Saturday, August 29, 2009

(Poppa Nomad speaks) DIY: That Shit Don’t Grow on Trees

Since moving to Portland over two years ago, escaping the imploding Death Star of Bend, and since the economy has gone to shit, our family has engaged in a profound paradigm shift: a (our) new model of urban sustainability. More specifically, our redefinition of essential life practices and values. In our disposable, instant-gratification McCulture, a culture of consumption without actual necessity, we’ve all but forgotten what it means to “Do It Yourself”. I refer primarily to the life sustaining act of eating. Sure we all have material wants (even the more Zen among us), and all consume and use up resources...but can we breeders rekindle the fires of the ancients AND sustain ourselves and our families? With three kids can we be in it, but not of it? (A question I have posed to various monks, sages and other Buddhist-oriented teachers). Our family is blessed with a small urban farm that is our model for future sustainability; a living, changing daily mantra that we and our three children “meditate over” on a daily basis. For us and our little tribe, knowing where our food comes from is an integral part of that mindfulness.

We are a race of modern humans who purchase our boxed and frozen cubes of processed, modified, manipulated, and irradiated food from big box stores. We are scarcely aware of the process of growing and cultivating; farming. Victims of progress, we are frighteningly disassociated from the seasonal cycles. Really, I have not been Mr. Righteous my whole life, but our belief that the kids are greatly enriched by participating in the process that puts food in front of their mouths is an edict I now stand firmly by. Let it be said that I have a profound appreciation for Leah who daily prepares multiple organic, gourmet meals for our family. Meals that take into account personal taste, nutrition, our respective allergies...her awareness of the seasonal and sustainable is profound. As the once-in-a-while Chef in our house, I would like to note the extreme satisfaction associated with preparing food to sustain the lives of one’s family. I can only imagine how it must be for Leah, as she has been doing exactly that for what will soon be a decade for our growing family. She is quite the gourmet chef now.

As husband and wife we are fairly traditional: I hunt and gather, and she tends family and hearth. More recently we both have poured our blood and sweat , literally, into our garden. Those of you who know me know I am an “All or Nothing” personality type. In that spirit, my most recent experience of killing and consuming the food we raised was that reconnection the the ancient I spoke of. As an omnivore, I am mindful of how our ability to hunt compels protein and master fire enabled humans to evolve; as a species, we would have perished long ago if it were not for meat (and agriculture). I’ll spare the readers with my diatribe on “Freegans and Hippiecrite” practices, as it does come down to personal choice, but most of us, if faced with starvation would put aside our PC affiliations and consume meat to avoid death. Few political choices are stronger than the will to live. Personally, I grew up in a “gourmet” home....I love food and meat (and get debilitating headaches without my complete proteins) mother was a good cook...she was friends with James Beard and Julia Child. James Beard, in fact single-handedly defined the modern American palate. Both made being a chef cool for millions; everybody could do it, we just had to enjoy food. In James and Julia’s day, the advent of technology for the nuclear family of the 50’s and 60’s made for an uphill battle: canned and freeze dried, instant and (later) microwavable. Teaching the modern housewife that fresh was better, would take some time to realize.

Hunting, gathering and farming are the quintessential archetypes for tribal survival. Consumption of complete proteins (not found in plants) play an essential role for the development of synaptic pathways of young human brains. That being said, my recent butchering class with my brother-in-law Michael tested my resolve in a new way: looking into the eyes of your dinner before killing it. (It should be noted that the birds we slaughtered came from our farm: we knew them; we raised them, we named them.) It was overcast and raining. Our class, filled with people of various levels of personal conviction was conducted by a mindful farmer who instructed us to "thank the chicken for giving it’s life”. Like any new practice, some were more adept than others. I found myself annoyed at the “timid butchers” among us; there is much to be said for doing it humanely; quickly and efficiently. “Don’t torture the poor beast”, I thought, “Just Do It”! We learned the finer points of bird preparation, after the deed was done....careful excision of the anal cavity, so as not to rupture intestines...gutting and removal of the internals (which were equipped with eggs in various stages of development, like that frog back in seventh-grade science class). A hot-dip and feather removal, cutting off of the head, and legs at the knees, and appropriate gland removal, so as not to leak bile or other toxins into the bird and spoil the meat were some of the procedural highlights. On the drive home, Michael and I were quiet with our two birds on ice. I was not in the mood for a chicken dinner that night, and for several days saw my beloved family members as piles of guts; an existentialist twist on a factual condition. Leah complimented me on my work as we cooked Obama, remarking how she looked just like as if we had gone to the store and bought a chicken for dinner. Its the in-between process that most of us are disassociated from. That was the big enlightener here.

