8/27/15

My new position on kale

Today, I announce a change in my position regarding kale. In these very pages I have said that chewing raw kale is like chewing hay. I have said that any vegetable that must be "massaged" prior to consumption is basically telling you to fuck off. I have said that kale that is not cooked or used to decorate a fruit platter has no place in civilized society.

Yet, having had the opportunity to know kale better, having seen kale salads shining up at me at restaurants and grocery stores for several years now, having people smile at me while sucking back strawberry/kale smoothies, having simply had to live among the kale, I have come to realize that, whatever, it's not so bad.

So yes, I have switched to team kale. I have more than switched to team kale. I have embraced kale. Some of my best friends are kale.

Given an abundance of choices, I brought home this salad yesterday:
Lest you think I'm willing to "bring home" kale salad once in a while but not actually see kale as a green that is worth getting to know on an intimate basis, I give you this:
Boom! I fucking made this. I took kale, chopped it, and physically massaged the hell out of it for, like, five minutes. Then I added tomatoes, onions and steamed potatoes (room temperature) and dressed the whole thing with lemon, olive oil, garlic, and a wee bit of salt. (It was better than the store bought one. Like all relationships what you give in massage time comes back to you in mellow graciousness.)

Maybe you think it's too late for you. Maybe you see this and think: "Oh, Margaret! She can change teams because, you know, she's all, "Oh, thank you Buddha," every time she buys a new kind of dish soap. But I'm telling you: Kale. It's always been here. It's not going away. Open your heart. Give kale a chance. 

7/29/15

I Got a Rock

It turns out that the first thing you may make in a five-week ceramic class is a rock, maybe two.

Exactly how your rock turns out will depend on your clay and on your ability to not make everything look like a potato. Alas. Everything I makes looks like a potato. It takes weeks to make a potato rock. Week one: Make the potato rock. Week two: scrap the potato rock. Week Three: fire the potato rock. Week four: glaze and once again fire the potato rock. Week five: take your potato rock home to your slightly baffled family.

 We made other things. I made these mugs, for example. Let's just say, for argument sake, that they they are different sizes on purpose. Alas, the cups are still being fired. I also made a bowl, which I forgot to take a picture of you. Trust me, you are not missing a thing. 



You do not go from potato rocks to The Wheel in five weeks. Ask anyone: the wheel is hard. These things are all hand built, which is a generous use of the world built. 

Wanna make a rock? All the cool kids in the San Gabriel Valley are doing it here. It's super cheap too. Seriously, the best part of class is seeing the amazing work that OTHER people make.

Not ready to make a rock? Then read this piece I have up at POPMATTERS. It's about how The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is profoundly broken. 

Unfamiliar with the wonderful Netflix comedy The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? Where have you been? Hiding under a ceramic rock? 

7/22/15

Killing time at the Natural History Museum

I've been spending a lot of time at LA's Natural History Museum this summer. Girl number one is volunteering and I am her transportation. I spend most of my time in the outdoor cafe writing, writing, writing, but occasionally I will feel the pull of the exhibits and walk around. 


Of course, there are dinosaurs, many, many dinosaurs. These two greet you at the entrance. If girl number one is working the welcome table she will ask this: Do you think they are fighting or playing?

I actually prefer the gardens. If you haven't been there lately they are all new. There is a pollinator garden, a sort of area for birds, and--my favorite--the edible garden. It has little signs giving helpful advice. 

I liked this sign because I am always eager to keep my tomatoes happy, and to keep my tomatoes happy I must first keep my dirt happy.

Until September you can see an amazing exhibit of Ibero American folk art. You do have to pay extra, but it's fantastic. I love all the colors. Are we tired of black yet? Remember when black was for mourning? 

This tree of life is all embroidered. I say enough with all the memoirs: from now on we all make trees of life. Discuss.


7/10/15

It's not Comic Con. At Anime Expo, Women Rule

The girl took and her best friend since first grade made their fourth trip to Anime Expo last week. Anime Expo is the annual LA convention celebrating the world of the Japanese Anime, which is a kind of Japanese Animation. Over 100,000 people turned out for the four day event.

