This memoir/ travel writing narrative is the follow-up to Troost’s debut, The Sex Lives of Cannibals. I didn’t read that one, though I know several people who did and enjoyed it. I love travel writing in general. This one focused on Troost’s experiences in Vanuatu and Fiji, where he and his wife lived when she got a job of some kind there. I don’t think I paid attention to it as well as I should have.
There were some undeniably funny parts. Troost has a dry wit that I generally appreciate. I found that I didn’t really care much about him or his adventures here, though, and I’m not really sure why. It wasn’t the best travel narrative I’ve ever read, but it didn’t suck or anything. It just didn’t light my fire like I had hoped.
I saw several reviews saying that it is very racist. I didn’t think it was; it was discussing the racism in other groups that he noticed while traveling, but he himself didn’t strike me as a racist at all. I think a lot of people objected to the title of the book. But helloooo, it’s supposed to be a play on words and pique readers’ interest. You can’t judge another time period (irrelevant in this book) or another culture (super relevant in this book) by our own.
Something that I did find to be a major turn-off was Troost’s description of his first night in Fiji. He was wandering around looking for just a basic bar or pub to sit in and have a drink and relax after a long day of travel. I get that. Instead, he encountered some male prostitutes who kept trying to take him into the jungle. At least, according to his recollection. He remembered thinking that he was nervous and that getting sodomized wasn’t something high on his list of things to do. OH, IS THAT SO? And getting raped and/or sodomized is something that IS high on the list of every woman who’s had to endure it? Or even the worry that you could get raped? I don’t think I know ANY woman who hasn’t been worried or scared about being assaulted in some form or another. Soooo… now you know how it feels, my dude? I’m sorry he had that scary experience but there was a tone deafness to that whole section that put me off. It seemed never to occur to him that such experiences are commonplace among women. Fucking derp.
After listening to this, the main takeaway I have is that neither Vanuatu or Fiji are places I want to go. Like, ever. Nor do I understand why anyone would want to visit, let alone LIVE there. Which is too bad because they are probably both cool places to visit. But between the earthquakes, mudslides, volcanoes, and foot-long centipedes, I’m inclined to call the entire region a hard pass. Maybe I’ll stumble across a different narrative that will change my mind, but for now, I think I’ll keep my vacations outside the Ring of Fire, unless I’m going to Australia or New Zealand. I don’t think this was the best book to read for boosting tourism to the South Pacific.
Also known as Holy Imposter Syndrome, Batman! This is the memoir of a woman who was raised in Idaho by Mormon extremists who are prepping for the end of the world. She was homeschooled – a term used only in the loosest possible sense because her mother gave up and figured it was good enough if she could read. Westover eventually managed to take her ACT test and get into BYU and from there went on to get her master’s and PhD.
Westover writes a brilliant narrative that sweeps readers along with her. I think most rational people are horrified when they realize just how crazy her childhood was. Her father, super bipolar and generally violent, is on a tear about the government and socialism and conspiracies and God All. The. Time. He was up in arms, literally, when their “neighbors” were invaded by US Marshals. The horror smacks you when you realized he is talking about the people at Ruby Ridge and you think, “Holy fucking shit, THOSE are the kind of people they think are good and normal?” So yeah, an entirely fucked up childhood.
Their father’s, and to an extent their mother’s, paranoia and religious zealotry leads them to refuse to take rational action when people get hurt. I’m not talking scrapes and bruises that they treat at home like any normal parent would. I’m talking “my leg is literally on fire and my skin is melting” or “this piece of farm equipment just cut my arm to the bone and I’m spraying blood everywhere” kind of hurt. Both of these events were depicted in the memoir. Even if you have strong beliefs against the government or whatever, no sane parent would stand by and try to fix these kinds of injuries themselves. But they do. With homeopathic cures. What the fuck? Homeopathy is basically just diluted water and doesn’t do shit. What parent doesn’t have an instinct to protect their children at all costs? I cannot believe they genuinely felt it was better to treat these at home rather than go to a hospital. There was enough uncertainty in others that it must have been something they’d considered doing in the past. So for a mother not to take her seriously injured child to the hospital is simply unforgivable. I don’t care what your religious beliefs are. There is no belief that should carry more weight than taking actual care of your kids.
