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Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

I have always been a little choosy about what food I eat. I was raised almost entirely on Italian cooking – few ingredients, simple dishes, eaten when foods are in season – but I am American, after all, so despite my mom’s best efforts, I still crave disgusting delights like Taco Bell or Burger King every now and again.

I’m not sure if it was my mom’s influence, or just my personality, but I have always been wary of meats. I only like certain types of meats and certain cuts. I definitely don’t like my meat to taste “gamey.” There’s just something about meat that kind of grosses me out. I’m not sure if it’s the animal rights issue (because I do purchase leather products, although I would never feel comfortable wearing a fur coat or leather jacket, I appreciate the superior quality of leather shoes and wallets, for example) but something about eating animals seems a bit odd to me.

For a very brief time, I was a vegetarian. It was pretty easy to do while I was in university and the year afterward. I lived in Connecticut, tofu and other meatless products were easy to come by, and I never had to struggle to find what I wanted. Now I must admit, even during that time I was a very very lax vegetarian and would often “cheat” if there was something I really wanted.

However, all bets were off when we moved to Germany a year after I graduated from university. I tried my hardest to remain a vegetarian for about a month into life in our new home. Every time I ordered something from a menu I went through a complicated process of naming every sort of animal part that could be in, let’s say, my potato soup. “Is there ham? Pork? Bacon? Meat? Pig? Fat?”

Of course the answer was always no, and the soup always arrived with bits of fried pork skin (or something else I didn’t think to explicitly mention in my ten minutes of questioning prior to my order). So I finally gave in. I do have a weakness for pork products and I was living in the land of sausage.

Now, many years later, I have definitely given up any attempts to be vegetarian, but I still choose my food carefully. Unless I can clearly identify which part of the animal (and which animal) a certain dish is coming from, I opt for the vegetarian version. And I find myself choosing meatless products more and more lately.

Around two years ago I read Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour, which describes his international search to find the perfect meal. Many of the stories he shares revolve around the closeness of most cultures to their food, specifically the actual life and death of the animals they eat. He talks a lot about the sterile food environment that most Americans are raised in – meat comes from a tightly sealed, vaccine-pumped, package in the US, not an animal.

Personally, I can totally relate to this concept. If I had to kill the animal I eat to make my meal, you can bet I’d be a vegetarian (which I do understand makes me somewhat hypocritical for eating meat in the first place, but I think we all know I’m not perfect). I do find it strange that we are so removed from our environment – I remember watching a Jamie Oliver show around the same time that I read Bourdain’s book (so obviously the same problem exists in the UK) about how British children don’t know what vegetables look like before they’re cooked or what animal is inside chicken nuggets. Scary.

Just before we left for our summer holidays this year I watched the movie Fast Food Nation (based on the book by Eric Schlosser, which I also own). Not surprisingly I had to close my eyes during the final scenes on the “kill floor.” The industrialization of food consumption in the US is so disgusting, it’s almost unbelievable that it can continue to exist. It freaks me out that I have been eating food that is produced in such a horrific way, and that somehow, our culture seems to have been convinced (myself included) that it tastes good. As you might expect, I steered well clear of any sort of chain restaurant (as well as meat in general) this summer.

Around the same time I started learning about the eastern garbage patch in the North Pacific Ocean. Our reliance on plastics, and their inability to biodegrade, is terrifying. And the fact that almost everyone I’ve talked to about the topic has never heard of it, is even more scary. I shared a few videos with my relatives and have started talking about it with my students when we learn about water.

Last year I watched The Story Of Stuff which got me thinking about how casually we throw things away, and to now see some of the direct results of this “disposable” plastic totally freaks me out. I mean who thinks about the plastic granules in their facial cleanser not being able to biodegrade and ending up eaten by fish who mistakenly think it’s food, and who are then, in turn, eaten by us. How much plastic have I consumed unknowingly? 

During our time in Oregon, my mother-in-law loaned me a book called My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki. It’s a work of fiction, but based in truth with tons of references and citations. The stories of hormone injected meat and the impact those drugs can have on human development (beginning puberty at 5 years old in some cases) got me thinking about what kinds of foods I may have been exposed to as a child – when we were less informed about what goes into the industrial food chain. I actually still feel scared, although considering I’ve made it this far, I must be reasonably OK.

