Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Blizzard baby (from the archives)...

This was something I wrote a year ago on my birthday and seeing as I'm a little behind on everything to make a proper post this week, I'm going to bring you one from the archives today. I'm looking outside right now and there is little snow to be seen, brown grass is actually poking up between the little bit there is, and I find myself longing for an intense snowstorm of the kind we haven't seen for a while here in Chicago. I'm not a huge fan of winter, but there's something about bearing down and surviving something staggering together that makes us grow as people, forcing us to call upon our resilience. Anyway, here it is from last year. And I hope you have a great week!

I was born during one of Chicago's most historic snowfalls, the winter of 1967. I occasionally see footage from this period, old, black-and-white, grainy films, and I cannot believe that I have been alive so long as to come from an old, black-and-white, grainy time. The footage is always quaint, with the snow piled improbably high and bundled up city dwellers struggling mightily to make their way from Point A to Point B, crossing streets with toddler-like grace; footage of taxis hopelessly stuck in walls of impenetrably dense snow. From January 26 through February fifth, 36 1/2 inches of snow fell - this is north of my navel, just so you know - like a gaping hole tore in the sky where all the year's snowfall is stored and it all came gushing out at once.

The stories from this time are thrilling to hear as this is the sort of stuff that Chicago's brawny bruiser of a reputation is built on. In my own family, the snowfall resulted in my mother and I being socked into the hospital for two solid weeks: the city was at a standstill in its battle with the snow, and, clearly, was the punch-drunk underdog, clinging for dear life onto the ropes. Public transportation wasn't running and people couldn't drive. There was looting going on, people were desperate and frightened and paranoid. Somehow, though, one day my grandfather managed to get down to Michael Reese Hospital - it took hours but he was determined - and he was able to identify me, his third grandchild, in the nursery behind the glass, one blizzard baby among dozens of others. My grandmother used this bit of family lore as evidence that my grandfather and I always had a special bond.

I have often wondered how the circumstances of our births, those very few first hours and weeks, work to help shape the people we are to become. My husband and son were both born in the late spring, the time of shoots and flowers and no more blasted snow, and they are much more naturally optimistic people, constitutionally perhaps, than this child of winter. With my son, there were certain circumstances of his birth that made his debut challenging, but as soon as we could, we got him outdoors in the sun and gentle breezes. As soon as I could, every day I took him outdoors, trying to erase any trace of hospitals and medical equipment from his spirit, and that was how he spent his time, pressed up against me in his Bjorn, or, later, on a blanket, with his little fingers grabbing clumps of grass. For those of us who are late fall and winter babies in climates such as the one in which I live, the weeks and months following our births are not quite as welcoming and idyllic. Maybe the cold and unyielding conditions we are born into predispose us to being more familiar with the dark side of life, less full of sunny optimism. Maybe there is no affect at all. (I have a theory that this is why Californians have the reputation of being ditsy and naive: they only know one basic season, and that is mild. They don't have that familiarity with the darkness of winter. My good friend in San Francisco - who grew up in Kansas - has assured me that native Californians are absolutely disengaged from reality.)

On my birthday Sunday, we spent our day at O'Hare International Airport. My mother was flying to Texas to visit my aunt and needs a little help these days getting to the right gate. She missed her flight a couple of years back because she got disoriented, so now we make sure that she is brought directly to the gate. I was able to get passes for my son and I to go with her there from the ticket counter.

At first, I was resentful that my mother booked a flight for my birthday, knowing that I would be the one taking her and spending hours at the airport. It has been two years since we flew anywhere, and so it was an adventure for my son, who, after immersing himself in everything pre-Cambrian, has blasted forward like out of a slingshot into all things space. He got to watch taxiing airplanes and those preparing to land, luggage trucks and the guy with the directional thingamabobs. He had a veggie burger and fries at Johnny Rockets: what more could a six-year-old boy possibly want? (Actually, his own flying saucer, but he's going to have to wait on that one or a trip of his own to New Mexico so he can explore dinosaur remains at Ghost Ranch and evidence of extraterrestrials at Roswell: yes, my child is weird.) Seeing my son so thrilled with his day, and my mother genuinely appreciative, helped to turn my attitude around. I actually enjoyed my time at the airport very much.

