Saturday, November 13, 2010

Vegetarian Cure-All Soup

Lance is the one who first introduced me to homemade miso soup.  Since we always have a tub of miso paste in the fridge (and he's actually currently brewing a batch of miso), we eat miso soup fairly regularly.  When he is not feeling well, he makes a pot of miso to feel better, and I began doing the same.  Miso soup has become my chicken noodle soup--and I think it beats it as a curative, hands down.

I started feeling like I was coming down with a cold a couple of days ago, so Thursday night I made a big pot of miso soup with chard and tofu.  With a little added sriracha and a hunk of homemade bread, this soothing brew has helped me fight off the cold.  The hot broth helps soothe my throat and the sriracha spiciness keeps my sinus passages clear.  I thought I'd share the recipe with you all in case you too are succumbing to late fall/end of semester illnesses.

Spicy Miso Soup with Tofu and Greens
Makes 4 servings

In a saucepan, saute some onion--I used the white bulb from some green onions--in a little olive oil.  Add a couple of handfuls of thinly sliced chard (about two big leaves + stems) or other green.  Cook until the greens begin to wilt, then add 4 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and add 3-4 tbsp miso paste (to taste) and 1/2 block of chopped tofu.  Season with pepper and nutritional yeast to taste.  (I find the miso salty enough, so I don't add any salt, but if you want more salt, some soy sauce would be good).  Add sriracha (aka "rooster sauce") to taste.  Top with green onion and eat with a chunk of good bread for a healthy and soothing meal.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cranky Redux

1.  "Is Emily Dickinson a lesbian?" was the first question out of his mouth.  To kick off the discussion of one of my favorite poets, we begin with this question?  No. Way.  Dr. M. and A (a grad student) moved it to a discussion about gender ambiguity in her poetry and the role of gender (all worthy topics), but I just slapped my forehead in pain, anguish, and exasperation.  Why are we so willing to read her poetry through biography?  I was in fact so cranky that I wrote my reading journal with a twinge of an attitude (toward the view, not my prof).  I wanted to talk about the visual appeal of the poetry (capitalization and dashes, i.e.) and some other things. Cue: pain and frustration.

2.  There was going to be Rhet/Comp seminar next semester.  Yay, a class in my discipline! Perfect!  But, alas, due to the fracas that took place in October, the class was canceled.  Cue: woe and despair.

3  I seem to be developing a cold, one week before a draft and a research presentation are due. Cue: further woe and further despair.

4.  We counted all the people we should invite, could invite, have to invite.  Then we added up out of the almost absolutely bare minimum we have to invite that will come and it added up to more than our space will hold.  Lance is measuring to see if we can make it work.  Cue: let Lance deal with it for right now...I gotta finish out the semester!

5.  Today, something was said (not to me directly or about me directly) that pushed my anger button.  I don't really want to go into detail in an online space, but it's nothing too juicy and scandalous, and I might tell you if you ask me personally.  Needless to say, it made me cranky. (Cue: crankiness)

6.  I like the Romantics as much as anyone: but to the person in my class who insists that art is created from the outpouring of an effluent spring, the divine speaking through the poet, the lightning strike of inspiration, the drugged dream haze: this is not how it works.  Even the Romantics knew that.  Writing might begin (or contain) little flashes and moments of inspiration, but to make something good, the artist has to think, to have a purpose in creating, and execute with skill.  Otherwise any idiot high on pot could write like Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, or [INSERT AUTHOR HERE].

7.  The same person also said that great art is never written with an intentional political/social purpose.  Puh-lease!  (Note: this person is not an artist: she once wrote one poem in one outpouring of emotion, so she bases this on that one experience.)

The non-cranky:
I'm obviously engaged and opinionated in my studies, so I guess that's a good thing?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Teaching

I found out the other day that I get to teach a class next semester, which excites me greatly.

Today, I taught many, many students (one-on-one) about writing.  It made my brain very, very tired.

But...that sense of a job well done...that makes up for the tiredness.  I don't know if they really learn that much from a half-hour or hour session, but they seem grateful when they leave, and I like it when they come back and I can see how their writing changes (and improves, sometimes).

I'm grateful for the chance to work with students in the writing center, and I'm grateful for the chance to teach next semester.

And, now, time for bed.

PS: I've started reading Pegasus in my scraps of stolen free-time, and it's awesome.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

In Which Jenn Querulously Writes

I don't know if it's just that time of the semester (where we all need a break) or what, but I'm finding myself becoming crankier.  More cantankerous.  Querulous, even.  So today I shall discuss particular points of complaint.

One: students on campus.  Okay, so I know I work at a university and am a student, so I really shouldn't complain about this.  However, I'm looking specifically at how students move around on campus.  Since I'm on a bike, I'm hyper-aware of my setting (because I want to stay alive to bike another day), but I've noticed that most students don't pay attention to their surroundings.  I've almost run students down because they are too busy texting or looking at their feet to remember that they are surrounded by potential obstacles.  (FYI: they don't even hear my bike bell.) They also can't walk in a straight line, which makes biking around them surprisingly difficult.

But here is my main complaint: I usually ride on the sidewalk for a short bit, then switch to the roads that run through campus.  However, students don't even look before they cross those roads! And I'm not talking about using cross-walks--they just walk.  Wherever.  Everywhere.  And yes, cars do drive on these roads.  Today, I almost ran down three students who just randomly crossed in front of me without even looking up.  Normally, I would just roll my eyes, but today I scolded them loudly.

These kids seem so lost in their own little words (which I'm sure are infinitely fascinating) that they can't even observe the world around them.  This leads me to my next point: individualism is not all it's chalked up to be.  Bear with me a minute as I make the connection:  we as a nation are obsessed with the individual.  Thinking that one is a unique butterfly in a world of unique butterflies leads, in my thinking, to this inability to remember that one exists in spaces with other people.  Be considerate. Look around.  And watch out for angry girls on bikes.

In Feminist Theory, we keep hitting on this idea of the individual, which frustrates me because, yes, while, we are all individuals with individual experiences, we also exist within a social order, a society, a culture(s), structures, and institutions.  We are who we are because of our place in the world, not because of some unique individualism that is inherent to human nature.  We love, share, and communicate because we can understand other people: we have shared experiences, thoughts, ideologies, and perspectives.  Emphasizing individualism is detrimental to society because we all think we're entitled to step on other people to get to where we want to go instead of trying to work together to make the world a better place.  You are not a unique snowflake.  Deal with it, and remember that there are other people in the world besides you.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Decision Day

Yep, it's that time of the year again.  I'm going to go vote later (because I'm cool like that), but I thought I'd reflect a little on politics.

In my Feminist Theory class, we've been talking about how a proclamation that one does not have politics is another way of saying that one's political views belong to someone else.  Or, if you aren't interested in politics, then politics is interested in you.  I'm reasonably interested in politics, but both Lance and I have spent the last few months frustrated: frustrated because it seems that people refuse to listen to reason,that people refuse to consider the other side of an issue, that people are too busy worrying about phantoms to realize that big issues are at stake.

I was excited in 2008 because it seemed like there really was potential for change.  It was exciting.  And changes have been made, albeit in a more watered down form.  This year, I've had a hard time getting excited about any of the candidates.  I know who I'm going to vote for (and have good reasons), but it's mostly because I don't like the opposition.

Well, anyway.  I don't have too much to say after all, but I hope you all will go out and vote today.

Monday, November 01, 2010

That Grad School Thing

As everyone expected, I disappeared into a pile of books, notes, and papers as the semester progressed  I have reemerged, albeit likely temporarily.

