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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Homemade Holiday Sugar Scrubs

When I was in college I worked at The Body Shop, and when the holidays approached I always looked forward to that first shipment of the limited-edition holiday scented sugar scrubs. I would gladly hand my paycheck back over at that time of the year and leave with a bag full of goodies. While these memories have always made me associate sugar scrubs with the holidays, sugar scrubs are an especially valuable bath and shower product at this time of the year, as the sugar works to exfoliate dry winter skin and the nourishing oil within the scrub leaves your skin more moisturized than any body wash or lotion you can put on after the shower. So this year I had the idea to make some sugar scrubs of my own to give away as holiday presents!

Sugar scrubs are used to exfoliate and moisturize the body (too abrasive for the face) in the bath or shower immediately before getting out. After washing up, scoop up some of the scrub in your hand and apply it to wet skin, working in a circular motion. The heat from water melts the sugar after you've scrubbed for several seconds. Once finished, give yourself a final rinse, and dry off! 

As for the ingredients, I thought it would be cool to try and keep them as local as possible, so the base of the scrubs is made from Domino sugar, and the various scrubs are scented by McCormick natural extracts or an essential oil from St. John's Botanicals. The remainder of the ingredients include pure organic almond oil and vitamin E, to act as a preservative. I made three different types of sugar scrubs: vanilla orange, Arabian sandalwood, and peppermint. The recipes for each are below:

Vanilla Orange & Arabian Sandalwood Sugar Scrub

Ingredients (makes 4 half-pint mason jars)
1 cup dark brown Domino sugar
2 cups white Domino sugar, divided in half
2/3 cup NOW almond oil
1/2 tsp vitamin e
1 tbsp McCormick pure vanilla extract + 1tbsp McCormick pure orange extract OR 2 Tbsp St. John's Botanicals Arabian Sandalwood

  1. Combine 1 cup packed dark brown sugar with 1 cup white sugar, and mix until blended.
  2. Add oils and either extracts or essential oil, and mix thoroughly.
  3. Add final 1 cup of white sugar and mix until uniformly granular.
  4. Spoon into mason jars.

Peppermint Sugar Scrub
Ingredients (makes 4 half-pint mason jars)
2 cups white Domino sugar, plus 1 additional cup
2/3 cup NOW almond oil
1/2 tsp vitamin e
1oz bottle McCormick pure peppermint extract
  1. Combine 2 cups white sugar with oils and peppermint extract, and mix thoroughly.
  2. Add final 1 cup of white sugar and mix until uniformly granular.
  3. Spoon into mason jars.

After I jarred the scrubs, I decided to dress up the jars with bells and bows, and label them with homemade tags made from the Domino dark brown sugar box. I took a tag I had on hand and used it as a stencil on the backside of the box, using a hole punch to complete the tag (I was especially proud of these!).

The finished product: an aesthetically pleasing and useful present made from local ingredients, Hon!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ironworkers: Thank You

Today started out normal – hit snooze, hit snooze, hit snooze, wake up, get ready, take the dog out, and drive to work – but then things went audibly awry. What has been the occasional muffled vibratory noise descended on me like a spider monkey. There are “improvements” being made to my office building that presently include a team of men hanging off the side of it and drilling it in various places with tools that look like sci-fi torture devices, and this morning they made it to the 5th floor (my floor), drilling and sawing directly outside my window.

It’s a loud process that sounds kind of like dental work, except louder. My boss walked by earlier and stood outside my office, about 15 feet away from where I sat, and I had to scream in order for him to just barely be able to hear me. Then, after about an hour and a half it all stopped. I could see in the reflection of my computer monitor that they were still behind me, just outside my office, so curious, I turned around to see why the work had stopped. It was then that I noticed the workers, clad in their overalls, Carharts, hardhats, and safety harnesses, sitting all in a row on the 2-foot wide platform that was suspending them in the air – it was coffee break.

My husband’s a Union Ironworker, and for the 10+ years that we’ve been together I’ve heard him refer to “coffee break”. I’ve always had an image in my head what coffee break was like, but it wasn’t until today that I was really struck with reality of what his daily work life is actually like. I felt like a fool, having mentioned earlier in my workday that “maybe I’ll see if I can work from home because of the noise”. The truth of the matter is that there’s a whole segment of our population that hold jobs like my husband – exposed to the elements year round, doing things like sawing the side of a building without the proper sized respirator or any respirator at all, and they do this in part so that people like me can sit at a desk all day and, in my case, ensure the publication of books and products that help children at-risk for or with disabilities. Okay, fine, that’s pretty noble, but they also build and work on buildings that other workers sit in all day doing things that are less than noble.

My boss occasionally says to me, “Go out in the woods for a week – go camping, get back to nature – and then come back and see with fresh eyes just how absurd daily life is.” I don’t need to go camping; I feel like I see these absurdities more regularly than most people. If you look close enough at anything – if you look plainly at anything – you too will see the absurdity of modern life. This, to me, is one aspect of being mindful.

I occasionally find it extremely odd to spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week sitting in the same spot in front of a computer. It’s not natural – my body wasn’t intended to be under these conditions in this manner. It was, however, intended to be under conditions more similar to my husband’s line of work – doing physical things, moving. Regardless, these are the cards I was dealt, and they’re the cards I continually agree to hold – still, I find them absurd.

