Believe me, I hate asking for money as much as anyone. I could never work in development in any of the non-profits where I’ve worked or that I support. I am terrible at schmoozing, and I’d love it if we didn’t have to ask. But we do.
Yes, we all work hard for what we have. Most of us have causes near and dear to our hearts. I give money when I can, usually to animal shelters and rescues. I know people are in need as well, and I am glad that there are advocates for children, the homeless, the hungry, the environment.
In searching for numbers, I found that in 2015, Americans gave $373.25 billion to charity in 2015, a record whether measured in current or inflation-adjusted dollars. That is incredibly generous. Americans also gave their time. Also in 2015, about 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization. Non-profits depend on generosity of heart, mind, and, obviously, wallet.
My cause of choice is animal shelters and rescue. For more than 6 years I volunteered at the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, California. I made many friends and met some of the animals who now live with me. I still try to help out by fostering cats and kittens.
Baseball’s Tony La Russa founded ARF after the famous incident of a cat, later named Evie, running onto the field of an Oakland A’s baseball game.
Located in Walnut Creek in the East Bay area of California, ARF is a wonderful facility. A private shelter, we rescue animals from the over-crowded public kill shelters and give them the time they need to find their forever homes.
ARF offers many wonderful programs and services in addition to adoptions: many youth programs (my favorite being All Ears Reading), dog training, the Pet Hug Pack therapy animals, FoodShare (pet food pantry), the ARF Emergency Medical Fund, low cost spay/neuter services, a mobile clinic, and the awesome Pets for Vets program.
So, here’s the part where I ask for money.
I am fundraising for ARF’s yearly Animals on Broadway event, a pet walk and festival on Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek on Saturday, May 20. I won’t be walking in the event, as I have to be at work at the shelter helping adopt out animals! I am a virtual walker, a walker in spirit.
My fundraising goal is fairly modest, at $500. I have $300 as of the writing of this blog post. Thank you from the bottom of my animal-loving heart to those of you who have donated. I love you all!
If you can give any amount, please consider helping out. If not to my fundraising page, to someone else’s, or to your local shelter, or to whatever cause is important to you. If not money, time if you have it. Getting involved was the best decision I ever made. You won’t regret it.
Living in the Bay Area had the effect for a while of hardening me and my usual soft heart against the homeless. According to the San Francisco Homeless Project, SF has the second highest rate of homelessness in the United States. And for the Bay Area, it has double the rate of Oakland, and three times that of San Jose.
During the 11+ years I worked in Berkeley, there were times I swore Berkeley had the highest rate of homelessness in the US. Granted, if I were homeless I’d rather be in Berkeley than a lot of other places, but I got to where I hated leaving my office to walk down Durant Avenue toward Telegraph Avenue.
Not that I had to leave work to be confronted with my discomfort. The old location of the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) was a natural place for people living on the streets to go in to use the restroom facilities. Anyone who is out and about and has to use a bathroom faces a hard time finding places without the “restrooms are for customers only sign”.
I much prefer this sign:
My initial annoyance at having to share the facilities with the woman who came in regularly and cried while taking a sink bath became empathy and a realization of “There but for the grace of God go I” (or the equalivalent since I’m not into the God thing).
My attitude first underwent a shift when I was working on my Masters in Library and Information Science a few years ago. For a class on Libraries and Society, I decided to write a paper about the use of public library facilities by the homeless. The research was so difficult to read; such heartbreaking stories and real despair. Libraries are meant for everyone, I do believe, but as a wanna-be librarian I was worried about having to be a social worker on top of everything else. But just as the museum restroom off of the Durant Avenue entrance to BAMPFA made sense when I thought about it, so did libraries. They are quiet, warm in winter, cool in summer, relatively safe places to get off of the streets.
Most of the people I know say they never give money to panhandlers and the homeless. If I admitted that I did give money now and then, I felt kind of stupid. I used to believe that if someone couldn’t take care of themself, they had no business having a companion animal. But companion animals are one of the most important joys of life to me, and I’ve changed my mind. This was brought home fully to me after hearing Karen Hamza of Angel Hanz for the Homeless speak on her own experience of being homeless and the services she now provides for the homeless to be able to keep their pets with them. I’ve been through some tough times emotionally in my life, and having the cats and dogs to comfort me and to take care of kept me going. I get it now.
