Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Food for -- transportation

The blogs seem to be forming a pattern, perhaps because I tend to write them just before lunch. But food is definitely a theme here. This time, an unusual twist concerning food. Specifically chocolate.

Chocolate makes me think of self indulgence. Chocolate covered peanuts or hot chocolate on a cold snowy day (the Midwest certainly could use that!). And of course Valentine's Day helps the whole chocolate industry. But a couple of Brits used the equivalent of 80,000 Hershey chocolate bars as fuel in their car as they drove to Timbuktu. Truly. No joke.

The Sun reports
, "Andy Pag, 34, and John Grimshaw, 39, have just returned from the 2,600-mile trip in salvaged Ford Iveco Cargo lorry and Land Cruisers, using biodiesel made from waste choc – saving 15 tons of carbon emissions."

Now Mr. Pag and Mr. Grimshaw plan a plane trip using trash for fuel. They suggest the morning comics where planes were run on banana peels may not have been so far off the mark. Anything you find in a landfill can be made into fuel. And that's exactly what they plan to do.

ABC news reports
: "Mr Pag hopes to drive to China using biofuel, taking flight in every country along the way in a paramotor, or powered paraglider, using an experimental carbon-neutral fuel made from landfill waste."

If you think these environmentalists are alone -- think again. Biofuels are all the go and in keeping with the food theme -- I've included a link to a 'how to' article on making your own biodiesel fuel out of vegetable oil. Complete with recipe.

To my surprise, evidently many major European car manufacturers encourage the use of such fuels in their cars. Journey to Forever writes, "Most major European vehicle manufacturers now provide vehicle warranties covering the use of pure biodiesel -- though that might not be just any biodiesel. Some manufacturers insist on "RME", rapeseed methyl esters, and won't cover the use of soy biodiesel, because soy biodiesel fails the EU biodiesel standard, EN 14214."

There are several organizations involved in alternate fuels, too. And to those who still maintain stills in their back yards, or perhaps a revitalized use of the abandoned microbreweries after they fell out of favor -- alcohol burns clean and makes a great fuel.

Yet, when taken into consideration all of the energy and effort expended to convert chocolate, trash, vegetable oil, or even alcohol into fuel -- it might not be quite so clean afterall. The New York Times reported last February that "Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded."

But it is interesting to think that you could simply make your own fuel and maybe nibble at it or drink it if you get hungry or thirsty.... I know, that's a bit silly, and alternate energy is serious business. Our lives may depend on it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Eat where you're planted!

Photo: Alice Waters, the executive chef and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., looks over the produce at a farmer's market in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009. Waters has been pushing for seasonal, local food since the '60s, but for the first time in a long time, she sees an ally in the White House.

If Alice Waters has her way the White House will reinforce her ideal of 'eat where you're planted.' She is out to convince the new president that 'change' tastes like homegrown.

This revered chef, owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, advocates to eat locally grown produce. She's put her efforts into what she believes, establishing the Edible Schoolyard. She's after the new president to choose a White House chef who will use local produce, prepare healthy meals, and raise the food in the White House gardens.

My parents told me about Victory Gardens -- people turned their little front yards in cities into vegetable or kitchen gardens. Of course farmers just continued as they had been doing for centuries and maybe just enlarged their already large gardens that were placed near the kitchen door. Raising ones own produce has been a part of every day life for as long as I can remember. My first chores involved picking bugs off of the green bean plants and removing stones from the garden soil.

The Victory Gardens were a shaken fist at the Germans and axis of evils during World War II. American and allied ingenuity would keep food on our plates no matter how much trade was curtailed and shortages pervaded in every aspect of everyday life. Mom gave up nylon hose, rationed meat and made her new clothes out of her old clothes. Her new sweater was unraveled and knit anew from old outgrown knits. There was a certain pride that pervaded the country as everyone pitched in to get by and collectively defeat the enemy.

In today's world the idea of National pride seems a double-edged sword. We are to accept everyone who enters the country as our brothers and yet we must defend our country against some of their home countries. When I was a child, people were still trying to stop hating people of German or Japanese origins. Being a child with a German name, I felt the sting of humiliation and fear of being mistaken for the enemy. But I lived in a small community where my mother's family had been around since the first white child moved in, so I didn't feel any pain or suspicion from neighbors. But the message came across in more subtle ways -- the news, movies, documentaries, and the awful things Germans did to their fellow man.

Will a garden help us come together as Americans? Will they help us win the war? Or is Ms. Waters more interested in helping local farmers sell their crops, helping local commerce thrive, helping keep down food prices, helping people eat healthier, reduce the carbon footprint involved with shipping salmon from Alaska or oranges from Spain?

She makes a valid point, several in fact. And she's right when she says that the president's example goes a long way toward changing people's perspectives concerning food consumption and well, alot of things.