Somehow, despite this utterly fucked upbringing, Westover figures out she needs an actual education. One of her brothers, Tyler, was always bookish and he left to go to college. She followed in his footsteps, studying for and taking the ACT. She has to take it twice but manages to score high enough to get into BYU. While there, she offends basically everyone when she asks what the Holocaust was in a history class. Everyone thinks she is just being a dick but she is so ignorant thanks to her parents’ “homeschooling” that she had never even heard of it. She makes it a point to learn about it, and many other things, although she starts failing many of her classes because she literally doesn’t know how to study. In an art history class, she looks at the pictures in the text but doesn’t know that “This week’s materials are pages 1-50” means she has to read the words. She manages to turn it around and does well, eventually getting to go on an exchange trip to Cambridge, England. She eventually wins the Cambridge version of the Rhodes Scholarship and gets to do her master’s at Trinity College, Cambridge, for free. The whole time she is in college, whether at BYU or Cambridge, she feels like a fake because she never went to actual school.
Eventually, Westover finally seems to kick her imposter syndrome. I can understand why she would feel that way. By most standards, when she first started attending college, and for quite some time afterward, she was an ignorant hick. She learned and assimilated into normal society and got an awesome education overseas that I am incredibly jealous of. She should be proud of her accomplishments, and she seems to be by the end of the book. Her journey also kind of confirmed for me that ignorance and stupidity are choices and if she can overcome that revolting sort of upbringing and do something awesome with her life, then others in similar situations should be able to do the same. I don’t know if she was able to approach any of her education from a position of privilege considering how poor and uneducated she really was. She had the personal motivation to get where she wanted, which I think is not the same as privilege no matter how it might look at times.
I realize that I do not think of things the same way many others do. For example, I cannot fathom why anyone with a good education like Westover got, who can go and do many things, would continue to make an effort with a family that is so fundamentally opposed to everything she has learned and who has treated her so badly. I’ve always said you get to choose your friends because you can’t choose your family. If I had that kind of family, I genuinely think I would bail the fuck out and never worry about them again. Life is too short to be trapped with family members who hate you or who are diametrically opposed to what you have learned and believe in. I just don’t see the point of trying anymore with people who don’t approve of you or who are violent towards you. Just no.
I typically don’t read memoirs; they just aren’t my cup of tea. I read this one to check off a task on the 2020 Read Harder challenge – to read a memoir by a person from a religious tradition that is different from your own. Considering that I’m atheist, every religion is different from my own. I did enjoy this one quite a lot, though, and think it is great that Westover had the gumption to act on her own behalf and take charge of her own life. I am glad I read it.
Sometimes when I cook, I have the voice of chef Anne Burrell in my head, telling me I’m using my knife wrong or I need to do something differently. Over the years, though, another voice has been added to hers, overwriting it to tell me that it doesn’t matter if I do it perfectly so long as I’m trying something new, and “screwups are good. Screwups – and bouncing back from screwups – help you conquer fear. … Do not be afraid” (Les Halles). As long as my mise en place is in order (and it had better be or he will yell at me), then everything will be fine. That distinctive voice belongs to Anthony Bourdain.
Probably it’s not normal to have the voices of anyone in your head, but I’ve always been one to have conversations with people I only meet in books, or on TV, or from studying history. I’m not ashamed to admit that some of the best life lessons were ones I’ve received from people I’ve never met in person, some of them fictional. This is far more a tribute to him than is it a book review, so I am going to talk about the late, greatly missed Tony Bourdain. From Tony, watching his shows and reading his books, I’ve learned so many things. Now I know that you should always try a dish twice in case it wasn’t prepared well the first time. Borders don’t matter because we have far more similarities than differences. You’ll never know what you like until you try it. The one truly universal connection between people is food and breaking bread together over a meal, prepared with love and served in a spirit of generosity and openness, is something that transcends religion and politics and language. Traveling to new places and seeing how people in different cultures live is something everyone should do; there is no education in any hallowed institution on earth that can compare with this.
Most of us never got to meet Tony in real life; nevertheless, he had a tremendous impact on our lives all the same. I never met him, but that doesn’t change the fact that I look up to him as a mentor, or that his death left a wound that will always be tender. I know this isn’t how depression works, but I can’t help but wonder if he knew how very many people would be affected by his death, if it would have made a difference. Probably not. I’ll save my rant about the need for better mental health care for a more appropriate place.
