Sunday, October 30, 2011

a lovely sunday meal

a lovely sunday dinner, after a long run
solitary meals are often seen as lonely
but me, here, with this explosion of flavor
not too lonely and just right

Normally, Sunday is Potluck Night, but I wasn't feeling much up for it. The mountains of work and the other social events made me just want to burrow at home with Crystal's English as a Global Language, a beer, and a warm bowl of something delicious.  This meal was simple, easy, and satisfying--all a girl home alone could ask for.  Soba noodles cooked in broth with cubed tofu, sauteed beet greens, a hard-boiled egg, and homemade kimchi. Flavor and texture abound.

My month of unprocessed is nearing its end: while I failed to maintain it for the full month, I learned a lot from the experience that I hope to carry into my everyday life.  1.) My body has strange reactions to sugar/highly processed things 2.) A little treat is great maybe once a week.  I might try to aim for that as a goal, perhaps a weekend muffin from my favorite bakery or somesuch.  3.) Simple food is great, homemade food is awesome, but at this point in the semester, it's hard to make a priority.  It turns out that when I'm stressed and short of sleep my body screams SUGARCARBSCHOCOLATE.  I don't much care for that.

Tonight, though: a delightful bowl of soup for an autumnal day.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Oops

I was doing so well with the no-processed.  Then came Fall Break, where I slipped a little.  Then I found myself slipping a little more, and it was no good.  Suddenly the blog posts dropped off as well, so I'm making a valiant effort to get back on track and finish out the challenge, extending it into November and Thanksgiving.

It started with me making some "healthy" muffins.  I ate one and felt terrible--even the small amount of sugars hit my system hard.  But it also triggered my cravings for it, and so I struggled to get back on track, slipping a bit more.

My body really hates sugar, though, and I spent the week feeling tired and draggy, and I'm pretty sure the processed food I was eating was giving me headaches (mostly sweets/baked goods).  Good motivation to get back on the unprocessed challenge, right?

It's hard to make such a huge lifestyle change and not expect to slip, especially when I'm surrounded by food at school and other bombardments.  Instead of pretending like the challenge was so easy, I thought I'd  share my oops moments and how I decided to keep working on eating unprocessed foods for the remainder of the month.  It's totally worth it when I feel so energetic and great, especially compared to right now.

This time of the semester is usually when I struggle with eating right and not just giving in to the sugar craze around me.  I know I work better though when I'm not in a sugar-induced haze.  Here's to getting back up and trying again!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sweat It Out

In a recent issue of Runner's World, Marc Parent discusses sweating in his "Newbie Chronicles" column.  When he described how he would sweat in many situations that one might not deem sweat-worthy, I totally empathized.  Sweat when nervous? Check. Sweat when moving slightly faster? Check.  Sweat even when it's cold out?  Yep.  I'm not Sister Elizabeth Dunderstock bad, but when I exercise, I definitely sweat a LOT.

Yesterday, I decided to hop over to the HPER for a quick workout before my night class (especially since I missed my beloved Starbucks Wednesday morning run because of rain).  There were only three of us, so she decided to kick our butts with circuits.  After the first one, I was drenched.

I don't usually get embarrassed when I sweat, but glancing at the others in the class, I was the only one who seemed to be dripping all over my equipment.  I felt a little bad, but then kept working out.

It's weird, but I don't feel like I sweat excessively when I run, but maybe that's because I'm usually outside. I like working out outside--it's fun and it's not usually enough to make me want to puke.

Because by the of the class, not only did I look like I got caught in an downpour, but I felt dizzy and weak. I don't normally feel dizzy and weak, even when pushing myself, and I didn't much care for it.  I'm not certain what happened--after cooling down, I then went for a 20 minute run and felt better.  Running is my magic pill, apparently.

I'm sore as all get out today, though, so I know I need to attend those classes more often--I'm trying hard to actually build up strength and keep it.  Do you all ever feel like you just sweat crazy amounts, even when not working out?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Oh, the Stress...

This is that stressful time of the semester.  You know, the one where you're curled in a ball with a stack of books and the pot of coffee beside you, which you drink out of straight because a mug is too much to get between you and the caffeine that you need to maintain basic functions.  The time of the year where you have THIS much to do and >this< much time, and so you start skimping on things like sleeping. Eating. Spending time with loved ones. Going to the gym.  Showering.

Yep, it's the middle of the semester.  Despite how much I try to prevent it from happening, I reach a point in the semester where I get completely overwhelmed.  Coupled with some other stressful occurrences (which hopefully are just tiny misunderstandings that the STRESS made me blow out of proportion), I'm a bit of a mess right now.

But then there was the Fall Break.  We get a Fall Break this year, and I'm gladdened and joyful to know that it's just OVER THERE.  All I have to do is make it a couple of more days, and it'll be in my hand and then I can sleep and catch up and maybe even get a little ahead, as long as I don't collapse into a big pile, leaving a residue of coffee behind.

This is usually the time of the year where I eat and eat and eat.  I give up on my attempts to restrict sugar or stop eating pastries or whatever, and I just go for it.  I usually gain 5 pounds, which is enough to set me back on the path of healthy eating again.  I hate it, but it generally happens like clockwork.

Except for this year.  The month of no processed food has meant that I have been avoiding going where people will offer me delicious things full of sugar and delight.  And the more I've been doing it (11 days and counting!) the more I want to keep on.  Because while I am stressed, I'm feeling generally alert.  Sharper. Perhaps it's wishful thinking and I'm really all slow and say really dumb things, but I feel more on the ball lately.  I've been exercising more regularly than normal too, so that seems to be contributing.

Can I keep this up?  I sure hope so.  It's been one less stressful factor that I usually have to worry about--the not-fun feeling of having to squeeze a slightly larger self into clothes is something I'm glad to leave behind.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Weight Loss, Grad School Style

How to lose weight in several easy steps:

  1. Enroll in a graduate program, then teach two classes while taking three. Basically, you won't have time to eat or think about eating (or money to afford expensive eating).  Generally, you might be scarfing down an apple and cheese while running to class, especially if you...
  2. Decide to do an unprocessed challenge, where you stop eating and processed/refined foods.  And you attempt to eat your way through a giant box of baby greens on a weekly basis.  Despite the fact that you are eating avocados and large quantities of almond butter and not really counting calories, you will still find yourself losing weight.  This coupled with...
  3. The incorporation of some physical activity, like running or biking or yoga, will mean that you'll build up muscles.  Muscles use more energy.
This is probably the weirdest diet I've tried, and perhaps the most effective, but I think it hinges on #2, otherwise I'd be scarfing down scones and junk food as I run to class instead of chowing down on lettuce, carrots, other vegetables and all manner of fruits.   And let's not forget the almond butter.

Joking aside, I feel fantastic eating no processed stuff and eating a lot more vegetables.  Lots of energy and not a strong desire for massive amounts of coffee in the afternoon, where I usually hit a slump and get really tired.  I'm thinking that this might be a more permanent lifestyle change (with exceptions here and there, like once in a while on a weekend or something).  I'll have to decide how sustainable this is for the long term--but thus far, it seems very doable, since I've found quick and easy unprocessed meals (it usually involves throwing stuff on a bed of lettuce).