Being an Ironworker continually falls within the top 10 most dangerous jobs in America. Next time you see some men hanging off the side of a building or walking on steel, don’t for a second think that what they do doesn’t matter or count. If they didn’t do what they do, then we wouldn’t have the bridges we drive over to get to work or the buildings in which we park our asses for 8+ hours a day. Indeed, Ironworkers build the structure that allows us to enjoy “modern life” every day – something many of us never think about, something almost all of us take for granted. To them I say “thank you”.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

First Frost

As I let the dog out this morning I was startled by the beauty of our first frost (or, the first one I'm seeing). Every piece of green remaining was dusted with sparkling white ice crystals, including this potted oregano plant.

This morning's frost reminded me of a book sitting in my Amazon Wish List: The Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto. The premise is that when concentrated specific positive thoughts are directed at water as it freezes, the thoughts impact the physical formation of the ice crystals (which look like snowflakes). Conversely, negative thoughts and polluted water have ice crystals that freeze very differently. Using high-speed photography, Emoto captured photos of these formed ice crystal patterns. In the spirit of transparency, I should note that various other studies attempting to replicate Emoto's work have proven unsuccessful in yielding similar results, while others have confirmed his findings. Take from this what you may. I find the simple act of contemplating the possibility that thoughts and emotions can directly participate in physical manifestation fascinating.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Speaking the Same Language

Today my coworkers and I braved one of the first cold autumn days to go out for a much-needed departmental lunch. With one person who works almost exclusively from home and two more who are relatively new, I decided that we needed to come together as a group, so today, on the one day a month that our at-home coworker is in we rallied the troops (my very busy boss, included) and walked several blocks to a Mediterranean restaurant that I knew would be palatable for everyone (we have a running joke about my having inflicted a brand new coworker with diarrhea after taking her out for Indian). With “no diarrhea” being the main motivation for selecting the restaurant I did, I didn't think much that we were taking my Greek boss to a Mediterranean restaurant until we walked in the door and gave them the name of our party – his name. The hostess immediately started conversing with my boss in Greek, as she walked us to our table. This got me thinking. We all seem to have something – some sort of niche trait or experience – that ties us to a select few in the general population, and for my boss today it was his being Greek.

I can’t help but think it’s kind of like pig Latin. As a kid you’re excited to learn this new secret language, and for a while at least, you’re excited to talk to your friends who also know pig Latin in your new found language, as you use it in front of your parents and other adults to disguise what you’re saying. In the case of my boss and the hostess, I don’t think their use of Greek was to disguise themselves from us. Instead, it’s a way of bonding with someone you don’t know very well but with whom you’ve happily discovered you have some sort of shared experience, and that instantly makes the person you’re talking to less of a stranger. This type of shared experience can be anything – from realizing you grew up in the same small community, to realizing you played the same sport or instrument, to realizing, like my boss, that you speak the same language. And that’s really what it’s all about – regardless of the particular similarity you bond over, by bonding over it you realize you speak the same language.

As humans, I think we’re constantly looking to solidify our place within society, and as we do this we wind up seeking out and then attaching ourselves to others who have similar interests or come from similar backgrounds. Like attracts like. We feel most comfortable around others who we feel know us – understand us. Despite this need to find and associate with like minds, how often do you think you truly approach people you do not know and try to find a common bond? More often than not, I feel like we put up barriers and search for something to dislike about a person – something that will drive us apart – but what good does that do?

As I go about the rest of my week, I think I’ll make the choice to approach everyone I meet with the desire to find something that brings us together instead of counting our differences. I think the more we can relate to each other – the global “we” – the better off we we’ll be. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Am I lazy because I’m exhausted, or am I exhausted because I’m lazy?

During a conversation that spanned pumpkin cheesecake, hard liquor, and then some non-dessert Thanksgiving leftovers, last night my hubs and I decided we needed to do something to drop some ell beez once all this food is gone. The hubs’ idea was to eliminate beef, pork, and dairy. I initially scoffed at this idea, as visions of lean meat and greek yogurt danced in my head – how could these things possibly be bad for us? And then it hit me. While we do eat some lean meat and greek yogurt, we mostly eat pizzas with bacon and onion, straight up bacon for breakfast on the weekend, cheese steak subs (the hubs favorite), and ice cream (my favorite). Perhaps eliminating beef, pork, and dairy for a short while wouldn’t be such a bad idea…

While reflecting on last night’s conversation today, I immediately started thinking about the other tweaks I’ve been wanting to make to my daily routine and decided to make a list:
  •          Morning meditation
  •          Evenings at the gym
  •          Yoga
  •          A more strict writing schedule
  •          Walking the dog more

While it’s not an extensive list, per se, it got me thinking that what I really want is to be a completely different person. Okay, maybe not completely different, but the question then arises: how many changes constitute my actually wanting to be someone else, and how hard would it be to alter my habits to become the person I want to be?

I’ve always had these ideas in my head about who I want to be and what I want to do someday. Well, when is someday? I guess if I want to do some things differently that I should just start being that person now. If only it were so easy. I feel as if I’m stuck in a pattern of bad habits that arose out of necessity: pizza for those nights I just can’t bear to cook us dinner, couch surfing because it costs less than going out and because it’s less aggravating than going to my overcrowded gym and having to wait to use a machine or sign up for a class an hour before it starts just to get a spot (Lynne Brick’s Belvedere Square can suck it), and not starting to write because I’m not 100% sure it’s what I want to write or what I should write. Sure, this sounds reasonable. You know what else sounds reasonable? I’m lazy.

