January 29, 2010 - 5:18 PM
Life in a college rental can be a delicate balance.
You move from your parents' house to the University dorms, where you are fed and your bathrooms are cleaned. You are only responsible for your laundry and your room, which might actually be less work than living at home.
Then you are turned loose into the world, and have to figure out a way to shop for groceries, get bills paid on time, and negotiate the world of renting. Even if the parents are still playing a large supporting role, this business of "adult life" can be quite the jarring one.
We all have different hangups. For some, it's the bills. For others it's keeping the shared space relatively clean, or remembering what day the garbage truck comes by. For others still, it's the basic challenge of both remembering to lock the door behind you AND leaving with keys in hand.
For me, the largest off-campus challenge has been food. I wasn't much of a cook growing up, and I've had to learn a lot about cooking and feeding myself. Going organic with my meat and local-organic with my produce has been an added challenge. I have also discovered an unfortunate and deep-seated hatred for that basic food chore: grocery shopping. I shop as seldom as possible, and am unlikely to try new recipes if they include something not already housed in my pantry. The shopping just isn't worth it.
To add to the food-related mess, our landlord recently decided to remodel our kitchen. My roommates and I are thrilled: on Friday, after two weeks of a gutted kitchen, we came home to a gleaming new oven/stove unit. A thing of beauty.
Renting is a strange reality. As a student, you are in and out of your house at all hours. You stumble home after a late night of partying or a late night studying, to find that your roommate has either feng-shui-ed your living room, or that there has been a massive party, complete with wall decorations and empty cans of cheap beer. Another option is that, after months of discussion of a kitchen remodel, you come home with groceries to cook a delicious dinner, only to find that half your kitchen has been totally removed. I mean gone.
So it's been an interesting two weeks. This has also been the busiest two weeks of my college career, so the sudden and unexpected removal of my cooking apparatus was a blow to my peace of mind. It meant lots of microwave oatmeal and cans of soup, until the soup ran out and then it was pretty much oatmeal and hot chocolate.
Luckily, our landlord is a great guy, who gave us a break on our rent and personally called the contractor on Thursday night (in our presence, even) to tell them that they absolutely had to install the stove before the weekend.
One of my roommates and I took the oven and stove on its maiden voyage tonight. I cooked a stir-fry of potatoes and squash while Devin cooked macaroni and cheese. Simple, yet delicious. Then we baked some brownies. Later I made a pot of tea, just because I could.
Next week the kitchen sink adventures begin. It'll be worth the inconvenience, though-we are getting a garbage disposal! We'll be cooking in full style by the end of February for sure.
It's funny that, as I was preparing to leave home for college, I spent almost no time thinking about my college diet. I made (unsuccessful) plans to not gain the infamous "freshman fifteen." I moved into my first apartment armed with some cooking tutorials from my mom and grandmother, and a fabulous list of recipes from my aunt. Since then, I have mastered a few culinary options (my signature pieces are chicken and dumplings, fried potatoes, fried rice with vegetables, squash stir-fry, and late-night pancakes). I have learned the delicate art of massive stockpiles of bargain non-perishable food staples combined with in-season produce. I have also successfully grocery shopped for a year predominately on foot, aided with a backpack and a reusable bag.
I don't imagine I will ever reach the food status of my roommate Lesley, who delights in pot luck gatherings and will joyfully invite the household to sample her new food creations. She cooks for the joy of it, and will make up new recipes from imagination or emulation alone. I don't cook with any particular skill, and I shop with very little enthusiasm.
However, tonight I took substantial pleasure from the simple sight of a pot of boiling water. A new stove! Tomorrow I'll be cooking pasta, I think (after all, I haven't had any in a week!). I'll make some squash and maybe some biscuits. Maybe even chicken and dumplings.
And for a study break? Pancakes after 10:00 pm. Ask any past roommate of mine: I make a mean pancake late-night snack. When a roommate stumbles in after midnight, I'm always ready to fire up the stove and make some delicious breakfast food. In fact, I might celebrate the new kitchen with a waffle iron.
There you have it: the kitchen adventures of college.
PS Please leave a comment with suggestions for easy college food! Really easy, remember. I might even post pictures of my culinary efforts.
January 28, 2010 - 11:07 AM
It has taken me a couple of days to process Sister Helen's visit. I'm currently looking at a picture that was taken of myself with Sister Helen and my friend Madeline, who also worked as event coordinator for Sister Helen's visit. I cannot believe the stories that have emerged from this past week, and cannot believe how lucky I am to have spent this wonderful time witnessing the power and conviction of this woman.