Maybe I am moving beyond the circumstances of my birth to a brighter, warmer place. It certainly feels like something has been internally shifting for a while now. I will always remember the winter that has helped to shape me, though, and the isolation and bracing cold on my cheeks. I am glad to have the strength that comes from a birth in a blizzard.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chicago vegan bake sale to benefit relief efforts in Haiti!

Please join us for the first of Chicago's two vegan bake sales on Sunday, Jan. 31 at Greenheart, 1911 W. Division Street. The sale will take place between 12:00 and 5:00 p.m. Although the beneficiaries have not been determined yet, all proceeds will benefit charities proven to be effective in disaster relief, such as Food For Life and American Red Cross.

We desperately need bakers, buyers and people to spread the word. If you are interested in baking, please email me at marla at Please remember that all items must be vegan: this means free of all animal products (dairy, eggs, honey and all derived from them). You can find our sign up sheet and most up-to-date information here. Please support this effort!

Second, please note that the next fundraiser will be Sunday, February 7 at Renegade Handmade, 1924 W. Division, from 11:00 until 5:00. More details to follow! Link
Help, help, help!

Edited to add!: There is a third bake sale featuring lots of vegan goodies (not exclusively, but the majority will be) plus gluten-free items and dog treats at Erin Gallagher Jewelry, 2034 N. Halsted, from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. All bake sale proceeds plus 15% of all jewelry sales will benefit Doctors Without Borders. Link


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I love to ride my bicycle!

After our car heaved its final, wheezing sigh - gave us the permanent silent treatment, descended into an unending slumber to dream of lovely, old road trips, sank like a Packard filled with concrete-trapped feet - in the most expensive parking lot downtown last spring, we've been car-less. Or, to put a more up-with-people optimistic spin on it, car-free. Regardless of terminological preferences. we've been without wheels, an auto, our family jalopy. This was the car that we bought when I was pregnant with our future little boy and the one that safely ushered him home as I sat in the back seat, holding his perfect, balled up hand. (Oh, being unchronological here, It was also the vehicle that my husband used to race between hospitals when my son was at one and I was at another in the week after his birth.) We drove that gunmetal grey wagon to Minnesota to visit the grandfather our son would meet only twice in his infancy, we drove to playgrounds and parties with friends and potlucks and a million little nothing trips to buy this or that, and we loaded it up high with groceries. We sang together in that car, from Johnny Cash to Sufjan Stevens, and I perfected the slip-the-sleeping-child-out-of-the-carseat-and-into-my-arms-without-waking move that would serve me so well those first couple of years. (Tip: get keys in hand or easily accessible pocket before you start or you are screwed and you have no one else to blame.) From behind that steering wheel, I rolled my eyes at bad drivers, tried to watch my language, was spellbound with chills and still as a statue my seat in the parking lot as I listened to Studs Terkel on public radio right after September 11. It was sad for me when our car - we never officially named it because nothing stuck but we'd rotate through names that seemed fitting in the moment, Bessie, Clementine - mostly because of the leaving all that history together behind us. I can be nostalgic to a fault, yes, but just try not to be a little teary when you think about all those memories, all those moments that yoked us together.

Ever since that fateful day, we've been living an experiment born out of necessity. We've been without auto and reliant completely on ourselves for our transportation, other than the rare car rentals. I am sure we'll get another car soon but the perfect circumstances haven't occurred yet and until then, we'll get by. This is what I told people when they asked how on earth we'd survive without a car: we'll get by. And we have. We get by using our bikes, something we were fond of doing anyway, though I was formerly only a fair-weather cyclist, and by using public transportation. In these colder month, I admit, I don't ride on ice or in deep snow. I simply walk or use the bus or train. If it's cold but the streets are plowed, I'll bike. These winter months, my son usually is in his trailer unless he prefers to ride alongside us. We get by. It's not always a thrill, but I do get a big boost from facing the elements and overcoming them. Usually within minutes of being on my bike, I'm at a comfortable body temperature and I feel great, legs, heart and blood pumping. That, to me, is the biggest high of riding my bike: knowing that my body is driving the whole thing and my muscles are responsible for pushing me forward. My friend Jane and I talked once as we rode with our children to a park, about how you are just riding along, getting from Point A to Point B, when all of the sudden you're just filled with a "Gosh, I love being on my bike!" euphoric feeling that makes your heart want to jump out of your chest and you feel like there's a visible aura surrounding you. I love the freedom of just being able to jump on my bike, no fuss, no muss, and pedal off to where I need to be. I love the simplicity and elegance of a bike's design. I love how efficiently it provides the exercise you need to make your cheeks all rosy and your quadriceps toned. I love that after that initial investment and the occasional maintenance costs, there are no further expenses, no insurance payments, no fuel to add, no special permits or stickers, no blood-chillingly awful sounds from the engine that will require you to give $3,000 to people you don't quite trust and who treat you like you're a wallet with legs. How exquisitely liberating is that? (Answer: very.) And, of course, I love shrinking my family's ecological footprint whenever possible. Being a vegan without a car. Sigh. I love it. I'm not to proud to admit that I love our itty-bitty footprint.

