I’ve been stuck on drawing these doodles of mermen and fish. They’re fun to do as a postcard and send off into the world.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Christmas music, especially in the car. I love it. I look forward to the switch to all every year, and like everyone, I have some favorites I’m excited to hear.
“The inexpressible depth of music, so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain…Music expresses only the quintessence of life and of its events, never these themselves.” ― Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
So many Christmas songs have an ability to move me in ways that other types of music lack. Maybe that is just because they are played annually and often during the season. Maybe it is just that the holiday season is full of activity, and that gives these songs special meaning. There are a handful of songs that make me think of the smell of the Santa bag we had at our house one year. Another group transports me to my grandparents’ house on a December evening, the tree glowing intensely red.
I’ve made a “Top 15” list here, which was pretty hard. There are so many I love. A week from now, this list could be a completely different one too. At the time of writing this, these are my favorite Christmas songs.
15. Darius Rucker — Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
1739, Darius Rucker recording 2014
This is one of my favorite carols by anyone, and Darius Rucker does a beautiful job. Few songs give me as many Christmasy feelings as this one.
14. Ivy Winters — Elfy Winters Night
This is a brand new song for 2016, and I’m very into it. It’s a fun modern swing sort of thing. It’s the kind of song that makes me think of a speakeasy, but in a theatrical sense… the type of song performed in a movie scene in a 1920s or 1930s bar.
13. Thurl Ravenscroft (uncredited) — You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
This is one I try to resist loving, but it is just so tied to my Christmas experience that I can’t not love it. It’s been recorded by other artists, but the original from the 1966 special is really the best. Incidentally, the voice actor who sang the song, Thurl Ravenscroft, was not credited for the song, but he’s most well-known as the voice of Tony the Tiger. He did so many other recognizable things as well, and his voice is just so perfect for this song.
12. Pentatonix — Mary, Did You Know?
1991, Pentatonix recording 2014
Pentatonix is sometimes criticized, including by me, for being too plastic. There is such a thing as too polished, and they often go a step too far for me. But what they absolutely do right in this song is give it the power it deserves. A friend pointed out that this song is about a revelation that should be delivered with a certain vehemence, something most singers fail to deliver. This version really builds beautifully and the lands softly. It’s really a journey, and I enjoy being taken on it.
11. Gayla Peevey – I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas
This song is so ridiculous and cute, and for me is less obnoxious than the other Christmas songs by and for kids. It makes this list because it makes me smile every time I hear it.
10. Bing Crosby — Little Drummer Boy
1941, Bing Crosby recording 1962
Little Drummer Boy was my grandpa’s favorite Christmas song. It makes me think of his house as it was in the 1980s at Christmas, music coming from the stereo cabinet in the living room and the tree intensely lit in red lights. It makes me think of red three-wick candles, large ceramic Mr. & Mrs. Santa figures, and boxes of wrapping paper at the ready. It conjures up the smell of brown and serve rolls, the taste of Aunt Chick’s cookies, and the energy of a house well lived in. It is Christmas for me.
9. Megan Mullally — Silent Night
1818, Megan Mullally recording 2001
I love Megan Mullally’s voice. She does a fantastic version of Silent Night here, and seems so unique to her own style in parts. Silent Night is one of the songs I like by most artists, but I sometimes feel like the style doesn’t match the themes of the song. This one does a pretty good job with that. This was included on an album of NBC stars, and at that time Will & Grace was enjoying its greatest success. Megan Mullally went on to release several albums, all amazing and worth looking into.
8. Burl Ives — Holly Jolly Christmas
1962, this Burl Ives recording 1965
What is Christmas without Burl Ives? Sad, that’s what. I really appreciate that Ives recorded this for his Christmas album the year after it appeared on the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Soundtrack. That version had been so rushed and I like this slightly slowed one much more. This song, and really any song from Rudolph, makes me feel like a kid in all the right ways.
7. Scott Matthew — Silent Nights
This original song is sweet, sad, wistful… it’s one of the feelings I can identify with, especially during Christmas. It’s beautiful, and Scott Matthew is the absolute master at making me feel sad and then making feel okay about feeling sad. His songs are usually wrapped in melancholy, but I’m always glad they are.
6. Carpenters — Merry Christmas Darling
All the Christmas feelings. This one is similar to Silent Nights, but far more hopeful. You feel mildly sad that these two won’t be together for Christmas, but are left with little doubt that they will eventually reunite.