What a blessing to have been a part of this fabulous UO event.
Sister Helen Prejean is a leading anti-death penalty activist and author. She has published two books, Dead Man Walking and The Death of Innocents. The first was turned into a film starring Susan Sarandon. She has spoken before hundreds of crowds and has dedicated her life to ending the death penalty in the United States. This Catholic nun travels the country working to bring her story to audiences in all corners of the US, from the eleven states that have abolished capital punishment to the very heart of Texas with its active execution chamber.
This is what I loved most about Sister Helen: that she arrived with a story. She did not wake up one morning with a burning desire to dedicate her life to working as an advocate to people living on Death Row. Instead, while doing charitable works in the projects of New Orleans, she was asked to send a letter to a Death Row inmate. A single letter. That first letter became a regular correspondence, that blossomed into a role as Spiritual Advisor that took her first to Angola Prison in Louisiana, and then into the execution chamber itself, where her face was the last thing Patrick Sonnier saw before his execution by electric chair.
Her life's work arises from a deep compassion, and from witness. She has developed her theory, her message, around the basic fact of the humanity she witnessed in the people executed by the State. Her compassion transcends the reality of the crime in the person's past: she knows that a human being is not equal solely to the worst action of their past.
In the years since her friendship with Patrick Sonnier, she has accompanied five more men to their executions. She has also worked with the families of murder victims, and has created support groups for those who have suffered crimes. She has spoken with political officials here in the US, and met with Pope John Paul.
What an inspiration. She is a true example of integrity: someone who lives her convictions every single day.
Earlier I wrote that her storytelling was what I loved best about Sister Helen. That was true of my whole history with her: from the time I first heard about her, to the first reading of her books and viewing of her movie, and my exploration of online rescources about the Death Penalty.
But things have changed.
On Saturday afternoon I went to the airport with Madeline and Cheyney Ryan, a professor of philosophy and friend of Sister Helen's. We handed over the flowers we had brought her, packed into the car, and within ten minutes were laughing hysterically together as she joked with Cheyney and made friends with Madeline and myself. The rest of her visit was a stream of speaking engagements and meetings, punctuated by time spent relaxing and chatting. Madeline and I took her out for a cheeseburger at McMenamin's. We spent hours one night talking with her and Cheyney Ryan's family about everything from comedy shows to movie stars to the philosophy of war. She is a profoundly intelligent woman who is also very real in a hilarious and open way. Madeline and I had the opportunity to work with her because of our involvement with the Savage Committee for International Relations and Peace, as well as our connections with the Clark Honors College. Sister Helen was in no way obligated to turn two student workers into her friends. But she did, and she embraced us with open arms, calling us the "angel on my left and the angel on my right."
I could go into minute detail about her trip. It included speaking events for religious groups and for Clark Honors College classes. She had breakfast with leadership from the Inside-Out Program (which she was extremely excited to hear about), and lunch with the Center for Intercultural Dialogue. She spoke to a packed crowd of 250 in the Law School, with an additional two hundred people in an adjacent room, watching the event on live video stream. It included a beautiful moment when, during a gathering and in the middle of a speaking event, she was informed that the Saints had won the football game and would be going to the Super Bowl. She told me that she didn't care much for football, but her city sure needed the good news.
I encourage everyone to read her books. Especially if you feel torn about issues of Capital Punishment. She handles complex moral concerns with a delicacy and compassion I have seldom encountered in someone who has so dedicated her life to this work.
And let us also celebrate this University, which brings such fabulous people to campus. I cannot exaggerate the impact this four days with Sister Helen has had on my own convictions and my plans to create change in the world. I hope to some day arrive at some tiny fraction of her integrity and her universal compassion.
Until then, I have this beautiful message from Sister Helen, which she signed on the picture of the three of us: "To my friend, Katie-together in joy in the work for justice."
January 24, 2010 - 11:33 PM
Well folks, there's good news and bad news.
Everyone seems to want the bad news first in these situations, right? Well, here's the plan: the background, the bad, and then the good.
The background has been building for weeks. Or months. Or maybe my entire life.
I've been blogging recently about all of the fabulous activity around Inside-Out, and all the compounding activities happening on campus and in the Northwest region. We have all kinds of plans for new programs, alumni initiatives, evaluation, research projects, and program expansion.