One step at a time, I suppose. It’s fairly unrealistic to think I will wake up tomorrow and be able to institute all the things I want to do immediately, and even if I did that I could keep it up for more than a week. In the immediate I think I’ll finish the Thanksgiving leftovers and then consider cutting out beef, pork, and dairy. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Preparations

It's hard to believe that this is the 9th year I'm hosting Thanksgiving. It seems like just the other day we were all spending Thanksgiving down at my aunt and uncle's house. It's odd to think that that tiny house on the water which once was so lively with four generations having come together to celebrate is now empty - completely vacant - for the very first time. While I've hosted Thanksgiving here at my house for 9 years, my memories of Thanksgiving will always reside at my Aunt Carole's house. Much like mine, it was a tiny house, but it was filled to the gizzard with love (see what I did there?).

This year I decided to photograph some of my Thanksgiving preparations, which I'll share here!

Wednesday night I made homemade cranberry sauce with dates.

After 9 years I think I've finally learned that doing all the prep work I can the night before makes for a much more relaxing Thanksgiving day. I chopped all the veggies I could and put them in gallon-size bags so all I'd have to do the next day is rinse and cook! I make a bitchin Brussels sprouts side, where they're partially sauteed in bacon fat, and in the end they're topped with crispy crumbled bacon!

We always have more people over for dessert than we do dinner, so this year I decided to try my luck with a bourbon pecan pie. For the bourbon I used something called Sweet Lucy that my southern neighbor gave me last year during one of our epic snow shoveling parties, which are really just an excuse to start drinking with the neighbors at 10am. Sweet Lucy is sweet, so I thought it would be perfect for the pie.

Thanksgiving morning arrived, and my alarm came and went. After spending all day the previous day cleaning and cooking and doing prep work for more cooking, I just didn't want to get up. When I finally did, I ventured out back to my herb garden to pick some sage, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram to use in the bottom of the turkey pan. I love having an herb garden that I can venture out to for fresh herbs, and luckily it's been a mild fall, so everything that's not hardy was still green and growing.

After preparing the turkey and kraut and sausage (it's a German staple at Thanksgiving), I poured myself a cup of coffee with a little somethin-somethin and relaxed on the sofa to watch the parade on television. With my 13-year-old pup curled up beside me on his favorite furry blanket, I decided to give him a reiki treatment. I just got my reiki II certification, and it amazes me how much hotter my hands got after those attunements. My dog, Calvin, LOVED it (as always). I think the warmth feels really good on his arthritis. I'm truly thankful he's still with us. Here he is snoozing deeply after the reiki treatment.

That brings us to now. Here I am Thanksgiving day with time to actually write a blogpost. I must be doing something right - finally! I'm excited to spend the day with family and friends, spoiling them with my home cooking. It's been a bizarre year that's taken many twists and turns for me, but I'm truly thankful for all the unexpected surprises and all that I've learned. I'm thankful to all the teachers I've had this year - those who know they're teachers and those who don't. Here's to another wonderful one.

Happy Thanksgiving, all! What are you thankful for?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Split Pea Soup

I made this split pea soup last night to eat for lunch this week, and it turned out MUCH better than I expected. No to toot my own horn or anything, but this 2-point WW soup is fucking delicious! It's taking every ounce of self restraint I have in me not to go back for seconds, since I'm working from home today.

Split Pea Soup

16 oz dry split peas (with dry beans in bean/rice aisle)
2 carrots
4 stalks of celery
1 yellow cooking onion
7 cloves garlic
8 cups chicken stock
1 Tbsp dried thyme
¾ Tbsp dried marjoram
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and sort peas (make sure no stones are in with them), and set aside.

Chop all vegetables, including onion and garlic. Bring ¼ cup chicken stock to a boil in a large lidded stock pot. Add onion and garlic. Sautee while stirring for 5 minutes.

Add another 1.5 cup stock, remaining vegetables, 2 bay leaves, salt and pepper, and cook on high, sautéing vegetables until soft (about another 5-7 minutes).

Add remaining stock and dry peas. Add marjoram and thyme. Bring to a roaring boil, stir, cover pot with lid and reduce heat to low. Simmer on low with lid on pot (no stirring! No lifting the lid!) for 40 minutes or until peas are tender.

Turn off heat, remove and discard bay leaves, and puree as much of the soup as you’d like (I use a stick blender and puree about ½ to ¾ of the soup, leaving some chunks of vegetables remaining).

Friday, November 11, 2011


The destiny of an autumn leaf is to fall, yet some in the midst of their trip are swept up higher than they've ever been before, on the wings of the wind - soaring, sailing, changing direction abruptly, and then floating back down. Indeed, nothing is set in stone - not even the trajectory of an autumn leaf falling from a tree.

Friday, September 23, 2011

I Took a Really Big Smelly Shit in New York

If you know me, then you know that toilet humor is a source of constant amusement for me, so it was no surprise that a close friend of mine recently gifted me a notepad made entirely of poo – elephant poo, to be exact! As I had the notebook out this morning, I remembered two things. First, “I haven’t written a blog entry in a damn long while,” and second – well, the second thing was my recollecting an incident involving poo that make me chuckle, so I thought I’d share it with you today. Consider yourself blessed.

At the beginning of September I attended a week-long session at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. The circumstances surrounding my attending Omega for the week were interesting, to say the least, but that’s a story for another day. I wound up driving up to Omega a day early to get ahead of hurricane Irene, but as soon as I hit New Jersey it started pouring down rain which lasted for the remainder of the drive despite my efforts to have a relaxing commute. The stress of driving on the edge of a hurricane coupled with my body’s inborn reaction to bring all digestion to a halt during travel meant that it would be several days before I was, well, regular again.

