My Photographic Education: Garry Winogrand & Wolfgang Tillmans

I've always had a great interest in the medium of the photograph but I'm still much of a novice when it comes to my knowledge about the major players in the field. I'm in the process of better educating myself in this realm and one of the ways I aimed to do so was by visiting the Baltimore Museum of Art with my good friend Sarah last weekend. The BMA currently has a photography exhibit entitled Seeing Now on exhibit featuring work from over 60 photographers and a total of over 200 photographs taken since the 1960's - and better yet, it is entirely free of charge! 

I have a special fondness for photography with a sociological and/or feminist context - I guess it's rooted in my undergraduate education. Needless to say, one of the artists whose work most stuck with me from this show was Garry Winogrand. The BMA included a series of shots he had taken that were from a larger collection featured in his photo book Women are Beautiful (published in 1975). The photos are all snapshot-style images of women engaged in a variety of public activities, but there's something about the photographer and the time that makes them extremely compelling and gripping. 

I encourage anyone in the Baltimore area to check out Seeing Now which will be up until May 15th and of course, anyone in or around Chicago should definitely stop by the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Contemporary Photography (another awesome stop I made on a Chicago road trip years ago). 

Though this post doesn't cover the full extent of my familiarity with notable photographers, does anyone have recommendations of artists I should check out? Who are some of your favorite photographic artists?

Along with Garry Winogrand, I'm a huge fan of Wolfgang Tillmans. Years ago when I went on a family vacation to Chicago, we visited the Museum of Contemporary Art in the windy city. At the time they were having an exhibit featuring photographer Wolfgang Tillmans' work, and I fell in love with this particular photo entitled "Lutz, Alex, Suzanne & Christoph on beach ." It's stuck with me for years and is among my all-time favorite photographs. 


Herb & Honey Summer Salad Dressing

Come spring and summertime, all I want to eat are salads and fresh fruit. So many of my favorite produce items will soon be in their prime and I love to toss them together in a delicious single salad dish.

I usually do a real simple vinaigrette to top off my salads but I started playing around with ingredients one day and came across something surprisingly delicious. Pesto and yogurt make up the base of this creamy and flavorful dressing while honey and balsamic vinegar add a bit of sweetness. The vinegar and lemon juice round out the dressing with a hint of acidity. It might sound like a whole lot of disparate flavors but this dressing is actually well balanced, absolutely delicious, and totally healthy! When I first threw it all together, I was eating it on toast, crackers, and even straight off the spoon - anyway I could get a little taste more!

Herb & Honey Summer Salad Dressing


  • 1/2 cup pesto (store-bought or homemade)
  • 4 Tbsp vanilla yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix all ingredient and enjoy!


Food, Inc. The Book

In case you haven't already noticed, I'm really into food. Not just making it and eating it, but also learning about why we eat what we eat the way that we eat it. I love to learn how our food and its myriad components and methods of production impact our bodies and the earth. My knowledge of agriculture, sustainable farming methods, organics, at-home gardening, earth-friendly food systems, and the like is still relatively minimal, but I thrive on learning as much as I can about our food system, its perks, and its pitfalls from farm to table.

Luckily I live in a day and age when food politics is at the forefront of the non-fiction scene. Maybe this is the very reason why I have taken such an interest in the American diet. Nonetheless there are resources out there for learning about what we eat than ever before. I'm constantly reading up on this stuff - almost more quickly than I can post about them. In satisfying my voracious appetite for foodie non-fiction, I've come across some really important and noteworthy books that I feel are deserving of a little mention.

Most recently, I picked up Food, Inc., a book edited by Karl Weber that was created as a companion to the documentary film of the same name. Food, Inc. provides a thorough look at industrial food culture and it's resulting human, environmental, and economic impacts through a compilation of essays from some of the biggest names in food writing and the most prominent organizations working on the front lines to bring about change. Though the book is a little dense and the sheer number of statistics thrown around can be overwhelming, Food, Inc. serves as a great reference because it features the opinions and research of a number of experts to provide a more comprehensive overview of our problematic food culture.

I really feel like I could create a length post for each individual article because the topics discussed are so varied and fascinating. Food, Inc. the book is really a crash-course on everything food. From organics to genetically engineered foods, pesticide use, climate change and their impact on our food system, to farm workers' rights and world hunger. No stone is left untouched.

But what's even better is that readers are not only given the lowdown on the problems and issues at hand, they're also offered methods of alleviating them. Most of the pieces within offer potential personal changes and methods for improvement corresponding to their particular topic. In addition, the final section of the book, about 100 pages in length, is dedicated to "What You Can Do About It." While many people today can tell you that there are problems with our food system, we have yet to see large-scale change because there are not nearly as many people who can tell you how to solve said problems. Food, Inc. offers us countless opportunities to make a difference, change our ways, and improve our health and that of our loved ones, our communities, and our environment.

As I've said, the content level of this book is pretty astounding. So rather than provide a lengthy and extensive summary of all that I've learned, I have instead decided to include some of the hardest hitting excerpts I came across. Hopefully these will give you an idea of what you can learn about by picking up this book or will inspire you to make some positive changes in what you eat.

