Monday, June 25, 2012

But what about dinner?

I recently overheard two women talking about writing.  I think they were trying to plan a time to get together and write or something like that.  One of them said to the other, "well, I'm a stay at home mom, so I have to think about getting dinner on the table."  And she didn't seem particularly bothered by that fact, but it basically summed up my own greatest current fear about my life: that it becomes completely structured around domestic tasks.

Now that I'm working part time, I feel a lot better about my life than when I was staying home all the time with Anton.  I like feeling productive, I like using my massage skills, I like earning some money.  I've even lost the last of the weight I gained during pregnancy by simply moving more at my very physical job (and spending less time eating out of pure boredom).  But it has become even more of a challenge to find time to read, write, etc.  And although I do enjoy cooking, having to think about groceries and prep time and all of that is starting to feel like a major chore.

My husband suggested that I cook big vats of food less often, so I don't have to cook every day.  I suggested that he help with  the cooking more, for the record...but so far, no dice.  Anyway, I was meal-planning for a while there, and found it to be helpful and cheaper than the last minute dash to the store on the way home from work so I can throw something together.  So I'm trying to get back into that habit.  I've got a new cookbook called The Vegan Slow Cooker, and I plan to try to cook something in the crock pot every other day, and then we'll eat leftovers on the off day.  So far I've used instructions from the book to cook and freeze tomatoes, since my moms plants produced a TON and she's about to go on vacation.  Today I made something not from the cookbook but a blog, a recipe I've been making for years: vegan red beans and rice.  After all, it is Monday!

Hopefully this will free up some time so I can focus more on my writing.  I have been making progress on several projects, but not at the pace I'd like.

I don't think there's anything wrong with centering one's life around home and family stuff, necessarily, but it's a scary thought for me.  I feel like I'm actually a better mom when I have opportunities to do my own thing sometimes.  As much as I care about nutrition and all, I have big goals for my life, which I'm not going to achieve in a kitchen. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summer adventures

So, I've been pretty quiet here lately. Oops!  I've been working more, and teaching theater to summer camp kids (which, though the teaching part is only 1.5 hours per week, involves a lot of preparation...between the prep work and the effort to keep the class from complete chaos I have developed a very deep respect for Real Teachers).

Also, I had a short but sweet prolific writing period last month, when I wrote three short stories: one of fairly average story length, one flash fiction, and one super short flash fiction for a contest, which I just found out I won.  So that was neat.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Gritty, Coming-Of-Age Short Story Plot Generator For Male Writers

Are you a dude who would like to write a gritty, coming-of-age short story?  Considering the market for these is seemingly endless, why not?  Well, I've made it easy for you.  Simply combine the following elements, in the order you choose:
  • An Awkward Sexual Encounter
  • Drinking or Drug Use
  • An Asshole Male Friend
  • A Fight

1. The protagonist is a young male (duh).
2. To add spice, this story could take place in, say, the 50s or the 80s, or, you know, whenever you, the male writer, were your protagonist's age.
3. To add additional spice, the protagonist could be Jewish (if the writer is Jewish) or Catholic (if the writer is Catholic),, never mind, just pick one of those two.
4. The fight must be a physical fight (i.e. fist fight).  Weak, boring verbal arguments do not count.
5. The drinking/drug use could fall anywhere on a scale of Boone's Farm to Heroin, depending on how gritty you want to be.
6. The protagonist may be an asshole, but the Asshole Male Friend must be more of an asshole.
7. For economy, you may combine these elements.  It's always a great choice to have the protagonist and the Asshole Friend get drunk/high together and then get in a fist fight, preferably because one of them had an Awkward Sexual Encounter with the other's girlfriend or mom or something.
8. If the writer is gay, the Awkward Sexual Encounter can occur between the protagonist and the Asshole Friend.  This has the added bonus of being extra-gritty AND allowing the writer not to include any female characters whatsoever.

You can write several versions and make something of a career of Gritty, Coming-Of-Age short stories.  But if you get ambitious, feel free to just repeat the elements over and over again, and you've got yourself a Gritty, Coming-Of-Age Novel.  But you'll probably need to add a death somewhere in there, too.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The curse of questioning.

My mother makes decisions very easily.  She does a little research, finds something that makes sense to her, and goes with it.  When it comes to training her dog, she follows that Dog Whisperer guy.  When she wants to make a major purchase, she consults Consumer Reports.  When we were babies, she looked everything up in her Dr. Spock book. 