The girl would like you to know that Anime Expo is like Comic Con, which is now happening in San Diego. Fans dress up like their favorite characters There is lots of merchandising. There are panels with Anime voice actors, Japanese bands, lots of artists and illustrators and seminars on things like "How to Write Amazing Fan Fiction."

But while Comic Con is often criticized for it gropers and misogyny, the girl says that Anime is a much more female-centric space. It is her believe that a majority of convention goers are women, and a quick glance around supports that conclusion. This is true even though Anime itself is full of scantily-clad, large-bosomed, tiny-voiced female characters. But there are also lots of bad-ass warrior women and women engineers and scientists in Anime, and I think that appeals to a lot young American women who are trying to figure out who they want to be.

There are definitely men at the convention, however.


Although the men without costumes seem creepily intent on taking pictures of the scantily-clad women. (Their poor mothers. I meant that for both sides of that equation.)

Still, for the most part, it is a nice crowd, and it seems like a safe space to parade your inner spirt/dragon slayer/mermaid.

6/18/15

Donald Trump: I Am Your New Heart Surgeon

My fellow Americans:

There comes a time in every great man's life when he must dedicate his true exceptionalness to the people he has worked so hard to pay minimum wage. Which is why I am now ready to announce my candidacy to be your new heart surgeon.

I am not some professional medical doctor. I am a businessman. I have made and lost and made and lost and made and lost and made and borrowed millions of dollars. I have named buildings after myself, and I have yelled loudly "You're fired!" on my own reality TV show. This is why I am qualified to cut open your chest and do stuff related to valves and arteries, and in which I am fairly certain there is blood involved. And I promise you: As my hair shines like the mane on a regal, radiated, dying lion--none of my nurses will be from the Philippines. They will all wear the pasty hue of a man who has spent most of his adult life having El Salvadoran grandmothers apply sunscreen on his hairy back.

Also, I declare to you--the people of this great nation--that I will now also become the star forward for the Utah Jazz, a position that clearly calls for the ability to raid pensions and smolder at cameras while shaking bassets-hound like jowls.

You are tired of Washington playing the State of the Union during Dancing with the Stars. You are tired of Washington saying, "Hey! You have the right to afford a hernia operation. You have the right to complain about that weird black goo coming out of your water faucet." I tell you now: when I am your unlicensed plumber, I will put that goo where it belongs: In your drinking glass. It came from your faucet. It is yours! And I will crawl backwards on the fat ass of my personal sweater folder before I let Washington deny you the black goo that you earned.

America, I say enough! Enough hand holding and whining and simpering over "climate change." Our forefathers didn't complain about the lack of central heating at Valley Forge. Our forefathers never went on and on about being "sensitive" to the needs of people who made the lifestyle choice not to be rich white men. Which is why I will give up the last dying breath of the last hired Mexican gardener in my Florida mansion before I let anyone tell me I cannot be your most beloved and amazing computer scientist. Two words America: Hardware. Software. Circuit Board. The Internet. iPhone. Apps.

Leaders are not born. Leaders are forged in great big vats of oil and money and things that cost a lot of money and that you can't find in your hippie, dippy Science. Evolution bad. God! The flag! No taxes!

America: You deserve hope. You deserve tomorrow. Say yes: Say Trump! Welcome. I will be piloting your 757 to Detroit.


6/15/15

More amazing adventures with Raphael

Sorry to keep you hanging about my great, great, great, great, great, great uncle Raphael Pumpelly. It's been a crazy busy year. But let's recap from my last post: Raphael was a geologist and he had barely survived his work as a mining engineer in Arizona in the time right around the American Civil War started. After a Clint Eastwood-worthy Western adventure, he finally made it to California.

While in California, the US government hires him to teach modern mining techniques to the Japanese, who had only very recently opened their country to foreigners. So Raphael takes this ship to Japan, and when he gets there he can't even really go on the land because of the still-present restrictions on foreigners. He has to hang out on this great big deck-like dock that is built out from one of the islands so that foreigners can conduct business with the Japanese without actually being on Japanese land. But eventually everything gets straightened out and he goes with these Japanese miners and teaches them how to use dynamite to blow up stuff as part of the mining process. He sees all of the natural beauty of Japan, and he becomes very close with these miners, who are amazed and excited to start blowing stuff up too. But then the emperor changes his mind again and decides that all the foreigners have to leave, and so Raphael is sort of like, "Well...since I'm in the neighborhood..." and he heads for China.