"U.S. corporations are very conscious of how they're perceived, and they worry about it a lot. That gives consumers a lot of power - if they're prepared to inform themselves and make smart decisions based on what they learn." - from "Exploring the Corporate Powers Behind the Way We Eat" by Robert Kenner

"The increasing use of food to make motor fuel poses a moral question: what should the United States be doing to help feed the growing ranks of the poor? As (Lester) Brown noted in his Washington Post essay, "The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol would feed one person for a full year." And yet the United States is providing huge subsidies to a program that feeds cars, not people." - from "The Ethanol Scam" by Robert Bryce

"According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Academy of Sciences, standard chemicals are up to ten times more toxic to children than to adults, depending on body weight. This is due to the fact that children take in more toxic chemicals relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify such chemicals. According to the EPA's "Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment," children receive fifty percent of their lifetime cancer risks in the first two years of life" - from "Exposure to Pesticides: A Fact Sheet" by The Organic Consumers Association

"The true conversion ratio, (Paul) Roberts estimates, in twenty pounds of grain to produce a single pound of beef, 7.3 pounds for pigs, and 3.5 pounds for poultry. The inefficiency of turning to grain-fed livestock as a major component of the human diet is devastating in itself, especially in a world where nearly one billion people still go hungry." - from "The Climate Crisis at the End of Our Fork" by Anna Lappe

"...The pressures for decreased prices in our food system inevitably lead to exploitation of the workers at the lowest end of the economic chain... Fatality and injury rates for farmwork rank second in the nation, second only to coal mining... Most Americans would be horrified to realize that the foods they eat are produced under conditions like these. Their lack of knowledge about these realities is attributable not to public apathy but to deliberate obfuscation by the companies that market foods and unconscionable neglect by the government agencies that should be safeguarding workers... farmers in America are left to suffer incredible poverty and abuse in an industry characterized by great wealth and enormous profits." - from "Cheap Food" by Arturo Rodriguez, with Alexa Delwiche and Sheheryar Kaoosji

"...Reliance on cost-benefit analysis means that a hazardous pesticide will not be restricted by the EPA if economic hardship to the grower is considered to be greater than the hazards to farmworker or consumer health. If pesticide protection for farmworkers were under the jurisdiction of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), cost-benefit analysis would not be required - a simple finding that workers' lives were at risk would suffice to justify regulation." - from "Cheap Food" by Arturo Rodriguez, with Alexa Delwiche and Sheheryar Kaoosji

"Cheap energy, which gives us climate change, fosters precisely the mentality that makes dealing with climate change in our own lives seem impossibly difficult... Al Gore asks us to change the light bulbs because he probably can't imagine us doing anything much more challenging, like, say, growing some portion of our own food... Because the cheap-energy mind translates everything into money, its proxy, it prefers to put its faith in market-based solutions - carbon taxes and pollution-trading schemes. If we could just get the incentives right, it believes, the economy will properly value everything that matters and nudge our self-interest down the proper channels." - from "Why Bother?" by Michael Pollan

"If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand... Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an SUV or eating a twenty-four-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience." 

- from "Why Bother?" by Michael Pollan

Of course, you can also watch the film to further educate yourself on these issues.

And if you want to learn more or get involved with changing our food system, you can find some great information from the following organizations about everything from sourcing local produce to purchasing fair-trade goods. There were innumerable groups referenced in the book and I tried to make as comprehensive a list as possible.


A Week in Words and Photos

Last week's farmer's market gold...

...makes this week's best arugula pesto.

Perfect for pasta!

A perfect rustic homemade mixed berry pie... recipe coming soon!

I finally got around to beautifying the outside of my home. A little potted 
plant goes a long way in making our house look inhabited and such!

I found these little guys poking their heads out in my front garden. Surprise flowers - one of the joys of spring!

I also wanted to share the trailer for this documentary that I am dying to see. The movie comes from the director of The Nutty Professor and Bruce Almighty among other comedies but is an entirely different brand of film. Tom Shadyac's new documentary entitled "I Am" is all about fixing what's wrong with our world, harnessing our power to help other human beings, and improving our lives in the process.

Mike showed me the trailer a few weeks ago and got me interested. Then Shadyac made it to Oprah this past Wednesday and, after watching his interview, I knew I had to see this movie. This man went from living in a multi-million dollar mansion to a mobile home. He renounced a majority of his possessions and abandoned the cultural notion that we are primarily consumers. In the process, Shadyac gained a more profound and essential understanding of the world and our exact place within it. I'm not sure just how much of this anti-consumerist framework is brought to the film, but it looks like an amazing documentary regardless.The sad thing is, it has yet to come to Baltimore and isn't scheduled to be showing in my neck of the woods anytime soon. I'm crossing my fingers in the hopes that this will change! Has anyone been fortunate enough to see I Am yet?

There's also a great post from Milla over at The Girl Who Married A Bear that touches on a lot of these issues. She talks about intentional living and voluntary simplicity and how having the skills to make things for yourself, rather than having the money to buy them, is a great source of empowerment. I absolutely love what she's got to say about consumption, financial security, self-reliance, and so much more.  I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to stop by her blog for a look!

Hope everyone had a great week! I had my bachelorette party on Saturday night which was an amazing time, even though I'm usually not one for the party scene. A bunch of my friends and I went out for Mexican, then rented a private karaoke room for the night. It was more fun than I could have possibly anticipated and was the perfect bachelorette activity for me. What were you up to this Easter weekend?


Half the Sky

When I first started blogging, I was inspired primarily by food blogs and book blogs - spaces where people were sharing their opinions on what they read and ate, offering small glimpses of just one facet of their myriad interests and talents. As I've become further immersed in the blog community, I've started to find other sources of inspiration - from pure photo blogs to lifestyle blogs, motivational blogs to blogs that document the attainment of very specific goals and everything in between. My taste in blogs has becoming increasingly wide and varied and so too has the subject matter of Radiator Tunes.

I feared becoming the kind of blogger who simply documented the mundanities of her daily life, so I initially steered clear of most personal commentary, sticking to the format utilized by the foodies and the readers. But then I realized how much more I had to share and that, though I don't need to document every moment of my life, there are parts of myself that can't go unacknowledged on this blog.

So I began to share some essay-style posts on issues of interest to me, to have one post a week devoted purely to photos and updates, and to add more narrative to my more utilitarian posts, such as recipes and how-tos. In the process, I feel like I've given my readers a more complete and accurate idea of who I am and what matters to me. All in all it's proven an enriching and very positive change.