It's not all pink puffy hearts and yellow smiley stickers, though. There are the kamikaze cyclists, especially the apparently immortal bike messengers downtown, who create such animosity among drivers and pedestrians toward anyone on a bike alike that it is transferred onto you. No matter how much PR you do, you can't undo their damage. There is the random idiot who honks at you simply for having the audacity to ride your bicycle on the street, where it belongs. There are people who open their car doors into traffic without looking. There are those who scream stupid, ill-informed and rude comments (you can always race after them and see them watching you in their mirror with a growing alarm that pleases you to no end, because if they get stuck at a red light, you can pull up alongside and calmly ask if they are familiar with the Rules Of The Road laws, and, if so, they'd know that you were perfectly within your rights to be riding as you were, but those moments of near-instant karma are all too rare). There is that horrible feeling when you didn't rubberband your right pants leg and it got stuck and torn in the thingamabob (okay, John just told me it's called a chainring) near the pedal. There is the dread you feel as you walk out of the grocery store with your five heavy canvas bags and there's suddenly a dark grey sky and sheets of rain and lightning everywhere with an ark floating past. These are the moments when you might harbor antagonistic thoughts toward your totally innocent, cheerful bike. Those moments are rare, though, because the benefits of your freedom on your faithful bike totally overwhelm them.

Here are some tips and strategies, though, from a novice but experienced urban bike rider. This is by no means meant to be the definitive list, just some things that I have found to be useful or effective.

First, find a bike shop you trust and support them. Get your bike tuned-up at least once a year unless you just happen to be handy yourself. We are lucky enough to have these guys as neighbors and they are a great example of a local, family-owned business. They are honest with us, try to find us the most affordable parts or accessories without selling us junk, and will be honest with us about what they think we need to pay more for as well. They've never steered us wrong, I baked them some root beer float vegan cupcakes once I love them so much. Ask your local crazy, four-season cyclists what shops they recommend and go from there. Good bike shops build great loyalty among cyclists. These guys - it's run by two brothers - are like a less erudite version of the Car Talk guys from NPR.

Bike without distractions. When I see people biking while on cell phones or with i-Pods in, I'm amazed that they're able to avoid riding straight into parked cars. I think anytime you distract yourself from the task at hand, especially one where you have to be alert to an ever-changing environment, and one that can have such drastic consequences if you're not fully aware of your surroundings, you are in trouble. Last summer I took a risk I rarely do and decided to listen to my i-Pod while biking to the grocery store. One of my bags got wound around the spokes in the front tire while I was singing along to The Go-Gos and the bike came to a sudden, jerking stop, making it flip, back over front. Thankfully I was uninjured but this was the reminder I needed to always give my full attention to biking. If I hadn't distracted myself, I'm pretty sure that I would have noticed the tightening of the front tire.

Maintain a good field of vision. I've always said that I feel more alert and careful when biking than when driving. Driving a vehicle can lull you into a sort of complacent fog, feeling like your in some sort of protective bubble. On a bike, you are much more aware of your vulnerabilities and your movement as you go. A good urban cyclist is aware all around herself, scanning parked cars for people who could potentially open a door, the kids at the corner who look like they might step off onto the street without looking, the double-parked car that might pull out. There is a sort of Zen state one reaches while biking in an urban setting, where one is perfectly in the moment, moving forward and peacefully alert. The scene around you is ever-changing on a bike, something you are much more aware of than in a car, so each moment brings new aspects of your environment into your awareness. Reaching that state of calm but alert awareness is critical to safe urban biking, I think, so you must constantly be scanning around you as you go.