Now, China allowed foreigners in their country at this time, but Raphael says that the Chinese really did not like westerners. He totally understood why: the foreigners--mostly Europeans--acted really entitled. One time, Raphael was on this big old steam boat on a pleasure cruise captained and populated entirely by westerners. They see this small row boat loaded down with bricks, and so it was moving really slow. This sailor on the steamboat says to the captain, "Should we slow down or move?" And the captain was all, "No way. Keep going." So the guys in the row boat are paddling as fast as they can and they are making little headway, and the steamboat just plows into them, ruining the boat, likely drowning the men in it. Raphael was like, "Wow. Why would you be such a horrible person?"

So, yeah, he totally understood why, wherever he went, mobs of Chinese tried to kill him. It was especially bad when he was traveling down the Yangtze River. Whenever his houseboat would try to come to shore these mobs would gather with knives and clubs and try and get on the boat and stab him. And then one time, he was on this other boat, and it started to sink. This other guy was like, "Dude, we have to got to leave because this boat is sinking," but Raphael was all, "I'm not living without my cigars." So he went back to his room and got his cigars. He lost everything, but he not only managed to save his cigars, he kept them dry.

Finally, he decided that he had done China, so he was like, "I should totally trek from China to Russia."

I'll tell you about that leg of the journey next time.

PS: Once again I am luring you in with totally inconsequential graphics. I saw this at a nearby park and found it adorable. Take a smile! Literally.

5/13/15

I'm back!

Well, hello there. Aren't you kind to not give up on me even though I've been gone so long. The truth is: I am just like you, crazy busy. In particular, I have been super busy with work and also learning how to be a better college instructor. I would tell you all the wonky good stuff I've learned, but I have a feeling that it would bore you. Instead, I am going to tell you a story. I swear to you, I am not making this up.

A long time ago, around the time of the American Civil War, I had this great-great-great-great-great uncle (I might be off a great; don't shoot me). His name was Raphael Pumpelly. His father was named William and his mother was named Mary, and all his relatives and even siblings were of the George, James and Harriet variety, but he was named Raphael, and I have to think that the name itself emboldened him to set his own path.

His parents (who were kind of big wigs in their little town of Owego, New York), wanted him to go to Yale, but he was all, "No. I want to see the world." So he went off to Europe, studied in Germany and became a mining engineer, which was sort of a good profession if you lived in a country where mineral resources were largely unexplored and the industrial revolution was just getting underway.

After traveling around Europe with his pet ram, he returns to the US and gets a job exploring the mineral resources in Arizona. So he takes a coach to Arizona and finds himself embroiled in basically a race war. According to Raphael, bands of Native Americans--whose plight he is very sympathetic to and who he says whites have driven to violence and extinction--are basically killing every white person they find. His colleagues turn up dead or running for their lives at every turn. Meanwhile, according to Raphael, Mexican "peons," who are horribly exploited miners, are waiting around for him and another guy to melt a bunch of silver ore down into silver coins so that they can kill Raphael and his work partner and steal the silver. And, of course, there are also a bunch of white outlaws that are also running amok trying to kill and rob everyone they see--including Raphael, who survives just barely and only by running off in the dark of night with another engineer.

They ride by horseback frantically to this one fort, only to find everyone dead, killed by Indians. Then they ride some boat down to Mexico and somehow they hire this white body guard who turns out to be this horrible and notorious outlaw who killed a priest, and then the outlaw meets up with one his outlaw friends, and the outlaws decide that they are going to steal the silver and kill Raphael and the other engineer guy. But somehow, I don't know, they escape the outlaws and end up in Colorado and finally realize there is a Civil War going on. But they still have their silver to deliver so they go on to Los Angeles, where, everyone hates him because he is from New York and they are former southerners, and finally they take a ship up to San Francisco and deliver the silver.

And this is where Raphael's story gets interesting. I'll tell you more next time.

PS: No good reason for the picture of my cute dog Scout, except that I wanted a picture and my computer is being weird so this is the best I can do for now.



