Remembering What Matters

Tonight I had a really great time with a friend that I met through a guy that I’d been dating until school let out and he moved back home, thereby putting a hiatus on our time together for now.  This friend and I spent some time talking about how wonderful this guy is as a person, how loyal he was as a friend…and then, just as casually as we had praised him, my friend threw out his flippant regard for relationships and loyalty to women.  I felt crushed, imagining how disloyal this guy was likely being, according to our friend, while I sat there wanting to be with no one else but him.  I felt suddenly naive and stupid.

In the past, I might have gone into a panic attack or a new state of depression.  I might have frantically reached out and tried to heal something that might not even be broken.  But now, after several relationships that were never worth my time, I realize all of those things don’t matter.  I don’t need to cater to this guy – and what I heard may not even be the truth about him.  Regardless, I’m remembering what matters, focusing on my studies, and working towards my own, independent career path.  It doesn’t matter what he does or what he wants; if I really mean anything to him, he will find his way to me and to make things work.

I’m not happy about what I heard and it will certainly affect the enthusiasm with which I interact with this guy, but I won’t let it tear me down or alter my priorities.  It’s hard sometimes, remembering what really matters.

Sorry if this seems like a random rant, but I felt rather heartbroken this evening and hoped that, by writing this, I could remind myself and others that there is more to life than the satisfaction given to you by the attention of someone else.

The Great Gatsby (2013)

I’m a fan of classier times, so naturally I’m drawn to older movies…and movies that look like older movies.  After a fun Alpha Phi Omega “Roaring Twenties” school dance where they handed out free flasks, I was excited to see the new The Great Gatsby 2013 film.  Alas, I was relatively disappointed.

ImageLeonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby.

To be honest, I don’t remember the story very much.  It’s been several years since I read the book in high school (and I’m in college now), and I can’t say the story particularly stuck.  But it’s set in 1922 – so I was looking forward to some classy outfits, cars, and illegal bars (Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933).  Instead, I was appalled by the use of modern music to appeal to today’s crowd and letdown by the dramatic and excessive special effects to illustrate New York City and the glam surrounding Jay Gatsby’s parties.  Oh, and I felt like the movie was three movies long.  I remember checking my watch at some point, wishing it would just end already.  That’s never fun.

I think the thing the irked me the most was the use of rap music in several of the scenes.  Yes, rap music.  And, another problem I had (as bad as it sounds), was the number of blacks depicted in the film as dancers, lovers, and overall wealthy people.  Maybe I don’t know enough about black history in NYC in the 1920s, but I was previously convinced that this would never have happened.  I was also taken aback in one scene where wealthy black people are being passed in a car with open alcohol and rap music is played loudly in the background.  Does no one find that unusual, strange, out-of-place,… or even slightly racist?  Sure, rap might be associated with the black community and maybe it originated from the Bronx…but not until the 1970s.  Fifty years too soon much??


All in all, I think the movie was alright…but the thing is it was mostly just pretty.  I’m sure the director intended to emphasize glam in the world of Gatsby, but I feel like the props and special effects distorted the reality of the era and took too much focus off of the movie itself.  Oh, and I felt like Leonardo DiCaprio looks too old to play Gatsby…but maybe that’s just me.

I’m not saying don’t see…I guess just be prepared to be let down if you were as hyped as I was to see some real 1920s film.

If I did a party again, I’d have some fancy champagne!  Check this out:


Remembering My Inherited Past


This blog is meant to focus on me, my interests in gardening, cooking, and nature, and how who I am and where I’m from has influenced what I will be.  I find it only fitting that I frequently remind myself of my heritage, of my ancestors, and of the historical events that have brought my family together and shaped who I am today.