Several days passed, and it turned out it was a good thing I arrived at Omega a day early, because the rain had flooded all routes in, causing many people to be a day or two late for their week-long sessions. I was in the Café when I felt a pang in my stomach. “It’s here,” I thought, and I rushed back to my cabin, eager to get rid of the bloat and be back to normal. I can honestly say that I was afraid I was going to flood the bathroom, but by the grace of god things went down like they were supposed to. I went back to my room, which was down the tiny hall from our cabin’s toilet, and I laid down on the bed, relieved and happy. And then I heard the cabin door open: it was the staff preparing the cabins for everyone else’s arrival.

The first person came in to clean the shower, hit by the fresh and pungent odor of meat-eater shit. “WHAT’S THAT SMELL?!”

Then the second person came in to check that we had clean linens. “OH MY GOD!!! I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!!!” (she proceeded to dry heave on the porch)

Then two MORE people came in to do god-knows-what. “It smells SO BAD in here!!!” “OH MY GOD! I HAVE TO LEAVE!”

At this point I literally had to cover my mouth with my hands to keep from laughing out loud, as they didn’t realize anyone was in the cabin.

I wound up recounting this story several days later to some people from my class, only I was standing directly outside Bobby McFerrin’s Circle Songs class (PS: the fart is the ultimate circle song) being REALLY LOUD (who, me?).

Looking back on it, there is no moral to this story, no witty ending. Just me being me: loud, embarrassing, and constantly amused by poop. If this isn't a portrait of the ordinary, then I don't know what is!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Retirement Plan

As trite as this sounds, roller derby is like that ex you just keep going back to, which is why I tweeted last week that going back to a league practice somehow felt like I was fucking an ex-boyfriend – familiar and comforting, but somehow still just wrong.

It’s been a year and six months since I skated in my last bout, which was the evening of my grandmother’s funeral. At that time, only two months back after my first ever “offseason” (which only lasted several months anyhow), I was dragging my feet. My body was in a place where it could no longer withstand the rigorous training needed to be an All Star, yet my mind wasn’t happy skating home team, and on top of all that we had known for several months that my 93-year-old grandmother was nearing the end. Truthfully, I hadn’t been feeling it for a while. While I knew I loved roller derby, I knew I needed a change but I couldn’t figure out where I fit. Then, just as I had mustered the energy to come back and try on some different hats, we got the devastating news that my closest aunt was dying – my mom’s sister and lifelong best friend. Every moment I spent not alone and not doing something with or for my family I felt guilt, so I pulled back entirely and officially retired from roller derby, a sport I had played continuously since 2005, barring the random off-time for injury.

Retirement has often been more difficult than the worst times I’ve ever spent on skates. While my aunt was dying, I was focused on her, her immediate family and my mom, which took my mind off derby in the interim, but after she passed her words from not a year earlier echoed in my mind: “Why are you quitting? You love it so much!” Why was I quitting? I was broken, more mentally than physically, but physically as well, but what really kept me away was the same fearful thought circulating in my mind – I felt, and still feel like, I cannot possibly live life without derby, and this scares the hell out of me, because I know that even if I were to go back now, I am only postponing the inevitable. At some point I’ll have to learn how to deal with not skating, and I’m concerned that I might not be in such a good place to manage the permanent separation later on. So, sticking to my guns I remained involved at an admin level and found a tiny bit of comfort in that, until last month.

In June I was feeling like I was finally getting to a place where I was happy with the level of my derby involvement. The hubs and I went on our belated honeymoon to Jamaica, I came back, and not a week later I was turning right back around to travel for work in Oregon, getting home just in time for our monthly bout that Saturday. The honeymoon was great, the trip to visit with our author group in Oregon went really well, and I was looking forward to watching our ladies take on the B.A.D. Girls the day after we got back. Exhausted from all the meetings, but still riding the good-meeting high, my coworker and I shared a meal in the airport when my heart stopped. All it took was seeing two rollergirls at first standing in line for food. “What team are they?” my coworker asked. “Bay Area,” I said. “We’re playing them tomorrow.” As we turned the corner to arrive at our gate, there was the rest of the team – sharing our flight back to Baltimore. I felt like I had died inside. I literally had a panic attack as I sat at the gate with my coworker, nodding and responding politely to the cell phone pictures she was showing me of her kids. I wasn’t even paying attention to her, but I knew that in order to get through this I’d have to appear normal. If she had any inclination something was wrong, she’d ask and then I’d lose it right there at the airport.

So what was it about seeing BAD that had me so worked up? Well, I really cared about my last season as an All Star, and consciously or unconsciously I think I had held myself at arms length even from our own All Stars, because I knew how much I missed it, and I knew that being around it would devastate me. What I didn’t know was how much. Being in the airport and sitting in the plane seeing the stewardess ask the skaters the same questions I had been asked over and again when traveling to an away game brought me right back to that moment I was traveling as an All Star. Being part of a team that spends so much time together practicing and traveling and generally fucking around in their spare time is an amazing experience that you can’t know until you’re in it, or in my case, until you’re out of it. Seeing BAD made me miss the aspects of derby I loved so much and that I wasn’t currently getting. I wore my sunglasses on the plane to disguise the tears I couldn’t hold back at times, and I prayed to be out of there as quickly as possible. When we landed in Baltimore I didn’t even wait for my coworker to deplane before I sprinted to catch the bus back to the parking garage. “Just wait until you’re in the car,” I kept telling myself, but when I got there I couldn’t even cry. I raced home, got into bed, and didn’t get out for 3 days – I missed the bout, and I called out of work.

