Tuesday, December 16, 2008

THE END

My paper is done, all 17 pages of it! Let me rejoice! The end is here!

Suddenly, inexplicably, it hits me--I'm finished with my MA coursework. The last item to complete is my thesis. And while that's a challenge in its own right, I find myself sad because I'm done with classes. No more discussions about awesome books. That's right: it's also the end of this phase of my schooling.

Yay?

Friday, December 12, 2008

And Now For a "Read" Post

I obviously love good food*, but I also love good books. Yesterday, I found myself enthralled with Robin McKinley's newest, Chalice. So much, in fact, that I neglected to even look at my paper**.

I was sad when I closed the cover of Chalice last night: not because the book ended sadly but because I was finished. I did not want to finish. I wanted the story to go on forever and ever because I liked the world McKinley created, and I liked the characters, and I liked the story. She's good. She's really good--and she doesn't really write sequels, so you're left with the feeling of having finished a good story but also knowing that all the bits of story that are left unresolved will never come to anything.

McKinley's books are good because she sticks with Tolkien's style of storytelling. Tolkien knew that there's always more story to tell, and to create a rich story, full of depth and meaning, you (as the storyteller) had to hint that there are more stories to tell. You create the craving in the reader, but never fulfill it. It's like Scheherezade in The Arabian Nights' Entertainments: both delight and surprise, but stir up a desire that can never be satisfied. "More!" you want to shout, but more you'll never get. In the meantime, you are left with this splendid book, Chalice, and the hope that maybe McKinley will do what she did for Damar and make another story***.

I'm being purposely vague about the book because I think it best if the reader simply immerses herself into McKinley's beautiful world without knowing what's going on. McKinley reveals it slowly, throwing the reader into the narrative stream partway through and then reveals pieces of the tale (not the whole story, mind you) that pertain to the overall plot. There's this niggling sense all along that McKinley has several narrative threads in her hands, but merely shows you a flash of their color instead of spinning it out fully. It adds a three-dimensionality to her world without bogging it down with unnecessary explication. Like Tolkien, she assumes the reader is smart enough to get it, and the story is all the richer for it.

It's a delicate balance that many authors fail at (cough, Twilight, cough). McKinley succeeds, and I now have a new favorite book, at least until the next one comes along...

*I made the most delicious dinner last night: couscous with roasted vegetables^, seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil with a crumbling of the soft goat cheese. Oh. My. God. That (and a glass of wine) and Chalice, and I forgot about my paper entirely. I also sort of refused to share with my neighbor because I wanted it all for myself.

^Beets, turnips, butternut squash, apple, onion, garlic, cranberries, red bell pepper, and almonds. Toss lightly in olive oil and roast in a pan for a while (until vegetables are all tender). Sprinkle the almonds on toward the end or else they might burn before the veggies are cooked.

**And so much for that goal of 5 pages typed. Okay, so now the goal is to get to page 5 tonight, and finish it up tomorrow. Buckle down and work, do it now!

***The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown are longtime favorites. I read them in high school and have reread them over and over again. (Beauty is also really delightful.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In Praise of a Delicious Salad

I'm fond of salads. They can be just the perfect meal (or side to a meal), if made properly. Unfortunately, too many salads use nasty iceberg lettuce as a base, and they become a vehicle for meat, cheese, and fatty dressing. That's not a salad; that's an excuse to continue eating crap while pretending to be healthy.

The most important part of a salad is the proper ratio of ingredients along with a good balance of textures and flavors. Too little green and too much topping ends up not being a good salad. My preference is a base of mixed greens (green leaf, red leaf lettuces, possibly some spinach and arugula), some other veggies (grated carrots, beets, etc), a little something sweet, something nutty/savory, something cheesy, with a modicum of vinaigrette*. A good balance of crunchy and soft ingredients is a must. If we're making it a meal, a boiled egg (more savory) is a nice addition along with a piece of toasty bread. A dash of salt and pepper, and voila! delicious salad.

If you top it with too much stuff, you get to the end of the salad and you only have toppings and no greenery. I like a bit of greenery with my other salad components, and I don't much care for gobs of dressing (just a smidge for extra flavor--sometimes none at all). When all of it is in balance, I am happy eater of salads.

For the past two days Lance has created the perfect salad. He started with a base of green leaf lettuce, shredded nicely. He then topped it with chopped Medjool dates (sweet), almonds and walnuts (savory/nutty), and some bits of soft goat cheese. He sprinkled on some black pepper, and I dressed it with a small dash of vinaigrette. Every bite is crisp and green, with the flavor of dates and goat cheese and nuts and pepper. The textures and flavors are in balance, and I didn't have toppings left at the bottom of my bowl. It is, at this moment, the perfect salad.

*Annie's makes a shiitake vinaigrette that's amazing. I also love the word "modicum".

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cheap Eats

I was browsing my RSS feed today, and came across this article in the New York Times, which talks about how people are cooking more as the economy is getting crappier. I have to say that we've been doing this all year--though, not just to save money*.

Roughly one year ago, I moved into my own apartment. We suddenly found ourselves not wanting to go out to eat as much (an expensive trip to Spain helped) because we liked the kitchen. Lance and I go back and forth playing with recipes, with flavors, with new ingredients, and we LOVE it.

This summer, we invested in the freezer and have been putting up fruits and vegetables from our local farmers' market. We spent about $40 each week we went, but we bought so many vegetables that we have plenty for the winter. And we recently found out that there is a group of farmers who have a "winter market," so we've invested in that. We rarely buy produce from the grocery store (except for what we consider staples, like onions).

All of this contributes to us having a healthier diet and being pretty happy. We love to cook. Love it. We occasionally eat out not because we don't have anything to eat but because we want to enjoy the flavors of our favorite eateries (like Petra Cafe, for example). We have people over and share our delicious meals. When we go to visit places, we bring food with us to prepare--or raid their pantries and freezers and whip something up. Many of my Christmas gifts will be homemade treats.

I think for me the reason to cook at home is not just to save money (which it certainly does), but to be able to create. When I whipped up a quick dinner the other night (pasta and vegetables with a light cheesy sauce), and I didn't consult a recipe (just my gut and what was on hand), I realized that I just created something delicious without fuss or bother. It was easy and satisfying.

*Saving money is one perk to cooking at home. I can then use the money for other things, like clothes.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Jenn's Kind of Meme

Meme time!

a) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
b) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Reprint this list and leave a comment——————————————–

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (I've started it a couple of times)
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34. Emma - Jane Austen
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37.The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (uggh, regretfully)
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz
57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses - James Joyce (has anyone really read it?)
76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession - AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (which one?)
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Wow, I'm fairly impressed with my list. Of course, most of the classics I read in class, so I guess that's an unfair advantage... Also, it's cheating slightly to say "The Chronicles of Narnia" AND "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe"!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Milton, In Translation


Just in case you didn't know, Milton's Paradise Lost is a masterpiece of the English language. It's also really difficult to slog through, which is why it is infrequently taught outside of an college English classroom. What if there was a way to translate the epic from English...well, from hard English to easier English? Would that betray the project of the poem, or make the work more accessible to the everyday, non-English major reader?

Stanley Fish wrote today in the NY Times about a new "translation" of Milton: a prose interpretation alongside the original work. It makes a great work of English literature accessible to those who want it.

My initial impulse is to dislike it (why don't we just get students to use ClifNotes?), but after a bit of thought, I realized something like this could be a great teaching tool for high school teachers, or in an introductory English course in college. Milton's epic is worth experiencing, even if you need a bit of help translating/interpreting.

I think I'm going to order it and check it out. Maybe I'll even try to read the whole work--I've read parts of it, but that epic is long!--to experiment with how it will read for a student. For me, works like this have to strike a balance between getting folks to read Great Books and simplifying it for readers. I think Danielson's translation doesn't reduce it down (like ClifNotes might), but instead illuminates it. And that is a worthy project.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Eating Well?

I'm listening to an episode of This American Life, where they are playing recordings of folks talking about the Great Depression. Meanwhile, I'm eating a delicious homemade lunch: venison stew with beans and vegetables with a thick slice of fresh homemade sourdough bread and a beautiful salad made with local produce.

As I'm eating my healthy and delicious lunch, the thought occurred to me: how many people don't think they can eat this well? And worse yet: how many people can't afford to eat good, fresh food?

