Thursday, February 19, 2009

White House Victory Garden

Ruth at synch-ro-ni-zing inspired me to post this item she found at Slow Food Nation.
Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural history of Four Meals” and Knight Professor of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote an open letter to the President-Elect Obama last October. He outlined many of the food-related challenges Obama will face as president and proposed a strategy to tackle them. One suggestion that will not cost billions of dollars of taxpayer money is to use five of the eighteen acres of the White House lawn to plant an organic fruit and vegetable garden. Eating locally shortens the food chain which can reduce our dependence on foreign oil. 

This is not a new idea. In 1917, President Wilson ordered a “war garden” to be planted at the White House to grow vegetables for the Wilson’s meals.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted a “victory garden” at the White House In 1943 , spearheading a movement that inspired over 20 million home gardens that supplied 40 percent of the produce consumed in America.

San Francisco’s victory garden program
was one of the nation’s finest. The first victory garden was planted in 1943 at the Civic Center site. Every park in the city had gardens, Golden Gate Park could boast over 250 garden plots, and many vacant lots were used for growing vegetables.

To hear Terry Gross' Fresh Air interview with Michael Pollan click here.

The Obamas could inspire millions of Americans by their example.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

During my interview with Relyn, I promised that I would write about another of my passions in the spring time. Since its been in the news so much in the last few days, I decided to write about baseball today.

The very first baseball game I attended was when we first came to America in 1966. We happened to be in Aurora, Nebraska (why we were there is another post altogether) and someone in town suggested that we go to the Little League game that night. Now that I know what I know about baseball, I realize that Aurora had an amazing Little League baseball field complete with lights. Wrigley Field didn't get lights until 1988 for pete's sake!

I thought it was a peculiar game. A man sitting next to my father animatedly explained the rules throughout the game, but since I didn't speak any English yet and I sat too far away to ask my father any questions, I had to piece together the rules on my own.

Why are these boys, who were approximately my age, just standing around pumping their fists into their oversized gloves? What were they chattering about? To whom was it directed? One boy, standing on a mound of dirt was throwing the ball back and forth with a boy wearing an impossible amount of equipment. Then I saw boys taking turns trying to hit the ball with a stick. But why were people in the stands clapping or shouting when seemingly nothing happened? Then all of a sudden, out of the blue, the chattering boys ran to their bench and a new set of chatterers scattered onto the field. It was confounding.

Later that year, I had to play softball for gym class. Never before had I seen a ball that deliberately had no bounce. I have good eye-hand coordination, so my bat always made contact with the ball, but I was an 80-pound weakling and the thwack of the ball usually landed straight into the pitcher's glove or rolled directly to her feet. It didn't take long for my teammates to advise me not to swing so that maybe I could get a walk.

Years later, I was introduced to professional baseball by my roommate Ana when she took me to a San Francisco Giants game at Candlestick Park. Wisely, she chose one of the rare sunny days at The Stick to indoctrinate me.

Ana and her boyfriend Walter were major league Giants fanatics. Ana never missed a Giants game if she could help it. She either attended a game (back then tickets were cheap), watched it on tv, or listened to it on the radio. She also read the Sporting Green section of the San Francisco Chronicle every single day during baseball season.

Walter owned two official Giants uniforms, one home and one away. One of the uniforms had Terry Whitfield's number; I don't remember what the second one was. He brought a glove to every game, but he never caught a foul ball. He looked so official that little kids regularly asked for his autograph.

Slowly but surely, Ana taught me the rules and nuances of the game and I grew to love the game. We went to countless games and I learned to listen to games on the radio. I even started to go Giants games with other friends, without Ana. The Stick was usually brutally cold, and ofen windy. One time there was actually a cloud of fog inside the ballpark during a night game; it hovered like an extra player between short stop and second base. I wish I have a photograph of it but I have one firmly planted in my memory.

When I met my husband I was happy to learn that he loved baseball. He told me that he used to watch the Houston Astros as a young boy and his dad was his Little League coach. If it was bed time and the game was still on, his parents would allow him to listen to the game on his bedside radio because his grandmother told him that she was listening to the very same game in New Orleans.

When our son was younger we used the same ploy to lure him to bed during a Giants game. One time we forgot to turn off his radio before we went to bed and our son told us at breakfast that he was awakened at midnight by the cheer of the crowd. He said that he listened until the second inning because if J. T. Snow hit a home run, then he knew it was the same game.

He loves to play MLB Baseball on his Playstation. He has gained a broad knowledge of many of the major league players' batting averages and on-base percentages as a result of recruiting for his All-Star team. Ask him how fast any starting pitcher in the major league can pitch, he will know.