At about the same time, my inspring and beautiful friend Molly posted on Facebook about how the homeless aren’t treated like humans and her experiences talking to people on the street, asking their names, and doing what she could. She and I went to lunch together one day not long after, and she really brought it home for me. We were walking back to our cars with our leftover boxes after lunch, when we started to pass two older guys who appeared to be homeless, or at least really down on their luck. I was going to keep going, but Molly stopped. I reluctantly stopped too, and then as I listened to her talk with them and ask their stories, and watched her give them her lunch (which was going to be her dinner), I couldn’t just stand there. I handed over my box, and was so touched to get a hug in return. Hugs are good.
I learned a lot from this encounter about myself and about compassion. When I was recently working at a mobile adoption event for Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation outside of the Pet Food Express in Lafayette, I had the chance to practice my empathy and compassion.
Lafayette is not a poor community, and one does not expect to encounter the homeless there. Back in 2012, the median household income in Lafayette was $150,000, more than double the statewide average and nearly triple the national average. The real estate overview I looked at lists the median home price in Lafayette at $1,320,000 and the median rent per month as $5,000. That’s a lot of money. A lot. It’s like Monopoly money to me when talking about these unimaginable sums.
When the 40ish-looking man came over with his dog, I didn’t even stop to think about him being homeless. He was very proud of his dog, a mixed breed with an adorable underbite, appropriately named Smiley. He mentioned he got the dog through Pets for Vets about 5 years ago, and how important the dog has become in his life.
He then talked about his traumatic brain injury and cognitive difficulties and how much Smiley helps him with his post-traumatic stress disorder. By that time, it was clear to me that he was lonely, a bit confused, and in need. I channeled Molly and opened my ears and my heart. He finally said he was”kind of homeless” and quietly asked me for $3 for a coffee at the cafe across the street. I admit to very brief inner struggle and thought of fibbing and saying I didn’t have any cash. But my better nature won the struggle. I gave him a $20. Not the Monopoly kind, a real one. That’s not a small amount of money for me. Animal shelter and animal rescue jobs don’t pay a lot of money. But I can give up a few visits to Peet’s coffee and make up the $20. And I got my hug.
Then I heard from the people I know that I shouldn’t have given him money. You know what? It was my money and my choice. He was a nice guy, taking good care of Smiley, not aggressive, wearing clean clothes, and didn’t smell of alcohol. He is a man who has fallen through the cracks of veterans’ services after suffering serious injuries in serving his country.
I didn’t take his picture; I have more respect than that. Most of these images are from Google Images searches, not my phone.
My naysayers make me think of the lines spoken by Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:
I am not trying to make anyone feel bad. I am not fishing for compliments or validation. I am asking you to think twice next time you turn away from someone on the street. And do not take the good things in your life for granted. We are taught the Golden Rule as children. Let’s follow it as adults.
I returned to my old neighborhood at UC Berkeley today. I don’t get to campus very often since I left my job at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) last December. But I was lured back by the Greater Good Science Center, of which I have been a member for a couple of years now. Taking their Science of Happiness MOOC (massive open online course) in September, 2014, was a life-changing experience. I highly recommend it. The next offering begins September 6 this year.
According to the program notes for my adventure today, a “day of cutting-edge research and awe-inspiring performances”, the event “marks the culmination of an unprecedented three-year project to advance the scientific study of awe, conducted by Dacher Keltner’s Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory and funded by the John Templeton Foundation”. Sounded like a worthwhile way to spend a Saturday to me!
Off I headed to the Zellerbach Playhouse, a smaller (yet to me, nicer) annex to the big Zellerbach Hall that is the home of Cal Performances.
Ever since I took “The Science of Happiness”, I’m kind of a Dacher Keltner groupie. UC Berkeley psychology professor Dr. Keltner is the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center. He gave the morning keynote, “What Is Awe and Why Does It Matter”, getting us off to a great start. (I am trying not to use the word awesome. And I apologize for the “save” box on the portraits; that happened when I screen shot the images somehow and I am not going to redo them!)