I was 100% honest with my boss, a rugby player in his youth, because I knew he’d understand. Luckily, I was right and the days after I emerged from my bedroom I did a lot of thinking and talking with those people close to me about what I wanted: to skate. I could finally admit that I wasn’t happy completely off skates, holding myself at arms length from the rest of my league, but I also knew I’d have to figure out how to make some version of on-skates derby fit with the rest of my current life and abilities, while also making me happy, hence, The Retirement Plan.

The Retirement Plan is me attending a practice or so a week with the league and choosing to not skate with a team, while eventually helping out the coaches with the Fresh Meat skaters. I have a lot of knowledge and a lot to offer new skaters in the form of one-on-one help when it’s needed. The other day I attended Charm School, our open practice for aspiring skaters, and I had so much fun helping to teach those ladies basic skills. I knew after that practice that I was home. I’m still retired, but through The Retirement Plan I’m trying to carve out a place for other retirees who can’t or don’t want to skate on a team, but who still have a lot of knowledge to share and who still want to skate and be involved in derby. I hope this makes me happy, and I hope I can contribute toward the greater good of our league. As for the derby/ex-boyfriend analogy, I guess only time will tell if this new plan means derby and I really can remain “just friends”. I certainly hope so. Relationships are all hard, but like anything they thrive when you work at them. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Family on Facebook

It’s funny how we censor ourselves around certain people. For several years I've successfully avoided my relatives on Facebook, not because I don’t like them but because, well, I’m largely inappropriate most of the time, and while it truly doesn't bother me that they see the “real” me, I know my mom would disapprove if it got back to her (she’s not on Facebook), and that does bother me. It was several months ago that my first relative on my mom’s side found me and requested to be my friend. I thought I had successfully duped my family by not having listed my real name in association to my Facebook account. Instead, I only identified myself by my derby persona, which I knew they weren't likely to remember. At each family gathering I still get asked, “You still doing that roller blading?” to which I had learned to reply, “Yes, yes I am.” If they can’t even remember the sport correctly, how on god’s green earth would they remember my derby name? Well, I can only assume my cousin either looked up my husband to find me or saw my name in a newspaper article associated with my derby name and bingo! I couldn't deny the friendship, and truth be told, I was eager to talk to my cousins more often than I did – I was just hoping my mouth wouldn't push them further away, especially when they had just reached out to become closer.

That first family connection came a little over 6 months ago, and since then things have been fine. If anything, while my cousins (all older than me) are largely inactive in posting on Facebook, I know that they do read my statuses and I can see that they have become more free in their speech around me as a consequence of our internet friendship. Recently, however, I face a new challenge: my cousins’ kids are now on Facebook, and they have requested to be my friend. Initially I denied one, but then I didn’t hear the end of it from her, so after several months had passed and she requested to be my friend once again, I went ahead and granted her request.  She’s 10. And just this morning she schooled me over Facebook IM as to what “hby” means. In fairness, she had typed, “good hby”, which I took as a typo to mean goodbye. I didn’t answer, and then I was informed that hby means “how bout u”. I couldn’t even LOL at myself, I felt so fucking old. I instead attempted to answer her question and tell her about work, which I’m sure she cares about deeply. So deeply she never responded back. Oh, well.

It’s funny, I often consider censoring myself because I know my 10-year old cousin may see a status update full of potty mouth, but for better or worse, inevitably I don’t. I have another second cousin that I’m friends with on Facebook who just turned 16. I don’t worry about the potty mouth so much with her, because I know she knows how to use discretion and not just repeat everything she hears or reads, but I do worry about things I might say that are overtly sexual in nature, albeit most of the time they are in jest. I’m not a parent, so I’ve never before considered having to censor myself in, say, the privacy of my own home because my kids are there. I assume some level of discretion is needed, so your kid doesn’t get sent to the principal’s office for repeating something she’s heard, but that discretion seems to vary depending on age, and this seems to mirror (at least in part) what I’m now facing on Facebook.

Then there’s the parents. Occasionally I’ll stumble across a photo or status update made by a friend, and a string of comments below that post in which the friend’s mom scolds him or her for having said or shown something “inappropriate”. The friend usually apologizes in another comment, while the friend’s friends bust him or her for getting busted by a parent decades after they’ve moved out of said parent’s house. In this instance, this is why I think Facebook is good: most people are “themselves” on Facebook, and this often forces the people who know or are related to them to see them how they really are. While parents may initially balk at language used by their adult children or something else, it forces acceptance of the adult child for who they really are – flaws and all – which in my experience means that the relationship with a parent is deepened. This, of course, is a totally different dynamic than exposing your true self to children who have not yet developed an adult sense of right and wrong.

I’ve thought about sending a DM to all my little cousins essentially telling them that while I’m a proponent of free speech and that while I am comfortable with them telling me anything using any words they choose, if I find out they start using words or discussing inappropriate topics that they’ve gotten from me, I’ll unfriend them. Still, I’m unsure if this ultimatum or warning is the right approach. Inevitably, I rely on parents to block me if they deem me inappropriate, and I won’t be upset if they do.