I also remember mentioning Sister Helen Prejean recently, right? Sister Helen is an internationally acclaimed anti-death penalty activist from New Orleans, who has dedicated most of her life to ending capital punishment in the United States. She has served many Death Row inmates as spiritual advisor and has accompanied six men to their state executions in the past twenty years.
This woman is a force of nature, and she is currently in Eugene for several speaking events.
My work for these two events, the Inside-Out Hub meeting and Sister Helen's visit, have totally consumed my time since winter term began. It's wonderful that I have fewer academic commitments than usual, because I have shifted a good deal of focus away from the classroom and into these larger fields of life: into activism and events and people beyond my normal experience or plans. I am discovering a whole new aspect of myself, that includes all my academic past but is working in real-world issues. I am making a difference.
So if all of this is background, where's the bad news?
The bad news, friends and readers, is that it is now 11:47 on Sunday night, and I just remembered that the blogs for the week are due. I have never before been surprised by Sunday night. Even if I've been overwhelmed and behind, I have always planned on the blogging. Even if the blogs arrived a bit late, I was never surprised by their arrival. But tonight I was honestly surprised by the idea that tomorrow is Monday.
So the bad news is that I owe you blogs. Please bear with me, and I promise to get them in soon.
The good news is actually incredible news. Ready?
The blogs will be amazing. I can make that promise without any hesitation.
They will be amazing not because of any artistic prowess or any such thing. They will be amazing blogs because of incredible happenings. I have found myself at the center of a massive collision of wonderful people, events, and opportunities. Today alone I attended one speaking event by Sister Helen, taught a church class about immigration and No More Deaths, ate lunch with Sister Helen and a couple of UO professors, and then took a nap in preparation for the evening. Tonight I attended one hour of an Inside-Out Hub meeting, which included instructors from all over Oregon, plus representatives from the Department of Corrections, and past student participants in the program. From there I rushed off to an event with Sister Helen that I envisioned, planned, and led with my friend Madeline, in which we brought campus religious groups together with Sister Helen to discuss religion and capital punishment. To round the evening out, Madeline and I took Sister Helen to dinner and had a wonderful conversation.
The upcoming blogs will be wonderful because life-changing things are happening. I am so blessed. I have laughed so hard, been moved to tears, felt inspired and challenged, and discovered new levels of ability and interest in my own life.
I hope the full stories are worth waiting for, readers. There are more exciting stories to come, story after story is arriving. If you'll stick around for the reading, I promise to come through in the writing.
January 18, 2010 - 2:02 PM
Where is the line between free speech and hate speech?
For years, the Pacifica Forum has used University of Oregon space to discuss controversial and inflamatory topics. There are no students in the group, but they can use the UO space because their founder is a retired professor.
If you are here in Eugene, the odds are good that you have noticed the media attention focused on this group in recent weeks. A week ago a group of students went to protest the Pacifica Forum, which generated a good amount of media attention, especially when Forum members began throwing around Nazi salutes and addressed students in ways that have been identified as insulting at the least, or threatening at the most. (Please see the Register Guard story for more information. Note: I am not the Katie cited in this article)
This is why there is a debate about the boundaries between free speech rights that should be protected, and hate speech that should not be tolerated. When a group convenes to discuss and debate "neglected or suppressed topics," as a Pacifica Forum leader stated during their meeting last Friday, that is a decision that should be supported by the community. However, when a group moves from scholarly interests in unpopular subjects to inviting internationally infamous white supremacists, Holocaust deniers, and racists to speak in their Forum, to me that is no longer a legitimate argument of free speech. It becomes a question of a platform for hatred and violent rhetoric, a place where forum members find it acceptable to "Zeig heil" the audience, to make anti-semitic remarks to children of Holocaust survivors, and to scream "white power" in the face of students.
On Friday, January 15, a large group of student protesters (approximately 250) protested the Pacifica Forum.
There is a long history we are protesting, including the Pacifica Forum's presence here on the UO campus. Our rallying cry was "Whose campus? OUR CAMPUS!" The Pacifica Forum meets weekly in the EMU: the student union. There are no students in the Forum. Their average age is over sixty. More importantly, these community members invite speakers whose hate speech directly targets communities who also meet in the EMU: the black student union, the LGBTQ Alliance, the Women's Center, and the Black Student Union, among others.
This is more than a question of differing opinion: it is a question of safety and comfort of our students. Why should neo-Nazis be allowed to meet in student space?