As I said, I never got the chance to meet Tony in person. The closest I ever got was a random encounter in London, on opposite sides of a busy street in Soho. That sardonic smile was plainly visible through traffic and crowds and will be a sight I’ll cherish dearly. Nevertheless, I can say that I feel lucky that I was alive and shared the earth at the same time he did. I think the best way to remember him will be to try to approach life like he did – with curiosity and openness and a hunger that can only be satiated by going and seeing and experiencing it for myself.
This book is a collection of memories, left by people who feel as I do. This is not great literature. It isn’t going to move mountains or bring about world peace. It is simply the heartfelt notes of people given in their grief to express a love for a deeply flawed, deeply compassionate, curious, creative, soulful man, someone who touched us all profoundly in some way, and whose loss we feel acutely. People who also learned from Tony that “there is less to fear about the world than we think” or that we should “listen, rather than speak.” We know, because of him, that “it is a privilege to sit at someone’s table” and that we should “go to the place. Eat the thing. Talk to the person.” When we travel, he taught us how to be “less of an observer and more of a participant…”, that we should “offend no one, appreciate the simplest things, and absorb it all”, that “food was a tool through which to understand a place, to broaden your own understanding of the world…”, and that there is “beauty in the sad, and the poignant, and even in the mundane, every day.” He taught us new ways to see, how to be better listeners, and how to find the interesting experiences. I think he’d get a kick out of one comment in particular, written by Amy P, who said, “Tripe. I didn’t enjoy it, but Tony was 100 percent the reason I tried it.” Yes, girl! I have tried things, culinary and otherwise, that I never would have thought to do because of something I learned from Tony. Just try the food. If you don’t like it, then try it again somewhere else, in case the first time wasn’t the best. If you don’t like it after that, well, at least you tried it. But then again, you may discover your new favorite food. You might learn about your new favorite activity. I learned about black pudding in London’s old east end butcher district, and the next time I am there, I’m absolutely going to try some, because that’s what Tony would do. Because the real lesson he left us with is not to be afraid. Go out and try things and see where they take you.
“Travel isn’t often pretty. It isn’t often comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind” (No Reservations). Anthony Bourdain left something good behind, and his presence will continue to be missed. Let’s all go out, have an adventure, and make our own mark on the world.
RIP, Anthony Bourdain. We still miss you.
Bourdain, Anthony. Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Technique of Classic Bistro Cooking. New York: Bloomsbury, 2004.
—-. No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach. New York: Bloomsbury, 2007.
My mom occasionally listens to one of the more conservative radio stations in my hometown. That would be horrifying except they have plenty of *opinions* about 45 which are quite in alignment with my own, which is a delightful surprise given that I am…super not conservative. Anyway, this station plays Dave Ramsey every day for 2 hours and I’ve often heard his show. I have always enjoyed listening to him when I catch his show because so much of his financial advice is so common-sensical and down to earth. I like his tough love approach and how he tells people what they need to hear rather than what the want to hear. Since I have a little bit of debt – thankfully not very much at all – I decided to take a look at his book. I am glad I did because I learned a lot of things that are relevant even for people without a crushing amount of debt!
I found the book to be broken down in a clear and easy to understand format. You would think that should be a given, but nope. I’ve read other finance books and it was like, “WTF does that even mean?” I have literature degrees for a reason, folks. Anyway, Ramsey’s premise for becoming debt-free is to follow his Baby Steps. These steps are:
Save $1000 for an emergency fund
Pay off all debt (except mortgage) using the debt snowball
Save 3-6 months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund
Invest 15% of your income in retirement
Save for your children’s college funds
Pay off your home early
Build wealth and give
The first two steps are supposed to take the longest, especially if you have a ton of debt. Since I don’t have a lot of debt and only recently discovered Dave Ramsey, I already have well over $1000 for an emergency fund. I’m sure he would think it is an excuse, but I will never use all my money to pay off the one debt I have because I have a house and the mortgage is more than $1000 a month. But I did recently manage to make a giant payment to the one loan that I have, and am making a budget, which I’ve never done before. I will be able to get that thing paid off within this calendar year if I plan right, and then I will be able to start saving for a new car, finally, which I’ll pay cash for. I will be able to save money for my daughter’s college fund, and invest for retirement the way I want to. I want to follow a mix of Dave Ramsey/ Mr Money Mustache/ The Minimalists approach to life, because that seems the type that is the likeliest to bring the most joy and value to my life.
