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My thoughts drifted back to that cookbook last week, when I saw NPR's piece on the history of community-based cookbooks. The writer, Jessica Stoller-Conrad, pointed to The Woman's Suffrage Cookbook and 1904 Bluegrass Cookbook from Kentucky. Like me, she recognized their outdated references belonged to a time when women didn't have a lot of personal or professional choices. But she also felt the books were social outlets that "were so much more than just a catalog of recipes—they were fundraisers, political pamphlets, and historical accounts of the communities they served."
They were memoirs too, I suddenly realized. Every gravy stain and little handwritten comment ("add extra salt!" or "need more clam juice") tells a story. My cookbook, however, is wonderfully blank. My mother did not cook. She was a social worker in the 1970s. She did not have the time, interest or energy. Her lack of comment was a comment: There's a big world beyond the kitchen, honey. The silence of stains on each page may just have resulted in my being a working mother too (though I do love cooking, especially when it's something like "Mooseburger Meatloaf.").
Now that we live in the age of round-the-clock blogging, any lack of commentary (of any kind) seems harder and harder to find. I see these kinds of tell-all-say-nothing moments occasionally when a friend restrains herself from making a political point over dinner or someone shows you a photo but fails to tell the story behind it. I wish there were more of them. These omissions aren't nothing. They're windows into our choices: to cook or not cook, to explain or not explain, to show and see if anybody is ready to understand instead of just lecture and opine.
Tune out the World, Find Your Voice
Do You Trust Yourself?
After all, that's where the interesting stories are, as Liam and Megan O'Rourke proved with their engaging take on men's gymnastics over at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Liam writes, "watching longshot Kieran Behan stumble all over his floor routine and then smile the bitter smile of defeat was heartbreaking. My favorite Olympic moment of any sport today came when Louis Smith performed his superb pommel horse routine (ended getting the best score of the day on pommel horse) and then unexpectedly burst into tears...All of these moments made me think that, despite the fact that many people think of men’s gymnastics as a stoic display of strength moves and acrobatics, the sport is actually deeply bound up in psychology and emotion."
Meghan, a former gymnast herself, responds, noting the incredible adversity Kieran Behan had fought to be there on the floor at all, including a tumor, nerve damage, a freak accident. She writes, "So no, I don’t think you’re romanticizing the pain and danger of gymnastics. The tension between masochism and spiritual triumph is absolutely central to this sport... There are very few other sports that so fully dramatize that extraordinary exercise of will, which I think we all find beautiful: it’s why we watch the Olympics, isn’t it?"
Ohhhhh. The reason why people love to watch even the most obscure, suddenly-high-stakes Olympic sports is just as the O'Rourkes put it: the fever-pitched emotion, the thrilling failures, even the injustice of the very-near-misses. It's drama, is what it is: "Modern gymnastics makes you want to hide your eyes AND pick up the binoculars." And as the O'Rourkes point out, it's heightened by the fact that you can often see the reactions of the athletes' families as they succeed or fail or injure themselves or burst into tears. It's like you see the crux of a person's life, their own life story compressed, in an instant. And that is something worth taking part in.
Dr. Oz Talks to 2008 Olympic Athletes
The Spirit of the Olympics
But Dietrich had had enough. She did what most teenagers do these days when they have anything pressing on their minds: she took to the Internet. She outed her assailants, sharing their names on her Twitter and Facebook accounts, tweeting, "There you go, lock me up. I'm not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell.” By making her story public, Dietrich has also started to rally thousands to her cause, inspiring Change.org and other petitions to drop the charges against her. After all, her rapists are the guilty parties, and they made their attack on her public. By that reasoning, she's just completing what they started.
Slate has a thoughtful analysis of the story: "But here [on the Internet] Dietrich is the editor of her own story. She has the power to delete the comments she doesn’t like and promote the ones she does. Thanks to a few brave tweets, a 17-year-old rape victim is now curating an international conversation about sexual assault in America...And she’s speaking out not only about the details of her own assault, but the ways that the justice system is failing others like her."
It's incredibly upsetting to think that these things happen, but how resourceful of this wronged teenager to turn the story around, and in a situation that was always about taking control away from her, to take it back.
How to Protect Your Child From Sexual Abuse
Brave Women Who Risk Their Lives For Poetry
In the case of Sean Keown, a Vermont man who shipped off a message in a bottle some 35 years ago, the recipient of his letter ended up being, well, himself. A teenager found his ancient bottle with its hidden note intact, and, being a teenager, googled the name and located Keown. He then put the note in an envelope and mailed it to Keown, who then called him to say "he'd been waiting 35 years for someone to find it." Keown also told his local news station that he'd promised a reward to the bottle's finder: "I was thinking maybe a candy bar or a soda, at the time I was in elementary school. Yeah, it's going to be a cash reward now."