Ms. Waters explains, "It's really important to me that food not be thought of as fueling up and diet and health, and that we begin to connect food experiences with nature and the beauty of culture."

Perhaps because food and culture were so closely entwined after World War II, I grew up on American fare without a whiff of saubraten, kuchen, or bratwurst. I hope we don't feel the need to give up Middle Eastern foods. I'm rather fond of pilaf, pita bread, kebabs, and olives.

I miss my vegetable garden. I haven't figured out the seasons and bugs and ways of gardening in my new southern home. I think it is time to plant -- but a Midwesterner planting a garden in January? Oh my! I'd be glad to plant a garden whether President Obama turns under part of the White House roses to plant garlic and onions or not.

Ms. Waters is totally correct when she proposes eating locally grown produce. For one thing it is at its peak of ripeness. If you have never tasted a vine-ripened tomato, strawberry, cucumber, lettuce fresh from the back yard -- well, then you have really missed a taste treat. Better than ice cream -- unless its homemade. But that's another story!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration celebrations, hurry up!

Impossible as it is to spend a waking hour without someone mentioning Barack Obama and the Inauguration, I'm not caught up in the excitement.

Yes, I took notice of his choice to ride a train through several major towns and give speeches on his way to Washington D.C. It reminded me of FDR and his special train -- the Ferdinand Magellan-- which is housed in a museum here in Florida. And more than that it reminds me of my uncle, Homer Guyton, who was the engineer driving the train once for then President Eisenhower. His moment of fame perhaps, but I think Uncle Homer was more excited about Marilyn Monroe visiting him in the cab and sounding the train's whistle.

It seems, for many, to be appropriate that Obama will take the vow to protect and defend our country on the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The emphasis on race seems old fashioned to me. As we move forward race seems secondary to education, ability, wisdom, knowledge, leadership qualities. More important to me is that this is a man of the world -- a father from Kenya -- raised in part in ***Venezuela by grandparents brought up on the determination and humility taught in Kansas or was it Oklahoma. But he came into his own, molded by the power and pride and swagger that only belongs to Chicago.

It was interesting to hear one of the pundits describe Mr. Obama in meetings. It isn't a bunch of hangers on trying to garner favor with him, tell him what he wants to hear, agree with him. Instead, the man described a typical discussion with everyone contributing to the conversation to move it forward to finding solutions. And then he said something I hadn't really put into words for myself before but knew it to be true. Barack Obama's self esteem does not rest on being the one with the right answer. He has no ego involved in discussion. What he does seem to want most of all is to find the best solution to each and every problem.

The next time I vote for a president on any elected official, I will pay closer attention to where his or her ego lies. Is it imperative that he be 'right'? Or is it more important to find the right solution regardless of whose idea it may be? Seems like a good test and better than many we've used in the past. Much better than 'cute ass.'

So, I am rather frustrated and anxious to get past all of this celebration and on to the day after, the week after, the month after. I so desperately want Mr. Obama to be all that we think and hope and pray he is. He likes the comparison to Lincoln. Which brings up something that Ms. Kerns Goodwin mentioned recently. "Anyone who studies Lincoln becomes a better person."

It seemed like a weird thing to say, but she added that any researcher who has ever made Lincoln the focus of their work has mentioned that. She felt it as well. He makes everyone seek to be a better person simply by association with him, his words, his actions, his humility. I wonder if he had been placed on this earth with a different face -- a beautiful face -- would he have turned out differently?

I think Mr. Obama could certainly have chosen worse men to emulate than Lincoln or even FDR. Although I often think the best one of the Roosevelts is still Eleanor. I think FDR was a better man by association with her. But, I digress.

Although, maybe what Mr. Obama found in Chicago that transformed him or brought him to the realizations he now lives by, is named Michelle. She does remind me of the strong black woman of slavery and poverty who keeps her family together and protected. I understand that Mr. Obama will be living with two strong African American women -- his mother-in-law is moving into the White House, too.

It takes a strong man to live in that household. And I have confidence those two, plus his daughters will not hesitate to tell him when he's behaved stupidly. Ahhh yes, I'm looking forward to the day AFTER the inauguration. And the next four years. It is a strange, foreign feeling, one I hadn't felt for more than a decade. Maybe I haven't felt it since John F. Kennedy was elected. It is a new day and I pray a good day for all of us.

***As was pointed out by Bob in his comment, I misspoke -- Obama did live for a time in Indonesia, NOT Venezuela. And according to Wikipedia, he lived there with his mother and his stepfather. I apologize for NOT doing my homework!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fear Not -- Just Do It

When feeling the need to be really productive, I make a 'to do' list.