After learning that nearly a billion people worldwide live on less than a dollar a day for food, a couple in California set out to do just that. The NY Times recently wrote an article about their month-long experiment, where they learned that they could not afford the fresh organic produce they were accustomed to, and that junk food is usually cheaper than the good stuff. They also raised money to donate to charity.

I read their blog, and I found it thought provoking. We don't tend to think about healthy food as anything special; everyone can afford good food, right? The people who buy junk food just don't want to eat healthy. The fact that many poor people are fat is just their fault, not the fault of the government whose farm policies have many crappy processed food more affordable than vegetables.

I grew up in a "economically disadvantaged" home. There were seven mouths to feed, and not a whole lot of money to do it. Our meals were spaghetti, macaroni and cheese (4 boxes for a dollar--feeds us all, with leftovers!), hotdogs, and other really inexpensive foods. For vegetables, Mom prepared canned green beans or corn. Occasionally, we'd get frozen peas. We ate lots of potatoes, and usually had bananas. There was usually iceberg lettuce, but I've always hated iceberg lettuce.

We had a garden growing up, and it was from that garden that I learned to like fresh cucumbers and squash and other fresh vegetables. But when we couldn't grow it, we stuck to the standbys: processed food.

And of course school was much of the same, since we either chose between the "hamburger line" (with nary a vegetable to be seen) or the regular lunch line. (Our whole family was on the free lunch program.) You could sign up for a salad in the morning, which I did occasionally, but the salads were piled high with cheese and ham and ranch dressing.

Anyway, now that I can afford to eat great food--and I make it a priority in my budget--I find myself reflecting back on my childhood and adolescence. There are lots of kids like me and people who live on even less than we had. We may not have had money for fresh organic produce, but we didn't go hungry.

As I was contemplating all of this, the thought popped into my head: what if we had a soup kitchen that included a garden? What if this soup kitchen fed people fresh, organic food, and allowed them to help out in the garden and learn the magic of growing things? People within the community could also come help in the garden and volunteer in the kitchen, learning how to cook healthy food, learning the connections anew between seasonality and what you eat (i.e. no strawberries in December, nor asparagus in June). This vision of a community space to feed and teach people about good food was so stirring and beautiful that I wanted it to happen, now.

How could I create such a place?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Back to It

Well folks, I'm back home. I'm sitting in my very comfortable pants and UCA sweatshirt, with a needy kitty sitting on my lap. Lance is off at Sunday night potluck, but I decided to hang out at home and enjoy being home.

I like home. It's great. Travel is fun, however, because I know I have someplace to return to after all the hustle and bustle of the trip is done. I'm actually quite a homebody when it comes down to it. Not that you're likely surprised.

I had a great time: I got to meet and talk to some really neat people, and I even went on an impromptu walk around DC to the Monument and the Lincoln Memorial last night:

Why not go out on a bang? It was a great trip and a great city, and I look forward to my next academic conference!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Exploring

I went to eat lunch today with a fellow conference attendee: we went to a fantastic Indian restaurant with served delicious lamb-based dishes. I rarely have lamb, so I relished the food--it was great. And I also had great conversation with the older academic. I miss getting to have non-stop conversations sometimes.

Today I presented my paper, and I think it went well.

After lunch, I relaxed for a few minutes, then set out for a used book store. I've been having fun walking around Georgetown, relaxing and exploring this wonderful sector of DC. I love how old it is, how the houses stand shoulder to shoulder, tall and stately. I love the feel of the city.

Whenever I travel to a new city, I make sure I get out and explore. I decided I would do that when I did travel to a new city, and I stayed in my hotel for most of the trip...and missed out on some wonderful experiences. I've learned to love exploring a place alone, mostly because I'm not really alone--I'm getting to know the place.

Tonight, I'm heading out to eat dinner with another fellow conference attendee. We chatted last night and made plans. It's my last night here, and tomorrow will basically be travelling home, so I want to make sure I soak up as much Georgetown as possible. I believe after that I'm meeting up with another friend (someone from UCA) to have a drink, and that'll be fun.

Ah, new places. Will I ever grow tired of visiting unknown cities?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Jenn's First Conference

My conferencing today has gone very well. I've met many intelligent, gracious scholars--I think this is a group (the EC/ASECS) that I would like to be associated with for a long time.

I have some thoughts about my first conference and realizing how I should present myself professionally (which is different, perhaps, from how I present myself normally). Also, about how as a young female academic, I've been treated not as a fellow scholar--by one or two older folks, anyway. (Mostly everyone else has listened to what I have to say, and I've been happily partaking of the intellectual atmosphere.) But I think I'll save those thoughts for when I don't have to stand at a public computer in the hotel lobby.

Oh, and for the knitter-readers: I bought some lovely yarn from Stitch DC. I felt as though a trip to a new place would not be complete unless I did a bit of yarn shopping. Yay for LYS!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Traveling to the East

Greetings, Dear Readers:

I have journeyed far to the East to a land called Washington, where our leaders gather and issue forth proclaimations. My mission is to attend a gathering of scholars who study the eighteenth-century: On Saturday, I shall myself lecture on Matthew Lewis' The Monk. It promises to be a thrilling adventure.

Today, I boarded a flying machine from the mountains of Arkansas, journeyed forth to the Deep South (Atlanta, y'all), and arrived in DC. I then wound my way through the maze of the public transit system. I found myself the object of a kind gentleman's charity: he gave me 35 cents so I could make my bus connection. Alas, his kindness went awry when the connection fee was in fact 45 cents. The bus driver took pity on my poor travelling soul, and allowed me to board anyway.

All was well, until I could not find the Inn. It turns out that Georgetown University Conference Center and Hotel is cunningly hidden, tucked into campus behind (a freakin') hospital. I arrived sore and sweaty from hauling my luggage. Ah, should a shining knight had resuced me! Alas, I must care for myself. And in the end, I much prefer to be independent, alone in a strange city and loving it.

Tonight, the conference opened with much lauded performances of poetry, music, and a staged production of Mr. Pope's "The Rape of the Lock". It was splendid, dear readers, splendid. Afterward, I conversed with many scholars, all of whom were kind and welcoming to me, the young academic setting forth for her first real conference.

It is now time for me to retire my soft quarters. Adieu, dear readers, adieu.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Time to Celebrate

When I returned from my run a few minutes ago, a horrible sight assaulted my eyes: there, peering from two different apartments were fully lit Christmas trees.

Christmas trees! And it's just the beginning of November.

Now, I love Christmas a lot. In fact, I'm already working on my Christmas gifts (because I'm making them, mostly). So I have nothing against Christmas. What I do have a problem with is people not celebrating when it's the right time. These two tenants have completely skipped over enjoying Autumn and Thanksgiving.



How can anyone think about Christmas when the trees look like this? Lance took this picture of me on our walk up to the Farmers' Market on Saturday. Fall is in full swing in the Ozarks, and people who are putting up Christmas decorations and listening to Christmas music are forgetting about how cool the current season is.

Christmas comes "in the bleak midwinter" for a purpose: it livens us when the days are short and the nights are cold. It gives us cause to celebrate, even when the world seems dead. Autumn is all about harvest and life and color.

Also, it's about presidential elections. I will comment that I'm quite pleased with the results of last night's voting. Another reason to celebrate this season!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting Day


I participated in democracy by voting early last Friday (No way I was standing in line today). Women have only had the right to vote for 88 years. You bet I voted in this election--and proudly. I believe the best way to appreciate rights is to exercise them, and I did.

Anyway, go vote if you haven't yet...or you might end up looking like this fellow:

(A friend's sick sense of humor)

Tonight, I'll be alternating watching the poll returns with preparing for my conference--I leave for DC on Thursday, so I'm trying to get everything ready early so I don't forget anything. Also, I need to practice reading my paper slowly. Basically, I'll be trying to distract myself until Obama is officially declared our next President. This is so exciting!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Greens!



Last year, Lance and I started eating greens. You know, collard greens and the like. I'd never really had them before until his sister-in-law fixed us some mustard greens that were delicious, so we started eating them. And they are delicious.

This weekend, we picked up some beets (with gorgeous greens attached) from Patrice* at the Farmers' Market. Beets are a delicious, nutritious, often overlooked vegetable. There are many ways to cook them, and when you buy them with greens attached, you get two vegetables for your buck. (A giant bunch of beets cost us about two bucks from the Farmers' Market). You could make this. Or this.

