Lessons Of Adulthood: The Art Of Non-Conformity

November 1, 2010

Re-entry is always difficult.

This is true whether you’re going back to school after a long summer vacation, going through your mail when you’ve been gone for a while or – as in my own case this morning – sitting back down to work after taking a week off to travel with my family.

Imagine my delight, then, when I opened up the International Herald Tribune and happened upon this gem. It’s an article by Alice Rawsthorn, the New York Times‘ design columnist, in which she sings the praises of grinding and brewing your own espresso over and above resorting to the dreaded pod espresso machines of Nespresso et al. (The indisputable allure of George Clooney notwithstanding, natch.)

I loved this article for so many reasons. For starters – as erstwhile readers of this blog will know – our own hand-brewed espresso machine holds a hallowed place within our home. As I said to my husband – who taught me to know and love what it is to brew your own coffee – this was an article that was – quite literally – written for him.

Rawsthorn has many reasons for taking a principled stance against automated espresso machines. They’re boring. They’re ugly. They’re environmentally questionable. (Turns out it’s really hard to recycle all those tiny sealed containers.)

But the main reason she rails against them is that they suppress variety, experimentation and – yes – inconsistency. Part of the joy of grinding your own espresso, she argues, is precisely that you never quite manage to brew the same cup of coffee twice. And therein lies the fun – and true beauty – of doing it yourself. It’s the ultimate act of personalizing your consumption.

Which brings me back to my week away from this blog. We spent the week in Berlin, one of those über – (no pun intended) – European cities. While we were there, one of the many museums we visited was the Bauhaus Archive, a museum devoted to the Bauhaus school of design.

For those of you who missed that chapter in 20th century intellectual history (I did) – the Bauhaus movement was a school of modern art and architecture that sought to fuse the gap between art and industry by sublimating “art” in the romantic sense to the exigencies of 20th century technological progress. This school of thought was urban, minimalist, and sought, above all, to privilege functionality in design (so well captured in its motto, “Form follows function.”) In many ways, it was the aesthetic movement that paved the way for mass consumption.

With its hyper-utilitarian streak, the Bauhaus movement sought to hide the messiness of artistic creation – its flourishes, its sentimentality, its “coffee grinds” if you will. And while that yielded some really cool buildings and furniture (click here for some iconic Bauhaus chairs), the overall feel was one of clear lines and uniformity of purpose, if not form. (Read Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to Our House for a particularly trenchant treatise on this point.)

Which is a long way of saying that as with architecture, so too with espresso machines:  sometimes the beauty of adulthood lies in that which is unpredictable and highly personal.

Which is also why – as I stood there grinding my highly messy-yet-original espresso this morning – I decided that today’s re-entry wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Image: Bauhaus Dessau by Mark Wathieu via Flickr under a creative commons license.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl


Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Keep Your Brain Active As You Age

October 20, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I had a senior moment the other day. I was talking to my daughter about my elementary school, and I started listing my teachers one by one. But when I got to fifth grade, I drew a complete blank. I could envision the lady perfectly – plump, jolly, liked to wear purple – and even remembered that her name began with an “F.” But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember her name.

I can be forgiven this lapse, of course. It was, after all, 35 years ago (cough.) But it was another sign that as we age, our memories aren’t quite what they once were.

In that spirit, here are five tips for keeping your brain active as you age:

1. Work. Pay no attention to all those French people behind the curtain, striking their hearts out because Nicolas Sarkozy is about to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. New research reported in the New York Times last week shows that postponing retirement is actually better for your brain. Coining the phrase “mental retirement” to capture what happens when your brain is no longer getting regular exercise, the study shows that retired people as a group tend to do less well on cognitive and memory tests than people who are still working.

2. Walk. But in case you’d still prefer to be living on the beach at 65 rather than toiling away in an office cubicle, be sure that you walk a lot in paradise. Another study out last week shows that walking at least six miles a week may be one thing people can do to keep their brains from shrinking and fight off dementia. Which is good news for me, even in my new-found hip, urban status as the owner of a collapsible bike. One thing that not owning a car really does is get you used to good, vigorous walks.