This time last year I wasn’t linked to my family via Facebook, and while I spend more time worrying about how I present myself now because we’re all friends I feel that worry is an acceptable price to pay for being able to become closer to many of my relatives who I would typically only see at weddings and funerals. I’m not perfect, but my intentions are good, and I never would have guessed that social media, of all things, would bring me closer to my family. I’m glad it has. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Stuffed Zucchini

I DO WHAT I WANT! And this applies both to blogging and cooking. I've had what could only be considered to be a straight-up assload of zucchini appear in my veggie garden as of late, so yesterday I decided to do something about it... Cook it! But how? Yeah, that was the question... I've had so little time to myself it seems, since I've been back on the ole workout bandwagon, that I knew I wanted to do something easy with the zukes that would be a main dish, and not one that produces many dishes to boot (I still have 4th of July party dishes piled up in my sink). Oh yeah, and did I mention tasty? I like to eat, in case you hadn't noticed - anything I make must be tasty! So, I thought about things I liked (goat cheese and spinach) and how they worked with other things I grow (basil and oregano), and behold, the stuffed zucchini recipe I outline below was born! It was so good that I ate an entire half of the zucchini, and my dog was even begging for some (I know it's good when he begs, because he's become incredibly picky in his old age). If you wind up altering and it tastes amazing, please comment and let me know what you did. Enjoy! 

Stuffed Zucchini
1 gigantic zucchini (or 2 large ones)
16-oz pkg frozen spinach
5 green onions (small bunch), chopped (1/2 whites)
2 seeded pepperoncini peppers, chopped
4oz goat cheese
1c sour cream
1.5c fresh basil
1 lg sprig fresh oregano, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
salt and pepper
2tbsp butter

Cut zucchini in half, lengthwise, and place in baking dish or on shallow pan. Scoop out flesh and set aside.

Heat butter. Sauté onions and pepper over medium high heat for 2 mins. Add garlic, scooped zucchini, and frozen spinach. Reduce to medium heat and cover. Simmer for 5-7 mins, stirring occasionally.

Add goat cheese, sour cream, oregano, and basil. Stir until cheese is melted and dairy is blended. Add salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered for 2 minutes. Add 2tbsp flour and stir well. Simmer while stirring until thickened (thin gravy consistency), about 5 minutes.

Place mixture in zucchini shells and bake on 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

TIP: The more zucchini flesh you scoop out of the zucchini initially, the tastier the dish IMO. Conversely, if you absolutely love the flavor of plain zucchini, scoop less flesh. Personally, I like when zucchini picks up the flavor of whatever it has been cooked with, so next time I make this I'll scoop even more flesh out initially.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Greatest Moral Dilemma: To Draw a Dick or Not to Draw a Dick

In recent years I've become a spectator obsessed with the artificiality that we as humans introduce into every area of our lives and the motivations behind why we do what we do, especially when what we do seemingly goes against all that is natural and human nature. Granted, these things we do and these reasons we do them largely depend on the culture in which we live and morals of our society. Here in America, we have a fairly diverse range of what I’ll call moral nuance, because our country is comprised of people from many different cultures and backgrounds and because we have the freedom to live our lives how we choose (to a point). Still, we tend to have the same general ideas of what’s right and wrong, including a lot of things that are not as cut and dry as, say, ending a life. Yet, what amazes me is that as a society we’ve gotten so far away from struggling to fulfill our basic needs to sustain life that we’ve spent hundreds if not thousands of years creating rules upon rules upon rules that are so artificial in nature that they actually punish people for being human. We’ve become so disconnected from our innate desires that it’s easy to see how the conflict created by imposing artificial constraints on our children since birth may possibly be creating some of the internal conflict that so many of us attempt to resolve by turning to pills prescribed by psychiatrists, alcohol, drugs, or an overabundance of food. By the time we’re adults our culture has confused us as to what’s right or wrong, yet deep down the part of us that’s older than our culture is able to identify that something isn’t right even if we can’t articulate it. We’ve been told all our lives that it’s bad to do X, yet we’re driven to do it anyway. In the grand scheme of things, like all living things, our main goal is to sustain our own longevity over time – to procreate and to keep on procreating so we continue to exist. But we as humans have perfected that, and in the vast majority of the world it’s easy to meet our basic needs for survival, which may actually be contributing to our own demise. Now that I’ve laid the heavy on you, it’s time for me to illustrate the absurdity at work.  

As a child I was only ever spanked once. The possibility of getting spanked terrified me. When I was 7 years old I had a friend who lived down the street from me who got spanked by her father a lot. Her father was an imposing man, over six feet tall, with what I can only now estimate to be a 60-inch waist. To get to her bedroom, we’d have to pass the bedroom of her parents, which we’d always run past, keeping our eyes in a forward direction. Lining one wall of her parents’ bedroom was a hand-made rack that held by all accounts hundreds of her father’s belts, but they weren’t belts that her father wore – surely 60-inch belts were expensive and hard to find. The sole purpose of these belts was for them to be provided as a selection from which my friend and her brother would be made to choose the weapon by which their father would deliver a spanking. By all adult accounts, my friend’s father was a fair, respectable man. He was very active in the church and he even led the neighborhood Bible study group that met every Friday night. He was a godly man. If asked to characterize his role as a disciplinarian, I imagine one might say he was strict. No one knew this more than his own children, yet despite being forced to stare at the wall and carefully select the belt they thought would hurt the least, receiving a spanking from him didn’t exactly keep his children from behaving in a way that would earn them fewer spankings. Chalk part of it up to the punishment not usually meeting the crime, however the frequent beatings that left persistent bruises and welts across my friend’s rear end and back still didn’t keep her from doing things she knew would land her back in her parent’s bedroom, standing in front of that wall, carefully selecting the belt that she thought would hurt the least.