We made a simple stir fry of beet greens, sweet potato, and beans. Sounds a little funky, but the beet greens (unlike kale, for example) are sweet and tender; they aren't bitter like some cooked greens can be. Lance seasoned them with nutritional yeast, garlic, and onion to make something really delicious. One thing to know: the greens and the beets themselves will turn any dish you put them in a brilliant shade of magenta.

Now, I just need to use up all the beets I have lying around. Shall I grate them, or roast them? Slice them thin and make beet chips? The possibilities are endless!

*He's an awesome farmer who we always chat with. He has a charming French accent and gushes about how few young people (like us) eat delicious vegetables.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

In Which Lance Acquires a Bike

Remember a few months ago when I bought a bike? I've been riding it around and enjoying myself immensely. One drawback, however, was that Lance did not have a bike. So I had no one readily available to go with me on rides to the grocery store.

For several months we went back and forth, until finally Lance was committed to finding one. There were debates about buying used versus buying new. Lance is...um, very frugal, so he didn't want to drop much money on a bike. We looked at used with little luck.

Meanwhile, I'm getting the hang of riding, making new biking friends, and longing for the day that Lance acquires a bike. Well, folks...that day was yesterday.



I've been asking various friends with bikes to keep an ear out for an appropriate one for Lance, and yesterday while talking to Kyle at a pumpkin potluck*, I talked to him about our quest for a bike. He then told me about a bicycle that's been sitting in his garage for 10 months, and how he might like to see it have a new home. I immediately jumped on the opportunity**, and a few hours later, Lance was the owner of his very own awesome bike. Seriously--it's a fantastic bike. And it was just the right price.

Today, Lance, Kyle, and I set out to explore the Fayetteville trails. We rode to the start of the trail a short skip from my house and we biked roughly fourteen miles without interacting much with road traffic. We figured out we could get to many of our favorite places by bicycle, likely almost as quickly as by car. Yay!

So, the lesson? Although I may hate waiting and being patient, persistence eventually pays off. Also, Lance is lucky to have me.

*I made these amazing cookies and pumpkin brownies. Yum.

**If you know me, you know that once I set my mind on something, I want it accomplished right THEN. So after peppering him about price and what the bike was like, we set out to go look at it, brought it home, and I paid him. It was a good day.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Weekend of Halloween.



Friday and today were spent attending various Halloween celebrations--because, after all, white people LOVE Halloween. And we love Dr. Horrible.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Soup Du Jour

I love soups. They are healthy, easy to make, and perfect for cold weather. Also, soup is cheap to make, and you can use almost anything you have as inspiration.

I made a delicious pumpkin soup last night for dinner--it was cold and rainy and I wanted something comforting--and thought I'd share the recipe. We had baked a pumpkin, so I had some leftover pulp, and I wanted to make it the base for a soup*. It's very rough since I made it up based on what I had in the house, so definitely tweak flavors and ingredients where you so desire!

Curried pumpkin soup

Saute an onion (chopped), one celery stalk (chopped), and some garlic in a little olive oil until the onion and celery are beginning to brown and smell really good. Add pumpkin pulp (maybe about 2 cups or so?) and a heaping tbsp of curry powder. After a minute or two, add one can of coconut milk + one can of water. (I also added maybe 3 cups of vegetable stock or so). Use an immersion blender and puree mixture until smooth. This is the pumpkin soup base. Add salt, pepper, nutritional yeast, and other seasonings to taste.

After pureeing the base, I added 3 small potatoes, finely diced (you can leave the skins on!), 1/3 cup dried lentils, and 2 carrots, finely diced. Cook everything over low heat until vegetables and lentils are done.

Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt, or skip the yogurt to keep it vegan (personally, I like the tang of the yogurt with the deep spicy flavor of the curried soup). It was great for a cold and rainy day! Also, it's even tastier the next day--I really enjoyed it for lunch.


Do you all have some good soup recipes?

*I'm guessing not every household has leftover roast pumpkin lying around, so possibly--though I highly discourage it--it might be okay to substitute one can of pumpkin. The flavors won't be quite as good, though. Just go buy a small pumpkin, cut into quarters, scoop out the seeds and stringy bits, coat lightly in oil, and roast in the oven until tender (at 375 degrees or so). Then you can puree it (the leftovers) and bake a pie or make some pumpkin muffins or something.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Verbing Nouns

English can be a strange language. Words that begin their lives as nouns can swiftly transform to verbs, and verbs suddenly are nouns. That's a fine thing for a language, since change means that it'll stick around a bit longer.

What I hate, however, is the use of nouns as verbs that doesn't quite work. Or the use of an intransitive verb--such as "grow" or "progress"-- as a transitive verb.

For those of you scratching your heads about my grammar terminology, an intransitive verb is one that does not take an object: "sleep" in the sentence "The cat sleeps on the bed" is an intransitive verb. "Scratch" in the sentence "The cat scratches the sleeping human" is a transitive verb, with "the sleeping human" being the object of the action. Saying "The mother sleeps the baby" doesn't make much sense, and "The cat sratches" elicits the question, "whom or what does the cat scratch?"

Words like "progress" and "grow" are intransitive. A plant grows. Time progresses. These verbs do not need objects. Yet in the debate last Thursday, Palin wrangled both of those intransitive verbs into transitive positions, and those sentences were a little puzzling. Maureen Dowd looked at Palin's word use in her recent op-ed column. I cheered a little when I encountered this paragraph:
She dangles gerunds, mangles prepositions, randomly exiles nouns and verbs and also — “also” is her favorite vamping word — uses verbs better left as nouns, as in, “If Americans so bless us and privilege us with the opportunity of serving them,” or how she tried to “progress the agenda.”
This is not me being picky about language; this is about using language in confusing and (perhaps purposely) incorrect ways. Palin is playing the language game, where by adopting a down-home feel of someone who is slightly clumsy with language, she can attempt to further shore up her claim that she stands for Main Street America. Examining language like this is important so that we can look past the appearance and find what's going on underneath.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Murdering Characters

In the film Stranger than Fiction, an author (played by Emma Thompson) meets one of her characters and finds herself unable to kill him off as she intended. Her novel would have been a masterpiece; however, because she could not bring herself to end her character's existence, the book ended up being mediocre.

I've come to the conclusion that being able to murder one's character-creations is the mark of a good writer and makes for better books. Harry Potter, for example: he has to struggle to achieve the end he needs and he loses good friends along the way. Some grumbled that perhaps Ron or Hermione should have died--and perhaps they're right--but the other deaths Rowling wrote were tramatic for her audience. That tragedy added something invaluable to the book. Tolkien was willing to kill off Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and some of the dwarves in The Hobbit. Lewis narrated the death of Aslan in a scene that made me cry in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. These deaths elict real emotion from readers, and forge a connection with a story that wouldn't happen without them.

(***WARNING: TWILIGHT saga spoilers ahead***)

So I finished Breaking Dawn, the last in the series of books I wrote about last week. I was dissatisfied with it. It ends all right, but the problem I have is that the main characters all get exactly what they want. Bella becomes a vampire without really losing her humanity, or even having to endure much of a struggle to not murder humans. Edward gets Bella as a vampire without sparking a war with the werewolves because he keeps her from dying instead of turning a healthy human into a vampire. Jacob--a werewolf--gets over Bella by finding his soul-mate with Edward and Bella's hybrid daughter. Bella and Jacob stay best friends, even though the werewolf nature is to destroy vampires. Occasionally, Meyer makes you think there will be difficulties for the characters, but then everything gets smoothed over perfectly. None of the main characters die. Meyer is unwilling to murder any of them.

What's so wrong with getting what you want? Because we know, deep down, that life isn't that simple. You aren't supposed to get what you want without at least a little struggle. It would have interfered with the story if Bella become crazed with thirst when she sees her father a short time after becoming a vampire, so Meyer makes sure that Bella has amazing self-control unheard of for a newborn vampire. No struggle.

Struggle is what makes for interesting narrative, the kind of story you could read again and again. Harry Potter would not have made me feel if Dumbledore hadn't died, if Harry hadn't had to struggle for a family and to find his place. The Lord of the Rings would have fallen flat if their quest to destroy the Ring hadn't been fraught with dangers and tragedy. Stories worth telling have deep struggles, and sometimes (like Frodo) the characters can't go home again.