There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear. This was a great quote from a friend, one that I've certainly taken to heart this first year of winter biking. I'm definitely kind of wussy about the cold but I have to say that when properly attired, I'm far warmer biking than I would be walking. Generally the only part of you that will be cold is that which is exposed to the air. Here's what I've learned, especially as pertains to winter biking:

1. Layer it up! When I go out there, it's not without long underwear under my clothes, leg warmers, gloves, a coat and a balaclava. My husband would get overheated in this ensemble but it's perfect for me when it's cold, which, to me, means 30 degrees or below. You can always take off layers: if you're cold and without layers, well, you've sort of screwed. I buy a lot of this stuff at resale shops so I can always have it on hand, not have to be cold if something can't be found or is in the wash.

2. Invest in one of those cheapo plastic rain panchos from the drug store and keep it handy for emergencies. Also, keep a plastic bag handy for tying to your bike seat on rainy days.

3. Some people wear goggles for wet weather. The problem is that they tend to fog up, as do glasses. Keep a handkerchief nearby.

4. I mentioned balaclavas, right? Now, this is not a sweet phyllo dough dessert filled with walnuts and syrup, it is a hat-type thing that you can adjust to fit over your whole face but for your eyes. Yes, they are totally unattractive and wearing one makes you look like you're ready to head off for the anarchist rally, and maybe you are, but they will keep your face and neck warm. I do not bike in winter without mine. The only thing I would caution about a balaclava is that it can impede one's peripheral vision. When wearing one, turn the head to the side to determine is it's safe to cross an intersection or enter a new lane. Okay, now I'm sort of in love with this thing.

That little light of yours, you'd better let it shine.
This is not just a little precaution: many municipalities require headlights and rear lights. Really, do you want to go out without them? We bike with headlights (always remember to remove when leaving your bike as these get stolen frequently) and lights that clip on to the backs of our helmets. It is worth spending a little more on one high quality set of lights rather than going through a bunch of cheapies that don't last more than a few weeks. Ask your fellow cyclists what they recommend. Oh, speaking of, how cool is this light? On my birthday wish list, of course, in blue, in case you were wondering.

Wear a helmet. Just do, okay? If not for yourself, than for your family. (No I'm not above guilt-tripping others if it's for the benefit of all.) I do understand the thrill of the wind in your hair and all that, but I also know that if I were airborne after getting hit by a car or swerving to avoid a pothole, in that second before I knew the outcome, I'd really, really regret not having worn it.

Don't be a jerk. Don't scare pedestrians and drivers alike by whizzing through an intersection like you're the only one on earth, for Pete's sake. Don't be reckless. Don't have an attitude. Every time you go out on your bike, you are a living example of a cyclist. Acting like a jerk builds resentment against those of the rest of us who bike and has a ripple effect on how we're all treated. Ride with traffic, not against it. Signal your turns: these days, it is accepted that a left turn is the left arm straight out, a right turn is the right arm straight out (this has changed over time from the left arm pointing up), and stopping is signaled with the left arm out and bent at the elbow, hanging down like an upside-down L.

Conversely, don't take abuse. You are within your rights to be bicycling on the street. In fact, most municipalities ban adults from riding their bikes on sidewalks. Avoid confrontations with motorists because in the case of road rage, a bike is a poor match for a car. Call the police and report the license if necessary.
Ride in a straight line. Of course, you'll need to turn and occasionally get around things, but maintaining a straight line is important for your safety. Going in and out between parked cars creates confusion among drivers. You have the right to be three feet away from parked cars. Consider this your marker of where you should be on the road. Claim your space!

Be heard. Some cyclists won't go out without a whistle around their necks. Others use bells. One guy I know uses an air horn in extreme situations. Don't be shy about being heard when your safety or another's is in question.

Get good carrying systems. We use a trailer for most of our needs, but baskets and that sort of thing are also useful. A messenger bag will take car of most of your light needs and there are a ton on Etsy that are beyond cute. Comfort is key with happy, safe cycling, so invest in what you need to meet that end.

