The Joy of Cooking Seasonally

9 Apr

DSC01570I went to the farmer’s market this past weekend, and I felt my heart sink a little as I saw what is left in this season. It had been a frighteningly dry summer, a dry fall, a long winter, and a cold spring. That hardly spells agricultural abundance. Should it be any wonder that when I go to the market, I don’t see some of the vegetables I was hoping for like carrots, potatoes, and onions? In fact, of winter storage vegetables, there were hardly any. There were some beets, sweet potato, rutabaga, turnips, and radishes– the hardiest of storage vegetables. We are talking about almost zero selection, and of what is left, it’s starting to look a little sad (although I am thoroughly impressed at the farmer’s abilities to keep those vegetables for so many months! I can’t keep vegetables for more than two weeks, so I am amazed at what they can do).

Also at the market were plenty of greenhouse greens and tomatoes. This is exciting– mixed greens, arugula, bibb lettuce, and spinach are all available finally. The only problem? A small head of lettuce or a bag of spinach costs upwards of six dollars, not exactly affordable on a student budget or on a first-year-out-of-college-in-a-bad-economy working salary. I didn’t even look at the tomatoes because I think they are expensive per pound when they are grown with free solar energy in the summer, let alone energy from an operating greenhouse out of season!

So, I walked away having purchased cheese, meat, and a few root vegetables. On my now gluten-free diet, I didn’t even look at the tables with breads. All in all, it wasn’t the most economical trip I had ever taken to the market. Nor was it the most fulfilling trip in terms of robustness of selection. Yet I walked away feeling exhilarated.

I was contemplating on my bike ride from the market why I purchase seasonally. I will admit, in terms of cost effectiveness and convenience, a local and seasonal diet does not have the most to offer. When I hear others say that they enjoy the farmer’s market in the summer when everything is flourishing, but it’s too hard the rest of the time, I understand sympathetically. In a way, one really does have to go the extra mile to eat seasonally all year round. Eating seasonally means spending more money per weight on animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs. It means spending more money on other non-vegetable products like oils, nuts, grains, and canned goods. Eating locally also means having to pick up an inventiveness in the kitchen….what the heck to do with parsnips in winter?!? In our industrial-agricultural society, the teaching of cooking skills with anything that is not carrots, potatoes, broccoli, zucchini, cucumbers, or celery is virtually non-existent. Not to mention, but beets, potatoes, carrots, rutabaga, and other root vegetables make up one’s diet for at least six months out of the year because they are the only things available pretty much all year here is Wisconsin. Who wants to eat rutabaga November until April?

I do. And I say so with a smile on my face.

As of late, I am realizing just how much I love cooking and eating seasonally. I think I must get a rush of endorphins every time I cook– it just makes me really happy. And it makes me all the more happy to know I am cooking with ingredients that supported local farmers, have a soft footprint on the environment, and are safe and healthy for me to eat. I love the process of working with what produce I have and scouring my cabinet for a variety of herbs, spices, oils, beans, and other other ingredients to concoct a unique meal. I love that each time I cook, what I cook is never quite the same. I never have to make an extra trip to the grocery store because I make do with what I have. If I don’t have a certain ingredient, I use an alternative ingredient.

For me, eating locally and seasonally is a political statement, to be sure. But it is more than that. I find that eating seasonally nourishes my sense of creativity, and it always gives me an exciting challenge. But it is also spiritually nourishing. It is sort of my way to make a compact with the Earth. By eating seasonally, I say to the Earth, “I choose to live with you and in you as a true partner and a true dependent. I trust that you have true wisdom and will nourish my body as it needs.” In the summer I eat plenty of fresh vegetables because I want to keep cool, and I want to eat lightly in the hot season. But in the fall, when food is plenty, I eat abundantly to prepare my body for the upcoming winter. In the winter, I eat rich, heavier foods that are warm and easier to digest because they are cooked. In the spring, I eat what is left, building up the excitement for the new foods that are about to arrive. By eating seasonally, I give my body an annual rhythm as nature intended.

This process of eating seasonally harmonizes myself with the Earth in another way. It helps me to understand the discipline of limits. Someone recently asked me, “You really don’t eat foods out of season? But they are available at the grocery store! Why wouldn’t you eat what is available?” I responded that I really don’t eat foods out of season to the best of my ability. For me, eating within the availability of my locale is my way to respect the limits that exist in this Earth. If it were not for our large-scale global industrial agricultural system, zucchini in winter wouldn’t be available. And why should it be? We don’t want to starve, of course, but do we really need zucchini in the winter when we have other vegetables that are available? When I eat seasonally, I am choosing to understand the idea that I live in a finite world, one with limits. It is a way to humble myself.

The discipline that comes from living in a world of limits provides some surprising joys. I read in a book last summer that by restraining from consuming foods out of season, we can increase the excitement, joy, and sacredness of eating those foods. Because I eat asparagus (which I love) only in May and June, I very much anticipate that time of year when asparagus is available again. It gives me something to look forward to. And when the season finally arrives, I savor it so much more. And then come July, I savor the watermelon. Come August, I savor the tomatoes. Come October, I savor the squash. In the winter, I savor all of the canned foods stored from the summer. When I withhold in other parts of the year, there is always something to look forward to. Because certain foods are not available all the time, it becomes tradition to cook with them once again. We can think about this conceptually as similar to holidays. If we celebrated Christmas in every month, we would look forward to it much less than we do because it is only once a year. What becomes routine loses it’s sacredness and specialness. It is the same for food. Food is fun and exciting to me because I can’t have certain foods at all times, and so it’s extra special when I can have them.