What is awe, you ask? Keltner defines it as “being in the presence of something vast, beyond current understanding”.
Lest you think this will get too serious, the discussion even included designing better emoticons with an artist from Pixar.
And why study awe? Because awe might provide the counterpoint to what many of us see as a current cultural malaise.
Next up was arguably the crowd favorite, a participatory music session led by the amazing Melanie DeMore. Okay, I normally balk at sing-alongs and participatory anything, but I let myself be open to this and it was so much fun, and moving as well. I had a tear (or two) in my eye at the end. Melanie DeMore is a vocal artist and activist and is a natural teacher and mentor, if this session was anything to judge by. She had me singing and clapping and swaying at 9:30 on a Saturday morning before I’d even had coffee. Unanimous standing ovation from the audience.
Then followed the first panel of the day (the members of which acknowledged humorously that Melanie was a hard act to follow): “Nurturing Awe: How Awe Can Be Fostered Through Education”. Moderator Vicki Zakrewski, Ph.D, moderated the discussion, with presentations from high school teacher Julie Mann and Tom Rockwell, Director of Exhibits and Social Media at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.
.Vicki Zakrzewski, Ph.D
Julie Mann teaches at Newcomers High School in Queens, where 100% of the students are ESL students. As hard as awe as a concept is to describe, she asked us to imagine describing awe in a language you are learning as an immigrant. “You have to experience awe to understand it” so she works with her students to provide them the experience as well as the tools to describe it.
Tom Rockwell talked about how they approach exhibits at the Exploratorium in an effort to provoke wonder and curiosity and questions, not to provide the answers. He also talked about the concept of wonder and how it relates to awe.
Break time, and the search for coffee, one of the magical things that instills awe in me.
The next panel, “Natural Elevation: The Therapeutic Benefits of Experiencing Awe in Nature”, was led by moderator Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D, and included presentations from Craig Anderson, Ph.D. (UC Berkeley), Stacy Bare (Director, Sierra Club Outdoors), and Jaclyn Lim, who as a teenager participated in a collaborative study between UC Berkeley and the Sierra Club that looked at the mental and physical health benefits of experiences in nature for underserved adolescents and military veterans.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D.
Craig Anderson, Ph.D.
Even Golden State Warriors basketball superhero Steph Curry made it into the discussion, as he apparently has a very expressive face for comparisons of facial expressions and emotions.
The morning wrapped up with poetry readings by former US Poet Laureate, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, and UC Berkeley professor Robert Hass. I would have loved to take a class from this warm, engaging gentleman. I felt awe in his presence.
Lunch! Time to seek culinary awe. And thank you Greater Good Science Center for providing a vegan choice (catering by Ann’s Catering).
The afternoon started with the super high-energy and voluble Jason Silva, host of National Geographic’s “Brain Games” and maker of the short film series “Shots of Awe”, in conversation with Dacher Keltner on “Our Responsibility to Awe”.
Lots to say!
To be honest, he was talking so fast about so many things with such animation that I lost track! As someone who feels inarticulate much of the time, this did produce a sense of awe in me.
The afternoon keynote, “What’s Awe Got To Do With It?: How Awe Changes Our Minds and Bodies” was delivered by Michelle “Lani” Shiota, PH.D, of Arizona State University.
Post afternoon break, we again were introduced to awe through music, with beautiful sounds of the Chinese stringed instrument the pipa, played by Wu Man. Haunting, mesmerizing, and meditative all at the same time.
Wu Man then joined the panel on “Evoking Awe Through Art”, moderated by Director of Cal Performances Matias Tarnopolsky and with presentations by husband and wife team Ben Davis and Vanessa Inn (Illuminate the Arts) and David Delgado (NASA Visual Strategist and co-founder of the Museum of Awe).
Illuminate the Arts is a light-based arts project that teamed with artist Leo Villareal to create the The Bay Lights, making the Bay Bridge into San Francisco a “canvas of light”.