I hope this helps. There is a ton more to add, I'm sure, but just a parting thought for now: remember to enjoy yourself. Biking is all about enjoyment. One day we'll get a car again, and you just can't beat a car for convenience, but I was always love my orange and yellow sparkly bike for whisking me off into the great unknown with a happy grin on my face. Bikes are bad mood repellents. You just can't beat a bike!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Field Guide To Vegans of North America

In North America, there are a small but distinct variety of vegans that have been identified frequently as the most prominent types, though some seem to cluster in certain geographic areas, and some are virtually unknown in other parts. If a vegan should be observed in the environment near your home, it is wise to have some sense of his extraction so you know his basic characteristics. Each should be approached and communicated with in a manner that is agreeable to his particular subset. Please note that as the vegans migrate into new environments, novel varieties are born. For example, some vegan-watchers claim to have had fleeting encounters with an entirely new genus best described as Conservative Republican vegans, though no photographic evidence exists yet. Another emerging subset is the Breeder vegans, feeding and nurturing their fledgling young as the next generation of vegans.

Thus far, the following vegan subsets have been confirmed as existing genera:

We have the Groovy Latter Day Hippie Vegan (Groovy V's) who spreads good vibes (and some may say body odor) wherever they go.
We have the Angry Young Vegan (Angry Young V's) who wants to smash the state and the stupid bourgeoisie.
We have the Middle-Aged to Elderly Ladies (Cat Lady V's) with the surfeit of feline companion animals and almost certainly unhygienic home.
We have the Raw Foodists (Raw Foodie V's) who judge others by their intestinal flora are noted for their extreme consumption of enzymes.
We have the Politically Correct Vegans (P.C. V's) who are primarily motivated by gaining feminist, progressive and anti-corporate credentials.
We have the Hot Young Vegans (Hot Young V's) who take off their clothes to make some sort of statement or whatever about cruelty to animals.
We have the Lonely, Isolated Vegans (Lonely V's) who live solitary lives and are the only ones many know and thus are always on display.

Groovy V's

Almost all have been born after the original hippie's flourishing period of the 1960s but they often mimic their predecessors with a pitch-perfect accuracy. They are the most colorful of the various varieties of vegans.

Diet: Groovy V's love solar power-cooked burritos, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds and they horde carob for special occasions. They prefer to gather food in bulk.

Natural habitat: The entire Pacific Northwest, Northern California, the Rainbow Gathering, the Phish show, assorted college towns, or at the dustiest co-op in town.

Nest: A VW bus re-jiggered to run on bio-fuel, a treehouse, a best friend's couch, or a cooperative living arrangement.

Migration: Planning to go to Costa Rica where they will start a B & B or begin a biodynamic farm when they get enough cash together.

Males: Long hair, gauzy clothing, tie-dyes, grooming not a priority, dilated pupils.

Females: Identical to males.

Mating rituals: Home-brewed kombucha, patchouli-scented soap and bootlegged recordings of the Dead show in '87 are used as tools of seduction.

Angry Young V's

Angry Young V's are usually only spotted in their teens or twenties. They are known for their likelihood to be clad head-to-toe in black, serious mien and general loathing and distrust of anyone who is not of their genus, therefore anyone who is not an Angry Young V should approach them with caution Interestingly, at some point unique to each (but approximately around the age of 28), they usually age out of Angry Young V identifiers and transform themselves into a different variety or out altogether.

Diet: Whatever is cheapest at the local vegetarian café, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Tings and chips and salsa. Also, whatever vegan food they can gather together from their mother's refrigerator or assorted favored dumpsters.

Natural habitat: Straight edge shows, the used CD store, rehearsing in a garage, the local skate park, typing angrily wherever computer keyboards can be found.

Nest: Generally resides in an apartment in a city or a college town above a Mexican restaurant, their parent's house or mate's nest.

Migration: Planning to get to New York ASAP.

Males: Spiky crest, covered in colorful, artificial markings upon his skin.

Females: Plumage is often an unnatural pigment, and, like males, her flesh is usually distinguished by its colorful markings.

Mating rituals: Seeing a show together, working on a 'zine, going to an anti-fur protest, then drinking coffee together until 3:00 a.m.

Cat Lady V's

Every town has one. She is always thinking about her cats, talking about her cats, worrying about her cats and separating squabbling cats. She carries photos of them in her wallet and has created a special song for each one of her cats. Note: there is a Dog Lady V equivalent of the Cat Lady V but she adapts and camouflages herself better to mainstream society. The Cat Lady V is quite happy with her solitary-but-for-cats existence or in the occasional company of others of her genus.

Diet: She doesn't need to eat, she'll just graze. Feeding Mr. FooFoo, TeeTee, Lulu and Miss MooMoo is the priority. Whatever the Cat Lady V does eat is dusted liberally with cat fur but she doesn't mind.