I wish I could do that.  I don't know if it's personality differences, or a result of coming of age with internet access, or some combination of the two, but I find it very hard to find One Solution to any given problem.  Because, there are so many "experts" out there!  And they disagree with each other!  And you can find them all (and their various legions of followers) stating their cases on the internet!  And I can't seem to stop myself, whenever I hear advice, from looking it up online, and seeking out alternative opinions.  Sometimes I spend hours doing this.

In recent years, I have developed a decent ability to see and understand both sides of an issue.  This is mostly a good thing, but it can make it hard for me to make a moral decision and feel certain that it's the right choice.  Exploration of moral gray areas is a major theme in my writing.  It makes for great drama.  It's not always so great in real life, though.

Two areas that I spend a lot of time researching are, not surprisingly, parenting and nutrition.  I've grown really tired of articles along the lines of "Ten Foods You Think Are Healthy That Are Actually Unhealthy" and "Five Ways You Are Damaging Your Baby" etc.  People love to write these things, I guess because it's fun to tell other people they're WRONG.  Then, I suppose, they get a lot of hits on these articles because everyone wants to share them on Facebook so that they can get the pleasure of telling their friends and family that they're WRONG.  One thing these type of articles tend to say is some version of "do the research yourself, and you'll see that I'm right!"  This amuses me, because I usually find that the more research I do, the more nuanced and muddy an issue gets.

Of course, ultimately, one has to make a decision and stick with it.  I choose to be vegan even though I don't believe it's necessarily the One Best Way To Be Healthy And Moral.  I believe, based on my research and personal experience that it can be healthy, that it can help the environment, and that I would prefer not to eat or harm animals, if I can avoid it. 

Parenting is a bit stickier for me.  I have some friends who are strong adherents to Attachment Parenting, and some of it makes sense and works well for me, too (like breastfeeding and cloth diapering).  Other things, like co-sleeping, do not currently work for me.  Sometimes it feels easy, in the moment, to fall asleep while nursing Anton in bed.  Problem is, we both tend to wake up more often, and I tend to get squished into uncomfortable positions, resulting in back and neck aches, and if he wakes up and I don't immediately realize it, he can and will crawl off the edge of the bed.  Sometimes he will sleep in his own bed without much fuss.  Sometimes he won't. 

One major issue is, I like my own space in bed.  I don't snuggle with David when I'm sleeping.  When I lived alone, my cat would sleep on top of me, and I didn't mind that, but generally I don't want other humans touching me when I'm trying to sleep. 

Anton slept really long stretches in the first few months of his life, but now?  Not so much.  I know this is normal.  I know he's not some evil baby, trying to manipulate me.*  But more sleep needs to happen, somehow.  Last night, David was remarking about how I've changed my mind a few times about what I would and wouldn't try to get him to sleep more.  I readily admitted that I am stumped on this issue.  I've tried various methods, and haven't found one that works.  It has become quite apparent to me that no One True Way of parenting is going to work for me.  I wish it could be that easy...but it's not. 

I guess it's time for more research.

*I have to say, I find it slightly questionable that people feel so certain that they know exactly what a baby or a dog's thought process is in a given situation.  I mean, how can they be so sure whether or not the dog wants a human to be its "pack leader" or a baby, if left in a crib, will believe his parents don't care and have abandoned him to die alone?  Don't babies and dogs have some diversity in how they react to situations?  And how can we really be sure, given that none of us has been a dog or remembers being a young baby?  There I go, questioning again...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

If it's not one thing...

So, since Anton started day care, he's picked up just about every germ in the world.  Sometimes David and I end up getting sick, too.  It's getting quite old.  Anyway, it's been a few weeks since I've been actively sick, but I developed a sinus infection after my last cold.  This has happened to me a couple of times in the past, and I would treat it with steam/neti pot/huge doses of Vitamin C until it went away.  Which usually took...a LONG time!

Well, this time it got so ridiculous that I had horrible headaches and even visual effects (no, it wasn't a migraine, it was just my sinuses).  So I broke down and got some antibiotics.  And then it went away!  Yay!

But...then the antibiotics (amoxicillin) gave me a scary rash that sent me back to the doctor!  Not cool!  Apparently this is fairly common for kids, but can also happen to adults.  The rash is made worse by sun exposure, so it's all over my chest, neck, and face.  It's fading now and looks mostly like a splotchy sunburn.  Gah.