David Delgado “develops experiences that provoke curiosity through a mix of science and imagination”, such as Metamorphosis, a sculptural depiction of a meteor that allows people the experience of walking through the tail of a comet.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas led another panel on the topic of “Awe and the Greater Good: How Awe Can Inspire–and Be Inspired by–Acts of Altruism and Moral Courage”.
Presenter Paul Piff, Ph.D., of UC Irvine, spoke about whether the experience of awe attenuates narcissism, entitlement, and self-interest (no surprise to me, he found that the people who are the most well-off also feel the highest sense of entitlement and are less generous).
Covering the concept of moral courage was Jakada Imani from the Center for Popular Democracy (and former Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights) with a profile of the Reverand Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, and how he ended up the path to altriusm and moral courage.
The final panel of the day, “Global Awe: Finding Awe Around the World and Across the Universe”, brought back Dacher Keltner with Jennifer Stellar, Ph.D., of the University of Toronto, and astronomer Alex Filippenko, Ph.D, professor at UC Berkeley (and nine-time Professor of the Year).
Jennifer Stellar, Ph.D.
Alex Filippenko, Ph.D.
Jennifer Stellar talked about how awe varies across cultures and what about it is universal.
Alex Filippenko, as the astronomer, went the universal route, invoking Albert Einstein and mostly talking over this humanities/arts/humane education person’s head. The crowd was generally more physics friendly, as far as I could tell, since they laughed and seemed enthralled and entertained. This kind of intelligene does invoke awe for me even if I don’t understand what’s being discussed!
Dacher Keltner closed with remarks about how the life’s work for each presenter beagn with awe and wonder, and after the standing ovation, everyone went out to the annoying but ear-worm inducing sounds of the song “Everything is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”.
I had to get that out of my head, so I drove home to the sound of Lee Horsley reading Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer prize-winning book “Lonesome Dove”. That, my friends, is truly awesome.
After a nice break between semesters, the 2016 spring semester kicked off for Saybrook University with the January 2016 Residential Conference (RC).
Last semester, our RC at the gorgeous, intimate Cedarbrook Lodge in Seattle was a small gathering of the Organizational Systems (OS) doctoral students and the Master of Arts in Management, Specialization in Global Workforce Collaboration (referred to as MAM) students (all under the auspices of the Department of Leadership and Management). This semester, it was the large gathering of the various Saybrook departments, such as Mind-Body Medicine, Humanistic and Clinical Psychology, and Counseling.
Since we were so many, of course we needed to be at a larger venue, plus the conference alternates locations every semester. The 5-day RC was held at the Westin San Francisco Airport hotel in Millbrae.
It’s a nice enough hotel, but not a special place, like Cedarbrook Lodge. The conference didn’t have the same personal feel as last semester, but it was great to see my cohort and get started on my OS courses. The humane education part of my program (Ph.D. in Organizational Systems, Specialization in Humane Education), taken in a partnership program with Valparaiso University’s Institute for Humane Education, started a couple of weeks ago. I’ve already turned in my first assignments for Animal Protection and for Environmental Ethics. At Saybrook, I will be continuing the second class in the basics of research module, Disciplined Inquiry 1B: Research Foundations, as well as taking Dealing with Complexity: The Foundations of Systems Thinking.
Living just across the Bay, I didn’t want to spend the money to stay at the hotel (I need the money to buy books!), so early on Day 1 I headed over bright and early to register and get started.
Luckily, coffee was plentiful and the breakfast buffet was still going. To my surprise and delight, there was a special vegan/vegetarian section.
Our first morning forum for OS started with an introduction icebreaker. Being nervous, I had to refer to my prompt sheet to remember my name and where I live!
Then we launched into a “world café”. For those unfamiliar with the concept (which I was before Saybrook), when I Googled world cafe this is the definition I got:
“The ‘World Café’ is a structured conversational process intended to facilitate open and intimate discussion, and link ideas within a larger group to access the ‘collective intelligence’ or collective wisdom in the room.”
With the question of what makes Saybrook and the OS program unique, we spread around the room to talk about topics including education, health care, systems thinking and practice, and organizational transformation. For each topic, a host student stayed at each “café table” while the rest of us made the rounds to all of the tables to add to the discussion, with the host student presenting a summary of the talks to the larger group at the end. It was a great way to bring the new students into the group and for the returning students to reconnect.
