Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dreams, Music, Podcasts

Hi friends and readers,

My dear friend D sent me an email describing a beautiful dream he'd had, and this is the letter I wrote back to him. I did not yet get his permission to post his description of his dream, so I didn't post that, and I didn't really edit up the response letter much. It's not here to be an example of great writing, but rather to create discussion. Please post your thoughts. :)

Hi D!

I wish I had cool dreams like that more often. My dreams are usually just weird. Funny how sometimes you don't remember what happened in a dream, but it leaves you with a very specific feeling when you wake up. I think it goes to show you that at our core, we are emotional creatures.

Any more thoughts on what the dream may mean to you? You might have to sleep on it a bit longer (if you’ll pardon the pun) to get some perspective. K gave me an interesting book about dreams, and each item/thing/idea/concept is explained in both its psychological terms (what Freud or Jung or other psychologists thought it meant) and its mystical terms (what the ancient Greeks or other spiritualists thought it meant). I think it can be interesting to read about, but really I think it's pretty relative to each person. Different things have different significances to different people. I tend to have recurring dreams about elevators, parking garages and escalators. The escalator/elevator dreams are usually about me not being able to get off the escalator, or about the elevator refusing to go to the floor I push the button for. Maybe it’s about feeling out of control of my life? Or like my life is going in a direction I’m not ready for.

Are you able to do lucid dreaming? I used to be able to do it when I was a kid, and then again recently, but only when I try. I can teach you how if you're interested. It's pretty simple – it just takes practice. Oh my gosh, have you seen the film The Waking Life??? It is so amazing! Definitely in my top ten. I don't think you can get it on Netflix, but I have it (borrowed it from a friend). We should watch it sometime. Did I ever tell you about the psychic (precognizant is the technical term, I believe) dream I had when I was in 5th grade?

Funny you should mention that your dream started off with reading The Hobbit, because I was just listening to a podcast yesterday (see more below) wherein one of the hosts was saying that if she falls asleep reading, she sometimes has cool dreams about being in the story.

The podcast I was listening to is called Dial-A-Stranger. The hosts call up strangers and have conversations with them and record them. You can sign up at their website to submit questions to be asked to the people they call, or to be one of the strangers they call. I love listening to podcasts. I discover most of them through other podcasts! Some of my favorites are: This American Life, Dial-A-Stranger, The New Yorker Fiction Podcast, The Moth, Risk, Snap Judgment (those three are story-telling podcasts), Transom, and some podcasts about sex education stuff. (Did I tell you I’m considering becoming a sex educator once I get my Master’s?)

Wow, this is quite a long email, and I have to finish up some stuff before leaving work today, so I’d better go!!

One more thing: I have the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” stuck in my head. J What is/are your favorite Christmas song(s)? You know, I’m not really religious, but during Christmas time I just love all the music – the religious music included! There is something so beautiful about it that unites people and makes us feel light and warm and happy toward humanity in the middle of winter! J Are you attending any Christmas concerts this year? Probably you get to hear and make great music at church all the time!

Have a fabulous evening, and happy dreams to you tonight!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Spiny Death Ball Season Is Here.

As if there aren't enough reasons to be crabby about the end of summer, the trees officially have started their nine-month spiny death ball shedding season. I'm not sure what these woody little spheres on a stem are actually called. I think they're probably some kind of seed-pod, but I'm too lazy to look it up. Nasty way for a tree to propagate its species, if you ask me. Which neither the trees nor the arborists of yesteryear who planted them in my neighborhood clearly did NOT.

These horrid little fuckers fall out of the trees for what seems like nine months of the year.

And now for my List of Reasons to HATE Spiny Death Balls:
~ You can slip on them and twist (or break!!) your ankle;
~ They hurt when you step on them barefoot/with the side of your sandaled foot;
~ Every fucking once in awhile, on your VERY LUCKY DAY, one will fall from a tree while you're walking under it, directly ONTO YOUR HEAD. Ouch.

To be fair and balanced, here is my List of One Reason to LIKE Spiny Death Balls:
~ You can have a Spiny Death Ball fight and throw them at your boyfriend. However, Boyfriend has much better aim, and is stronger, so he can throw harder and farther. Therefore, it's usually a losing battle.

Final analysis:
Spiny Death Balls suck.

Monday, October 4, 2010

(Non) Venn Diagram Pasta

On Saturday night, Ryan and I cooked dinner together! It was supposed to be Venn Diagram Pasta, but we ended up sharing almost all the same ingredients, so there really was no Venn diagram to be made from it, except to add in my homemade salad dressing.