The doctor told me to limit sun exposure.  NO JAZZ FEST, he said!  Oddly, that actually makes me feel somewhat better.  I hadn't planned to go to Jazz Fest anyway, because, sadly, Anton is in a phase that I don't think would be very Fest-compatible.  He mostly likes to crawl, stand, and cruise around.  Sitting in a stroller all day?  Not so much.  But I was feeling sorry for myself for not being able to go, so it helps to have an actual medical reason as well.

Anyway, at least I have a cute kid to hang out with.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Art of Fielding

After reading a couple of disappointing books, I decided I needed to read something Highly Acclaimed.  Highly Acclaimed books aren't necessarily a sure bet with me, as I can be a bit of a contrarian at times.  But it worked out well in the case of Atonement, which I'd been meaning to read for a while and enjoyed quite a bit, and The Art of Fielding, which Jim recommended for me on the DGLM blog.

One of the selling points I hear most often for The Art of Fielding is that you don't have to be a baseball fan to enjoy it.  I suppose there may not be a huge overlap between Baseball Fans and Literary Fiction Fans.  I, however, do enjoy baseball.  While I'm not a diehard fan, if I had to pick a favorite sport, baseball would be it.  So the baseball theme was a plus, for me.  And although I'm sure every reviewer out there is tempted to compare the book itself to a baseball game...I'll go ahead and jump on that bandwagon.  The Art of Fielding drags out through extra innings (it's apparently over 500 pages long, though I read it on the Kindle where a book's length is not as apparent) with short, episodic chapters, some of which don't feel entirely necessary as not much happens.  But you care about the team, and by the end of the game you're rewarded for staying on the bleachers through it all.

This scathing (and very spoilery!) review over at the Atlantic faults the book for being shallow, but I disagree.  There were some tedious bits, but I found the characters to be interesting, whole, and easy to relate to.  And yes, the fictional Westish College feels a bit...quaint.  The jocks are well-read, sensitive souls, seemingly free of prejudice.  Don't we wish!

Overall, I rooted for the Westish Harpooners through their triumphs and failures, and enjoyed some nail-biting bottom-of-the-ninth moments as well. This team has a lot of heart.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An uphill battle

8 months after giving birth, I'm now within about 5lbs of my pre-pregnancy weight. Losing the weight (50lbs!) felt rather slow at times, especially because I was hoping breastfeeding would make the pounds "just fall off" as so many women attest...but that didn't really happen for me. I lost a good bit of it in the past two months, which I think is due to working more, which involves more physical activity.

Anyway, I'm now satisfied with the number on the scale, but not so much with what I see in the mirror. Back before I got pregnant, I had a fair amount of muscle from work and exercise, and people often guessed I weighed about 15lbs less than I actually did, probably due to that "muscle weighs more than fat" thing. Well, now I'd like some of that muscle back!

I try not to get too caught up in body image stuff, because I don't want to be vain or shallow. But there are just so many things I prefer about having a lean, strong body. One major thing I've noticed is how different everything feels when you have weak abdominal muscles. I feel that my posture suffers and my lower back hurts more. I'd also prefer not to have my thighs touch each other.

I'd like to get back into Spinning, but I must admit I'm afraid of no longer being good at it. For years, I felt like a Spinning class star. I know, it's rather silly. But I don't want to go back to the red-faced, winded person I was at my first Spinning class seven years ago!

So I've begun doing more cardio workouts on the elliptical machine, with the goal of working myself back into some semblance of shape before I attempt a Spinning class. I'm also enjoying yoga and, of course, walking outside in this all-too-brief spring weather.

At the moment, however, I'm eagerly anticipating Anton's next nap, and I plan to join him.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On SAHMs, Ann Romney, and all this silliness

There's some good discussion going on over at Feministe about what's really going on when politicians talk about motherhood being "the most important job there is." If you're a wealthy woman, at least.

As I've mentioned here before, I thought I might take a year off from work after Anton was born, but I took a wait-and-see approach, and didn't make a definite decision because I didn't know how I'd feel in this very new situation. And I was very lucky to be in a financial position to have options. And, as it turned out, I got rather bored with the whole SAHM thing and started to ease back into work when Anton was 3 months old, by commuting to NOLA every couple of weeks to see old clients. I continue to do that, and have now added another part-time massage job closer to home.