3/9/15

Talk about good deeds: Look what I got!

Well, friends, I got the best birthday present EVER yesterday. It is the beautiful quilt square celebrating my fifty good deeds for fifty good years. Every single doodad on it symbolizes one of my good deeds. They are even in the order which I deed them. And, for when I have lost my marbles, on the back there is a little quilted envelope that holds a copy of my blog post noting each and every one. Don't you love it?
It was made by my dear friend Cathy Perlmutter, who has her own fabulous quilting blog. You can find it here. She is actually an amazing artist and craftswoman, and she is hysterical to boot, as her last few posts demonstrate. 

Her daughter is one of my Girl Scouts, and she is my younger girl's oldest and dearest friend. Cathy's daughter is a tremendous artist as well. She sings, plays the cello and guitar, acts, draws, and will one day win all the big writing awards. I will feel forever amazed that I knew her, and I will also no doubt feel somewhat ashamed that my own talents never quite matched hers. It will be a horrible sting for me, and I will try hard not to hate her, as I am inclined to hate everyone more successful than I (which is leaving me an increasingly small pool of people to like, I assure you). I will fight my petty feelings as best I can, but I worry the whole things will end somewhat poorly, with me feeling bitter and jealous and then, of course, ashamed of feeling bitter and jealous. I will try my best to hide my bitterness from Cathy, who will, I am sure, at least be modest about her daughter's National Book Awards and Nobel Prize. Oh my God. I just had a thought: What if Cathy's daughter wins the Nobel Prize for Literature and her son wins the Nobel Prize for physics or chemistry or something (he is an incredibly brilliant Harvard student). Will Cathy be able to maintain the modesty of being a two Nobel mother? Hmmm. I think I would become the most obnoxious person you'd ever met. I think you would all hate me, and then I would laugh at you all hating me, and I would say "Too bad for you, all you people whose children will never win Nobel prizes." But, see I am petty that way. Cathy: That is your burden. I wish you well with it.

I love my present. And I love my friends. 


3/2/15

50 good deeds in the shortest month of the year: Crazy? Yes! Only for a crazy lady...

I am not sure why I decided to celebrate my fiftieth birthday by doing fifty good deeds during February, the month of my birth. I am really not all that altruistic. I am not the person you are likely to think of when you reel off your crusading, do-gooder friends. But fifty is a big one, and I did want to mark this milestone in a way that was memorable and meaningful, and 50 for 50 was the plan I came up with.

As was so totally like me, I did not do a lot of planning for this month-long event, but I did set some ground rules.

1. I needed to be open to the world and look for opportunities to do good in the moment.
2. As much as possible, I needed to try and do good different kinds of good deeds.
3. I could not count good deeds that I, as a rule, already do (e.g., drive my girls all around town or make extra time in my schedule to meet with students).
4. I needed to work within a pre-determined budget. That being said, I had to use my entire budget. In fact, the money not spent on good deeds throughout the month was donated to three non profits. My husband and kids each got to choose one of the organizations I sent the money to.
5. To reach my goal, I realized that I had to do about two good deeds a day.

Outside of those guidelines, I could--and was ready to do--any good deed that the universe put in front of me. And here is what I very quickly learned: this was going to be hard. The first day--a Sunday--I only managed to do one good deed. I picked up trash on my morning walk. The rest of the day I was all, "Okay, universe, what next?" But the universe did not answer. By day two, I was beginning to realize something IMPORTANT: Fifty is a freaking lot! It is a lot of years and it is a lot of good deeds to do in the shortest month of the year.

That second day I came up with one original idea: I dropped a five dollar bill in the playground of a park that I walk by everyday. In my own life, few memories shine brighter than the times I have found money, and more than the five dollars, I just wanted someone to feel as happy about finding money as I do. That was fun, but what was the second good deed that day? It was basically the same as good deed #1: while walking I saw a razor blade on the ground and I picked it up and put it in the trash so that it couldn't hurt any person or animal. It felt worthy, but also lame. As per my guidelines, I was not supposed just do the same thing over and over.

