Honk honk: April 2016 edition

The other day I was updating my CV (something I do periodically so when I need it, it’s just there already), and realizing that a lot of cool stuff has been going on in my writing life, and I haven’t even mentioned it here.

This is one of my main problems: I don’t like tooting my own horn, even when it’s appropriate. When I graduated with my MFA in 2013, I probably only told half my friends. More than one asked me later how school was going.

It’s true that bragging is pretty crappy, but simply acknowledging your accomplishments isn’t. Still, it’s something I struggle with a lot. So, some of this is old-ish news, and some of it is new, but here’s a short list of writing-related cool stuff I’m doing/did recently:

So that’s what I’ve been doing. Have you done anything awesome lately? Share in the comments!

#FridayReads: “Salt Sugar Fat” by Michael Moss

saltsugarfatI love food, and I love reading about food. I also believe that purchasing and cooking food is a political statement, whether you want it to be or think it is or not.

Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us explores the three big ingredients that give us cravings, make us fat, and dictate how we think food should taste—even though a lot of processed foods can hardly be called food (in my opinion).

This book has been on my to-read list since Moss came to Pittsburgh a few years ago. I wasn’t able to attend his lecture, but it put his book on my radar.

(Authors take note: The publicity from your book tour has the potential to lead readers to your book even if they don’t come to your reading.)

Salt Sugar Fat is broken into three sections, one for each of the ingredients. I’m still in the first third of the book, but already Moss has covered corporate mergers, competition between brands and corporations, the “bliss point”—which is the optimum sugar level for an individual—how companies “optimize” drinks like Dr. Pepper, and more.

Moss’s reporting is sharp and on point. This is no conspiracy theory type book about how the food industry is trying to make everyone fat. It’s another terrifying addition to the growing body of literature documenting corporate neglect of our planet and our health in the interest of driving profits and the negative effects of eating processed food (see also anything by Michael Pollan and the awesome documentary Food, Inc. Also Forks Over Knives, King Corn, Genetic Chile… there are so many good ones).

This is my favorite kind of food book, because it’s accessible and interesting. Moss interviews many food scientists and former food corporation employees and tells their stories without demonizing them or casting them in an unfair light. He shows us that really, what food scientists have done is pretty amazing from the scientific point of view, if not the nutritional point of view.

I’m listening to the audio book version, which is read by Scott Brick. Sometimes he gets into a pattern of reading every sentence with the same inflection, which goes right up to the edge of being annoying without quite crossing over. But the material he’s reading is fascinating, so I hardly notice.

Nature blog: Heaven at dawn

This post originally appeared on April 2, 2012 on Nature Writing.

During my nature writing class at Chatham University’s MFA program, I had to keep a weekly nature blog. Each of us picked a place and spent thirty minutes in that place each week, and then wrote a blog post about it. I’ve just bought a house and moved away from this place, so I thought reposting these entries would be a good way to celebrate the time I’ve spent there. I’ll tag each one “natureblog2012.”

Eastern redbud blooming

Some kind of pink blooming tree visible through the tangle.

I woke up before the sun, hoping to see it crest over the rows of houses in my neighborhood and wash my yard in red or golden or pink light. Instead, a gray morning greeted me, and all I could see of the sun was a gradual lightening of the sky. Not even a robin or sparrow sang, and I wondered if birds also suffered from cases of the Mondays.

Then, just after seven, all the birds on the hillside seemed to explode into song at once for a few minutes before falling quiet again. A robin kept up his song, and a few other birds chimed intermittently. As I was writing this, the cardinal pair  hopped on top of the wood pile, pecking around together  presumably looking for food. They peeped at each other like my grandparents used to do. The male ate some of the Eastern redbush seeds, then flew away.

The stinging nettle has started coming up at the base of the woodpile. Nettles are apparently good in soup, and I’ve been meaning to try it, but I’ll admit I’m a bit apprehensive about eating something that can raise huge welts on my skin. Supposedly if you pre-boil them, the stingers come out. The tree of heaven sapling grove looks like a tiny palm tree grove, with its developing leaves starting to spread out.

White hyacinth

Another hyacinth from the abandoned yard.

Every spring, I get the itch to garden. And I do garden, albeit in various pots spread across my porch and patio (they seem to multiply every year). I haven’t done much this year, just groomed my potted perennials that started coming up much earlier than usual: a hosta, a bleeding heart, tulips, daffodils, and then a blackberry bush. The mint from last year that I never bothered to compost has come back with a vengeance, and I’m glad its in a pot so it can’t take over anything (but I’m also glad it came back, because it’s delicious in yogurt).

I’ve also got a hemlock sapling and some kind of tree/shrub that I liberated from the empty yard next door (its pot had disintegrated, leaving its roots exposed, and it would have died if I hadn’t re-potted it). My nebby neighbor, the one who thought I was some kind of hooligan, suggested I also take the daffodils from the empty yard before a developer buys the house. I think I’ll leave them. How many daffodils does one person need?

Imaginary Map of My Yard

As a renter with a reasonable landlord who so far doesn’t seem to care what we do as long as it isn’t destructive and as long as our check arrives on time, I could probably work out a deal to clear the hillside and turn part of it into a garden. It’s something I’ve thought about doing for the past several years. But now, as I watch the chickadees chase each other across the back of the yard, I wonder if I still want to.

I can still see the skeleton of a garden here, and I don’t need the whole hillside. Just enough for a small raised bed, and some room for my dogs to sniff around and do their business. If we had our own set of stairs leading up here, I could install a bird feeder, too, and we’d all win.