But I recently noticed that, apart from a few mentions here and there, I haven't really said much about grad school. I'm currently enrolled part time in a Women's Studies Masters program and hope to go full time in the fall. Maybe I was just over-thinking things, as I am often likely to do, but I found it strange that feminism, which very much defined both my undergraduate and graduate studies, has been largely absent from Radiator Tunes. So I decided it was about time to lend a post or two to my feminist interests - and discussing Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn seemed the perfect opportunity to do so. This amazing book addresses a multitude of international women's issues while placing them in the larger scheme of humanitarian crises, profiling successful strategies for change, and offering methods for readers to help.

Kristof and WuDunn are a married couple who worked as New York Times journalists. While covering international pieces throughout their journalistic careers, however, the two noticed widespread gender inequality and cruel injustices towards women worldwide that were getting little to no news coverage whatsoever. They were appalled by the way that gender discrimination manifests itself in other nations, particularly those of the third world. Though the exact numbers are hard to flesh out, every year more than 2 million girls disappear as a result of discrimination based on sex while the number of missing women falls somewhere between 60 and 101 million. This could be a result of parents refusing to access treatment for their sick daughters in favor of primary treatment for their sons, infanticide of female babies, sex trafficking, honor killings, and so much more. All of these cruelties are outgrowths of gender inequality.

Half the Sky highlights not only the horrible gender-based injustices occurring around the globe, including sex slavery, rape, honor killings, maternal mortality, and misogyny among others, but also solutions for improvement. To truly engage readers, the authors rely primarily upon the narratives of women who have suffered through horrible events. We meet a multitude of strong, courageous, and remarkable women that have prevailed despite the odds. While these success stories are encouraging, they are far from the norm. But they do provide a sense of hope that something can be done to improve conditions and to fight what Kristof and WuDunn think will be this century's major moral battle: gender inequality. And what the authors and plenty other scholars believe to be a key solution to winning this one is education for women.

Gender inequality hurts not only the women subject to discrimination, but also the men who help to compose the society at large. By keeping women uneducated, they are thus unable to contribute to any sort of progress or development efforts. Multiple humanitarian organizations have cited educating women as a central tenet of their mission because doing so will undoubtedly enrich societies. Programs as varied as The Hunger Project, Doctors without Borders, The Center for Global Development, and even the Nike Foundation all focus a large portion of their efforts on women because of the untapped potential for good of doing so.

All throughout the book, readers are provided with the outlines of potential solutions in which they can take part. Kristof and WuDunn showcase remarkable individuals who have done great things to help women around the globe, such as Frank Grijalva, a teacher at a private school in Redmond, Washington. Grijalva encouraged his students to raise $13,000 to build a school in a border town in Cambodia. The teacher started the project in an effort to open his upper-middle-class students' eyes to the reality of the lives of others around the globe. But beyond simply funding the construction of this school, many of Grijalva's students have actually traveled with him to Cambodia to witness first-hand the conditions that define the Cambodian students' lives. Though building the Cambodian school was an extremely powerful project for the Redmond students, the visit solidified a commitment to service for so many of the Americans, while also fostering positive international friendships among individual students. What the authors continually come back to is the importance of gaining a true understanding of how the other half lives in order to create better solutions. The Redmond students were very much changed by their time in Cambodia and much more essentially affected by the trip than by their fundraising efforts to build the school. This example speaks to the power those of us in the first world have and the ways in which we need to critically think about our potential for making an impact instead of just throwing money at problems without viable solutions.

Kristof and WuDunn consider the West to hold some responsibility in altering the reality of gross gender inequality, poverty, and lack of education. Kristoff speaks with an Indian officer patrolling the Indian-Nepalese border and is shocked to find that the intelligence officer only concerns himself with pirated and smuggled goods, not people. Their exchange is almost laughable in that this officer continually completely fails to understand Kristoff's concern about women involved in sex trafficking. As the authors see it, this is an instance when perceived Western values influence decisions around the globe. As they explain it "India had delegated an intelligence officer to look for pirated goods because it knew that the United States cares about intellectual property. When India feels that the West cares as much about slavery as it does about pirated DVDs, it will dispatch people to the borders to stop traffickers." The blame is not entirely on our shoulders as Westerners, however we are the ones with the greatest power, politically, ideologically, and otherwise, to do something about it. The authors take a very fair and honest look at what is being done and what could be done to help.

Usually when I post reviews about non-fiction, I am satisfied to know that I shared with my readers a bit of the content of the book, even if they aren't likely to go out and pick the book up for themselves. With Half the Sky, I truly hope that readers give serious consideration to finding a copy and diving right in. There are far too many things wrong in the world today and, for plenty of concerned individuals, the odds of making an impact are just too small. Kristoff and WuDunn will definitely further educate you on the woes of the world, the gross inequities and the horrible losses that we are doing nothing to stop. But they will also offer a picture of hope. The whole premise of this book is that these instances of oppression can be turned into opportunities for women. And the authors of Half the Sky devote a large portion of their work to those opportunities, both examples of and methods of creating them.

The last few sections of the book set out a larger plan for addressing the instances of oppression that are covered in prior chapters. The vision that Kristof and WuDunn set forth is inspired and inspiring, but also attainable. They draw comparisons to the British anti-slavery movement in the late 18th century that put the fight for women's rights internationally into a whole new perspective. But they also highlight those small things that individuals can do to make an impact on any level.

Half the Sky has the unique ability to enrage and activate readers, to educate and direct them, to ignite and inspire change. Individuals in the Western world have the greatest ability to lead a movement to educate women, improve international health, and guarantee greater happiness and full protection of human rights for people of both sexes the whole world over.

For more information about the book and to learn what you can do to help turn oppression into opportunity for women, visit the Half the Sky website here.


Celebrating Mother Earth!