Meyer's books are entertaining, but they likely won't end up on the same shelf as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, or other great works of fantasy literature. In fact, my paperback copies of the first two novels are destined for Paperback Swap or Bookmooch.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Vanilla Adventure



I bake a lot. I think I have a few friends solely because they love it when I bring them baked goods--and I'm not stingy when I bake something delicious. I have even been proposed to based on a slice of cheesecake*. Baking is definitely one of my hobbies, even if I don't keep up my baking blog much**.

If you bake, you'll know that you usually use a little vanilla. Vanilla extract adds an indefinable quality and flavor to desserts that's just wonderful. You may not necessarily notice when it's there, but you will notice something missing when it's not. Vanilla seems simple ("plain vanilla," anyone?), but it's actually one of the most complex flavors out there.

Since I bake a lot, I always have to keep a bit of vanilla extract on hand. And I buy the good stuff--some extract claims to be pure, but it actually has corn syrup and other things added to it. A good extract should be mainly alcohol and vanilla. Buying the crappy stuff--if it's labeled "pure"--is pricey. Buying the organic/free trade extract is even more expensive.

After recently dropping six bucks for a teeny-tiny bottle at the co-op, I decided to look up how to make your own vanilla extract. I had burning questions: is it difficult? is it cheaper? how is it made, anyway? I then stumbled upon VanillaReview.com. This site tells you how to make extract, and also gives general information about beans, varieties, good places to find beans, and other vanilla-related information.

So it turns out making vanilla is pretty easy. Beans+vodka+time=more extract than you can use in a lifetime. Buying beans was my next challenge, until in my internet travels I found the Organic Vanilla Bean Company, which was recommended by The Kitchn.

Today I bought 1/4 lb. of Tahitian vanilla beans for about eight dollars, plus shipping. From what I've read, a mix of Tahitian and Bourban beans are better for extract, but Tahitian are favored by pastry chefs. I'm no pastry chef, but I do bake pastries. And the Tahitians were a bit cheaper, so in a few days, I'm going to embark on making my very own extract.

*Don't worry, Lance...I turned him down.
**Which, in fact, I should just morph over here. No point in keeping all my interests separate anymore. Especially since I can't seem to keep any of them up to date. I do like have a baking blog, though *sigh*.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Linkedy-link

I don't have much to say, so I thought I'd post some interesting links:

The Facts About Corn Sweetener: an interesting look at high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), my personal enemy*. Marion Nestle is a nutrition expert, so I think she's got a pretty good perspective on the debate, especially since the Corn Association is trying to convince the American public that HFCS is harmless, and just like honey! Uggh.

The Kitchn: I love this website. They have a lot of posts, but I've gotten lots of recipes and information from it. They emphasize good, wholesome, local food. They also talk about cool kitchen gadgets and living in an apartment.

No Impact Man: A guy in New York sets out to create zero impact on the world. He talks about what his family does to achieve that goal, and philosophizes about how trying to NOT consume as much as possible makes a happier, healthier world. Pretty fascinating and inspiring.

Elastic Waist: It could probably be a diet blog, but I like to think of it as a body acceptance blog. Many of the posts are about nutrition and about eating good food, but some are about feeling beautiful and fabulous, no matter your waist size--something that many of us can stand to hear.

That's it for today! I might have a vaguely stressy/angsty post coming--I'm in the throes of figuring out when I can find time to work on my thesis (when I'm not at work or in class or working on homework for my class).

*If you've read anything recently from me, you know I really hate it. It affects me strangely, and I can taste it in food. Yuk.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

An Awful Book I Can't Shut

This summer, I thought I was going to take a seminar in literacy. Part of that class involved reading YA fiction, which excited me. Some of those books are award-winning Good Books. Some were merely popular to teens and fit the purpose of the unit. Thus, I picked up Twilight with the intention of seeing what all the fuss was about.

From the beginning, these books have bothered me. Meyer's style hearkens back to romance novels, punishing kisses and all, and her descriptions are heavy-handed and dull. The style is such that it calls attention (for me at least) to the language, something that it shouldn't do. The narrative should be the focus of the reader's attention, not the language; I had a hard time concentrating on the story at first because Meyer's style got in the way.

But I can't seem to NOT finish the series. Part of it is my obsession with knowing the end of stories, no matter how horrible. Part of it is the stories are strangely compelling, even with all their narrative and character flaws. Now I'm embarking on the final book in the series, knowing how it's likely to end, but I have this need to finish it, even if the end will annoy me.

The Twilight series has captured the imaginations and hearts of thousands of readers. It's hailed as the "next Harry Potter" due to its popularity. However, they can't touch that series because they lack the depth and complexity of Rowling's work. Rowling carefully spins tales with complex characters and mythological allusions. Part of reading Harry Potter is playing "spot the myth". Meyer's books lack that depth and richness.

I purchased the first two books out of curiosity, and checked the other two out from the library because they were only available in hardback, and my desire to know the end of the saga wasn't enough to justify paying for two books that will end up on Paperback Swap or Bookmooch. I'm into the last book, and I just want it to be done so I know how it ends, and then I can go on with life.

I read these books with nose wrinkled slightly with disgust, but obviously Meyer creates something that's compelling enough to overcome my distaste for her writing style. How can an awful book still be good enough to keep me turning the pages, eliciting anxiety and hope? I always feel the need to justify why I'm reading these books, yet the reason is simple: I've been sucked into a story against my will and better judgment.

I can see the appeal for teenage girls who can't imagine a world beyond high school and age 18: Bella Swan aspires to halt her life right as its beginning. She can't imagine passion and love greater than what she's found at 17, while those of us who are a bit older know that she's a teenage idiot. She wants to give up humanity because she doesn't understand what being human and having a beating heart means--her "soulmate" is more important, and what teenage girl doesn't want to believe they can't find their soulmate at 17? It's silly and awful. Still, I can't look away, and I can't shut the book.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

*Giggle*

This event popped up in Daily Headlines* today and made me giggle
One Refworks to Rule Them All**

One Refworks to find them, one Refworks to bring them all and in the end notes bind them. Writing research papers? Citing sources for other projects? Join reference librarian...
I want to know who decided to do that, hehe. Usually Daily Headlines are much more bland.

*Daily Headlines is a daily e-mail the University sends out to keep students, faculty, and staff apprised of events and other notices.
**In case you miss the reference...well, it wouldn't be funny to you anyway, so...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"I'm [Runnin'] in the Rain"




I will make all sorts of excuses to not run. Now, I really love running. I feel great every time I go, and I like how much energy I get and the fact that it's helped me manage my weight since college. But sometimes all that succumbs to the excuses I make.

Yesterday, I was tired. So I came home and watched TV. Then I was hungry. So I ate dinner. Then it was rainy and dark, so I couldn't run outside, right? And I just knew the HPER would be insanely busy, so I didn't want to go over there. So I sat at home and went to bed.

Today, I didn't get up early because it was rainy (and the rain affects me like that). So no AM workout. But I knew I needed to run. You see, I'm training for a marathon. And if I skip more than one workout a week, I feel like I'll be sliding down to not running at all, and I'll lose all momentum.

It was raining. It'd been raining all day, thanks to Gustav. It was sorta miserable outside, but my options were to haul my butt over to the HPER or to run outside. I suddenly wanted to run outside. When training for a marathon, one is advised to run in a variety of conditions and terrains, to prepare for the race. Rain is definitely a possibility in Arkansas in March, so I needed to run in the rain. Ok, I thought, I'm going to do this.

I needed something to shield my eyes from the rain. A hat! Alas, I'd given away my baseball hats because I never used them. I even had a visor once that would have worked. Drat. Then I remembered I have guy friends who live close by. I ran down to my neighbor, Mason, and asked if I could borrow one of his. He said, "sure!" and handed me one off the top of his head.

The run was great...and freeing. I've never run in the rain, and I did it. I also ditched my iPod, which is my usual running companion, and that too was liberating. It was just me, the pavement, and the drip of rain all around. From now on, the rain is my friend--or at least not an excuse. Also, if I had stayed in or had gone to the HPER, I never would have seen the guy riding a unicycle holding an umbrella. It was a scene from a circus movie, I swear to you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Of Water and Workouts

Boy, I'm tired. I've been actually working out regularly for once, so I'm currently enjoying the feel of fatigued muscles and a sudden uptake in my energy levels.* So far so good.