That worked up a pretty good appetite! Lunchtime (and more coffee).
In the later afternoon, a few of us had an open block and attended the Clinical Psychology department’s screening of the 1985 Swedish film My Life as a Dog. We just wanted to see the movie (and it has a dog in it), but it was fascinating to hear the psychology students’ discussion afterwards. Analyses I would never have thought of were debated; I was mainly sad that (SPOILER ALERT) the dog doesn’t make it to the end of the movie.
Lest you think we are not a fun crowd, look: grad school humor!
By Day 3 we were tackling some serious world problems with another world cafe. This time our morning icebreaker, lead by the intrepid Mike Johnston, was an activity called That Person Over There…during which we mingled in a group, introducing our fellow students by trading and sharing “my passion is ” sticky notes. It was surprisingly fun.
Then we divided up into groups to apply systems thinking to various pressing global issues. We stayed with one group rather than circulating, and I chose the group looking at environmental degradation.
On the first Sunday of every month, rain or shine, crowds make their way to the Alameda Point Antiques Faire, or as we fondly call it, “The Flea.” This is not your junky flea market; this is huge, with lots of stuff, ranging from the, yes, junky, to high end antiques. It’s a fun way to spend a few hours on a Sunday morning, and I count it as exercise. And there are food trucks; who doesn’t love a food truck? If you have time afterward, the town of Alameda is fun to explore, too.
The entrance fee goes down as the morning goes on; early birds pay more! Your strategy will depend on several things: e.g., how badly do you need coffee and do you want to start at the way far back in the low rent district or start at the front in the high rent district?
The food options vary; on this January day there weren’t quite as many trucks to choose from, but you can get “state fair food on a stick”, falafel, pizza, Chinese food, Indian food, Greek food, baked goods, and of course, kettle corn (it’s everywhere).
One of my favorite activities is looking for the “art” (note the quotation marks).
Then there are the specific categories of art, such as clown art. The stuff of my bad dreams.
Weird sculptural things also make an appearance.
If you have any interest in old family photos and other people’s ancestors, there are always lots of stacks and frames of interesting, usually stern people’s faces. It does make me sad that they end up at the flea market though.
Interesting yard art opportunities abound. Someone purchased both of these and was wheeling them out. I title it The Bear Thinks About Eating The Thinker.
For the bookworm, there are children’s book, books that don’t really seem old enough to be at the “antiques faire”, and cookbooks, to name a few.
For the clothes mavens, there are plenty of “vintage” clothing vendors. Birkenstocks are vintage now?
Unfortunately, there is a lot of fur among the clothing items. My animal activist side gets riled up. Maybe I can get my activist friends out protesting with me some Sunday.
I will allow the purchasing of a tiara or two, however. You can’t have too many of those.
One of my very favorite categories–cat lady (or cat guy) merchandise!
I am also fascinated by the extremely expensive French road and building signs. I can’t guarantee they are genuine; “faux French” is a thing.
Here are a few of the fun things I saw on this January visit:
Maybe Misty will have a chance to be impressed next month. And maybe I’ll see you at The Flea!
Every day should be fur free, but Fur-Free Friday is the day of protests that takes place on so-called Black Friday, the day of frenzied shopping after Thanksgiving that so many merchants count on to bring in revenue. I have always stayed home on this day; I’m not a shopper and I hate crowds and the commercialization of the holidays; well, that’s another blog post. But as I’ve become more involved with animal rights and call myself an animal activist, I had to get myself on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and head to Union Square in San Francisco to be part of the protest with Direct Action Everywhere (DxE).
Union Square is, of course, ready for the holidays. The giant tree is up, and the crowds are big.
Santas abound, including the creepy Santa clown, Stephen King variety.
But we are here for Fur Free Friday.
I couldn’t help but notice the disconnect on the part of Macy’s with its holiday windows. The wonderful people at the San Francisco SPCA have their yearly window display featuring adoptable animals, and at the time of my viewing the had adopted out 34 already, yay!