The thing is, I love spending time with my baby. But not every second. Some of it is lots of fun. Some of it is quite tedious. And although, overall, I put a lot of work and thought into The Job of Motherhood, it's not as if I'm the only person on this planet who possesses the necessary skills to change his diapers or feed him applesauce, tiny spoonful by tiny spoonful. Sometimes it's great to get a break from all that for a few hours, and use some of the skills I've spent years refining, like my massage skills, or my writing skills.

It is patronizing when Important Men talk about the hard work involved in staying home with the kids (unless you're a poor woman, in which case...get your lazy ass off the couch and work, right?), not because it isn't hard work, but because it is also tedious work, which they are unwilling to do.

It reminds me of when I had an admin job, and one of my tasks was to take a pile of rumpled receipts and create an expense report for one of the executives. It was a frustrating task, because he never sorted anything out, so it was hard for me to tell if a particular restaurant receipt was from taking clients out for a dinner meeting, or taking his family out for dinner (and if it was the latter, I didn't really want to help him get reimbursed for it, when I was surviving on boxed mac and cheese). When I expressed my frustration, which I often did, as subservience has never come naturally to me, he would try to placate me by telling me just how good I was at making these expense reports. Because he was just so naturally disorganized, you see. He needed someone like me to sort things out for him.

Thing is, if he'd seen the state of my apartment at the time, he would have seen that I was naturally disorganized as well. I only forced myself to be organized at work because, well, it was my job, and I needed to pay rent and buy a bus pass and that aforementioned boxed mac and cheese (I wasn't vegan yet at that time, obviously).

Child care, like most jobs, is a mix of fun stuff and important stuff and hard stuff and tedious stuff. But when ambitious men claim it's the Most Important Job In The World, they're just blowing smoke up our asses. I'll believe it when they quit their less important jobs to be Stay At Home Dads.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Vegan French Quarter Fest

My mom is obsessed with French Quarter Fest (and all the other festivals that take place every 5 minutes in NOLA). Her sister, my dear Aunt Judy, is in town visiting, and they asked me if I wanted to meet them for breakfast. The catch? It had to be within walking distance of my mom's parking spot in the Quarter. There are growing options for vegan breakfast/brunch in NOLA, but I wasn't aware of any actually within the Quarter. I love 13 on Frenchmen, but Anton was with me, and it's a bar, After some Googling, I told them to meet me at Meals From The Heart in the French Market. I'd had food from Meals From The Heart a few years back, when they used to sell food at...some festival...the Creole Tomato Thing, perhaps? Anyway, it's good, healthy food, and they offer both vegan and gluten free options.

I was thrilled to be able to order vegan pancakes! They put bananas in the batter and blueberries and strawberries on top. They tasted like classic diner-style pancakes, which I haven't had in forever (I make my own at home but they are more crepe-like). I shared with Anton and we both enjoyed them. My mom got eggs and grits and my Aunt got a lovely salad. The ladies working there were super-nice, too. Fellow NOLA vegans or visitors should definitely check this place out...I hear their black bean burgers are delicious, too.

At the Festival itself, there are a couple of food options. A place in by the Mint has veg red beans. Last year there was a Jamaican place there with some great vegan stuff, but I couldn't find them this year :( Mona's has a booth in Woldenburg Park, and that's always a good bet, too.

I'm going back tomorrow (must see Debauche!) so I'll see what else I find.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jambalaya Writer's Conference

I spent yesterday down in the lovely swamps of Houma, Louisiana at a one-day little gem of a writer's conference. I've attended parts of the Tennessee Williams and Faulkner Literary Festivals in the past, on an a la carte sort of basis - sitting in on a couple of readings and panels, but this was the first literary conference that I've attended from start to finish (well, not quite...I skipped the wine social at the end of the day because I had a long drive ahead). This conference is very reasonably priced, I think it was $35 for the entire day, meals included. It was quite the bargain!

I decided to branch out from my usual genre(s) and check out some sessions on poetry, picture books, and writing children's books in verse. These turned out to be fascinating, especially the verse books one, which was led by a woman named Caroline Starr Rose. I was mostly unaware of the re-emergence of verse novels for kids and teens, but now I'm re-imagining one of my (many) works-in-progress in this format. I'd heard of Rose's book, May B., and now it's on my must-read list. I wish I'd brought more cash or a checkbook for the book fair, so I could have purchased it there. I'm so accustomed to using my credit card that I didn't anticipate not being able to buy books with it at the conference. I only had enough cash on hand to buy one book, and I chose a book of poetry by Louisiana's poet laureate Julie Kane, who was charming in person, to give to my Aunt when she visits us later this month.