What I am saying is not an argument against agricultural trade. I am as much a consumer as the next of tea, coffee, fruits, spices, salts, oils, and grains that can’t be found in Wisconsin. Just because we don’t find it here doesn’t absolutely mean we shouldn’t trade it. It is reasonable to do some trading. But the question becomes, at what point does the ecological footprint become too large for such trade? What is the cost to the Earth? At what point to we degrade the quality of the food through nutrient loss and chemical application in order to have that food available all year long?And at one point do we sacrifice the local cooking tradition in order to obtain continual availability? At what point do we forget the sacredness of food and how much energy goes into procuring it? At what point do we lose our connection with what enters us?

Eating seasonally for me is a call for creativity and ingenuity, a spiritual practice, a political statement, a tradition, a practice in humility, and mood uplifter. It has become easy and wonderful for me because I have incorporated it into the very fabric of my life. I understand that for those who haven’t done much cooking in their life, or for those who didn’t even know there was a winter market in Madison, the idea of seasonal cooking is intimidating at best, but more likely seemingly impossible. Just remember, though: I was also once in that place, too. I am a proponent of baby steps, adventurousness of spirit, and self-graciousness in mistakes. It’s worth giving it a try. I want to spread the joy of seasonal eating simply because there is so much joy to be had for it.

Images in Football Perpetuating Rape

14 Mar


I saw this image and caption on the Facebook page of one of my friends recently, and immediately I felt a visceral response to it. I am sure when this image was created (by whomever that was), the intent behind it was meant purely to be a joke. I, too, see the humor in this image above, but I also find it so problematic that I cannot merely see it without voicing some true concern for the underlying message being presented here. My concern is about rape and how this image makes humor of an action that is incredibly serious and very not funny. It undermines the gravity of rape by making a joke of this sexually-oriented pose into which these football players happened to fall. Ultimately, it belittles any person who has experienced rape in their life and otherwise trivializes women’s (and some men’s) relationship with this violent sexual act.

As a woman (and a small woman at that), rape is something that is a very real and VERY scary concept. I cannot quite adequately express how much terror rape instills in me. Although I generally feel safe and expect to feel safe the rest of my life, there is hardly a day that goes by that the fear of rape does not arise in me at some point. Every time I am out walking, especially if by myself or on a quite street, I am very aware of my female body and physical vulnerability. I don’t think it is something that men often realize (if at all), and it is something I want men to know. I can explain my fear through an example: I recently walked out of the mall on a sunny day and had to pass a large group of young white males in the parking lot in order to get to my car. Although I did not believe those men had any intention of hurting me, nevertheless I was overcome by terror at the sheer thought that if they had wanted to do something to me in that moment, they could have. I was defenseless, and the safety of my physical body (and sexual dignity) was truly vulnerable in the face of their whims and desires.  While I didn’t think they would do something to me, I was also aware that they could, and it has happened to many women before me. Rape is violent, and it strips the human dignity out of the victim. That is terrifying. Purely terrifying, and not funny.

So, an image like the one of the Packers and Bears above trivializes the fear I have surrounding rape. This Bear’s player was not actually getting raped, nor was that likely the thought of either of these player’s minds. Whereas rape is a daily fear for me and a legitimate possibility in my life, the men in this picture will probably never experience the kind of fear that I do. To compare this accidental pose to the kind of violence that rape entails is frankly quite insulting to my lived experience and my physical well-being.

To make matters worse, this image and caption seem to promote this “getting screwed” (i.e. rape) in a positive light. It can be assumed that this is a pro-Packer image, as it is cheering for the domination of the Packers over the Bears. But to celebrate this sort of domination using this sexual image is directly comparable  to the domination of man over woman. Sexual domination is a male-driven power, usually over women, but sometimes over young boys and gay men. This image and caption celebrate such domination by saying, “Look at this, Bears. You get raped by the Packers just like women do by men. Packers rule like men and Bears get raped like women. Sucks to be you!” I don’t believe I really have to explain why this is problematic. The suggestion that the “losers” or less admirable team are like women who get raped by men who are the “winners” is deeply troubling because it reinforces the subordination of women through violent acts like rape.

I will reiterate that I doubt that the creator of this image intended for this image to be a perpetuation of rape-like thinking, but that does not stop the image from having that impact. While I appreciate humor, including sexual humor, sometimes it goes too far. Bottom-line, rape jokes are not funny. Rape is too real, too personal, too terrifying, and too denigrating for humor surrounding it to ever be funny. When we laugh off something as serious as rape, we lose the tools to stop it from happening. And we forget those who fear rape or have ever directly or indirectly been hurt or violated by it. It is not okay to create or post photos like this one of the Packers and Bears. It is simply not okay.

Feminism Evolving

28 Feb

DSC01304I want to throw in my two cents about feminism. My views about it have been growing and changing so much in past couple years, but I also find myself alarmed by what I am hearing some of my female friends saying about feminism, and so I want to put forth my perspective about it.

But to begin, a little history: I grew up in the age of girl-power; I was taught that a girl could be anything she wanted when she grew up. Although I was surrounded in a world of Barbies, Bratz Dolls, and Disney Princesses, somehow the idea that women are simply idols of physical beauty never fully penetrated my psychology and never really impressed upon me some idea of limits. I certainly did not grow up learning that I was in any way supposed to be subservient to males. Understanding, however, the history of underrepresentation and oppression of women, I think I self-identified as a feminist at an early age. It was just second nature to me. In my girl-power mentality, I couldn’t be anything but a feminist.

As a kid, I wouldn’t call myself a tom-boy, but I definitely was not much of a girly-girl. I preferred most to play with gender-neutral toys or boy-dominant toys. Although I played some with Barbies and dolls, my fascination with them was limited. In school, I loved to compete with boys. I will always remember fondly the competitive relationships I had with boys that entailed verbal sparring, competitions in multiplication tables, and keeping up with the boys in physical activities. My favorite topics in elementary school were math and science, topics I was aware at that time were more boy-like. I prided myself in outdoing the boys and proving myself as worthy.