Here's what we made:

Boil half a package of spaghetti.

1 jar store-bought vodka sauce
Broccoli (about a third of a large bag of frozen cut broccoli)
One quarter of a chopped red onion
Two to three cloves garlic, minced
Light olive oil

Saute the vegetables in olive oil in a frying pan. Heat sauce over low heat in a saucepan. Add vegetables to sauce, and simmer, covered, until the rest of the food is ready.

Homemade Garlic Bread:
One half a loaf of fresh French bread (sliced lengthwise)
One half stick of softened butter
Three to four cloves garlic, minced
Fresh oregano and basil, cut into small pieces

Mix the butter with the garlic and the herbs. Spread butter mixture with a rubber spatula onto bread. Wrap in foil; broil in oven on top shelf until crispy on top.

Very Basic Boring Salad:
One head Romaine lettuce
Two stalks celery

Rinse and chop lettuce and celery. Toss in bowl with homemade dressing (for Heather only - Ryan does not like dressing very much) and add homemade croutons (for both). See below for both these recipes.

Homemade Croutons:
Thanks to AS for showing me how to make these!

Half a loaf of French bread
Olive oil
(Variations: fresh-ground pepper; dry Ranch dressing mix; finely chopped herbs; chipotle powder.)

Cube the bread. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add bread cubes. Turn bread cubes over to brown all sides. Tongs are the easiest to use, but a spatula will work. Drain on a paper towel, and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Since the croutons are made with fresh bread, and not dried out in an oven, they are still rather moist, and can absorb dressing very quickly, making them mushy, so I prefer to toss the salad with the dressing first, and then put the croutons on.

Heather's Homemade Vinaigrette Dressing:

One part balsamic vinegar
One part olive oil
One part lemon or lime juice
Fresh minced garlic
Freshly ground pepper
Sesame seeds
Any other spices or herbs you think would be good. :)

Combine in a salad dressing mixer, or any small container with tightly fitting lid. Shake, shake, shake!!! Shake your booty! Add to salad and toss. Be careful pouring, as jars with wide mouths tend to allow the dressing to pour out really quickly!

Keep leftover dressing in the fridge, but note that the oil will harden, so remove a while before using. Shake before using.

Our thoughts/comments about the meal:
It's VERY EASY to burn the bread, so watch it carefully!
This is a meal easily adaptable to many tastes; these ingredients were just the basics.
Next time we'd like to try making vodka sauce from scratch (and want to try MS & AS's recipe!)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Venn Diagram Dining: Burritos

Venn Diagram Dining

I’m starting a new feature on my blog called Venn Diagram Dining. As you may know, my diet is mostly vegetarian, whereas my boyfriend Ryan has quite a taste for meat. However, our differences aside, we are trying to eat healthier and save money by cooking together. In Venn Diagram Dining, I’ll post our adventures in healthy gastronomy with a description of the meal we ate, including how our meals overlapped and where they diverged; photos of each dish; and recipes/tips.

The hope is to share two healthy versions of the same recipe with you. If you’re in the same situation as we are, and want to cook together. I hope this blog feature will serve as a meeting point for others who friends, families and couples with divergent diets.

Venn Diagram Burritos

Last night, we made chicken/tofu burritos. In the Venn Diagram below are lists of ingredients we each used. The recipe below yielded one good sized burrito for each of us for dinner, plus enough leftovers for two to three more burritos.

Our Dinner
Sautéed In The Shared Pan:
~ One quarter of a red onion
~ One can of corn
~ One can of black beans
~ One packet of gently milled brown rice, heated in the microwave for 90 seconds first
~ Fresh ground garlic salt and pepper

Garnished With:
~ Shredded Mexican blend cheese
~ Fresh oregano leaves
~ A drizzle of hot sauce

Wrapped In:
Whole wheat tortillas (large wrap size)

Ryan's Meal
Cooked In His George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine:
One chicken breast, rubbed with spicy chipotle dry BBQ rub.

Heather’s Meal
Sautéed In My Pan:
~ Two kinds of squash, diced.
~ One package extra firm tofu, drained and squeezed, crumbled.