Is this book for everyone? Nope. If you have the attitude that the world owes you something or that certain things are just *necessary* for life when they really aren’t, or you aren’t willing to make sacrifices for a while to get out of debt, then you probably won’t respond well to this book. Ramsey is also religious and he sometimes throws in quotes from the Bible to support his financial practices. I’m as atheist as they come, but I didn’t find these to be irritating or anything; they were the common sense kind of quotes, like “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Prov. 10:4). The source here is irrelevant. The message is the same – getting out of debt and gaining financial freedom is hard work and you can’t be lazy about it. But I suppose it might be annoying to some people who aren’t able to separate their secularism from everything else.
I also learned some things that I should have learned long before now, in my early 40s, but I suppose better late than never. Like about the protections on debit cards, for example. Never knew how those worked before now. Made me feel dumb, but now I am glad to know how it works because I can use my debit card with no concerns now. It will make things easier to budget, that’s for sure!
Even though I don’t have a ton of debt, I am still really glad I read this book and will be using the steps to pay off what debt I do have, and to help me manage my money better in the future. Definitely recommended for people who are in debt and are motivated to get out, who want to manage their finances better, and who want to understand how their money works better.
This memoir/introduction to minimalism, Everything That Remains is a slim book that covers a whole lot of ground. Written primarily by Joshua Fields Millburn (the footnotes are all by Ryan Nicodemus), it is the author’s memoir, his early life with an addicted mother, his rapid rise in the corporate world, and how he had all the outward appearances of wealth and success but none of the actual realities of it. His discovery of minimalism changed his life and, in many ways, probably saved it.
I picked this up from my local library because I love listening to The Minimalists podcast, but I’m not always a huge fan of memoirs. I do have their other book, Minimal, but haven’t read it yet. This one is a good though typical memoir, discussing Joshua’s road to discovery and why he chose a minimalist lifestyle. It is a helpful tool for anyone wanting to learn more about this lifestyle, and can help to figure out one’s own version of minimalism. I liked that it stressed minimalism looks different for everyone. I think that is an important point and something not everyone stops to think about.
Ultimately, this was a useful memoir for me, as I am going full stop on embracing minimalism. I am doing all I can to learn about it, and this was one way to learn one way to go about it.
Another year down the drain. Where did the time go?? I must be getting old or something because it seems like 2018 was just beginning. I had a busy year but managed not to do a ton of things. I do have a few highlights, though. I am going to be better about doing a year in review post from now on, mostly to keep myself on track and see what I actually did and what I need to do better in the future. Might as well share it with the interwebs. 🙂
Things that I didn’t actually do:
My sweet girl started 3rd grade. She goes to a school that teaches a grade level ahead and she’s killing it. Math isn’t her favorite subject, but she does a good job with it. Better than I EVER did. And she loves reading, which delights me to no end. She reads wayyy above her grade level. Her favorite books are the Wings of Fire series. We also just read the first Harry Potter book and now she’s obsessed. She loves Star Trek, Dr Who, and Star Wars, so I feel like maybe I’m doing something right. She’s so smart, funny, pretty, and kind. She is also stubborn and defiant and challenging and headstrong and brave. She’s my little Viking and as frustrating as she can be at times, I wouldn’t change one single thing. She is stronger than I am in a lot of ways and I try hard to foster her individuality and teach her that it’s ok to speak up and use her voice in ways I was never allowed to do when I was little. I am so proud of her and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. Right now, though, she has a super gross cold, so I imagine what she comes up with with be some form of snot…
My mom started going to an all-women’s boxing gym in early spring and loves it, which makes me super proud of her. With the exception of probably Amy, my mom could most likely kick every one of my friends’ asses without too much trouble. That’s handy, since most of my friends could use a good ass kicking. 🙂 She got me started in on it as well, and so I’ve been going since May. I can throw some hard punches now for a little girl and am getting in pretty good shape. Thanks for talking me into trying it out, Mom!
Christopher Robin. I took my daughter to see it. We both fucking loved Eeyore. But I think this is the only movie I actually went to all year. I just don’t enjoy them like I used to. I want time to stop while I’m in the theatre so it’s the same time when I get out as it was when I went in. Since it’s not, I tend to feel like I’m wasting my time. If I went to another movie this year, damned if I can remember it.