I am of mixed European and Native American ancestry.  My roots have been traced as far back as 1120 in some cases.  My brother has even undergone DNA testing to connect me to long-lost cousins in the DeVault family tree.  I was born here, my parents were born here, and my grandparents were born here, as most of my recent ancestors.  However, I do have one great-grandmother from Slovakia, one from Germany, one great-grandfather fromPoland, and one from England.  Out of the remaining great-grandparents, half were Pennsylvania Dutch pioneers who immigrated here hundreds of years ago.  The other half were Potawatomi Indian with a touch of FrenchHuguenot, here for thousands of years.  (Ironic, isn’t it, that my last name is French and yet I’m hardly French at all?  Yet one lone French ancestor is not at all uncommon in the Woodlands Indians.)

My Indian ancestors have lived here for thousands of years and have faced incredible hardships in the last few centuries.  I am actually descended from captives in the Indian slave trade, which many Americans aren’t even aware existed.  My French ancestors fled to North America in the 1600s to profit on the trapping industry in Canada and made their ways down south, settlingpeacefully with Indian communities in Tennessee.  My Pennsylvania Dutch history began with religious persecution in the 1500s that forced my family to emigrate from Switzerland and the Netherlands and eventually settle in eastern Pennsylvania.  I am descended from a long line of Mennonites,Amish, and Brethren preachers who were documented in historical articles as being peacemakers with Shawnee tribal leaders.

And out of the newcomers in my family: I’m not certain the reason for myEnglish/Scottish family to leave its ties, but my German great-grandmother fled when she was 5 with her young, single mother.  My great-great grandmother was sent to Pittsburgh to marry a Jewish man; their marriage certificate indicated that she had never been married, yet she had a child?  That child later had my grandfather whom she named Sherman, but my PapPap was christened and the church wouldn’t allow him to have a Jewish name.  That’s why his full name is Thomas Sherman Middlemiss, but everyone called him Sherm.  Then there’s my great-grandmother fromSlovakia, sent here because she wasn’t beautiful enough to go to finishing school like her sisters and had a better opportunity following her brother’s footsteps and coming to Pittsburgh.

But the best story has got to be that of my Polish great-grandfather, raised Catholic in the farmland of Czestochowa.  His brother was a priest and, when my great-grandfather spoke out publicly against the church in a story I will later disclose, the Machovski family banished him from Poland.  That’s why my great-grandfather moved to Montana as a cowboy, working there for some time during the 1890s before moving to Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines.  That’s how he met my Slovakian great-grandmother, a boardinghouse worker in the coal town where he got off his western train.

That’s a short history of my roots.  I will eventually write about gardening, cooking, and all that good stuff…but my next few entries will be about my parents, my grandparents, and about my Polish great-grandfather – the greatest influences on my life and why I think they should be remembered for their perseverance, candor, and honesty.

The High-Fructose Corn Syrup Debate

I’ve always avoided high-fructose corn syrup.  But I’ve also always avoided sugar, period.  I was never sure if I should avoid one more than another.  Instead, I aim to choose items that are in their whole forms, like bulk nuts and other fresh ingredients that I make into something with my own hands.  However, avoiding the topic couldn’t last forever.  I decided to organize my own thoughts on the high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) debate.

What is sugar?
Before we can attack HFCS, let’s think for a minute about what sugar is and what it does to our bodies.  First of all, sugar as we know it today generally translates to beet sugar or sugarcane.  The key to the definition is that these food sugars are monosaccharides (simple carbohydrates) such as glucose and fructose.  Simple carbohydrates chemically break down quickly for sudden energy release from the split bonds.  Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are known to be more complicated to break down and therefore release energy more slowly but steadily.  Sucrose is a disaccharide, with one glucose linked to one fructose.  Sugars are carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen based.