Of course Eugene, Oregon is the perfect place to have these kinds of discussions. If there is one community in the US that has their heart in sustainability and healthy living, I think it’s those lucky folks that live in Eugene.

Unfortunately for me, I really do love living overseas, so even though I feel right at home in the Pacific Northwest, once we headed back to Bangkok I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself – foodwise.

So I started reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. And then, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. If I wasn’t already in a panic about making food choices before I started reading, then I certainly am now. 

It’s clear that I should be buying local produce – not only do I know it will taste better and be fresher, more full of vitamins and nutrients – but it will also help support a more sustainable method of farming and feeding ourselves. Plus, I don’t want all my foods flown in from all over the world, using more fuel and spewing more carbon emissions into our already polluted environment, just to have a strawberry in December in Thailand.

But I’m also worried about safe food practices in my local environment. I routinely walk through a fog of pesticide spray designed to keep us free from insect invasion, and see that the poor person doing the spraying has no mask, the cloud of poisonous gas working its magic not only on the bugs, I’m sure.

A standard sign of life in the developing world, for sure, but what does this mean about how vegetables and fruits are grown in the countryside? Or how animals are raised? And what about the horrifying business practice of our political neighbors, like China. How do we even know where all of the local items are really coming from if the labels are written in Thai and so many international corporations have parent companies to mask their true origins?

So here I am, loving life in Thailand, but wondering what to eat. And how to make ethical choices in a developing country. To be honest, I don’t even know where to begin… Anyone have any advice?

 

Images From:
German Sausages & More from reiner.kraft
Veggie’s Splendor from suviko
Packaged Chicken Image
Garbage Patch Image
My Year of Meats Cover
The Omnivore’s Dilemma Cover
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Cover

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It’s been a rough week for superkimbo….

On Tuesday morning, at the wee hour of 5:45 am (which my body continues to resist each and every day) I attempted to climb into the tub to take a shower. Sadly, I misjudged the hight of the tub wall and slammed my toes into the terribly unforgiving porcelain. Assuming it was just a bad stubbing incident I took my shower and waited for the pain to go away.

And then I leaned forward to turn off the water, putting all of my weight on the foot that I had stubbed (a smooth move, if I do say so myself). And that’s when I realized: my stubbing of the toes had gone horribly wrong. I have broken a toe before, but I guess I just forgot how much it hurt. This was like some sort of stabbing, searing pain from my toe all the way up my leg. I almost fell down, it was that painful. It’s quite astonishing really, such a small toe causing so much pain.

Of course my loving husband came over at the sound of my howl of pain to reassure me that I could never have broken my own toe stepping into my own shower, a daily act that has never before resulted in physical injury. And thus, I hobbled my way down to school, tears prickling in my eyes, so I could go see the nurse (secretly I love working in a school so I can go see the nurse whenever I want).

She took one look at the swelling and the redness (and of course the pathetic look on my face) and declared my toe broken. So, I’ve spent the last week with my toe wrapped tightly against it’s healthy neighbor, limping around school like someone with a real injury. When people ask me what happened I pause, frantically trying to think of something better than “I broke my own toe getting in the shower,” but nothing ever seems to come to mind. And, so my reputation as a klutz extraordinaire begins.

Unfortunately this was also the week that we had Back to School Night, which entails me standing in the library for four extra hours in the evening, and our “Hello” Assembly, during which all of the new teachers were tricked into making complete idiots out of themselves on stage in front of students, teachers and, of course, parents.

Sadly, my toe is not feeling much better today, so I think I’m going to have to go to the actual clinic tomorrow. You already know how I feel about doctors, so I’m not happy about this development. Not one bit.

Image 1: http://www.global-b2b-network.com/direct/dbimage/50157692/Bath_Tub.jpg
Image 2: http://www.moonpost.com/jeremy/archives/brokentoe.jpg

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De-clutter your life

In a recent issue of one of my favorite magazines, Real Simple, there was an article about de-cluttering your mind.