What have I been up to?  A list, for your ease of understanding:

  • Attended and presented at my first academic conference as a PhD student
  • Began Project Wedding Dress (posts to come, I hope, and pictures)
  • Ordered the most beautiful wedding shoes
  • Drank copious amounts of coffee
  • Gave up drinking copious amounts of coffee
  • Ran a 5k, placed third in my age group, and earned a new PR (26:03!)
  • Read pages and pages and pages
  • Saw two authors of cool books, all within one week
  • Checked out mountains of books from the library for my research papers
  • Subbed for a friend's Comp I classes, which was pretty fun
  • Dressed up like a robot for Halloween
  • Realized that we have three months until the wedding
  • Started a paper on feminists and vampires
  • Bought a plane ticket to Boston for Thanksgiving
  • Tutored lots of students in writing, which was FUN
Anyway, you get the idea.  It has been fun and glorious and I wouldn't give it up for anything.  I'm about to have to abandon my social life for the next month or so to get everything done, but I'll emerge on the other side successfully!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On the Sublime

Are we not, then, to hold that composition (being a harmony of that language which is implanted by nature in man and which appeals not to the hearing only but to the soul itself), since it calls forth manifold shapes of words, thoughts, deeds, beauty, melody, all of them born at our birth and growing with our growth, and since by means of the blending and variation of its own tones it seeks to introduce into the minds of those who are present the emotion which affects the speaker, and since it and by the building of phrase upon phrase raises a sublime and harmonious structure are we not, I say to hold that harmony by these selfsame means allures us and invariably disposes us to stateliness and dignity and elevation and every emotion which it contains within itself, gaining absolute mastery over our minds? (Longinus)
The sublime.  We've heard the term bandied about, and those of us who are familiar with underlying ideas of Romanticism will immediately think "Edmund Burke."  Well, Longinus thought it first.  My intent, however, is not to give a lesson but to urge you to think about what it that writing does to us.

What do words do?  When you read, what are the words stirring inside of you? If it sublime, it lifts and inspires heightened emotions.  If it's well-written, in inspires loftier things--it "seeks to introduce into the minds of those who are present the motion which affects the speaker."  And if it's successful, oh what can it do?  These words can create a work that "allures us and invariably disposes us to stateliness and dignity and elevation and every emotion which it contains within itself," and here's the rub: "gaining absolute mastery over our minds".

That, my friends, is why we read literature.  To feel that inspiration, that rush of emotion, the elevation of the mind and heart.  And why do we study writing and try to teach it?  I would hope it would be show our students that writing is powerful and that they too can grasp at least a measure of that power and wield it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

(Party) Dress

I had an engagement party last weekend (so fun!), so I decided to use some of my precious spare time (read: time I should be reading) to make a new dress.  I was at the new fabric store with AW and found a great Burda Style pattern (No. 7517) and some great discount material.  The dress only needed 2 yards!  To make a whole dress!
Anyway, so after deciding it was worth about $15 to buy pattern/dress (though, after zipper and other materials, probably closer to $20 or $25), I went home and made it.  I got quite obsessed with finishing and stayed up until 1 or 2 am, working on it.

It turned out, and it turned out exceedingly well.  You see, I actually took the time to carefully measure and resize the pattern to fit me precisely.  (It turns out that I'm a mix of three sizes, go figure).  The pattern was really good in that it was both easy and had a great size chart so I could figure it all out.  I also carefully sewed everything, so all the seams were in place and the zipper wasn't all crooked.


And when I zipped it up, I was surprised and delighted to discover that it fit me perfectly.  It was lovely.  After the picture was taken, I was able to adjust the front pleats a bit more to lay flatter (no additional sewing required!).  I want to make another out of cotton and maybe three more just for the hell of it.  It was stylish and wonderful, and it was the perfect thing to wear to a party to celebrate our engagement.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wedding Planning Recommences!

Lance and I have been engaged for three months now, but somehow I think we're a little behind on wedding planning.  Here are things I have done:

  • tried on wedding dresses (and ruled out buying one)
  • obtained a dress to take apart and make mine out of
  • picked wedding cake recipes for my aunt to make
  • figured out bridesmaids/groomsmen and officiant
Here are the things we probably should be doing but haven't yet:
  • set a date (well, we did this once already, but it fell through)
  • register
  • figure out a budget
  • decide dresses/suits/Lance's suit
  • food
  • photographer
  • engagement photos
 Luckily, thanks to an awesome friend, we may have figured out where the darn thing is going to be.  And now that we've figured out where, we can figure out the when.  And the budget.  For some reason, so much of our planning was hinging on that not-so-minor decision.  Now that we have a where (which I'm really excited about because it's going to be SO COOL. And budget-friendly!), I'm back in wedding planning mode again.  Lance and I have decided we're going to try for the cheap-yet-fun wedding award, and we're excited.  As you can probably tell from my overuse of the italics.

Let the wedding planning excitement continue!  I'm obviously out to make this as much fun as humanly possible instead of aggravating as it too often seems.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Post-Stabbing Shirt

When you accidentally stab yourself, you need to have a good story.  Oh, look.  I'm injured.  How'd I do it, you ask?  Well...that's a great story.  You see, there was a puppy, a crazed monkey, and a knife...

Anyway, I stabbed myself yesterday in the arm, near my elbow. Unfortunately, I don't have a great story.  Not even really a good story.  But here it is: I was washing dishes, and I was reaching around the other side of the dish rack to put a mug down when I clipped the utensil caddy.  In an attempt to catch it (while not breaking my mug), I flailed and ended up jamming my arm down hard on the tip of a very sharp paring knife, knocking the utensil caddy on the form and luckily dodging the other two sharp knives while keeping them from piercing my toes.  I called Lance in a panic, and he came home to find me in a slight state of shock, drenched in sweat from the adrenaline rush, pressing a paper towel to my bleeding arm.

After he patched me up, Lance finished the dishes while I calmed down and realized that my knife injury now limits my range of motion, meaning I pierced the muscle that controls my hand--thus inhibiting my ability to grasp things well, type, or lift things.

Today, though, I was feeling a bit better, so I decided to do a little sewing.  I cut out a pattern for a cute shirt I'd been eyeballing (and had a piece of fabric picked up for super cheap!)  Lance came through, and as he has acquired many apples, he wanted me to make him a muslin press bag for his apple press.  So I cut out and sewed that, then decided to keep up the craftiness and made this:


It's stretchy and comfy and I really like it.  I look forward to wearing it out sometime soon!  When I'm less stabbed.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Women and Literary Production

I'm taking a course in feminist theory this semester, so I thought I'd share some of my reading journal from this week (we're reading from Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader, edited by Mary Eagleton):
            When men control the means of written production, how is a woman to speak publicly? Chapter 2 is concerned primarily with women and literary production: how it has been limited by men, by feminism, by society.  Eagleton indicates these factors kept women from speaking out, and if they did, often their writing was viewed as inferior to men’s.  The two excerpts from Woolf—Shakespeare’s sister and killing the Angel of the House—deal with the difficulties of being a woman who longs to write and wishes to write about her experiences in a woman’s body, but is prevented from doing so: either prevented from writing at all or from writing about ideas that are considered “improper.”  Olsen looks at the silencing of women, which begins at birth and prevents their entry into the class of writers.
            Eagleton’s introduction to Chapter 2 got me thinking about modern means of production, especially the Internet.  Women are among the most active writers on the Internet, with the advent of “mommy blogs” and other communities created by women for women.  Each year, a conference is held for female bloggers (called BlogHer), where they meet and mingle and discuss issues about being a woman and being a public writer.  Many of these bloggers are given opportunities to write books based on their blogs, meaning more women are producing books. While blogging seems empowering for women, since the means of production is removed from male hands, I have to wonder if this trend is simply another way to keep women writing only about “female” concerns: being a mother, cooking, housekeeping, etc.  And obviously among female bloggers there are a good number who are concerned with feminist undertakings (blogs like Jezebel and Feministing, for example) and publish books that question the status quo (I’m thinking, for example, about a book by Jessica Valenti called The Purity Myth, which examines the American obsession with women’s virginity and how it ultimately damages women).  Anyway, are we moving toward a time when women’s writing isn’t viewed as inferior to men’s or women are pushed toward writing about stereotypically female concerns, or does the growth in women writing on the Internet contribute to these trends?  Perhaps, as Woolf says, “So accurately does history repeat itself” (77).