Sugar in America.
Sugar has a bad association in America with diabetes, obesity, and other health problems.  We’ve been consuming sugar globally for hundreds of years and, in some cultures, for thousands of years, but the consumption rates in America have skyrocketed.  This article demonstrates the drastic increase of sugar consumption per person per year in America over the last two centuries.  Most data indicates a steep rise in American sugar consumption with the closure of the Civil War with two dramatic drops at the time of the World Wars.  Some studies have predicted that, based on the current trend line in consumption data, Americans will be consuming essentially ‘100% sugar’ by the year 2606 (based on a 95% goodness of fit and an assumed average caloric intake).  And while Americans are told they should be consuming no more than 100 to 150 calories per day of added sugar, they may not realize this includes sugar naturally found in food products.  For example, dairy products have lactose.  Fruits are actually very high in the sugar fructose.  Yet, while obesity continues to rise, it may not actually be sugar consumption that is to blame.  Studies find a more intense correlation between lifestyles and weight gain.  It is likely that sugar, high in calories and added to the vast majority of American foods, has a way of bloating one’s calorie count without much detection.  I guess the argument can be made that it’s in everything, so we eat it in place of healthier alternatives, and so we get fat.  But we don’t have to buy the sugary stuff!  We do because we crave it.  No one made you buy that candy or that dessert or even that stew that had nearly undetectable added sugar – it’s just what your tastes are accustomed to!  Because we actively partake in activities that maintain a sugary demand in our country.  Sugar doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but we have diverged from the evolved eating habits of our prehistoric ancestors.  Besides, anything is bad in excess.

What is high-fructose corn syrup?
HFCS is, chemically-speaking, essentially the same product as table sugar.  The difference is the glucose and the fructose in HFCS is unbounded, whereas it’s bonded in regular sugar.  Sugar can only be grown in the more tropical climates, thus its production is highly limited in the US and its tariffs for importing are high.  HFCS, on the other hand, is extremely cheap, very obtainable in a corn-dominated country, and highly soluble.  So what’s everyone complaining about?

Debunking accusations agains HFCS.
There are a number of studies that show HFCS is no more obesity-causing than regular sugar, but none of them deny that Americans eat too much sugar.  That’s the main source of the issue.  But people tend to blame companies for slipping HFCS (the cheap alternative to sugar) in everything to make the products taste better.  That means they sell more for less investment.  But does that mean using sugar instead would change anything?  The price.  Our tastes?  No.  Our sugar cravings?  No.  Therefore our obesity problem?  Probably not, unless some actual lifestyle changes were made.  So what other arguments are out there?  Well, there’s the one about the creation of HFCS being synthetic and artificial and therefore bad.  Well isn’t anything we make or do technically unnatural?  What is baking bread or scrambling an egg?  It’s just inducing chemical reactions.  I used to be opposed to “chemicals” until my friend pointed out that everything is a chemical.  And because the two kinds of sweeteners are chemical twins, what is the problem?  Another argument is that our brains being unable to register HFCS as sweet and therefore we consume more than we would of sugar.  In this article, a study is reviewed about the hypothalamus in the brain which detects consumption, calories, and other levels and which would be responsible for detecting sweeteners.  The study concluded that glucose and fructose do affect the brain differently, but that the boundedness or unboundedness does not have a proven affect on how they do this.  While reading this article, I couldn’t help but notice the author’s reference to carbonyls like they were some obvious health threat.  Carbonyls are a type of carbon monoxide ligand; ligands are directly connected to receptors in the body.  Some ligands are antagonists that block receptors.  Metal carbonyls are notorious for their toxicity and ability to block important oxygen bondings.  The carbonyls found in HFCS have a bad rap simply because a connection is believed to exist between the carbonyls present and diabetes.  That doesn’t necessarily mean obesity, now does it?  But what I find even more interesting (and explained extremely thoroughly in this article) is that these carbonyls and this unbounded property of HFCS doesn’t mean anything, as far as sodas are concerned.  The carbonation in soda in fact hydrolyzes up to about 90% of the bounded sugars so that they are now unbounded and, quite frankly, now identical to HFCS before you’ve even opened the can.

HFCS is overdramatized without people fully understanding the facts first.  There is also not enough conclusions about the topic, especially considering the amount of conflicting data from animal studies, etc., that currently exists.  Maybe non-carbonated products are worse in HFCS than in regular sugar, but I simply don’t know and not enough long-term data exists yet on the health effects.  I do, however, stand by the fact that we consume too much of whatever you want to call it (any combination of fructose, glucose, sucrose, lactose,…) and that Americans need to become more active.  That is the problem leading to the obesity epidemic: CALORIE CONSUMPTION >> CALORIE EXPENDITURE.