Favorite new shows I discovered:
Star Trek: Discovery. I just got the DVDs of this for Xmas, so this is a BRAND new discovery (heh, see what I did there?) of 2018 for me. I absolutely refuse to pay for a subscription to CBS All-Access when most of the shows on CBS are, IMO, utter shit, and even the paid subscription has ads. Fuck off, CBS. I’ll wait for the DVDs. That said, this is a fantastic new addition to the Trekverse and I have a feeling I’ll be writing posts about this.
Shetland, by Netflix. It’s based on a series of novels by Ann Cleeves, which I’ve never read. I’ve found the plot itself to be fairly typical, just another police procedural. But I watch it for the cinematography. Ye GODS, it’s so fucking beautiful in the Shetland Islands! There’s no sun, no shadows, it looks cold and miserable and I have to go there immediately. It looks like a place where I would never get migraines unless it was hormonal.
Wherein I use my thinking part:
I made a concerted effort to write a review for every book I read this past year. For the most part, I managed it, but I think there were a couple I might have missed. In 2019, I’m going to work on writing better reviews than I did in 2018. I’m also going to write fewer reviews FOR other people except Discovering Diamonds, because I want to read more for my own pleasure.
I started a post-graduate certification program in Tolkien Studies through Signum University. It’s been excellent for me, getting to think again. Mostly, I feel like I’m losing my mind and my brain will start leaking out my ears any minute. Starting grad classes again has been a great kick for me, helping me to see that I do still have some brain cells, and I can still write good papers. Out of my first class (I’ve done 2 so far, and need a total of 5 to complete the program), I submitted a paper to the major Tolkien conference in England for August 2019. I don’t know yet if it’s been accepted. The CFP isn’t closed until February, so I won’t know until after that. It would be shiny if I get to present my paper, but if I don’t, that’s ok. If I don’t, it will save me a shit ton of money since I’m planning to go to Scotland in October 2019, but if I do get to present my paper, that will be cool, too. It’s about how liminal space in literature helps define character identity, using The Hobbit and Coraline as my example texts.
One of my coworkers and I started a book club at work for all the staff and faculty in our college. Really, it’s all about being able to read at work… Our first book was Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. The next is going to be Circe by Madeline Miller.
Speaking of reading, I did pretty well with my reading goals this year. I topped out at 97 books, not counting ones I DNF’d. In total, I read 21,131 pages and listened to 246:45 hours of audiobooks. I averaged 8 books a month. I read 59 books by women (60%) and 38 by men (39%). I read 24 books by authors of color (not quite 25%). In 2019, I’d like to bump that up to at least 30%. I read mostly SFF (33), historical fiction (25), and literary fiction (16), with other genres falling in here and there. I didn’t finish the Read Harder 2018 challenge, but I got 19 out of 24 tasks:
A book published posthumously: NA
A book of true crime: NA
A classic of genre fiction: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (fantasy)
A comic written and illustrated by the same person: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60: Misfortune of Vision (Druids Brooch #4) by Christy Nicholas
An assigned book you hated or never finished: NA
And, really, the biggest thing of 2018 is that I was approached by an editor at Pen and Sword Books to see if I wanted to write a book about a couple medieval queens for them. Umm, YES? I’m waiting for the contract, which has been approved but not sent to me yet, so I’ll wait to share more deets, but that honestly about blew me away. I’m so excited and I am looking forward to the process.
In 2019, some goals I have, other than writing the book and doing what I can to help the Resistance put 45 and his tribe in prison, are:
Read 150 books
Start running again and do a 5k
Start journaling again
We’ll see how things pan out. 2019, let’s do this.
Title: Looking and Seeing: Nalanda Miksang Contemplative Photography by John McQuade and Miriam Hall
I read it as an: eBook
Source: Leslie Key’s own collection
Length: 6 hours/more if using as reference
Publisher: Drala Publishing
Staying in One Place
Could it be that we like to stay
where it’s comfortable even to our dismay?
What turns the tide to rescue us?
How many turns must we pass,
before we choose the Way?
This poem and image were created during the moments of reflection on an experience I had with contemplative photography.
