Wednesday, March 31, 2010

GM: Great Malarkey, General Mayhem, Getting Medieval, and....

I was saddened to read that this winter, over half of the Monarch butterfly population overwintering in Mexico died from severe storms. This summer will be the third summer in which I raise Monarchs from egg to butterfly—I’ve even got teeny milkweed seedlings under lights upstairs right now, eagerly awaiting their future date with hungry Monarch caterpillars.

But what if there aren’t enough Monarchs to come back??

Now, severe storms will happen (increasingly so these days, it seems)…and if that were the only problem, the butterfly population would eventually rebound. However, a bigger problem (in my eyes) is the loss of habitat. Because most of the prairie on which their host milkweed plants used to grow has been cultivated and planted with genetically-modified soybeans and corn. Genetically-modified so that farmers can spray weed killer without killing their crop, but killing all of the “weeds” (including milkweed and other plants appreciated by bees and pollinators) in the vicinity.

The biggest company making and selling these GM seeds (as well as the herbicide they work with, Round-Up), is Monsanto. And it’s kind of a big deal: right now, 93% of all soybeans and 82% of all corn grown in the US are genetically-engineered “Roundup Ready.”

I don’t like Monsanto. Whenever I watch dystopian, futuristic science fiction, there’s usually one big, bad “Corporation” that runs everything. Monsanto, with its former CEOs and lobbyists occupying prominent positions in the US Department of Agriculture, is kind of that Big Bad Corporation to me. You know, the vast, gray, prison-like complex behind coiled razor wire, belching smoke from ominous, stout smokestacks, a hungry red eye searching the horizon for someone avoiding products with high fructose corn syrup, someone letting dandelions defiantly bloom on their front lawn, perhaps that last remaining farmer who might be --*gasp*-- saving his own seeds to replant the following year!

(If you think I’m exaggerating, watch Food, Inc. on PBS on April 21.)

I like imagining the meeting at which the Monsanto execs decided to push Roundup-Ready genetically modified seeds in a big way. Let me set the scene: Six middle-aged white guys in brown and gray suits sitting around a long table in a conference room….the fluorescent overhead lights giving their balding heads a soft sheen….coffee, water, Styrofoam bowls of Snak Mix. The room smells vaguely like Old Spice and fried chicken. Dave begins to speak:

“How about a defoliant that makes it easier to kill people—quickly, with guns, and slowly, with horrible illness years later! I’ve been thinking of calling it “Agent Purple ….no? Agent Chartreuse? Well, we’ll come up with something.”

“Um, Dave, we did that already. Don’t you read your email?”

“Jim, we have to focus. We need a product that ostensibly ‘helps’ people, tricks them into believing that the cheap, big, easy way is best—quantity over quality, but ultimately achieves our long-range strategic goal: to make a shit ton of money while contributing to the gradual destruction of the human race.”

“You never did like small family farms much anyway. All those filthy chickens running around the yard. People had the nerve to hang their sheets and underwear out to dry in public.”

“Eeeewwww! Gross."

"Yeah. Norman Rockwell was such a pussy.”

“Oh, but this will be easy! People love cheap, immediate gratification with no concern for the future.”

“But doesn’t altering the proteins in these plants so they can LIVE THROUGH regular applications of herbicide sound kind of scary? What if one day researchers discover that rats eating GM corn go into organ failure or become infertile? And oh my God, people eat all those cows and chickens and pigs that eat that corn and soy and there’s going to be a huge public backlash and our stocks will plummet and I’m going to have to live in a box and eat cat food and my kids will have to go to public school where they’ll learn to spit on Jesus and put condoms on cucumbers and then I’ll have to stand in a long line to see my death panel and ooohhhh God, the humaniteeeee!!!!”

Lightning-quick, Jim slaps Fred hard, right across the jaw. Fred sits back, stunned. “Snap out of it! Listen. Fred. I get that! Change is hard for everyone. But don’t be an idiot. It’s all about spin. You say organ failure, I say Sally’s job at the American Cancer Society is completely recession-proof!”