The problem with my to-do lists is that they seem to fulfill the 'need' to be productive and that's as far as I get. Nice list. Nothing done. I look at it and say, "Neat, orderly list of things I SHOULD do." Then I tuck it away and I don't. I don't do ANYTHING!

As much as I am NOT a NIKE fan, I do think they are absolutely right with their : Just Do It!

No list. No "I should." "I could." "Why not?" discussions with myself. Just DO IT!

It starts with my first thought in the morning. "I SHOULD get up." But I don't. I lay there and think of all of the things I could accomplish with that extra half hour. On the mornings I do get up -- the bed is made, the dishwasher stands empty or is restocked with dirty dishes, the cats are fed AND watered, and I might even be wearing make up. On the mornings I 'think' about it. Well, the house looks like someone kidnapped me and ransacked the house.

The difference between 'should' and JUST DO IT! shows in every life at every level of the economic spectrum. Maybe someone should have blown the whistle on Mr. Made-off? Maybe someone should have checked for lead in the toys from China before pouring them into the American market? Maybe someone should have checked for a loose wire before sending a hydraulic lift home with a paraplegic?

There is this little voice that tells me what I should be doing. "Write!" or maybe "Smile at that poor woman with the screaming kid."

Or send a care package to your kids.

Or send out that query.

Or read those books lining your shelves, don't just dust them.

Donate to those causes that touch your heart, don't just THINK about it.

Hug my family more.

Give more compliments....

But the one thing that I allow to keep me silent is fear. Of failure? Rejection? The list of fears is long and my life is much shallower for them. I see people doing wondrous things and I fear to venture far from home -- I might get lost, my car might stop running, I might have a flat tire. I might ....

My creative juices run freely when I'm thinking fearful thoughts. If only they were that active when I try to write fiction. Then my censor jumps in and says "What would your mother say!" "That's silly" or "You don't know enough about that topic to write coherently...."

Fear and loathing in Mid-America is rampant and so we sit and watch the paint dry and make to-do lists.

I think I need to start a DONE list.

One blog about getting things done.

It is a beginning. Pathetic and insignificant. But maybe it will grow and along with it -- my life!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

All we want is work -- and respect

My roots grow deep in blue collar and rural soil. My father a steel worker, his father built oil derricks, my mother's father and his ancestors for generations were farmers.

My husband worked at several factory jobs until returning to college to become an accountant, so we know quite a bit about the lifestyle and the people.

The bottom line is: we want respectable work that gives us a comfortable income so that we can raise our families and be part of a family.

I don't need a $400 purse, designer jeans, exotic vacations or an expensive car and most of the people I know feel the same way. They want to be able to send their kids to college, provide a safe, comfortable home, and have some fun doing the work they love.

This morning I heard Paul Gigot, editorial editor of the Wall Street Journal, voice his opinion that the capitalism in its present form had served us perfectly well for the last 30 years. This current situation was just a glitch and once it was fixed, it could be 'business as usual.'

I sat up and yelled, "What Lala Land do you live in?"

The last 30 years?

In my home town, the last 30 years turned it from a thriving manufacturing center into a ghost town. Jobs went overseas; benefits disappeared; retirees were left without a network. Insurance and health care costs, just when they most desperately needed it, skyrocketed. Some lost their pensions because of new government regulations.

Businesses sold out and moved at a whim due to junk bond and stock market trades which had nothing to do with the quality of the products being produced. Companies lost any consideration for employees, they were dehumanized, and were simply part of the profit-loss equation. Corporations shrugged off any responsibility toward their employees, saying they were paid for their work, that's all they needed -- and they could certainly get by with less -- much less. And when they left their employ -- they were on their own, even after 30 years of devotion to the company.

College tuition aid dried up in the last 30 years. Well paying jobs evaporated to be replaced by minimum wage, part time employment. The product took second place to growing careers and amassing wealth for the top 10 percent. Unions disappeared and the employees became voiceless. Anyone who fought this move toward invisibility became quickly unemployed.

We watched our income fall behind cost of living. The prosperity of the 40s and 50s dwindled.

We watched Neal Bush and the Savings and Loan scandal get swept under the rug. We watched funds sent to other countries, along with jobs and nothing invested in infrastructure, retraining, or new jobs. We watched family farms sold because the commodity prices were kept so low a farmer could not survive.

Oh yeah, I suppose if you invested in the dot.coms and the computer stocks it was a great 30 years. But for the most of us, we watched our way of life disappear and nothing to take its place.

So Mr. Obama, please, as you put together this new package that is to take us out of this recession, please know that we want to work. We want to be respected for the products we produce. We want to be able to provide for our families. We want to earn enough to take care of ourselves. We don't want handouts or bailouts. We want work!