In my teenage years I eschewed pink like it was the devil. Although I enjoyed dressing up for special occasions, mostly for the purpose of flirting with boys, the majority of the time I was more comfortable in jeans and a jacket. I have always felt more myself in pants or shorts than in a skirt or dress. To be in a dress on an average day was to accentuate my femininity in a way that felt unlike me. When it came down to occupation, throughout my whole life I have always balked at the idea of being a housewife. I have always known that it would be stifling to my bones, and I always vowed to be a working woman.

My history as a child and teenager is important in my understanding of feminism today. I am beginning to reflect upon my ideas of feminism in childhood and in adolescence and have a growing sense of concern for my philosophies of former years. I am beginning to notice that my feminism was about comparison. I compared myself to boys, finding empowerment in the competition with them. I strove to live up to the expectations placed on males in our society– to be smart, quick-witted, ambitious, physically strong, and motivated professionally. I could prove my worth by how much I lived up to the standards placed upon my male counterparts. Somehow I understood that the highest expectations were placed on males, and by golly, I was going to live up to the highest standards!  As a result, I actively shied away from being “too feminine,” and I prided myself on not being too girly.

Yet as I have been learning about patriarchal oppression, I have been contemplating internalized sexism. I think that my idea of feminism was to denounce that which is feminine (i.e. that which is frivolous, superficial, passive, and excessively emotional) and to conform to the expectations of masculinity. To put it quite simply, I bought into the idea that it is better to act like a man because it is not admirable to act like a woman. This here is the internalized aspect of sexism. I looked down upon womanliness. Girl-power to me was the ability to compete with the boys, but I lost the ability to measure myself outside of the patriarchy and to cherish that which is womanly inside of me.

While I am thankful for the feminist movement throughout the late 1900s, I see that it has been primarily a movement for women to become more like men. We work more like men, dress more like men, run our communities more like men, assert ourselves more like men, etc. The measure of our value is by how much we can succeed within the framework of a male-dominated society. And in the meantime, there is very little effort to make men more like women. It’s always been a one-way road. It’s called feminism when women try to be more like men, but it’s completely unthinkable and downright appalling for men to become more like women. (Why do you think there is such a strong reaction to homosexual males? What could be worse than a man who acts like a woman?…..) I am not saying that the feminist movement has not afforded me many freedoms that my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother did not have at my age, but I am saying that even through the liberation process, we have continued to devalue femininity and womanhood in our society. Is it any wonder that I struggle really to deeply connect to the woman inside of me?

What I want to do is embrace myself fully and unconditionally. I want to reclaim and nurture those aspects of character that are often associated with femininity: empathy, caring, steadfastness, tenderness, sensitivity to others. I want to understand how having this physical body influences my relationship to the earth and to other people. Mostly, I just want to be me and do what feels most natural to me.

To me, feminism is not about donning the pants (although I do like pants). It’s about finding what is true within us (for females, males, queers, and transsexuals alike). Feminism, to me, is about expressing who we are in a way that transcends gender norms. It’s about discovering which aspects of femininity and masculinity we admire and emulating those as a part of our character. It’s about deciding what works for each of us. I feel concerned when I hear female friends of mine worry about enjoying domestic activities because they feel they aren’t being feminist enough. I say, to hell with that! It is okay to like domestic activities! Being feminist is not about women working outside the house. Being feminist is about finding a lifestyle that most accurately reflects your true self. Being feminist is about communing with what is true inside and understanding and loving oneself. In a romantic partnership, feminism is about finding the roles that work for each partner. If your roles happen to conform with traditional gender norms, that’s okay! If they don’t, that’s okay! Whatever works and feels healthy to you! Feminism is about understanding what gender expectations are in place and actively deciding to which norms you will conform and to which you won’t. Whatever your answer is, it’s okay, as long as its yours and you own it!

I get impatient with those who pigeonhole feminists as radical, man-hating women who don’t shave their armpits. While there are some women who prefer not to shave and there are some who are distrustful of men, this hardly really captures the wonderfully transformative essence of feminism. Feminism is not the anti-man movement. Really, it is the process of recognizing and validating all gender identities and holding them with equal weight and respect. Women, for sure, historically have not been validated (unless conforming to submissive and subservient gender norms) nor have they been given much value. Those with queer or transsexual gender identities have been even less validated. Feminism is about correcting these soul-depraving norms of valuing masculinity above all else and instead cherishing gender as it is expressed in each of us.  It is about transcending the oppressive nature of gender expectations that impact all of us.

To me, feminism isn’t, however, just lifting up women. Feminism is about being conscious of the systems of power that exist and standing in solidarity with all people. One can barely touch the topic of gender without also reaching race, culture, sexuality, and class. How can anyone talk about securing the rights of women while also denigrating others? If I fight for my rights, I must also fight for yours because the liberation of one is dependent on the liberation of all. Feminism cannot stand on its own in isolation.

So, when I look back on my childhood, I continue to look fondly upon the boyish aspects of myself that lived in me as a kid. But I don’t want that to stop me from exploring and cherishing the woman I have become. I want to claim both the masculine and feminine parts of me that make me the woman I am. At the end of the day, I am going to own who I am, and that, to me, is my way of being a feminist.

“Ripple Out,” A Calling of Purpose

10 Feb

???????????????????????????????Now as I have graduated, I am constantly in the mode of thinking about my role this larger world. One day I was nestled safely within the supervision of the University, a body that gave my life ongoing structure and, perhaps surprisingly, a strong sense of purpose. I was always needed for something– whether it was for classes, homework, or my extracurricular activities, someone always demanded my attention. As someone who classifies myself as a busy-body, having my attention be on demand at all times was equally comforting as it was stressful. Well, then the next day I graduated, and all of that structure dissipated immediately in front of me. While I was wildly excited about moving forward with my life, I nevertheless felt like my world dropped out from underneath me.