3. Be Social. Back when I wrote about five reasons to be optimistic about middle age, I referenced some new research showing that  – contrary to the long-held view that our brains get fixed in early childhood – circuits in the adult brain are, in fact, continually modified by experience. (See #1.) Turns out that one of the things that keeps the brain developing as we age is being social. In addition to getting out and meeting people, people who volunteer and help kids also seem to age better and help their brains.

4. Use the Internet. OK, this one is controversial, especially coming from someone who warned you not to get an e-reader lest it chip away at your capacity to engage in sustained, concentrated thought. But there are two sides to every story. And a lot of scientists – Harvard’s Steven Pinker, for one – think that far from damaging our brains as we age, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales. Colin Blakemore, a British neurobiologist concurs. As he notes – reacting to the prevailing “internet ruins our minds” thesis:  “At its best, the internet is no threat to our minds. It is another liberating extension of them, as significant as books, the abacus, the pocket calculator or the Sinclair Z80.” So by all means, grab that new Kindle, Grandma. And get a Twitter account while you’re at it..

5. Eat lots of fish. Many parents will be familiar with the importance of essential fatty acids (EFAs) for brain development in utero and in young children. (Neurotic parenting confession #346b: Until my son – who was born allergic to just about everything – was two, we regularly spiked his rice milk with flax seed oil for precisely this reason.) But it turns out that these so-called “good fats” are also increasingly seen to be of value in limiting cognitive decline during aging. Fish, for example, is a great source of EFAs. Flax-soaked salmon, anyone?

*****

On Monday, I was over on http://www.PoliticsDaily.com talking about reform of the British welfare system.

Image: thyme salmon with leek coulis by elana’s pantry via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.


Drinking Fountains Making A Comeback

September 27, 2010

Still or Sparkling?

Apparently, that’s not just a question for restaurants anymore.

Last week  – and proving, once again, that it really *is* the coolest city on earth – Paris unveiled a water fountain in one of its parks that serves – wait for it – sparkling water.

The move was motivated by a desire to make Paris greener. The average person in France drank 28 gallons of still or sparkling water last year, making this country the eighth biggest consumer of bottled water in the world, according to figures from the Earth Policy Institute. That’s a whole lot of plastic waste (262,000 tons to be precise.)

Apparently, the French are perfectly happy to drink tap water. But the major stumbling block is that they prefer it with bubbles. So – following on a successful experiment in Italy – the Paris authorities decided to meet the consumer where he or she lives…and added some carbonation. (Before you go dismissing those frivolous Parisians, allow me to confess that I can relate.)

The fizzy French fountains (sorry, it had to be said) build on a revival of water fountains around the globe. Here in London where I live, Mayor Boris Johnson commissioned a special advisor two years ago to look into where public drinking fountains might go in the city and how much they would cost. About a year ago, a fancy public drinking fountain was unveiled in Hyde Park, the first public drinking fountain in this city in 30 years. Shortly thereafter, more fountains were installed at heavily trafficked rail and bus stations.

And it’s not only in Europe where drinking fountains are witnessing a renaissance. In California, a new law requiring schools in California to have free drinking water available in cafeterias is awaiting the signature of Governor Schwarzenegger. (It’s hard to believe that this has to be legally mandated, but there you have it.)

It’s funny, but until I read about the fizzy fountain in Paris I hadn’t stopped to realize what an endangered species the public water fountain had become. Back when I was a kid, they were quite literally everywhere. But somewhere along the way, we began to identify shared drinking fountains as a public health concern, even though there’s no evidence for this (and some evidence that more bacteria live within bottled water.)

Now they’re coming back. A combination of recession-induced economics coupled with the growth in awareness about the environment has revived the idea that public drinking fountains might be a good thing.

I wonder what else we’ll see come crawling out of our collective unconscious in the category of formerly-bad-but-now-we-realize-not-so-much. My money’s on Crisco.

Anybody?

*****

I was over on Politics Daily yesterday talking about the demise of press freedom in Mexico as a result of the drug wars.

Image: Drinking Fountain Moon by Kevin H. via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl


Tips For Adulthood: Five Grown Up Beers To Drink

July 28, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve always been a beer drinker. In my youth, when quantity tended to weigh more heavily on my mind than quality, I wasn’t terribly discerning about what I drank. Budweiser…National Bohemian…Coors Light – it was all the same to me.

