man and underneath a kind and sensitive husband, lover. Also a good policemant, who can always use his wife’s help. Who wouldn’t want such a man.

Still I continue to be fascinated by those plots, given this complicated history. The current book--two baby bodies unearthed in a public garden square. Abortion, murder, sex. Anne Perry at her best. My beloved Mormon author.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Reading out loud

I am an audiobook addict.

I love being read to. I love going word by word through a book, listening, paying attention. Doing the different voices.This is the closest I come to meditation. In blessed moments, listening to a book takes me out of myself, stops the restless play of my mind.

I’m not so good at reading out loud to myself. I’ve been experimenting with this over the past week. Reading Hardy poems out loud. And today, I may have been lucky. The rain drove Bevin and me back to our rooms earlier than I planned. I wanted to read, so I read out loud to her.

We’ve had a good afternoon. Only the charming Bevin this afternoon. Perhaps we have found something new to share, riding, walking, reading. I hope so.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I’m trying to ween Bev from the anti-depressant. I want to figure out what her baseline is. I just haven’t had enough continuing time with her over the past five years to know what makes sense. I took her to a doctor last week, and he agreed this makes sense.

So for this week, I’m halving her perscription--1/2 tablet, rather than 1 tablet each night. For the past couple of days, she’s been mostly half and half. I’m trying not to reward “bad” behavior. That means, when she’s really out of control, I’m trying to find a safe, time-out place for her to calm down. I don’t want to take her driving or take her walking (both things she really enjoys) when she acts out. I’m harkening back to early training. Bore the nasty behavor. Find a quiet, dark, boring place where she can stay until she finds her calmer, more charming sense. I’ve created a place like that in my house.

For the detox phase, I’m cheating a bit. I’ve been taking her driving. Though I let her in the car only when she’s got herself more or less together. Yesterday, we did a ride to Concrete and then to one of the islands and on the ferry. Now I’m spending two days on the Olympic Penninsula at Rialto Beach--one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, I think. I’ve found a great little place to stay here on a river about 5 miles or so from the beach. I want her to have it easy not going psycho while we detox. I believe in contributing to her success. So far we’ve done pretty goo. Though she did spend a little time in the closet here tonight (bored finally) until she decided the bed sounded better. She’s now bored, sleepy, in bed. . . . . . . .

Two weeks at 1/2 says the doctor, and then take her off for a couple of weeks. We’ll see where that leaves her and whether I have the patience.

I like the happy Bevin better than the psycho Bevin. . . . .