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Home Again, Home Again

After an interesting brunch-meeting and a visit with some pals (and to retrieve my husband), we headed back north after a quick stop at Whole Foods.  I bought a giant pumpkin, which I'll be roasting tomorrow to freeze and eat.  Yum.

Not much to report on the unprocessed challenge front.  I thought breakfast would be easy today, but it turns out that fresh fruit is not part of a normal conference breakfast...we were offered bacon, eggs, biscuits, gravy.  I made a breakfast of eggs and half a biscuit (which I know counts as processed).  My processed food count was as minimal as I could make it, but this morning I just couldn't bear to only eat eggs and coffee (I really was expecting more options, so I did not come prepared), hence the biscuit.  Overall, though, for a weekend out of town, I did very well--I usually return feeling overfull and like my body is completely out of whack.  Not this time!

Upon returning home, I worked on homework, made some more banana oatmeal bars, watched a bit of TV and did some push-ups.  I've been neglecting my strength training, so I'm trying to work a bit back in.  Gotta keep those guns looking good!

I had a great weekend: I got to spend time with friends not seen for far too long, play with small kids (which always reminds me that I love kids but don't want to have to deal with my own right now), present my work, have excellent, intellectual conversations, and escape for a little bit from the pressures of school, of my students, and of the normal daily stuff in general.  Back to the grindstone tomorrow!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Eating Out

As you might imagine, eating out (and traveling) while not eating processed food can be difficult.  I've avoided it thus far, but part of the conference was a dinner out at a nice restaurant.  Since I like to socialize (and think it's important to do at a conference) I went, knowing I could at least find something.

I probably ended up eating something processed, but I tried my best to avoid the main culprits: breads, pastas, and dessert.  The hardest part is just not knowing what they could be putting in/on what might be completely innocent foods, so I probably won't be eating out at all for the rest of this month.  I had a nice piece of fish and some vegetables, and some soup, which was all very tasty, though a bit rich.

I eyed the brownie/ice cream they brought out, but I just called to mind how horrible I'd feel because I knew I couldn't eat just one bite.  I think deprivation is a really bad idea (and a way of mistreating the body and delicious food), so I focused on knowing that I wasn't depriving myself--I was actively making the decision to say no now with the knowledge that I was ultimately treating my body better for it.  It was surprisingly not difficult; instead of thinking so much about food, I focused on having AWESOME conversations with my fellow dining companions.

Which is exactly why I opted to not be completely strict tonight and make do with the best options I had.

Day 6: Travelin' Time

Tonight, I write from not my bed and not my home because I'm a'traveling!  I'm down at my alma mater, presenting at an academic conference and spending a little time with a few of my peeps in the area.  I gave my paper tonight about revision strategies--I thought it went pretty well and is definitely a project that I could develop more.  (Best of all, I got in an academic spat with one of the other folks on the panel, but more about that later).

I was a little worried about my ability to maintain my unprocessed eating ways, but I packed acceptable foodstuffs from home, and I ran by the grocery store to pick up veggies and yogurt, whipping up a quick salad for dinner with avocado, butternut squash, carrots, and Greek yogurt. Pretty delicious and so very easy!  After my quick bite, I headed to a mixer, where I drank a little red wine but shunned the various snacks (which were all extremely processed).  I only kind of wanted it, so points for me!

Okay, back to the academic spat.  I probably shouldn't go into too much detail, but I felt that one of the presenters gave a talk based on bad scholarship.  I didn't really want to confront the presenter about it, but when others seemed to not see the major flaw, I had to say something.  The assumptions and the claims were so baseless and completely drawn from very little data that I am flabbergasted that this person even functions in academia and is listened to.  Given that the individual rolled eyes during my talk and made snide comments about the work I'm doing in my science writing class, I took a bit of pleasure in pointing out the flaws.  In fact, I probably would have kept going except that the moderator diverted the attention to me, where the presenter than sulked off.  I look forward to seeing this person at future conferences and continuing to publicly point out the flaws in the so-called research.  (The person actually cited Google as a source.  Seriously?)

Anyway, off to bed--I have another paper to read in the morning!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Day 5: Different Already?

I really didn't know what to expect physically from eating unprocessed.  Now that I've been in the true swing of things for a few days, I'm starting to notice things about my body.  Apparently, it turns out that even the reasonable (or at least so I thought) amount of processed foods in my diet was enough to possibly affect how I felt.

As someone who reacts to too much sugar (or too much of several other things), I know what it's like to feel bad because of food.  But with processed foods, I find that if you feel tired, you might reach for something processed, which perks you up for a bit before making you feel super tired again.  It's a vicious cycle.

Today is my long day at school--I'm on campus from 9am to 9pm, teaching and learning and working (not to mention that I get up before 5am to go run).  I packed my unprocessed lunch and dinner and snacks, and I noticed that while I felt the desire for my Wednesday afternoon caffeine jolt, I didn't really need it.  And I never really felt sluggish like I normally do in the afternoon, and I felt really alert in class.

Could this all be because of not eating any junk on Wednesdays, like I tend to?  I certainly feel better overall; lighter and cleaner.  I'm not completely willing to dismiss that it could be psychosomatic, but I have a feeling that it is a real difference, even if it has only been a couple of days.  One clue: a dress I bought this weekend was a bit looser in the midriff, and although I feel like I'm eating plenty, I seem to be losing weight because I'm also not as hungry and can't exactly reach for something when I'm just bored or out of habit.

All I have to say is: thank goodness for unprocessed foods that are filling and easy to make into a meal, like almond butter and cheese and apples, bananas, peaches, and salad mix.  And leftovers.  So many leftovers.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Day 4: Kitchen Experiments

I love pancakes.  When my friend K posted this link to a recipe for pumpkin "Paleo" pancakes, I was intrigued.  While I generally have little interest in the Paleo diet (a vegetarian diet seems to be the one that keeps me healthy), my desire to make the pancakes stemmed from the fact that they were so very simple. Three ingredients?  No refined grains or oils or other processed stuff?  Taste like pancakes? Let's give 'em a shot for a quick and easy dinner after yoga.

My first pancake(s) were a flop.  Big falling apart flop, so I ate them in their little crumbly pieces. And didn't take a picture, except of the batter.


Second attempt, I made just one big one in the middle of the pan and let them cook all the way through before flipping.  Much better.  And doesn't it look like a normal pancake?  Who'd know it was just pumpkin, almond butter, and an egg!

Man, they are delicious.  Extremely simple, very filling, and I felt pretty good.  I ate mine with Greek yogurt* and sliced bananas and a little drizzle of honey.

This morning, I made them for Lance and me for breakfast.  His reaction was surprise: he exclaimed that they were pretty tasty.  This morning, I mixed pumpkin and banana to make the batter and ate mine with Greek yogurt and honey.  And sure enough, they did a pretty good job of keeping me decently full until lunch time.  I'll try them again tomorrow, probably, for a post-run breakfast (also known as breakfast #2) after my 5:30am run.  Give them a try--they are easy and delicious!

Grain-Free "Paleo" Pancakes
(adapted from The Paleo Project blog)

Makes enough for one serving, but they are easily doubled for two!
  • 1 banana or big scoop of pureed pumpkin (to make two servings, I used both)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 big spoonful of almond butter (probably around 2 tbsp)
Mash/mix/puree all ingredients together.  I used a fork and a vigorous stirring method, but if you feel like dirtying your blender/food processor, go for it.