As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve come to be much pickier about what I drink. This is partly a function of my growing awareness that hangovers in adulthood aren’t nearly as much fun as they used to be. I also suffer from  migraines, and – for better or for worse – I can no longer drink anything but beer (and only one at that), unless I want to bring on a bad headache. And, let’s face it. I didn’t want to be another one of those middle-aged women drinking to excess.

But here’s the good news. Now that I’m confined to only one type of alcohol – and very limited quantities therein – I am far choosier when it comes to what kind beer I’m willing to drink.

Here are five “grown up” beers that I can recommend:

1. Kasteel Cru. This is actually a champagne beer – (not to be confused with Miller High Life, the so-called “Champagne of Beers.”) It’s made of champagne yeast that comes from malted barley. I sampled it the other night when my husband and I went out to celebrate our anniversary and we wanted to try something different. It’s got a clean, elegant taste and if you love normal champagne but it doesn’t love you, this is the beer for you. It’s also the ideal alcoholic drink for those of us who can’t decide if we’re really high-brow or low-brow in our tastes.

2. Badger Golden Glory – Admittedly, this sounds like some kind of moonshine you might get from your distant uncle’s farm in Appalachia. But it’s actually a quite refreshing premium ale subtly flavored with a hint of peach. And amazingly enough – despite the peach extract – it doesn’t come off as at all fru-fru. One of my more “manly” guy friends recommended it and I’ve been sold ever since.

3. Corona – Here’s a beer that never goes out of style. When I first began drinking it as an adult, I used to feel horribly guilty – like I’d never quite outgrown that Spring Break in Cancun during my junior year in college. (Yup, been there; done that; got the tee-shirt.) But when it’s like 100 degrees outside and you need a cool pick-me-up, there’s nothing better than a Corona with lime. Click here for easy instructions on how to put the lime into a Corona. If nothing else, you’ll score lots of “cool points” with those who’ve never seen this done before (speaking of not growing out of Spring Break…).

4. Daas Blonde – I love Belgian beer. But this one – which I was recently introduced to via my organic grocer – is a real gem. It’s a premium organic Belgian beer that uses fresh Wallonian spring water, organic wheat and barley and is certified organic by the Belgian and UK Soil associations. Because, really. If you’re going to consume all those calories, you need to know that it’s also good for the planet. But, seriously folks. Delicious.

5. Beer Ice Cream. OK, I haven’t actually tried this one yet. I only learned about it last week when my colleague Joann Weiner talked about it on her post about the unusually relaxing week she spent in Washington, DC and beer ice cream made a cameo. I’ve subsequently learned that beer ice cream has been around the U.K. for seven years now. I’m terribly excited to try it. As someone who loves ice cream *and* beer, I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a twofer since they invented the Fluffernutter sandwich!

Image: Hefe Weizen (Wheat Beer) from DOS82 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl


Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Become A Vegetarian (By a Non-Vegetarian)

July 15, 2009

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s post was inspired by an article in the Washington Post that caught my eye. It noted that the American Dietetic Association has recently adjusted its guidelines to state that vegetarian diets can be healthy for children as well as adults.

Personally, I love meat. Bacon…steak…lamb chops. Bring it on. Plus, I’ve got a kid who’s allergic to most fish and nuts. So that pretty much ensures that we’ll continue to eat meat for some time as a family. Still, the more I learn about vegetarianism (and the more films I see about the meat-processing industry – see below) the more I call my own carnivore tendencies into question.

So in the grand spirit of “Do as I say, not as I do,” here are five reasons you should become a vegetarian:

1. Slaughtering animals is vile. Don’t believe me? Go see Fast Food Nation. That should safely do it for cows. Still don’t believe me? Go see the new documentary, Food, Inc. There goes chicken!

2. Tofu is surprisingly OK. Let’s face it, tofu is gross. It looks weird, feels weird and tastes weird. But if you slather it with enough sauce it’s just fine. And very, very good for you.

3. Vegetarians have less cancer. Or so this new study claims.

4. Vegetarians aren’t all freak shows. The single best defense of vegetarianism I’ve ever read was by Taylor Clark in Slate Magazine about a year ago. And he doesn’t like tofu either!