Through this process, what I struggled with the most was that the university was a container in which I could organize my life and and through which I could view the world. While I was a student, there were always clear goals set in front of me, and my actions were limited within the confines of the university’s standards. Take classes, get good grades, work part time, get engaged with student life– that was the call. And that was satisfying to me. Sure, I wanted to spread my wings and soar to the sun, but making the most of myself while living within the parameter of the university was a very comfortable space and life. Once I graduated, all of those confining features of the university fell away, and I found myself in the vast ocean called adulthood. Now, my goal is to support myself financially and hopefully simultaneously enjoy my job and find purpose within it, also hopefully finding meaningfulness in my personal life as well.

Yet as freeing as my disassociation from the university is, I find it astonishingly overwhelming. I am someone who looks out upon the world and finds myself moved by the joys and horrors of the world. Quite simply, I care. I care what happens to my fellow beings, and I care about what happens to this beautiful land on which we live. It is my conviction, then, that I do something in my life to leave this world a better place than I found it. I think about on a daily basis how I am living up to that conviction, always thinking about how I can make more of an impact on this broken world. I often measure myself by how much I do, not only from moment to moment, but in the larger scheme of things. This is an aspect of myself that I love dearly, but it can also be one of my greatest demons. Considering that this world will continue to be broken probably for eternity, I have given myself a taller order than I can ever achieve.

The challenge that was presented before me once I graduated from college was that suddenly I was no longer living in a world of restraints in the same way I had before. Because classes consumed my time and I was bound geographically to the university, I believed that there was only so much I could do to create an impact in society. [At least, this is what I taught myself to believe, although it perhaps was a comforting illusion]. I felt that college bought me time to learn and figure things out. Truly, I learned SO much in college, as I developed a new world view and a more solidified set of values by which to live my life. I promised myself that when I got out of college that I would make something of myself, and I believed then that by the time I graduated, I would know how to make something of myself.

It turns out, I don’t. Four years later, and I still don’t fully understand my place in this world, the role in which I can have the most positive impact. Not only that, but I am incredibly intimidated by the size of the world and the world’s problems. I am intimidated by the seeming limitlessness of possibilities and opportunities. And I am even more intimidated by the new set of restrictions on my life: make money so I can afford to live. Living up to my convictions to make the world a  better place in a meaningful way and having a salary at the same time seems like an insurmountable task at times, and it leaves me with a lot of self-doubt and self-criticism. I ask myself, where can I even begin? What is my first step forward? Where do I go? And will it even make a difference? Now laid out in front of me are not those easier and concrete goals like passing my classes. Laid out in front of me is that abstract and immeasurable goal of finding happiness and creating meaningfulness as a result of my occupation. It is a really scary proposition.

Yet recently I stumbled upon a thought that is wonderfully helpful and useful. I am reading this book right now, called Soul of a Citizen, which I recommend to everyone. The author, Paul Loeb, writes words of reason and inspiration not only for why we should get involved publicly, but more importantly how possible it is for us to do so. Loeb says that some of the most incredible social action occurs from people who are the most inconspicuous types of people, people who never imagined getting involved until they took their first baby step. Loeb also says that you never really know how your actions will inspire others. Often we believe we are the only ones who feel as we do about a certain issue, no matter how large or small. Many times, just the act of one person voicing their concerns illuminates the commonness of such concern amongst many others. As people begin to realize they are not alone, suddenly there opens up space for collective action.

This last concept was really potent to me, and the words that have been repeating in my head for the past two weeks are, “ripple out.” Struggling as I am to feel like I am making any substantial change in this world, sometimes I forget just how much our actions can have unforeseen consequences. I think of how many people have touched my life and have had a hand in my personal transformation. Many of them probably have no idea they have impacted me in irreversible ways. And I wonder, “Could I possibly impact as many people as have impacted me? Can I even begin to imagine how I have touched the lives of others in unseen ways?”

Thinking this thought was incredibly empowering. I never know how I influence others, and so I have an infinite ability to transform others’ lives, little by little. Perhaps by just me being me and me doing what I do, my thoughts, words, and actions can ripple out from me. Perhaps if I work hard to make myself the best person I can be– the most loving, vibrant, open, and compassionate person I can find within me– then I can help others do the same. I never know how I might impact another person, so every action I take or not, every time I decide to love or not, may be that thing that really alters the life someone else. That may seem like a big pressure to put on myself, but for me, it gives me a reason to strive. It gives me reason to do spiritual searching, to always seek to improve, to be healthy, to live through my values, and to raise my voice. Even in the face of such largeness in the world, the idea of “ripple out” is a call for me to not give into discouragement and never to overlook the small things.

So as I am growing accustomed to this life outside of the university, I am finding that creating meaningfulness in this world is possible in every moment. Making the world a better place is not necessarily encapsulated in that one moment when I will do something great. It is more encapsulated in each moment when I am choosing whom to be, how to act, and how to treat others and our Earth. I can choose in every moment to live deliberately, be honestly and truly, and always try my best. This way, maybe my heart will ripple out and do great things for this world.

A Poetic and Photographic Tribute to Winter

30 Dec

As some of you may know, I simply love winter. It didn’t used to be that way for me. I would get sick of the cold and the snow after a while, and I used to count down the weeks until spring was on its way. But, something changed. I don’t know exactly what changed or why, but now the quiet of the winter enters my heart with crystal clearness. Winter can be fierce and inhabitable, but when winter is still and mild, I find repose and feel centered.

DSC00633Here is my tribute:

A Winter Poem

The snow drifts kindly downwards.

In my chest something awakens,

A soft sadness.

It’s beautiful outside in all its gentleness.

I am surrounded in its peace.


My breathing is slow,

But my chest is resolute.

I know that something is stirring within me.