5. Mariah Carey – All I Want For Christmas Is You
I got this album when it came out, and I have yet to get enough of this one. It is just as perfect as it ever was. It’s so full of the joy that makes Christmas wonderful, and truly a timeless classic.
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4. Ella Fitzgerald – Sleigh Ride
1948, Ella Fitzgerald recording 1960
Ella. Need I say more?
3. Dolly Parton — Hard Candy Christmas
1978, Dolly Parton & Movie recording 1982
This might be surprisingly high on my list… maybe? It wasn’t conceived as a Christmas song, but I’m happy to listen to it over and over during December. This song makes me want to drink cocoa and warm up under a blanket with a good book.
Dolly Parton’s Solo Studio Version
Film Version featuring Dolly Parton & the Cast of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas
2. Wham! — Last Christmas
This one is polarizing. I’ve seen it on as many lists of worst Christmas songs as best Christmas songs. For me it is almost at the top of my favorites. I suppose if you have an aversion to 1980s pop music, you might not care for this, but I love 80s pop. I especially love anything from George Michael, and I’m happy to hear this in every store during the holidays.
1. Trans-Siberian Orchestra — Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)
1914 (Carol of the Bells), traditional (God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen)m Trans-Siberian Orchestra recording 1996
Carol of the Bells is probably my favorite Christmas carol, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra really takes it to another level here. This song is a great storytelling. It’s very moving.
Here are some other songs I love, but they just didn’t quite get on my list. It’s pretty hard to narrow down to 15; I could probably do a list of 100, and I’d still have to leave things off that I love.
This is an odd sort of post for me. My blog hasn’t been about things like this before, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be about that. Now that I’m fairly focused on my health and changing my lifestyle in regards to what I eat, it seems appropriate to share different aspects of veganism.
One of the most common things I hear about being vegan or vegetarian lifestyles is that food it too expensive. I believed this myself for a long time; it was the excuse that kept me from going vegetarian earlier, and later from going vegan earlier. I was worried about the cost of food. Now that my roommate has agreed to try veganism for a while, I am able to really compare grocery shopping at our house right now to grocery shopping at our house six months ago. What I’ve found is more dramatic than I expected.
This grocery trip was massive for me. Along with what I already had on hand, this is about two months worth of food, but only includes about a week’s worth of fresh produce and two weeks worth of bread/flour tortillas, which actually I’m trying to reduce anyway. It should be obvious that this is incredibly inexpensive. Six months ago, this amount would have resulted in about three week’s worth of unhealthy food… if that. And that wouldn’t even count the three or four times a week we’d get fast food, which we essentially do not do at all anymore.
25 lb bag jasmine rice
5 lb bag red rice
3 lb bag black rice
2 lb bag brown rice
1 bag cellophane noodles
1 bag quinoa
1 bag corn pasta — penne
1 bag corn pasta — fusilli
1 box couscous
2 loaves sandwich bread
80 ct corn tortillas
20 ct flour tortillas
3 mini pizza crusts
1 box falafel mix
10 lbs bag russet potatoes
1 small box dates
1 small bag spring mix
1 large can prunes
2 boxes pomegranate apple sauce cups
1 box raspberry/cranberry apple sauce cups
2 cans peaches
2 cans pears
2 cans papaya
5 cans mango
9 cans lychees
1 can mandarin oranges
3 cans butter beans
7 cans black beans
1 can black eyed peas
1 can 3 bean salad
2 cans green beans
4 cans corn
2 cans sliced beets
1 can whole potatoes
3 cans water chestnuts
2 cans mushroom pieces
2 cans tomato sauce
2 cans refried beans
1 bottle mushroom soy paste
1 bottle barbecue sauce
1 small bottle sriracha sauce
1 bottle sriracha ketchup
2 bottles vegan mayo
1 jar pickle spears
1 jar sauerkraut
1 jar white vinegar
11 cartons almond milk
1 bag granola
1 box instant oatmeal
1 box frozen black bean burgers
1 bag frozen broccoli
1 bag frozen brussels sprouts
1 bag frozen vegetable stir fry
1 bag frozen berries
1 bag frozen french fries
1 bag date sugar
1 bag goji berries
1 can nutritional yeast
3 small bags roasted seaweed
4 strips vegan jerky
1 small lychee jelly juice
1 small mango jelly juice
1 bag super lemon candy
1 bottle water
2 bags Frito’s
2 bags pretzels
That is for two people, includes most of our food for the next two months, and I even picked up some specialty things (which usually cost a little more). And that rice should last a lot longer than two months. If you eat rice, buy it in 25 lb bags. It just saves so much money. I got jasmine this time, but sometime next month I’ll probably get brown and I’ll have a nice variety for a while.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how often the same information is made available. I have seen so many YouTube videos, lists, articles, and blog posts showing the affordability of a vegan diet. People don’t want to hear it. It is so much easier to ignore something that feels inconvenient. Nobody wants to be told to change something, especially not something they really enjoy. If you’ve been worried about the cost of eating well, I hope this helps you see that it is very affordable.