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Computers

Today, I found the TA computer lab, to which I have a key.  It was exciting because I ended up hanging out with a bunch of other graduate students and not doing any work.  But there was the potential to do work, oh yes.  I did print a couple of things.  And e-mailed cake recipes to my aunt for the wedding I'm supposed to be planning.

Since quitting my job, I'm sitting at the computer a LOT less.  Which means all my sharebros on Google Reader are seeing a lot fewer recipes and cats in their shared items.  What it also means is that I'm moving around more and seem to be embarking on a successful graduate school diet, mostly because my graduate school friends are too poor to afford chocolate to share with me, so my sugar consumption has been way down since I also cannot afford chocolate.  I'm also biking to school daily--going on three weeks straight now.

Since I'm not on the computer as much, I'm relying on my phone for e-mail and Facebook.  But since the screen is very tiny, I'm not fond of staring at it too long, so I glance at it every now and then and return to work.

I am, however, going to be spending a lot of time on the computer tonight and tomorrow.  Because I have to do research.  It would seem that my computer-time will now be spent in the pursuit of more knowledge.  Right now, I'm looking at programs that teach science and literacy together--how interesting!  It seems that I cannot escape my science peeps.

It's raining, and I'm at the computer.  Time to do some science reading and head to bed.

P.S. Graduate school rocks.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Back to School!

It was the first day: I eagerly waited outside my classroom door, waiting for class to start.  When it did, the fifty minutes flew by so quickly that I was stunned when class was completed. The next day were the same: a flurry of notes and discussion and talking to professors about my new roles as a first year Ph.D. student.

I'm really excited to be starting back to school, and I've been reading and thinking and doing, and it's not even the end of the second week.  I'm no longer working at my old job; instead, my job now is to learn and think and write and research.  And I'm beyond happy.

I got a desk in an office, and I like my officemates.  I've already had discussions about Orientalism, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, cultural misunderstandings, and teaching techniques.  I've been learning about classical rhetoric (so fascinating!), how to teach freshman composition (also really interesting!), and feminist theory (I'm liking this one a lot too).  It's all really interesting, and even though I may be working longer days than eight-to-five, it flies by.  I come home energized, telling Lance all about Bahktin and his dialogical theories and how neat rhetorical theory is.

If I had any doubt that I was meant to be an academic, it was erased during the first week as the joy of being in school washed through me.  But it's not just about being in school; no, it's about being in the position to focus solely on academic pursuits.  My work ties into my studies.  I'm tutoring in the writing center, which is in line with my interests in teaching and researching pedagogy.  The projects that I'm working on for my adviser also tie into those interests.  Working full-time while going to school was difficult, and though I was lucky to be able to get into a good place financially before starting a Ph.D. program, I know I missed so much during my MA program by not being a full-time student.  This time, it's for real.  I'm a student all the way, and I'm fully immersing myself in the culture of academia and the mindset of being a scholar.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Weekday Pancakes

I love pancakes.  My love of pancakes has been previously documented here and here (and probably some other places).  Now, pancakes are normally a weekend, slow-day kind of breakfast, but I woke up and wanted, nay, needed pancakes.  And I had bananas.  Banana pancakes!

Joy the Baker loves pancakes every bit as much as I do, so I searched her site and came up with her Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes.  Yum.  So I whipped them up quickly this morning, and as I was getting ready for work, Lance cooked them.  (Go team!)  Together, we made lovely pancakes and shared them with another, and it was on a weekday.  Sometimes you just have to have pancakes on a weekday, and it makes the day a little more special.

I modified the recipe a bit (based on what I had in my kitchen), but these pancakes were things of beauty.  They were fluffy and delicious and ranked near my favorite oatmeal pancake in deliciousness and texture.  I may have to make these again, because they were that good.

Banana Buckwheat Pancakes
(adapted from Joy the Baker, who adapted it from The Gourmet Cookbook

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 ripe bananas, mashed
In a large bowl, combine flours, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder/soda, salt, egg yolks, and buttermilk.  Stir (but don't overmix! Use your dough whisk!) and let sit for at least 5 minutes to hydrate the flours.

In a small bowl, mash banana and add oil.  Add to the flour mixture.

Beat the egg whites until fluffy.  Gently fold into the batter.  If it's a little thick (mine was) add some more milk or water.

Cook them in a skillet and devour.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I'm Sticking With You

In my transition to someone who would major in English, I encountered this John Donne poem:

THE GOOD-MORROW

I wonder by my troth, what thou, and I
Did, till we lov'd? were we not wean'd till then?
But suck'd on countrey pleasures, childishly/
Or snorted we in the seaven sleepers den?
T'was so; But this, all pleasures fancies bee.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desir'd , and got, t'was but a dream of thee.

And now good morrow to our walking soules,
Which watch not one another out of feare;
For love, all love of other sights controules,
And makes one little roome, an every where.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let Maps to other, worlds on worlds have showne,
Let us possesse one world, each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appeares,
And true plaine hearts do in the faces rest,
Where can we find two better hemispheares
Without sharpe North, without declining West?
What ever dies, was not mixt equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

I love the emotion expressed throughout this poem.  It is intense passion, the joy of finding an awaking of soul in another person--in finding that one lacked, but simply didn't realize it until the speaker met his love.  Donne is well known for being a physical poet; he evokes the senses.  In this poem, the lovers are lying in bed, in their "one little roome," gazing so intently that they see each other in the other's eye.  Instead of saying that they find themselves reflected in each other's heart or something non-physical, he gives us that lovely image, where they literally see.  Their love is so intense that they can lose themselves in one another (and, knowing Donne, he means emotionally and sexually), and their tiny bedroom is "an every where."

Donne is one of my favorite poets, and I've enjoyed his poetry since I was a high-school senior; my AP English teacher's use of him to show how intense and full of meaning poetry can be is one reason that I became an English major.

I liked this poem, but after Lance and I had been dating for a while, it suddenly made more sense.  I could understand the intensity of the speaker, feel a love that makes one feel like the world wasn't complete until that person appeared.  There is no worrying about the future in Donne's poem; he simply seeks to capture one little moment full of love, passion, and joy.

All of this discussion of love and great poetry is my long-winded way of announcing that Lance and I are engaged (though most of my readers probably know by now from other sources).  I was happy to be a girlfriend, but I'm excited to move into a new phase of our relationship as fiancĂ©e and wife.  I'm not sure I could ask for a better partner, and I'm so glad that six years ago I tagged along with some friends to a party where I first met this cute curly-headed guy and tried to get his attention by playing four-square and smiling.  We have made our own little world with one another, and the possibilities of the future are endless.

Friday, July 09, 2010

For the Love of Kittens

A. shared an article about kittens adopted by soldiers in Afghanistan.  And it was more adorableness than I could stand.  I'm glad when defenseless creatures find good homes, and I have to hope they give something to those soldiers as well.

Which then reminded me about the wee little kitty in our home.  You would not believe how much better she is.  She was listless and sleepy when we first got her (we realize now that she likely would have died if we hadn't rescued her), but just one week later, and she's eating enthusiastically, playing, pouncing around, begging for love, and just being as adorable as a tiny cat can be.

We're still hoping to find her a home. She's got a sweet personality, but she still has a tiny feral streak and gets occasionally a little freaked out by random things.  She's taken to following us around though, and doesn't seem to mind one bit when I scoop her up and carry her around.

Yes, I know it sounds like I'm attached, but who wouldn't be?

At least we haven't named her.  I hope that her new owners find her soon--she needs a good home.  We'd keep her, but we have two cats already, and one is very angry about the new kitten (she, in fact, has an "anger box" where she goes to sulk about the tiny cat).  If you are (or know!) anyone who would be a good fit for this little rescue cat, let me know!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rescue Mission

I have a soft spot for the less fortunate.  I try to do my part, donate money and time and resources where I can, and hope that it's enough.  Mostly, I think I should do more.