These past couple of months have been good for me,

Not easy, but good.


The snow reminds me of this.


I am moving inside, I am changing.

I don’t understand,

But I feel grateful.

I am in the right place.

I can feel it. I know it.


Something is moving within me,

Affirming, assuring, yes.

These memories are blending into me.


I feel comforted.


This sadness, it’s a goodbye.

Yes, a goodbye. I am closing a door.

The snow tells me it is okay.

My chest is resolute. It knows something.

I have something I didn’t before.


I can look forward.

I feel hope.

The snow tells me I will be moving on now,

A new door.

I look to the sky.

It is so peaceful today. 










Good Ole’ December Warmth (…wait, WHAT?!)

3 Dec

DSCN0698It is December 3rd. It is currently 63 degrees outside. I walk outside from my workplace, and I feel virtually no temperature difference. Anything odd about this picture? Forecast for the next ten days are high temperatures all above freezing. Snow seems to be elusive yet this winter, and it appears that it will hold off for a while. This honestly puts a pit in my stomach.

I think that I am frequently outnumbered in my love for winter. I understand that winter is a more difficult season to love. But it really gets me when people say that they are hoping for a snowless, warm winter. That I have no patience for, and my gut reaction is to say, “Well, if you don’t like Wisconsin winters, move south!”

That’s my initial, frustrated response. Truly, though, I empathize with people who don’t like snow and ice and cold. It’s not fun to be cold, and snow and ice cause many complications, mostly in terms of transportation to and from work. Snow and ice can really disrupt travel plans, not to mention can be treacherous for cars, bikes, and pedestrians. It’s the inconvenience and potential danger of snow and ice that causes a rejoice for the coming of spring.

Yet, I don’t understand the hope that we have a warm, snowless winter. In the context of today’s changing climate, only the well known phrase “be careful what you wish for” could be quite apropos in this situation.  Whether or not we hope for it, it looks like warmer winters are probably what we will be getting in the future.

To me it’s heartbreaking. Sure, 40 degrees feels nicer on the skin than does 15 degrees, but it is about so much more than our comfort in the three coldest months of the year. If our winters our warming, then that won’t be the only thing that changes. As I go out and do my beloved birdwatching, I wonder how migration patterns, feeding patterns, and diseases will change within the bird populations. Can I even expect to see “normal” bird behavior from here on out? But of course, this goes way beyond the birds. What about the droughts, floods, and storms we are seeing? What will happen to our agriculture? Will we be able to feed ourselves reliably moving into the future? Will we be able to protect ourselves from natural disasters and pay for all of the damages they cause?

Warm winters are just one symptom of the larger issue at hand. I am particularly saddened by the warm winters because its strips part of winter’s magic from the season. While you all rejoice for the warm weather, I might head north.

This article gets at the core of my concerns and frustrations around the climate change conversation right now: A Year of Extreme Weather– and Little Climate Change Talk

Perhaps we are a self-fulfilling prophecy in regard for our hope for warm winters. We are at the helm, after all: Emissions of Carbon Dioxide Hit Record in 2011 Researchers Say

Viewing Privilege Through the Lens of My Camera

26 Nov

The day before Thanksgiving this year, my grandfather took me out shopping. He said that for a graduation gift he wanted to get me a new camera, as he could see how much I enjoy photography. Originally, he presented the idea to me in September, but when he realized that the camera he had in mind for me was one I already had, we put the conversation on hold for a period of research. The fact was that I had purchased a $350 camera a few years back, something between a cheap point-and-shoot and a fancier DSLR. When I bought that camera, the idea was that it would give me a chance to practice my photography, and over the next couple of years (and I’m talking like 7-10 years), I would save up my money for something much more expensive and capable of handling my photographic aspirations.

So, my grandfather continued to do research, and by the time we got to the store, he had a completely different camera in mind for me, something much more high-tech. We didn’t walk out with the one he intended, but we walked out with something even better. I left the store with a Sony DSLR equipped with its original lens, a telephoto lens with super-zoom capabilities, and a case. The purchase totaled over $800.

I feel incredibly humbled by the gift that my grandfather gave me. It was generous beyond what I could have ethically asked for. Only in my dreams could I have imagined that I would be holding that camera today. I am so incredibly excited because it really does allow me to entertain my love of photography (and especially photography of birds!). Yet, within this excitement and awe is also a feeling of reluctance, almost guilt. Besides graduating from college (which was the impetus for the gift) and being a loving granddaughter, I did virtually nothing to earn that camera. Especially considering that my plans had been to tuck away money little by little, the reward was going to be not only the camera itself, but the satisfaction of having worked hard for something I really wanted. But instead, the camera was set in my lap, and I am left with a feeling of undeserved privilege.

The receiving of this gift has coincided with my reading a book called White Like Me: Reflections on Race by a Privileged Son by Time Wise. Wise chronicles the experiences in his life where he comes into direct contact with race and how being white has impacted his life. A committed lifelong anti-racist, Wise uses narratives to show how white privilege affects him every day. For those of you who haven’t heard the term “white privilege,” it refers to the process not by which people of color are systematically and institutionally oppressed by racism, but by which whites are systematically and institutionally advantaged or privileged by racism. Effectively, white privilege is the advantage that white people have to assume that whiteness is the norm. Society is constructed through the lens of whiteness, and because of such, whiteness is virtually invisible to whites for its sheer pervasiveness.

I highly recommend this book to everyone, although especially to white people because of the way that Wise is able to show how racism and white privilege have been lifelong actors in his life and in the life of the people he knows. He is able to illustrate how even the most minute experiences in our lives can be so imbued with race. As someone who is committed to anti-racism myself, I find this book incredibly helpful and eye-opening.