I like local, but local sometimes local is the wrong answer.

Yup.  That’s pretty much all there is to it.  For all of you “go local!” buffs, the ones totally obsessed with this new trend, first of all, WOAH.  Going “local” is NOT some new trend, people!  Local is the way we evolved!!  Do you think cavemen imported food?  How about frontiersmen?  Yeah, local is a way of life, so get over yourselves…

But local isn’t always good.  In fact, sometimes it’s bad for the environment.  Ever thought of that?  It’s a pretty simple concept.  The first step in realizing the fault in locavore lifestyle is acknowledging the unrealistic demands today’s food industry.  Back when we were a naturally locavore society and didn’t have the option of importing goods, we ate what was available when it was available.  That means eating melons in the summer, roots in the winter, and there’s nothing wrong with that…we still do that.  The problem is, now, we also expect other crops to be there.  Crops that aren’t supposed to be there.  But now that we have the technological ability to grow them, we will.  And we’ll do it locally.  So it’s locavore food…or is it??

I vote, NO.  Just because a food is grown locally, that doesn’t mean it’s locavore.  Although “locavore” is supposed to include locally grown foods, I think classifying it as such misses the point.  LOCAVORE means LOCAL because LOCAL is SUSTAINABLE.  So locavore is really sustainable.  Nothing else.  Locality is just a vehicle of this sustainability.  So what’s my point?  Well, do you really think growing a non-winter crop in a greenhouse during the winter is sustainable?  Maybe it’s being grown on a local farm, but does that mean its energy expenditure is valid??   No way!

Here’s an example:  A study has shown that “it can be more sustainable (at least in energy efficiency terms) to import tomatoes from Spain than to produce them in heated greenhouses in the UK outside the summer months”, according to a food mile study.  I think this sums up my point well.  Truly eating sustainably means getting rid of fresh fruits in the winter, and in fact ditching a lot of the crops that we eat out of season.  Thinking about this, I realize how unsustainable a lot of Farmer’s Markets crops are if they’re not actually produced in fields and are instead closely monitored in greenhouses and watered frequently.  I now realize that scrutinizing a company for importing goods is not necessarily worse.  Maybe those pineapples came from Hawai’i, but just imagine the energy expenditures had we grown them here?


What’s my point?  Just this: If you want to eat sustainably, don’t focus so much on “local” as being a matter of “distance”.  Realize that “local” really means being locally available.  Eat seasonally.  That’s what makes the real difference.  Think about that the next time you make a grocery list, and consider growing your own food.  Cheers.

Derby Day in All Its Loathsomeness

I believe in animal rights, albeit I despise groups like PETA that blow small truths out of proportion and generalize entire industries.  I feel like PETA takes it about twenty steps too far.  However, I can’t help but to acknowledge some of the points the activists make and some of the faults they do manage to uncover.


It’s May, and so the hot topic has been Derby Day.  I was never a fan of Derby Day because I associated it with cruelty towards horses, thanks to my mom’s standpoint growing up.  But my friend challenged my opinions on derby racing when I came to Cleveland.  We were getting gelato in Little Italy a couple Kentucky Derby’s ago and I was appalled by the gaggles of city people lined up to watch a 2-minute race around a track.  I grew up with horses.  My first job was in the stables.  My mom rides western with me and paid for dressage lessons when I was younger.  I understand the deep relationship one builds with a horse and how one should respect these beasts, all their power, and realize how much work it takes to care after one.  Sitting in that room with those Clevelanders, I knew none of them knew the first thing about horses.  How could city people care so much about a dumb race?  I’d never seen people at home pay attention at the bar when the screen was on.  I remember sitting in Sharky’s one year and everyone was more fascinated by the Pirates and Orioles baseball recaps.  And is my mom right about the cruelty that those animals undergo?  I decided to look into it further.

