Why Read Moby-Dick?


Despite reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s brief little treatise, Why Read Moby-Dick, I’m still asking myself this question.  Really.

Ok, I read Moby-Dick while doing a master’s degree in American Studies.  I get it–it’s a classic and I was doing a degree where reading the tome makes sense.  But seriously, what did I get out of it?  Not a lot.  I don’t think that I “got” the book at all.

But Philbrick’s explanation of the book and its importance makes total sense.  Why didn’t the professor I had THEN make these points about the book?  Maybe he didn’t “get” it either, but just required the text because, well, it’s a classic.

So–do I think you should read Moby-Dick.  Let me recommend to you that you read Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick instead.  Or, if you feel like that’s dishonest, read Philbrick’s little book first.  Or read it afterward.  Or read it WHILE you are reading Moby-Dick.

The whole Moby-Dick thing will make so much more SENSE if Philbrick’s holding your hand through it.

When Famous People Die: Steve Jobs


It’s strange to me that I can be so impacted by the death of someone that I do not know.

For example, when Madeline L’Engle died a few years ago, I cried and cried.  I felt like I had lost the dearest friend.  I have read many of L’Engle’s books, including those autobiographical ones where she details her writing life, marriage, and the death of her mother.  I justified these deep emotions to myself because I had spent so many hours with her through her books.  I really felt like I knew her and I knew that the world was a lesser place without her calm wisdom.

But why have I shed tears for Steve Jobs?  I don’t know him.  I hardly know any details or facts about his life and yet, here I am, crying for the loss of a man I do not know.

Maybe it’s just that I like to think I knew him.  I believed he was a visionary–a man of rare genius who could not only lead a team to create phenomenal new things–but treat that team fairly, kindly, and–dare I say it–humanely.  That’s a rare thing in industry:  to care about the people and the product.  Maybe care about these things more than the profit.  Of course the profit followed for Jobs, but perhaps it was because he place the other things first.

At least that’s how it seems on the outside.  Who knows?  I never knew Steve Jobs.  But to all the millions of us who did not know him, he stood for these things and in corporate America that’s such a rare thing, it’s worth celebrating.

Coming Home to Eat: Your Local Food Supply

farm life, farming/gardening, food

I’ve read quite a few things about the local food movement but hadn’t gotten around to reading Gary Paul Nabhan’s Coming Home to Eat until this week.  This is one of the books that kicked off the “local foods” movement and got people thinking beyond organic.  I mean, organic is great but does it really “save” anything if the organic food is traveling 2000 miles to get to your plate?

Maybe you’ve come across (or remember) that phrase that feminists used in the 1960s to describe their conversation about women, domesticity, and politics:  THE HOME IS POLITICAL.

Well, the same can be said of food.  EVERYTHING YOU PUT IN YOUR MOUTH IS POLITICAL.

I love it when my students tell me that they can’t participate (or write a paper) about a political topic because they aren’t political.  I suppose they mean that they don’t know anything about politics, don’t keep up with politics, and maybe not even vote.

I find this laughable because every time they open their mouths to eat or drink, they are making a political choice.  Our current food system is highly politicized–controlled by a handful of large corporations who have invested heavily in the politicians in office.  They own large parts of the government, continuing to control a food system upon which the majority of the population has become dependent.

But what if you want to break out?  Break away from the industrialized food system?  That, certainly, is a political decision, as well as one based on choices of health, finances, or morals.

Nabhan argues that you can break out–but it isn’t easy.  Packaged, processed foods are so easy and ubiquitous. If you want to do this, you are going to be labeled a weirdo and made to feel bad.  But stick with it.  While you are enjoying good health and more money in your pocket, your name-calling friends will be waiting in line at the doctor’s office.

“What if each of us, day by day, fully fathomed where our food comes from, historically, ecologically, geographically, genetically?  What would it be like if each of us recognized all the other lives connected to our own through the simple act of eating?  What if we understood which other specifies were regenerated, and which were contaminated or destroyed by what we choose to eat, by our care or by our carelessness?  The way we garden, gather, fish, or forage can be a communion, or it can become an ecological calamity.  The more we understand where our food comes from, the greater the change there is that we can save the living riches of the natural world.”  pg. 163.