So, to connect Wise’s book on white privilege with my new camera, I will bring you to my point. As I was playing with my new camera for the first time, I couldn’t help but wonder how that camera ended up in my hands. I also couldn’t help but to contemplate how that camera was surely more likely to come into my hands than it was of others who perhaps are a person of color or in poverty. Even though I hate the concept of “deserving,” I surely don’t feel like I deserve the camera in any way. My love of photography at this point reaches hobby level. I won’t make a livelihood on it (at least I don’t think I will), and photography is just one of many hobbies I have. Having that camera is nothing more than an added bonus to my life. My vocation does not depend on it. My job does not depend on it. Even my happiness does not depend on it. Yet I have the camera. If privilege is not at play here, then I don’t know what is.

If we look at white privilege alone (and that does not quite touch class privilege, which certainly is at play here, too), I can think of some ways in white privilege touched my experience here. First, the camera was a college graduation gift. The gift was predicated on my having gone to college, an occurrence that is highly impacted by my whiteness. My going to college was largely a result of having parents and grandparents that had gone to college before me (something many students of color can’t say about their families), of my parent’s ability to pay for my schooling, and of the environment in which I grew up– a mostly white high school where going to college was expected and was actively prepped for by my teachers and counselors. My high school, in fact, was saturated with racial disparities, with white students actively pushed towards advanced coursework, and students of color treated as cultural outsiders (as with the Hmong and Latino students) or treated as troublemakers (as with the black students). My family’s history and my high school environment told me that college was for me, and I bet students of color in my community didn’t hear the same message.

Secondly, when my grandfather and I walked into the store, we were warmly greeted, and more importantly, taken seriously. The sales rep spent an hour and a half of undivided attention helping us. He didn’t question our seriousness about purchasing, nor did he question our ability to pay for the camera. He didn’t push us towards a lower end model, or perhaps more seriously, didn’t treat us with mistrust, thinking we were there to steal instead of purchase. Had my grandfather and I been black, things probably would have gone differently. I know that when I worked at a store that sold glasses, black customers were treated differently than white customers. Although I am not proud to say it, we followed black customers (especially if they were young) instead of servicing them, afraid of them stealing, and sometimes I wondered if any given black customer could pay for glasses as expensive as $200-400. And in that environment we aren’t even talking about the bigger ticket item of a camera for $800. As white people, my grandfather and I were welcomed into the space, and our transaction took place with no questions. White privilege was present there.

So as I go out and about with my camera, I think of how privilege has helped put that camera into my hands. I am a very fortunate person, to be sure. I think about how it is a gift I have been given that many others won’t be, and there is nothing that makes me more inherently worthy of receiving that gift. I think on the surface level, I feel guilty, but I know that ultimately, guilt is not what I feel. I feel sadness that such inequalities are present in our system that allows me to live out my dreams and desires, sometimes without much effort on my part at all, while others won’t be afforded the same.

As I take in the world around me with my new-found gadget, I struggle to appreciate graciously the gift that has been given in my life. It is more than material for me– it is a chance to express myself through art, and expression is a necessary part of who I am. So, I am very grateful for the camera. But, I also realize what it meant for me to get that camera. It was more than a gift from my grandfather– so much more impacted that transaction, like the privileges that come because of the color of my skin and the way I am institutionally advantaged by it.

What They Have To Bring

23 Oct

Have you ever been in the situation where you do not engage with someone because you perceive that it takes more energy than you have to engage with that person? Have you ever chosen to engage only with your closest friends and not extend a welcoming hand towards a new person because it’s easier just to relate to your friends? Have you ever felt a sigh of relief when someone leaves a space because it felt extra difficult to interact with them? I have.

I know that there have been times when I can’t muster up the energy to talk to someone or include them in my group because of the perceived extra amount of energy it would take on my part to engage with someone. Perhaps it is someone who doesn’t speak my language as fluently as I, and I can’t find enough effort inside of me to break the language barrier. Or perhaps we have different political views, and it is easier for me to write them off as a lunatic. Or perhaps we have different backgrounds, races, socioeconomic status, religions, cultures, sexualities, intelligences, abilities, or life situations. I know that I have done it. I have excluded people or failed to engage with someone because it seems harder to do so than not to do so.

It is my perception that admitting this is a social taboo. Society says that to admit that I have actively decided not to talk to another person or include them in my group because of a certain trait of theirs is to reveal a shadow in my character, or perhaps even to show that I am a bad person. I believe that we often do not admit to ourselves our inability to always be the best people we can be. We have learned that it is better to pretend like we always do the right thing so that we can maintain our image as good people. But, really, we are good people; we just don’t always do the right thing. I know that I don’t always do the right thing.

So, here’s my saying that I have actively failed to include someone or reach out to someone because I just didn’t want to and because it seemed like too much energy. This also implies that I make judgments based on a person’s physical, intellectual, and cultural characteristics, and I make assumptions about how much energy it will take of me to interact with them. Sometimes I don’t gather up the energy, and on some occasions, that has meant that I have dropped the ball to reach out to someone in need, to make a new friend, or to include someone in a community to which they have a lot to contribute.

It occurred to me recently that maybe I should challenge my current mindset and think about considering another. Instead of assessing how much energy a social interaction will require of me based on how different or unfamiliar someone is to me, perhaps I should see the inherent value of another person and cherish their presence simply because they are present and they are human. This shouldn’t be a surprising realization for me; in my two years of attending Buddhist meditation, I learned how to love people equally through compassionate contemplation. Yet, what is achieved in meditation can be difficult to practice in day to day life. I still make judgments about people, sometimes I use assumptions and stereotypes to create those judgments, and sometimes I fail to fully see the humanity in others.

So, questions arise in my mind as I think about this: What if, in a group setting, my first and foremost goal is inclusion of all participating persons? What if I forget about how much energy is required of me in a social interaction and first just appreciate each individual’s presence in the space? What if each person’s smile mattered to me equally? What if my assumption is that someone else is inherently a blessing in my life instead of a demand of my attention and effort?

