Thursday, December 25, 2008

I'm with Rachel

Since my rant about Rick Warren I have received several emails from friends and family that suggest, in essence, that the left is too quick to criticize Obama, and that liberals need to, in the words of Washington Post writer E. J. Dionne, "come to terms with what it means to build a durable majority." I also got a link to the Huffington Post about Melissa Etheridge and her take on this whole business. While it's nice to know she feels better about Warren, at least, I submit that the only reason she was able to talk to him at all is because she is a well-known musician and he's a fan.

Well, this is what I say:

Dionne and similar articles and posts I've read about this issue are thoughtful and well-reasoned and, on the whole, written by people who are at least one degree removed from the situation, i.e, neither gay nor evangelical. As such, they can provide calm, measured analysis. But calm measured analysis is exactly the wrong tack to take. Because Dionne is not gay, he can feel third-person outrage when Warren compares gays to pedophiles but also know that Warren isn't targeting him personally. I wonder how Dionne would feel defending Obama's choice of Warren if Dionne himself were gay.

Who you are and how you identify DOES matter, and it should matter. No one should be asked to accept the kinds of insults Warren has aimed at the gay community because it's for some greater progressive feel-good-let's-all-sing-Kumbaya-agenda. Asking the gay community (I include bi and trans) to simply lie down, roll over and take it in the ass (as it were) when Warren calls us pedophiles reminds me of the way women were asked to subordinate their demands for equality during the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 60s in favor of the "greater good." You know the argument: "Yes, women's rights are important, and we'll work on that AFTER we get equal rights for African-Americans, or AFTER we get the troops out of Vietnam." Nuf ced.

I don't dispute that choosing Warren is a savvy political move on Obama's part, nor that it might create positive change within the evangelical community, or build more bridges between evangelicals and progressives. I agree those things are important to the larger goal of bringing Americans together and trying to heal the rifts that have polarized our nation. Nor am I surprised by Obama's political savvy. He wouldn't be where he is today without it. What pisses me off is what I said in my post a few days ago: "the casual, cynical assumption that marginalizing this group of people is an acceptable cost of doing business by the Obama team (and maybe even Obama himself)" and also that "I am sickened that his bridgebuilding comes at the expense, once again, of the right of gays, lesbians, trans and bi people to be treated with the same respect and dignity all people deserve."

If Obama is serious about change he must find a way to do it that does not, to borrow an analogy from the civil rights movement, force anyone to sit in the back of the bus.

And finally, a word from Rachel Maddow:

Friday, December 19, 2008

pre-Shabbat rant

This is in reference to the news that the Rev. Rick Warren has been asked to give the invocation at the inauguration next month.

I watched the News Hour last night and thought the discussion began to touch on some of the issues with having Warren speak, but it didn't go far enough. (For example, here's a good point from columnist Dan Savage)

Also, Obama's rationale for inviting Warren as a simple quid pro quo (Warren had invited Obama to speak at his church) doesn't wash. There's a world of difference between speaking at a church, even a megachurch, and being asked to give the invocation at the Presidential inaugural. The first is a private event and the second is of national and world significance. Inviting Warren to speak at the inaugural is an explicit endorsement, and people will take it as such. The choice of Warren says a great deal about what Obama's presidency prioritizes, whether or not Obama agrees with Warren on issues pertaining to the gay community. In this case what it says is that once again the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people are of little importance and that, during these times of severe economic crisis and all the other issues Obama faces, it's fine to once again put the concerns of the gay community on the back burner.

As someone who is married to a woman but who does not identify as a lesbian per se, I am outraged both by the blatant disrespect for my marriage and the casual, cynical assumption that marginalizing this group of people is considered part of the cost of doing business by the Obama team (and maybe even Obama himself), because we are, as a voting bloc, politically impotent now that the election is over. (As an aside, have any political researchers/pollsters ever counted up the numbers of people who are not themselves gay, bi or trans but who have family members and friends who are? Families and friends care about these issues too).

I understand the politics that went into this decision. Obama wants to reach out to people who believe in Warren and what he represents, and I get that Obama wants, in his words, "to disagree without being disagreeable," but I am sickened that his bridgebuilding comes at the expense, once again, of the right of gays, lesbians, trans and bi people to be treated with the same respect and dignity all people deserve.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

UPDATE: Speak out about the Sec'y of Agriculture nomination

You can go here to sign a petition to block Gov. Vilsack's appointment; the Organic Consumers Association is hoping to generate 100,000 signatures that will be sent to elected officials. 

There are a number of great posts on various blogs about this appointment, along with a lot of information about Vilsack. As I mentioned earlier, he's not the worst choice, but he's certainly not the best, and there are a number of better choices out there. We must, we have to do better.

For more info, check out The Ethicurian and this post on The Jew and the Carrot.

What now?