Dr. Michael Greger — “Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death” : NutritionFacts.org : Website Dr. Michael Greger M.D. reveals the findings of many studies over several decades showing the beneficial effects of a whole food, plant-based diet. “Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death” is one of his annual presentations on the newest findings in nutrition in which he discusses 14 of the top 15 leading causes of death in America and how they can be prevented, treated, and/or reversed by a plant-based diet.
Cowspiracy — Trailer : Website This illuminating film attempts to un-silence the link between animal agriculture and the decline of the planet’s health. Anyone interested in not living in a dystopian future, give this one a watch.
Earthlings — Trailer Joaquin Phoenix narrates a difficult-to-watch, but important documentary on the suffering of animals for the amusement and feeding of humans. It can be difficult to change the perceptions of superiority, but it is worth watching.
Gary Yourofsky — “The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear” full speech + Q&A : Website Yourofsky is a skilled orator and makes the case for veganism with extremely well-framed arguments. This is a must-watch for many vegans. It is great, but I’d also watch a few of Yourofsky’s TV appearances. He is so versed in his cause that he calmly dismantles those who try to debate him.
There are also a lot of fantastic YouTube channels:
Mr. and Mrs. Vegan – Nutrition, Recipes, Vlog, Weight Loss
The Vegan Corner – Recipes
Mic. the Vegan – Activism
That Vegan Couple – Activism, Vlog, Recipes, Nutrition
Hot for Food – Recipes
Freelee the Banana Girl – Nutrition, Activism, Fitness, Vlog, Weight Loss
The Light Twins – Fitness, Recipes, Vlog, Nutrition, Activism, Weight Loss
NutritionFacts.org – Nutrition, Weight Loss
Jon Venus – Fitness, Nutrition, Vlog
Guilt Free Vegan – Vlog, Recipes, Fitness, Nutrition
Learn Organic Gardening – Gardening, Nutrition, Activism
EdgyVeg – Recipes
Life al Dente – Vlog
Peaceful Cuisine – Recipes
BananaTV – Vlog, Recipes, Activism
Jenny Mustard – Recipes, Vlog, Lifestyle, Nutrition
Sweet Potato Soul – Recipes
Mary’s Test Kitchen – Recipes
Running Vegan – Fitness, Nutrition, Activism
Bite Size Vegan – Activism
Cheap Lazy Vegan – Recipes
Healthiest Vegan – Vlog, Nutrition
Unnatural Vegan – Activism, Nutrition
Handyman Bananas – Recipes, Fitness
The Butterfly Effect — Plant-Based Weight Loss – Nutrition, Weight Loss, Vlog
Reach4Raw – Weight Loss, Vlog, Lifestyle
Vegan Gains – Activism, Fitness, Nutrition, Vlog
Dr. John McDougall – Nutrition
and many, many others….
But Wait, I’m Fat Too!
I’m overweight. I’ve touched on that somewhat, but probably less than I should have. The thing is that my decision to go vegan had nothing to do with my health. My choices with regard to animals and how much a part of my diet they should be has never been about my weight.
Still, it is interesting that I managed to gain so much weight in just under ten years of vegetarianism. But I wasn’t the model of vegetarian nutrition. I love mozzarella cheese. I could eat it as a meal. I love potato chips, and fast food, and frozen burritos. I have spent years eating to worst possible things for myself. I was calorie restricting at times, but still eating junk. I have failed at being healthy. To be fair, I wasn’t really trying.
Veganism is a lifestyle dominated by compassion, not a specific diet. There are many ways to be vegan. I could, if I chose, consume a diet of only Oreos, Coca-Cola, and potato chips. I’d be vegan, but I don’t think I’d feel very good about it. I could also eat nothing but salads three times a day, crunching on apples as a snack as well. I’d definitely be vegan, but I would not be healthy at all.