Arnold, the Quiet One in the corner, reaches into his briefcase and pulls out stacks of hundred dollar bills. “I think Fred needs some convincing.” He slides the money toward Fred. “Your remodeled rec room, complete with wet bar.”

“But how will people go along with this? But what about the government? Won’t they, like, want to stop this?”

“Don’t worry. Subsidies. Profit. American Idol is on. Coors Light is on sale. The pharmaceutical people are with us all the way. Clean up in aisle five, so to speak." Dave chuckles at his own wit. "Oh, I slay me! Plus, we have people on Capital Hill. Don’t worry about the government. They’re in like Flynn.”

Jim shakes his head at Fred’s hesitation. “Fred. How can I put this.” He rubs his forehead with his hand, then—an idea hits. “Okay. Two words: Double. Cheeseburger. For 99 cents. Trust me.” He grips Fred’s forearm, giving him a direct, serious stare. “Trust me.”

Arnold shimmies the wads of money—a financial come-on.

Fred chuckles nervously, but finally accepts the money. He clears his throat, and his reluctant smile is replaced by a broad, authentic one. “Oh hell. What’s the saying? He who dies with the most toys wins? Dammit Jim, I want to BE that man. I want to win! I want the most cake!”

“Ding ding ding! Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Now let’s get those scientists cracking.”

“Um, but maybe take out a few Dead Peasant life insurance policies on them first. Just in case.”


Whew! If I smoked, I'd totally light a cigarette right now. Anyway, so I took off on a small tangent there. But back to the butterflies. If you want some milkweed seeds to plant this spring, maybe raise a few butterflies with the kids for a fun summer project, let me know. I've got a bunch, and I'm happy to send you a packet.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Giving me Crap

So everyone I know is pregnant. Well, not really, but so many women close to me are expecting that my uterus is sweating profusely and tugging at her collar. More on this later, unless I’ve driven you, understandably gagging, away from this blog forever.

(Sidebar: my dog is lying on the bed watching The Golden Girls right now…I love that furry beast. Ah! Her patience is rewarded! A commercial for Purina One just aired.)

Yesterday I got to spend time with my two year-old nephew, who informed me after a moment of intense concentration that his baby doll was named “Chit.”

“Chit?” I asked, trying not to laugh.

“Yeah,” he replied, a devilish grin developing. “Shit. SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT!”

It was the first time I’d heard him swear (and so gleefully!), and I laughed so hard I’m pretty sure I pre-digested the dinner I ate an hour later.

I’m not supposed to be encouraging this kind of behavior, but that's what aunties do.

In related news, last week I came home from work to find two black garbage bags piled against my back porch, red plastic ties fluttering in the wind. Were they J’s? What could be in them? Was someone messing with me? Garbage bombing me?

I decided to go inside and ask J. “Are those garbage bags yours?”

He frowned. “I thought they were yours!”

“They’re not mine…we don’t even BUY black garbage bags!”

Oh God … what if there were body parts inside? Perhaps this was the work of some kind of strange stalker-vandal. My paranoia, usually already simmering steadily beneath the surface, became a full, roiling boil.

Oh, please don’t be road kill.

I began to mentally list the sins I may have committed against my neighbors. Okay, there’s really only one, and sneaking into his yard at night to drop mosquito dunks in the cesspool flower planter near his garage is actually more of a public service.

What if it’s a dead cat?!

"What's in them?"

"I don't look!"

Luckily, J is braver than I am, and he poked open one of the bags with a stick. He frowned. “I think it’s shit!”

I nearly fell to my knees and sang a hymn.

You weren’t expecting that reaction, were you? But I was soooo relieved. Because this was prime, scentless, well-aged goat manure from my parents’ herd, delivered by my Dad at my request so I can have big-ass flowers and delicious tomatoes this season.

(I promise my next post won't reference fecal matter in any way, shape, or form. Really.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mainstreaming Myself

Well, I have to admit, the other night I took a break from watching arcane, eccentric little shows like Ghosthunters and Gordon Ramsay's The F Word and watched American Idol in full, for the very first time. And I liked it. We also watched Minute to Win It, which got a little more tedious with every fail.