Well, it's done. According to the blogs I've been reading, like Sam Fromartz' Chewswise (see link to right of this post), Vilsack isn't the worst choice for Sec'y of Ag, but he's far from being the best, either.  The Center for Rural Affairs is circulating an open letter to the new Secretary; it's a rather long letter and it doesn't include everything I'd like to see, like tax incentives for sustainable farming and eliminating subsidies to farmers that grow nothing but monocrops like genetically modified corn and soybeans, but it's a start. Please check it out and add your name and pass it on to all those you know. Maybe Vilsack will be open to suggestions. We can hope.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Six reasons why appointing Tom Vilsack Sec'y of Ag is a terrible idea

Just heard on NPR that Pres-elect Obama is planning to appoint Tom Vilsack Sec'y of Agriculture. This is a REALLY BAD IDEA. Here's why. Please take a moment to contact Obama's Transition Team and tell them what you think about this appointment.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Seasonal thoughts

The words of this song have so many meanings. For all the farmers preparing for winter, for all the gardners putting their gardens to bed for the season, and for all of us who are gathering our strength and energy for the coming year, with all its challenges and as yet unknown possibilities...

(PS. The words are great, but the song is even better. I encourage you to check it out on Judy Collins’s double CD, “Forever: An Anthology," or download it from iTunes for all of $0.99. One of this season's best holiday buys, IMO.)

Fallow Way
Words and Music by Judy Collins © 1997
Universal Music Corp. (ASCAP)/ The Wildflowers Company (ASCAP)
(Administered by Universal Music Corp.)

I'll learn to love the fallow way
When winter draws the valley down
And stills the rivers in their storm
And freezes all the little brooks
Time when our steps slow to the song
Of falling flakes and crackling flames
When silver stars are high and still
Deep in the velvet of the sky

The crystal times, the silent times
I'll learn to love their quietness
While deep beneath the glistening snow
The black earth dreams of violets
I'll learn to love the fallow times.

I'll learn to love the fallow way
When all my colors fade to white
And flying birds fold back their wings
Upon my anxious wanderings
The sun has slanted all her rays
Across a vast and harvest plains
My memories mingle in the dawn
I dream of joyful vagabonds

The crystal times, the silent times
I'll learn to love their quietness
While deep beneath the glistening snow
The black earth dreams of violets
I'll learn to love the fallow times

No drummer comes across the plain
To tell of triumph or of pain
No word of far-off battle's cry
To draw me out or draw me nigh…

I'll learn to love the fallow way
And gather in the patient fruits
And after autumn’s blaze and burn
I'll know the feel of still, deep roots
That nothing seem to do, or need
That crack the ice in frozen ponds
And slumbering in winter's folds
Have dreams of green and blue and gold
I'll learn to love the fallow way
And listen for the blossoming
Of my own heart once more in spring

As sure as time, as sure as snow
As sure as moonlight, wind and stars
The fallow time will fall away
The sun will bring an April day
And I will yield to Summer's way.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

UPDATE: Sec'y of Agriculture

Just sent in my comments to Obama's Web site. There's a long list of agenda items, but food is not included there; it's not even lumped in with "additional issues" that don't seem to merit listings of their own (at least, not as far as the transition team is concerned).

Please take a moment to contact Obama and let him know this issue is of vital importance to our national health, economy, energy policies, climate change, and, oh yeah, FOOD WE EAT. If you need more information, read Michael Pollan's open letter to the President-elect, published in the New York Times magazine in October.

Here's what I said to Obama. Feel free to copy it, or use it as a launching point for your own thoughts.

Food policy has to be at the forefront of any discussion about effecting positive change. In particular, I object strongly to the potential appointment of Rep. Collin Peterson as Secretary of Agriculture. He is on record as characterizing organic food production and those who support it as "dumb." He supports farm subsidies and a "business as usual" approach to food policy. Our current food policy is unsustainable and has a direct impact on energy consumption, our skyrocketing national rates of obesity and diabetes, and climate change. These are all areas that President-elect Obama has said he plans to prioritize in his administration. If President-elect Obama is sincere in his desire to address these issues, not to mention food policy itself, he needs to find a better choice for Secretary of Agriculture.

The fact that you don't even have a food policy listing under "agenda" on your web site
implies that this issue is not even on your radar, much less at the forefront of discussion about positive effective change. Here are some suggestions for better alternatives to Congressman Peterson.

Writer Michael Pollan's
open letter to the President, published in the New York Times Magazine in October, puts forth the most cogent and articulate discussion of the need for a radically new direction in our national food policy.

I hope you will make this issue more of a priority than you seem to be doing at present.


Elizabeth Schwartz

Help choose our new Secretary of Agriculture

President-elect Obama is in the process of naming his Cabinet members, and is currently considering Rep. Collin Peterson (D)-Minn., Chair of the House Agriculture Committee, who was quoted last year as saying organic consumers are "dumb."

I'm making a concerted effort to post more about food-related issues (that is one of the main purposes of my blog, after all), and several of you have let me know that you depend on me to keep you informed about food and food sustainability news. This is potentially the most important opportunity we all have to influence food policy on a national level.