It was during this time when we were friends that I received my one and only spanking. It was summer, and the back-to-school advertisements filled the center of the Sunday paper, which my father methodically purchased, dissected, and used to its fullest potential. Every article was read, every coupon was cut, and each week’s leftover paper was neatly stacked in the pantry to be used as kindling for the fireplace or barbecue. One such back-to-school advertisement caught my attention. It was for Kmart or Sears, and they were having a sale on the basics – a store-wide underwear sale. The first half of the circular depicted people of all ages posing like mannequins in their underwear, with the men and boys being featured on the cover and in the front few pages. Being a creative child who had been blessed with a brand new box of Crayola 64 and a 7-year-old’s curiosity of the human body, I decided to show off knowledge and my art skills by so cleverly revealing what I knew was behind those first few pages of tighty whities, as I carefully and painstakingly drew, colored, and cut out various dicks to poke out of a slit I had cut in the appropriate underwear opening of each male model in the circular. When I was done, I was so proud of my work that I decided to show it to my mom. A part of me knew I was going to get into trouble, but the other part was so proud of what I’d just done that I didn’t care. I wanted her to see it, but I didn’t want to see her get mad at me, so I hand-delivered my latest gem to her and ran down the hall back to my room, peering around the door jam to try and catch her reaction. It was one of horror and shock, but my mom didn’t yell, and she didn’t even respond to me. The day went on without mention of my artistic talent, and I thought I’d gotten away with it until later that night when my mom told me she’d shared it with my father and he’d be talking with me about it. I remember him calling me into their bedroom, holding up the flier, and saying, “Your mom showed me this.” I honestly don’t remember what he said next, but I don’t recall it to be much. He told me he would have to spank me because of what I had done, and that’s when I received the only spanking I’ve ever gotten – over his knee, a hand to my butt. While it was happening I remember thinking it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, yet being an only-child who strived for acceptance and perfection I was careful to never again do something that would cause me to disappoint my parents or make them angry with me, causing me to be spanked. That’s not to say I never again did anything that was spank-worthy, but I quickly became good at lying and hiding things to avoid the parental consequences. What my parents didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me.

Looking back on it, I think my parents overreacted. At that age, it’s normal for children to be interested in the human body, especially the parts of it that are methodically covered up. I can’t say exactly when modesty became important to our species or why, but at some point it’s clear that these parts were reclassified from public to private. To a child (and even some adults), not ever seeing these body parts makes them more desirable and interesting. It’s human nature! Take something away from me and I want it. Not to mention, if these parts are so bad, why do they play an integral role in the perpetuation of our species? Quite frankly, I find my parents’ reaction absurd, and I can only hope that if I ever had a child who did something similar I would handle it in a very different way. Nonetheless, I can only say their reaction was normal – not reasonable or right, but normal. It’s an unwritten value in our society that you just don’t draw dicks on things, especially things that will be seen by other people. This is why the majority of dicks can be seen scribbled on the stalls of public restrooms and carved into wooden desks at libraries. And while hand-drawn dicks may also reside on private objects that are only ever seen by the eyes of the individuals who drew them, there is no doubting the fact that people feel compelled to draw dicks and place them in a location where they can be seen by other people. For a handful of reasons (no pun intended), drawing dicks is a part of human nature that just can’t be stifled, and really, why should it?

To this day my mom has a drawer full of memories extending back to my childhood, and in it resides many impersonal things like birthday cards that I’m sure I hastily selected and signed my name to, yet the Sears flier containing my carefully crafted and precisely-placed dicks is nowhere to be found. I wish my mom had kept THAT!

As you go through life, I hope you’ll start to question some of the more absurd rules, and when you’re in a public restroom and you see a dick on the wall, I hope it will make you smile, because that dick is proof that despite how artificial and convoluted of a world we’ve created for ourselves, our human nature that lies at the core of all of us still yearns to get out and occasionally it does in the form of a dick.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jamaica: (Extra)ordinary & Beautiful

It seems that no matter where I go or who I talk to, I continually come back to the realization that we all want the same things in life. I spent the first week in June on my belated honeymoon in Jamaica, and although we were segregated from the majority of real Jamaican life within an all-inclusive resort, like anywhere else, the heart and soul of a people and place always finds its way out, even if just a bit.

I’ve developed a really irritating habit over the last several years that came to a head while I was in Jamaica: compulsive social networking, or more specifically, compulsive updating. I see something funny, I think something smart, I hear a song I like, and it's like I have verbal diarrhea pouring out of my fingertips. I feel compelled to tell everybody every bit of the mundane that pops into my head at all times. My best friend says it's cathartic - that it helps her stop fixating on things if she can just get them out. For me, I think it’s just a case of overexcitement (or possibly an undiagnosed form of Turrets) - a new perverted outlet for my extroverted constitution. Unfortunately, the time and focus it takes me to record 50+ 140-character gems in a day means that I continually find myself not present - living instead in the land of perpetual editorial revision, ensuring I get the most bang for my buck in 140-characters, and also missing out on, well, much of the understated beauty and intrigue I love to share with others. So here I am in Jamaica, in a new place, on a new continent, and while I promised my husband I wouldn't social network on vacation, I quickly found a loophole while on the shuttle to the resort: I decided I’d keep a running note on my phone within which I would record everything I would have Tweeted had I been allowed to Tweet. Some of the finer non-Tweets included:

"Just passed Tits Bar (giggle). Tit."
"Fields and fields of goats."
"Jamaica: chock full of goat."
"I'm an infant. 'Supreme Jerk Center' makes me giggle."
"Man, this is just a whole lot of boob."
"And our room overlooks the NUDE beach."
"Champagne check in, smoke, shower, sex. Get hairdryer fixed. I swear to god I have a thing with broken hotel hairdryers."
"The drinks are strong and everything's free. Also, I think the natives are a fan of boobs."