Happy Earth Day everyone! I am all about this holiday that pays tribute to oft-neglected and overly-abused Mother Earth, without which we wouldn't be here. As is the case with so many holidays, I truly believe that the values we celebrate today need be honored all throughout the year. But Earth Day is a great time to come together, educate one another, and work to keep our world as healthy and clean as possible!

In an effort to celebrate this day, I thought I'd leave you with a few photographs from one of the world's favorite photographers, Ansel Adams. This man was a true artistic talent and a nature lover who did so much to protect our natural spaces. Adams is truly one of my heroes and I think today is as apt a time as any to share some of his work. Here are just a very select few of my favorites from this extraordinary man's collection.

Frozen Lake and Cliffs, Sierra Nevada

Aspens, New Mexico

Monolith, The Face of Half Dome

I'm planning on getting a lot of gardening done today as I finally have most of my vegetables and supplies together for the backyard garden. How do you plan to recognize Earth Day?



These cute little guys, known as gnudi, are an Italian specialty but a well-kept secret. They're named gnudi, which means naked, because they are essentially naked ravioli - all the cheesy filling of a ravioli, minus the pasta shell.

Spinach and ricotta are the major flavors in this dish that works great as a vegetarian main course or as a side dish. Served with a generous spoonful of marinara sauce over top, gundi are totally worth the effort of making them. They're not on overly-labor-intensive dish but they do need to be hand-shaped, then closely watched as they boil away. But they pair perfectly with Italian dishes of all sorts, from a simple pasta course to a florentine chicken dish.

Since I pretty much stuck to the book for this recipe, I'll simply direct you to the source, Giadi De Laurentiis, rather than pasted it here. I saw her make these on her cooking show years ago when I was still relatively new to the kitchen. I successfully recreated the gnudi for my own family who loved them and frequently requested them again and again. They're now become a beloved dish within my own family. And after all, who doesn't love Italian food? Rich and flavorful tomato sauces, cheeses of all kinds, comforting pastas, and vegetables enhanced with silky olive oil and fragrant herbs - what's not to love?

Has anyone tried making or heard of gnudi before? How about any homemade pasta stories? I'd love to one day make my own ravioli, but the idea of making pasta by hand still creates a sense of dread in me. For now, I'll just stick to making my own naked ravioli filling in the form of gnudi!


The Week in Eating

Delicious week over here! Monday was a rough one but Mike was thoughtful enough to buy me some sweets from Atwater's. Mini lemon cake muffins and my absolute favorite: chocolate-covered coconut macaroons.

I also indulged on some white asparagus with sauteed dandelion greens, garlic, and wonderful cage-free eggs. I love all the different shades of tan and the spotted shells too!

On Tuesday night Mike and I ran a couple errands in the city, one of which was eating pie from our new favorite Dangerously Delicious. Though it was a bit dreary, the lighting was perfect for capturing a few lovely shots (and a little color-correction lent the first two an even more whimsical feel!).

I went to the Baltimore city farmer's market for the first time this past Sunday. It was a well-attended event and I scored plenty of fresh, local, if not a little over-priced produce! I used those wonderful, healthy eggs along with some winter greens in my take on a rustic frittata. I picked up tons of arugula as well which I absolutely cannot wait to devour in salads, on sandwiches, with pasta, and so much more!

I also came across a great blog brought to the world by Stonyfield (the organic yogurt company). As far as I understand it, Stonyblog has multiple authors who contribute posts on healthy and sustainable eating. Though the company has definitely moved from grassroots to industrial organic, Stonyfield is a company that has stayed as true to its organic and sustainable-minded origins as possible. I definitely am looking forward to future posts from Stonyblog and encourage you to stop by too!


Dump Cake

Dump cake is nowhere near as gross as it sounds. In fact, it is named such because you practically are dumping a whole host of delicious ingredients into the pan with no mixing or extensive preparations required. And the results are absolutely delicious!

There are a whole host of Dump Cake variations but the one I've known of longest and am referring to with this post in a Pineapple Coconut Pecan Dump Cake. The dish is basically a combination of all the ingredients listed in the name with the addition of yellow cake mix and butter. Incredibly easy to make and incredibly enjoyable to eat!

The first time I made this cake was actually years ago when browsing through a cookbook compiled by the mothers of children at my elementary school. Everyone contributed a recipe, then they were all published in an inexpensively-bound book and sold for a fundraiser. One of the recipes was for Dump Cake and my sister loved the flavors of a pina-colada so we thought this would be the perfect cake for her birthday. At the time, I didn't even like pineapple (now I've changed my ways for the better) but the addition of the yellow cake mix made the cake positively irresistible.

I didn't have the recipe handy when the idea of making another Dump Cake sprung, so I searched online for one. I came across a list of six variations of the Dump Cake on EHow.com and I can't wait to try some of the others, like the Apple Dump Cake or the Pumpkin Delight Dump Cake. But for now, I'm going to share with you an old favorite that is sure to please! Though this cake may not win the highest scores for presentation, it definitely is a winner for flavor!

Pineapple Coconut Pecan Dump Cake

  • 1 #2 can of crushed pineapples
  • 4 oz sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1 stick unsalted butter

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Pour the crushed pineapple into the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch baking pan.
  3. Evenly sprinkle the coconut on top, followed by the chopped pecans, and lastly the yellow cake mix.
  4. Cut butter up into about 20 individual pats and place them all over top of the cake.
  5. Bake for one hour. Enjoy!


Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go has received such high acclaim that I almost didn't even bother with writing this post. The excerpts pasted all over the cover and first few pages of the book not only stand as proof of how much hype this book has generated, but also how many others have already so eloquently sung its praises. I don't think that any review I compose could really do much justice to the novel or hold up against any of the carefully constructed assessments from talented reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the like.