Pour batter onto hot/greased skillet and cook until little bubbles form on the top and the edges are firm.  Flip and cook on the other side.  Put on a plate and gobble down with whatever topping suits your fancy: I'm fond of fruit, Greek yogurt, and honey myself.

*I think Paleo eaters avoid dairy, so if you're a Paleo person, find something else delicious to eat on it.  Luckily, I'm not a Paleo eater because, damn, I love me some Greek yogurt.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Day 3: In the Rhythm

When beginning this project, I was not prepared for the complete mind shift I would have to make.  For example, I reached for my friend's funnel cake and nibbled on it before I even remembered that I wasn't eating processed food.  I had remembered it earlier when I was offered chips and cookies, and it was pretty easy to turn it down (without lengthy explanations that I'm eating particularly), but when A offered the funnel cake up, I pinched off a piece without even thinking.

Which led me to think about how much of our food choices can be unthinking.  Not that we should obsess about what we eat every moment of everyday--food can be one of the many delights of life, after all--but the unthinking grabbing of a cookie. Or a piece of candy. Or any other mindless eating that we may engage in throughout the day, not because of hunger or anything but for other reasons.  Funnel cakes are delicious.  That cookie was just sitting there.  Someone offered me a cupcake, and I ate it without assessing if I really wanted it or if I was really even hungry.

Now that I'm having to be more conscious and deliberate about what I eat, I realize that I'm definitely someone for whom food is not always a matter of hunger and response to hunger.  There are lots of other factors, and habit is one of them.  It's almost habitual to want a bite of what Lance is nibbling on instead of just waiting for dinner or until I'm hungry.

Anyway, just some thoughts.  I'm definitely not opposed to snacking or sweets, but I think I prefer to be  little more aware of what goes into my body.  This experiment is a lot about cultivating awareness.

A little glimpse of what I'm eating:

Breakfast
Steel cut oats with a little pumpkin puree (that I roasted and pureed myself from the pumpkin you see there!), honey, cinnamon, walnuts, and raisins.  Coffee and half and half.  I really love pumpkin oatmeal--so filling and tasty and seasonal.

Lunch
Mixed greens with roasted vegetables and edamame avocado salad.  Banana and a dab of almond butter. That Avocado Edamame salad is fantastic--I made it last night and thoroughly enjoyed it, though I think I need to drain off the excess dressing.  The dressing itself is pretty tasty on its own, and it's one thing we so often purchase that can easily be made at home with a few simple ingredients (vinegar, oil, seasonings).

Snack
Piece of cheese (without anything crazy in it, so it passes the "kitchen test") and an apple.  It's apple season--I love it!  Apple with cheese is one of my favorite snacks.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Day 2: Complicated Yogurt

Yesterday, we went to the grocery store to pick up a few items for the week, and I decided to get some yogurt.  I figured that my standard yogurt would work just fine, because it's all-natural and organic and made of magical milk and all; however, I quickly discovered that even the high-quality, organic yogurts have ingredients that count as processed.

It was a little disturbing to pick up carton after carton of yogurts and find all manner of additives: inulin, pectin, dry milk powder: basically ingredients that are added to make it thicker.  Inulin is a starch that is naturally occurring, but extracting it requires heavy processing.  I'm certain I could not make that at home.  Pectin I probably could, but not the pectin that they put into yogurt.  Basically, I discovered that most brands of yogurt are more processed than I realized (and that this challenge might be more difficult than I realized).

Happily, I found a yogurt with only one ingredient (cultured milk)--Chobani Greek yogurt.  It's a little expensive, but I like having a little yogurt every now and then, especially since I don't really drink milk much.  It's pretty tasty too, thick and creamy without lots of saturated fat or additives to make it thicker.

Reading the labels really hit home to me that I apparently look only for the obviously problematic ingredients, but I don't think about the nature of some of the foods I buy without really examining the labels.  Sometimes I'm just content to know that it's organic or all-natural, even though I know that being organic (and certainly being all-natural) doesn't mean something isn't junk food or is good for me.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

No Unprocessed: Day 1

 I've decided to participate in a little food challenge called October Unprocessed, where I spend one month not eating anything processed.  Cool, I thought, as I signed up for the challenge.  Now it's day 1, and while I don't think it's going to be that difficult for me, I realized I didn't think all the way through what "unprocessed" would be.

The sponsoring blog, Eating Rules, uses the "kitchen test" rule to determine processed from unprocessed.  The idea would be if I could reasonably make it in my own home, it doesn't count. (So, my cans of tomatoes are cool, but boxed mac and cheese not so much.  Or really any boxed pasta or anything that has weird ingredients or ingredients I couldn't use at home).

So, for one, no white flour or white sugar.  These foodstuffs are typically processed within an inch of their lives, nowhere near their whole form.  Luckily, I can find bread and stuff that's made with whole wheat flour (which I can, theoretically, grind at home because we have an awesome food grinder), and if Lance bakes some bread, I'll probably eat that if it is mostly whole grain.  He told me that rolled oats are cool, though, because they are simply rolled--no craziness (and you theoretically can roll them at home).  I'll probably go for more of the steel cut oats, though.

The muffin I ate at my favorite bakery this morning in my pre-coffee haze was definitely a violation, though.  But now I'm aware.

Mostly, I want to see how hard it'll be to avoid processed stuff.  Most people who know how I eat know that I generally eat healthy with little junkfood, but I sometimes let it sneak in when I'm bombarded by stuff at school.  I want to see how much I let that stuff sneak into my diet--probably a little more than I realized, given the muffin I ate this morning--and how difficult it might be to prepare and cook food for myself while maintaining a crazy-busy schedule (luckily, Lance is a HUGE help with dinner cooking).

I also plan to blog through it and share recipes, so here's my first as a replacement for my morning granola bars: Banana Oatmeal Bars!

Banana Oatmeal Bars
(adapted slightly from freisencold.com)

  • 2 large or 3 medium ripe bananas
  • 1-3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried dates
  • 1/4 cup flax seed
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • cinnamon
In a bowl, mash the banana.  Add the rest of the ingredients, stir.  Press the batter into into a lightly greased 9x9 pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.  Cut up and eat!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Broken Record


When I sat down to dinner the night before the race, I was peppered with queries about my goals: what was I shooting for?  What did I want to get out of the race?  How'd I feel?  This was somewhat new to me, but since I've become increasingly involved in a running group, forming friendships and receiving (and giving!) motivation, I realized how influential these questions and goal-setting could be.  Tentatively, I said that I was going for under 2 hours, since I wanted to set a PR.

Deep down, I was both sure I could do it--hadn't I run consistently throughout the summer?  And hadn't my fellow runners (and L) told me that I was getting faster?--and also sure that maybe I shouldn't set too high a goal for myself.  I mean, after all, my best races were the once where I went in without a firm goal and just ran it.