Other countries have faced the evaporation of manufacturing jobs. In Sweden, the city of Malmo was dependent upon heavy industry. In the 1980s a recession devastated this industry base -- sound familiar? Well, instead of relying on medical jobs and service occupations, the city regenerated its urban landscape and along the way provided jobs for the current population. They began with a bridge. It connected the city to Copenhagen and opened up greater economic opportunities. The leaders had vision.

I lived for almost a decade near Rockford, IL, a community similar to Malmo, yet their leaders had no vision. They didn't see beyond the hopelessness of lost jobs.

Denmark reinvented its economic base, by seeing green. If you want an alternative energy source -- a solar panel, a wind generating turbine -- the odds are it will originate in Denmark or the research and development came from Denmark. The whole country has devoted itself to profiting on this new technology.

Why can't we do that?

If the government wants to spend trillions on a bailout package, give us something tangible. Infrastructure rebuilt, or remade to reflect a green society. Give us jobs and let us help rebuild this country. Fund research and development so that we can once again lead the way in innovation and technology. I'm so tired of seeing every gadget and creative invention come with the stamp of 'made in Germany, Japan, China....'

We look like a bunch of lazy people with our hands out and that is not the American way. We work, we build, we survive and we strive -- so let us do what we do best. Get out from under the shadow of corporate American and re-find the spirit of American ingenuity and victory over adversity.

I want a new form of capitalism that is for all Americans, not just the top 10 percent. My parents experienced it and everyone was respected, whether doctor, lawyer, CEO or farmer and factory worker.

Let em know in Washington that we want to do more than 'shop.' We aren't just consumers, we are contributors to our common good. My roots grow deep in the soil of America and I'm damn proud of my ancestors' blue collars and calloused hands. We know how to work. Just step out of the way and let us get to the job of rebuilding our country. OUR country.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Love the life you live!

The roots of love sink down and deep and strike out far, and they are arteries that feed our lives, so we must see that they get the water and sun they need so they can nourish us. And when you put something good into the world, something good comes back to you.
Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.
Merle Shain

My mother always admonished me to 'bloom where you're planted.' I never much cared for that idea since I wanted to experience more of the world and grow beyond my roots at the time she shared that adage with me. Her priority was to stay safe, to protect me and keep control. Since she brought me into this world, she felt a certain responsibility.

I still don't completely agree with her. What I do believe: we should all live the life we love.

Being stuck in dead-end jobs, at the mercy of corporations and bosses and whims and budgets. Living paycheck to paycheck and hoping we can pay our bills at the end of the week -- that's not living. It is merely existing.

Now and then people cross my path and I get a glimpse of someone truly 'living' his or her life. One such person is Sandra Friend. I met her on the Internet Writing Workshop and she was kind enough, when we were relocating to Florida, to tell me about the little town of Oviedo, which is where we now live. The above photo was taken in Tallahassee in the governor's mansion. She was donating her books to add to the governor's library of Florida writers.

I was impressed with the books she was writing at the time about 50 hikes to take in several regions of Florida. Since then she's covered the whole state and then some, amassing more than 12 books to her credit. And she has co-written with photographer Bart Smith an exquisite book about hiking in Florida. Bart is another person living the life he loves.

But Sandra doesn't just write about the outdoors, she embraces it. Walks the walk and talks the talk and this girl from New Jersey has become an advocate for saving Florida's natural beauty.

She has a tough opponent since Jeb Bush and several cronies wish to develop the state and turn it into something artificial and environmentally unfriendly. Now the legislature is trying to balance the budget and the first thing to jettison will be the state parks. They're talking about turning the lands over to companies to develop. I fear Florida is not the only state whose natural preserves will get paved over for a big box store parking lot.

It is sad to drive around Central Florida. The first time I visited here (granted I was eight years old), the land was orange groves for miles and miles and MILES. The air literally filled with the scent of orange blossoms. But Orange County, land of Disney, has become strip malls, box stores, highways, and worst of all -- crime riddled. The sad few orange groves left are struggling. Polk County has retained many of its groves, but they are dwindling, too. Making a living as a farmer of any kind has become a losing proposition, it seems. But still there are people 'living the life they love' in touch with the soil. Of course orange groves are not the 'natural' Florida, but they're closer to nature than asphalt.

But back to Sandra -- she lives what she loves and devotes her life to preserving it. She may not be rolling in money, wearing the latest fashions or building a lavish house, but she does take some very interesting vacations. And everyday she goes to work, she knows she's doing the right thing with her life.

I miss having that kind of passion for anything. Does it take tons of money to get involved? No! It isn't the money, is it? It is finding your passion. Think about what you'd love to do if you had a 'do over' with this life. That's perhaps the first step. The next step, most important step, is to tell yourself THIS IS IMPORTANT -- and follow up those first two steps with more that will bring you in line with the life you would love to live.

Because, you see, the odds are that the life you would 'love to live' is the one you should be living. Find it NOW!