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When she noticed her resident's talent for cooking, Carson decided to open Boujhetto's, which employs and benefits others in need. As she told her local news station, at first she was just looking to make enough money to stay open, but the restaurant has been so successful, they are now expanding their hours and menu offerings. According to Carson, "we are here to help" anyone who comes in and might need a fresh start. And perhaps best of all, according to the official website, "Rahab's Hideaway can now hire who they help." Sounds pretty, well, delicious.
Learn More About OWN's Soul Food Family
It makes me wonder -- how many of the people I walk by every day might have some splendid achievement in their past, some great triumph jostling around in their hearts? And, once you've won a gold medal in, say, kayaking, what does that do to your life? Are you forever filled with the glow of achievement, peeking at your gold medal in moments of doubt? My guess is that when you've got that Olympic spirit you go through the rest of your life trying, working, yearning, going for the gold. Which is something we could all do, whether we're amateur divers, intermediate fencers, or hopelessly unathletic spectators.
The Music Olympic Athletes Make
Highlights from the 2010 Winter Olympics
It's not exactly the news everyone's talking about, but I have no idea why not: Three astronauts have just landed safely on Earth, after living on the International Space Station for the past year and a half. That's right. While we go about our terrestrial business -- following celebrity gossip, doing the dishes, grumbling about our commutes which totally do not involve spacesuits and plummeting through the atmosphere --these people have been living in outer space.
You must see the whole article on Discovery News, which includes a photo of the Soyuz capsule landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan, buouyed by a parachute, looking exactly like a child's toy. I find it mind-blowing that this goes on and that we aren't all running around in the streets, giving each other high fives. They lived in outer space! And then they came back! In a little floaty capsule thingy that someone engineered, that someone else built! It worked! It works over and over! I mean, I'm sorry, but space is really far away. Space.com has some amazing images of the landing, and the astronauts exiting the space capsule, which can't really be a bathysphere made from trash bags, the way in looks in these photos.
NASA astronaut Don Pettit wrote of his experience living on the space capsule,
"On Earth, the frontiers opened slowly. The technology of sailing was known and advanced for over a thousand years before the Earth was circumnavigated. Such bold acts require the technology, the will, and the audacity to explore. Sometimes you have one, but not the others. I only hope that my small efforts here, perhaps adding one grain of sand to the beach of knowledge, will help enable a generation of people in the future to call space 'home.'"
He kept a must-read blog of his time on the International Space Station, which includes poetry, photographs of Earth from space, and hilarious guide to space-dinner-party-etiquette.
Isn't it thrilling to remember that in these know-it-all times, there are still Big Adventures to be had? Frontiers to explore? People doing completely crazy things like, well, this:
A Message From Outer Space
So You Want to be an Astronaut
Teenager Shoots Her MIT Acceptance Letter Into Space
NASA Astronauts Having Fun on the Moon
So I was gratified to read that Vogue is launching an initiative to promote healthy body images in all its many editions. The Vogue Health Initiative pledges to portray models over the age of 16 who do not appear to have eating disorders. I know what you're thinking: how will everyone agree on what constitutes "healthy" or even "does not appear to have an eating disorder"? But... at least the conversation continues.
Body Image Quiz: Would You Rather Be A Whale Or A Mermaid?
Supermodels Dealing With Their Body Issues
Girls and women in the United States have a lot of problems to deal with: being underestimated, being underpaid. Sometimes my mechanic talks down to me. But none of this seems anything like a problem when you consider what women and girls in Liberia have gone through, especially throughout that country's long, violent civil war. According to Charitable Influence, "Most of the people in Liberia under the age of twenty one has seen a loved one die, usually through violent means. Many of them were forced to not only witness but often be a part of the vicious war that lasted for 14 years in the country."
A nurse named Rosana Schaak wanted to help the girls of Liberia, so in 2003 she founded the nonprofit Touching Humanity in Need of Kindness (THINK), which provides shelter and services to survivors of gender based violence. Schaak recently won an award for her efforts at the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards, a lovely recognition of someone who has devoted herself to a noble cause. And I'd also add that THINK's new website is a heart-wrenching-and-then-expanding place to visit. "O Women, don't just sit there, do something positive," it declares. And then it proceeds to show us how.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee on Anger
Well, recently Flood finally got her chance, at age 75, to dine in the dining car of the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. (This happened thanks to an awesome program called Wish of a Lifetime, kind of like Make-a-Wish but for seniors. ) "Oh she would have loved this," she said of her grandmother. Listening to this story, I thought of Flood's grandmother, of how heartbreaking it would be to explain to a child, This world we live in, it is unjust, and it is unjust specifically to you, and here is how you must deal with it. And how glad her grandmother would be, to see Flood in the dining car, enjoying a meal and a glass of wine. And how the simplest things—being on one side of a glass door or another—can make all the difference in a life, whether we realize it at the time or not.
Learn more about how Wish of a Lifetime, along with their partner, Brookdale Senior Living, enriches the lives of seniors.
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