The article recommended throwing away 50 things that weigh you down or have negative memories attached (magazines and catalogues only count as one thing no matter how many you throw away). The idea is, only once your home is devoid of the physical clutter, can you clear away your mental clutter.

I’m not sure that I have too much mental clutter, but I freely admit that I am a major pack-rat and that I absolutely hate throwing things away. However, given the fact that we’re about to have everything we own packed and shipped to Bangkok, I figure we might as well only go with the stuff we really want.

So, I’ve decided to challenge myself and make an effort to get rid of all the things around the house I know (very, very, very, deep down) that I will never need. I’m going to donate them to charity instead of throwing them away, but I figure the concept’s the same.

So far I’m donating:

  • a selection of DVDs I don’t like very much
  • a few gifts that I’ve been carting around because I feel guilty getting rid of gifts that I don’t like
  • some clothes that I haven’t worn since I moved here
  • my old 35mm point and shoot camera
  • a lot of magazines
  • some books I wouldn’t read again
  • random office and technical supplies that are quite outdated, but still unused (I already mentioned the pack-rat issue, right?)

I know I’m not quite at 50 yet, but it’s a start… What can you de-clutter?

Image: http://www.sachsreport.com/
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Join the Club!

For the last three months or so, I’ve been attending a (very small) travel club at work. Basically a group of us get together every Thursday and share travel tips and advice, and then ask questions. Most of us have been abroad for a number of years, so we have lots of travel experience – especially when we all get together. The group is run by our high-school counselor who is an expert traveler and therefore full of all sorts of helpful advice.

So far the best thing I’ve learned is the Priority Pass – essentially a credit card sized pass that allows you access any of the first class lounges at almost all of the airports in the world (which, of course, you must pay an annual fee to join). I’ve never had the privilage of spending time in any of the fancy airport lounges I’ve hauled my exhausted body past on the way to the crowded, loud, waiting room for regular people, but I think I would like it. This may be one I have to invest in, considering all of the traveling I do…

The other major tip I’ve learned is to consolidate frequent flier miles. I seem to have developed the habit of signing up for frequent flier miles for every airline that I fly. I never bother to look if one of my already existing milage programs is linked to the airline I’m about to fly. For example: I’m flying Singapore Air home for the summer, then Thai Airways to BKK back in August. When I bought the tickets I signed up for each airline’s FF program. Now I know that they are both part of Star Alliance and I already have tens of thousands of miles with Lufthansa (also part of Star Alliance). Whoops!

So, now I’m trying to make an effort to consolidate all of my miles with one or two carriers. I think I’m going to switch to United for all my travels with the Star Alliance airlines, simply because they’re an American airline and my gut tells me they’ll have better customer service than Lufthansa (after 5 years in Munich, the last place I’m going to look for excellent customer service is a German company). Plus, I’ve read that United has a great FF program – now that I see how many airlines are connected through the Mileage Plus network, it makes sense to put all those miles in one place.

All of the other helpful websites I’ve learned about are posted on my del.icio.us account under travel. Check ’em out!

What are your best travel secrets?

Image 1: http://www.absolutbank.ru/images/cards/priority_pass.jpg
Image 2: http://interactive.snm.org/img/am_lufthansa_jet2.jpg

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Blown Away

Even though we live in a tropical climate (read: 90+ degrees Fahrenheit with 98% humidity every day), we have barely used the aircon in our mid-level apartment over the last two years.

We have enough windows and doors throughout the apartment to let the air flow freely with just the use of our ceiling fan. Plus, we have the added advantage of having screens on every window and door – including our second balcony, which is all screened in – so there’s no danger of the dreaded Dengue mosquito pestering us.

Most of the time, I just prefer fresh air anyway. I hate that feeling of being all sealed in. The first thing I do every morning is open all the windows and doors “to get some air moving” (yet another trait I get from my mother).

But, lately it has seemed so hot (though I doubt the temperature has changed very much at all), that we are turning on the aircon almost every day. I’m not sure I like it…

What about you? Are you all about the fresh air, or the cooling A/C?

Image: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/21/27233149_71039b1518_m.jpg

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Well, folks, it’s finally happening. I’m turning into my mother.