The book Looking and Seeing was my first formal introduction to the idea of contemplative photography, which is a focused and mindful visual experience with intention. Looking is the moment of perception that takes you into seeing, creating the personal connection. With my camera as my tool, it is a Way of Seeing the world around me, a perceptual wonder. McQade and Hall describe a Way as a path or practice to perception (seeing) (2015). In the second section of Looking and Seeing the authors explain what it means to have “view, motivation and intention” as it relates to capturing images through experiencing them with mind, body and spirit. I have used and am using this concept for several photographic projects now.
For example, over the 4th of July this year I visited friends in San Diego, CA. Every year they head down to Ocean Beach and typically arrive around sunrise to ensure they land a good spot near the pier. This year I decided to commit to Ocean Beach on the 4th of July and join my dear friends Benny and Shari each year to follow. I’ve also committed to visually capturing Ocean Beach in each visit during the wee hours of the mornings of each 4th of July. The images I captured in July of 2017 proved to be different than what I saw during my July 2018 visit.
This year during these wee hours the sea shore showed me places that were soon hidden by the high tide. I had several hours to capture the shore at low tide. I titled this photographic project “Staying in One Place.” The first image below captures the crevasses and streams of sea, sand, stone and shell. In contemplative photography I take the time to experience the environment that I plan to capture with my camera. This year I spent about two hours walking, listening and standing still with my eyes closed to listen carefully to what this place could show me. This is when I can hear what I see. McQuade and Hall call this a mind-set of practice using “view, motivation and intent” to be “fully human and awake” (2015, p. 19).
My view or orientation of the scene is when I can understand the journey in capturing the image. This is how I captured the image below and my perception when I clicked the camera shutter. As I angled my camera and tripod securely on a mossy and somewhat slippery stone, I began to compare the elements of sea, sand, stone and shell to people; people (including myself at times) who have decided to stay in their crevasses and still water, passing every opportunity to move on.
How many times in life are we forced to move and change? How many times is our positive, yet painful change forced by circumstances we are in through choices we have made? This can sound dreadful yet is a natural path to discovery.
The following three photographs are from my photo project “Stay in One Place.”
Another recent photographic project I titled “From My Car Window” gave me a new Way of Seeing. I focused on using contemplative photography on a recent road trip to Ottawa, Kansas. Because of a short time-frame and urgent need to get to my destination, I realized my car window was my only chance to capture some incredible scenes with full intention of using the “discipline of relaxation,” which McQuade and Hall describe as a moment of contemplative practice or intent. Here are a few images that I captured from my car window. The experience offered me a “Way of Seeing” while moving fast enough that if my camera settings were not perfect, the image would not display what I saw. In other words, I synchronized.
The following four photographs are from my photo project “From My Car Window.”
McQuade and Hall frequently refer to a “flash of perception” through synchronization or creating a state where eye, mind and world all come together at the same time (p. 21). To prepare for this experience, I ensure that my camera and equipment are ready to be put to use, a time when my logical, organizational mind begins to prepare for the contemplative photographic event.
In the final chapters of Looking and Seeing the authors give me a chance to put the concept of contemplative photography into practice. McQuade and Hall bring me into a world of new perception and thinking about what a miracle vision really is. The authors call it an unconditional miracle of “sheer manifestation” (p. 32). For example, we see color every day, right? Using the concept of contemplative photography, I first contemplate the color by first looking, then seeing (perceiving) the color, to making an image of the color. This same exercise is applied to light and shadows, texture and patterns. This is a process, an exercise in contemplative photography.
In closing I would like to say that I love capturing what I see and feel. I love the idea that sharing images for the sheer pleasure of sharing, is my goal. This book is for all types of photographers, from film and digital, to iphone, to the snapshot wonder. Looking and Seeing is a form of mindful meditation through a Way of Seeing and capturing the world we live in.
Leslie Key is, by profession, a full-time faculty of higher education. By hobby, she is a photographic hobbyist who loves to capture what she sees and feels, with intentions of becoming a professional nature photographer.
As a full-time faculty with the University of Phoenix, Leslie teaches courses in critical thinking, and general life and study skills to first year college students. She finds that she connects well with these students who are either returning or new to college. She identifies well the struggles to balance family, career, and college because this is what she did.
Returning to college at 45 years was interesting and scary, but Leslie achieved her goals and earned a master in adult education and learning theories. She then began her second career in higher education and has worked in student services, academic affairs, administration and now as full-time faculty.