Two weekends ago, we were visiting Lance's grandmother.  She has a stray cat population that she (more or less grudgingly) has been feeding and sheltering.  Lance's mom has been doing her best to find homes for the tamer ones and spay/neuter the ones she can catch so that the cat herd thins out a bit.  Kittens still turn up, however, and we'd noticed two cute little tabbies.  Upon closer inspection, it appeared that the smallest one was sick--she had a respiratory infection, gunky eyes, and was gaunt because she was too small to compete with the bigger kitties (including her littermate) for food.  I pleaded with Lance for us to take her to the vet, but he thought she would probably get better without our help.

Last weekend, we went up, and she wasn't better.  In fact, she was probably worse--and when Lance felt her tiny little ribs sticking out, he decided we could do our best to get her well, on the condition that we find her a new home (so, if you're near me: free kitty!).  I took her to the vet yesterday, and she has an upper respiratory infection, as suspected, as well as suffering from fleas, dehydration, diarrhea, and possibly some other things.  The poor thing weighed in at 1.5 pounds (her brother is almost twice her size) and sat hunched over and looking pretty miserable and pathetic. She didn't even fight me as we took her home, then took her back and forth from the vet.

We anticipate that under our care (and antibiotics) that she'll start to get better and go on to be a happy kitty.  This is the fifth cat that I've rescued or helped to rescue (I kept two of them), so I feel pretty good about helping out tiny, defenseless animals.  Especially when they grow up to be such awesome kitties:

Then I got to thinking about the time and resources I was using to rescue animals.  Wouldn't it better to use it to help people? my conscience dinged.  That was troubling.  By choosing to spend $40 on a sick kitten, was I saying that people who are in desperate need aren't as worthy as a kitten?  Wouldn't the time I spent nursing the kitten back to health be better spent volunteering to help people?

Ultimately, I don't know.  Maybe I'm not directing my energies in the right direction.  Maybe what matters is that I'm trying to help a suffering creature, even if she is just a kitten.  I don't think it's a matter of rating animals higher than people; instead, it's a matter of taking responsibility for creatures we domesticated and who wouldn't necessarily thrive (let alone survive) without human interaction.  And I'm sure this tiny kitten will bring something special to her future owner's life.

Monday, June 21, 2010

In Which I Resolve to Speak My Mind

It had been almost a year since I had an actual conversation with my dad.  Due to a series of announcements, misunderstandings, misfires in communication, and a general reluctance to simply deal with our issues, the last time I talked to my dad was Father's Day 2009.  It's been a tough year.

I've been angry, sad, unhappy, annoyed, resolved, and myriad other adjectives about the whole situation.  I doubt that everything is fixed, really, but I think we're finally making a start.  We cried, laughed, apologized, and talked for two hours.  I got off the phone emotionally drained, but optimistic.

The one thing I've realized after wading through our reasons for how we dealt with each other is that I need to be more assertive.  If you met me ten years ago (or even five), you'd realize that I'm much more assertive than I used to be.  But I need to be bold, be unafraid to speak my mind, and stand up for myself.  They (my parents and others) may not like what I have to say, but I think that being upfront and honest is the best way to handle a lot of situations.  Things get ugly, I've discovered, when people don't communicate and deal with problems.  By speaking my mind, the other party has the opportunity to voice theirs and perhaps clear the air, instead of sulking and having the wrong ideas about the situation.

It was easy to blame them for a lot, but I have to take a bit of responsibility myself and admit that I was afraid to directly confront some of the issues.  I honestly didn't think they would listen--or I thought they did listen and just weren't interested in what I had to say.  And part of that is true.  I can't expect everyone to handle situations the same way I do, and I can't expect them to confront something.  Sometimes, they need to be forced to confront it.

Anyway, I'm glad the situation is changing, at the very least, and hopefully it'll be a change for the better.  And I am learning that I should just be strong and speak my mind, even if it's a little uncomfortable.  Of course, speaking my mind doesn't mean I should be tactless or undiplomatic.  I'm just thinking about it as good practice for both life and my future career.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

First Jam of the Year

Lance picked blueberries last week.  We also picked black raspberries from a friend's yard (and got attacked by chiggers.  Ack.)  Since berries either need to be frozen or dealt with quickly and we are berry-rich, I decided to make a quick jam.  Using my favorite canning book, Well Preserved, I looked up blueberry recipes and came across both a blueberry chutney (which I'll make later) and the Black and Blue Jam, which I made this afternoon.

It was hot, but luckily it came together quickly on the stove.  I love using my enameled cast iron dutch oven as a jam pot:
After cooking the jam for 20 minutes or so, I put it into jars.  It made three 8-oz jars and one 12-oz (or maybe 16?) jar:

It was very good on a cracker:


And now it's time for me to get ready for the 80's pubcrawl in honor of CB's going away to grad school!  I actually made my top for it, which I'm very excited about.  I'll post more pictures of my outfit tomorrow--it involves a 20-year old crimping iron and an outfit that may double for a robot costume at a later date.  A sneak peek:

Oh yeah, recipe.

Black & Blue Jam
(adapted from Well Perserved by Mary Anne Dragan)
  • 3 cups black raspberries (original calls for blackberries)
  • 3 cups blueberries
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp lemon juice (about 2 lemons's worth)
  • zest from one lemon
Put the berries and sugar in your jam pot.  Using a potato masher, crush the berries.  Let sit at least one hour. Add lemon juice and zest.

Prepare the preserving jars by sterilizing the jars, lids, and rings in a pot of boiling water.  While the water is boiling to sterilize the jars, bring the berries/sugar/lemon to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil rapidly for 15-20 minutes, stirring often.  The mixture will get dark and thick.  (If desired, test the set by dropping a little on a plate that has been in the freezer.  If it gets thicker as it cools and hold its set, then it's ready!)

Remove from the heat, stir, and skim off the foam (if necessarily).  Pour the jam into the sterile jars, leaving a 1/4-in head space.  Wipe rims clean and seal according to manufacturer's directions. Process the jars in a boiling water bath (your sterilization pot is perfect and already hot!) for 10 minutes.  Remove from bath and let cool.  Lids should seal as the jars cool

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What to Eat

Remember last September when I decided to be a vegetarian?  I have, with a few exceptions, stuck to it.  I don't crave meat; in fact, I sometimes find the thought of eating meat a little repulsive (which is the reason I started in the first place).

Lately, I've found myself more firmly in the vegetarian camp, identifying more with a vegetarian lifestyle.  I've even been flirting a little with vegan cooking, thanks to a fun cookbook called Veganomicon.  I love the cookbook, and while I have no intentions on being a vegan (no yogurt? no buttermilk? too much smugness?), I think that there are health and environmental benefits to be had from generally consuming fewer animal products, not just eschewing meat.

Just as I'm starting to identify more strongly with the vegetarian lifestyle, I run across a review about a book called The Butcher and the Vegetarian.  Written by Tara Austen Weaver of Tea & Cookies, the book is about how after being told that she should eat meat by her doctors because she struggled with chronic fatigue, she decides to explore the world of meat.  She is scared of giving herself food poisoning, cooking it poorly, or just not knowing what to do with meat because she grew up a vegetarian.  Basically, she moves in the opposite direction of most folks who, like me, become vegetarians after growing up eating meat.

The book was an enjoyable exploration of the moral implications of eating meat: she ends up seeking out farmers who strive to produce meat that comes from an animal that is treated like an animal (and not a product) and is slaughtered humanely.  I found these parts the most interesting because I started eating less meat because of this very issue, and it's one reason I cite if people ask me why I'm a vegetarian.

Weaver also struggles with the guilt she feels about eating meat: she truly enjoys it, especially when she learns about charcuterie (preserved meats) and meets individuals who are passionate (and talented) about cooking meat.  But her mother and vegetarian background play the angel to her meat-enjoying devil, and she spends a good deal of the book wrestling with those issues.  She started trying to eat meat to improve her health, but when research shows that a vegetarian or vegan diet is usually the most healthful, she has to wonder: will eating meat really make her healthier and happier?