So not only did I waste precious vacation time I could have spent taking in the sights and sounds, but I'm also apparently a 15-year old boy (with boobs that can't be contained). The good news is that about half way through our first day, after many disapproving looks from the hubs, and after raising my head to ask "What?" far too many times to count, I got it. Put the fucking phone DOWN, and just observe. Enjoy. Connect with my actual surroundings. Breathe.

I was initially struck by the level of poverty at which some Jamaican residents seem to live – tiny one-room shacks with rusted corrugated metal roofs set up on cinder blocks in an attempt to shelter the occupants and the contents from floodwaters. Yet while I saw shacks, I also saw colorful mansions – sometimes no more than 50 feet from a shack. In between, the way most Jamaicans seem to live, were dozens and dozens of single-floor cement-colored cement houses, curiously with rebar poking through the cement ceilings and no real roofs to mention. Why did so many homes seem to be in the middle of constant construction? After our first few hours on the resort, I couldn’t help but feel guilty about enjoying this paradise – one where the lodging was more than comfortable, where all the food and drink is free and only a question away, and where we seem to have the very best location along the beach. While I knew the locals didn’t get to enjoy their country the same way I did, I was sure tourism accounts for a huge portion of their economy and it does seem to provide for a great number of jobs. This realization made me feel slightly better about my extravagant vacation, yet I still wondered about the Jamaican way of life outside the resorts.

As my mom will tell you about me, “She’s always loved people.” As a child I was drawn to other babies and children, and things haven’t really changed in the 30 years since. As the days of our vacation passed, I found that some of the most memorable times I had were when I was talking with the people who worked at the resort. On our first day we were talking with several other couples while sitting on the outside deck of one of the bars, when all of a sudden one of the peppy Entertainment Associates (the resort staff who lead entertainment, games, and other activities) bounced seemingly out of nowhere to scold a woman from Louisiana for resting her jaw on her hand. Apparently, she told us, it’s an offensive gesture in Jamaican culture. “Why,” the woman asked. “Because it means you’re worrying,” our entertainment guru answered. “We’re in each other’s company, so we should enjoy it. No worries, Mon!” Worrying’s offensive??? I think I’m going to like it here, I thought to myself. (It bears mention that the second we walked off the plane we thought people were fucking with us by ending every sentence with “Mon”, however it’s really, truly how Jamaican’s talk.)

As the days passed we kept thinking to ourselves how awesome it would be just to work here at the resort, but still we wondered if you were to work here – if you lived here – where would YOU go on vacation? “To the city, Mon!” One of our servers was so kind in helping us to see the obvious. “We’re used to this,” she said. “We see this every day. Yeah, if I have a day off I’ll go to the beach with my family and friends, but when it’s time for vacation, I want something more exciting – different. I go to Kingston, the biggest city in Jamaica! It’s like New York City!” She went on to tell us how she likes getting dressed up and going out to the nightclubs – staying up all night dancing, surrounded by the lights of the city. She also mentioned Niagara Falls as a previous vacation destination. “I’ve seen the Falls on TV, but it’s different to see them in person! We don’t have falls here, so I went there to experience something I can’t at home.” It made sense, and I was slightly embarrassed to have assumed that our lives were actually more different than they are. When the rubber meets the road, we all really want the same things out of life: to make better lives for ourselves, to experience new things, and to be happy. But what really surprised me was that we shared the same concerns for others, even if we don’t know a thing about them.

The night before we left we stopped into the resort convenience store to look for souvenirs, and we wound up talking to the cashier for an hour. The conversation started as usual: when did you get here/when do you leave? We then started talking about the weather and how some neighboring towns had flooded due to all the rain (it rained a lot while we were there). Our cashier said she’d had the same laundry on the line trying to dry for three days, when she eventually wound up stringing it up in her daughter’s bedroom, much to the discontent of her young daughter who could have cared less that she needed clean clothes to go to school. Seems no one in Jamaica has a clothes dryer, because we were told, it hardly ever rains – there’s no need. Our cashier then began to tell us about her two experiences with hurricanes that have hit the island and how the last one to hit caused extensive damage to her “roof”, because they hadn’t yet built the second floor on their house and didn’t have a proper roof. Again, not usually a problem because it doesn’t rain all that much in Jamaica. “But,” she said, “You rebuild.” She then began to ask us about the Gulf coast. “I always see hurricanes miss us and head there,” she said. “Do people live on the coast?” “Of course,” we said. “And because they’re on the coast, there are a lot of resort towns – like here.” Her eyes welled up with tears and she told us how bad she felt for those people whose homes were and could potentially be devastated by hurricanes that had veered off course, previously headed toward Jamaica. I was honestly touched by her genuine concern for the Gulf-coast residents. At first I felt embarrassed that I had assumed our lives were so different, but then I realized it was the same empathy and concern we shared for each other that made us the same, and that’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I didn’t want to leave that convenience shop, but when I did I told Beth Ann just how much I enjoyed talking with her.

I’m so glad I spent this vacation in the present – that I detached myself from my phone. Had I not, I don’t know if I would have had the same meaningful experience. Correction: I KNOW I would not have had the same meaningful experience. I would have instead amused myself with dick and fart jokes and meaningless Tweets, which do have their place, however I think I’ll strive for that “place” to take up less overall space in my life moving forward. Instead, I want to open my eyes more so that I can see those small things, those simple things, those ordinary things that happen in the course of any other day, and that’s what I want this new blog to be – a snapshot of the world that I see through my lens: ordinary and beautiful.