I set out with Abby, and we ran and ran.  The course was difficult, both in terms of hilly terrain and slick, muddy road conditions, but we were enjoying ourselves.  It was fun to be running through a cool Ozark morning, watching the horses run beside us at one point (they were excited!) and looking out at the gorgeous green hills.  Even a five minute rain couldn't drench our spirits.  We were running with each other, and we knew that our fellow runners who we knew or just met were running alongside.

Toward the end of the race, Abby took off, feeling good.  I stayed close behind, the final hills taking a toll on my already tired legs.  I was planning to let it loose on the last mile, but the hill was so steep that I just couldn't sprint.  I realized that I probably could have pushed it harder a bit earlier, but this is my 3rd half after all--I'm still learning how to budget my energy.  I saw the finish line, and ran as hard as I could, crossing the line and setting a PR (personal record) for the half.

The whole experience was amazing.  I registered for the race on a whim, but the best part was that I didn't run it alone--I ran it with running friends and amazing women who all set PRs of their own. And best of all, I've decided that I am ready for a marathon, and will keep increasing those long runs this fall with the goal of running one in December.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Empty?

You'd think I'd have nothing to write about by my long silence, but you'd be wrong.  A short list of what's being going on in the interim:

  • Montana trip! (And visiting a baby!)
  • Running, running, running
  • I can do a real push up now, which is exciting to only me
  • History of the English Language: nerd-tastic
  • Teaching: I'm teaching a Science Writing course, which has a blog that I have been updating, so my writing energies have been focused out.
  • Various crafty projects that I hope to share with you soon.
  • One week and counting without my husband at home
  • Also one week without a car, relying on my two legs, a bicycle, and the generosity of friends
  • Fall semester is busy, busy, busy, and I'm trying to make sure I don't lag behind
  • Half-marathon coming up in a week! (My first of the year)
Anyway, this is a partial and incomplete list, but I hope to get my writing brain going by posting a list of things I should deal with in more detail.  So here goes...

Thursday, August 04, 2011

A Summer Cake to Beat the Heat

Every summer, I volunteer to be a "teacher buddy:" I get to hang out with three Mexican teachers who come to AR for a teacher training program.  Last night, I had them over for dinner, and I made them this cake:


It was delicious.  It's a riff off of my favorite ginger muffins from Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book. I love this cookbook--it has great recipes (my favorite oatmeal pancakes are also in this book).  If you're looking for a new cookbook, get this one--it's all about breakfast!

Anyway, here's what you're wanting: the cake recipe. :)

Fresh Ginger Cake with Peaches and Whipped Cream
(from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham)

  • big knob of fresh ginger, unpeeled, cut into large chunks
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 stick of butter, room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda


  • whipped cream
  • powdered sugar
  • vanilla
  • fresh peaches
  • chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare two 8" or 9" cake pans (I used 9")

Put the ginger into a food processor/food chopper (or chop finely by hand) and chop, chop, chop.  You should have about 1/4 cup of ginger bits, but don't fret if you have too much (I'm of the opinion that a little more is better).  Put into a small saucepan with 1/4 cup of sugar and cook until the sugar melts and the mixture is heated, stirring constantly.  Set aside to cool.  When cool, mix in the lemon zest.

In a small bowl, mix flour, salt and baking soda and set aside.

Beat the butter and the rest of the sugar until smooth and creamy.  Add the eggs and beat well.  Add the buttermilk.  Add the flour mixture and beat until smooth (but not too much).  Add the lemon ginger mixture.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and bake until done (about 20-25 minutes, depending on your pan).  Cool in pans briefly, then invert onto racks until completely cooled.

Meanwhile, peel and chop about three peaches.  Reserve one half to slice for the top.

Once cooled, beat the whipped cream with sugar and vanilla (to taste).  Spoon a bit on the bottom layer, then pile the chopped peaches on top.  Use the rest of the whipped cream to frost the cake, then garnish with the sliced peach half and chopped crystallized ginger.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Running in Oklahoma

It's hot, in the winding maze
of the subdivision--
but the sprinklers are a brief delight

distracting from the dusky burn,
and the knowledge--
that sprinklers are a waste of water.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

NWAWP: Anthology piece

As part of the NWAWP Summer Institute, we are asked to produce a number of writings, one of which goes into an anthology that everyone gets a copy of.  Here is the piece I have been working on since the first day of the SI about my kitchen.