The plan I’ve chosen, and that I’ve felt so good on for the past week, is high carb, low fat. It’s a mainly whole foods plan, and does not include oils. It feels clean and abundant, as it is very important for vegans to make sure they get enough calories to be satiated. To do so, I eat a lot more than I used to. That is the part that I’ve found the most difficult; my vegetarian diet consisted largely of one or two meals with a lot of calories from fats, dairy, and eggs. Those are not nutrient rich sources of calories, but they are easier. Now I’m trying to get to at least 2500 calories daily. I feel energetic. I’ve got so much extra weight that this energy is hard to use efficiently, but I’m hoping that I drop some weight so I can start exercising vigorously. I believe that this is the way to do that. I’ve looked into studies done by reputable institution, watched lectures by doctors who have studies plant-based nutrition, and read testimonials by others enjoying this lifestyle. The consensus seems to be that eating in this way will encourage the body to work toward its ideal weight. It isn’t instant; it may not even be fast. But if I stick with it I should see the results I want. More importantly, I’d like to solve what seem to be compounding health issues. I don’t want to be on medications for allergies or blood pressure. I don’t want worry about headaches, backaches, depression, chronic fatigue, knee pain, heart disease, cancer, or any of the other ailments that seem inevitable in my future.
I’ve been eating 5 meals a day, following a fairly consistent pattern.
Meal 1: (around 6:00am) Early morning. This is my when I like to have water and fruit. It wakes me up, but doesn’t seem too harsh. After this meal, I start a pot of coffee (yep.) and get ready for my day.
Meal 2: (mid morning) Carbs! This is a couple cups of oatmeal or rice with coffee. Maybe a little fruit mixed in. If I want something like a cake or bread I’d probably have it here.
Meal 3: (noonish) A big salad is perfect at this point, but I’m flexible. I might have more fruit or some cereal or whatever. If my rice was particularly filling, I might skip this meal.
Meal 4: (late afternoon) A can of beans plus a can of stewed tomatoes can be great in the afternoon. Its filling without being too much. Some pasta or a sandwich or veggie burrito is also great at this time. I like vegan meat substitutes and this is where I usually enjoy them.
Meal 5: (early evening) My final meal of the day is usually potatoes of some sort, maybe with a green salad. I love potatoes in all forms.
Making the Connection
My roommate had become bored with the vegetarian meals we ate. I tend to just stick to the same things over and over, but I went online is search of some new recipes. I started on YouTube, searching for vegan recipes. I chose vegan as my search term so I could make sure to not get fish recipes. I assume those people still exist, so it seemed safest — or at least more efficient — to find vegan recipes and add cheese to whatever I found. I watched a lot of YouTube videos. I started with recipes, went into grocery hauls, “what I ate” vlogs, and personal stories about going vegetarian or vegan. I had found a community of people who made sense to me. These were nonjudgmental souls who seemed to strongly care about life. They cared about other beings, about the planet, and about what they chose to put in their bodies. The pieces of the puzzle started coming together. I went further than I expected and chose to watch a few activism videos. I wasn’t able to ignore what I was watching.
Being vegan, as was learning from these folks, was not as hard or restrictive as I had believed. It seemed downright easy, and close to what I was already doing. I had been one of those vegetarians who would defend myself by saying “at least I’m not a vegan,” a statement that did not really make sense. I find the anger directed at vegans interesting and unfounded. I’m not sure where it comes from, but maybe its insecurity. Non-vegans may feel like they could be doing things wrong. How is it extreme to not eat animals?
There is a fair amount of misunderstanding about vegetarianism and veganism. I’ve already spent a lot of time explaining to people how I get my protein, if I properly combine my foods, and why I don’t like bacon. I deal with the innocent taunts by family members who think its cute to wave meats at me or tell me I just don’t get how delicious it is. They don’t get it. They might never understand what I’m trying to do for myself, but in the case of the kids I just have to tolerate it until I believe they are old enough to process my reasons. I was letting my family know that I had decided to go to a plant-based diet, a more palatable term, when my nephew said “as long as you haven’t gone vegan.” I had, and said as much. But I’m bothered by the implication. He meant no harm, of course. He is old enough to understand my arguments, and I may go into them at some point, but what bothered me is the acceptance of a plant-based lifestyle in one moment, and a dismissal of the same lifestyle once it had been termed as vegan. It never wasn’t.