I think in this society and in the English language, we talk about others as if they are a problem that needs to be “dealt with” or “handled.” How do we ‘deal with’ those with disabilities? How do we ‘handle’ the “immigrant problem?” What do we ‘do with’ those on welfare? We often find how others fit into a category and determine based on that category what is the needed plan of behavior. This mentality affects our daily lives, too. Ever complain to your friends that during the holidays you had to ‘manage’ your uncle who talks too much about politics? Or perhaps you have tried to figure out how to ‘deal with’ your sister or cousin who has come out as a lesbian?  Or perhaps you feel like you have to ‘handle’ the socially awkward person who wants to hang out with you and your friends. We often describe social interactions as something that expends unnecessary effort on our part. I know this has entered my psychology, and I think about people in these terms, too. I think it has entered the psychology of all of us.

Working at a campus ministry, I am learning a lot about inclusion. Our ministry strives for inclusion, and actively so. What I am finding is that when we say “welcome” sincerely, and with open hearts and minds, it is so much easier to love others effortlessly. I begin to see what people have to bring to the table rather than what they may take away. It is difficult not to feel joy for the presence and life of others when I say welcome truly and emphatically. It is true that sometimes relationships with some are more challenging that with others. But it also feels really good to say, “Welcome!” and “Thank you for being here.” It feels really good simply to value another person just because.

Ultimately, there are some interactions that do require a lot of energy from us. This can be true more so for introverts than for extroverts. But perhaps the question is not really about how much energy needs to go into an interaction or a relationship. Perhaps it is just a question of appreciating the life in other people.

What Runner’s High?

8 Oct

We’ve all heard of this thing called the runner’s high. It’s that stage of exercise that generally follows the feeling of heavy exertion. It’s that break into freedom after feeling like you can’t go any further. It’s that feeling of infinity, the ability to keep on running forever. I’ve heard it’s great. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never experienced it.

I’ve tried to chase this so-called “runner’s high” in my younger years for its sheer legend, but I knew at a young age that running was not for me. In gym class in the fourth grade, each child was to do five physical tests– reaches, pull-ups, running the half mile, and two others I can’t remember. If the child did well in these tests, she received various levels of awards, the Presidential Award being the highest honor. I performed at the “Presidential” level for all of the tests, but running the 1/2 mile was my last test. Ultimately, I got the award, but not without a trip to the nurse’s office with symptoms of near-vomiting and near-fainting due to heat exhaustion. The only reason I pushed myself that hard was for pure determination, but I knew then that I hated running.

And then there was the dreaded beeper test. How I loathed the beeper test. For those of you who have never taken it, it was a gym exercise that I think was designed to test the endurance of the class. Basically, the concept of the beeper test is that every eight seconds or so the tape recording beeps. Each child is to run from one end of the gym to the next between each beep. Every eight rounds the time between each beep decreases. The children with the most endurance are, obviously, able to stay in the longest and run for the most amount of beeps. Some of the most athletic boys were able to keep going for up to 100 beeps. The best I was really able to get was barely over 20, and it was usually around 15. I hated this test because each time it would make me sick. I would turn beet red and would feel dizzy and nauseous. Worst of all, I was embarrassed to no end. It only reinforced my hatred of running.

Come college, I decided that I liked exercise and needed it. I knew that I was no speeding bullet, but I learned that I liked how I felt after a jog, even if it sucked the entire time and all I could think about during the jog was how I wanted to be done. Then about two and a half years ago, one day I was walking and I got a splitting pain in my knee. I could barely walk myself to my destination. It turns out that my shin splints from high school flared up from long-term strain on my IT band. I have never been able to jog for more than 20 minutes at a time since.

So, here is where the point of this blog post comes in. I gave up running, and to be honest, I am okay with that. I took up weight lifting instead. Sometimes I feel self-conscious when I say that I lift weights. Sometimes I wonder because I am female and small whether people will look at me like I’m weird for loving to lift weights. They never do, but I feel self-consciousness rising up in me anyway. Nevertheless, deciding to lift weights instead of jogging was a great decision on my part. My body feels good when I weight lift, and I actually enjoy doing it. For the longest time, I thought that running was the only legitimate form of exercise. Ultimately, I learned that it didn’t work for me, and I found something that works so much better.

My body is thanking me for the change. For whatever reason, I am not built with the body for running, but my body loves the weights. I love how I feel strong, how I feel toned. I have always had an athletic build, and my muscles respond well to the targeted exercise. So– the moral of the story is that one size does not fit all. I am not meant for running; my body has made sure to send me the signals. I found through trial and error what makes my body most happy. If I were still trying to force running upon myself, I would only be hurting myself, not doing myself real good.

If I have a philosophy about life, it is definitely that one size does not fit all. There is no one solution, no magic pill. We all need to listen to ourselves, listen to our hearts, our bodies, or emotions to find out what is true in us. Just because our doctors, or the news casters, or our gym teachers tell us that something is good for us doesn’t always mean that it is right for us. Ever wonder why there are hundreds of different diets out there that are professed as the ultimate solution to weight loss? It’s because there are hundreds of ways that people lose weight, and there is no one way that works for everyone.

Whether it is exercise or diet, you have to know yourself and do what works best for you. For instance, my mom says that she doesn’t feel full unless she eats something full of protein, like eggs. I oftentimes feel full on just fibrous vegetables, but that is just a difference between how her body works and how mine works. There is no value difference between our dietary needs– we are just different. The same can be true for how we dress ourselves. I admire people who accept their body type and wear their type well. I have a friend who has beautifully pronounced shoulders, barely any breasts, and full hips and thighs. She doesn’t have a “typical” female shape, but damn does she look good in what she wears! She has embraced her body type and has learned to work with it.