The conference took place in the breathtaking beautiful Terrebonne Parish Library. Seriously, this may have been one of the best libraries I've ever seen. I probably could have spent a day there even with no literary conference! Other highlights of the day included the hilarious keynote speaker, Rick Bragg, and "The American Idol of first pages" panel, where agents, editors, and successful authors gave helpful feedback on the first pages of attendees' manuscripts. I didn't submit a page for this event, but it was still helpful to hear their feedback on others' work. I had submitted an excerpt from my novel to the conference's fiction contest, and won Honorable Mention. So that was cool.

Fellow Louisiana writers, check this event out next year! It's got a friendly, helpful vibe and you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Working and books

I've begun to work more, which has turned out to be a good thing for both the bank account and my sanity, but as a result I haven't written here much lately. I'll have to work on that! After March is over I will have a bit more time, as I took a temporary chair massage job just through March. My other job is at a gym, with child care (!!!) so Anton comes with me. That's been fun so far. And I'm still commuting to see clients in New Orleans twice a month.

I read two books recently that had some wonderful elements, but that ultimately I found disappointing. One was by my favorite author, Joyce Carol Oates. I've read several of her novels, and liked them all, but some more than others. This one, I'll Take You There, had an interesting premise, great characters, and was, of course, written in her wonderfully perceptive and evocative prose...but the plot? Meh. I kept waiting for something really big to happen, and it just didn't. Or actually, there were some events that could be considered "big," yet something about the way they happened lacked the impact I anticipated. It's hard to describe. I have another of her books "on deck," so we'll see how that one is.

The next book I read was Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters. I picked this one up at a book store because it looked awesome. And lots of things about it were awesome: a quirky family with a Shakespearean scholar dad, an ailing mom, and three adult sisters who all happened to be at crisis/turning points in their lives - all back together under one roof. The exploration of birth order dynamics was quite interesting. There were some beautiful scenes. And yet, all three sisters' problems, which seemed at the outset to be very complex, were basically neatly solved by Perfect Men. Ugh. All of the elements that were NOT about romance in this book were so great, but the romance plots seemed really stale (one of the sisters literally runs into a man she likes...gah, will people please retire the accidental physical collision device???) and predictable. Having said that, I would read more by Brown in the future, because, as I said, there was a lot I liked.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In praise of college theater

I saw three plays this past week, which might be a record for me. First was Pride and Prejudice at LSU, then Eiffel Tower Revisited, also at LSU, then Anton in Show Business at Loyola (which David and I dragged ourselves to NOLA in frigid weather despite having irritating colds to see - and it was totally worth it!).

Since all of these plays were on college campuses, with casts comprised mostly, or totally, of students, I've been thinking about some aspects of college theater that I think are pretty cool - despite the occasional presence of what David calls "studenty acting."

1. Cross-gender and generally non-traditional casting. It's so much more fun (and educational) for an actor to play characters different outside of their own age and gender. In college, you get a chance to do this. Thankfully, new plays are beginning to reflect the reality that there are lots of women and people of color in theater (and, um, in the world), but so many of the "classics" offer few female parts. Solution: let the women play male parts. They can do it - they're actors. Also, give the audience some credit. Their brains are capable of processing, say, a 20 year old playing another 20 year old's mother, or siblings of different races. I promise.

2. Experimentation. Sure, sometimes it goes horribly wrong, but it's still better than recycling the same tired shows over and over. Colleges can afford to experiment, because they're not beholden to certain demographics of season ticket holders like a lot of professional theaters can be. In fact, they can put on just about anything they like, and have an instant audience of students who are required to see the show because they're taking a theater course. Ha.

3. Budget. Okay, I know theater departments never have enough money. They're underfunded, etc. But they still have lots more money than a lot of community theaters and small theater companies. That means you get great sound and light boards to fiddle around with, and good costumes and sets. You also don't have to scramble for backstage crew, because that's yet another thing you can require of students taking a theater course! Ha. Ha.