Our Kitchen

            The concrete is cool beneath my bare feet.  It’s summer, so the windows are open and the breeze rustles the leaves and carries the scent of the outdoors into the kitchen, where I stand at the counter, contemplating dinner.  The sunshine-yellow walls lend a soft glow to the shady space and the floor is a pleasant contrast to the summer warmth, a heat kept somewhat at bay by the surrounding trees.  We try not to run the small air conditioner—stationed in one of the two kitchen windows—which must work too hard to keep the entire house reasonably cool.  Instead, we rely on shade and gusts of fresh air to keep our home tolerable during the hot, thick Arkansas days.  In the winter, the floors are frigid even with thick socks and slippers on, but in the summer, it is enjoyable on bare feet.  Even when it reaches the hottest part of the day, the floor is a relief as I remove stifling shoes and spread my toes to allow the coolness to seep in, and we are thankfully past the period where they sweat from the sudden temperature changes of late spring.  I do not use our oven much in the summer.
            Neko, our tubby tortoiseshell, lies with warm belly pressed into the cold floor, regarding me with amber eyes, waiting for me to offer a treat: a dab of peanut butter, a corner of cheese, or a spoon of canned cat food.  The cat and one person are all the space holds comfortably: we live in a small duplex with only a corner that holds standard kitchen appliances as well as a washer and dryer.  Along the one wall that opens out into the living room, stand the refrigerator, the storage freezer with the microwave on top, a bookcase transformed into a pantry by simply adding food to its shelves, the finicky gas stove, and the dryer.  We don’t have much counter space, so the dryer also serves as a baking station with my beloved second-hand Kitchen Aid in a place of honor and easy reach.  Parallel to this wall and separated by a pitifully small gap reside the few kitchen cabinets full of dishes and bakeware, the sink, and the one stretch of counter, which is dominated by canisters, dish-drainer, and toaster-oven.  I often gaze out the window above the sink as my hands methodically scrub plates, cups, cast iron skillets.  No dishwasher, alas.  Along the short connecting wall—and below the home of the air conditioner—is a “temporary” prep table, housing a massive butcher block remnant from a friend’s kitchen renovation.  It is here where carrots are chopped, onions diced, tofu cubed for our latest meal.  In front of this table is a kitchen stool acquired for $5 from a yard sale that my husband loves because he grew up with a stool in the kitchen, and the cat loves because she can sit on it and beg for treats, and I love because it becomes additional space for my copy of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian or the mixing bowl that I need to set aside and have no room for. 
            The kitchen itself has a spot for every item, though it may seem a bit cluttered to the untrained eye: the bookshelf-turned-pantry is loaded with homemade pickles and jams made from our own garden’s bounty or farmers’ market purchases, as well as canned tomatoes and coconut milk, boxes of pasta, jars of beans and rices in several colors and varieties, little tins and sacks of exotic spices.  I occasionally attempt to inventory, to sort, to tidy up the shelves, but in the rush of cooking and living, the sheer volume of random ingredients acquired from Indian and Asian grocers and health food stores and the bargain bin at Marvin’s IGA bursts from their holes and spills out until I’m once again digging through piles of sacks looking for the cumin or that little blue Ziploc of matcha powder or the cinnamon sticks.  Once, in a frenzy of cleaning and sorting, I accidentally threw out cumin seeds because it looked like fennel and we already had lots of fennel and my husband had neglected to label it.  We then proceeded to yell at each other, me at him about labeling the damned spices from the bulk bins, him at me about yelling at him and throwing out items I couldn’t identify.  It ended with us laughing so hard that we had to lean on the kitchen counter and catch our breath.
            It’s afternoon, and because of where our house is, the sun doesn’t shine directly in the windows at five o’clock, as I’m removing ingredients from the refrigerator to begin cooking.  With the summer air slowing my blood, I feel like cooking something simple, light, crisp.  A salad, perhaps, with greens picked from the garden?  Or Asian-inspired summer rolls, served with a spicy peanut sauce we love so much?  A quick stir-fry sounds good, where I can toss anything and everything lurking in the crisper, along with a splash of soy, a dash of sriracha, a hearty dollop of ginger and garlic for flavor.  Served over rice and eaten with the chopsticks given to us after a friend’s trip to Japan, stir-fry is one meal we never seem to tire of because of its infinite possibilities.  I begin measuring rice to cook on the stove while I proceed to prepare the vegetables and heating oil in the large cast iron.  I rarely measure anything anymore—just a pour and a spoonful and a taste until it’s just right.  It’s an art taught to me by my husband, who cooks by feel.  I’m much more of a baker, which requires strict measuring and precision and following directions carefully, but he balances out my desire for constant order, and I learned how to cook by taste instead of methodically moving through a recipe.  It certainly makes cooking more of an adventure, though it can be unfortunate when I make something delicious and I have no idea what proportion of ingredients went into it and my friends want the recipe.
Sometimes, especially when there’s more than one cook and her cat, I wish our kitchen were spacious, all white and stainless steel, polished and stacked neatly.  Instead, I have clutter and piles and a blocked set of drawers that I keep trying to get my husband to set free.  Sometimes I wish the sacks of fragrant spices were jars lined up in alphabetical order, locked sterilely away in a cabinet instead of out for any visitors to eye and pass their silent judgment.  Like my mother before me, I long for a space that belongs in the pages of a Martha Stewart magazine, where there is a place for everything and everything in its place.  But unlike my mother before me, I know better than to think that I will ever actually live in such a space because even if I had that white kitchen, it would be spattered with cake batter or from sauce or from jams.  There would be dishes in the sink and food on the counters and the cat would insist on being on the floor, leaving bits of herself behind for me to constantly sweep up.  Occasionally, it would be in order, but only because we went out for Thai that day, or one of us got tired of the clutter and cleaned it up.  Our kitchen is simply too often used to ever be gleaming and perfectly clean—something is always out of place because of a project in process or because of a project just completed.  A true workshop.
            It doesn’t stop me from trying to replicate the kitchen in my head, though.  That kitchen has everything labeled and easy to find and that kitchen doesn’t have a table half-blocking the column of drawers, making opening and closing them futile and frustrating and punctuated by OWs and DAMN-ITs and SHITs.  In my mind, the cabinets have been repainted from the strange orange-pink that looks like tainted Pepto to a cheery red to complement the cheery yellow, or a demure gray.  The stove actually lights when I flip on the gas instead of intermittently working and then having to be lit by the cigarette lighter we keep in the spice rack.  The detritus on the floor has found a place and the kitchen is more spacious and open because the clutter has been tidy squirreled away.  The dishes are always promptly washed (by my husband, of course).  We have a dishwasher.  I can stand to use the oven in the summer in this kitchen, without having to stand scantily clad and pouring sweat.  And no matter how much we cook, the kitchen is always clean and tidy because we wash up as we work and the floors are swept free of any debris.
            But I love our kitchen, piles and all.  I love the rows of canning jars hidden high above the kitchen window, with the door that falls open occasionally, scaring whomever is standing by the sink.  I love the temporary table that hasn’t moved in the two years we’ve lived in the house, which hides away our recycling bin, and boxes of jars found while clearing out an abandoned attic.  It’s often a frustrating space, limited in counter and cabinet and overflowing with bakeware and ingredients.   But it’s also a space where I create.  It’s where I stir batters and release the worries from the day while pulling muffins with perfectly mounded tops from the old gas oven.  It’s where I meditate, measuring flour and sugar and butter, blending and beating into creamy perfection.  It’s where I have created the perfect pancake, baked cupcake after delectable cupcake and explored countless recipes, flavors, and textures.  When I enter the kitchen, even when it swirls with chaos, the act of opening a cookbook and setting out the ingredients and mixing bowls is an act of purification and calming.  I am totally focused when I bake, my mind devoid of the never-ending to-do list or anxiety about tasks or stress from having too much to do and too little time.  When I cook, I enter a mini-Zen state where it’s just me, the cookbook, the ingredients, and the making.  I exist because I create.
In this kitchen, my husband and I learned to cohabitate and cooperate and forgive each other.  When we first started cooking together, he would relegate me to the corner to open cans.  After I demanded more skillful tasks, he allowed me to chop vegetables, but he often hovered so much that I wanted to chop him.  He said it was because he was afraid I’d cut myself with my limited knife skills; I think it was because his engineering mind does not enjoy when other people do tasks less efficiently—basically, not how he would do them.  We move in cycles with our cooking together.  Ideally, we complete tasks in separate spaces with separate goals and reunite to bring the dish together.  I’ll make the sauce, he’ll cook the pasta.  Or I’ll chop the vegetables, and he’ll fry the tofu.  At the other end, he stands over my shoulder critiquing my pancake cooking or adding spices and ingredients to my soup without asking me, and I scold him for cooking with too much fish sauce or using butter when a little olive oil would be just fine or for dumping too many ingredients in my macaroni and cheese when I just want it to be straightforward and simple.  Yet, we generally manage to work peaceably in the kitchen, listening to music and chatting amiably, asking one another questions, such as What is it missing? Do you think it needs more salt? Do you want quinoa or rice with this?  Many of our sweetest moments happen in the kitchen, like when I walk up behind him while he’s stirring something and wrap my arms around his waist and bury my face into the best part of neck, warm and smelling of him, or when he wraps me in a strong embrace.  He has learned to wait for me to ask for help if I want it, rather than listing what is wrong, and I have learned that sometimes allowing him to dump lots of spices in a dish makes it pretty tasty.
Our kitchen is the place where we have fought over dishes, he insisting that I not wash dishes after I failed to get them clean enough (fine with me) and especially when I stabbed myself in the arm by leaving a paring knife pointy end up in the dish-drainer (no, it was not intentional); unfortunately, I sometimes have to prod him to wash them.  It is the place where he made our wedding food, beginning with durum semolina and a pasta roller and ending with trays and trays of the best vegetarian lasagnas that you’ve ever eaten and freshly baked bread.  We spend so much of our days thinking about and discussing food, followed by cooking and sharing, that the food at our wedding was required to be spectacular.  And spectacular it was, with everyone dishing up plates of lasagna, carving up pies, and diving into the cakes and homemade ales, much of it made in our small, humble kitchen.
It’s where we’ve hosted wildly successful parties, everyone standing around in the kitchen with plates and drinks in hand or on the counters, sampling the food we’ve created with our two hands or that friends have brought with them.  Many of our friends are exceptionally good cooks, and it’s always fun to see what everyone will bring to a social gathering.  When we host a party, we always have plenty of good, homemade food—I generally make a cake that is both a feast for the eyes and the mouth, and he makes these amazing steamed dumplings that are never the same—and the wine and beer are plentiful.  It turns out that a small space makes for a great gathering, since everyone is forced into close proximity and conversation and the few chairs are constantly being vacated and occupied in random rotation.  We love hosting parties in our tiny home because it makes the whole house light up and feel alive, buzzing with music and conversation and the scrape of plates and the groans of full stomachs.  On nights like this, you can almost feel the kitchen smile with the pleasure of a place satisfied with having a purpose.  And ultimately, that’s why I love our kitchen: it’s where we live.