I added:
Diced avocado

Our thoughts about this meal:
We were both rather pleased with the outcome! Squash, beans, and corn are supposed to form a complete protein, as they provide all the essential amino acids. Along with the tofu, this was a superstar meal that provided a complete protein that was entirely plant-based!
We steamed the tortillas by laying them over the pan of beans and rice, but Ryan suggested next time we heat them in the oven on a skillet to get them a little crispier.

Please feel free to leave comments or suggestions!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Place Songs

For the musical geographer in you, the following list of songs about places was inspired by my friend DL. Please add your favorites in the comments section!

There are countless awesome songs about our Golden State:

~ "California Love" by 2Pac (

~ "California Girls" by the Beach Boys (

~ "Freeport Blvd" by Jackie Greene (couldn't find a video, but you can check it out on his website under "Gone Wandrin'" here:

~ Joni Mitchell - California - chock full of places other than CA, too!! (

~ "Sweet Home Alabama (I like the Counting Crows version better than Lynard Skynard's.) I can't find a video of Counting Crows' version... but also have the mp3 of that if you want it! Sometimes I change the lyrics so that I sing "Sweet Home El Dorado" instead of "Alabama," which is why I'm putting it under CA songs. :)

~ "Goin' to California" - Led Zeppelin (

~ "Lights" by Journey (

East Coast/NYC:

~ "On Broadway" by George Benson - a personal fave for me on karaoke nights! LOL! (

~ "Empire State of Mind" by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z (

Midwest/Rocky Mountains:

~ "Omaha" by Counting Crows, ( (Hehe - mentions "heather" in the first verse!)

~ "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young ( - about the 1970 Kent State Massacre, as you probably know.

~ "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver. I remember insisting on putting this on the stereo on a road trip when we entered Colorado! (

~ "Chicago" by Sufjan Stevens. (


~ "Kashmir" by Led Zepp (")

~ "Kathmandu" by Cat Stevens (

~ "Ivory Coast" by Rancid (

~ "China" by Tori Amos ( (very sad but beautiful)

~ "A Day In The Life" by the Beatles ( - I put this in here because when I was visiting a friend in Blackburn, Lancashire, in the UK, her mother told me that when this song came out, her town went nuts with visitors trying to figure out the lyrics... ("Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire/ And though the holes were rather small,/ I had to count them all/ Now I know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.")

The South:

~ "Leavin on a Midnight Train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight and the Pips (

US in general:

~ "Peace Frog" by the Doors

Three "place songs" I like by Creedence Clearwater Revival are:

~ "Proud Mary" (

~ "Green River" ( Did you know "Green River" was written about Winters, CA? (; and, of course:

~ "Lodi" (

If I had to choose one artist for road trips/traveling, I'd choose Simon and Garfunkel. Their songs are sometimes about specific places:

~ "Bleecker Street" (

Sometimes just about traveling, seeing new places, dreaming of home:

~ "America" (

~ "Homeward Bound" (

~ "American Tune" (

Another great artist for "place songs" is Frank Sinatra:

~ "New York, New York" with Tony Bennett (;

~ "My Kind of Town" (;

~ "California" (couldn't find a good video for it, but let me know if you want to hear the song - I have it on mp3);

~ Two songs of his about Brasil: "The Girl from Ipanema" with Antonio Carlos Jobim (

"The Coffee Song" (

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I thought I smelled death/
- It was the smell of crayons -/
But it was just art.

Book Review: The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve (1998)

On our trip to the North Coast of California and Oregon this weekend, my mom and I listened to Anita Shreve’s novel The Pilot’s Wife on cassette. Below is my two-part review, as well as a few other thoughts.

Parallels Between The Pilot’s Wife and Ethan Frome

I first began to consider the parallels between Anita Shreve’s novel The Pilot’s Wife and Edith Wharton’s classic book Ethan Frome when the narrator of The Pilot’s Wife reveals that its main character, Katherine Lyons, is a fan of Wharton’s works. From there, I noticed a series of parallels between the two stories – enough to lead me to believe that Shreve wrote The Pilot’s Wife in part as a rebuttal to Ethan Frome. Warning: If you haven’t read these novels, please be aware that this review contains spoilers about both books.

Each story uses a major accident as a pivotal plot point. Both novels share a New England setting, themes of alleged or attempted suicide, and infidelity.