The Secretary of Agriculture appointment will be Obama's first indication about his planned direction for food production in the United States. Let him know that the "business as usual" approach to farm subsidies and monoculture is unacceptable. If you care about supporting sustainable and local food production on a national policy level, please take a few minutes to send an email to Obama's transition team and let them know what (or who) you'd like to see in a new Secretary of Agriculture. The Obama Transition Team has set up an innovative website to facilitate public input for policy initiatives in the new Obama Administration. You can contact them at

Here's some more information about this issue, along with suggestions for some better alternatives to Congressman Peterson:

The Secretary of Agriculture is one of the most powerful and most overlooked positions in the cabinet. The office oversees the safety of the U.S. food supply, domestic farming policies, food stamp programs, and the nation's 297,000 square miles of forest. Obama was initially considering the pro-biotech Iowa governor Tom Vilsack for the position, but thousands of organic consumers raised their voices in response to an Organic Consumers' Association alert that apparently stopped that plan in its tracks (Learn more).

According to press reports, Obama is now considering Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) to head the USDA. Peterson, like Vilsack, is a strong biotech supporter, head of the House Agriculture Committee, and a man who categorized organic consumers as "dumb" last year. Organic Bytes readers sent Peterson several thousand irate letters in response to his putdown of organic food and farming. You can read some of these letters

Last week OCA delivered a petition with 10,000 signatures to Obama's Transition Team in Washington, asking him to take a strong stand in support of organic food and farming. We also posted on our website a list of other progressive candidates for high-level USDA positions, including Jim Riddle, a national organic farmer leader, Texas populist Jim Hightower, Tom Buis from the National Farmers Union, and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. You can read the profiles of some of these possible USDA appointees

Thursday, December 4, 2008

In praise of deformed veggies

A few weeks ago, the European Union, in its infinite wisdom, lifted a ban on "ugly fruit and produce." Now, I am a self-described socialist, but even I think this is an example of government going too far. I mean, why on earth would you ban weird-looking food to begin with, as long as it is otherwise perfectly okay? For one thing, there's no excuse to waste food when so many people are dealing with food insecurity, not to mention out and out starvation in less fortunate parts of the world. And for another thing, weird-looking food is cool and makes for great conversations. Think of all those Virgin Mary sightings in potato chips or (insert your favorite food of choice here).

To celebrate this long overdue turn of events, I wanted to share these pictures. The Siamese potato is from our garden, and the carrot pants we found at the Hollywood Farmer's Market. The carrot knots we grew our first year gardening, before we figured out the whole thinning thing.

I should add that I've never seen carrot knots for sale anywhere, presumably because any gardener worth his or her salt would know how to grow carrots properly. Still, they're perfectly good carrots, and once we cut them up they tasted fine. Besides, they look too bizarre not to share.

Goodbye to all that

I've been meaning to post these pictures for over a month, but various deadlines, travel and holidays have sucked my time away.

During the spring, summer and early fall I like to shop at two different farmer's markets: on Wednesday mornings I went downtown to the market on Park and Salmon, just behind the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and on Saturdays Sweetie and I would ride our bikes to the Hollywood Farmer's Market. I got to know several of the vendors at both places, and now that they have both closed for the season and won't reopen again til April or May, I am feeling a bit wistful. There are still two farmer's markets open in Portland; the flagship market at Portland State on Saturdays and the Hillsdale Market, which is bi-weekly and year-round. They are good markets too, but since I have to go so far out of my way to get to them (esp. Hillsdale, which is almost ten miles from my house), they don't feel like "my" market.

Here are some pics from the Weds. Salmon Street market and the Saturday Hollywood market:

This is Lyle Stanley of Gee Creek Farm in Ridgefield, Washington. I know him from the Jewish community (he used to be a member of my shul awhile back). He's a mensch. His broccoli's not bad, either.

Simon Sampson, a native Columbia River fisherman who sells salmon, either whole or in roast-sized chunks. I've never eaten tastier salmon. They have a fresh, wild tang that you don't get when you buy in a store.

A street busker who was happy to oblige my request for a movement from one of the Bach Cello Suites (unlike the sax player who was usually there, who kept playing Barry Manilow and MacArthur Park. Oy.)

This is Dave, of Copper Crown Fine Foods, who makes fantastic pestos and chutneys; my favorite is his Hawaiian pesto, which has little bits of pineapple in it. Delicious. If you check out the link, you'll see he does catering as well; check him out! I think he's done with the markets for the season (pesto is seasonal, after all), but he'll be back in the spring.

Pesto closeup. He usually has a garlic chive, a Thai basil and a few weekly specialties.

Here are pictures of the Hollywood Market:

This is the Village Crepery operating out of what I call their Crepemobile, a funky International truck that's got to be at least as old as I am. They usually have a larger stand and people will wait six deep in line for one of their crepes. They're worth it, too. Watching them make the crepes is half the fun.

Sweetie with our crepes. Mine was spinach, tomato, mozzarella, basil and a squirt of creme fraiche. Hers was more of a breakfast crepe; I forget what was in it, but they're all delicious.

Spring seems very far away...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jewish Renaissance music

I'll be hosting the Yiddish Hour Sunday at 10 a.m on KBOO. This week I'll be temporarily renaming the show the Sephardic Hour, and I'll be playing Jewish music from the Renaissance, as well as a lot of Sephardic and Ladino tunes.

If you're wondering what the heck Jewish Renaissance music is, well, it's Jewish music written during the Renaissance. Wanna know more? Great! Tune in Sunday. 