But it was such a great read that I couldn't let it go unacknowledged on Radiator Tunes. I was initially drawn in by the trailer for the 2010 film version of the story. Dark, haunting, and slightly ominous, I figured it'd be safest to read the book first. Though the premise is rather bleak, Ishiguro's narrative style is engaging and absorbing in the best possible way. 

The novel is shrouded in mystery so I'll leave as many of those secrets hidden for you to uncover as possible. From the outset we meet our narrator Kathy H. who introduces herself as a carer near the end of her long 11-year term. She doesn't offer much more by way of a job description until much later in the book - but discovering the full nature of a carer's work is just one portion of the puzzle we are constantly piecing together. She takes us back to her time at Hailsham, a school of sorts where the students are made to constantly churn out art of all sorts and their exceptionality is continually reinforced by their guardians. Enter Ruth and Tommy, two fellow students who we meet early on but whose importance we fail to fully recognize until much later.

Kathy regales us with tales of her Hailsham days, from the highs to the lows all sheathed by a veil of mystique and uncertainty. Despite his outsider status among fellow students, Tommy looks to Kathy as a confidante and the two make a pattern of sharing with one another all the odd comments made by guardians to which they are privy. Ruth is a girl by whom all the others want to be accepted. Having so much social clout, Ruth becomes quite manipulative, but nonetheless is still Kathy's closest female friend. From there we learn of the unspoken rules that govern behavior at Hailsham, of the much-anticipated Sales when outside items are brought in for purchase, of the frigid Madame who comes to take away the students' art, and the mysterious gallery where these pieces supposedly end up. 

The novel is described by some as science fiction, by others as a mystery, and still others could argue it a drama. I find elements of all within and hate to pigeonhole this book. It offers a multi-faceted look at innocence in our changing world, of the ethical implications of our social decisions, of the universality of relationships and maturation. I have to hold myself back from speaking to innumerable other compelling aspects of the novel so as not to ruin the pleasure of unfolding the mystery if and when you read it for yourself. Though I've only been able to reveal the smallest portion of the details, Ishiguro's brilliantly crafted Never Let Me Go is not to be missed.

And if you can't take my word for it, here are a few bits and pieces of acclaim for the novel. Whenever I found myself browsing the book's first few pages full of praise for Ishiguro, I was impressed by the seemingly effortless beauty and accuracy of these reviews. The talent some of these reviewers have for the craft of writing was nearly as impressive to me as the very novel itself. Here are a few of the best.

"One of our subtlest observers, a writer who takes enormous gambles, then uses his superior gifts to manage the risk as tightly as possible... A feat of imaginative sympathy and technique... The eeriest feature of this alien world is how familiar it feels." - The New York Times Book Review

"A clear frontrunner to be the year's most extraordinary novel.... Graceful and grim, the novel never hardens into anything as clear-cut as allegory but it resonates with disquieting suggestiveness." - The Sunday Times (London)

"[An] elegant nightmare of a novel... At once a cautionary tale of science gone awry and a movingly sympathetic portrait of lost souls." - Forbes 


The Boys are Back

The Boys Are Back was the kind of movie that snuck up on me and completely sucked me in. With it's gorgeous Australian setting and delightful Sigur Ros soundtrack, I was visually and melodically reeled into this tragic but touching story.

Clive Owen plays Joe Warr, a recent widower whose late wife Katy abruptly succumbed to cancer. Warr is a top Australian sportswriter and, while Katy was alive, Joe's work often took him away from his beloved wife and son Artie. Following Katy's death, Joe is ill-prepared to be thrown into single parenthood and is forced to strengthen his relationship with young Artie.

The movie follows Joe's negotiations of fatherhood which are further complicated when his son from a prior marriage, Harry, comes to visit. Living with his mother in England whenever he's not away at boarding school, Harry has been virtually absent from Joe's life until his Australian vacation. During this time, Artie and Harry become quite fond of one another, while Joe tries to become the father he never was for either of his sons prior to Katy's death.

Though the premise of the film isn't entirely unheard of, The Boys Are Back is an original take on a familiar story. In fact, the movie is actually based on true events captured in Simon Carr's book about his struggles with fatherhood following his wife's death. Unfortunately I didn't realize this until my second watching of the film just a few days ago so I have yet to read the book.

Anyway, the movie takes a look at single parenting and widowhood in a touching, honest and refreshingly unaffected way. Joe experiences visions of his late wife but these momentary bouts of grief and denial are not in any ways overly done. Rather Katy's few posthumous appearances serve as an indication of both Joe's anguish as well as the strength of his love for Katy. In relying upon his wife's wisdom and love, Joe learns to be a better parent, imagining the advice she would dispense and the support she would staunchly provide.

There are definitely instances when his parental judgment falters, though Joe's intentions are always true.
His parenting mantra becomes "just say yes" rather than constantly denying things to Artie and Harry for little to no apparent reason. Although this practice ultimately backfires a bit, it also allows for a unique experience of family among these three. His sons learn just as much from Joe's mistakes as he does himself. Ultimately, The Boys Are Back is about how learning to be a family, from the struggles to get it right to carefree moments of pure childlike fun. Joe's situation is further complicated by a tenuous-at-best relationship with his mother-in-law, the demands of a travel-heavy job, and ambiguous affections toward fellow single parent Laura.

While watching The Boys Are Back, I can't help feeling at least a little bit concerned about the trials of parenthood I have to look forward to in the (far) future. But the movie also highlights the accompanying rewards that can come after, if not directly as a result of, those very struggles. Out of a tragic loss, Joe finds both hope and joy in his sons, things that he may have missed out on entirely if not for Katy's devastating end.

Though it may seem as though I've offered more of the plot than would be prudent, there is so much more to the movie than what I've described thus far. Interwoven throughouot the underlying storyline are so many beautiful moments to which I could do little justice describing in a mere blog post. And the very look of the movie is extremely compelling in itself. The Carr house settled in the Australian countryside is as idyllic as could be while the clean feel of the whole film will have you longing for a world as cozy and comforting as that which these boys forge. The music of Sigur Ros only adds to the overall tone of the film, delightfully highlighting those euphoric moments with joyous sounds and lending a shadow of beauty to scenes marked by grief and sorrow.