Ultimately, she finds that a mostly raw food diet is the cure to her fatigue and illness.  But she still eats small bites of meat here and there and cooked food--she understands that she found the key to what made her healthy and happy within herself.  Food choices often boil down to that: what works for the individual and her own convictions.  Weaver concludes:
How we feed ourselves is an intensely personal act. It brings together all manner of family and cultural traditions, issues of health--both our own and those of the world at large--and the simple fact that we want to be delighted by what we eat; we want to be satisfied and comforted.  Right or wrong, in a world that sometimes has sharp edges, food is often our solace.
We cook our food, we eat for pleasure as well as for sustenance, and this is part of the problem.  Michael Pollan is right: Our food choices present a dilemma.  For us, what to have for dinner will always be complicated.  Do we eat for our palate, for our health, for the planet? Can we have it all?...
We also don't live in a meritocracy.  Those who do a good job conserving resources don't get to advance to the next level while the wastrels get held back.  We're all in this together--vegetarians, vegans, and carnivores.  We're sitting at the same dining table.  The problems we face in regards to health, planet, and increasingly limited resources are ours.  They are ours to fix, or ours to flub.  I'm hoping we can fix them.
 This is what my decision to be a vegetarian boils down to.  I've realized that I'm healthier and happier when I'm eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and a bit of dairy here and there, and I feel bad (and gain weight) when I eat lots of meat, processed foods, sugar, and fat.  My diet works for me and what my body needs.  I don't expect Lance to ever give up meat--nor would I ask him to--and he makes his own choices based on what he enjoys and feels good about eating.  (He ends up eating mostly vegetarian too, but has been known to cook himself a piece of venison or pork when he's in the mood for it).  And sometimes he makes bacon-wrapped tofu:


Eating is an intensely personal choice, which is why some meat-eaters get up in arms about vegetarians and vegans, and why some vegetarians/vegans adopt an attitude of moral superiority and smugness about their dietary choices.  In the end, however, it simply comes down to what you want to eat and what you feel good about eating--and sometimes, it really is okay to eat a butter-filled cupcake or a piece of bacon.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Handy Kitchen Tools

I have a running group that meets on Thursdays to run.  I've brought treats a couple of times, and when I was at the half-marathon last weekend, one of the guys asked for baked goods this week.  I had bananas in the freezer that I accidentally let thaw partially, so they were no good for banana soft-serve (try it! seriously!), so I decided to bake banana-black raspberry muffins.

I would give you all the recipe, but I sorta made it up based on the Basic Muffin Recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  (I really should measure things, but I am so lazy).  I'm not going to give you all a recipe, but I am going to talk about one of my favorite kitchen tools: the dough whisk.

But first, a picture of Neko, who jumped onto the stool in the kitchen to get attention (on top of my cookbook). We have trained her using peanut butter (yes, she loves peanut butter), so she associates the stool with petted, food, or treats

I first heard about the dough whisk from Chocolate & Zucchini.  Intrigued, I decided to buy one for Lance and his brother for Christmas one year.  They both bake lots of bread.  I figured if a French woman with a tiny kitchen recommended it, then maybe it wasn't too gimmicky.

Lance and his brother both praised it as very useful indeed.  Since I usually leave the bread baking to Lance, I ignored it, content that Lance used it and liked it.  Until I started using it to mix the wet and dry ingredients for muffins and quick breads.



It's marvelous.  It works 1000 times better than a regular whisk or a rubber spatula.  AND it doesn't have dough sticking to it--the batter slides off easily and quickly.  I use it to whisk together dry ingredients:
And then to mix the wet and dry together.



You know how muffin/quick bread/cake recipes always admonish you to not "overmix" or DOOM will befall your baked treat? Well, this dough whisk gently combines the ingredients.  No overmixing!
And you know how if you mix something by hand, inevitably (even while risking the dreaded overmixing!) you miss some flour or something on the bottom?  Well, the dough whisk really gets it all.  No more flour spots lurking in the middle of your perfectly whisked batter.

If you find yourself making lots of muffins, pancakes, bread, etc, I would heartily recommend adding this to your kitchen tools.  Get rid of something pointless like one of those crappy whisks, if you have a small kitchen.  You won't regret it.

I'll leave you with an image of another well-used tool in my kitchen: the 1/2 cup ice cream scoop:
PERFECT for measuring out muffin batter.  And absolutely dead-on for the amount of cupcake batter you should portion out into each cup, as I mentioned yesterday.  Another tool well-worth the cost and drawer space!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Where to Start?

I have several posts in mind.  When that happens, it usually means I can't choose what to write about, so I write about nothing.

I had another half-marathon last weekend in Kansas City.  Which originally was going to be my topic for tonight's post...but then I realized I'd rather talk about cupcakes.

I have a passion for cupcakes.  You would think that I run just to be able to consume the cupcakes that I bake, and you would not be completely wrong.  Luckily, my cupcakes are such an undertaking (and as it grows warmer, it has to be a Very Special Occasion for me to bake in a non-air conditioned kitchen) that I can outrun the butter and sugar.  Just barely.

I realized that I had not yet posted my last cupcake baking endeavor.  I believe they were from a weekend in April, a birthday party batch.  A very fun birthday party, in fact, thrown by AB for her husband.  Cupcakes being my thing, I offered to bake them.  (I always do love an excuse to try a new recipe).

It all started when I made cookies.  I was meeting up with some people and wanted to bring something to nibble on, so I baked Coffee and Walnut Splodge Cookies, straight from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess to their mouths.  (CB declared, "You brought noms!" which made me unspeakably happy.)  They were so delicious: rich, nutty, not too sweet--a great cookie.  I never would have thought to blend coffee and walnuts, and they were pretty much perfect, unified by butter and love.


So, I had walnuts and coffee on my mind.  When I made the Super Special Birthday Cake, I had encountered a Walnut Layer Cake with a Coffee Buttercream in Regan Daley's incomparable In the Sweet Kitchen, which begged me to bake it.  PLEADED.  But I had been asked for a CHOCOLATE/coffee combination, not walnut/coffee, so I simply used that fabulous, beautiful Coffee Buttercream to frost the SSBC. And kept that walnut cake in my baking queue.

The cupcakes, I decided, would be that cake.  The frosting would be that Coffee Buttercream.  But what garnish?

I feel that cupcakes (and cakes, for that matter) should always have some special touch.  If you make a carrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting, how about candying some carrot pieces to top it? (For example).

I was home alone that weekend, so I made myself a special lunch (curried bok choy, asparagus, pumpkin, and tofu over soba noodles), complete with a glass of wine and dessert.



I had bought some beautiful strawberries at the farmers' market that morning, so I chopped a few up, threw some orange juice on them, then topped them with two of the leftover walnut/coffee cookies.  The tart of the strawberries meshed perfectly with the dense/dark flavor of the cookies, and I knew had my my garnish.

I proceeded with the Walnut Cupcakes with a Coffee Buttercream, Garnished with Strawberries, and this is what emerged:
They were so beautiful.  I was pleased with myself enormously.  These, these cupcakes.  They would be perfect for a birthday celebration.  I happily loaded them up and headed to the party.


And they went over very well.  In fact, L and D (who are both firmly Team Cake) had looks of pure pleasure on their faces as they bit into the cupcakes.  Later in the night, partygoers decided to make a cupcake sandwich, and were pleased with the results.

It took me long enough to post them, but don't you think they were worth the wait?

But first....
Walnut-Espresso Cookies
(from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess

  • 1-2/3 cups flour (you might mix all-purpose with whole wheat pastry, if you like)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp instant espresso powder (Indispensable for baking! Buy it!)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • generous 3/4 cup/7 oz. walnuts, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  In a separate mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add the espresso powder, then the eggs.  Stir in the flour mixture and walnuts.  Don't overmix or you'll be sad.

Using a small ice cream scoop, scoop onto lined cookie sheets (or a baking stone), about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 12 minutes until they are golden and smell really, really good.  Cool.  Eat.