There exists this image of vegans as unkempt vagabonds whose privileged childhoods allowed them to explore themselves to their own detriment. This person has spent time in the peace corps, not for altruistic reasons, has spent time panhandling in Amsterdam, and has taken on the spiritualism of multiple cultures, none of which they understand. They have given up body care products, which they claim to no longer need in spite of that odor they seem to have. And they have to gall to tell those around them everything nobody asked about the food they are eating or the clothes they are wearing. These are the vegans who will always find fault with one thing or another, the milk or caffeine or leather… They will explain to you that you should eat organic, raw, local, fair-trade, and GMO-free. They will understand none of these things. They will point out how the company that made the shoes you are wearing also makes leather shoes and so should be boycotted. These people are poor by choice — Mom, Dad, and the trust fund are only a phone call away. They are obnoxious, self-righteous, and hypocritical. And they are not typical of vegans, in spite of the stereotype. They make veganism feel like such a struggle.
Only it’s not.
I am evolving because I have chosen to turn off the criticism I receive, real or perceived. I’ve allowed myself to accept the education I had ignored before. I have watched the documentaries, read the blogs, been horrified by what I’ve seen. Ignorance was wonderfully happy, but it allowed me to excuse things I knew in my heart to be wrong. Education is so important to furthering oneself as a human being.
I’m going to slip up. I’m going to do things and eat things that others would not. I’m going to feel weakened by the arguments of those I love and fail to keep up with what I’ve chosen for myself. I know these things. But as time passes, I know I’ll be able to stand my ground and develop my arguments more fully. I’ve never been great with debate, but I’m going to need to find tools to help stay myself. And I’m going to share what I’ve learned with others. I fully believe that your convictions and beliefs should be challenged often. If your mind is changed, then your values were not what you thought them to be. If, in the face of the information I share, people do not feel compelled to change, then I will have done what I can. It isn’t for me to force compassionate living.
December 27, 2006 I became a vegetarian. July 27, 2016 I became a vegan. I’m so excited about where this will take me.
Honoring My Values
In 2005, I took an opportunity from my dad to visit Alaska. He had grown up there and I was eager to see it. I was working on a novel based on his life at the time, so it seemed logical that I should go see where it all began. A friend went with me for the first week and I would stay a full month. My dad had found two places for me to stay, both at the homes of high school friends of his. At the end of the first week, I had decided I was moving, and my friend was eager to join me. She returned and orchestrated the move while I continued to stay and look for a job. The second two weeks of my vacation were spent housesitting for a couple who are vagan. Even with my history, I found it off-putting. I would go through their pantry and cabinets looking at all the unusual foods. It was not what I was used to. And I didn’t fully embrace the experience, as I should have. I took pleasure in buying fried chicken and eating it in the living room, a secret act of defiance. I’m still sad about that situation.
After a little over a year in Alaska, I was alone and starting to really reflect on the person I really wanted to be and learning how to focus on myself while I developed relationships with a newly emerging group of friends. During that first year, I was eating meat at least once a day. I didn’t feel right. I was having trouble staying happy. 2006 was coming to a close when I had the epiphany that I could no longer eat meat. I was eating lamb at the time and I could feel it in my mouth as I masticated; it was no longer food. The lamb had been alive, every bit as much as I am alive, and it certainly did not belong inside my body. It should have been allowed to mature, to be free, to become a sheep. I had been a part of that creature’s death, the demand that required it to be killed and included in my meal. I could see its little lamb face in my mind. It was adorable, to be sure, but I was more struck by the audacity of eating another creature because I wanted to, disregarding its family and community. Don’t kid yourself, sheep have communities. Cows have best friends and a matriarchal society. Chickens organize themselves into a complex hierarchy, the origin of the term “pecking order.” These animals aren’t sitting around waiting to become a meal. They are trying to live full lives, as much as they can with what we give them.
It all came down on my and I cried. I cried a lot and wanted the animal out of my body. I have not eaten meat since.
I did just a small amount of research at the time. I had been been going back and forth with vegetarianism for ten years at that point, so I felt like I had a handle on the facts enough to not dig much deeper. I had made a partial connection, but I was blind to part of the story.
My History with Vegetarianism and Veganism
As long as I can remember, I’ve had a strained relationship with food. I don’t have many food memories stored up, but I remember loving pizza, fruit, cereal, and burgers. I started gaining weight in 3rd or 4th grade. It wasn’t so much that I craved food, but that I was eating junk. I had no idea how to eat properly, and enjoyed chips and candy frequently. By 7th grade, I had repeated stomach problems so severe that I was taken to a doctor who told me to not eat red meat or fried foods. Ever. My stomach issues cleared up. I was able to mostly eliminate red meat and no longer ate fried foods. My diet was not actually improved; I was only doing the minimum required to not be in pain. The candies, sodas, and other foods continued.