The only flaws I could possibly find in the film are a few not-so-firmly-established details. I'm pretty sure the film is Australian but, through my first watching, it wasn't entirely clear where things were taking place. Joe is British and Katy was Australian, but it wasn't until later in the film that we understood how they came to live in Australia. Part of my density may have also been attributed to talking to Mike while watching the movie the first time through - our little side conversations could have easily distracted me from some establishing factors. There were a few details that didn't make complete sense at first, but by the end of the film it all came together.

There's also a scene Mike and I reference a little too much when Joe is playing hide and seek at Artie's birthday party. As the kids are all hiding outside in the dark, Joe holds a flashlight under his chin and, in a decidedly creepy voices, sings out "I like to play with little children." Though he's obviously emulating a character to add drama to the game, it rings with a little too much pedophilia, which fellow single parent Laura doesn't hesitate to remark on.

Despite being a female, 22-year-old, suburban-dwelling, childless blogger, I shared in all of Joe's experience. I laughed, I cried, I even had a little trouble following the storyline, but still I absolutely fell in love with this movie and the way of life that shaped this small family unit. With great performances from Owen and the two child actors, George MacKay as Harry and Nicholas McAnulty and Artie, dazzling scenery, a heartfelt script, and beautiful imagery to boot, The Boys Are Back is not to be missed.


Weekend Review in Photos and Movies

Sorry this week's post is a bit skimpy on photos. I've been pretty busy with schoolwork, wedding planning, movie-going, and Mike's comedy shows. But here are a couple photos I've taken in the past week and some movie recommendations too!

I tried to recreate a delicious Butternut Squash Ravioli dinner that Mike had a few months ago when we went out for my sister's birthday. I added some sweet potatoes to the mix and made a delicious brown butter sauce for the perfect comforting meal.

My prized grocery purchase: heirloom tomatoes. These guys were just amazing. Flavorful, juicy, and colorful. I can't wait for the summer harvest of tomatoes in my own backyard!

Mike and I went to see Win-Win on Saturday night and were extremely pleased. The film stars Paul Giamatti as a Mike Flaherty, a law counselor with a struggling practice and wrestling coach for the local high school squad. He takes on guardianship of his elderly client Leo to earn extra income, but finds himself entangled in family drama when a teenager arrives at Leo's doorstep claiming to be his grandson. Mike and his wife Jackie, portrayed by Amy Ryan, welcome Leo's grandson Kyle into their home and that's all I'll give away for now. The movie was superbly-acted and the story was well-told. Funny and sweet without being overly cheesy, Win Win is ultimately a feel-good family drama that would best be lumped under the independent film umbrella.

We also watched I Love You Phillip Morris on Sunday morning. Based on the amazing true story about Stephen Russell, a closeted gay man until a near-death accident forces him to re-evaluate his life and come out of the closet. In an effort to sustain his newfound expensive homosexual lifestyle, Russell, played by the always talented Jim Carrey, becomes a con-artist of sorts, devising brilliant schemes to make cash fast. After his illegal activities land him in jail, Russell meets Phillip Morris, played by Ewan McGregor, a sweet-natured and soft-spoken gay man who found himself incarcerated for failing to return a rental car on time. The two fall in love and Russell goes to great lengths to keep himself and Morris together, both while in jail and once they've been released. Ultimately the film is a love story as Russell's desire to do well for Morris drives every deceptive, criminal, and/or devious scheme. I Love You Phillip Morris tells the unbelievable true story of Stephen Russell in a highly entertaining movie that I definitely recommend.

Hope everyone had a splendid weekend!


Breast Cancer Action

I've always been a voracious reader but as of late, I find myself turning more to non-fiction than usual. Most of these books are oriented around food - how we produce it, how we eat it, and why we've come to practice these particular patterns of consumption. In all of my reading and learning, I've gained a newfound appreciation for local, sustainably grown foods. The horrors of industrial agriculture are apparent on a variety of levels at nearly every step of the process. What strikes me most about this type of food system is how negatively it can impact our health. From the cancer-causing chemicals used to produce high yields to the trends toward monoculture that reduce nutritional content of our foodstuffs, industrial agriculture has proven to be one of the least healthy methods of feeding ourselves. Ironically enough, this is the food system behind a vast majority of the foods you'll find on the shelves of your supermarket and in the pantry of your fellow citizens.

The connection between what we eat and our increasingly worrisome health statistics is becoming glaringly apparent to experts, though the ties between the sources of our sustenance and our wellbeing are rarely made patent to those of us with greatest interest in such knowledge: the consumers.

That's why I love the work of San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Action (BCA) and their affiliates. These groups aren't searching for a cure to cancer, but rather are holding accountable those corporations who are contributing to the spread of the disease. By confronting producers of carcinogenic toxins that pollute our atmosphere and manufacturers of cancer-causing food additives and pesticides, BCA aims to stop cancer where it starts. 

Sadly enough, BCA is the only national breast cancer organization to not accept funding from entities that profit from or contribute to cancer. Take, for instance, Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company BCA targets through their Think Before You Pink campaign. Despite Eli Lilly's avowal to caring for communities, the company produces a variety of harmful cancer-causing substances that run counter to their stated altruistic intentions. Most notable among these is recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), an artificial growth hormone given to cows to increase milk yields. Research has shown that rBGH, which makes it's way into the milk, yogurt, cheese, and all other dairy items made from rBGH-fed cows' milk, may increase the risk of cancer in humans, particularly breast, prostate, and colon cancers. No other nation in the world except for the United States allows the use of rBGH because of the dangers inherent for both humans and animals who ingest the hormone. 