(Oh look, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse just drove past my house! In a mini-van...still, it was totally him.)

When I'm not zoning out in front of the boob tube late at night (thank you, DVR!), I'm writing and writing and writing. Grant proposals, which are much less fun than developing the new book idea I am kicking around. My head is popping with ideas during my work commutes, which is both exciting and terrifying as I drive with my knees and elbows to text long, carefully-spelled notes into my phone.

Another exciting thing is this: my sister's art show last weekend! She is so damn talented it could make you puke and fall in love with her all at once. Like if you were sharing a romantic picnic of day-old, sun-baked potato salad with Bradley Cooper. Here are some highlights:
I don't know what I can tell you about this one other than don't hire me to photograph your art show. Or any other special life event.
I DO know what I can tell you about this one: never take me to an auction. Because I'll tell everyone within earshot how much I love a matching set of paintings/lampshades/decorative spoons, and all about my plans to purchase those paintings/lampshades/decorative spoons, and then I'll wait too long to bid and some other yahoo will have snapped them up.
This photo was taken just before my darling nephew threw my camera to the floor in a random act of toddler exuberance.

Rawr!! Must....buck head back....wildly...spill....Auntie Jess' sensible...cardigan!

This is a portrait of my Grandma with her Grandpa--my sister surprised Grandma with this piece, which just goes to show sister is the best, most thoughtful gift-giver in the family. If I were ever to make a list of fifty wacky life goals, "Receive a Snuggie from my sister for Christmas" might be the thoughest one to accomplish.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

GCC Presents: Jenny Gardiner

I had the privilege of being a Deb in 2008 with the hilarious, lovely, and talented Jenny Gardiner, and I'm so excited to showcase her new laugh-out-loud & touching memoir, Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me (available next Tuesday, March 16, from Simon Spotlight Entertainment).

About the book: Like many new bird owners, Jenny and Scott Gardiner hoped for a smart, talkative, friendly companion. Instead, as they took on the unexpected task of raising a curmudgeonly wild African grey parrot and a newborn, they learned an important lesson: parrothood is way harder than parenthood.

A gift from Scott’s brother who was living in Zaire, Graycie arrived scrawny, pissed-off, and missing a lot of her feathers. Every day became a constant game of chicken with a bird that would do anything to ruffle their feathers.

The old adage about not biting the hand that feeds you—literally—never applied to Graycie.

But Jenny and Scott learned to adapt as the family grew to three children, a menagerie of dogs and cats, and, of course, Graycie. In WINGING IT, Jenny vividly shares many hazards of parrot ownership, from the endless avian latrine duty and the joyful day the bird learned to mimic the sound of the smoke detector, to multiple ways a beak can pierce human flesh.

Graycie is a court jester, a karaoke partner, an unusual audio record of their family history, and at times, a nemesis. But most of all, she has taught the family volumes about tolerance, going with the flow, and realizing that you can no sooner make your child fit into a mold than you can turn a wild parrot into a docile house pet.

WINGING IT reminds us of the importance of patience, loyalty, and humor when it comes to dealing with even the most unpleasant members of the family.

“Graycie is as much a part of us as we are of her. Sure, she might be feisty at times. But who isn’t? Whether she’s yelling at the dog or answering the phone or bobbing to the beat of the kids clapping for her amusement, she’s one of us. Our parrot, petulant or not, is a member of our family for the long haul.” -Jenny Gardiner

Watch an interview with Jenny, see a list of upcoming appearances, and read the first chapter on her Simon Spotlight author page. On to the interview!

1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine? Far, far less to to write now. So much attention has to go to publicity and marketing that writing almost seems a luxury now.

2) Do you listen to music while you write? If I am at a coffee shop, I always do (unless I get distracted and simply MUST eavesdrop on a neighboring table LOL). At home I generally don't, unless the kids are home and have some vile MTV show on, in which case I totally have to zone out from that with tunes.