4. Energy. There's nothing like excited, eager, not-yet-jaded college students to breathe some life into a show. I love working with college students because they love to work! In fact, they're often so happy to be cast in a show that they (gasp!) show up for rehearsal! And sometimes they even (gasp!) learn their lines well before dress rehearsal! And there are moments, from the audience, when you can feel this excitement, this pure joy of discovery, crackling like electricity through the air. It's hard to be a cynical old theater person when that happens.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pride & Prejudice and loving my view from the audience

Well, it's Super Bowl Sunday, and you know what that means...a stage version of Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice! The theater was packed, so I guess there is hope for humanity ;)

I enjoyed the show. At first it seemed rather fast-paced and rushed, because the way it was adapted for the stage called for very quick transitions between scenes. Night became day, weeks passed by in an instant while stagehands dressed as maids whisked chairs on and off without so much as a break to dim the lights. But I soon realized that this was probably necessary to fit all of the important plot points of the novel into the play. It still ran nearly three hours, as my Mom (who attended with me) and I were shocked to discover once it was over. Mom was sad that her favorite line "I cannot abide a mountain" was not included in the adaptation.

Overall, I think this was a wonderful achievement for Swine Palace over at LSU. The casting was so well done that I instantly knew which actor was playing the principal roles before any of them spoke.

I recognized several actors from the play David and I saw at Swine Palace last spring, The Metal Children. I was also very excited to recognize two actors from shows I'd seen in New Orleans, at Southern Rep and Tulane Shakespeare. One of these actors was playing Mr. Darcy, and I'd seen him in King Lear (as Edgar) and Macbeth (in the title role). I'm annoyed with myself for leaving my program behind in my mom's car, because now for the life of me I can't remember the man's name. He has blown me away in everything I've seen him do. I will even say that he gave Colin Firth a run for his money as Mr. Darcy, and I love me some Colin Firth. Anyone reading this who can identify this brilliant actor, please comment.

The only negative aspect of this show for me was the large physical reactions and expressions that the actors often displayed. I think one of the joys of Jane Austen's work is that the characters must restrain their emotions and behave in a manner appropriate for society, but their true feelings come through in their witty words. Their was some scoffing and shrugging and eye-rolling going on that I thought was not necessary, and took away from the power of Austen's dialogue. Since this was happening across the board, I think it must have been a directorial choice. Sadly, one of the major offenders here was the actress playing Lizzy Bennett. I could tell she was a talented actor, but I didn't get Lizzy's sharp yet subtle wit from her performance. Her Lizzy seemed less confident than I imagine the character to be. Again, she was clearly talented, but I was disappointed in the choices taken.

I was thinking today about how much theater I've seen in the past couple of years. My pregnancy, and now baby care, prevented me from participating as much as I'd done before, and as a result I'm more often an audience member. I was surprised to discover that I love it. When I was younger, I couldn't see a show without wishing I was in it (unless I hated it). My desire to be involved eclipsed my enjoyment as an observer. That is no longer the case. Now I find myself loving the chance to get lost in the story as only an audience member can.

This is not to say that I don't miss participating - I do. But in the meantime, I enjoy this phase of my life, where I can sit back and watch and soak it all in.

Friday, January 27, 2012

food food food

Well, I guess there is a first time for everything. Today at Whole Foods I had a rude cashier. Usually they're so nice! Weird.

Here are a couple of my current food obsessions.

I got some of this almond milk yogurt today, and tried the coconut flavor. IT WAS AWESOME. Looking forward to trying the other kinds.I love peanut butter, and Earth Balance with flaxseed is the best peanut butter I've ever tried. It's natural, but doesn't have to be refrigerated. Seriously, it's the best.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Recipe: Savory chickpea stew

When I was a kid, my mom used to make stew with leftover chicken and gravy. This is my vegan version of it. I suppose you could use fake chicken strips if you want, but I use chickpeas because I tend to always have them in the pantry and I love them.

Savory Chickpea Stew

1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast
4 Tbsp Bragg's Liquid Aminos (or soy sauce)
6 cups veggie broth or water
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 potatoes, chopped into 1-inch cubes
3 cups cooked chickpeas (or 2 cans, drained and rinsed)
1 tsp sage
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook about 5 minutes.
2. Add the flour, nutritional yeast, and liquid aminos. It will form a thick paste.
3. Gradually add the broth, stirring to mix well.
4. Add the carrots, celery, potatoes, chickpeas and sage. Bring stew to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are cooked, about 30 minutes.
5. In the meantime, make some biscuits! Here's my favorite recipe:
6. Before serving, add the peas, salt and pepper. Serve with biscuits.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Yet another thing to scold pregnant women about

So, I read this article from the LA times via Balancing Jane (who has a good analysis of it), and I find it annoying on several levels.

Basically, the theory is that the obesity epidemic was caused by pregnant women in the 50s and 60s doing three unhealthy things: smoking, striving to gain as little weight as possible, and not breastfeeding.