But just a few windows away is a display promoting fur as fashion. Loving one kind of animal and killing another for its fur makes no sense to me. None. Nada. They all want to live. And no animal should suffer for fashion.
I met up with the group and we got ready to do action! And it wasn’t just human activists; we had 4-legged activists with us too.
Attire is important–it sends a message, whether in-your-face or of the more symbolic variety.
Rabbits are killed by the millions, as well as cats and dogs, for meat and fur. They deserve to live, just like us.
The amazing Priya Sawhney of DxE led us on the march, with chants, banners, signs, and a police escort.
I am continually inspired by the young activists of DxE; their passion and energy is contagious.
We ended the march with a performance of Sia’s haunting song “I’m in here”, with Sara Muniz and Jason Andreas Biz on guitar.
If you can’t get out on a protest but want to let retailers know that selling fur is wrong, you can take actions as simple as mailing a postcard such as this one, targeting Nordstrom.
A day of activism really works up on appetite; a friend and I enjoyed a vegan lunch and coffee afterward. Hopefully vegan options will continue to become more commonplace.
After making my way back home, I had to go in and sit for a while with our newest foster cat Kianna, recovering from a fractured pelvis. I am so grateful for organizations like the East Bay SPCA for giving her a chance at life.
If you feel inspired to join us, the next action is this Sunday, November 29 at Dolores Park.
It was a year ago this month that the Best Montclair Book Club had its first meeting. None of us had ever met. Judy started things off on the NextDoor app, looking for book club recommendations, to which several of us replied for her to let us know when she found one in our area. I forget who suggested we form our own club, but we did! Now that a year has gone by, our number has thinned a bit (but we would welcome more, hint hint). We have read 11 books (we took July off as everyone was traveling), but a few of us met at the movies to see Inside Out, which we thoroughly enjoyed. While I think I have a physical resemblance to Sadness, and sometimes an attitudinal one, I really try to be more like Joy (only if Joy was a little bit shy and bookish).
Draw glasses on my picture, you’ll see.
Here is our year in books! (opinions expressed are solely those of the blogger, not the group.)
We started off with Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings, the story of the real life Grimké sisters told in tandem with that of slave Hetty.
The metaphor of wings and learning to fly applies to spirited Hetty in her search for freedom and to the Grimké sisters, Sarah in particular, as they forge their way against oppression as women and abolitionists. The interweaving of the women’s stories is an effective tool in illustrating how oppression works at all levels, some blatant and some quite subtle. On a side note, Sarah Grimké describes her sister Angelina as quite a beauty. Here are their portraits that you can find online. Not so sure about that.
2. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón (translated by Lucia Graves)
I love this book. I had read it once before and was very happy to read it again. I think the general feeling of the group was that it was “dark”, which it is. Zafón creates a moody, spooky atmosphere in post-war Barcelona. There are stories within stories, twists and turns, and the wonderfully labyrinthian Cemetery of Lost Books. The evil and twisted Inspector Fumero will have you cringing. If there is ever a deal to make a movie out of this, I want to know!
3. The Greatest Gift, Philip Van Doren Stern
This was our holiday reading pick, and it being a short story made it that much more of a gift of time! This is the story that the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life was based on.
The story itself is quite short but the publication includes an afterword written by the author’s daughter describing how he couldn’t find a publisher for the story, so he printed 200 copies himself and sent them as Christmas cards in 1943. The story was embellished for the 1946 film, which was made after RKO Pictures bought the rights to make a film starring Cary Grant. The rights were eventually sold to Frank Capra’s production company. Though the final credits don’t mention her name, Dorothy Parker was one of the many writers who worked on the screenplay.
4. We started out 2015 with Robin Black’s Life Drawing.
Unfortunately, I was sick the night of our club meeting so I don’t know how the rest of the group felt about the book! I quite enjoyed it. It’s not a happy book, by any means, as it revolves around marital infidelity. There is also some suspense, and an underlying story of artist Gus (Augusta) and her struggles with a painting of young WWI soldiers she works on throughout the story, having found some compelling photographs inside the walls of the old country house she shares with her husband Owen. It was a perfect read for being sick at home with a cup of tea and a cat in my lap.