One of my good friends from home actually owns an eighth of a race horse.  Yet her family doesn’t care about the races, just about the bets and the money it brings in.  I decided first to search about what makes the Derby so exciting and if anyone else feels the same sort of animosity towards it as I do.  I came across a post on Angelfire called “The Kentucky Derby Really is Decadent and Depraved”.  I feel like the author makes some good points.  For example, a quote on what makes it so popular:

“I despise the Derby for the same reason I despise 21st Century R&B and 2001: A Space Odyssey. They thrive by circulating so much hype around nearly non-existent substance until the hype becomes the substance. Of course what I call “hype,” Derby fans call “tradition. … Let’s not forget that all this tradition comes from the Deep South. Yup, from the countryside that brought you cotton plantations, the Confederacy, country music, and grits comes little men riding big horses in a circle for less than two minutes. Sell hot dogs in the stands and whiskey at the bar and you can garner enough fat alcoholics with no real lot in life to become obsessed with it. Instant tradition.”

This would explain why so many Clevelanders seem hooked at the bars and over social media.  They don’t care about the actual event, it’s just about the bets, the celebrities, the stupid meaningless stuff – and the hype.  To confirm this opinion, I read a few blogs and recaps from Derby parties.  Nearly every single commentary was the same.  People might add a comment like “Those hoses are so pretty and strong!”, but mostly it was blathering on about mint julepsoverdone outfits, and southern tradition.  PAH-LEASE.  Even PETA recognizes this.  I love the introduction from the PETA Files, which sums up my sentiments perfectly:

“There is a certain kind of person, it seems, who enjoys dressing up like a deranged escapee from some historical theme park and swilling mint juleps just to watch horses run around a dirt track for a couple of minutes.”

So, with the mystery of the hype solved enough for my satisfaction, I now began to wonder if my mom was ever out of line for finding horse racing cruel towards animals.  I asked her last week if she thinks PETA over exaggerates.  She agrees they do, but that they have some truths that shouldn’t be ignored.  Maybe some animal cruelty situations are localized, but the point is they still exist and that horse racing still supports it.  Searching some more, I found another person sharing bitter feelings about a party she attended in Maine with people who knew nothing about the race but supported the hype and didn’t blink once at the thought of what happens to the losing horses after the race.  She describes this night in “Why I Hate the Kentucky Derby”, where her date casually informed her that the losers from the race she watched would be sent to slaughter for the meat industry.  She even recaps the life of the horse who won that day, Real Quiet, and mourns his death as not a steak but as a tired breeding stallion whose genes were used to continue the age-old tradition.  I was still skeptical of tales of stun guns and horse meat until I watched some videos of horses being stunned and of trucks driving hours on end to take horses across the border.  Furthermore, the disappointed date provided an article from William C. Rhoden of the New York Times which seems legitimate enough for me:

“The most significant source of racehorse deaths is the slaughter industry, one driven by overbreeding and demand from the lucrative global meat market. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, more than 100,000 American horses are slaughtered each year in Canada and Mexico to satisfy horse meat markets in Europe and Asia.

Breeding operations produce thousands of so-called surplus thoroughbreds. What happens to the excess, the often anonymous horses? Some are sold to owners who take them overseas. Some wind up racing in Japan. Some wind up in slaughterhouses.”

PETA claims 80% of people are opposed to horse slaughter in the US, yet it evidently continues to happen.  PETA also reads of endless statistics about horse breeding, horse deaths, poor animal treatment, and all of those things I don’t have to bore you with.  My main point – which I think I’ve made – is that Derby Day is a loathsome event, yet so many people blindly worship.  I find it pathetic.  I believe in knowing what I support and, if these sheep weren’t so ignorant, I should hope they wouldn’t support it as well.  Alas, ignorance and stubbornness, the leading follies of humankind.

So all you Team Derby people out there, have fun dressing up, choking on mint juleps, and pretending to be southern for a day while you lose your money along with the life of your bet horse.