Month: January 2016

Tips for remembering reusable grocery bags

Avoiding plastic bags is one way to reduce your personal contribution to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But planning grocery trips is hard enough for a busy person, let alone remembering to bring those reusable bags. Here are a few tricks that help me to remember my bags:

If you drive:

-After a shopping trip, if you’re bringing multiple loads of groceries inside, empty your first bags immediately and then bring them right back to the car. Put them in the trunk and you’ll have at least 1 or 2 for your next shopping trip.

-Alternatively, if you’re bringing in plastic bags, take your reusable bags out to the car when you’re going back for the second load.

-At any time that you’re going to the car but not grocery shopping, try to throw a bag in the backseat.

If you walk:

-Put the reusable bags by the door, or even hang them on the doorknob on the day before you go grocery shopping.

-Alternatively, put your bags in a backpack/purse ahead of time. Or put them on the same hanger as your coat.

Over time, once you develop the habit, it becomes easier to remember your reusable bags.

Boston Symphony, Eroica

Last week I went to hear the Boston Symphony play Beethoven’s Third Symphony. The first half of the program—Gossec’s Symphonie à 17 Parties, Mozart’s Concerto for Harp and Flute—was also appealing, but I was really there for the Beethoven.

It used to annoy me to see such a predictable work on the program. Hadn’t everyone heard Beethoven’s Ninth and Shostakovich’s Fifth quite enough? It was no coincidence that I felt this way during the years when I planned on becoming a professional musician. I was well-accustomed to playing the usual warhorses, to the point where I felt tired of them even as a teenager. My friends and I thought the audiences who wanted to hear the same symphonies repeatedly must be philistines. We felt sorry for the musicians who were forced to play the same crowd-pleasers year after year, presumably because the conductors were just trying to sell seats.

Then I stopped playing and started working a day job. With barely enough time to write, let alone read, exercise, or listen to music, it became difficult to investigate composers who had always interested me. I never did get around to reading Gardiner’s new biography of Bach, or learning more about theory. All those annoying adults were right: It’s frightening, once you settle into a professional routine, how quickly life goes by. Years can pass and you don’t even realize it.

One interesting resultant change is that I now love hearing the predictables. As a teen, I looked down on Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, found it trite and cliché. Now I go to the symphony whenever it’s on the program. Ditto for Beethoven symphonies, Brahms, and all the embarrassingly typical choices of your average classical lover. Since I hardly have time to listen to these pieces on my own, hearing them in a concert hall is the ideal place to spend an hour hearing music without distraction. (The cost of concert-going also contributes to this behavior. Concerts are not cheap, and I like to know ahead of time that the splurge is for something I will enjoy.)

So enter Beethoven 3 last Tuesday night. I was really excited to hear it. The struggle, the magnitude, the exploded symphonic form. Quite frankly, after working in an office all day, your soul feels pretty stifled. I wanted Beethoven to make me feel again, to remind me that I was human.

Unfortunately, not long after François-Xavier Roth started conducting, it became clear that this rendition would be otherwise. While I appreciated the brisk tempo, the musicians played with little energy. They sounded tired, quiet, and bored. During the development, there are shocking dissonances that tear the harmonic fabric; these moments should be violent and searing. Instead they were played almost pleasantly, like the most ordinary music in the world.

The second and third movements were better, with exceptional solos by principal oboist John Ferrillo and a rousing trio soli in the horns. But the fourth movement was a mess. The string section was sloppy in several of the fugal sections. The rage of Beethoven’s variations gave way to muddled tameness. The orchestra sounded ready to quit playing and go home.

What I have been wondering ever since is: Do I have the right to feel disappointed? It was the Tuesday night show; the musicians had already played this program two or three times. It’s only human that they were bored, and struggled to hide it.

On the other hand, I am a paying customer, and playing well is supposed to be their job. If you make a living performing—and if you’re lucky enough to be in the Boston Symphony—is it reasonable for the audience to expect an exciting performance?


Some Great Books I Read in 2015

Feed and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson – Two enormously intelligent books that were remarkable not only in themselves, but also for how different they were from each other.  Feed is a brilliant dystopia about the internet, consumerism, and environmental destruction.  Octavian Nothing is a historical novel set during the American Revolution, narrated by a young black boy.

Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood – This remains one of my favorite dystopias of all time.  It seems I am confronted weekly with some piece of news that confirms the chilling accuracy of Atwood’s predictions about people, science, and environmental destruction.

Jurassic Park, Timeline, Sphere, and The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton – Crichton is a master of plot, and he’s also great at coming up with intriguing and sometimes terrifying ideas for science fiction.

A Mixture of Frailties by Robertson Davies – The coming of age story of an opera singer.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – Once I read this absolutely perfect classic I couldn’t believe I’d waited to approach it.  Coming up for a re-read shortly.

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman – I still get chills when I think about how amazing this book was.  It’s a literary novel about two sisters set during the dot com bubble… but also so much more than that.  Goodman is notable for the warmth that comes through her novels.  Sometimes it seems too easy to write about all the bad stuff people do.  Goodman sees beyond that and makes you love everyone in the book–and somehow encourages you to see the good in people, even in this jaded 21st century.

The Secret Place, Broken Harbor, The Likeness, and In The Woods by Tana French – Beautifully written mysteries with a heavy dose of psychology and setting.  What more could a literary suspense lover want?

Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry by B.S. Johnson – A wicked little work of metafiction by a mid-20th century experimental writer

Bobcat and The City is a Rising Tide by Rebecca Lee – I’ve been plaguing all my friends by telling them to read Bobcat, a story collection that instantly became my favorite.

Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai – Makkai is one of my favorite short story writers.  Also, this collection features a lot of musicians, obviously a favorite topic of mine.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami – Another book I’ve told everyone I know to read, and they’re probably getting annoyed by now… one of those books that’s good enough to get obsessed with, and weird enough that you can’t explain why.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl – A coming of age murder story narrated by a brainy teenage girl.  I admired the unique voice Pessl achieved, and the character of the girl’s father was quite memorable.

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips – A pleasantly terrifying, Kafka-esque tale about that soul-crushing place, the 9-5 office job.

Orfeo, Galatea 2.2, and Generosity: An Enhancement by Richard Powers – Powers shares my fascination with music, science, and technology.  He’s not exactly a science fiction writer, but sort of borders on it by being a literary writer preoccupied with science.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – This was a stunning, heartbreaking story of adolescent love. I was astounded by how well Rowell captured the awkwardness of teenage years and how it feels to be a teenager in love–as well as by the devastating story wrapped around the narrative core.

The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust – I tackled volume 3 of the 7-volume saga.  This one featured stalking a duchess and the tragic death of the grandmother.


Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo by Nicholas Carlson – A study of Yahoo and the career of its current CEO, one of the youngest female CEOs

The Boy Who Played With Fusion by Tom Clynes – Not only the story of one scientific prodigy, but also an examination of the conditions under which genius can flourish (or falter)

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance – A fascinating biography of the most innovative, daring tech industrialist of our time.

The Double Helix by James Watson – Watson’s memoir of discovering the DNA molecule.  Interesting not only for its close-up look at a major scientific discovery, but also for Watson’s eccentric narrative style and for a glimpse at gender norms of the time (Rosalind Franklin famously got the short end of the stick)