Monday, July 18, 2011

NWAWP: Fayetteville Moment

I wanted to share my "Fayetteville Moment" with you all.  I wrote this piece as part of the 2011 NWAWP Writing Marathon.  All day, we hung out around Fayetteville and wrote.  At 1pm, the entire group stopped whatever they were working on and wrote "in the moment."  My friend J and I were at the pool, so I observed the life going on around me and wrote!



Wilson Park Pool: 12:58 PM
            There’s this little kid, like maybe four years old and his mother has just yanked him into the water because he was splashing at us.  I find that as a childless woman who teaches adults that I have little patience for small, mischievous children.  Sure, my baby nieces are cute and I enjoy hanging out with my friends’ children, but kids I do not really know?  Not so crazy about.  This might change when I have my own child, maybe.
            The Wilson Park Pool: a Fayetteville oasis for summer-freed kids and their parents and for NWAWP fellows who need freedom from chairs and tables and sitting.  The smell of spray-on sunscreen wafts through the air, accenting the scent of chlorine and trees.  The water glistens like my sapphire-like drop earrings, warmed slightly by the sun but still refreshing on the hot, sunny day.  Children’s excited voices blend with splashing and gasps of air: the large plop of a little boy leaping into his mother’s waiting arms, the kick-kick-kick! of a little girl practicing her swimming, the gaspcough of novices learning how to dunk the heads beneath the water’s surface.  I’m amazed by the bravery of these children, who splash and leap and submerge as though water were just wet air, posing no threat.
            Adults—mostly parents and two NWAWP fellows—watchfully guard their offspring, occasionally joining in the delight of the water.  They sun themselves, apply sunscreen.  You can tell the families that come regularly: they have their routines, their designated places, their friends who come by smiling and greeting.
            A tall lifeguard comes by, tanned and clad in red shorts and chacos, the summer uniform of the teenagers who watch over these waters.  They patrol, blow whistles, and keep children from breaking the laws of the land.  The pool is its own country and it is dominated by youth and controlled by the posted rules and enforced by the red-suited adolescents.  They are wary, watchful, aloof.
            We are here to write, of course, but while we’re here, why not take a dip?  We leap…well, we lower ourselves, anyway, into the water feeling how it flows over our skin.  I move my arms and legs fluidly and cut through the water.  I cannot stay still, just as I cannot be near the water without being in it.  I would swim until I passed out, if I could.  I always regret that my mother never taught me how to swim properly when I was young because I harbor a deep fear of jumping in and remain jealous of the six year olds who leap without concern.  And although I’m a perfectly adequate swimmer, I’m uncomfortable straying too far from a hand hold.  I watch these kids who dip and dive without fear and hesitation, and I wonder how different my life would be if I were bold enough to leap, anxiety-free, from the diving board.
            The hourly break time is over, and at the sound of the whistles, the kids let out a collective cry and leap as one into the water.  It’s just like a movie, and we are so stunned at the sight that we laugh.  They resume their activities, and the new arrivals pause only for a quick douse of sunscreen before joining their fellow creatures.  One mother wrangles her little girl into a swim vest before releasing her into the wild.
            Two of the regular adults, a couple wearing their matching sunhats, leap into the pool to cool off.  They look as though ten years ago, they were wild and free, into punk rock and possibly smoking pot.  Having children and growing older, they find those days have faded to fond memories and hazy impressions and cautionary tales to tell their children.  The man is heavily tattooed, an impressive and lovely tree curling across his back, an owl perched at his left shoulder.  The tree and owl are artfully done, and I find myself admiring it and thinking that the fact it is not realistic is a point in its favor.  I also wonder what it means to him.  They reemerge from the water, refreshed, to resume their napping and reading.  Their kids are old enough that they do not feel the need to guard them, as the parents of the toddlers do.
            A little girl rushes up and plaintively complains of hunger, but her mother is busy scribbling in a notebook and shoos her away.  Other children should CANNONBALL while jumping into the water in a manner other than ball-like.  I think they just want to shout something and cannonball lends itself nicely to being screamed while leaping through the air.
            Everyone complains that the Wilson Park Pool is too filled with children (and children’s water) to be any fun for an adult, but I disagree.  For one, the concentration of young swimmers is the shallow end; only the older and bolder venture far from where they can’t reach the bottom, leaving plenty of space for the adults to swim laps, leap from the diving board, or float peaceably far from the splashing and cannonballs and shouts and squeals.  For another, there’s something essentially summer about the sounds of individuals who come to the pool not because they need to exercise but for the pure pleasure of moving in and under and through the water.  They form small clumps of associates, dare each other to dive or to jump, and chatter excitedly.  They are full of joy and life, thinking not about how many calories swimming burns or that their form isn’t just right.  All they seem to consider is that the water is cool and refreshing, that humping in is enormously fun, that learning to do handstands impresses their fellow swimmers, and that swimming freakin’ awesome.
            A man, approximately as round as he is tall, asks us if we are doing homework.  “Writing,” we reply.  “About what?” “Well, the pool.”  “Good place for it.”  We smile and return to our notebooks.  It’s almost time to leap into the water again and then to try off and head to our next location. The breeze stirs the trees above us and dries the water off us.  If you listen closely, the sound of leaves clattering complements the splashing, shouting, and chatter, and here we are in the midst of a snapshot of a perfect July day in Fayetteville.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Summer Institute: Week One Reflection

We are now in the second week of the NWP Summer Institute, and interesting results have begun already.  Though we have three more weeks (or so) of the SI left, I think we've leaped over a major hurdle.  The first day, several Fellows expressed their anxiety and fear about writing, about teaching writing, and about sharing their writing.  By the end of the first week, a perceptual shift had already begun.  Many who swore they would never present found themselves in Author's Chair* at the end of the day, reading stories and reflections that were beautiful and inspiring in so many ways.  In our response groups (made up of four individuals), fellows who claimed to be anxious about writing were sharing their pieces.  The attitude change can really only be the result of a) being told that writing is important, b) being given time to write, c) having a friendly, receptive, and active audience, and d) hearing others talk about themselves as writers and listening to others' writing.

