Farm Sanctuary

 I recently returned from a week's vacation up in Watkins Glen, home of Farm Sanctuary's New York shelter.
An early morning view of the farm from our cabin.
The People Barn houses interactive educational displays, the gift shop, and the breakfast room!
Our cabin at sunset.
Having participated in the annual Walk for Farm Animals for years, seeing that fundraising in action nearly made my heart explode.  Seriously.  There is nothing like looking into the eyes of a young cow, rescued from a stockyard at one-day old after failing to sell for $1, and knowing that you and your family and friends helped make his survival possible.
Blitzen gets some love.

What's that you say?  You'd like more animal pictures?  Well, I always aim to please...(after the jump)


The Thing I Wish Gordon Ramsay Would Say

So, I back when I had a television that got things like broadcast channels, I loved Hell's Kitchen and I used to enjoy our version of Kitchen Nightmares.  Lately, I've been watching the U.K. version on Netflix with that familiar mixture of abject horror and incredulity that marks any good bit of reality television.

If you are unfamiliar with the formula, here's it in a nutshell: Ramsay visits failing restaurants and uses his considerable charms to badger them into sucking less.  Voila!  Rarely the restaurant's chef is a talent, the kitchen is in good shape, and the issue is the menu, the ambiance, the service....much more frequently, all of those things are wrong, and the chef needs to get his act together, and, not infrequently, the kitchen is a mess of spoiled meat and rotting veg which eclipses any other problem.

Ramsay uses every tool in his box to get these places back on track, often fixing relationships as well a mindsets, world views, and technique.  One of Ramsay's favorite ways to reinvigorate a kitchen staff and reconnect a chef with his passion for food, is to visit the animals and vegetables that will be on the plate and to teach them the importance of quality ingredients.  He's had kitchen staff identify cuts of meat on a live steer, milk a cow, and pick fresh tomatoes.  All the while repeating "quality, quality, quality, fresh, fresh, fresh."

Now, I know how Ramsay feels about vegetarians.  I know he probably hates me on principal (and he's in good company there) and would take every chance to slip me meat or dairy (or would he?).  That's fine.  We don't need to be besties.  But there is one thing I wish Gordon Ramsay would say to the chefs in these kitchens who are preparing ghastly meat dishes and who are letting pounds and pounds of meat go to rot and waste as he's chanting his "Quality! Fresh!" mantra . . . an animal suffered and died to put that meat in your hands.  Never mind quality, fresh, expense - that carcass you are tossing in the bin because you were too lazy or careless was alive once.  It had a family, it played, and loved, and remembered and it wanted to keep on living.  Don't effing waste it!  Have some respect!

But Ramsay never ever says that.  And it breaks my heart a little each and every time.

*Just finished watching Ramsay's Best Restaurant from 2010 . . . the runner up was a veg Indian restaurant, Prashad!  And Gordon actually said in one episode, "Who misses meat?"  My heart is so full.  Well, it's a little full.  It's not empty.*


Oh, Goodness....

Where, oh where, has the time gone?  Months (!) have passed with nary a word, a review, an idea...I think about posting nearly every day, but by the time I get home, take care of my chores, and get ready for tomorrow, I'm exhausted and half-asleep watching Roseanne on the couch.  Not that there isn't much I love more than napping to Roseanne.  The Conner residence feels like home to me, which is interesting considering how unlike my own home it was.  Socio-economic similarities and all of the accompanying cultural signifiers (decor, clothing, food choices, pastimes, media consumption...) aside, the denizens of chez RMS had little in common with the Conners. . .but seeing as how it's June now, I'm not going to think too hard about this*.  Right now, I'm content to reminisce about my formative years through Roseanne-tinted glasses and thank the powers that be that I don't have network or cable television.

Also, Joss Whedon got his start on Roseanne.  One of Becky's mallrat friends was played by Alyson Hannigan in the episode Like, a New Job.  Becky's boyfriend Mark was played by Glenn Quinn (RIP) who later played Doyle on Angel...I'm sure there's more here.  Let me know!

*though there is totally a post about diversity in television casting (How I Met Your Mother, I'm looking at you) fomenting here.


The words we forget to say

It's that time of year, as we move through the solstice, celebrate the many winter holidays, and wrap up the past 365 days in a nice little package called last year, when we turn around and see the people we see everyday with new and appreciative eyes.  I am so grateful to count as my friends and coworkers some of the most intelligent, dedicated, innovative people I know.  So often I grumble my way through my days, consumed by my stress, and anxiety, and irritation.  Yet, in the midst of all of that, amazing people are making amazing things happen.  Everyday.

So here's to taking a deep breath and a step back and remembering to see and to acknowledge all the awesome in this life.  To all of my dear friends, incredible colleagues, wonderful classmates, and brilliant family: all my love to you this Holiday Season, and every auspicious wish for the New Year.