When I was in middle school I became friends with a kid from a family that was vegan. He also didn’t eat wheat, salt, or sugar. Eating at his house felt like being in a different country, and my parents certainly didn’t know how to feed him at our house. Things were always awkward between him and most other people. A lot of ridicule was thrown his way, and behind his back he was referred to pejoratively as “veggie boy.” I defended him, but in my mind the family’s vegan lifestyle was akin to a minority religion. He was always thin and short, traits that were attributed to his diet. Vegetarianism and veganism were seem as extreme in Oklahoma culture. The official state meal, adopted in 1988, consists of fried okra, cornbread, barbecue pork, squash, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, chicked fried steak, pecan pie, and black-eyed peas. While one could make a strong argument for at least part of this being designated “Oklahoma Historical State Meal,” as a current meal it definitely marginalizes plant-based lifestyles.
I started to form my own opinions on eating meat when I was in high school. Veganism didn’t seem right, or healthy. My friend seemed to be malnourished, so I made the assumptions everyone else had made. Still, the idea of eating animals seemed increasingly in conflict with my love of animals. Love of animals is a misunderstood term, and one that has been a part of who I am for most of my life. I liked to read about animal behavior in encyclopedias, National Geographic magazines, and in my subscriptions to National and International Wildlife magazines. I was hooked on natural history and plastered the walls of my bedroom with images from magazines of the animals I liked the most — cats, insects, giraffes, gorillas, dolphins, peacocks, dinosaurs, and many others. I was starting to see them as fellow inhabitants of the same planet and that belief made it harder and harder to want to see parts of animals cooked up for me to consume. I wasn’t making a full connection. It’s easy to forget what the thin round brown disc on a burger actually is. It’s almost designed to prevent knowing. I would go back and forth on my willingness to eat animals for a few years. I found it easier in college; the student union offered a veggie patty that I could have with my Josta soda and I could get a bean burrito or veggie sub for dinner. Feeding myself allowed me to eschew the animal foods that were generally consumed by other family members. I still wasn’t terribly strict with myself, allowing myself to enjoy the McDonald’s where my roommate worked.
I drifted away from these values after college. I have always been an eager people pleaser, and when I started spending time with a group of new friends, I didn’t want to seem odd. Enjoying the meats they cooked allowed me to fit in better. I would still try to be mostly plant-based, but did not turn down animal meals either. I still had issues with eating the animals, but I was more than willing to trade in my personal beliefs to make sure my friends were comfortable. It’s the only way in which I feel Southern.
Long day! We woke up to a very good breakfast. We traveled away from St. Malo and went to Normandy. In one town we ate some lunch and had a very good time. I could do this a lot. However, some chose to go to a discoteque late the night before and Arnaud was very stressed. I bought some cheese. In Normandy, we went to the American cemetery and there was quite a downpour. Everyone and everything was wet. It was probably better because we got a better feeling of what it might have been like in that harbor at that time. We saw the concrete structures in the sea that were brought to fortify the artificial harbor. We also spent about 45 minutes at the place that was bombed and the Germans were called [Omaha] Beach. Then after that we were off to Paris! We were going and I woke up about one hour before we arrived in the city. We went through many miles of trees and forest and the traffic started thickening. The trees were very numerous. We went through several tunnels and suddenly under one tunnel, we were there! We ate at a very decent restaurant where the waiters were amusing when they tried to speak English. After that we went for a lovely ride on a boat through the highlights of Paris from the Seine River. We went around both islands and passed many gorgeous buildings and statues. When we arrived at the hotel we were pleasantly surprised by the discovery of a shower curtain and refrigerator and microwave. It was very nice. Each room was 350 F for 1 night – 2 people. Paris is a wonderful city. We are not doing anything for the night but sleep!
» 26 May 2009
This day had a lot of important parts. First, the visit to one of the D-Day beaches was really moving. The heavy rain made it even more somber and I wished I could have just stood there all day. While the history lessons on large boards were fascinating, they paled to have the impact of a field of white crosses. It was beautiful and eerie. The rain, the cold, and the sudden sense of sadness dealt a crucial blow to my impressions of Paris. By the time we arrived, I wasn’t really feeling well and tried for a couple days to shake it. Unfortunately, I only had those couple of days to enjoy Paris. Under different circumstances, my feelings of that city might be better.