I find this transformation (after only one week, mind you!) fascinating.  I came in assuming all the Fellows were writers who were comfortable with writing and were simply looking for a professional development that would help them build on that identity and their skills to teach writing even better.  Imagine my shock when a couple of teachers expressed their anxiety about writing and about teaching writing.  I found myself in a minority of Fellows who truly felt comfortable in saying "I'm a writer," and in sharing my writing with a broader audience.

I think this dramatic shift speaks highly both of my fellow participants and of what the National Writing Project can do.  It's exciting, and as I'm writing during Silent Sustained Writing time, I'm happy for the opportunity to be here, learning from my peers and actually spending time with pen to paper (or fingers to keys) producing words and realizing how important working daily on writing is to me.

*Author's Chair is the half hour set aside at the end of the day for the Fellows to share any piece of writing with the whole group.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Public Log (Summer Institute: Day 3)

Well, week one is half over, and we’re off to a good start.  I’ve been thinking about the ways that the Summer Institute is like a race: it seems to be equal parts marathon and relay race.  I say marathon because it’s a long stretch to the end—no quick sprint one-day workshop here.  Right now, in the first week, we’ve just set out from the starting line and our legs are fresh and we are eager to be here.  Perhaps the last week, we’ll be a little more tired, but once we cross that finish line, we’ll be exhausted but exhilarated with what we’ve accomplished.
Right, so first week.  We’ve made it to Day 4, yay!  And There Will Be Food today—a bit of sustenance to keep us going strong.  Our first three days, we have set out at a good pace.  We’ve had two demonstrations, and I know I (for one) have been writing more these past three days than I did for most of the last semester, stretching those writing muscles.  I think some of us feel limber, some perhaps a bit sore from new activity.  The best thing I’ve found to ease the pain of sore muscles, though, is to keep going—so on we must go. Although this is often an individual race, we’re really not competing—we are all running alongside one another, and often running as one unit, a team.  We all have to do our part to make sure that the Summer Institute is a success, and so far everyone’s legs seem to be up to the challenge, even if many of us are unaccustomed to the activities.
After our nightly breather (also known as sleep), we got going again yesterday with the starting pistol—well, chime, and Mike read to us about leadership and told us we’re all leaders.  There was some discussion about t-shirts or a goody bag—all good races have them—and then we’re into Lap One: listening to Michelle read the Log in the style of Dr. Suess.  Today she’s passed the baton on to me—this is how it’s like a relay—and I find myself a little nervous starting my leg of the race.  But as our fearless team leaders tell us: WE CAN DO THIS.  She had us write about a book from our childhood, a prompt I think we all loved.  During races, runners near one another often share stories and talk to one another, and Dawn and Theresa both shared stories so sweet and poignant that it made me tear up a little.  Jacqueline told the story of how she’d always wrangle How the Grinch Stole Christmas away from her older sister during the holidays by quoting the lines ahead of her.  Nathan regaled us with his questions about why there were monkeys in Caps for Sale, and I read why I loved The Secret Garden.  I realized that we love these books not just because of their content but because of the memories they evoke when we think about them.  Everyone who shared their Quick Write had specific memories and emotions attached to their book.  We ended this segment with a little rest and time to refuel.
We took a little longer than anticipated, but rounded the corner only a little behind into the next lap of the day: demonstrations!  Jacqueline took the lead on this and totally ran with it, presenting a totally paper-less lesson on Analysis.  Here, we entered the college classroom, watched clips from Mad-Men, and learned that Brenda has two husbands—what??  That made us stop dead in our tracks until she clarified, and then we laughed and picked back up the pace.  Jacqueline showed us how we can use digital tools to enhance and facilitate collaborative work, and I for one was eager to use Google Docs to enhance my own running…I mean, teaching.
At this phase in the race, we’re getting a feel for our running companions.  We learned that Zack—or is it Jack?—is a bit of a prankster, sending texts in the guise of a man named Carl.  He’ll probably be that guy who will dump Gatorade on your head at the water stop.  Jack, watch out because Jamie will exact her revenge on you before the end of our marathon here.  Chris brought the extra long Twizzlers, which he’ll probably use later on to whip us into shape, or make us run, I mean write faster.  During a rest break, Jamie was egged on to place the animal crackers in, well…compromising positions.  We’re quickly learned who are the runners who spend much of their time in the gutter, and who are the ones laughing at their antics.
After a lap of individual running in the guise of Silent Sustained Writing, we met back up to complete the course for the day with Author’s Chair.  Getting in the spirit of running ahead of the pack, Theresa leapt out and read us the start of her historical/family narrative.  Nathan read lovely poetry about chairs, and Dawn read a work in progress about her favorite place in South Africa.  Jamie passed out our readings for tomorrow—Jack (Zack?) found a little surprise in his packet—and with the finishing chime, we all stopped and were able to rest.  One more day of our marathon down, and before we know it, we’ll be at the end of the race, collapsed on the finish line.  And like good runners, we’ll already be thinking about our next event.

QUICK WRITE: List three of your favorite physical activities.  Pick one of them and write a story about something that happened while you or someone you know was doing that activity, or what it is about that activity that makes you enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer Institute: Day 2

...And, we're off!  Day 2, and we already participated in our first demonstration by one of the Fellows.  TT, a fifth grade teacher, did an EXCELLENT demonstration on the Dust Bowl.  We wrote lots of different ways and really enjoyed what she showed us.  I'm a little nervous about the demonstration, but luckily I'm going in a couple of weeks, so I get to really work on it before presenting!

The day began with the Reading of the Log.  Tomorrow will be my turn, so I've been taking notes and watching all day.  H read the log, and it was all very entertaining.  I think we're going to start egging each other on to write funny logs and really come up with clever ways to deliver them.  I plan to post mine for tomorrow on NWP e-Anthology, a site for Fellows to share their Summer Institute experiences.  H prompted us to write about a food experience, and I shared the most recent memory: making a delicious lemon cake for A's going-away potluck.

After the Log, CG gave us a pep-talk/lecture about professional writing.  He encouraged us to seek ways to get published--and I really want to work toward that goal.  I've got several pieces started, and the one piece that I'm working on with my adviser, so hopefully this year I can begin submitting articles to various journals.

We had a nice session of SSW: Silent Sustained Writing.  I like that they give us lots of time to write; it also gives me some time to work on the writing for the projects that I have going.

I tinkered around with my "Kitchen" piece a lot the first night, so I shared it during Author's Chair time, the last block in the schedule for Fellows to share something they've been working on.  It's interesting and scary and exciting to read stuff to my fellow participants, but I'm glad for the opportunity.

The days go by so quick, and I just feel my head filling with ideas and the itch to write again.  It's amazing how writing makes you want to write more...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer Institute: Day 1

Yesterday was Day 1 of the National Writing Project Summer Institute, a four-week long program exploring the connections between writing, education, and writing instruction.  The first day was part-orientation, part-introductions.  We began with one of the mentors delivering the Daily Log, a summary of the last meeting's events.  He delivered it in the style of Stephen Colbert, using "The Word" segment.  We then participated in our first Quick Write: a short burst of writing to get the creative juices flowing.  Our prompt was a dialogue of who we might like to have dinner with, and I picked Tolkien (of course).  We shared our dialogues, and Chris's was the funniest, a conversation with THE Cookie Monster.  Cooookies!