Wednesday morning, I was packing my bag to bike to the gym to workout, and I randomly decided to toss a water bottle into the bag. When I was locking my bike up, I noticed that my butt was wet. "That's weird," I thought, "Maybe I rode through a puddle..." Then it dawned on me that I had WATER in my bag--and I hadn't checked the lid on my bottle. Frantically, I opened the bag to discover my phone and iPod were now the victims of a deluge. The phone was fine, but the iPod seemed destined for the pile of regrets known as Jenn's Stupidity.

However, today everything had a chance to dry out completely, and it was in good working order. It appears that a little water temporarily affects iPods and associated pieces, but they are able to recover--at least once. I breathed a sigh of relief because I hated to lose my iPod and the Nike Sport kit that I use to track my runs.

In other news, today is Lance's birthday. Lance is awesome, and even puts up with me when I do naughty things, like signing him up for Facebook (mwhahaha). So, happy birthday to one of the best people I know. I hope that it's a fantastic day!**

*Weird how that works.

**Even with your unexpected birthday gift. Look at this way--you don't have to do any work setting up the Facebook account, and you can harass people...or just delete it after I get bored with pretending to be you.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Travel Eating

Over on Kniterati--Jenn gets her super awesome birthday gift!!!

It's not until I travel that I realize how very picky I am about food. Pittsburgh reminded me of that, and not just because of the chicken sandwich of doom. In the airport on the way out there, my fellow traveler and I stopped to eat some lunch. "Look! A TGI Friday's!" she exclaimed, "I never get to eat there." Knowing that I'm in the freaky minority of people who sniff at places like Friday's (and Applebee's and other adored chains), I went along with it. I perused the menu, narrowing on chicken with vegetables on the "right size, right price" portion of the menu, or a strawberry fields salad (with chicken). There was not one totally vegetarian option on the menu, unless I wanted iceberg lettuce salad*. I kept my judgements to myself about the quality of the salad greens.

Dinner was also interesting. Luckily, I pushed for the delicious little local LuLu's Noodle Hut (or something like that). It was soo good. I ate Pad Thai from there again the next night.

I'm so picky, and when I pick up packages and read them, pointing out why I don't consume them, my co-traveler made fun of me. She thought I was a healthy freak.

I'm not always so healthy (as evidenced by the Chicken Sandwich of DOOM!!), but I try. And I realize now why I eat out so rarely--I love being able to prepare my meals. When I do eat out, I eat at places like Greenhouse Grille, with their dedication to fresh, local produce and high quality food**. Or any of our other locally owned eateries, like Petra Cafe. Mmm, potato soup***...

*I'd rather eat meat, thanks.

**They don't serve diet anything. No fake sugars. No corn syrup. No Coke or Pepsi. It delights me to no end, though a friend who ate with me there once was not so amused when they offered her agave nectar to sweeten her tea with. Heehee.

***I would shove down tiny old ladies to eat this soup^. And I don't have anything against tiny old ladies, unless they stand in my way of this totally awesome, fantastic soup.
^Okay, so I'm a little nuts about good food. Sue me. I just feel so great when I'm eating good food.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pittsburgh, oy!

I didn't know what I was expecting from Pittsburgh. I was excited to travel to a new place, as usual, and I had looked up some neat things to visit while I was there (Italian espresso shop, anyone??), but I wasn't expecting to enjoy Pittsburgh as much as I did.

I think I fall a little bit in love with any new place. It's like the rush of a new relationship: the city is all sparkle and wit, exciting and invigorating, and it's hard to spot his flaws. I just stand dazzled and enchanted, happy to have the thrill of a fresh scene*.

I traveled to Pittsburgh to visit with the University of Pittsburgh engineering writing folks. They were fun to talk to, and they gave me lots of good ideas to play with. Their program has been developing for almost ten years, so they've had some time to make it really, really good.

Toward the end of the meeting, Beth (the writing center outreach coordinator and orchestrator of engineering writing instruction) planted a seed: Pittsburgh would be a good place for a PhD, and I might find myself an assistantship working with their program. This I was not expecting, but it made a certain amount of sense. I love innovative approaches to composition, and I could participate in a program that flips traditional composition on its head. Wow.

The thought of living and working in Pittsburgh is appealing, especially since I'm still starry-eyed from my first encounters with the city. I could bike all over the city, or I could ride the buses--who would need a car? We'd have decent Indian food within blocks of our apartment. I could experience living in an urban setting--but still be able to escape to the lovely Pennsylvanian countryside if I wanted to. And I could get my PhD funded and work with a fantastic and fun group of people.

A new door has opened, and I find that infinitely thrilling. I'm trying not to stress about all the options because it's really enjoyable to have so many future paths open before me. I could pick almost anything! We'll see if the enchantment of Pittsburgh is enough to pull me back.

*I did the same thing with Flagstaff, Arizona and St. Louis when I traveled there and explored the new places. I love figuring out a new environment and getting a feel for a novel location.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Food Hangover

Traveling often gets me to do foolish things. On my way back from Pittsburgh*, I needed to eat lunch. After faltering between several not-so-good options, I decided to test my luck (and my stomach) and just eat at the Golden Arches.

Yes, you heard me: McDonalds.

In my defense, they had a nice picture of a grilled chicken sandwich on a "deli-style" bun** with green leaf lettuce. So I ordered it along with a little ice cream. Hey, I'm on a trip, and the school is paying for my meals. The other options also had long lines/waiting time, and I had to catch my connection home.

Halfway through the sandwich, I felt a little off. After about two thirds of the ice cream, I didn't feel too great, and threw the rest out. But it was too late; the damage was done, and I spend the flight ruing the fact that I ever ate it.

Part of me (the sadistic part) actually wondered how fast food would affect me, since I haven't eaten it in a long time. Like years. Looks like it makes me feel like crap, just like it did the last time I ate it. I still feel a little gross, so I'm hoping a dinner of fresh corn and kale/black beans will make me feel better.

Lesson learned: even if it looks like real food, the crap served at McDonald's is still crap. Just nicely packaged to fool you.

*Research, woo! More on this tomorrow.
**Not white bread? Sweet!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

26 Candles

Yesterday was my birthday, and a very good one at that. I've had some craziness of late, but the birthday was a welcome respite from filial turbulence*. Some highlights:
  • I took the day off of work, and it was nice.
  • I got lots of calls and Facebook messages, yay!
  • While I got exactly zero presents on my birthday, I got the promise of a really awesome one! Woo! (And I got one the day before too, hehe).
  • I got to extend my birthday through today because my co-workers made it so.
  • I got to see one of my favorite local bands, and they were awesome.
  • Potato soup!
Anyway, it was a fun day. A quiet birthday, really, but a very nice one. Here's to another year!

*One parent, a panic attack, a hospital, two round trips to parents' home from my home, and some other stuff. Wow. Luckily everything is better now, and I ended up spending some nice time with my mom.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Goodbye, Bananas


Yesterday, I finished up Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The book chronicles her family's journey to eat local produce and meat for one year, growing it themselves or buying it from her community. It includes small essays written by her husband, Steven L. Hopp, as well as essays and recipes by her eldest daughter, Camille Kingsolver.

Kingsolver wrote the book not as a lecture about the dangers of industrial eating, but rather as a celebration of good, locally-grown food. It's about having a relationship with what we eat, about having the chance to see it as emerging from vibrant earth or from a living creature, instead of carefully packaged and tidy products to be purchased whenever and where ever. It flips the idea of convenience and availability (the "I want it now!" mentality) on its head as she joyfully moves through the season and the fruits of that particular time and place. Strawberries and asparagus are all the sweeter because they emerge for a short period; tomatoes full of flavor are those that are not shipped from California, but picked from the garden, still warm from the sun that draws out their juicy sweetness. Food that's not eaten in its proper time and close to its source just isn't as good.

I love that this book shuns the impulse to become a bitter tirade against the industrial agricultural system; instead, Kingsolver weaves her family's story in with the story of small farmers that she meets and with facts about the current state of food in the US. She visits Quebec, Italy, and seeks out the local in those places and finds it delicious. The work takes a didactic turn every so often, but inevitably she returns to her goal in writing Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: to show that eating locally is beneficial, fun, and not that difficult. It's not for an elite few, but it can be for everyone if we'll stop allowing our government to support big agriculture at the cost of small, productive farms.