However, the most striking parallel between the two novels is the use of a character named Mattie to symbolize youth and vitality. Both Matties are deeply loved by the respective title characters. However, while Wharton’s Mattie Silver embodies for Ethan Frome an ultimately unattainable and ephemeral bright spot in his otherwise dull life, Shreve’s Mattie Lyons is the motivation for Kathryn to heal and to live on after the sudden and tragic loss of her husband. Through Mattie Silver’s tragic sledding accident, Wharton Wharton asserts the idea that people should resign themselves to their preordained fates, however tragic. Shreve rebuts this notion by asserting through Mattie Lyons that hope and vivaciousness are worth striving for.

Feminist Critique

The Pilot’s Wife. The title immediately relegates Kathryn to secondary status, rather than defining her as a woman in her own right.

The book’s dust jacket – er, the audio book’s cover –informs the reader that the main character follows a series of clues to discover her husband lived a secret double life, of which she was utterly unaware. Mom and I speculated throughout the novel about what Jack Lyons’ secret life might consist of. We mainly suspected him of involvement with the CIA. While his actual double life as a smuggler for the Irish Republican Army is just as intriguing, Kathryn’s discovery of his secret second wife and family merely recapitulates the theme of the woman-as-wife.

Clearly this relative role is the point – how does a catastrophe such as the loss of a husband permanently alter a woman accustomed to defining herself as a wife? How does she rise to the occasion of having her character tested in such an excruciating way?

Toward the end of the novel, Kathryn spends a considerable amount of time trying to understand her husband’s motives, and the links between Jack’s infidelity and his involvement with the IRA. Ultimately, she decides they are two sides of the same coin. Undeniably, the author weaves these two strands of the plot together to create a complex portrait of the dual lives of Jack Lyons. I suppose, however, I would have liked to have seen parallel character development and independence on the part of Kathryn much earlier on in the story, rather than as what seemed to be a convenient afterthought as she grew accustomed to her new role as a widow. Even in her redemption as a widow and in her continuing role as a mother, we find she still defines herself primarily in relation to her husband and family – only now in relation to Jack’s absence.

Understand – I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong with exploring a fictional woman’s relationship to her husband – relationships are an integral part of an individual’s life. Rather, I’m placing the novel into context as one more in a seemingly endless parade of stories in popular culture wherein the main female character is defined primarily by her relationship to her man or her family. Where the book disappoints is in its traditional and predictable focus on Kathryn’s relationship to her husband as the major driver of the plot, in combination with her helplessness and her willingness to bend to the will of men in her life. Relationships are an integral part of life, not to be ignored or diminished, but ultimately The Pilot’s Wife doesn’t allow for much development of its title character beyond that in her role as a wife and mother.

Is Listening Reading?

While my mom and I were listening to this book on tape, I mentioned that I wanted to write this review. She asked, “can you legitimately write a book review on a book you haven’t read?” I thought at first that she was joking, but when I quickly discovered she was not, I became a little incredulous. She was seriously asserting that listening to audio books doesn’t really “count” as reading! I told her it does because, assuming the book is not abridged, you’re still absorbing the same words. She maintained that physically holding a book in one’s hand and reading the words with one’s eyes is different from hearing the book read aloud. I can agree that the two are different experiences, but I still think it counts as legitimate reading.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Recipe to Warm Your Heart and Soul and Belly

Heather's Amazing Vegan Chili

I like recipes you can fudge. (I also like recipes FOR fudge, but that's a different matter entirely.) The thing about chili is that everyone makes it differently. Some people think it's essential to make it with beans. Others think meat is a key ingredient. I've seen it made without either. To me, chili isn’t chili without beans and tomato sauce. But if the beans and tomato sauce are the heart of the chili, then the spices, veggies and herbs are the soul. I hope you enjoy my chili recipe – but remember, this is just a framework – modify at will and make it your own!

Margarine/cooking oil – a tablespoon or two
1 chopped red onion (Tonight I only used 1/4 onion, as it was all I had. Still good. See? Wiggle room.)
4 cloves fresh garlic – chopped (I’m a garlic purist – that minced sh*t from the jar is just gross)
1 can whole pinto beans, drained
1 can whole black beans, drained
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 can chick peas (garbanzo beans), drained
2 Mexican grey squash, washed, halved, and sliced – so cut into half-moon shapes
(Also good in addition or instead: bell peppers, zucchini, summer squash, yellow crookneck squash.)
Fresh organic oregano leaves (from my garden!)
1 large can plain tomato sauce
1 can plain (unseasoned) diced tomatoes
Half a small package of frozen corn
A good shaking of Tapatio sauce
A generous sprinkling of garlic salt
Black pepper / fresh ground peppercorns
A couple sliced fresh jalapenos, or if you're a Gringa cheater like me, one or two tablespoons of sliced jalapenos from the jar. And IF you ARE a Gringa cheater like me, go ahead and add in a dash of the juice from the jalapeno jar. ;)
1 package Mexican flavor Smart Ground (fake ground beef)
A dash of smoked paprika (Sounds all fancy, right? I bought a small can for a couple bucks at the Co-Op. No big deal, but super good!)
Fresh cut organic garlic chives (from my garden!)