20+ years ago, I lived on a sailboat (commuted to work as a sailing instructor on my rowboat) and fished daily for my meals for some two years. I slept on the sea and ate from it. Yet, fishing and slaughtering a higher life form (that you raised, fed and interacted with on a daily basis) seem quite “different animals” to me. Hunting or fishing to survive is something few of have ever had to do, yet it is the reason why all of us are here today. It is my belief that this skill is something all modern humans should again nurture. Few understand the difficulty and complexities of cultivating even simple rice and beans; making tofu. Fewer still could do it even if it was a matter or survival.

Urban Farming is the new cool thing to do (especially in PDX). Just listen to NPR and pay attention to media. For me, it’s more than a PC trend; I want to practice what I preach, as it were. I’d be a total “Hippiecrite” if I wasn’t willing to kill, then pull the still-pulsating guts from the abdominal cavity of a chicken (or any other farm animal I keep) in order to feed our family. Truly, being a butcher is a fine art, and I have renewed respect for those who prepare our meat. Presently our survival is not based on my hunting and slaughtering skills, but it may one day be. This felt very different from the catch of the day provided by the ocean so many years ago.

Last year, I cooked eggs from our chickens with potatoes that we grew on our wood burning stove with wood from our property that I cut and split myself...oh yeah, and the stove heated our house, too. This meal had a profoundly different feeling associated with it. DIY never felt so good. Caveman DNA runs deep. Thank you eternally to my wonderful wife for her hard work, constant growth and nurturing of our family. I never wanted children until I met Leah, and now fatherhood is the greatest gift three times over on top of our marriage. The daily practice and ritual of farming and gardening engenders discipline for children as well as adults; mindfulness of the cycles of life and death; growth and change. Self sufficiency: something that you can’t buy at the supermarket. That shit don’t grow on trees!

~Poppa Nomad

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


A few weeks ago, we splurged on a road trip to Seattle so Blake and I could see Depeche Mode. They've been around for decades, and are one of our mutual favorite was high time we catch them on their rare West Coast appearance. Seattle was the closest stop and I see why--the Seattle show draws not only the fans from that city but from Portland and Canada (BC) area as well. This made it difficult since we would have to find a way to make the trip, stay in a hotel and get someone to watch the kids. But my mom happily obliged and we got a sweet little mini-vacation out of it.

Mom was great to have with us, especially on the road, handing the kids snacks, reading to them books and she even brought a stash of pipe cleaners which kept the kids entertained, making crowns and jewelry out of them. Here they are in their creations:
We arrived just afternoon and decided the best thing to do, based on our friend Joi's suggestion, was to take a harbor cruise (we'd already see the normal main attractions last October, here, here, here, and here; and who can forget the infamous pee-tea incident)--this way we could see the city as a whole and get to be on a boat, a sensation we've all been craving since this was our first year without the sailboat. It might not have been exciting as sail, but it was really nice. Relaxing and thanks to their narration pretty interesting, too. Like, the guide told us where Fraiser's apartment would have been if the view from the show was really shot in Seattle (as opposed to L.A.)--of course totally unrealistic since it was from a radio tower hill. Silly stuff like that. Anyway they served us beer and we ate sandwiches over the course of the 1-hour ride.
My Mommy and me!

A great shot of Mayan and freshly-fallen top tooth:
Mom chilled inside with the girls, while Blake hung out on deck with George on his back. I love this shot!
What a good Papa! Thanks for bringing us on this adventure, B!
On the last stretch, we watched port workers move those massive containers around on the cargo ships. While I took this, the operator or the mechanism slipped and almost dropped the whole thing--now that would have been exciting...
Ah, breathing the bay area with my sweetie:

Afterwards we checked into our hotel, and treated ourselves to a nice dinner at Etta's Seafood over-looking Pike Place Market. just before the show, we set Grandma up with the kids and a movie and I nursed George down to sleep just in time. We were going to walk to Key Arena but it had just started to rain, heavier than a sprinkle, so we called a cab instead. Blake and I stifled snickers on the way since our cabbie was up to his knuckle picking his nose the whole time as he chatted on his cell phone--talk about multi-tasking! Then when we got out, I just about died when Blake says to the guy "Thanks for PICK-ing us up..." (heavy-emphasis on the "pick") and didn't want to take the change the guy was holding out with his booger-contaminated fingers.