So, know thyself. Listen to yourself, and be honest with yourself. Don’t do something just because it works for everyone else. Do what works for you. Feel good.

Fall Brings Life, Rest

3 Oct

I don’t know about you, but when I think of fall, I get all excited. The colors, the succulent foods, the crunching leaves, the cool breeze….everything incredible and magical about the season. But when I think about the time after the leaves have dropped, that awkward period between the sleeping of the trees and the first snowfall, my spirits sink as I imagine a landscape of dull brown, wet and near-freezing weather, chilly winds, and early nights. In my youth, it always seemed to me that the world died for a while during that time. The passing of fall into winter was the coming of death. I missed the pretty birds that are yellow and red and blue. I missed the leaves that provide shade for the ground and color for the skyline. I thought that the coming of winter meant all loss and no gain.

I have since stood corrected. I have come to a new understanding about this coming time of year, and to be honest, I can’t wait. Don’t get me wrong, I am loving the season as it is now, which is a firework of color. How can I not love this season with beautifully comfortable days and the sunlight’s wonderfully cast angle?  I do not wish for the passing of the glory that is now. Nevertheless, I certainly do not dread what is to come.

I have learned that what seems like a loss of warmth and light and life is really not a loss at all. It is true that the leaves have fallen, the sun visits us for shorter periods during the day, and the days are turning cold, but this isn’t really loss, it’s just different. We are living in a cycle, and we are just at another part of the cycle. With every loss, there is a gain. There are redeeming qualities of every part of the cycle. While you might not agree that the exchange of colorful trees for snow is a good exchange, it is an exchange nevertheless, and is a signal of the change in the cycle. I bet if you think hard enough, you can find one part of late fall or winter that you enjoy. For me, I love the ice over the water, the beautiful skies you get at about 3pm during the darkest time of the year, and the soft pink skies that come with a night of falling snow. I am so excited to experience those things again. Come spring, we will lose those things, too, and the next stage of the cycle begins.

My perspective on late fall and winter changed when I started to become interested in birds. I thought that all the birds left during the winter, save a few black ones, like crows. I thought that summer meant cheerful choruses of birds at bird feeders and winter meant silence. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. It is true that a lot of birds do migrate south for the winter. There is so falseness in that. However, there are a lot of birds left, and not only that, but there are some birds that are here in winter that aren’t here at any other time during the year. The dark-eyed junco is a great example. I mourned when the juncos left in the spring, but I eagerly await their return come this winter. Just as I will mourn when the gray catbirds leave (they haven’t left yet!), I will celebrate their return next spring. Birds cycle in and birds cycle out, and there are birds to welcome come the winter. That gives me excitement which I cannot describe.

Not only do birds migrate here for the winter, but there are lots of birds that stay– northern cardinals, black-capped chickadees, blue jays, american crows, american goldfinches, white-breasted nuthatches, ret-tailed hawks, cooper’s hawks, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers….and so on and so on. These birds are my friends through the winter, and they are particularly special in my heart because I find them extra wondrous– they actually stay here through the winter and bear it out! What a miracle! We aren’t the unfriendliest of environments out there in the world, but we certainly can be harsh, especially for something so small as a black-capped chickadee! I have probably thousands of times the body mass as a chickadee, yet they can stand the cold better than I can.

Thanks to a book called called Winter World by Bernard Heinrich, I learned of the incredible adaptations that some of these birds have to survive the winter. It’s truly mind-blowing, and I have infinitely more respect for the birds that stick it out here in southern Wisconsin. I cherish these birds for their durability and their company. And by the way– birds certainly are not silent throughout the winter. Give one sunny and kind-of warm day to a cardinal, and he will sing it out like it’s breeding season. And listen for the house sparrows congregating in bushes along the sidewalk….they are quite the gregarious chatter-boxes! Some of these birds display behavior in the winter that they don’t in the summer, and their winter behavior can be quite joyful.

This season of fall for me is extra exciting because the birds are moving, and this season can bring in birds that aren’t around ever at all except for these brief weeks of migration. One of my favorites is the american coot. The coot seems to stick around for a while during the migration times, but they are one of my favorite short-term birds. My bird field guide says the coots stay throughout the summer, but I see them in the highest quantities in fall and spring. It is an exciting time of year when the coot is around. See my picture at the top. It is actually a eurasian coot, not an american coot, but they look almost identical.

My point here is that fall for me is no longer a time of mourning for the loss which is to come. In my perspective, there is not just loss, but also new things to which to look forward. Besides, late fall brings winter, and winter is a time for rest. Without winter, spring wouldn’t be possible. The world sleeps a little bit– the animals rest, the trees rest, the soil rests. This rest is what makes new life possible. And in this time of rest, I go out and hunt for the little surprises.

Here is a poem that I wrote in reflection of this concept:

With the going of the winter,

We lose the glass over the waters on which to walk

We lose the open branches on which birds are so easy to see

But we gain the soils which are primed for new life

We gain the new sprouts which again promise a world of green

With the coming of the spring


With the going of the spring,

We lose the baby animals which are already growing up

We lose the rainbow of buds and flowers in full bloom

But we gain the long warm evenings with glorious sunsets

We gain all the flavors of the soil’s bounty

With the coming of the summer


With the going of the summer,

We lose the roaring thunderstorms and pouring rain

We lose the warm waters in which to swim and bathe

But we gain the magnificent changing of the leaves, bursting with color

We gain the dry, breezy weather that relieves the humidity

With the coming of the fall


With the going of the fall,

We lose the blanket of leaves which color the ground

We lose the last of the warm days before the freeze

But we gain the soft snowfalls that coat the trees in white

We gain the restful silence during calm snowy days

With the coming of the winter


With the going of each season there is something to mourn

But something to celebrate with the coming of the next

This is the cycle

In all its tragedies and all its redemption.