5. Next up, a little change of pace with The Rosie Project, the debut novel by Australian writer and information systems consultant Graeme Simsion, who has since published a second book, The Rosie Effect.
I found the book to be charming and lighthearted, but there are some real issues about Asperger’s Syndrome and family relationships in genetics professor Don Tillman’s search for the theoretically perfect wife. There is a movie in the works; Jennifer Lawrence is supposedly set to play Rosie, and last I hear, director Richard Linklater was a possibility.
6. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
I absolutely adore Anne Tyler and have read every one of her books, so maybe I am a little biased on this one! Other members of the group lamented that “nothing happens” but I find it to be a lovely reflection on love and family and disappointment and the importance of home.
The usual Anne Tyler elements are all there: multi generations of the same middle-class family; the slightly ditzy mother Abby; the grown children with mid-life problems; the black sheep son Denny; the illusion of ordinary happiness. Dysfunctional families in literature can become clichéd, yet I always find Tyler’s characters to be engaging and sad and heartwarming all at the same time.
7. Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
This was my pick, partly because it’s not very long and partly because it had been sitting on my bedside table for a long time and I decided it was a good way to get me to finally read it. I don’t know what took me so long, because I love hearing Neil Gaiman talk and I love hearing his stories read on NPR Selected Shorts. If you can find a recording of Jane Curtin reading “Chivalry” please take the time to listen.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane can be described as many things: fantasy, allegory, ghost story, a reflection on the disconnect between childhood and adulthood. It’s a very visual read, and brings up those childhood feelings of warmth and comfort as well as fear and anxiety. Another one I’d love to see as a film.
8. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein (Book 1 in the Neapolitan Novels)
This one reminded me a bit of Margaret Atwood’s Cats Eye in its story of two girlhood friends and the nature of friendship.
I enjoyed the book, but I am not convinced I will go on to read books 2 and 3 in the series. Some in the group loved it; I was not quite there. I put Cat’s Eye in my then Top Ten when I read it a few years ago, so I’d pick Margaret Atwood over Elena Ferrante (sorry).
9. Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train
Wow. Talk about a thriller! I was sucked in and couldn’t put it down. There are the inevitable comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, with unreliable narrators and “girl” in the title.
But it’s definitely its own book with lots of red herrings and characters who make you crazy. If you are looking for a thrilling page-turner, this is it! No one complained that nothings happens in this one.
10. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I posted how much I loved this book when I was reading it this summer in Norway. I can’t say enough. It is so beautifully written that it can be painful at times to read as Marie-Laure and Werner are separately and then together unalterably changed by World War II. There’s a creepy, Lord of the Flies quality to Werner’s time in training for the Hitler Youth, and an insight into the poverty and desperation that got him there. This is in my current Top Ten. A must read.
11. Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder
Disclaimer: I only just started this one and am going to have to scramble to finish it for the club meeting in 2 days. This is also not the type of book that I am typically drawn to, but part of belonging to a book club is to try new things and get out of my comfort zone a little. What I am learning: high finance is ruthless, watch your back, and I made the right choice going into the arts and not business.
Just today, a suggestion was made that our next book be Jonathan Franzen’s novel Purity. I did not love The Corrections, but I did like Freedom. I find Jonathan Franzen to be a very interesting person in interviews and am ready to jump into this one.
If you live in the vicinity of Montclair in Oakland, California or in the East Bay and don’t mind making your way to Montclair, and want to join us, you can find us on GoodReads. If you love books and talking about books (and pets, most of us have pets so when we meet at our various houses the dogs and cats tend to be a part of things too), then look us up: The Best Montclair Book Club!
I’ve been a vegetarian on and off since I was 15; the last time I ate meat was in 1995. After seeing the movie Babe, that was it for me eating animals!
On April 4, 2015, I attended the Conscious Eating Conference in Berkeley. I am not even sure how I knew about the conference. It might have been something I saw in connection with my explorations into the subjects of compassion and humane education. It was a life changing moment for me. As a vegetarian, I consumed dairy, convinced I couldn’t live without milk in my coffee or cheese on my plate. After having my eyes opened to the reality of the dairy industry, I quickly learned that I could live without those things. There are also great vegan alternatives (I actually like soy milk) and new vegan cheese makers putting out delicious nut-based cheeses.