If you know anyone outside the Portland area who would enjoy the show, please let them know they can hear it free online at The show cannot be podcasted or downloaded for copyright reasons.

Remember, all you devotees of This American Life in Portland who are conflicted because TAL is on at the same time as The Yiddish Hour, you can catch that show on Wednesday nights at 8pm on OPB, or download it as a free podcast to listen to anytime you like. So you have no (legitimate) excuse for not checking out the Yiddish Hour. How's that for a little Jewish guilt?

Hope you can join me this Sunday. If you do catch the show, I and the other hosts would really appreciate it if you could take a moment to check out our Web site and let us know what you think of the show, the site, the new hosts, etc. etc. We also post playlists and links to musicians and CDs, if you want to know more about the music. All comments, positive and otherwise (although we prefer the negatives be constructive, please), are welcome.

Zei gezunt!

Monday, November 10, 2008


I've been meaning to post these pictures for awhile, but got caught up with the election and job stuff. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Interview update

So much for hitting it out of the park.

I got an email yesterday saying that the interviewer had been impressed with my skill set and my knowledge of relevant issues, but was unable to offer me a second interview.

I don't know what to make of that exactly, especially since I got a really good vibe from him on the phone and I felt the interview went well. I asked him if he could give me some feedback as to why I was not selected for the second round of the process, so that I could improve my interview skills for future job opportunities, but haven't heard back from him. I doubt I will.

It would be really helpful for me to know if there was something I did or didn't do that affected his decision, because what he did tell me makes me doubt my own judgment as to whether the interview went well, and it also makes me wonder if there was some personality facet that factored into his decision. Of course, it could just as easily mean that there were simply more qualified people than I and he had a limited number of second interview slots.

I realize I can quickly make myself nuts thinking like this, and I won't indulge in it indefinitely, but I can't help wondering. Since I'm left with a lack of pertinent information, I am trying to fill in the blanks. Nature (and I) abhor a vacuum.

I am of course disappointed, but surprisingly not devastated, perhaps because there's another job that interests me more that I will be applying for next week, perhaps because it hasn't fully hit me yet, or perhaps because I'm in total denial :-)

I have sometimes wished I were the kind of person who didn't get so heavily emotionally invested, so that negative outcomes don't hit me so hard. I suppose there are advantages to being able to compartmentalize and remain imperturable, but I am not that sort of person, never have been and never will be. I accept that. One of the great things about being in your forties is accepting who you are, warts and all. 

It was fun to fantasize about all the things I'd do with a salary, even things as mundane as getting our vacuum cleaner serviced. And I will do that someday, with some other salary from some other job. Still, as this was my first interview in nine months, it is certainly a blow.

Thanks for sending all your good thoughts my way. Keep 'em coming.

Riding the Obama wave into unexpected places

Check out my friend Marty's latest post on her blog, Scanning the Dial, for a thoughtful take on what Obama's election could do for classical music.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The day after the day after

Am still enjoying the rosy glow from Tuesday, not to mention we found out today that Jeff Merkley will be Oregon's newest senator, and that means we'll have two Democrats representing us. What a change from 20 years ago when I arrived here. Then we had two Republicans, Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood. Hatfield I could live with, although I disagreed with his positions on abortion and his cozy relationship with the timber industry. He was generally a man of honestly-held principles and I could respect that, even if I didn't share them. Also, a rarity for an anti-choicer, he believed in sex education and access to contraception as the best means to prevent unwanted pregnancies. As for Bob Packwood, I don't need to say anything, do I? (If you aren't sure what that means, leave me a comment and I'll explain more fully).

I still wish Steve Novick had been the Democratic choice for senator, rather than Merkley, but I'm confident he'll be back on the political scene soon. He's too much of a firebrand to languish in obscurity (read: private life) for long.

Of course the passage of Prop. 8 in California and the other same-sex marriage bans is disappointing, but I'm not surprised; I am taking the long view. The fact that gay marriage is even being discussed and debated and voted on makes it an inescapable topic of public discourse, and it will never be shunted off to the margins again. That is important to remember. It will take the less-progressive majority of the American people time to get used to even thinking about the idea of same-sex marriage, but at least they are now required to think about it. Gay marriage is on the national radar now and it is only a matter of time before our courts recognize the legal impossibility of denying basic civil rights to a specific group of citizens. How much time it will take I couldn't say, and I only hope that no gay marriage cases appear before the Supreme Court before President-elect Obama has a chance to appoint some more humane and progressive judges, but I am confident that I will see the legalization of same-sex marriage in my lifetime. We just elected our first bi-racial president; anything is possible.

I am feeling such a mixture of things: relief that it's all over, relief at the results, but I am concerned that all the energy and inspiration Obama summoned from people around the country will simply dissipate. On NPR this morning they aired a vox populi segment, interviewing people about the election, and several people said things like, "We'll be okay now that Obama is President." One person even said, "I'm hoping he'll do some magic." Oy. This kind of stuff gives me a pain in an unmentionable place.