As much as I enjoy watching the Giants, there is nothing in the world more entertaining to me than to watch the Little League games my son played. The lessons he learned while playing these games were invaluable.

Our daughter is a die-hard Giants fan. When she was in middle school, she used to go to school extra early so that she could discuss the last game with the boys who followed baseball. At first the boys were leary. "Honestly, do you really love baseball, or are you just saying it?"

She was truly insulted. "Can you name the Giants line up?", she challenged.

"Can you?", they asked.

She rattled off the line-up, their field positions, and from which team they were acquired.

One of her teachers asked her this November, "What do you do during the off season?"

"I'm very sad", she pouted.

The other night she was telling me all the ins and outs of the Giants' negotiations with Manny Ramirez. "How do you know all these details?” I asked.

" has something new about Manny every single day."

I am grateful for any wholesome family activity that brings our family together. Baseball is one of these activities and I hope that the courts will keep in mind that many young, formative minds are following the debate on the use of banned substances. I hope my children will see that it does not pay to lie or take dangerous shortcuts. I hope we can bring wholesome back into baseball.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Galápagos Tortoises

Charles Darwin was born two hundred years ago this week. In late 1831, he embarked on the HMS Beagle on a five-year voyage around the world with the primary mission to perform a hydrographic survey of the coasts of South America.

The HMS Beagle being hailed by native Fuegians during the survey of Tierra del Fuego,
painted by Conrad Martens who became ship's artist in 1833.

The Galápagos Islands was not a primary port of the expedition.

Captain Robert FitzRoy commissioned Darwin to be the mineralogist and geologist, and gentleman naturalist who could also be his companion while the ship was at sea. When the HMS Beagle arrived at the Galápagos Islands nearly four years into their voyage, they encountered an abundance of giant tortoises. The Governor of Galápagos told Darwin that the tortoises’ shell shapes differed from island to island and that on seeing a tortoise he could “pronounce with certainty from which island it has been brought"*.

Thus began Darwin’s journey of discovery and reflection which led to two of the most important theories of biological science: the theory of natural selection and the theory of evolution.

* * *
Fast forward to August 2007. My family and I had the great fortune of following Darwin in his footsteps. We traveled to the Galápagos Islands, near the equator in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We visited the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerta Ayora on Santa Cruz Island where they had displayed the varying shapes of giant tortoise shells:

There are domed, intermediate, and saddle shapes. The right-most shell is a from a leatherback turtle.

The saddle-shaped shells allow the necks to extend longer, giving a competitive advantage when reaching for the Galápagos prickly pear cactus.

The Darwin Research Station is a successful breeding center for the giant tortoise:

They also care for injured and infirmed tortoises that would not survive in the wild:

This is also the home of the world’s rarest creature, Lonesome George (Solitario Jorge):

George, who has a saddleback shell, is the last known individual of the Pinta Island Tortoise subspecies . Other individuals of the subspecies were decimated when introduced feral goats ate the vegetation leaving no food or shelter for the tortoises . Despite many valiant efforts, the center has been unsuccessful in mating poor ol' George. Last summer, George fertilized eleven eggs, but alas, none of them were viable. The center offers a $10,000 reward for anyone who finds him a suitable female. The tourist shops in town sell very funny postcards and t-shirts featuring cartoons of George wearing reading glasses poring over a Playboy Magazine.

As fantastic as it was to see these magnificent creatures, we were sad to see the crowded conditions and the scummy pond water made my stomach turn.
I couldn’t help but wonder what Darwin would have thought about the conditions at the research station that bears his name.
* * *
Our next destination was about ten miles north. This tortoise reserve was presumably in a more natural setting. We were buoyed by the promising sight of the vegetation:
It was a wonderful, slightly misty, dewy afternoon; we were instructed to speak in hushed tones. If I was a tortoise, I'd want to live in this peaceful paradise. For that matter, if I was a human I'd want to be here. After a short walk, I began to see grey-brown mounds. Anywhere else in the world, I would have mistaken them for boulders.

I was in awe of this tree:

As we walked, we saw more and more tortoises, lazily grazing in the grass, completely unperturbed by our presence:

This one is checking on her nest:

This reserve is owned by an American who purchased the land and intentionally left holes in the fencing, allowing the tortoises to wander in and out.

The end of the outing was capped with a nice warm cup of coffee waiting for us at the coffee house.

* Wikipedia: Second voyage of HMS Beagle ; The evolution of the tortoises .
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