We had some time to walk around before the music started, so I started a quest for "good beer." I thought it was hopeless when I realized the arena must have a contract with the makers of MGD and Rolling Rock, but on our way to our seats we discovered our section had a hidden bar that served Fat Tire--score! Albeit one beer costs $8 a pop, but that's all part of the experience, like $10 popcorn at the theaters (or so I justified Blake.) Drinks were not allowed into the bowl, so we found a space to lean and watched people walk by, proving to be on e of the most enjoyable parts of the evening. First you had different age groups--those that were probably in their 20's when DM was at their peak, and some that may not have been born when their first single hit. then there were the outfits, always a favorite past time of mine, to see what people are wearing. Some girls were really dolled up in goth-y makeup and fishnets--it made me regret right away not wearing my back-up outfit I had bought, a dress and black ankle strap heels instead of grey skinny jeans and a sparkly sweater, which was admitted more comfortable. It was most interesting to guess what these people did during their day-jobs--did they work in an office and only pull out their black platform boots hidden behind their white button up shirts, once or twice a year? Others seemed to live the rock and roll lifestyle on a more regular basis. Certain couples looked like they could be on second dates. And then there were people who just seemed out of place, but you know, you never know what kind of music people will like. this part of the night was fun.

What I've told people when they ask me about the show is that: I am glad I went, and the music was good. All of those things were true. But we were not without complaints--the largest being the visual effects...they were AWFUL! The stage had behind it one of those huge screens that looks like a metal cage until an image appears, and a disco ball shape of the same material. The first song began ("In Chains") and the face of an old man on one side of the screen came on and a young boy on the other. The images slowly morphed during the song so the old man became the young boy and vice versa; not a terrible image, creative...but during this on the ball was an image of a woman on a treadmill. She just climbed and climbed and climbed and never got anywhere--the symbolism I got but the actual image was just distracting. But it just got worse, because with each song came a new, totally unrelated image that would abruptly end when the songs ended, no continuity whatsoever. My conflicted brain got a break when they merely imposed distorted color images of the actual band playing--not creative, but enhancing and allowed the audience to focus on the music and players. The worst one (or what I thought was the worst one at the time) was gum balls. Yup, just gum balls. It appeared that the "sphere" was filled with gum balls at the start of the song and one at a time they would "fall" and appear in the larger flat screen. It seriously looked like a PC screen saver from 1994--and I can even remember what song was playing at the time, only the dumb gum balls. I mean when I think Depeche Mode, I don't think of colorful, novelty chewing gum--it just didn't fit. the last visual straw for me was the last song. Blake and I had started to regret not buying a ticket for Mayan, when we saw some other 7-10 year olds there with their parents. Until the very end, when we looked at each other in relief that we DIDN'T bring her. The band begins playing Strange Love, and a real video comes on screen--a chicly appointed apartment, an ornate chair in front of a fireplace, and in comes a women dressed very provocatively, and lounges in the chair. In comes a sexy Asian gal in a dominatrix style number, and begins peeling off the other girls stocking, and ever so slowly proceeds to suck on her toes, which brings girl #1 much pleasure. By the end of the song, girl #1 has her breast bared, but just in time girl#2 stands up and leaves the room. Okaaaay. Again, I get it, but 1) it was the first actual "produced" video image during the whole show so it seemed like it came out of nowhere and 2) it was totally inappropriate for an all-ages show. A little warning before the lesbian-soft-porn would have been nice.

So to balance out that complaint, there were other things I liked--for instance, Martin Gore (who is not the front man, but writes all the music and lyrics and plays multiple instruments and passes on the front man position to Dave Gahan to get all the glory) had his moment where Dave left the stage and he sung two songs. They were songs I normally don't give much love to when I hear the albums, but hearing him sing them gave me a new appreciation. He has a beautiful voice and in one particular song, which I never got before, I think he is addressing his out-of-the-ordinary position in the band and this gave him validation and a moment in the spot light. Good stuff. They also did a very good selection of material spanning many albums, and one I very much hoped to hear, called Precious--you never know what you'll hear when a band has 12 studio albums plus plenty of other material, and I was not disappointed.

Again, glad we went. Even though we really couldn't afford it I knew we'd regret not going. With the added bonus of mom-time and getting to see a beloved band with my honey, and despite the fact that it wasn't the raddest show we've been to, we're very pleased that we made it happen.