Wake up, people! Obama is not the Alpha and Omega and his election will not magically solve all the serious problems we face. I have little hope of seeing any material change in my life circumstances any time soon as a result of this election. Obama won't be able to immediately make good on all the promises he made because there's no money to pay for them. We are facing a long period of belt-tightening. Time to buck up, stop investing Obama with supernatural powers and continue doing what we can as individuals to effect positive change. That's what "Si, se puede" is really all about.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Day After

Like most (if not all) of you, I am walking around today in a euphoric daze. Every time I hear the words "President-elect Obama" on the news I can't help breaking out into a big shit-eating grin. It's really true. It happened. America and Americans have turned a page in our ugly history of race relations. Not to mention we elected the right person for the job, someone with intelligence, insight, a deliberate (and-yes, I'll dare to say it-nuanced) approach to problem-solving, intellectual curiosity and enough sense of self to not be threatened by differences, whether among people or ideas.

Today on NPR's Talk of the Nation, Neil Conan interviewed Bernice Johnson Reagon, best known as a founding member of the a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock; she's also a cultural historian and an amazing woman of many other talents. (I like to paraphrase something she said once about coalition-building: "If you are comfortable with the positions and ideas of everyone in your coalition, your coalition isn't big enough.")

Today she talked about her pride and joy in bearing witness to this moment in history. The phrase struck me; it's the title of an anthology of selections taken from different Afro-American biographies by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of our nation's foremost scholars of Afro-American and African history. To me, bearing witness suggests not only seeing or experiencing something first-hand, but proclaiming it publicly. It is both passive and active. 

As a nation, we have just borne witness to something many believed would never happen in their lifetime. It is, by any measure, astonishing. But we didn't just see this happen; we helped make it happen. This could arguably be called the first DIY presidential election in American history.

Okay, okay, so I'm guzzling the Kool-Aid a bit; sorry about that. Despite my high-flown rhetoric, I still have reservations about Obama. He's not as progressive as I'd like, particularly on energy issues and gay marriage. I have no real hope he'll be able to implement his health care program, not because he isn't sincere about prioritizing it, but because I have no idea how he'll finance it. All that notwithstanding, his election is amazing. The way he mobilized and inspired and fired up voters of all ages and backgrounds and the way he navigated through the shark-infested waters of a two-year campaign fills me with wonder.

And I got to see it happen, and even participate in it (I phone banked last weekend) in my own small way. I have no illusions about the uphill climb we as a nation face right now. Obama is not the Messiah. His election doesn't put an end to our problems, but I'd like to think his election is the first step towards resolving them.

Si se puede.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Post-phone interview

I know the rest of the planet is focused on the election, and I am too, but I also had my phone interview for the aforementioned non-profit (see previous post) this morning, and just wanted to let you all know...


I think.

The interviewer was quite personable and warm and he responded by saying, "Great!" or "Good answer" to several of my responses. But I really hit it out of the park with this gem:

I asked the interviewer, "In your job as ________, what are your most pressing goals and needs for the next six months, and, if I were hired for this position, how could I best help you meet those goals?"

There was a bit of silence, and then he said, "Wow, that's a really good question."


Thanks for all those of you who responded to my cry for help. I'll find out by end of business Friday if they want to meet me in person.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I need help! In a good way!

After many months of no (good) job news to speak of, I found out today that I am one of eight people being interviewed for a job at a food-related non-profit. The first round of interviews will be on the phone, and that's where my request for help comes in.

I've only done one phone interview before and I totally bombed. I could use any advice or feedback those of you with interview experience can give me. If you've been on the hiring end of a phone interview, I'd particularly like to hear from you; what are you looking for? what makes a good impression? Whatever you can share is appreciated.

Thanks! Wish me luck.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tune in this Sunday, Oct. 26

I'll be hosting the Yiddish Hour Sunday at 10 a.m. and playing music from all over the Jewish map, both geographically and musically speaking.

If you know anyone outside the Portland area who would enjoy the show, please let them know they can hear it free online at The show cannot be podcasted or downloaded for copyright reasons.

Remember, all you devotees of This American Life in Portland who are conflicted because TAL is on at the same time as The Yiddish Hour, you can catch that show on Wednesday nights at 8pm on OPB, or download it as a free podcast to listen to anytime you like. So you have no (legitimate) excuse for not checking out the Yiddish Hour. How's that for a little Jewish guilt?

Hope you can join me this Sunday.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Michael Pollan's Farmer-In-Chief redux

Sweetie tells me most folks won't have time to read Pollan's open letter to the next President, which I referenced in my 10/20 post. If that's true for you, you can download a free podcast of an interview he did with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, in which he summarizes his ideas. Since everyone seems to use different programs for downloading stuff, I won't link to any one in particular. Check it out; it's definitely worth your time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Follow this blog!

Blogger has a new feature called "followers," which allows you to follow a particular blog if you read it regularly. I'm not entirely sure how it works, but if you'd like to become a follower of this blog you can click on the "avid readers" sidebar next to this post and check it out. If you are not a subscriber to Blogspot, you may not be able to do this; it's not clear from their instructions. But give it a try! I have no idea who's reading this thing; it would be fun to find out. 