I avoid Whole Foods Market, and Berkeley Bowl is too crowded and chaotic for my claustrophobic tastes. It is impossible to park at the local Trader Joe’s. But little Village Market near where I live has a fair amount of vegan selections considering the size of the store.
Here are some examples of the tempting treats I found last trip there: the most beautiful chocolates I’ve ever seen, made by Moonstruck, a vegan cheese spread from The Cultured Kitchen that must be good because they were sold out of all 3 flavors, and ice cream sandwiches (yes, ice cream sandwiches) from Green Girl Bakeshop.
If you are in Berkeley slogging through traffic on University Avenue, stop by Animal Place’s Vegan Republic at number 1624, the vegan grocery run to benefit the animals at the sanctuary. You get yummy groceries and help the rescue animals at the same time; it’s a win-win!
I have been to two meet ups now, one to Cafe Romanat (Ethiopian; 462 Santa Clara Avenue, Oakland) and one to Taste of the Himalayas (1700 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley). Neither restaurant is vegan/vegetarian, but they offer vegan options and both restaurants were very accommodating to our group. In Ethiopian dining, of which I have done very little, the fun part is scooping up the various dishes using injera, the sour flat bread made from teff flour, and bypassing the use of forks.
At Taste of the Himalayas, the 8 of us sampled several vegan dishes, including the pakora, samosas,and momo (dumplings) for appetizers, and my favorite of the vegetable dishes, bhindi tarkari, a spicy okra dish. If you think okra is gross and slimy, you haven’t eaten it prepared the right way!
A new friend recently invited me to meet her for Sunday brunch at Two Mammas Vegan Kitchen (370 E. 12th Street, Suite 1D, Oakland). I drove up to the address and wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but inside was a warm, cheerful, welcoming spot with some of the best brunch food, vegan or not, I’ve had in a long time. I can’t wait to try their lunch menu. And the magic words–bottomless cup of coffee!
When the renowned vegan fine-dining Millennium closed in its San Francisco location after twenty years, I was really sad never to have made it there. Even though I hadn’t eaten there, I have their cookbook proudly displayed on my cookbook shelves. Lo and behold, they reopened in Oakland, 5912 College Avenue in Rockridge to be specific, so now I can go whenever finances permit.
I don’t drink, so I can’t speak to the wine bar side of the operation, but Encuentro (550 2nd Street, Jack London Square, Oakland), which started as a “cafe and wine bar”, is now a full-fledged restaurant highlighting vegetarian and vegan food. The space is beautiful; nice for a date or to relax and hang out with friends. Jack London Square continues in its growth as a food destination!
On the more casual side, and home to what I hear is an amazing vegan milkshake, is Saturn Cafe in Berkeley (2175 Allston Way). They offer a mix of vegan and vegetarian “diner” style food (burgers, fries, shakes) in a retro atmosphere between downtown Berkeley and the UC Berkeley campus. Sometimes you just need a (vegan) burger and fries.
If Japanese food is more your style, you can get that too. In North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto (1686 Shattuck) is Cha-Ya. Noodle bowls, sushi–you want them, you can have them! It’s small and it can be hard to get a table at lunch, but be patient. You’ll leave happy!
Herbivore: The Earthly Grill has 3 locations in the Bay Area, 1 in Berkeley (2451 Shattuck Avenue). The menu has almost too many “comfort food” options for someone like me who has trouble making decisions! Soups, wraps, sandwiches, salads, pasta, nachos plus a breakfast menu–something for everyone.
There are some places I haven’t made it to yet: Cinnaholic, Sanctuary Bistro, and Cafe Gratitude in Oakland; Souley Vegan and Pepples Donuts in Oakland.
If you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments. I’m always happy to add a new spot to my must-try list. As James Beard said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” Sharing good food around a table is a wonderful way to connect with friends and loved ones. And there is so much more to eat as a vegan than hummus and tofu!