As a side note:  Nabhan wrote this while living in the southwest and he’d scavenge for wild foods frequently.  In particular, he talks about Mesquite bean flour and prickly pear.  I wish he’d gone into more detail here–descriptions for how and when to harvest and how to process.  He talks about doing it but provides no directions or instructions.  So I’ll be digging deeper into this because we specialize in Mesquite and prickly pear cactus on our farm right now.  Not because we’ve chosen to but because that’s what nature has given us.  If you are processing either of these right now, get in touch–I’d love to know how you are doing this!

Volunteering at Latte Da Dairy

farm life, farming/gardening

One of the things I’m doing to fill the time while I’m waiting for this house to sell is to learn as much as I can about farming and raising livestock.  Since I’m still not sure what we’ll be doing with our farm, I figure I’ll try and get in as much experience as I can in the broadest swath possible.

That led me to volunteering at Latte Da Dairy, an award-winning farmstead cheesery not too far from where we live.  The owner, Anne Jones, kindly agreed to let me come out and work for part of a day.  After a tour of the goats and the cheese-making area, I set to work washing dishes from the previous days cheese making.  It was the only moment I felt comfortable and secure in what I was doing, ahem.

Because after dishes and some cheese packaging, we were off to trim the hooves of around 20 goats, ranging in age from a few months to 8 years old.  The goats sensed my fear, I suspect, because they’d let me clip one foot and then would protest the other three–often with violent kicks.

But overall, they tolerated my ineptitude and were kind and friendly, as you can see from these two LaManchas wanting to be loved.

I arrived at the dairy about 8:30 and left by 2:30.  Anne had already milked 20 goats that morning and started the clean up process.  When I left, she was packing to go to a show, preparing a half dozen goats for the trip, along with all their  accoutrements.  I know she had to milk again that evening, not to mention the dozen or more other jobs she’d do before she wound down her day.    Businesswoman, animal care-taker, cheesemaker, dishwasher, land manager.  Wow.  There’s a lot to running a goat dairy/cheesemaking shop.

So when you see that artisan cheese in the shop for $30 a pound, know that the cheese maker isn’t even making minimum wage.  Buy it, eat it, enjoy it.  And think of all the work that goes into that little slice of creamy heaven.

ACL 2011


Yep, it’s that time again folks.  Another year and another Austin City Limits Music Festival.  I just want to start out by saying that the ACL folks finally got the bathrooms right.  Yep, after ALL THESE YEARS they finally tapped into enough port-a-potties that the lines weren’t ever too bad.  Way to go guys!

On the flip side, they must have sold way more Saturday and Sunday tickets than usual because Zilker Park was packed.  What’s up with that?  The only place there was a bit of space was the toilet lines.  Wow.  It must be tough to plan a festival.  Somebody like me always complaining.  See past ACL posts here and here.

Weather?  (it’s a constant source of conversation at every ACL).  Well, it was near 100% humidity each day we arrived and eventually on all three days it rained, broke the humidity, and cooled off to bearable temps.  That was good.  And the grass was great, though I’d be willing to bet it was the only swath of green in the entire central part of Texas.  We have all been under water restrictions for months–and what for?  Clearly it was so that Zilker Park could be watered for this single three-day event.  Hmmm.  What capitalists will do to make money, huh?

A happy ACL camper

But to the part you want to hear about–the music:

Asleep at the Wheel and Secret Sisters.  Great and totally chill.

James Blake.  What’s up with that?  I couldn’t quite figure that one out.

Scrillex.  Ok–you gotta love this stuff though the teens were a little over the top.  Think crowd-crushing.

Randy Newman.  Wow.  That man blows me away with his lyrics.  Too funny but so true.

Stevie Wonder.  As good as ever.

Naz and Damien Marley.  Ok, I’m a Marley sucker.  This show rocked.

I want to learn to wind like this.  These gals rocked.

I Want What I Want When I Want It

farm life, life, Uncategorized

Nope, that’s not a four-year-old ranting.  That’s me.  And that’s how I feel most days.  I suspect that you do, too, even if you are better at controlling the urge.