Her background in photography started at age 5 when her father introduced her to a point and shoot camera, so she could take photos alongside him. Her interest continued through the years photographing people, places and things. Today, her intentions continue, and her focus deepens.
Leslie hopes you enjoy her guest blog post and photographs. She is in the process of creating her professional website, which is now under construction. In the meantime, please check out her Photography Profile.
This book is about the French culture and how they manage to eat the foods they eat – lots of rich sauces and breads and wine and chocolate – without becoming obese the way so many Americans are. It’s the French Paradox, although I think that specific term was only used once in the whole book. I think that some people – a lot of people, actually, based on some of the criticism this book has received – might get defensive about what they view as an attack on American culture, or see it as fat shaming. But let’s face it: she’s right about a lot of things, like it or not. The main premise is simply to eat fresh, seasonal foods in moderation, get up off your lazy ass, eat with purpose and at an actual table off of actual plates with actual silverware, and drink a shitload of water. This isn’t a difficult concept to grasp, but I think American ideas of what is a portion are so overinflated that a correct portion seems like starvation rations. The entire framework requires a shift in mindset. It really struck me when Mireille wrote that French women are always thinking about good things to eat and American women are worrying about bad things to eat. I think that is true for many people, even those who are thin.
Throughout the book, Mireille tried to highlight the idea that food and eating should bring pleasure, not stress, anxiety, or shame. At the same time, she also stressed that there is no reason that pleasure from food implies it shouldn’t also be healthy. The concepts she claims are cultural to the French are very much common sense things that my own mother taught me. If you overindulge one day or one week, cut back a little until you feel back in balance. Don’t starve yourself. Have a good variety of foods that are in season. Eat lots of fruits and veggies. Walk or ride your bike to as many places as you can. I have a hard time with this one simply because it’s too hot to do that all the time where I live, and I also live in the suburbs. But when it isn’t over 90 (more often over 100), I do walk several times a week to the grocery store to buy what I need for a couple days. I make up for the lack of walking, which I love doing when it isn’t so hot it triggers a migraine, by going to my all-women’s studio gym, which I also love. I know Mireille hates the gym but I love beating the shit out of the mannequin Bob. I’m nicer after boxing. I take the stairs when I can, and I don’t park as close as I possibly can. I park where there is shade, no matter how far it is from where I need to go. When it gets cooler, I plan to get a bike and start riding it to the weekly farmer’s market. It should be fun, and buying fresh, local food items is a thing I support anyway. I’m rather looking forward to it!
There is also a huge component to eating at home and preparing your own meals. I think people now view cooking and food preparation as a tedious chore that has to be done, or else they don’t bother at all and just go out all the time or buy garbage you can throw in a microwave. And then kids have behavior problems because diet is absolutely linked to behavior. When my own kid eats healthy, she minds a lot better. She also has a healthier appetite when I don’t let her snack. She gets breakfast, lunch, a small afternoon snack, and dinner. She whines about it sometimes, especially if she’s been at my mom’s a lot because my stepdad eats constantly and she sees that bad example. When she gets back on a proper eating schedule, she eats well, and she is a lot more willing to try new foods. She also likes to help me fix the meals on occasion, though I’m still trying to get her to understand that she has to follow a recipe until she learns what actually goes well together. But I try to make it fun and when she is able to make something well, she feels proud of herself. Cooking with my daughter is a lot of fun and is something I look forward to. It is my job to teach her how to be well and I see no reason why it should be a chore to do. There are a lot of recipes that were included in this book that we can try together that she would like. I also have a large collection of cookbooks that I use all the time, and I like to teach her how I plan a menu. She likes to pick out recipes so when I let her do that, it adds to her enjoyment of food and learning that it is a pleasurable thing to cook.
I liked that Mireille was careful to note that of course not every single French woman is thin. Being overweight or obese is a universal issue and not confined to American culture. It is, however, a lot more rare in France, where it is culturally ingrained to eat smaller portions, eat fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables, walk everywhere as much as possible, linger over meals rather than cramming them down like you’re starving, drink tons of water, and any number of other things that Americans in general simply don’t do. Like it or not, the observations made in the book about American culture are pretty accurate. Some things may be a little out of touch, but overall, I thought this was a great intro to changing one’s mindset and relationship to food. Regardless of one’s social class or income, I think these basic rules are things most people can follow in their everyday life. It is just a matter of whether you want to or not.