Now for the main feature! (Please do not be frightened by the obscene amounts of butter in the cupcakes/buttercream.  They are for SPECIAL occasions, which ALWAYS calls for obscene amounts of butter. And wine, beer, or whiskey/gin.)
Walnut Cupcakes topped with Coffee Buttercream
  • 1-1/2 cups unsalted butter (yes, that's 3 sticks of butter)
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup (Grade B or C, if you're being picky)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup finely ground walnuts (this is when you really love your food processor)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare the pans with cupcake papers (or two 9-in rounds, if you're anti-cupcake.  If you are, then GET OUTTA HERE. *ahem* Carry on.).

Sift the flour (which I actually did for once), baking powder and salt together in a bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of your mixer with the paddle attachment (or a big bowl if you're a hand-mixer type), cream the butter and the sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the sides of the bowl after each egg.  Beat in the maple syrup and vanilla, then mix in the walnuts.  Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl in three additions, mixing just enough to moisten the flour between each.  Fold the last addition in by hand with a large rubber spatula.

Using a large scoop (known as my muffin scoop--1/2 cup capacity, I think), fill the cupcake papers 2/3-3/4 full.  Bake until done (I know, I know, so vague), something over 20 minutes, being careful not to overbake or they will be dry.  Let cool completely.  

Frost with coffee buttercream, garnish with strawberries, and share with lots of people because I don't want to be responsible for any heart attacks.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Small Potatoes

Every Sunday, we go to a potluck.  I love it.  We're a creative bunch who likes to experiment with foods and flavors, and it's always fun to see what the other people will bring.  We sometimes have themes to help us pick what to make.  I feel like it's made me a better cook, even if it's not so good for my waistline sometimes, especially when S gets carried away with the butter and cheese, which is often.

Since last weekend was Memorial Day weekend, the "theme" was grilling.  And while I'm not much of a grill-person (because Lance takes it over, and I'm more than happy to let him do so), I decided to focus my attentions on a salad of some sort.  I had gobs of greens from the garden that desperately needed using, so I started thinking of a potato salad.

Now, if you're into potato salads, you will know that there are lots of different philosophies and approaches.  Some like there's covered in mayonnaise.  Some vehemently argue for an oil/vinegar/herb dressing.  Pesto makes an interesting alternative.  Personally, I'll eat it as long as it tastes good.  My prerequisites are: enough salt and bite from vinegar or pickles (so many potato salads are bland, bland, bland) and lots of flavor.  You can leave those boring, plain salads at home.  I also usually prefer them nice and chilled.

I was in a bit of a time crunch, however, (we were just returning from Lance's grandmother's) so I know that I wouldn't have time to make a chilled salad.  A warm potato salad, perhaps?  With lightly cooked chard and beet greens?  And some boiled eggs to bulk it up a bit?  What if I roast the potatoes with some garlic and onion?  I thought and thought, and came up with an unusual combination of textures and flavors.

It may not be pretty, but it was freakin' delicious.

I'm not a huge mayonnaise fan, though I will eat food with mayonnaise in it.  Subsequently, we don't usually have it in the house, so I had to figure out some other way to dress my salad.  What about the tahini-yogurt sauce recipe I'd made for some falafels a few weeks ago?  I'd been eating the leftover on salads, and it was delightful: tangy, garlicky, and lemony, with a rich depth from the tahini.  Oh, yes.

I tasted it, and decided that it needed a bit more bite: pickles.  Since I was completely off track from a traditional potato salad, I used my homemade dilly beans (yes, there will be a post when I make this year's batch because OH MY GOD they are awesome) and some of the dilly vinegar.  Next time I'll add a bit more (I was trying to keep it light on the vinegary taste for a vinegar-hater).  The end result?  A keeper.  Everyone gobbled it up and demanded that next time I put in more dilly beans.  And here's the recipe.

Warm Potato and Greens Salad

  • ~1 lb new potatoes (I used a mix of red and gold.  I also have no idea how many I used, so...)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • several cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into halves/quarters if especially large
  • olive oil spray (or just a glug)
  • chard and beet greens (or just chard), chopped. (I eat stems and all.  Stems have a nice crunch)
  • 4 eggs, boiled, peeled and chopped
  • pickles, chopped (dills preferred).
  • vinegar from pickles, to taste
  • salt, pepper, nutritional yeast*, to taste
  • tahini-yogurt sauce (recipe to follow)
Preheat oven to 425.  Wash and chop the potatoes into bite size pieces.  Spread on a cookie sheet with onion and garlic, and spray over with olive oil (or toss lightly in a bowl, then spread on cookie sheet).  Place in oven until brown and potatoes are cooked to preferred texture, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook the chard/beet greens: chop the greens, stems and leaves (some people don't eat the stems. I say "fools").  Heat a little oil in a skillet or pot and toss in the greens.  Stir until they start to get bright.  Add some water and cover to let them steam, stirring occasionally.  They won't cook for too long because both chard and beet greens are more tender than, say, kale or collards.

When the potatoes are done, put into a big bowl and toss with the greens, egg, pickles, tahini-yogurt sauce, pickle vinegar, and seasonings.  Taste and adjust flavors.

Tahini-Yogurt Sauce
(adapted from the estimable Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian)
  • 1/2 c. yogurt
  • 1/2 c. tahini with oil
  • 2-4 cloves garlic (the more garlic, the better in my book)
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • salt/pepper
  • parsley
In a food processor, toss all the ingredients and let it go until combined.  Taste and adjust flavors.

(My version for the salad was heavy on the salt since it needed it to season the potatoes.  It also makes an excellent sauce for many, many other things, including salads, Greek food, etc).

*I frequently flavor with nutritional yeast.  It adds a little extra something delicious that I love.

Monday, May 31, 2010

A Dud

I was starting to think that all the HPER classes were pretty decent.  Sure, I have enjoyed some more than others, but I hadn't encountered one yet that I couldn't wait to leave.

Friday, my readers, I found that class.

In an attempt to combine socializing with working out, I made plans with a friend to go workout at lunch.  "Core Yoga" or "Hard Core Abs/Booty Burn"? I inquired.  She wanted to do the abs/booty class, so I made plans to meet up with her and walk down to the HPER.

We got there, and I dashed to my locker to grab an elastic band for my hair.  When I got back, she'd saved me a spot and grabbed equipment for me (what a great pal!), and the room was packed.  Then we started.

It was okay, at first.  Then it just got...complicated.  I know that I need to work on building up strength, but I quickly realized my inability to do most of the poses was not exactly my fault.  The number of people failing to understand the instructor or to hold the poses was more than half.  Some of the moves were straightforward and effective, but many were unnecessarily complicated and possibly dangerous for inexperienced students.  There were props everywhere when one or two would have sufficed.

At the end of the half hour, we were both frustrated and incredibly annoyed by the instructor and the class.  Sure, I felt like I worked my abs (and they were sore a few days later), but I didn't enjoy the experience.  I didn't want to stay for the second class, and after seeing some of the props being added in addition to the ones already out, K decided she didn't want to stay either.

I want to try the class again, but with another instructor.  Part of good instruction is being able to see that your class is struggling and make adjustments accordingly.  Sure, she was in shape, but she didn't do much to help us get there and enjoy the process.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pilates or Yoga--You Don't Have to Choose!

Occasionally, there are minor turf wars between Pilates acolytes and yogis: they both use mats and have some focus on breath and stretching, but the goals are often different.  Well, at least I have different goals when I do Pilates than when I do yoga.  The yogis glare at the Pilates folk with their focus on core and their occasional use of weird rings and other props, while the Pilates people might consider yoga to be not as good a strength workout. Or something.  Personally, I'm okay with both, though I really like Ashtanga yoga the best.

Recently, it's become a trend to blend different approaches to exercise.  Can't pick between Pilates or yoga--take a PiYo class!  I find the name a little ridiculous, but agree with it in spirit.  (Another class offered is "Yolates".  Ha!)

This week's new fitness class is PiYo, offered midday.  (I really like these lunchtime classes. They get me out of my office for a longish walk, and I return so very hungry, thus adding enjoyment to my lunch. There's nothing like an appetite to make food taste even better).  Taught by Stacey, the class is "a faster paced yoga class.  Experience an athletic fusion of style, strength, and flexibility."  Sure, whatever.  Again, the class was small (six students), but my overall verdict was that it was enjoyable.