Quickly, I realized that I could not expect the universe to throw good deeds in front of me: I would have to be intentional about what I was doing. At first, that felt a little stressful because--like you--I am busy. I work. I write. My family demands much of me. Blah, blah, blah. And now I was using all my mental energy thinking things like, "Who can I give this extra soup too? Who would like some lavender from my garden? What else can I do? Who can I make happy? Who can I help?" Does that sound like a crazy lady? Yes! It does! Because I was crazy! And when the universe did throw something my way (seeing someone struggle with a large package, seeing someone who looked down on their luck), my eyes would bulge out and I would run like crazy to get to here my help was needed. I'm a little worried that I scared my officemate when--with frightening enthusiasm--I made her take a quarter so that she could get some hot water and a paper cup from our student store for her tea bag. Actually, I made her take two quarters, so she could have tea later too.

I have three favorite good deeds. One: This first one is more of a type. I liked anything that let me play secret Santa. At Bec's advice, my big girl and I hid eight one dollar bills among toys at the 99 cent store. That was super fun. Two: I enjoyed writing letters to my husband and daughters telling them each the top ten things I loved about them. Three: I had a fantastic time participating in the Firecracker Run, which benefits nonprofits in LAs historic Chinatown. My husband and I walked the 5k course and it was just really great. That was my last good deed, and I was glad that it involved me participating in something larger than myself.

All in all, I am really glad that I did this. Despite my good intentions, I very quickly became started discouraged, then I turned crazy, but in the end I accomplished what I set out to do, and I feel proud of that. Bottom line lessons: One, you make your life, not the universe. If you want to do good, you have to take charge. Two, it doesn't cost a lot to be useful. Most of the things I did did not cost a penny. Three, you probably do a lot more good than you realize. By thinking about the things I DID NOT count as good deeds, I realized that I actually do good deeds all the time. That being said, I also realized that I could do a lot more. Four, in most cases, my good deeds did not translate into instant happiness, although sometimes they made me smile for a while. However, accomplishing my goal of fifty good deeds really has put a spring in my step.

Happy March!

List of fifty good deeds
1. Picked-up trash on walk
2. Picked-up and threw away scary razor blade found while walking.
3."Dropped" five dollar in park
4. Wrote a note to someone special.
5. Brought donuts to the Writing Center on campus.
6. Bought coffee for the person in line behind me.
7. Brought homemade soup to a neighbor who has been ill.
8. Brought a head of lettuce from my garden to a neighbor who just had a baby.
9. Chroma project (involved sending colorful stuff to some artists)
10. Birthday card to a boy who I do not know, but who is very ill and wanted lots of cards.
11. E-valentine to patient at Children's Hospital LA (Thank you universe and Liz Daley)
12. Super courteous driving day (If you needed to merge or turn left, I was there for you).
13. Filled out a boring but important survey for my profession.
14. Wrote a testimonial for a program my daughter uses.
15. Kiva loan
16. Letters to my elected officials
17. Mailed valentines to my Girl Scout co-leaders and mom.
18. Donated books to the Friends of Cal State LA library.
19. Spent time educating my classes about Covered California and urging them to sign up.
20. Read grant applications for an internship program at my alma mater.
21. Dropped off blankets for a dog rescue organization.
22. Gave $5 to a musician in front of the bookstore. (Thank you universe!)
23. Brought donuts to my Saturday class that had to meet on Valentine's Day.
24. Paid for the donut order of the guy behind me at the donut shop.
25. Gave the leftover donuts from class to one of my students, a nurse, who was going to drop them off at the hospital where she works. (Thank you universe!)
26. Gave lettuce, lemons, and a brownie to my daughter's math tutor.
27. "Hid" eight one dollar bills among the toys at the 99 cent store.
28. Brought ice cream to another one of Elizabeth's tutors.
29. Put some succulents (cut from some in my garden) in a pot I wasn't using and dropped it off at a friend's house.
30. Gave a bouquet of lavender from my garden to a neighbor.
31. Operation Beautiful http://www.operationbeautiful.com
32. Money to officemate for tea
33. Notes to family members telling them the top ten things I love about each of them.
34. E-waste recycling
35. Dropped off clothes at Salvation Army
36. Threw wildflowers seeds on open area reserved for electrical towers.
37. At All Saints Church signed letters addressed to the families of the young muslims killed in North
 Carolina.
38. Gave $5 to someone down on her luck.
39. Helped a woman struggling to get a large package out of her card (Thank you universe!)
40. Brought some homemade cookies to our police department.
41. Brought some homemade cookies to some friends celebrating their anniversary.
42. Popped a birthday present to an old friend in the mail.  
43. Dropped off a bunch of teas and individual-sized Kleenexs in the library bathroom at CSULA for sick students.
44. Girl Scout cookie gift of sharing program.
45. Blogged for good causes.
46. Put a great book on an empty table in the school library saying, "This is a great book! Enjoy!"
47. Made a donation in my husband's name to the Glendale Humane Society.
48. Made a donation in my daughter's name to The Children's Ranch.
49. Made a donation in my other daughter's name to All Saints Church.
50. 5k Firecracker Walk benefitting nonprofits in LAs historic Chinatown.