The illustration above is a "vegetannual," which envisions a return to the relationships between vegetables and fruits and their season. We've lost a fundamental connection between seasonality and locality in selecting what we eat. Hence, I'm saying goodbye to bananas. Bananas are not grown in the U.S., and where they are grown, banana companies were (are) responsible for the exploitation of South American peoples and governments*.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an inspiring work. I felt compelled (and hungry) while reading it to grow a garden, support local farmers (which I do already! yay Farmers' Market!), can and preserve my own produce, and shun processed foods and unseasonable fruits and vegetables. It was a fantastic read and ultimately hopeful that we can return to a simpler (and healthier for body and land) way of eating.

*For more interesting stuff on bananas, their origins as the possible fruit of Eden, and how the mass production and transit of them shaped South American politics, check out Dan Koeppel's book, Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. A hint: we might not even have bananas in a few decades.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shot in the Foot

Remember how I hurt my leg, but it was getting better? It's pretty much healed except for some lingering soreness, which makes me very happy.

What doesn't make me very happy is now that I'm nearly ready to lunge into my various athletic pursuits without worrying about my leg getting worse, I go and twist my foot. Yesterday, while playing our first game of Ultimate Frisbee, I twisted it. I limped back to the sideline, took my shoe and sock off, wiggled it a bit, and (as the pain subsided) figured I just sort of popped it or something. No biggie. It felt better, so I played the rest of that game and the next, relishing that my legs felt fast and strong.

This morning, I wake up and can hardly stand on it. It takes me a bit to get going (and a bit of painkillers), until it loosens up enough to only twinge every now and then. (Things always hurt worse first thing). So--I'm going to have to take it easy again to see how it fares. Bah. It was the left foot too, just as my right leg was healing up.

Luckily, I have a shiny new bike named Alice to transport me to places I'd normally go to on foot, hence saving my poor foot undue walking stress. I'm extremely happy with my bike, though I'm operating on the PHA* until I can build up the strength and endurance to not feel like I'm going to die when I pedal up a hill. I even wore a skirt yesterday!** Alice rocks. This bike is perfect for me and my desire to move more and consume less.

*Principle of Hill Avoidance. I've altered my way to work because even though the new route is slightly longer, its hill is less steep.

**Which ended up being dumb because it was a fitted, knee length skirt, which meant it hiked up to my thighs when I hopped on the bike. You can make the necessary leap in logic. It was then too late to go back for shorts or a different skirt, so I pedaled on, keeping my knees close together when I could.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Me-Powered Transportation

A few days ago, Tim posted about wanting a bike. I'd been thinking about getting a new bicycle* for a while now, but it was just contemplating. Meanwhile, Tim talks about buying one, and I started hearing several of my co-workers talk about how they were riding their bikes more and more. One guy even rides his in to work and back, which is a good 35-minute ride.

Fayetteville is fairly bike friendly for a southern town. I usually see several bike riders rolling around on the streets alongside vehicles, and we are blessed with an ever-expanding paved trail system. However, Fayetteville is also in the hills. Meaning there isn't much flat space to ride a bicycle around on. Therefore, I continued to hesitate on investing in a bicycle--I didn't like the idea of having to pedal myself (and any stuff I might be carrying) up a hill!

Well, today that changed. I have been driving my car excessively short distances that are easily accessed by a bicycle. I would walk to these places, but I usually don't have enough time. (For example, the gym is a good 20 minute walk away, which doesn't give me much time to get there and back if I've only got an hour for a workout.) It doesn't use a lot of gas, but it does put wear and tear on a vehicle that I would like to last me the next six years or so. The idea of a bike--even a nice, new expensive one--seemed better and better. Not to mention that it'll help me get in better shape! And improve my running! I went down to Lewis and Clark, and (with the help of their friendly staff) purchased this lovely lady:



Her name is Alice**. She's a Schwinn Voyageur GS, specially built for a girl who likes to wear skirts. Which is me--I even test rode it this afternoon in a skirt, which was lovely. It's a "hybrid" or a "comfort" bike, which just means that it's studier than a road bike, has bigger tires that have less tread than a mountain bike, and has a cushy seat--no bike wedgie for me.

Upon getting her home, I rode down to the HPER to see how the ride was. It's definitely harder than using the car, but I hear that after a month my body will adjust and I'll be able to handle Fayetteville hills. (I came home panting, but exhilarated.) I have visions of riding everywhere within a smallish radius of me that I'd ordinarily use my car to get to.

Next phase--get Lance to find a bicycle so we can ride places together! (Like the grocery store. That would definitely save on gas...)

*I had a cheap-o from Wal-Mart that I never rode and that eventually rolled away because I forgot to lock it up when I moved it one day. I hope the new owner had a heavy dose of guilt and then used it a lot. I then borrowed one from a friend which I rode once, then locked to a fence and proceeded to lose the key. I found the key on Friday, so that one is now in a sheltered place until the original owner decides its fate.

**Lance ended up naming her^, not me. I said, "I need to figure out her name." He said, "It's Alice." I paused and looked at Alice, and that was that.

^She's a lady, of course. Very demure.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Joy of Trees

A front passed through our area on Tuesday, leaving us with moderate summer temperatures and me with a strong desire to be outside before the blinding heat returns. July and August are usually the hottest months, so 85 degrees with a light breeze and little humidity feels like heaven. Especially when I think about how hot and muggy it usually is this time of the year.

The university abounds with stately trees and lovely well-tended lawns, and so the past two days I've spent my lunch hour on Old Main Lawn, under the gently waving arms of a large tree. In the sun, the heat still has intensity, but under the shadows cast by green leaves, the air is cool and friendly, especially with the gentle wind singing through the leaves above me. I ate my homemade pizza* and read my book as a bumblebee buzzed near by and the surrounding trees dampened the noise of traffic and passing pedestrians. The hour passed in quiet joy.

I gathered my things to return to my desk** feeling tranquil and well-rested. As I walked away, I thought about being like a tree: digging toes deep into cool grass and damp earth, stretching arms out to catch the bright sunshine. I felt whole, alive; I was connected to the world around me.

How sad for my fellow office-dwellers that they don't come out to experience this vibrant place, the scent of green and the songs of insects. They are content to eat their lunches at their desks, to only walk from car to building and building back to car, afraid to get a little sweaty because the temperature is higher than the artificial chill of their climate-controlled spaces. I wonder if they feel the lack, or if they are content? I would die like a plant in a too-small pot that never tastes the sun if I couldn't walk a bit each day, even if it is just to home and back, and a little during lunch.

The outdoors have been calling me stronger this spring and summer. Maybe it's because I felt like I didn't get to go out much last year. Maybe it was the resolution that I made that I would go outside more. Maybe it's that I can't stand the frigid air conditioning in my building. Either way, I've been craving it and being satisfied by it as much as I can. It's so simple, but so profound, the feeling that I'm a part of something greater, and that I get to participate in this great, beautiful world, even with the threats of climate change and knowing how much my actions--and the actions of my species--are threatening to destroy that exquisite beauty. I also have hope that more people will wake up to the missing connection with their environment (and communities), and start making small actions*** to make sure that beauty is secure for centuries to come.

*Leftover from last night--a homemade whole-wheat pizza crust topped with pesto, bell peppers, shrimp, and mushrooms, and cheese. I know...delicious, right? If you are not making use of leftovers because you "don't like leftovers," you are missing out on one the greatest advantages to home cooking: not having to do it all the time. As well as being healthier and knowing exactly what you're eating at lunch. Claiming not to ever eat leftovers is almost as bad as refusing to drink tap water in my book: both are wasteful, poorly excused actions on the part of lazy individuals. Tap water is safer than bottled water^, and leftovers freakin' rock.

^It's true! The EPA strictly regulates tap water, while the FDA looks the other way as bottlers pour tap water into petroleum-guzzling bottles. For more reasons to eschew bottled water, visit takebackthetap.org.


**At which I shall likely freeze to death. How much does it cost the university to keep the buildings at a steady 65 degrees?

***Shopping at the farmers' market. Buying from local businesses. Planting a garden. Walking or riding a bike short distances. Composting and recycling. Bringing reusable bags. Buying organic produce. Eating in-season. Participating in community. Volunteering. Becoming involved in change. Turning off the TV. Sitting outside and appreciating the wonders of the small.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Old Advice, Mostly Useful

Recently, I've been bombarded with information about how wasteful, indebted, and damaging our culture is. On the flip side, I've also seen a lot on people who are trying to do their part to change that, to help Americans see that they can live frugally and happily without buying into consumer culture. Are people waking up and realizing that buying tons of stuff isn't so good?

