Archive for March, 2009


March 25, 2009

In celebration of Darwin’s birthday, which was in February, Radiolab posted an interesting podcast featuring one of my favorite authors, David Quammen.

Listen to the podcast here.

The Wishbones

March 23, 2009


I went in the library last week looking for something that was like chick lit but with substance.  I don’t want to waste my time reading a brainless book about a girl who’s only goal in life is to get married.  But I want to read something that is entertaining, something that doesn’t require too much brain power, but at the same time doesn’t feel like I’m killing off my brain cells by reading it.  If anyone has suggestions for chick lit with substance, please let me know.

Anyway, I came out of the library with Tom Perrotta’s first novel, The Wishbones. I love Tom Perrotta.  Although I think he missed the mark with The Abstinence Teacher, his earlier novels Joe College, Election and Little Children are among my favorite books.  The Wishbones is about Dave, your average 30-something guy from suburban New Jersey.  Even though he would love to be the next Bruce Springsteen, Dave plays guitar in a wedding band and is engaged to his high school sweetheart.  His life seems very safe.  But then he meets a new and exciting girl from the city – a poet from Brooklyn.  Does he play it safe and stay in Jersey or risk loosing the life he has now for a chance to live the life of his dreams? 

The Wishbones is like High Fidelity meets The Wedding Singer.  It’s hysterical and touching and manages to be authentic and original even though its your typical coming of age / becoming an adult story.  It was good to read since I’m sort of going through a “now I’m adult what should I do with my life” phase. 

Last week I got rejected from Columbia for grad school.  It’s not a big deal, their program was not one of my top choices and I think they’re just an over-priced brand name school anyway, but it was the first grad school I’ve heard back from.  And the rejection comes at time when I’m really, really starting to strongly dislike my job.  Last week I found out a number of my co workers are quitting and I got this panicky feeling like I’m on a sinking ship and I need to get out.  Grad school was my out.  There is only one other school I applied for in NYC.  If I don’t get in there what will I do?  Last week when I got my rejection letter I just felt like quitting my job, recession and finances be damned, and doing volunteer work cleaning up nature trails through the Meadowlands.  But realistically?  I’d never do that.  But I would love to.  Sometimes I don’t even know if I want to study public health in grad school anymore.  But maybe this is just the burn out I feel from my current job.  Who knows.

Yesterday I went to Manny’s house because his nieces wanted me to teach them how to bake cookies.  All four nieces were measuring ingredients at the same time, so needless to say our measurements were not the most exact or precise or accurate.  We might have confused the baking soda with baking powder.  But something went wrong because our cookies came out completely flat, like crackers (but still tasty!).  The girls told me that in Mexico they call this el ojo (the eye).  It happens because we were thinking too much about the cookies, which caused them to deflate.  The oldest niece told me this happens to her when she bakes cakes.  She tries too hard and thinks too much about it, and the middle of cake deflates and sinks.  We put the next tray of cookies in the oven and we made the decision not to think about cookies.  We talked about our favorite movies.  The cookies came out better (still flat but less deflated).

Whatever happens with my job, grad school, my career, and the direction of my life, I hope I have the courage to: 1.) not be afraid to do what I want to and 2.) not to settle and 3.) not become a victim of el ojo by over-analyzing everything in my life like I always do.

Central Park in the Dark

March 15, 2009

I’ve been seeing these black ants in my bathroom for the past few weeks and couldn’t understand why they were hanging out in there and not my kitchen where the food is.  Two days ago I was told by a more outdoorsy / non-city dweller friend that they were carpenter ants making themselves at home inside the walls of my old apartment building.  Nice.  Now that the weather is getting warmer I am seeing them more often and I kill more and more them everyday.  Last night I saw one on my toothbrush (gross) on my bar of soap (weird) and on my bath towel.  As I was washing my face I saw one on my hand and flipped out.  It was getting out of control, ants were taking over my bathroom.  I don’t mind killing a few bugs, but lots of bugs – infestations- gives me the creeps.  Last night I had a dream that a robber was trying to climb in through my window, obviously this is a manifestation of my fear that ants are taking over my apartment.  Times like these make me wish I didn’t live alone.  This morning I washed the tub and the tile floors with bleach and practically fumigated the bathroom with Raid.  We’ll see if this gets rid of them once and for all.