Natural habitat: She does not like to leave her nest.

Nest: Do not ever show up at her home unannounced. You must give her at least a week's notice and she's not going to be happy about it even then. She usually has her own house that she's lived in for forty years and she's not going anywhere.

Migration: She has no desire to ever migrate so you will only find her at her nest or out buying cat food and kitty litter. The only known migration pattern for the Cat Lady V is from her house to the senior citizen home.

Males: No known males exist of this variety.

Females: With hastily penciled on eyebrows when out of their nest and often scented like kitty litter, the Cat Lady V's are usually unconcerned about grooming.

Mating rituals: None observed.

Raw Foodie V's

Raw Foodie V's can be found throughout the country but are primarily found in warm climates as they love their year-round growing seasons. They have been known to break into the Proud Warrior yoga pose without warning and they are utterly devoted in their pursuit of consuming maximum enzymes. Often confused with or even interchangeable with Groovy V's, the Raw Foodie V views any personal physical imperfection - whether it's a pimple or a cold - as a healing crisis. As much as they love to interact with other varieties of vegans and other species, they are usually shunned.

Diet: Superfoods, cacao, medjool dates, acai, kale, chia seeds, sprouts, young coconuts, coconut milk, walnuts, almonds, mangos, goji berries, carrot juice.

Natural habitat: the produce section of the natural foods store, their gardens, the monthly raw potluck, foraging, prone on a table getting acupuncture or a colonic, yoga class. These are very active birds!

Nest: Apartments filled with wheat grass, dehydrators, blenders, juicers and sprouting trays in Southern California, Florida or Hawaii. If not there, they are on their way there as soon as their lease is up.

Migration: See above.

Males: Slender, bright eyed, eager demeanor.

Females: Same as males.

Mating rituals: After Hot Yoga sessions, Raw Foodie V's attempt to seduce by reducing their talk about enzymes and their intestinal state.

P.C. V's

Just the merest glimpse of a P.C. V in nature has the power to make you question all your decisions, from where you buy your clothes to how your coffee was grown to how well you've been maintaining gender neutrality in your life. P.C. V's have a very serious demeanor, second only to the Angry Young V's, perhaps fed in part by their steady diet of too many soul-crushing documentaries. Despite this, they are matched only by Raw Foodie V's as the biggest vocalizers of the subsets and they can often be seen posturing when in close proximity to other P.C. V's, which is known to bring out aggressive tendencies in the breed.

Diet: Fair-trade, organic, in season and locally grown by family farmers. If their food doesn't have at least one certification sticker on it, they are disinclined to consume it.

Natural habitat: Urban areas, college campuses, libraries, with books spread out around them at the local feminist collective café.

Nest: Their dwellings are primarily characterized by the lack of natural light, which is obstructed by piles of books authored by Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and Gore Vidal, among others. They are the subset most at risk of developing a Vitamin D deficiency for this reason and for their general aversion to outdoor activity.

Migration: Wherever they have the best chance of getting tenure, the Bay area or Northampton, MA.

Males: Males come in two general varieties, disheveled and neat. The disheveled are usually seen wearing the same materials as the previous day, and the neat exhibits better grooming habits and is most comfortable in formal attire.

Females: Also come in disheveled and neat varieties.

Mating rituals: When the books on order at the library haven't come in yet and the new batch of documentaries and art films are still due to arrive. the P.C. V will occasionally initiate or consent to mutually gratifying sexual contact.

Hot Young V's

The most recent genus discovered, the Hot Young V's attract a lot of attention from vegan-watchers for their willingness to display their flesh whenever the occasion should arise or if it seems to suit their purposes even remotely. The Hot Young V has been photographed more than any other genus and has had her image displayed in the most variety of media: television, print, etc. Lack of attention is the greatest threat to the Hot Young V population.

Diet: Yes. Always.

Natural habitat: Naked in cages by the circus, naked by the fast food eatery, naked on "Shock Jock" radio programs, naked in their shunning of fur. The Hot Young V's reside mostly in Southern California and New York but there is an active hotspot in Norfolk, VA. If there is a group of gawking spectators, it is likely a naked or partially clothed Hot Young V has been sighted.

Nest: For a genus so rarely seen clothed, their dwellings are surprisingly filled with numerous articles of clothing.