This weekend, Lance's mom brought out an old book (possibly from 1889 or 1892, but certainly from before 1908) called The Every-Day Cook-Book by Miss E. Neill. It's a neat volume, with interesting recipes and home health remedies, as well as sound advice. Take this passage, for example, listed under "ITEMS WORTH REMEMBERING":
Pictures are both for use and ornament. They serve to recall pleasant memories and scenes; they harmonize with the furnishing of the rooms. If they serve neither of these purposes they are worse than useless; they only help fill space which would look better empty, or gather dust and make work to keep them clean.

A room filled with quantities of trifling ornaments has the look of a bazar [sic] and displays neither good taste nor good sense. Artistic excellence aims to have all the furnishings of a high order of workmanship combined with simplicity, while good sense understands the folly of dusting a lot of rubbish.

A poor book had best be burned to give place to a better, or even to an empty shelf, for fire destroys its poison, and puts it out of the way of doing harm.

Better economize in purchasing of furniture or carpets than scrimp in buying good books or papers.

Our sitting-rooms need never be empty of guests or our libraries of society if the company of good books is admitted to them.
I love the last bit about books. But the part that caught my eye was the emphasis on not having things if they serve no purpose. And not cluttering up the home with "trifling ornaments". I've been on a quest for some time to shed some of my more useless belongings, so Neill's words resonate across a century. Good sense is good sense, no matter the time I suppose.

I'll talk about The Every-Day Cook-Book more because it contains some gems of good sense, and some passages that are mildly amusing as relics from a time gone by. It's also a book repair project for me, since the volume I have is falling apart. I have plans to read it all, though, and maybe find someway to make an academic paper out of it...and try a few of the recipes.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dr. Horrible

From the mastermind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, emerges Dr. Horrible. So you better go watch it. Why? It'll be gone tomorrow at midnight, and then you'll be one of the few not in the know.

Some choice quotations:
  • "Like Bad Horse." "The Thoroughbred of Sin?" "Uh...I meant Ghandi."
  • "The hammer is my penis."
There are many more, but I don't want to give anything away. Go, go. You'll love it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Good Eats, Veggie Style

I don't eat a lot of meat. While I'm not a vegetarian* (I'm one of those newfangled flexitarians, if you want an official word for it), I eat a lot of vegetarian dishes. Because they're delicious. And because I strongly believe that reducing the consumption of meat in one's diet is a way to improve both the body and the environment. Meat, particularly industrial, is unhealthy for the animals, unhealthy for humans, and definitely unhealthy on the environment. By reducing our consumption, we reduce consumption of corn (and corn subsidies), fossil fuels, and send a message to the food industry.

Anyway, this wasn't supposed to be a rant about meat. I still eat it occasionally and enjoy it when I do--because I typically buy locally produced, grass-fed (and ethically-treated!) meat. I may pay a premium...but damn. That's tasty. Because I don't want to buy cheap meat, I buy vegetables because they're cheap and really, really good. Especially when I buy them fresh from the Farmers' Market that's just down the road from my house.

I'm figured I'd share some vegetarian recipes and tips in case you're feeling the itch to try eating less meat in your own household. Last night I made this maple grilled tempeh recipe--if you want to try something unusual like tempeh, this is a good recipe to try because it's so good. I served it on a bed of brown and red rice with green beans and grilled zucchini. I just ate leftovers for lunch, and I was amazed at how good the simple marinade was on the tempeh**. Yum.

There are now many websites dedicated to making delicious meat-free recipes. One of them (the source of the maple grilled tempeh), is 101 Cookbooks. I've made many, many of her recipes and they're superb. And usually very simple for the inexperienced cook.

Another source that I turn to for recipes is Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. A gift from a dear (and generous!) friend, this cookbook has been my guide for when I need some inspiration. The recipes are simple and easy, but they offer a host of variations that encourages playing with flavors and colors, as well as experimenting and substituting. Even if you're not a vegetarian, this cookbook is a valuable addition to any cookbook collection.

*Every time I seriously contemplate completely becoming a vegetarian, Lance waves a tasty bit of meat under my nose. Like lamb. Or venison. Or even buffalo. But if were just chicken and beef? Eh, not that interested.
**I realize tempeh, like tofu, is not for everyone. Heck, the first time I had tempeh, I was a little leery. It can be strange stuff, and hard to prepare properly. But the marinade and the grilling makes tempeh extremely palatable.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Good Poetry Brings Folks Together

My coworkers are smart. One especially loves to talk to me about books and good food and crafting--she's fun to work with and hang out with. Today, we began discussing this NY Times article about the new poet laureate. I'd never heard of Kay Ryan, so I read the article with some interest, and flipped through a few of her poems they included with the article. I liked them; they were pretty good. I prepared to not think about them again.

It wasn't until I started discussing them with my coworker, however, that these poems came alive. They held a richness I hadn't discovered until I reread them and talked about them. For me, literary analysis (especially on poetry) always emerges after I talk about the work. I shouldn't be surprised that Ryan's poetry would be any different, but I was amazed at the meaning I was able to dig out of her words just by having a conversation.

Here was the one we discussed in particular (I read it out loud for my coworker, which led to further discussion--Ryan's poems are rhythmic, and that rhythm is inherent to what the poem is, but it's hard to hear rhythm unless you physically hear it.):

GREEN HILLS

Their green flanks
and swells are not
flesh in any sense
matching ours,
we tell ourselves.
Nor their green
breast nor their
green shoulder nor
the languour of their
rolling over.

The poem rolls like hills, and the images it evokes are wonderful. I'm fond of poetry that has a certain physical feel, and Ryan's work is often about the physical and the material, like "Things Shouldn't Be So Hard," which longs for physical indications of an individual no longer present, but things are too hard, too durable, for one person to leave their mark upon them. It's beautiful.

Okay, enough gushing about poetry. My main point is that I'm now a fan of Kay Ryan, and that discussing poetry with other people makes it alive in my mind. I need to remember that when I go to teach kids how to read poetry... I'm such a verbal person that it's often not until I've talked about something that I understand it fully.

If you're interested in more of Kay Ryan's work, go here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

One of Those Days...

I woke up feeling woozy this morning. I managed to get dressed, after dragging excess chairs back to their homes to help me wake up a bit. Then, on my walk to work, I discovered the lid of my once-full water bottle was slightly ajar, meaning the book*, notebook, journal, and planner in my bag were now sitting in water. To make matters worse, my skirt was not staying put, so I was having to tug, readjust, and otherwise deal with it while fretting about the wet paper in my bag.

All of this meant that I was a little grouchy when I walked into the office. But instead of losing my temper, I pulled the books out, dried out the bag, and realized that the damage could have been much, much worse. My impulse was to call the beloved filler of said water bottle and chew him out...but I didn't. And I was glad. Acting (instead of giving into anger) cheered me up.

Thus, the rest of the day has passed in relative calm. I've been dealing with my blood sugar bouncing all over the place, but I've successfully avoided eating sugar. I've already eaten four servings of veggies and two servings of fruit today**. The day has been lovely, and I ended up taking a longer walk over lunch than I usually do, since I forgot my ID and couldn't use my extra time to go to the library.

And I get to go to a swim lesson tonight, not to mention bowling with teachers from Mexico who I'm partnered with. So, really, a day that could have been potentially very, very foul has been quite fine. Life is better when you concentrate on the good, even when it's drenched by the bad.

*Which belongs to my thesis adviser.
**Usually it's two servings of veggies and three of fruit. Fruit is good for you, sure, but it's important to not eat too much of them too!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Injury Update

So, I've been taking it easy on my leg, for those concerned that I might make a dumb decision and ignore the strange pains. In fact, I took it a little too easy, and discovered not being active enough makes it hurt worse*. So I've been trying to strike the right balance between active and not active.

Swimming feels pretty good, so I've been doing some of that. In fact, I'll probably head to the pool tonight for a bit of a cardio workout as well as practicing my strokes**. Light yoga is also good.