» 27 June 2016
The air is thick with an uneasiness. Change seems inevitable, but whether that will prove positive or negative remains to be seen. I have a lot of fears about the direction politics is headed in this country, in spite of the fact that I really do believe the US is not only the greatest country to be living in right now, but has been getting better and better. Losing sight of our improvements as a nation is easy; the media finds very little interest in something as mundane as satisfaction or happiness. The impression is left that there exists more unrest, more dissatisfaction, more strife than actually does exist, and that feeds into those problems. I’m by no means saying that genuine issues do not exist, nor am I saying that the issues people face are not important. But what I am saying is that we are not worse off than we were before. Part of the rhetoric of the current political discourse is that we have left behind an America whose ideals were so fantastic. We have betrayed our country and need to work to get back to a former greatness. That sounds good, and nostalgia certainly paints the past in pretty colors, but when viewed historically, no basis for such an idyllic time exists. Sure, we’ve had moments of resolve, challenges we have overcome, periods of great prosperity and possibility, but often these moments are tainted with the uglier sides of our human nature: discrimination, greed, corruption. In no point in American history have we seen as much equality for all citizens as we do now, even if there is still progress to be made. And that is we have opportunities to shine. Progress. We won’t be the leaders of the free world anymore if we isolate ourselves and leave our allies to figure things out for themselves.
In 1776, France provided aid to the American colonies, likely allowing for the defeat of the British in the American Revolution. On June 6, 1944 America was able to repay that debt and helped defeat the Germans who were occupying France at the time. They were our first ally, and remain one to this day. But that relationship was not formed and strengthened through isolationism. How different would the world be now if the United States had decided that saving France was not its problem? How different would the world be now if France had decided that saving the American Colonies was not its problem? Foreign relations is not about maintaining friendships at arms length. It never has been. A large number of Americans have been steered into that way of thinking. The media coverage and the conservative message have so blown up the problems that exist with “the other” that I think it is difficult to remember how connected we all are on this planet.
Visiting Omaha beach was moving, it still is twenty years later. It is a reminder of our global responsibility. Having a strong and proud national identity need not cost us our allies.
7 is my lucky number! It was a wonderful day. Breakfast wasn’t all that great, but we soon travelled to Mont St Michel. Mont St Michel is a beautiful abbey on a rock in the English Channel, just off the the coast of France. The tide changes so much that it is possible to walk out to another island a half mile out and within the next hour be trapped for 4-5 hours! We visited all the important places and there was a lot of climbing to do. However, it was worth it. On the way down we ate lunch and shopped. I bought 2 berets at 60f each. When we got back to the city of St Malo, we shopped for about 3-4 1/2 hours. I ended up with one deck of poker cards, 1 deck of tarot cards, 2 smurfs, 1 tin-tin, 4 berets, and a word search book.
» 1 September 2007
This is what happens when you take children to somewhere so great and let them spend their own money. They buy Smurfs. I still have my St Malo Smurfs. I actually love them still, but I wish I had found a more meaningful trinket from there or from Mont St Michel. How was I to know that I would not be caught dead in a beret within a year of the trip. Several of the berets and both decks of cards were gifts.
I fell in love with the abbey at first sight. I wanted to spend many hours there. As we walked up to the top, I felt very alone — not in a bad way, but in a wonderful way. It was as though I was the only person who existed in the world and I was seeing this place before anyone else. Each stone made me happy; the sides of the structure were as beautiful close up as they were far away. There were chains that I felt compelled to take pictures of, rock sculptures that were so beautiful I was deeply changed. At the top of the abbey sits a courtyard lined in shrubs, perfectly maintained and trimmed. There was a space where a block was placed over one shrub. I still don’t know why, but it did complete the perfect lines of the rest of the plants. I wanted to lose myself on the island in the distance. The many other tourists around melted away in what would be my favorite place on the planet. If you have never been to Mont St Michel, it is worth going. It has such magic to it.
There is something so special to me about this place even today, but it’s interesting that I don’t have words for that. This happens to be frequently; things I hold close are often the things I find the most trouble describing.