The more I learn about this stuff, the more I find myself seeking out more knowledge about the dangers of what we so carelessly eat. And the more I find myself convinced that there needs to be an alternative food system put in place if we want to have any hope of leading long and healthy lives. Over time, industrial agriculture employs a rising number of methods that reduce our food supply to an ever smaller pool of nutrient components while the number of artificially formulated and questionably safe additives in our diets is ever increasing. And the sum of these parts is a profoundly misinformed population of eaters who fail to recognize what they're actually consuming - because the system is designed to keep them in the dark. Companies with an eye out only for their bottom line are feeding us low-cost, potentially life-threatening foods without ever giving mention to the inherent dangers of consuming them. 

As soon as I learned about the work being done by BCA, I began to seek out other organizations who are creating similar awareness and was delighted to find such a plethora of concerned activist eaters. The injustice of our corrupt food system needs to be addressed and, though organic, local, and other alternative food systems are growing more prominent, these trends are not yet strong enough to force the corporations to change their ways. 

Breast Cancer Action, along with similar-minded organizations such as Pesticide Action Network, Health Care Without Harm and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, give me hope that the big bad industrial agricultural giants can be fought and made to change their ways. Just looking at the sheer number of organizations affiliated with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (totaling some 11 million individuals) proves how many people are concerned about the effects of what they eat on their bodies and their long-term health. 

If you're interested in learning more, becoming involved, or just staying informed, please visit Breast Cancer Action's website or those of any of their affiliates and partners. They are all chock full of great knowledge as well as opportunities to support their work or strategies for taking the cause into your own hands. And since these organizations are all utilizing different means to work toward similar goals, you're bound to find a group that is a great fit for you, whether your concerns are more about cancer-prevention or keeping your young family free from chemicals. 

If nothing else, I encourage you to take a little extra time to think about what you buy when you're in the grocery store. Even some grocery conglomerates, including Walmart, have vowed to only carry rBGH-free milk in response to the growing concern over this hormone. Look for the "rBGH-Free" label on your dairy products and choose chemical- and pesticide-free options whenever possible. 


The Dirty Life

Kristin Kimball's The Dirty Life began as an assignment for a magazine. Kimball set out to rural Pennsylvania to interview farmer Mark for a piece about the increasingly popular local and organic food trends. Little did she know, the New York City writer would fall in love with the idealistic yet grounded farmer who was to be the subject of her work. The Dirty Life recounts not only the couple's burgeoning relationship but also Kimball's unanticipated love of farm life.

From the very first, it is obvious how Kimball fell in love with this man so drastically different from any she had ever encountered before. Maybe she overly romanticizes Mark as a testament to her blind love for him, or maybe her idolized descriptions of her future husband are simply a reflection of her aptitude as a writer, as one who artfully encapsulates a moment or a feeling in words. Whatever the case, I don't think that a single female reader, no matter how accustomed to city life, luxury, or glamour, could not find Mark deeply appealing through Kimball's written portrait. Kristin honestly and earnestly recounts her earliest introductions to both Mark and farm life. The two are positively intertwined, rendering the man and his work almost inseparably appealing to the reader. After just 15 pages, I was yearning to find a real man's man to labor alongside of in the heat of the summer sun on a lovingly tended patch of farmland. That's the power of Kimball's storytelling abilities, though I must admit, I am a bit partial to the feel-good aftereffects of some old fashioned manual labor.

But don't worry - while Mark may sound like a woodsman prince charming dream come true, Kristin doesn't take long to bring us back down to reality - or at least, as close to reality as possible when you've just moved in with your fiance who opposes the use of electricity in a fully-wired home, creates a composting toilet located smack-dab in the center of your living room, dreams of fashioning homemade boar bristle toothbrushes, and constantly picks up new traditional crafts, such as spinning wool. Don't get me wrong - I love the idea of reducing our reliance on electricity, finding more efficient and natural ways to deal with human waste, and recovering some of those long-forgotten skills that were second nature to our ancestors before the rise of industry. At the same time, it is quite a transition to go from apartment living in the Big Apple one day to shacking up with a sustainably-minded, Eustace Conway-esque live off the land kind of man the next.

After all the introductions, Kimball takes us to the real heart of the story - the purchase, and start up, of a neglected farm in Lake Champlain based on the CSA (community supported agriculture) model, but bigger. Most CSAs provide vegetables to members on a weekly basis for a nominal fee. Mark's idea went beyond the more traditional produce portion of our diet to also include grains, meats, eggs, and even sweeteners. This ambitious and innovative idea is a daunting challenge for any farmer, let alone one located in a rural farm-based community, working this land for the very first time.

When Kimball and Mark finally settle down, the real adventure begins. We are offered a glimpse of their first cautious look around the farm, one that almost ended in a defeated ride home until Mark came across a patch of coveted silty loam, a welcome contrast to the clay soil that dominated the landscape for the majority of their tour. We follow Kristin as she learns to milk their first cow Delia, until she masters the art of efficiently coaxing generous portions of milk from Delia's delicate udders. From the deaths of some animals to the births of others, the mastery of certain time-tested horse-drawn tools to the necessity of neighborly generosity during tough times, Kimball helps us see all that farm life encompasses. And despite the early mornings and late nights, the back-breaking work that offers not a single spare moment of time, the total and complete dedication required of farm life, you can't help but envy Kimball at least the slightest bit. For all the trials and stresses of this life she has chosen, she ultimately has a more fundamental relationship to the earth that sustains her and the people around her, including her trying but devoted husband Mark.

As Kristin says herself a "farm is a form of expression, a physical manifestation of the inner life of its farmers. The farm will reveal who you are, where you like it or not. That's art." I've always been a believer in the necessity of outlets and expression but never really considered a farm as such. Kimball's story now has got me thinking otherwise.