First of all, though the article briefly mentions the growing popularity of fast food, suburban culture that leads to more driving, etc., it seems to come to the conclusion that these 50s and 60s moms are a larger cause of increased obesity. I have my doubts about that.

Further, the article clearly states that doctors were telling women to do these things. If that's the case, why don't we call a spade a spade here and blame doctors for the obesity epidemic? But no, we can't do that, of course. Because they're always right (well, except for all those times in the past when they were wrong, but they're right now! So listen to your doctor. Remember, they're smarter than you). It must have been those naughty pregnant women acting up again. Don't they care about the children?

Also, the expert behind the theory flat-out states that overweight women should not have children. I'd rather that jerks not have children, personally. Because, I don't think that being fat is so horrible that we should try to make sure fat people are never born. This is not to say that it's not important for individuals to try to be healthy - I'm a bit of a health nut, myself - but come on. I mean, let's look at this "unhealthy" generation that was born in the 50s and 60s - I know some excellent human beings that were born in those decades! Some of them are even *gasp* fat! And if they want to try to do something about that, that's up to them. But I'm glad they're on this planet, regardless.

There are many systemic causes for the health problems we're currently facing. I think our priorities need to shift to value health more. Blaming it all on mothers is both incorrect and unfair.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Parenting and happiness (or lack thereof)

This is a very interesting article in NY Mag about whether kids make one happier or not, and I like this analysis of the article on the Golden Notebooks blog as well. As the article mentions, I sometimes worry that I'm not spending enough "quality time" with Anton. Because, these days, he spends a lot of time either in his ridiculously festooned "activity center" or his Jolly Jumper. He seems to enjoy them, but I feel guilty sometimes for not coming up with bonding/educational activities all day long. Yet, he seems content, stopping every few minutes to look up at me and grin.

Does he make me happier? That's a complicated question. I've heard people say that if you don't have kids, you'll never know how much you could love someone. I think that's true. My love for Anton is a different kind of love than I've ever experienced. But it's also scary sometimes, to love someone so tiny and vulnerable. It causes me a lot of worry.

I certainly have moments of joy with him - many of them, every day. I like taking walks with him, giving him baths, snuggling in the morning, etc. In this way, ours is one of the most rewarding relationships I've ever had. But I don't so much like trying to figure out why he's fussy, trying to get him to sleep, and having him cry while I'm attempting to cook dinner.

But then, isn't that always the way, with someone or something you love? I think about my relationship to theater. There were certainly times when I was so busy and stressed and disappointed in others' behavior, and disappointed in my own results that it seemed absurd that this was something I was choosing to do, for very little (or no) money. Yet, I adore theater. I miss it, when I'm not involved. I would never quit theater for good.

I think the article's focus on the importance of useful, productive activity is a good point. I disagree with the idea that children's lives should be all play and fun. I like the idea of working on something with Anton someday, like a theater project...teaching him "the trade" and all that. His father feels the same way about getting him interested in science, I think.

And, interestingly, having Anton gives me more moments of feeling accomplished, simply because doing anything while caring for a baby feels like an achievement. So when I manage to write a revised chapter for my novel, cook a fabulous dinner, complete a workout DVD, etc., I feel pretty damn good about myself. In less busy times of my life, I often wasted all day online or whatever and didn't get anything of substance done, and that made me depressed. Having too much free time can be dangerous. Knowing you only have an hour or so before the baby wakes from a nap can be an excellent motivator.

So, am I happier overall? I know I'm happy not to be pregnant anymore. I know I'm happy to be married. And, while I don't always feel that I "have it all" (who does?), I know that I can't even imagine my life without Anton, now that he's here.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A new low for football fans.

When I lived in the French Quarter, I found the college football crowds to be pretty intolerable. And yeah, living in the Quarter and complaining about obnoxious drunk people is kind of like, I don't know, moving to Alaska and complaining about the cold? But seriously, they took it to another level. Still, I was very disturbed when I heard about this "teabagging" incident that happened after the big LSU-Alabama game in New Orleans last weekend. Seriously, what possesses a human being to treat another human being like that? Watching the video was pretty horrifying for me. I said to David, "this is sexual assault."