All those habits and behaviors I said I would never replicate as an adult. Yep, they’re all here. And they seem to appear when I’m least expecting them – they just happen, naturally. This was not in the life plan of superkimbo, all grown up. Unfortunately, it seems the only thing I didn’t get from my mother is her perfect figure…

So, here they are, the good and the bad:

The frustrating:

  • My mom has the most annoying habit of approximating time. For example, at 6:38, she’ll say “hurry up Kim, it’s already 7:00!” Arg. I can not tell you how much that frustrates me to this day. But, guess who just started doing it this year? My friend Darby totally caught me out the other day when I said that 9:30 was already the end of our first block (which actually ends at 9:50). Yikes.
  • My mom has a bit of the “tough love” attitude and has seriously high expectations (which is exactly how her father was). I do think this helped me be self-motivated, but I sometimes find myself acting that way and I don’t like it.
  • My mom is a real homebody. She could spend days at home just puttering around the house. As you know, I am equally likely to sit at home for an entire weekend. But, in contrast to my mom, I do live overseas and she has never lived more than 45 minutes away from where she grew up…
  • My mom hoards foods and household supplies. Let’s just say that we still have stockpiles from our Y2K stash. And, guess who actually shipped non-perishable foods from Germany to Malaysia the last time she moved? I’m really really trying to get over this – I’m eating as fast as I can in preparation for our move to Bangkok.
  • My mom is a know-it-all, even when she doesn’t know. Enough said.

The inspiring:

  • My mom is always a professional. Although she only attended a two-year college, she has a patent (and she’s not even a researcher), she headed up major divisions at IBM, ran the Euro conversion project back in 2000, and she pioneered the maternity leave policy for all mothers at IBM when I was born in 1977. I was born without enough platlets in my blood, so my mom had to stay at the hospital with me for a few weeks, and then she wanted to stay home with me until I was ok. The company wanted to let her go, but she wrote an amazing letter to the CEO and ended up getting 6 months paid leave and totally changing the maternity practices for the whole company. Rock on Mom!
  • My mom is an advocate for what she believes in. In my home state of CT, hunting is legal in certain conditions. One day a neighbor was shooting deer in his yard (we all have 2 acres of property, I think that’s the legal limit or something) with a bow and arrow. The baby deer that he shot wandered into our yard and died in my mom’s arms. She spent the next sixth months petitioning to get hunting banned in our town and won.
  • My mom loves home remedies. Alex makes fun of both of us for that, but I like them too. Gargle with salt water when you have a sore throat, keep your neck warm when you’re sick, drink ginger ale when your stomach is upset, and so on. He claims that his mother never offered home remedies. We’ll see about that this summer.
  • My mom is honest. She tells everyone exactly what she thinks. Most of the time I like this about her and about myself, but sometimes it’s too much. We all know the phrase “brutal honesty” – that’s us, all the time…

In what ways are you like your mother?

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Prime Time

In the US, “prime time” is the two hours of the evening when all the top shows are on TV. In the northeast, where I’m from, prime time is from 8 – 10 pm. Not that I ever watched that much TV (aside from Seinfeld) when I lived in the US, but at least there was the potential that I could actually watch something if I was interested.

However, prime time here in Malaysia appears to start at 10 pm. Actually, it seems like pretty much everything is pushed back a few hours according to my inner clock. When we leave the mall at around 9 pm, crowds of people, many with small children are streaming in. When we are finished with dinner at 8 pm, people are lined up waiting for tables. And, of course, when we leave the movie theater at 10 pm, we can see the families waiting for the next show as we’re on our way out.

I’m guessing that the reason people are up so late is because it’s so hot during the day that they’d rather go out later at night. But for some reason I can’t get my internal clock to shift. By 10 pm I’m ready for bed. Napping doesn’t help, and I certianly have no hope of ever watching any of those prime time TV shows…

My brain appears to be hard-wired to be awake from around 7 am until around 10 pm and there is apparantly nothing I can do about it. Alex, on the other hand, would prefer to spend all of the daylight hours asleep, so he can stay up all night. What are your “normal” waking hours?

Image: http://i16.photobucket.com/albums/b21/motownbmw/Web%20Page%20Pictures/BlueEye.jpg

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