Initially, I was a little disgruntled because the music was a bit loud and the instructor wasn't giving clear instructions, but then she turned down the music and the instructions were much better.  The class itself was a mix of yoga, Pilates, and some ballet moves--I could tell that the instructor was most likely a dancer, and at least one of the students was too.  I definitely felt like I was working my muscles and stretching, which I liked.  There were also lots of balancing poses, and since I need to work on balance, it added a good dimension to my workout.

I may have said it before, but I prefer strength exercises that don't use weights.  So if you prefer lots of weights, this class probably wouldn't be one you'd like.  I, however, enjoyed the opportunity to escape my office, get in a good walk, and get a light workout in at lunch.  While I was a little sweaty, I wasn't dripping and dried off quickly so that I didn't have to worry about showering or anything before returning to work, making it an ideal midday workout.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Pleasures of Spring

Nothing signals spring to me quite like ripe strawberries and asparagus.  I anxiously await asparagus season, which is far too brief, snatching up the crisp bundles like sacred relics.  Nothing is better than fresh asparagus, and the supermarket offerings are tawdry substitutes.

Asparagus comes first, followed closely by strawberries.  A fresh-picked strawberry is a joy and a delight.  Lance has a strawberry bed, but his come in a little later than some of the sellers at Farmers' Market, so I bought a box one week and savored them over the course of a couple of days.

Then Lance's berries began to ripen.  I awaited eagerly to eat them, savor them, enjoy them.  They make the monstrosities purchased from the grocery store taste like only the red-tinted idea of a strawberry.  These are Strawberries, pure spring delight that cannot be replicated.

I used to be ambivalent about strawberries: if offered, I would smile and take one, but I didn't go nuts for them.  Then I started eat strawberries that were picked when they were ripe (instead of slightly before and then shipped hundreds of miles), and I discovered a whole new world of taste.  Now I greedily hoard them, like a dragon protecting rubies, sharing only with those who are worthy.

This morning, I brought strawberries to work for a snack.  As I bit into one, it completely captured my attention.  It was delightful.

I wish everyone could have the opportunity to experience food in this way.  Eating can be a source of pleasure in addition to fueling the body, and understanding that will make more people pursue good quality, fresh, and local food instead of accepting the flavors of things that barely pass as fruits and vegetables.  Everyone should have access to this kind of food, not just those with the skills and resources to grow it themselves, nor the individuals who can afford to shop at Whole Foods or other stores that offer it at a premium.

Strawberries should also only be available part of the year, and  I don't buy strawberries unless they are in season, and I very rarely by them from the supermarket even when they are in season.  They are a visceral pleasure of spring, along with asparagus, that I only enjoy in its proper time.  Perhaps that's why the moment of that first bite of asparagus or the first strawberry from the garden is such a delight: I only get to enjoy it for a brief window each year until the next time spring comes around.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lessons Learned on the Run

In two weeks, I will be once again subjecting myself to torture participating in a half marathon.  Two weeks from yesterday, in fact.  So today is my final long run for the training cycle, a lovely 12 miles.  The last time I did a 12 miler, it was just before Hogeye in April, so the weather was much nicer.  And I got up early.  It was a great run.

This, however, is not the story of a wonderful training run, but rather a story of a grueling and rough run.  There was no blood, but there were blisters and upset stomachs, and a pee break at Wal-Mart.  And lots of walking a smidgen of depression/despair.

See this foot?  Isn't it lovely?  I like my feet.  They are good feet, and get me to where I'd like to go reasonably well and with little fuss.  They may be an awkward size to find cute shoes (seriously, what's up with that guys?  A size 9 is not ginormous, yet we get shafted on the selection of shoes at Payless).  Today, that foot has two blisters, thanks to running--one on my little toe, and one on the other side of my foot, on the pad. Ouch.

So: normally, I try to run early.  However, this morning since I'm hanging out alone, I took my time getting up and ready and eating breakfast and drinking coffee and petting the kitties and doing dishes--basically, just putting it off a little longer because a twelve mile run is not something one just undertakes without proper mental preparation.

Since it was going to be hot and I wanted ID/phone with me, I used my little CamelBak for the first time--I bought it specifically for long runs in the summer, because I don't like dehydration. And it was the high point of my run--I could just take a little sip without fuss.  And the sloshing only annoyed me a little, and it certainly announced my presence to unsuspecting, slower trail-users.

Everything was going okay for the first 6 miles: my legs were tired from a 40 minute run the day before and a workout class on Friday, but usually I can get past the soreness.  About mile 4, I realized I had to pee, so I did what any smart woman would do: locate the nearest facility in which to use their bathroom, since I'm not a fan of urinating in the outdoors (unless I absolutely have to).  Luckily, the trail runs right past Wal-Mart, so at mile 6, I ducked in to use their restroom.

Then I noticed a hot spot on the side of my foot, on the pad.  Uh oh.  I think I know what that is: blister.  It did not feel pleasant, though it wasn't excruciating.  It was my first running-induced blister, a distance running milestone I had avoided thus far.  (Along with black toenails, or completely loss of a toenail.  Why the hell do I like to run again??)

After mile 6, I started alternating running and walking because my legs were dead, my body had no energy (I was getting really hungry), and my foot was feeling very uncomfortable.   I ate my gel, which usually gives me a wonderful boost of energy.  I felt slightly more energetic, but really, I wanted some real food.

I ended up walk/running until about mile 10.5.  Then I just quit.  I briefly contemplated using my phone to get a ride the rest of the way home, but I sucked it up and walked.  (Repeating: there is no shame in walking, there is no shame in walking...)  I had a smoothie when I got home, but it just upset my stomach.

Now I'm really sore.  And I think my blisters popped already. Thank God tomorrow is recovery day.

So what'd I learn?  Eating 45 minutes beforehand is a great idea, because 2 hours later that energy has already been directed elsewhere, so I should have eaten a little snack.  Also, running earlier is better because the sun is lower and it's not so damned hot.  Also, we had cloud cover for most of the  morning from when I intended to run (7 or 8), which was gone by the time I was half done.  I'm glad I stopped for a bathroom break, though, because I didn't have to suffer through that on the last 6 miles as well as being in agony from sore muscles.  And I love my CamelBak, sloshing and all.

All I hope is that this isn't a sign for how Hospital Hill is going to go.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Things I Did Today

Very occasionally, I have the house to myself.  I usually use this as a time to explore on my own, or mostly to clean and relax without worrying about more dirty socks appearing.

Beginning at 5am, I got up and went out to Devil's Den to hike to a lookout point to see the sunrise with a friend who will soon be embarking on a new adventure.  I think it was totally worth only getting a few hours of sleep...
Then we came back to town and went to the farmer's market, where I purchased asparagus, eggs, and new potatoes, and a lovely bouquet of flowers.  While waiting for the yarn store to open, we drank coffee and had some breakfast at one of my favorite downtown haunts.  Then we went over to the yarn store so that I could pick up a skein of yarn to finish another two-toned shrug (from Fitted Knits--love. this. pattern.)

Back to home, where I lazed around, watching Bones, cleaning, and sitting on the couch, knitting.  Then I went to get Sassy, whom I was dog-sitting:
Such a sweet dog.  She's easy to watch, and she even ignores the cats.

Then I lazed around some more, went for a walk with the dog, went for a 40-minute run, picked gobs of strawberries, and watched more Bones while eating dinner.  I made a beet-yogurt soup, which I shall have to share because it was pretty tasty, and I sauteed onions, new potatoes, carrots, and a huge mound of chard from the garden.  Delicious.

I like these occasions to just do what I want.  As much as I love hanging out with Lance and spending time with him, it's nice every now and then to just have a day to myself.  It recharges and replenishes us both, and keeps life from getting too dull.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lunchtime Yoga

In the summer, the pace of the office slows down for a few weeks.  Students lazily trickle in and out, staff members and faculty are often absent, and everybody just relaxes for a while.  (Then orientation starts, which is fast and furious for a month, then calms back down again).