Well, the NOPD agrees, and is taking it seriously. And now the perpetrator has turned himself in, and has already lost his job, and I hope he faces criminal charges. Because sexual assault is not a joke, and it doesn't matter what team your victim roots for, or how drunk they are, or if they're a man. I'm glad that message is getting out, because while I wish that people would treat each other decently, and not seek to degrade and punish others simply because of alcohol consumption and football team affiliations, that is clearly not going to happen, so maybe criminal charges will be a deterrent - especially in this day and age where it seems everything is being filmed.

My favorite vegan cookbook

I own 15 vegan cookbooks. I love vegan cookbooks. But I love this one the most.

This is my Betty Crocker/Joy of Cooking/all-purpose cookbook. Of course, I love Veganomicon as much as the next vegan, and Vegan Soul Kitchen has some really interesting stuff, but this one takes the egg-less cake because there are so many recipes that don't call for rare or expensive ingredients. It's really accessible and simple to find something yummy to make, mostly with stuff I already have on hand.

I decided to count how many of the recipes I've tried in the year or so that I've owned this cookbook. The result? 23. Only 23! That means I have 977 more to try! There are entire sections of the cookbook I haven't even explored!

Since I've been on my soup-for-dinner kick, I've been stuck in that section quite a bit. I tend to stick to soups with some kind of bean in them, since it's all we're having for dinner and I want to make sure we get some protein. The split pea and minestrone I've made several times. Last night I made the "Mulligatawny" soup, which incorporated some of David's favorite things (cilantro, Granny Smith apple) and some of my favorite things (coconut milk, lentils, ginger), and it was fabulous, if a bit on the labor-intensive side.

I don't know how Robin Robertson came up with 1000 Vegan Recipes, but I am very grateful that she did. If you only buy one vegan cookbook, this should be it! I would also recommend this to non-vegans who want to incorporate more veggies and healthy stuff into their lives.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

That thin line between dream and reality

So, the dream I had last night was a pretty good dreamworld interpretation of my life right now.

I was at a party hosted by my Aunt and Uncle (who live in Massachusetts, I have no clue where we were supposed to be though, because it was this building with endless hallways and rooms that I've never seen before). There was lots of food, but I couldn't find anything vegan. Various relatives took turns holding Anton while I searched for something I could eat. My sister told me there were several huge pizzas in one room, but of course they all had cheese on them.

I would see something that looked vegan, only to find it wasn't once I put it on my plate. For example, what I thought was a plain salad turned out to be a Caesar salad, and cut up fruit turned out to have cottage cheese on it.

Then, somehow, there was an NTI reunion going on in the same building. We were divided into groups, and given a scene to work on and present. My group's scene was from Shakespeare's Coriolanus. The group decided I should play the title character. But then I realized I hadn't seen Anton in what seemed like hours. I searched all through the building, running into various relatives, and none of them could remember when they'd last seen him, or who had been holding him.

So I ended up full of anxiety, wanting to find him but knowing my group was waiting for me to rehearse our scene. I was also worried that if I didn't nurse him soon I would leak onto my shirt and therefore fail to portray a male character convincingly (ha!).

I began to wake up, and realize that Anton was sleeping next to me. I was torn between relief that he wasn't lost and sadness that I had to leave the dream world before I got to act in the scene from Coriolanus.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Where there's smoke...

I went into town to go mail some Paperback Swap books, and, on my drive back, noticed a huge plume of smoke ahead. I worried at first, wondering if it could be coming from my neighborhood. But as I came closer, I saw that it was a pile of recently felled pine trees, burning away. There were dozens more piles - a huge swath of woods had been rapidly cut down. A sign proclaimed that it was the site of the new "Evangeline Trace" subdivision.

My heart fell. If all these trees had to die, couldn't they at least be used for something? I had heard about "slash and burn" practices in the rainforest, but I was honestly ignorant that it happened so close to home.

And then I turned into the "Livingston Trace" subdivision, where I live.

I almost wrote "not really by choice" after "where I live" in the sentence above. Because, sure, this isn't where I would choose to live - my husband bought this house before we met. But that was just me trying to make an excuse for my part in this whole thing.

I'm vegan, we cart our recycling into Baton Rouge once a month, we compost, we use cloth diapers and napkins, I do Paperback Swap...but it all seems so insignificant when I'm forced to really see the kind of environmental destruction caused by my lifestyle. I'm sure there's so much more I'm still ignorant about.

Things I used to do, like walking or biking for work and errands, aren't even possible with this new suburban lifestyle. The roads are narrow, with no sidewalks and ditches along them which make it dangerous. Besides, there's nothing within walking distance.

I don't want to be a part of this, but I feel powerless.