The conversation that brought me back from hiatus

You may have noticed I've not been in the writerly way for a while.  Turns out that full-time teaching and grad school topped off with student teaching makes for an exhausted RMS.  I've had things to say, but I've mostly been saying them to the pot of soup cooking on the stove, or the towel rack.  But the other day I had a conversation with a colleague at work that had the rusty gears in my head turning for quite some time.  It started out about Twilight, but ended up about so much more.

She wanted to know if, in my professional opinion, I thought Twilight was appropriate for her 8th grade daughter.  After letting me know that her daughter is not terribly mature, she let me weigh in.  I didn't get all Twi-ranty because, well really, that wasn't the point now was it?  And I came down firmly on Twilight's side.  Not because it's a great piece of literature, but because it is a largely innocuous and incredibly popular one.  By this point every tween and teen in America has read it (or so it seems to me) and to deny her the chance to participate in the popular culture phenomenon of her adolescence is just cruel and necessary.

As we continued talking it became clear that her mother's concern was really sex and drugs.  Not a problem, since Twilight is, after all, abstinence porn.  Turns out that at the root of her strict policing of her teen daughter's reading habits, was a very real fear of books being a source of negative peer pressure.

"Sometimes, I think, that they read about it and they they want to try it.  Right?" she asked me.

I've written before on how I think the exact opposite is true, and that was the conversation I delved into.  About how teens read about things that they would never do because they want to understand them.  About how drinking, drugs, and sex are a real part of the world.  About credibility.  About how the world is a place full of dangers and I'd rather my kids read about them than experience them first-hand.  And finally, about how if anything is going to send your by-all-accounts-good-and-decent-kid down the rabbit hole it's going to be her peer group, not the library.  In the end, it's about building your relationship with your teen.  About having that conversation about myth and reality, fact and fiction, fun and dangerous fun.  And about never turning away from that conversation, no matter how much you may want to.

What do you think?


Native who, now?

While discussing the Civil Rights Movement in class the other day, a student accidentally said "Native Americans" instead of "African Americans."  We were discussing some core concept words (segregation, integration, power, powerless, persecute) and one of my co-teachers took this opportunity to bring Native Americans into the discussion.  

"Who are the Native Americans?" she asked.

"Stone Age!" comes a reply from a bright student in the back of the class.
"Native Americans are still alive?!" quickly followed.

So taken aback, we stared at each other - eyes wide, mouths gaping - for a good 15 seconds (which sounds like no time at all, but leading a discussion of 30 sixth graders, it is an eternity).  Finally, we continued the conversation, explaining that Native Americans live today in cities, towns, and reservations, and struggling in this off-the-cuff context to do justice to the history of our country's first people.

I've spent a great deal of time reading about Native representation in children's books and texts, especially Debbie Reese's excellent blog, American Indians in Children's Literature and the resources published by Oyate press.  I've written extensively on race and representation in books for children and young adults.  Yet, I've never seen first hand the effects of this Native erasure so clearly displayed.  It was horrifying.  I don't expect my students to know much about the Native genocide, AIM, the forced sterilization, and modern life on say, Pine Ridge Reservation.  But I do expect them to know that Native people exist.  I'm terrified of an education system that so fully disappears the more unsavory aspects of our history.



Oh how time, she flies right by, eh?  And now here we are - mid-October.  I'm still savoring my summer reading list, and putting off reading Mockingjay as long as possible.  To supplement the feminist YA I've been immersed in, I went up to Cambridge, MA last weekend to see Amanda Fucking Palmer in the American Repertory Theater's production of Cabaret.

*****If you've never seen or listened to Cabaret, the rest of this review/discussion may be hard to follow.  Solution?  Go watch it!  Or listen to it!******

Now, normally, I wouldn't consider Cabaret an at all feminist piece.  Then the A.R.T. got a hold of it and turned the gender and sexuality all to sexy, twisty, salty pretzel pieces.  As far as I'm concerned, it was just what the musical needed.  There was a lot to love about the production - the interactive Kit Kat Klub venue, the sing-alongs and table service, the sheer talent on display, the sick hollow feeling when you turn around in act II and notice the Nazi soldier, stony faced and at attention, two feet from your happy cabaret table, the gut-wrenching ending designed to remind a generation that doesn't know anyone who lived through the Nazi regime, just what was in store for their new friends at the Kit Kat Klub.  The insidious fascism is there all along, and as the production moves forward it peels off the layers of leather, lace, and greasepaint . . . to great effect.

So all that said, perhaps what I loved most was the way this production respected Sally Bowles.  When she makes the decision to stay in Berlin, without Cliff, her rendition of Cabaret is not a piece of triumphant denial.  Rather it is a painful, heartbreaking, bitter acknowledgment of the future to come.  It will stay with me for a long, long while.