A year ago today we doubled the size of our family when Yofi and Addie moved in with us. Here's what they looked like back then:

Yofi in the sink:

Addie on our couch and chair:

We fell in love with them the moment we saw them at the Humane Society. I've always been a cat person, so for me this isn't surprising, but Sweetie is another story. An avowed dog person, although she has lived with cats in the past, Sweetie refused to admit she was smitten. I would taunt her with cries of "Cat person!" and she'd snarl back "Shuddup!" even while she was murmuring sweet endearing nothings at the girls while she was curled up with them on the bed or couch.

Until one day, a bit sheepishly, she said in a tiny voice, "Okay, I'm a cat person."


Yofi is a snuggler. She loves burrowing under the covers and curling up next to or on anything warm (us especially, and Addie too).

Addie is a bit more aloof about personal space, but is very much a flirt. She loves to rub up against people and hang out, just not on our laps. She's also very vocal and responds to any sounds we make, particularly singing.

Over the past year Yofi has been helping me look for work and write my notes for the symphony.

Addie is less interested.
They are a daily source of joy and we look forward to many more cativersaries together.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Michael Pollan's open letter to the next President. The most cogent arguments for why we need to rethink our food policy in this country.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Birthday at Mazanita

This year my birthday fell on Kol Nidre, plus I had a cold, both of which conspired to make the day feel distinctly un-birthdayish. When you are born during the Yomim Nora'im (the ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), every few years or so your birthday will fall on either Kol Nidre or Yom Kippur. For you non-Jews, these are the most solemn days on the Jewish calendar, and Yom Kippur includes a day-long fast. Definitely not the sort of thing you want to be doing on your birthday.

Fortunately, we had ample warning of the calendrical snafu and we booked our favorite rental house at our favorite town on the north coast, Manzanita, for the weekend just after my birthday. And what a lovely weekend it was. The weather was outstanding, mild and dry (Saturday was incredibly clear and beautiful), and we took full advantage of it. We arrived Friday around noon, had a quick lunch and then went down to the beach. It was a bit windy that day so we headed back, stopping in at the various stores and galleries to see what was new and what was still the same. After dinner we went to our favorite wine bar, Vino,
and, on the recommendation of our server, had an amazing red blend of Merlot, Pinot and Barbera, called "Tantrum," (named for the winemaker's four daughters) from Erin Glenn Winery (I don't usually go for blends, but this was fantastic), along with a Caprese salad, smoked salmon and really opinionated sharp cheddar with rosemary crackers. It was all delicious and I loved the way the wine changed its taste depending on what I was eating. Even Sweetie, who usually doesn't care for wine, was turned on to this stuff.

Saturday was sunny and beautifully clear. I made Sweetie an omelet with the leftover cheddar and we both enjoyed bagels, cream cheese and the rest of the smoked salmon, and then we headed to the beach to daven the morning Shabbat service. We like doing this when weather permits. Here's our shul:

And here was the view of Mt. Neahkahnie from our shul:

We spent a good part of the afternoon at a harvest festival at Alder Creek, a nature reserve nearby. There's a resident elk herd and a community garden there, (Sweetie made a new friend)

and the festival featured lots of farmer's market vendors, barbecue, stuff for kids to do like pumpkin tosses and face painting, and square dancing. The square dancing was fun to watch; I used to do it when I was a kid. The caller had an interesting array of tunes, including O-Blah-Di O-Blah-Da and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville (proving that you can square dance to just about anything). Here's a view of Saddle Mountain from Alder Creek, and a glimpse of the elk:

After the festival we rented bikes and tootled around Manzanita and Neahkahnie a bit; we saw parts of Manzanita we hadn't explored before, including the impossibly cute 9-hole golf course.

Then we came home, rested a bit, and went out for my birthday dinner. The whole weekend was an indulgence in excellent food, including this dinner (I ordered lamb chops, something I haven't eaten in ages) and the tiramisu cake dessert, along with a chocolate Cabernet (it's Cabernet filtered through cacao beans, the perfect compliment to anything chocolate). My tastebuds are still recovering.

On Sunday we checked out the new yarn shop and found this amazing creation:

Brownie points to anyone who can guess what it's made of. We also saw this; both were created for Junk to Funk, a recycled fashion contest.

I particularly liked the espadrilles.

We had a lovely time.

When we got home yesterday, our cats, particularly Addie, who is usually more aloof, curled up right next to me on the couch as if to say, "We're glad you're home." I couldn't ask for a more perfect weekend.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hearing Lang Lang before a funeral

This morning I had the opportunity to hear the Chinese pianist Lang Lang play in rehearsal with the Oregon Symphony (staff were invited to this rehearsal in thanks for our hard work promoting and selling the show, and even though I'm not technically staff they generously allowed me to attend as well, which I appreciated). Tonight Lang Lang will be performing to a sold-out crowd in a special OS concert. 

For those of you who don't know who Lang Lang is, he's the pianist who was featured in the opening ceremonies at the Beijing games. The New York Times has called him, "The hottest classical musician on the planet." He's the current Big Deal in piano soloists. At 26, he's outgrown his prodigy status (he made his professional debut at 17 with the Chicago Symphony, to rave reviews), but he's flamboyant and dramatic and has sparked much debate within classical circles about whether he's the real deal or merely a talented musical drama queen. 