5. Vegetarians may have better Sex. The jury’s still out on this one but hey, why not try it and see?

*****

If you’re interested, have a look at my piece on universal health care in yesterday’s Politics Daily entitled “Ten Things You Might Not Know About Socialized Medicine.”

Image: An Experiment in Vegetarianism by Supernalorealm via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl


Wine Tasting: It’s Not Just for Trader Giotto Anymore

April 27, 2009

My husband and I went to a wine tasting the other night.

As someone more at home with a bottle of beer, I always feel terribly grown up when I go to a wine tasting (which, by the way, I do quite rarely, despite having gone to one in Helsinki last week).

This time, we were invited by someone I barely knew, so I really feared the worst. In fact, we almost didn’t go at all.

Part of our reluctance stemmed from what happened the last time we went to a wine tasting with people we didn’t know. It was about eight years ago, right after we’d moved into a new neighborhood. I’d joined a local women’s group, thinking it would be a fast way to make friends. And so, when I saw that someone in the group was hosting a wine tasting, I thought:  Why not? My husband likes wine and maybe we’ll meet some like-minded souls.

Huge mistake.

If you’ve never been to a wine-tasting, it works like this: You’re given a bunch of different wines to sample “blind,”  and then, at some point in the evening, the names/origins/grapes etc are revealed. There may even be a contest.

But at this particular gathering eight years ago, it didn’t work that way. Instead, just as it seemed like the “moment of truth” had arrived, the hostess – now thoroughly sloshed herself – stood up and announced that we’d all be playing a little game called “Guess the Price.” She then began brandishing the different bottles of wine and instructed people to shout out their guesses as to how LITTLE the wine had cost (e.g., $9.99, $7.99, four bucks from Trader Giotto’s, etc.).

Yes, it was that bad. My husband and I locked eyes and fled the scene, scarred for life by our near-brush with suburban sophistication. (For the record: I have no issue with cheap wine and purchase it all the time. It’s just not something one usually associates with a wine tasting…)

But another reason we almost took a pass this weekend was that we didn’t know anyone else who was going, and so we thought:  Why bother?

As you get older, there’s a tendency to hunker down and say, hey, we’ve got enough friends as it is…we know our “type”…why take a chance on someone new? Let’s just go see a movie and call it a night.

But I feel like it’s important, every once in awhile, just to give it a go and try something new. Because there are always new and interesting people to meet out there. Plus, it’s good to get out of your comfort zone and do something – like wine tasting – that you’ve sworn off (even if for good reason!)

And guess what? We had a great time. It was a beautiful flat, there was plenty of interesting conversation and they served great wine. Plus, this handsome Italian guy named Marco was pouring all evening. What’s not to like?

*****

A new website on AOL called Politics Daily launched today. Looks like a great line up of writers!

Image: Wine Glasses by Slack12 via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl


Hooray for Sugar! Hershey, Here I Come!

March 24, 2009

I was delighted to hear that candy is back in fashion. No one’s sure exactly why. It could be the recession (candy is cheap), it could be the purported links between corn syrup and obesity, or it could just be nostalgia for the days of yore when things were hunky dorey. Whatever the cause, I don’t think I’ve been this excited since butter made a comeback.

I love candy. I don’t actually eat all that much of it because…well, because you’re not supposed to. But I think what I liked about these two articles is that the kinds of candy that are rising in popularity aren’t super fancy, high-end candies or…heaven forbid…dark chocolates. My husband – a self-proclaimed health nut – loves dark chocolate. Especially this brand. And while I, too, have a certain fondness for dark chocolate, it just doesn’t provide the same sort of all-encompassing happiness that biting into a Hershey’s bar does. Is anyone with me?

In another life I would return as an 11 year-old boy:  I also love pop tarts and frozen pizzas and ring dings. I do.

But one of the fun things that you get to do as an adult is to break all the rules that you learned as a kid. Like: Eating candy is bad for you. (You also learn to care a whole lot about what other people think. So when, like, The New York Times tells you it’s OK to eat candy, you just feel really happy that you’ve finally been validated.)

AddThis Social Bookmark Button