Its weird this is happening now, I just finished reading Central Park In the Dark, written by Marie Winn who wrote the hawk book, Red Tails in Love.  This time Marie Winn and her group of bird watchers explore the park in the dark observing owls, moths, and sleeping birds.  I feel like the most hypocritical of nature lovers.  I love nature just not when its in my house.  I love all creatures and critters but will poison them if they come into my space and I do not feel guilty about it.  When I was kid my bedroom was in the attic, which was filled with all sorts of weird bugs and creepy crawly things.  I felt bad about killing them so I made a deal with the bugs.  I told them if I saw them then I’d have to kill them.  They could come into my room whenever they wanted, but they shouldn’t let me see them.  So when I saw a bug and killed it, it wasn’t my fault.  We had a deal.

Many people think there is no nature in the city.  Don’t listen to them, they are really misinformed.  There is so much nature here.  Observing nature in the city has a clear advantage over observing nature in the woods in the middle of nowhere.  Winn and her group were able to follow hawks at night and observe their sleeping habits.  They recorded the times they fell asleep and when they woke up.  They knew where they slept, how they slept.  Same with owls.  This is something that has never been observed in the wild before.  Locating and following a hawk or an owl is a lot easier in Central Park than it is somewhere in the woods; in the park there’s only so many places a hawk can go.  

I’ve red reports that a red tailed hawk has moved into Owl’s Head Park. I’m going to go check it out while the poisons in my bathroom (hopefully) work to kill off the ants.

Everyday Curiosities

March 1, 2009

After finishing the monstrous Savage Detectives, I went to back to my favorite types of books – books on random things in nature.  First I read Banana: The Fate Of The Fruit That Changed The World by Dan Koepple. Americans eat more bananas than any other fruit, including those that can be grown domestically, such as apples.  We have the banana companies – Dole and Chiquita, and their exploitative neocolonialist business practices to thank for turning this tropical fruit into a cheap, readily available commodity food for American consumption.  But we are able to enjoy bananas at a terrible price, and now the banana that we currently eat, plus plantain varieties that are a staple food crop for people in East Africa, are sort of going extinct. 

Then I read The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures On The Edge Of A City by Robert Sullivan.  Sullivan’s other books are about a cross country road trip, a whale hunt, and one about rats in New York City.  I read the rat book last summer and fell completely head over heels for Sullivan’s writing.  His doesn’t write with an agenda, he writes what he observes, he writes about natural history, about neighborhoods, about local history and local people.  In Rats, Sullivan spends a few nights in a alley in lower Manhattan observing rats, talking with local homeless people who hang out there, people who work in the restaurants who dump their trash there, local residents, city rat trappers and exterminators.  He digs into the seedy history of the alley and the seedy history of lower Manhattan.  And that’s the book.  

When I was a kid my mom would drive me and my siblings to visit my great grandmother who was in a nursing home in central New Jersey every weekend.  Driving through the meadowlands was my favorite part of the trip, it is a very surreal place.  If I were to write a book I would write something like the The Meadowlands.  A book about a seemingly unimportant place, its people, its history, its ecology and its role in society.  And through a combination of these things this unimportant place, in this case a 30 square mile trash filled polluted swamp, becomes something special. Sullivan canoes through the marshes and swamps, catches mosquitoes with government entomologists, tours active dumps with jaded dump owners, digs for ruins of New York’s old Penn Station, and chats with police officers, librarians, truckers, and eclectic local residents.  

Sullivan’s has a blog called The Thoreau You Didn’t Know, which is named after his next book due out at the end of March.  Sullivan is often likened to an urban Thoreau in reviews of his books, someone who finds beauty and wisdom in places you would otherwise think were ugly and a waste of space.  This is why I love these kinds of books because they change the way I think.  After reading Koepple’s banana book I will never look at bananas the same way.  As cheesy as it sounds, these books make my life more interesting.  They really give me a new-found appreciation for my surroundings and more people should read them.  Or at least check out The Meadowlands Blog which is updated by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.  It is sort of my dream job to work there, but that’s a whole other blog post.