I've never had the opportunity to hear a musician of his reputation before. The Oregon Symphony doesn't usually have the budget to be able to afford the fees of the most famous artists on the classical performance circuit; we book excellent second-rank (not second-rate, note the difference) performers who in some instances are just as good, if not better, than the folks with the outsized reputations and performance fees. Still, I was curious to hear him play, to see what he was like close up and to find out if he was, to borrow a phrase from hip hop, All That.

I came to the rehearsal with a sober heart. My friend A's mother died two days ago, and after the rehearsal I would go sing at her funeral. I didn't expect to hear anything at the rehearsal that would touch on all the emotions I've been experiencing in the past few days, as I helped clean A's house, ran an errand for her and her wife M, and just generally kept her close in my heart.

Lang Lang was playing Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, not music associated with death or heavy thoughts. It's very romantic, lush and emotional, not really my style, and not something I'd go out of my way to hear (We attended an excellent performance a year ago and I certainly didn't need to hear it again so soon, but I was there for Lang Lang, not Rach). Would he be distractingly showy and employ the gesticulations and facial expressions for which he's been both praised and criticized? 

Surprisingly (and refreshingly) not. I'm sure he was saving a lot of his energy for tonight, but Lang Lang nonetheless gave us an emotionally honest interpretation, largely devoid of all that flourishy theatrical stuff that I find detracts from, rather than adds to, a performance. I could sense that he sincerely felt what he was playing during the run-through portions of the rehearsal, and the way he connected with the music made me connect with it in a way I never have before.

But what really surprised me was what happened at the end of the second movement. This is perhaps the most famous of the three, with a theme you'd have to be made of stone not to appreciate (I'll give Rachmaninoff his due; nobody wrote romantic melodies like he did, and if you're in the mood for something lush and schmaltzy you can't beat his music). At the end of the second movement, just before the orchestra comes in, there's a moment where the soloist plays a few ascending notes, filling out a chord, very slowly, and then comes to a quiet cadence. If it's done right, it's a lovely and graceful transition from the solo cadenza to the return of the full orchestra. When Lang Lang got to that place, he played with something more than technique and grace. He played those notes in a way that conveyed acceptance and something deeper: with those notes, and the completion of the chord, I had a powerful sense of a universal rightness. 

There's no good way to explain what I mean, but I'll try. The writer Madeleine L'Engle, who died not long ago at the age of 89, talks in one of her journals, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, about the death of her own mother, who lived with L'Engle and her family the last summer of her life. At the end of the book, after L'Engle's mother has died, L'Engle describes a moment between herself and her own four-year-old granddaughter Charlotte. Charlotte asks, "Is it all right, Gran? Is it?" L'Engle muses on what it means when we tell someone, especially a child, that things will be all right. She says we aren't promising that bad things won't happen, but that, in the end, in a universal, cosmic sense, things will be All Right.

Death is a part of that rightness. From what A told me, her mother had an excellent death. She died at home, surrounded by family, and she retained both her mental capacity and her spirit until the very end. My paternal grandmother died of cancer when I was 17, but the radiation used to treat her cancer caused her brain to shrink, and for the last seven months of her life she was like a person with advanced Alzheimer's disease. Her short-term memory was wiped out, and she often didn't recognize her own family members. She didn't remember our visits, which were frequent (in the case of my father, daily), and she would often berate him for neglecting her. She had always been proud of her appearance, and to see this tiny bald woman with a hostile suspicious expression glaring at me from her bed was heartbreaking. Everything that made my grandmother who she was was erased by her illness and subsequent treatment. 

A's mother was a Roman candle who illuminated the lives around her with her vibrant energy, and she continued to make her wishes known right up until the day she died. In the words of Wallace Stegner, "...and she is not going to be shushed, not even by cancer. She will burn bright until she goes out; she will go on standing on tiptoe till she falls." I am glad, for A's sake and for that of her family, that they got to keep her mother with them until the very last moment.

My heart aches for A. She was so close to her mother, and in many ways is very much like her. I cannot help reflecting on my own relationship with my mother (we're also extremely close), and I am so grateful that she is well and, G-d willing, will remain so for many years to come. But underneath my sorrow, I know that A will be all right, in time, as she learns to live (as my sweetie puts it so eloquently) with the mom-sized hole in her heart. That was what I got from Lang Lang today, and, as I listened to him tear into the exuberant third movement, I felt unexpectedly comforted.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tune in this Sunday, Oct. 5

I'll be hosting the Yiddish Hour again this Sunday at 10 a.m. on KBOO and playing a terrific story. It's a retelling of Peter and the Wolf, called Pincus and the Pig, written and narrated by Maurice Sendak. Any of you with kids over five will enjoy this one, and adults will like it as well.

Also, if you know anyone outside the Portland area who would enjoy the show, please encourage them to listen for free online at As I mentioned earlier, for reasons of copyright we cannot podcast the show. 

I've heard from a few folks who are diehard listeners to This American Life that it's a conflict for them because TAL and the Yiddish Hour are on at the same time here. There is a solution: you can download TAL as a free podcast and listen to it whenever you like. If that doesn't work for you, TAL is rebroadcast locally on Wednesdays at 8pm. 