Migration: They seek mild climates in order to best pursue their behavioral habits.

Males: Rarely seen but observed in the field. Far outnumbered by females. He can be distinguished by his male sexual organs on display or coyly obscured.

Females: Usually possess long hair, colorful markings on her lower back and can be distinguished from the males by characteristics that are consistent with the female physique.

Mating rituals: A very flirtatious genus, the Hot Young V's try to entice members of the male persuasion to respond to their display by strutting and preening while molting themselves of clothing.

Lonely V's

Lonely V's are the most isolated of the vegans, usually found in small or rural towns with the closest vegetarian restaurant being two-to-three hours away. Vegans in general tend to cluster together, but the Lonely V's are off on their own, usually due to circumstances they are suffering through until they can leave, and they are rarely in the company of others of his or any other subset. Lonely V's, however, are committed and proud members of their species, even if they are so frequently misunderstood.

Diet: Largely they reproduce recipes off the internet they adapt to the ingredients available for them to gather.

Natural habitat: Lonely V's can be found in small towns throughout the country. They will occasionally eat at the Chinese restaurant in closest proximity to their homes but don't eat out much beyond that, They can also be seen poking forlornly through the produce section of their own grocery store. They cheer up considerably during farmer's market seasons. They also spend much of their day communicating with other vegans on computers.

Nest: They mostly reside in dwellings filled with the most recent vegetarian publications and magazine issues. Many are teenagers still living with their parents, or they are adults, married to non-vegans.

Migration: They will move as soon as they can, they assure everyone who will listen. They have been known to journey as many as four-hours from their nest for the closest vegan meet-up.

Males: Displays characteristics consistent with depressed body language.

Females: Same as males.

Mating rituals: They showers prospective mates with educational materials in the form of brochures, books and DVDs and cook extravagant vegan meals.

This list, of course, is incomplete. As noted earlier, emergent and pre-emergent genera have been observed. Please let us know any other varieties to add to subsequent editions.

Thank you!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Eleanor for today...

“Do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt was a veritable fount of inspiring quotes in a human form, wasn’t she? You cannot go to one of those motivational quote websites – I never do this as I am eternally inner-motivated, I assure you – without finding her words of wisdom sprinkled throughout, pretty flowers in a park with a bench set up for you alone, scattered about to ignite you from the inside-out.

Can you imagine if Eleanor were alive today, in an era that would really gobble her up and slap an Oprah Book Club gold medallion of approval on the cover of her best-selling self-help book within moments of its publication? Today's Eleanor Roosevelt would have a phalanx of dedicated employees to answer her messages, post interviews of her on YouTube, send out her monthly inspirational newsletter, and ardent supporters would send it spiraling out in ever-widening revolutions until there was a cult of Eleanor spanning the globe. Books, CDs, DVDs, speaking tours: a mega-media empire would be the most natural trajectory for Ms. Roosevelt if she came of age today. She might have started her career path, perhaps, at the Chopra Center or maybe she would have taken a Course In Miracles workshop. Eleanor was lonely, she was lost, she had an unhealthy attachment to food, she had toxic relationships, her spirit was malnourished, she was seeking something elusive but necessary. The Chopra Center or the Course in Miracles or even Scientology gave her a temporary boost but she was still tormented. When she finally hit bottom - standing in front of the fridge with empty cartons strewn about, when her fiance dumped her, when she lost her house - she had a moment of incredible clarity as if the sky were splitting right in front of her, like she'd been set on fire (but in a good way). She would have dropped the spoon, wiped away her tears, just taped another packing box shut and in that crystallized, perfect instant, it suddenly would have all made sense: every bed decision, every self-destructive act, every hurtful, bruising thought, and the shackles would have finally fallen off her, loose around her feet. She would have found herself filled with a profound, uncomplicated joy for the first time she could remember and she would have written for six months straight, her hand writing furiously as if guided by a divine source. This could be the Eleanor Roosevelt of today, in our time of gurus and moguls, spiritual teachers and entrepreneurial healers. Oprah would sit with her on the stage and they would chat about enriching the collective human soul for seven-to-nine minute sessions between commercials for floor wax, and Eleanor would sit with her hands folded primly but somehow just perfectly comfortably. Her most recent book would sell twenty thousand more copies before the hour was over and the previous wouldn't do so bad either.