Truth is, I’ve been wanting to move out to our farm for the longest time.  I want to raise pigs and chickens.  Maybe a goat or two.  I want to dodge the cactus and bull snakes on the way to the garden each morning.  I want this kind of hard work in my life.

What’s stopping me?

Selling this darn house.

Seems like each step of this farm business has been one of pain and frustration.

First there was finding the land.  We looked for two years.

Then there was getting the land.  It took 11 months to secure this land from the time we decided on the plot to the time we were able to move our camper on it.

And since then?  Another 11 months.  Oh, it’s true that we’ve made some progress.  We’ve brought down a two-story building that had collapsed and built, in its place, a nice tool shed and spare room.  We’ve cleared trees, brought in some electricity and water, and done a lot of cleanup.  These haven’t been empty months but it sure feels like little has been accomplished.

We put the house up for sale back in April, thinking it would sell over the summer and we’d move.  Sure, four of us would be squeezed into a tiny camper and the tool shed/spare room but the hardship would be part of the adventure.

Instead, we’ve had the easy life of being in our nice house in the city waiting.  Waiting and cleaning and showing the house multiple times to folks who haven’t wanted our little house.

Yes, I’ve tried to think of justifications for all this to help me from being so discouraged:

1.  the housing market is terrible

2.  we haven’t found the right buyer, someone who will love this home like we have

3.  there is much left for me to learn about farming

4.  it’s just not the right time

5.  my son could graduate from his current high school instead of moving for his last year

6.  I can save more money to help with the farm

7.  there’s so much more infrastructure we can put into place on the farm

8.  the weather was terrible for living outdoors this summer

and on, and on, and on.

These justifications help a little in the short term but the truth is, I want what I want when I want it.  I really want to move to the farm NOW.  I know it’s going to be hard, especially living on top of each other in a camper.  I know that could go on for a while as we save money for a house.  But I’m ready.  I know I’m ready.

Do you ever feel this way?  Like your dreams are stalled out?  You can see the finish line but you just can’t quite make it there?


Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture

farm life, Uncategorized

Since I’m waiting for the house to sell –yes, it’s been 5 months and we still haven’t sold– so we can move to the farm, I’m trying to fill this time by reading everything I can get my hands on about farming and raising stock.

Sepp Holzer’s book hit my alert button repeatedly so I ordered a copy from Amazon.  I think of him as the Joel Salatin of Austria and many of his ideas mimic those I’ve already read in Salatin’s books.  But that’s ok–it’s good to review these things, plus, I’ve learned a many new things from Holzer.

Some of the best, I think, are his instructions for planting and caring for fruit trees.  While our farm isn’t far from sea level and Holzer farms in altitude, much of the advice can translate.  And if you want a summary, let me just say this–Holzer recommends NOT spraying, NOT fertilizing, NOT staking, and NOT pruning.

My kinda farmer.

He even includes a recipe for an application for young trees that will keep deer away.  And we have plenty of deer.  So this concoction alone makes the price of the book worth it–it consists of bone salve, linseed oil, slaked lime, fine quartz sand, and cow dung.

An excellent read with many thoughts on creating a sustainable, permaculture-based homestead.

Mr. Ripley’s advice on Plotting and Writing Suspense

Uncategorized, writing, writing techniques

I’m still struggling with plotting.  And creating characters.  But hey–writing is a process, right?  Certainly if I keep at it, I’ll get better.  I’ll never be as good as Patricia Highsmith, of course, but a girl can dream.

With that in mind, I read Highsmith’s book, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction.  Most of the public know her from the movie, The Talented Mr. Ripley, starring Matt Damon and Gwenyth Paltrow, but she’s written dozens of other things and has been more successful in Europe than she has been here in her native land.

Highsmith keeps the examples to her own writing and discusses at length her mistakes, rejections, and screw-ups.  This is so encouraging, knowing that a master at the craft didn’t get it right–not the first time, or second, and at times, not even the third time.

Two good take-aways on plotting:

1.  If stuck ask yourself, “What do I want to happen next?”

2.  “What effect am I trying to create by this book?”