So please tune in this Sunday and enjoy the longest continuously running Yiddish radio program west of the Mississippi.  Thanks!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

On the air

Today I made my debut as a host for The Yiddish Hour, a radio show broadcast on KBOO 90.7FM, our local community radio station. I didn't mention it beforehand because I was kinda nervous and didn't really want anyone to listen, in case I totally messed up (at KBOO the music program hosts are also engineering the show, so I'm responsible for all the technical stuff as well as the program content).

The Yiddish Hour is hosted by a revolving crew of folks. It was begun 30 years ago by Jack and Reva Falk, along with some other folks, and it's been on the air every Sunday morning at 10 am ever since. Despite its name, the show is not Yiddish-centric; we play anything connected to Jewish music, be it Ashkenazic, Sephardic or whatever. We also do interviews with local folks in the Jewish community, and sometimes read recipes connected to certain holidays (hamentaschen for Purim, for example). We tend to avoid politics and concentrate on culture.

I'm a professionally trained singer and I taught music to groups of kids and adults for 12 years, so being "on" isn't really issue for me, nor is talking into a mike. Hosting a radio show is just another kind of performance. I was more worried that I'd have technical issues with the equipment, since this is all new to me and there's a lot to remember. However, it seems I did fine, two small glitches notwithstanding. The few people I did tell about it said I sounded good, which is always nice to hear. And now I've been bit by the radio bug and am really looking forward to my next show, which will be in two weeks, Sunday, Oct. 5. Interested listeners can tune in locally at 90.7 FM, and you non-Portlanders can listen live online by going to
KBOO's Web site (for reasons of copyright, we cannot podcast our show; you have to listen to it live).

If you can tune in on Oct. 5, I'd love to hear from you. And if you can't, hope you can tune in some other Sunday. I'll try to remember to post when I'll be on next, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ruminations on food, Part 1

Since I write for a living, I find it hard sometimes to make the time and mental energy to keep up my blog posts, but that doesn't keep my mind from percolating away. For some time now I've been meaning to post about my interest in food. In response to queries from several friends and acquaintances, here are some thoughts about why I'm focusing on food instead of music as I look for full-time work.

Note that in the last paragraph I didn't say "new-found interest." Food is something that has dominated my thoughts for as long as I can remember, in both positive and negative ways. But perhaps it seems odd that a professional music nerd should be making a career switch to a field so unrelated as food sustainability and food security. I don't think there's any real connection between music and food, other than my interest in both, and this is not an attempt to find one. It's just some thoughts I've been ruminating on regarding my 40-year relationship with food.

Like most women, I have struggled with negative body image issues since I was a child. Over time I've come to understand the factors that went into my warped sense of physical self. I won't bore you (or me, for that matter) with an exhaustive exploration, though. Suffice it to say that I grew up brunette, smart and not anorexically thin in southern California. Not being blond, skinny and vapidly stupid was a negative, as I saw it, until I hit my teens and realized there were better things to aspire to.

The most indelible memories I have of food as a child centered on my mother's well-intentioned but totally misguided decision to take me to a nutritionist when I was nine. I was chubby, not obese, and miserable, and she thought I'd feel better about myself if I "took control" of my eating habits. This was a time when people were made to feel guilty and ashamed of their weight, as if it was some kind of moral failure to be larger than normal. And of course in sunny SoCal, "normal" was a pretty skewed concept. Anyway, I was under strict instructions to weigh and measure everything I ate with a food scale and keep a food journal. You can imagine how this went down for a nine-year-old. Nuf ced.

More later.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Now we're cooking with gas

This weekend marked the fifth anniversary of our moving into our house, and to celebrate, we did something I've been wanting to do since before we moved in. We replaced the stove/oven. For those of you who haven't seen our kitchen, it's a 1950s nightmare with drop ceilings, fluorescent lighting, horrible yellow laminated counters with little sparkles all over them, and a stove/oven that was really something to behold. Here's what I mean:

The burners pulled out, like a Murphy bed, and everything worked, but still, it was pretty grim cooking with this monster, particularly anything that required subtle changes of temperature.

Someday we'll remodel the whole thing, but that's a huge project that is beyond us at present.

Our dear friends A and E remodeled their kitchen recently and generously donated their old stove to us, and we were happy to have it. We had B, Beth's wicked stepqueen, store it for us for awhile til we had the money to install it, and now it's here, in the kitchen, and I cooked our first meal on it last night. Check it out:

And what did we have? Sauteed zucchini from our garden with chicken basil sausage, fresh sweet corn from the farmer's market and fresh blackberries and ice cream for dessert. Delicious. I'm really looking forward to cooking something amazing, and cooking for Passover next year will be such a joy. I'm just a domestic goddess at heart, I guess.

Thanks to A and E for making my gas stove dream come true, to D for installing it and B for storing it all those months and to S and R for helping us move it back and forth. We couldn't have done this without you. Oh, and also to pal Marty who's throwing me enough work to enable us to afford this adventure. Bless you all.

I am still mulling over my thoughts about food. Stay tuned.