The HPER offers a few classes at lunchtime, so I wanted to take advantage of the relaxed atmosphere to escape for a class.  Today, the schedule showed "Core Yoga" taught by Tracy, described as "A mix of practical pilates and yoga.  Starting with breath work, stretching, pilates, sun salutations, arm balances, and inversions."  Okay, that doesn't sound so bad.  Also, I keep hearing how a strong core makes one a better runner, so core strengthening is always a good thing.

I quickly changed and walked quickly down to the gym.  The sun was out, so it was a lovely walk.  The class had maybe eight to ten people, so it was nice and small.  We grabbed mats and waited for the instructor to arrive, who came breezing in, loud and full of energy.  I tried to keep an open mind and not make any judgments until the class started, but I was afraid she'd be a bit obnoxious.

I was wrong, luckily.  She was loud, but only at moments where a little extra energy was helpful.  When a pose got more difficult, her energetic cries to keep going made me laugh a little, distracting me from how hard I was working.  The class was a good environment and not at all intimidating for novices--the instructor made sure to tell us to "listen to our bodies."

My only complaint is that she didn't give a lot of modifications--I knew a few because I've done enough yoga to know, but there was one student who was having a hard time and could have benefited from modifications or direct assistance.  The instructor didn't really walk around and help anyone who was struggling, which I'm not really used to, especially in a small class.  The class was also fast-paced, so she may not have felt there was enough time to assist anyone directly.

The class flew by quickly, and I felt that I got a good arm and abs workout as well as a stretch.  In fact, I felt stretched enough that I wanted to go run because running after yoga always feels really good.  It was definitely more of a pilates/strength training class that it was a purely yoga class--we didn't hold the poses as long as I'd like to really relax and stretch out the muscles--but I still liked it.  I may have to try it again!

I'll leave you with a picture of the birthday treat I brought for my co-worker, which enjoyed after lunch:
Berry shortcake!  The cream was freshly whipped in the office (though whipping was a bitch after all the arm work I did shortly beforehand--feel the shoulder BURN).  We picked the wild blackberries from southern Arkansas, and the strawberries were from Lance's garden.  Delicious!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ten Years Later

Ten years ago, I was standing before a crowd of 17 and 18 year olds, giving a painfully brief valedictorian address.  Because I was so shy, I had a hard time coming up with something interesting to say and I probably just read it hurriedly, saying nothing of note or interest.  I barely remember what I said, only that it was short.  I was proud to be up there, proud to have the honor, but I had no idea about how to give a good speech.  I still think about it with a twinge of regret, and will likely avoid watching the video of it, if asked.

That failed speech, however, taught me a lot.  I still get nervous speaking in front of people, but I'm getting better about delivery and actually saying something interesting.  Thanks to a great freshman year speech class, the constant requirement to speak in front of large groups, and my desire to be a professor, I've worked on it.  I've also become a lot less shy, which helps enormously.

Ten years ago, I was a high school graduate, naive and scared of the big, wide world.  Now I'm beginning a Ph.D. program in the fall and setting my sights on scholarship, research, and teaching.  It's exciting, this life of mine, if only to me.

I feel like such a different person now, but the reality is that I'm still that teenaged girl, just grown up and with more life experiences.  I'm different because of my experiences: college, travel, friendships and relationships.  Each taught me something new and helped me learn more about myself and how to navigate this not-so-scary world.  I used to be terrified of the unknown, but now I embrace it and acknowledge that it's still a little scary.  But part of the fun is the twinge of anxiety when facing something new.  I've learned to see the world differently, and that's why I feel so different now, ten years after leaving high school.

When we were at Lance's parents' church last weekend, the service was dedicated to the high school (and college) graduates.  One guy said something about how high school was the best time of his life.  I have to disagree: high school was okay.  I didn't hate it, and I have some good memories.  It wasn't bad, but I don't think I'd ever go back (even to redo my valedictorian speech).  I feel like my life is getting better every single day: I'm in love with a wonderful man, I have purpose and goals to work toward, I have great friends and family, and am surrounded by people I love and who love me.  I have cats who like to snuggle with me in the morning.  I am satisfied with my life and know that more good experiences await me.  Right now is the best time of my life, and if you talk to me in ten years, I hope that I say that that moment is the best.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Fit Challenge

You all know that I run. And run. And run some more.  I run because I like how it makes me feel, and I like the challenge, and I like how fast I'm getting and how far I can run.  I also run because I want to be in better shape.  If you talk to any running or fitness professional, however, they will advise that a runner cross-train and do a variety of activities.

I'm really bad at cross-training.  Well, not bad, just negligent.  I can stick to my running schedule like nobody's business, and I'll do a bit of yoga on a regular basis, but I'm not so good about regularly strength training or doing other forms of cardio.

So to challenge my running self (and, in the end, improve my running), I've decided to take on a challenge.  The university gym has several fitness classes throughout the week that I'd like to try out.  Usually, I circle the classes I think are interesting, try one or two, then neglect to go to any others.  This summer, I want to challenge myself to try out most or all of the classes I can fit into my schedule and attend the ones I like regularly.

THE RULES:

  1. Must attend at least one new class per week.
  2. Must continue with current running schedule (I'm still training for a half-marathon, and I have to keep running!)
  3. Must not go overboard so that Lance forgets my face or starts accusing me of obsessive behaviors.  Also, must still make social time with friends.
  4. If I don't enjoy a class, I will not return to it, but I can't dismiss something I haven't tried.
  5. Must blog about each new experience.
That's probably enough rules.

Monday, I attended Strength and Flow taught by Meaghan.  The class advertises itself as a yoga/pilates hybrid.  I like yoga, and if I have to strength train, I tend to prefer exercises that don't require gobs of equipment, so I decided to give it a try.  It wasn't yoga in the sense that I like to think about it--the instructor merely incorporated yoga poses after particularly intense exercises or as a strength exercise.  The moves were pretty straightforward, and the only difficulty I had in following everything was when I couldn't see the instructor because I was hiding toward the back.

Overall, I enjoyed the class--it went by quickly, I felt like I got a good workout, and I liked the minimal use of props (we used a balance ball for a few of the exercises).  The class was also fairly small as many people went to the Beach Body class taught at the same time (a class I will likely attend next week).

I prefer smaller classes because I don't want to feel like a dork in front of a crowd of people, but I will have to get over that if I wish to complete my little challenge.

What do I want to get out of it?  I hope to be fitter and stronger (my upper body strength in particular is laughable, as I can't even do a real push-up), and I hope to become a better runner.  My run yesterday actually rocked, and I attribute it to the cross-training I did Monday.  So far, a success!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Wedding Outfit

There's a parable in the Bible about wedding clothes: I don't quite remember how it goes*, but one of the main ideas is that you don't show up to weddings in old, nasty clothes--you go to a wedding wearing appropriate wedding garments.

I have always felt that one should show up at weddings in a Very Nice Outfit, especially when it's two of my good friends getting married and even more when I've been asked to be involved by making and standing by the guest book, as well as invited to the family/wedding party-only events.  So, I decided to make my Very Nice Outfit on my own.

A couple of months ago, I had purchased a beautiful orange and white silk twill because, well, it was beautiful and silky.  I had vague notions of a dress.  After searching through my patterns, I found a fun strapless dress, so I decided to tackle it, even though I was less than confident in my sewing skills.

The dress had boning, which was scary at first, but turned out to be fairly straightforward.  And I had to rip pieces out of the bodice a couple of times because I sewed them in the wrong way.  There was a moment of panic when I thought the bodice might be too snug on my waist.  But then it all came together and looked pretty good.

It's not perfect: a lacked a zipper foot, so the zipper is less than well placed.  I messed up a few other things, but overall, the dress was fun, and it was mine.  And the shrug I knit to go with it was quick to make, fun, and went really well with the dress, especially given that it was a little chilly at times during the wedding.

I think that this will not be my final attempt at homemade dresses.  I definitely learned a lot from making it, and I look forward to trying my hand out on some other items soon.

*I could look it up, but I am lazy this morning.