Sunday, I decided to lace on my running shoes and run around Stillwater, OK for a brief run. The morning breeze and singing birds made me do it. But, surprise--I felt great afterwards. No pain at all--though I took a little preemptive anti-inflammatory medication.

I'm thus moving forward cautiously, adding a little activity and making sure to not overdo it. It appears that I'm on the mend! *Knocks on wood*

*Go figure. I'm just ready for it to be completely healed so I can go on with my life and run lots.

**I've enrolled in a swim class to help me improve my swimming. I'm decently confident in the water, but I still feel a little anxious or tense, and I expend too much energy instead of relaxing and stroking slowly and reasonably. I hate that I can run 3 miles and feel fantastic, but swimming two laps leaves me completely out of breath.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Et cetera

  • Cream of chanterelle soup is of the gods. Chanterelle mushrooms are delicate little things, and paired with a simple mixture of cream, onion, butter, salt, and pepper, they are to die for. If you're envisioning condensed cream of mushroom, flush that naughty thought right out of your head. My stomach is so happy right now. And I have more mushroom dishes to look forward to*!
  • I finished Lost and Found on Saturday. It's so good. Post coming shortly about it. (And also Lady of the Snakes).
  • Thanks to Facebook, I'm in some hot water with my parents. We'll see how long it takes to blow over. Lesson learned: never refer to your family as racist on Facebook**. Especially if they are sensitive to being called racist.
  • I missed Ultimate Frisbee last night. It made me sad, but I was tired, depressed from dealing with my family, and dealing with stomach cramps. But I got to swim on Monday! And I'm sure the time away from frisbee will be good for my leg.

*Lance scored a bag full of dried morels from his brother. Yum. I love having a mycophile for a boyfriend.
**So stupid. I don't mind if they find my blog post about it, but Facebook status remarks offer no explanation. I'm going to stay off of there if I'm angry. Stupid, stupid.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Indignantly Angry

My brother had the nerve to send me an e-mail entitled "In Obama's Own Words." I would post it, but I don't think I should. Instead, I'll quote the main message of it:
"We should all be very afraid. This man wants to be our President and control our government."
Ah, yes. Because (as we all should know) our government is in the control of one man. Silly me, I thought that we had three branches of government and a system of checks and balances. Whoops, that's right--Bush has everyone thinking that he's in control and that Congress needs to listen to his dictates...

Anyway, not the point. The e-mail then went on to give quotations (they're real!) from Obama's book Dreams From My Father (the e-mail didn't even get the title right, incidentally). These quotations were all taken out of context and meant to convey one thing: Obama is black; Obama doesn't share our white Christian ideals; Obama sympathizes with Muslims; don't trust Obama.

The quotations don't say anything bad. In context*, I'm sure they convey his struggle as the son of a biracial couple and his quest for identity. I would think that it was a difficult experience for him, yet ultimately a positive one. But out of their racism and bigotry, the originators of this e-mail want us to be afraid of Obama's race and his racial identity. They want us to believe that he'll ignore all the Christians and promote Islam. They're idiots, and I just couldn't stand it. So I sent a firm reply back to my brother (and my father, who sent the e-mail to my brother initially). Here's what I said:
I'm not sure what the message of this is supposed to convey, but the biggest sense is that it's racist, and that's not something I'd like to think of you as. Please do not send me stuff like this again. It makes me angry and a little upset.

I don't think selected quotations (taken out of their context, a context that could change the meaning of those sentences) is supposed to convince me that voting for Obama is the wrong choice for president. Nor are the insinuations (ungrounded, based on the fact that he's a Christian and raises his family as Christians) that he's Muslim. The final quotation could be taken to mean that if the political winds should shift in such a way as to target Muslims with prejudice and racism, that he would stand with them, as would I.

Not all of those quotations are negative either. He expresses admiration in one of those quotations for black men who represent intelligence and courage--DuBois, for example, was an intellectual writing around the time of the Civil War who spoke for freedom and equality for black and white. That's nothing to be ashamed of.

What we should be focusing on, when looking for a President, is not race, not that fact that he uses some of the best representations of men of color as role models, nor the fact that he struggled with his identity as the son of a biracial couple. We should look for a leader who is capable and strong, a person of intelligence and reason. I don't care who you vote for, just as long as you don't vote against someone just because they are of another race or believe that people of other faiths should be treated with respect. I see you as intelligent and rational, so please use intelligence and rationality before forwarding things of this nature. Don't support racism and bigotry.
And this is why digging beneath the surface matters. It's too easy to listen to the lies that others want you to believe. I'm sure my family will protest that its message is not racist; rather, it says that we shouldn't elect a person who doesn't have the same ideals as us**. But strip away the superfluous, thin veneer, and you can see what it really is: a promotion of continued racism.

*I'm going to go read that book so I can argue more about it. Uggh, family.
**White, Protestant. Everyone else doesn't count because they're going to Hell anyway. We gotta make sure that the minorities are trying to oppress us!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Pain in the Leg

My leg injury is a weird one. Sometimes there's no pain. Sometimes there is. It's not sharp like it was when I first hurt it, but there's a definite feeling of not rightness going on. I tried to look up different running injuries, but apparently what I've done is either not related to running or is not common, so I still don't know what's wrong and what to do about it.

So I thought I'd toss my injury out here in the blogosphere and hope that someone (Kerry??) might have some advice. Or tell me to haul my cheap ass to the doctor, since they'd probably figure out why I'm still not better.

Where is the pain, exactly? Well, I say "knee", but it's not my knee. It's on my right leg on the back side of my knee. If I stretch my leg out straight, there's a tightness/soreness that's concentrated on the outside of the back side of my knee. I suspect it's the bits that connect my calf muscles to my upper leg muscles.

It was a sharp pain when I first injured it, but now it's a stiff/sore feeling that hasn't faded. It seems to be worse when I haven't moved my leg around for a while, and then fades when I move and get it warmed back up. I notice it when I bend my knee as far as I can and sometimes when I straighten my leg out, like when I'm doing forward bends (stretching/yoga). It's not constant or consistent. Icing it and elevating seem to help. Exercise *might* make it feel a little worse, but it seems not doing anything also might contribute to it feeling sore.

Any ideas? My treatment has been alternating between trying to stretch it carefully with yoga and light cardio (except for Frisbee--that's pretty intense, and it made it a little sore), and propping it up on pillows while applying ice. I've also been taking ibuprofen before I go to bed at night, since it's stiff in the morning. I'd really like to be able to return to my running schedule, thank you very much. I suspect that I might need to make an appointment to see my doctor if I want to know precisely what's going on...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In Pursuit

(Currently Reading: Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst*.)

I'm not sure what's wrong with my knee. It hurts, then it doesn't anymore. I don't really notice it when I run, just when I'm walking around and bending it a lot. Lance is probably going to yell at me for saying this, but I think I'm just going to stop worrying about it too much (even though I've been taking it fairly easy--I haven't really gone running in a few weeks, just playing Ultimate).

Yesterday, we kicked off our summer league. It's mixed teams, so usually two women play with five guys at a time because there are usually only enough girls participating for each team to have four anyway. The number of girls on the field is set to allow for subs and to also make sure that the teams don't just end up being all dudes who want to win. Because guys can be rude like that.

But my teammates are pretty cool. I didn't know anyone on my team when I walked on the field yesterday, and I left feeling like I knew some people. There is a range of experience in the players, anyone from total newbie to seasoned handlers. I even got to play handler for a bit (people who are responsible for the disc, for the most part), which I like. I'll like it even more once I get a bit more experienced with being a handler. Usually I get stuck playing wing, which isn't too bad--just kind of boring**. Last night I got to play all the positions.

I'm really, really glad that I've gotten back to playing Ultimate. It's great exercise, a fun game, and I'm actually not half-bad. And I'm learning some things. This time around, I'm not going to let my inexperience become an intimidation factor***.

*Donna, I'm enjoying it. So far, it's living up to your high praise.

**Wings, while important, don't tend to get in on the action too much. Newbies tend to get stuck in this position, if that tells you anything.

***I let that happen with the first league I played this summer. And let me tell you, it's hard not to be intimated by hard-core women who have been playing for years. Next year, I'll know more and be able to play a lot better instead of feeling like a hindrance^.

^Even though I wasn't entirely. I did help them score a couple of times, provide a substitute, and give them an extra set of legs, as well as being a defender. But it's still hard to remember what I did right when I felt like I was doing so poorly.