2/25/15

Five Places You Can Help

Remember how I was going to do 50 good deeds throughout the month of February to help celebrate my fifth birthday? Well, my friends, I am in home stretch. I only have about six more to do, which is a good thing since the month is almost over. I will tell you all about them and what I've learned later, but, right now, I will tell you something that I have discovered: fifty is a lot! At this point, I feel like an insane, obsessive person, sort of like Batman but not so dangerous or brave.

That's it! That's all I'm going to tell you. I'll tell you more next week.

But, I do want to use this little bit of space to do one more good deed. I would like to tell you about some organizations that are very dear to me. I invite you to give them your money, your time, your attention, and your general loveliness.

1.  The Children's Ranch. The Children's Ranch, located in Los Angeles, provides equestrian therapy, social skills training, and so much more to children and teens with disabilities. My big girl has been attending the ranch monthly for three years. During her time there, she has learned to work in a garden, to lunge and groom horses, and to care for other animals including, rabbits and ducks. With the help of the ranch's amazing and dedicated staff, she has (and continues) to learn the importance of listening, regulating her emotions, working as a team, and taking responsibility. If you are looking for a non-profit that does amazing work and that helps disabled youth and/or animals, this is the nonprofit for you.

2.  SPACE. This is another gem of a small non profit. It provides arts education of all kinds (writing, painting, drawing, etc), provides studio space for teens, and puts on an amazing quarterly spoken word night. I performed there once. It was really wonderful. In fact, they are having a spoken word night this Saturday. You should go. It is the best, cheapest Saturday night you can find, and parking is easy so no blah blaming the parking, traffic stuff. (See Personal Space on the website for details.)

3.  Girl Scouts. I sort of love/hate Girl Scouts. Next year will be my last year being a Girl Scout leader. To be honest, Girl Scouts LA--the organization--is always a little disorganized, and if they can find a difficult way to do things, they will. That said, the opportunities they provide girls for leadership are amazing, and--for many girls--Girl Scouts is their one ticket to seeing what life is like outside the big city. I am speaking of camping, and, I have to say, I think teaching girls to camp is as important as teaching them to code.

4.  Scripps College. I'm going to come right out and tell you that my alma mater is better than yours. I don't care where you went, there is no college in the US that is better at not only educating young women but at fostering conversations between women of different generations. I have learned more about how to navigate life through Scripps alums than I have anywhere else or doing anything else. We are taking the Girl Scouts on a tour there in March. It is my deepest secret wish that one of them (not my daughter; she must spread her wings) will go there, but I try not to think about it.

5.  The Glendale Humane Society. You know that I am a crazy dog lady, and that is largely because I am so crazy about my dog Scout. Scout was dropped off at the San Gabriel Humane Society (another lovely place), but she had such bad separation anxiety that they finally sent her over to the Glendale Humane Society, which is a no-kill facility. When they take a dog or a cat, they are taking it with the knowledge that it may be there for the rest of its life. Our sweet Scout was a mess when we adopted her, but the trainer there really helped us, and then we took a basic obedience class there, and the rest is history. Now Scout is the best dog in the world. (I'm sorry. I know you think your dog is better, but you are wrong.) PS: That's Scout's picture and you can see she is adorable.

I'm doing 50 good deed in one month. You can do one. Support one of these organizations--or one that you love.