3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and story telling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?' I should say yes to this but I don't. I guess I'm not that kind of learner (is that kinesthetic? No, I think maybe I'm kinesthetic, learning by doing, rather than visual learner). It doesn't sink in one iota. LOL

4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer? Just to recharge my battery, I would do well to have a fabulous week or two lounging on a catamaran in the British Virgin Islands. My dream vacation. But I'd also love to set a novel in Italy and immerse myself somewhere--anywhere!--in Italy for a while.

5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences? Oh lordie. My very first book signing, I had a very bizarre Charles Manson lookalike vagrant come into the bookstore with a watermelon beneath his armpit and beeline over to me (wanting my freebie Hershey's kisses), then feign interest in my book (Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, as if that was something he would read!) . He then picked up one of my business cards, flipped it over, and proceeded, with very jittery hands, to draw a strange illustration that I thought at first was a set of breasts (thank goodness not!) . Never speaking a word, he finally handed it to me and I gladly gave him some kisses (of the chocolate variety!) so that he and his watermelon would go on their merry way.

Thanks Jen! Congratulations on the release of WINGING IT. To wrap things up, here's a short video of Graycie (I LOVE this bird!), I'm off to pre-order a few copies.

Monday, March 08, 2010

It's only a matter of time...

From the Daily Mail: "New York Chef Makes Cheese out of Wife's Breast Milk."

In related news, I sure do wish this was a real product:

(They did forget "moons" and "clovers," though.)

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Flaming Lips

Wouldn't it be great if instead of posting how many blog followers you have, that little widget labeled your "following" accordingly? Like, at the top of the pile would be "Jesus Christ." (As in, 'almost as many followers as.') And of course you'd have your Buddha, and various political figures, and Dave Matthews, and Chick-Fil-A. I think I'm somewhere in the neighborhood of "Brownie troop leader."

So last week was exciting! I nearly set my house on fire because I turned the oven to 400 degrees without knowing one of my brand new Chicago Cutlery knives was inside. Cue clouds of offensive smoke....aaaaannnnd: Bright yellow flames! Leaping to life in the oven! Wheeeeee! How did the knife get inside the oven? Daisy probably put it there. She also probably turned the thermostat up to 75 degrees the next day (which J and I both deny doing). Anyway, flaming plastic smells quite foul. But you probably already knew that, because we've all have a little flaming plastic in our lives at some point.

Also this: I called in a new credit card to activate it. I DESPISE doing this, because inevitably you end up talking to a real person who has a huge financial incentive to get you to sign up for fee-based payment protection plans and other goofy add-ons that YOU TRULY DON'T NEED. And I hate high-pressure sales pitches. Especially if there's any kind of accent involved, because I'm never sure if I'm being hustled or not. Because I'm too busy paying attention to the individual words being said (as opposed to what they mean when strung together).

At one point, I think it was my third polite decline, the call center worker got a little pissed at me and my stubborn refusal to cooperate. "It's only 89 cents!" he said, exasperated. I'd already forgotten what sum the 89 cents pertained to--would I be charged 89 cents for every $50 carried on the balance? $100? Every dollar? And how often would it be assessed? Monthly? Weekly? Daily? Hourly?

I suspected the worst.

"It's only 89 cents!" he'd said.

This is what I wish I'd said back: "Only is such an interesting word, don't you think? I wonder if children sewing flair on shirts in the slums of Mumbai would use the word 'only' to describe the sum of 89 cents. That's what...about 42 rupees? Half a day's pay for that child? Is this really some kind of secret surcharge to participate in today's global capitalist system? Who are you REEEEAALLLY, hmmmmm?"

This is what I actually said, smiling politely: "No, sorry. I'm going to pass. Again. Yep. No thanks. Thank you. No. I'm set for today. Thanks. You have a great day, too. Okay. Bye-bye."

This is perhaps one of the few reasons I'm excited about getting old one day. Sure I won't have my teeth, hips, loved ones, or mind. But goddammit, I will be able to say what I really want to say.

I only 40, maybe 45 years to go.