A rather boring day. First, we got up and had a gloriously good breakfast. The beverages were watered down. We then drove about an hour and a half through rather flat country. Many of the towns had “troglodite houses,” houses built in the cliff using it for 3 of the 4 walls. We then arrived at a winery in Saumur. They made a sparkling white which was actually champagne but not from the Champagne area. It was wonderful! I loved it. … I guess my wine experience wasn’t over — just for red wine! We then rode about 6 hours to St Malo. The most beautiful city I have seen on our tour thus far, sail boats lined the coast and the old city was gorgeous. We had a dinner at which we ordered a white wine — I didn’t have any. I am quite addicted to Orangina. A few of us left at 9:30 for an evening walk in the old city. All the stores were closed and the city was beautiful. We bought some ice cream. I had passion fruit. It was quite wonderful. We then “strolled” back to the Hotel Mascotte (where we were staying). It was great.
» 30 August 2007
I don’t know what I thought was boring about that day. I could spend the rest of my days in St Malo, which I had figured out the day we arrived. It was one of the greatest moments of the two weeks, strolling the streets of the old city. “Old city” refers to the original city of St Malo, encased in a stone wall. The city has outgrown this wall and now spills out around it into a rather large place. I have no clue why I put quotation marks around the word strolled.
The drinks we had with breakfast were all very watered down. Already, we had seen that breakfast includes coffee, orange juice, water, & milk. It seems odd, but the portions are all very small. The winery was interesting. Making wine is a rather slow and uneventful process.
If I am ever in Europe again, I would like to spend my time in St Malo — or at the very least visit again. It was my idea of heaven. I think that explains why I was such a nerd with my descriptions of it. I was 16 after all.
» 7 May 2016
My time if France was rushed; there was so much planned for us to see in two weeks that when I look back on it, I think of it as more like a two month vacation. I clearly remember the moments I believed would be those I carried with me for the rest of my life, and I remember trying to dwell in them slightly more in order to create the memories I knew would be so important. In many cases I was spot on, and those events are absolute stand out moments. But rushing in a bus through the Loire Valley, I couldn’t know how the troglodyte houses would stick with me. I think of those homes often, enchanted by the fairy tale beauty of little cottages stuck in the sides of cliffs, sprawling communities that resemble so much other villages in France, but with almost disregard for the rock structures around them, or rather in spite of them. I wanted to go in the houses, see the rocky interior walls, experience how these people lived. But we were only driving through, on to bigger and more typically touristy destinations. Saint-Malo, one of the most visited towns in France by those who do not live in France, was one of these places. One of these places we were expected to be found and so had been placed. Don’t get me wrong, I still hold Saint-Malo in my heart as the jewel of my time in France. It’s the place I would wrap myself in if I could, live in, revisit, talk about. However, twenty years on it seems like I might have missed out on experiences that would have stood out even more.
When I was 28, at the time of the first comments made to this journal, I had not yet figured out how to own the things that make me… me. I had not embraced the quirks, good and bad, that had always been a part of me. I had not yet nourished the nerd inside of me that I love so much now. I was so much of a people pleaser that I routinely changed who I was to be the person I thought the world wanted me to be. I’m sure I’ll read this entry in ten years and think how immature it seems as well, but I feel so proud to have come so far in my own understanding of myself. It’s one of those lessons that cannot be taught. I may have described the city of Saint-Malo in ways that my 28 year old self found nerdy, but I’m glad I did. I was genuinely elated at being there and I had not learned to deny my joys at that point, not to myself anyway. That would come later.
If I knew that the only thing I would be able to do on a trip to France would be to stroll through an ancient city on a warm Spring evening and enjoy an ice cream, it would still be totally worth it.
1. Ingmire Hall, a 16th century country house in Cumbria, England
2. Timeline of the Ottoman Empire, which lasted from 1299 until 1923
3. Richard Mapuata N’Kiambi, retired Zaire soccer player whose career lasted 1985-1991
4. Frama-C, or Framework for Modular Analysis of C Programs, a tool used by those who use C programs
5. Gary Roberts, Welsh soccer player who played 1980-1996 & coached 199-present
6. José Llopis Corona, 1918-2011, Spanish soccer player whose career lasted 1935-1951
7. Yamla Pagla Deewana 2, Hindi cinema film from 2013. Starring Dharmendra, Sunny Deol, & Bobby Deol. Sequel to the 2011 film Yamla Pagla Deewana.
8. Dominion Building, Wellington, a historic building in Wellington, New Zealand.
9. 65amps, musical equipment manufacturer
10. Kenyon Peaks, a group of basalt peaks in Antarctica