Would Eleanor Roosevelt be just too plain, simple and beige for today? Was she very much a creature of her time, possessing the perfect qualities that post-Depression, pre-liberated women found inspiring around World War II but not polished and sharp and imbued with enough spirituality for today's seekers? No matter, I find her words to be uplifting because of the don't-accept-excuses attitude that insists that we are the shapers of our destiny: no blaming of parents or past lives or even the patriarchy. Eleanor said in so many words, in so many ways, in the perfect voice of the day: Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get busy creating the life you can be proud of, and she said this with endless understanding but totally intolerant of excuses. Gender, class and racial inequalities didn't factor in because people didn't talk about or give too much consideration to those things so well in her day. This is a shortcoming that is not her fault. Still, I think we can find Eleanor Roosevelt's simple but deeply inspiring words and use them as catalysts for cleaving away the stuff that gunks up our motors. It seems that I often ricochet between two internal voices: one that is harsh, condemning and judgmental ("Get to work, lazy, and try not to write anything trite this time!") and the other than is indulgent and coddling ("I'll take another break to check my messages... A little chocolate will give me a boost..."). One of my goals for this year is to replace both those voices with Eleanor Roosevelt's instead: measured, balanced and full of wisdom.

“It is better to light one small candle than curse the darkness.”

This is so essential for activists to take to heart. It is one thing to be a critic - and it is vital in this deeply mad world to engage our critical faculties - but it is more useful (and much more challenging) to offer legitimate, helpful alternatives to the madness. I have so internalized this message, it is almost impossible for me to be critical without also thinking about solutions to what I criticize and, more than that, acting as a example of positive change. It is easy to point fingers, to accuse, to attack, but if you don't offer a guidance for a way out in a way that is effective and compelling, you are just another angry person futilely pointing fingers.

"Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product."

Very sage words, indeed, especially today when people pursue happiness like it's some prize at a carnival: if I just get past enough obstacles, I'll get it! Happiness is the state we reach by living authentic, rich and rewarding lives, it is not an end in and of itself. We move toward happiness when we make choices that support it and nurture it through the living of our lives. For me, happiness comes when my spirit, creativity and sense of purpose are in alignment and when that judgmental voice is absent. It is clear to me that happiness is also most certainly something you need to actively choose to bring into your life with all your other choices.

"Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one."

I have to admit that this has been an easy one for me most of my life. I tried to conform at a certain point - meaning my hair had to look a certain way, I had to dress like the others, I had to like particular bands - but I was so miserable. It was impossible despite my most sincere wish to finally just fit in. Thank goodness I gave up trying. What fills you with joy? What makes your heart want to dance out of your chest? What are the gifts that you are uniquely suited to give the world? The beauty and richness of life is made up of our individual, unique, personal contributions. That Linda is an amazing vegan chef and Gillian fills the world with her offbeat wonderfulness and Jane builds a community wherever she goes and Mary brings passion to everything: this is the stuff of life. I'm pretty sure that a world without individuality would be a very depressing place. As a corollary, another wise person and fierce individual, Mahatma Gandhi, said, "In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place." Who cares what everyone else is doing? Act in accordance with your conscience. The way others act shouldn't factor in at all.

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

For me, and I imagine I'm not alone here, this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt is the most meaningful and important. How often have I abandoned myself just because I was feeling harshly judged by another? How many times have I used this as an excuse for beating myself up - she thinks I suck, he thinks I'm stupid, so-and-so doesn't approve of me - and then giving up? It is easy to feel confident when you've had no opposition, but another thing when another disapproves. Are you going to buy what they're selling? If so, then you just orchestrated your own unhappiness and failure. I have always deeply admired those who don't look for affirmations from others, who merrily skate on their way regardless as to whether those around them think they're brilliant or mediocre. A healthy self-esteem can mean everything in this harsh world. Imagine if Gandhi had internalized it when he was told, in so many words, that sovereignty was a pipe-dream, and, further, that he was a fool. "Look at you. You're a little Indian man. You're nothing. What can you do? Nothing." Or if Eleanor has listened when she was told, "You're plain. You're a woman. Shut up and sit down." They didn't internalize those words. They knew that they were better than that.

So I give thanks for Eleanor Roosevelt and her wisdom today. Last, take a moment to look at that first quote back up at the top of this entry. Thank you, Eleanor, for giving me the mantra I need for the year.