I just wanted to share a few other tidbits of wisdom I've gleaned from Kristin and Mark. First of all, in urban areas, though we're physically located so much closer to our neighbors, our encounters with them are desperately lacking in quantity and quality. For the rural town, despite the miles that may separate next-door-neighbors, everyone knows one another and takes the time to get to know each other. Relationships are close and common, regular and constantly evolving as opposed to those common to city-dwellers whose primary neighborly encounters consist of angrily demanding one another to turn down the volume on the TV.

When you're engrossed in a venture that matters to you, words like success and failure just aren't relevant. Things like these can't be measured in terms like those because all that matters is are you heading in the right direction? Are you working toward something that is good and meaningful and right in your mind? That's the only measure you need.

Kristin also meditates on marriage for some time and I could relate to some of her concerns about making such a commitment. She comes to recognize that "marriage asks you to let go of a big chunk of who you were before, and that loss must be grieved. A choice for something and someone is a choice against absolutely everything else, and that's one big fat good-bye." Don't get me wrong - I'm getting married next month and couldn't be more excited to become Mike's wife. At the same time, there are things of which we must let go when getting married and that's not always easy to come to terms with. There's that sense of who you've been before and who else you could have become that must be dealt with as well. Kristin captured that small glimmer of grief trailing alongside the large and joyful commitment of marriage in such a way as to make my own feelings startling clear.

And finally, Kimball ends on a note with which I think plenty of people can relate at a time like this. When uncertainty sets in, we as a people tend to head back to the land. In the face of economic downturns, more people than ever pick up agriculture. This could be the manifestation of some deep-seated desire to prove one's own self-sufficiency - as a demonstration that, no matter what may come, those most essential of needs can be met. But working the earth is also a seemingly simple and authentic way of life. When chaos erupts, staying centered and finding meaning is much easier when you are, both literally and figuratively, grounded by your work.

Though one of the main characters in this story, Mark, reads much like the Eustace Conway and Chris McCandless hero figures common to plenty of popular literature these days, the book is a personal account of a specific relationship and a unique initiative in someone's life. There are elements of romance of course, but not without a good dosing a reality. The Dirty Life offers a well-balanced helping of the makings of some of my favorite literary elements - the society-eschewing male hero, a good underdog story, anecdotes of small town life, foodie non-fiction, a profile of success sustainably-minded enterprise, memoir, and the list goes on and on. Kimball's story is well- and wisely-told, full of mistakes made and lessons learned and infused all throughout with passion for the dirty life she has chosen.


An Ode to The Dog-Earrers

I'm a self-professed book worm, but I stand apart from a majority of bibliophiles in one respect - dog-earring pages. I've heard countless people revile the dog-earrer, the person who, by turning down the corner of a page, marks the whole beautiful book, renders its pristine perfection obsolete. I, for one, would like to make an argument to the contrary.

I ear-mark pages like no one else I know. I don't like to mar my books with notes in the margins unless they're for strictly academic purposes. Instead most of the thoughts that a particular volume generates in my mind are likely to find life on a blog post, within the pages of a notebook, or in a Word document filed away on my computer. But while it is highly unlikely that you'll find me notating the margins of library books, I love to revisit passages that were particularly well-put, enlightening, or poignant. A well-phrased sentence is to one of the highest forms of art and I have a profound appreciation for this type of accomplishment. So I dog-ear the pages containing noteworthy passages in order to allow myself the opportunity to revisit these words again and again.

I have plenty of books on my bookshelf that are particularly thick at the corners from folding and prodding - and I like them that way. A well-worn book is as comforting to me as a warm fire around the holidays. I find great beauty in the ways a book can wear its love, especially when that expression of love was demonstrated by a reader other than myself. And this is why I love dog-earred library books. I love to imagine who was the previous reader and what made them fold down the corner of a particular page with such care. Were they, like me, the type of reader to fold important passages in lieu of annotating a volume that did not belong to them? Or did they simply use the ear-mark as a sort of bookmark, a method of picking up exactly where they left off? And if so, why this particular point - were they growing bored with the story or was it simply time to make dinner, answer a phone call, or doze off for the night?

To some, these ponderings probably sound like a waste of time, if not entirely antiquated in a day and age when libraries are increasingly unpopular and more words than ever are printed on screens rather than tangible pages. But I hope that at least a small few of you out there will understand what I mean. Maybe you hate dog-earrers (sorry!) but maybe you can appreciate a well-loved book, the musty smell of   old volumes and the struggle of deciphering a stranger's long-ago notes in the margin. Maybe you have a love of words and find strength, joy, and clarity in revisiting them again and again, as do I. If nothing else, I hope that those anti-dog-earrers out there can recognize my behavior as a sign of love and affection, of being engaged and provoked by a book, rather than one done in ignorance and lending itself only to imperfection.


Weekly Photo Review

The remains of a delicious Pineapple Dump Cake. 

Delicious and authentic Thai noodle salad dinner, many thanks to my Crock Pot!

One of my favorite spots in the greater Baltimore area.

Signs of spring on a perfect Sunday afternoon hike.

Love the bright neon green color of these little buds.

I love trees. They can do amazing things - like survive without much of a root system. 

Delicious heirloom tomatoes that I splurged on at the natural market.

Homemade granola? I think yes!

Paste's List of the Day featured a great collection of 30 indie artists covering pop songs this week. Though I don't necessarily consider it a pop song, "Reptilia" (originally performed by the Strokes) was given new life in this brilliant cover from the Punch Brothers.

There are some other real gems to be found on the list (including the Decemberists' cover of Heart's "Crazy on You" and the Cvili War's rendition of "Billie Jean") which I highly recommend checking out here


Floral Photography

Spring is in the air! Here are a few colorful floral shots I've taken over the last few years to get you in the mood for blooming flowers, a greener landscape, longer days, warmer temps, and maybe even some spring cleaning!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...