On Friday I was part of the crowd of students who attended the Pacifica Forum's meeting. There were moments of high drama, such as the moment when a Pacifica Forum member who had been called a Nazi by the crowed stood up, proudly offered the crowd a Nazi salute, and then left the building. Other tense moments included police removing student protesters from the crowd for causing disturbances. It was a peaceful protest, and even included a local middle school class who came out to see a student movement in action. Please check out the KEZI local news station report on the protest, including an interview with me.
Generally the Forum members tried to settle the crowd and to answer questions leveled by students, professors, and community members. They consistently claimed to be a Free Speech group that had never advocated violence. They also stated that their group consisted of autonomous members, and that no person in the group spoke for the whole. There are three "types" of members: those who support free speech and neglected subjects, the anti-Zionists, and others.
The moderator of the meeting, Billy Rojas, told us that "sometimes free speech isn't pretty." This is certainly the case. It can be an exceedingly ugly thing to speak up for oppression and discrimination.
I ask the members of the Pacifica Forum to find a center of compassion within themselves. I would hope that they could draw on some wellspring of common humanity and stop inciting hatred and violent language. I would like to ask them what exactly they are trying to accomplish with their Nazi salutes, examine their actions for deeper motives, and recreate themselves in an image of peace and kindness.
I also ask the leadership of the University of Oregon to revoke their privileges to access student space. I ask that student and faculty leadership answer their dangerous presence with a compassionate request that they take their hate speech off of our campus, where at least their rhetoric will be physically remote from students, and their meetings not be legitimized by the academic setting and subsidized by taxpayer money and my student incidental fees.
Hatred does not thrive with public scrutiny. I believe firmly that it is the right and necessary task of students to call attention to this group, and to request that they not be allowed to continue as part of our campus. To be silent is to be implicated in their message. I refuse to allow our University to be tied to hate speech or oppression.
Please add your voice.
January 16, 2010 - 12:22 PM
Last night I attended the opening of a new exhibit at the University of Oregon's Jordan Schnitzer Art Museum.
The traveling exhibit is entitled "Amazonia," and features photography by Sam Abell and Torben Nissen, who traveled the headwaters of the Amazon River in Peru and returned with unbelievable photographs of the landscape, wildlife, and the river itself.
The photography was stunning. As I wandered the exhibition hall, I felt a deep connection to the beauty and power of the Amazon, and the jungle habitat there. I was equally moved to hop on a plane to the jungle and to sign up for a photography class. I guess that's what good art will do to you: inspire you to some kind of action.
To celebrate Amazonia, the museum hosted a free, public event that pulled a fabulous cross section of the Eugene and campus community for an evening of art, music, and food. The photographers were present: mingling with the crowd and answering people's questions. There were groups of students, families with young children, professors and artists milling around. All of the informational plaques were displayed in both English and Spanish, and I heard a surprising number of people discussing the art in Spanish, including a group of students who sounded like second-year Spanish learners.
It can be so easy to take places like the Art Museum for granted. We walk past them everyday, hurrying from class to work and from work to club meetings or sporting events. As a student body, we occasionally forget to take advantage of the incredible artistic venues we have here on campus. The music hall is exquisite, and is constantly hosting wonderful concerts by students and visiting performers. The Museum of Natural and Cultural History not only boasts a wonderful collection of artifacts from Native American groups of the Pacific Northwest, but also owns the oldest footwear in the world. What an incredible resource!
Over the years, I have tried to visit most of the Art Museum exhibits. The permanent collection is amazing, especially in the areas of East Asian art. Last year I took several groups of international students to the museum, which sparked interesting conversations about art, culture, and beauty. Some of the students were surprised to walk into a University art museum in Oregon and discover art from their home countries. Depending on the level of English abilities, our conversations would range from identifying the objects and colors in the paintings to a discussion of artistic technique and the mood of the work.
Which brings me back to the Amazonia exhibit itself. The information on the museum website includes this description: "Through their photographs and Abell's first-hand commentary, we experience the challenges and epiphanies of their journey and come to respect the power of the Amazon and its inestimable value to life on this planet." Indeed, I felt a profound connection to their photography and testimony.
My favorite pair of pictures made a case for the potential for the fantastic to arise. The first picture shows a curve of the river, surrounded by trees and vines. The water is slow and the banks muddy. It is calm and beautiful. Only a close observer would notice clumps of yellow along the bank of the river. The second picture shows those yellow clumps exploding into butterflies in flight: the same calm river scene suddenly transformed into joyful flight.
I would encourage those of you in the Eugene area to explore the Jordan Schnitzer Art Museum for yourselves. You might find something that surprises you.