Heat oil or margarine in a large frying pan over medium heat.
Brown onions, garlic, and squash (or other veggies, except corn).
In a large stock pot, heat the tomato sauce and tomatoes over low heat.
Add oregano and all beans to the frying pan, and allow them to cook for a few minutes over medium heat, absorbing the flavor of the onions, garlic and oregano.
While beans are browning, add corn, Tapatio, garlic salt, pepper and jalapenos / jalapeno juice to the tomatoes.
After beans are heated through, add them to the tomato sauce mixture. Stir. Cook, covered on low for a few minutes.
Add in the corn. Cook, covered, a few more minutes, until the corn is getting all hot and bothered.
Add in the Mexican flavor Smart Ground. (I wait to add it in until later because it gets mooshy if cooked too long.) Cook on low for a few more minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the Smart Ground is making beautiful steamy love to the chili beans, add in the dash of smoked paprika and the garlic chives. (I add them in juuuust before taking the chili off so as not to mess with their delicate texture and flavor.)
Stir it all up again! Top with deliciousness below, and serve with pipin’ hot cornbread. Voila!

IMPORTANT: You may like thick chili or thinner chili. Thin it down as you cook by adding proportionally more tomato sauce or even a little water. Thicken it up by letting it simmer a little longer with the lid off. After adding the smoked paprika and stirring well to mix the flavors up, taste the chili to make sure you like it, and adjust the spicing as necessary.

Top with the following suggestions of deliciousness:
~ Black olives
~ Cheese – I prefer Spring Hill garlic cheese curds. Nom nom nom!! Cheddar or jalapeno jack also work well.
~ Onions
~ Fresh cut garlic chives or plain ol’ chivey chives
~ Sour cream
~ Whatever floats yer boat!

I love to make a big pot of chili and put it in Tupperware and freeze it for lunches and dinners! I even add cheese and olives on top inside the containers so each one is ready to take to work and pop in the microwave!

I had it tonight with cornbread, made from the recipe from the back of the Quaker corn meal container. You can get that recipe yourself so I won't post it here, but the bread was fabulously moist! Next time I make it, I'm going to try adding jalapenos to the corn bread it for extra kick!


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Can One Be Taught to Write?

Teaching Writing

To sum up a note I recently received, I was asked whether writing is something that can be taught to anyone. The inquirer is a musician, who stated that he tries to imagine how he could teach music to another person. He mentioned that it feels like an intrinsic talent/passion to him, and wondered whether it's the same with writing. He said he's always loved to read, but he thinks that reading and writing are two completely different things.

My reply:


I ask you this: Are appreciating music and making it so different? Or do they feed off one another? That's how I look at writing. I've become acutely aware of this recently, as I haven't been reading as much as I usually do lately. I can tell it's taken a toll on my drive to write, my creativity, my self-discipline, and even my vocabulary/ability to express myself. So while reading and writing are completely different, I do believe one must have a love of reading to truly be a great writer. Otherwise, one just comes off as self-absorbed, boring, vapid, banal. In my ever-so-humble opinion, that is. ;)

To answer your question about whether one can be taught to write... well, I suppose I'd have to say both yes and no. There are techniques; styles; mechanics; grammar; spelling; and formulas that can be taught. There are masters and mistresses of the craft of the word who can help a person find her or his own voice.

But I think it's more a question of whether a person WANTS to write, and whether that is how one chooses to express herself or himself. Some people have a creative force, or perhaps an idea that can't properly be expressed in any other way aside from explicit use of words. If that person, who is a medium for that idea or that creative force, chooses to discipline and dedicate himself or herself to the craft of writing, and to seek knowledge about how to improve her or his craft, then, yes. One can be taught to write.

But if a person does not give a flying F about expressing the self or the idea through words, then, no. One cannot be taught to write.

But now I've gone on long enough. What do you think?

~ Heather

PS - I don't always speak in such an erudite manner. I promise, dude. ;)

What are your thoughts, Reader?