We moved into some business and orientation and expectations, breaking up into our response groups.  I think my response group is going to be awesome--they are a supportive audience who will offer great suggestions for each other's writing.

After lunch, we observed and participated in a lesson demonstration, one of our major products for the institute.  The teacher gave an excellent and fun demonstration over revision (geared for a 4th-grade classroom).  She has us write about our favorite space, a piece that I continued to play with throughout the afternoon and later into the evening.

The group of teachers is a fun*, friendly group, and I'm excited to be able participate.

*Favorite words/phrases: "diggin' like a dog in a hole" and "shoulding."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Unstructured Time

You would think that I'd return to my regular writing schedule now that the semester is done (and has been done for a full month).  You would think that, wouldn't you?  Well, you'd be wrong.

I have a secret: I'm no good with unstructured time.  I thrive on deadlines and regular meetings to keep me going.  I would never do an online class because I wouldn't be able to work on it methodically and systematically--I'd either do it in big bursts or wait until the last minute.

This is a problem, however, for an aspiring academic.  See, now (and in the future), I need to be able to work on my own projects/research/writing without someone setting deadlines for me.  I need to be able to sit down and focus everyday on a given task and get it done.  I think it's key to being successful in academia--and key to finishing my degree (and staying in my adviser's good graces).

With that in mind, I'm going to attempt to structure my own time and force myself to stick to some sort of schedule.  The past couple of days I've been working on reading some scholarship and thinking about my Fall course, and tinkering with other tasks, but not in a structured, concentrated way.  I hate feeling unproductive, but I'm having a hard time actually getting much done during my summer days.

Fellow academics, how did you train yourselves to be more disciplined and focus on tasks to be able to accomplish what you want to accomplish?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Three Weeks and Counting

It's the countdown until the end of the semester.  My students feel it (though I think since the snow, they never really got into the semester as they should have), and are responding appropriately.  I am trying to schedule all the things I have to finish up before the semester ends and how I can do it without going crazy or overdosing on coffee.

Then...the summer. In which I currently have no plans and no employment.  It's weird, a summer without something to do.  I still have hopes of securing at least some money over the summer, but prospects aren't good.  I'm sure there will be a marked increase in posts here.

Thinking ahead, I've decided I'm going to focus on running better and faster.  I'm going to run a 25k (about 15 miles) in July, which means I'd better get on training.  One part of my training I always neglect is cross-training.  Be it other forms of cardio or strength training, I'm terrible about doing anything a little different.

So, in order to work on healthy habits throughout the summer (which I hope to extend into the semester), I plan on working on a series of small goals.  The first?  To get 8 hours of sleep a night and to move around every day.  Now, moving around doesn't mean working out, but it means taking a walk during the day or something like that.  Two fairly simple goals, right?

They seem pretty easy, but it's good to start out small.  Plus, the right amount of sleep will really help me out when it comes to dealing with students and grading...and...getting off coffee (which will happen AFTER the semester ends).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Feminist Rant, or We Don't Have to Look Like Supermodels to be Healthy

Rush Limbaugh is an idiot.  I am fully aware of this fact.

Now, usually my approach to idiots is to ignore them.  I ran across this post about Limbaugh's latest comments about our amazing First Lady, and my first impulse was to roll my eyes.  He called her a hypocrite for eating ribs instead of "roots, berries, and tree bark."  Any logical thinking person would realize that healthy people sometimes indulge in their favorite foods (like a cupcake!), and that's all part of being healthy.  (And yes, I realize that he is just an old fat man who has no idea what "healthy" means).

That wasn't the thing that got me.  It was something else he said, directly attacking Michelle Obama, which I could not in good conscience ignore.

To quote:
"I'm trying to say our first lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue or of a woman [Yankees star] Alex Rodriguez might date every six months, or what have you," Limbaugh concluded.
Ah, here we have it!  What is threatening about Michelle Obama is that she is a powerful, smart, educated black woman who is doing amazing things instead of sitting on the sidelines while her husband leads (ahem, Laura Bush).  So if you are an old, fat white man threatened by a powerful woman, what do you attack?  Her physical appearance, of course!

Limbaugh can't possibly see that how the First Lady (amazing arms and all) can be a model for healthy eating because she doesn't resemble the waif-like, airbrushed supermodels that he believes is the perfect female body.  Even those supermodels don't resemble the magazine covers.  Since she's not someone that Alex Rodriguez wants to f*&%, then she's not a good role model, nor is she someone we should listen do. And Limbaugh gets to sneer from his XXL chair that she's a hypocrite and belittle her appearance.

You notice no one goes around critiquing Sam Kass for eating ribs--no one really cares--yet he is a major player in the First Lady's healthy initiative.  Why not?  Because he's a man, so he is not required by any standards to look like a model.  Women, meanwhile, are constantly held to ridiculous standards, and idiots like Limbaugh think its perfectly acceptable to attack THE FIRST LADY of the United States for not looking like sexual object.

Here's the thing, Limbaugh--she is not a sexual object.  She is a woman, an intelligent, educated, powerful woman.  Her ability to do awesome things in the world is not directly related to her resemblance to a magazine cover or the sorts of women that Alex Rodriquez tends to date (if only he could be so lucky to score a babe like our First Lady).  Critiquing her initiative is one thing; attacking her for not living up to an impossible standard of beauty and for not existing to serve as a sexual object for your dirty, nasty gaze is something I will not stand for.

Michelle Obama is the perfect role model for healthy eating.  She is not a size 0, and that's why she's so awesome.  She has curves and muscles, and isn't afraid to bare her arms to the world.  Her husband certainly thinks she's beautiful, and I find her to be a damn classy lady, full of grace and confidence.  She is a healthy weight, she knows that part of enjoying life (while being healthy) requires one to eat a damn rib every now and then (or a cupcake), and that one should feel good in her own body.

This is precisely why she is the perfect model for women, young and old.  She projects the image of a woman who is comfortable in her skin, who isn't obsessed with attaining an impossible standard of beauty.  She isn't afraid to eat a rib every now and then, and she is someone women look to for what we should be.  We don't have to accept that our ability to do things in the world and our self-worth is tied to how we look.

And that, my friends, is why we should speak up, even when old, fat white men critique women's appearances.  We should speak up and shout them down and tell them we aren't taking any more of their impossible standards.  We (women AND men) should scream that we refuse to be reduced to our size or our weight.  And we refuse to be told that our self-worth is dependent on our ability to be a sexual object.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Noodles!

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across this recipe on Food in Jars (one of my favorite sites).  Hmmm, I thought to myself, This looks pretty delicious.  I'll have to try it one night.  Last week, that night came.  Lance and I were so hungry after working out that we wanted a quick and easy dinner.  He boiled noodles and vegetables, and I whipped up the peanut sesame/tahini sauce. Then we ate it all.

The next day I needed a lunch, and I asked Lance to make me noodles once more.  I ate them all.

Then, we made them for potluck last night, adding tofu, beet greens, and carrots.  Everyone kept going back for more, commenting on how delicious they are.

(You should be picking up on a trend now).

I am now officially obsessed with these noodles.  The sauce is infinitely versatile.  Lance created some kind of weird fish sauce concoction to add to it that several people at potluck really liked.  I'm not a fish sauce fan myself, so I'm sticking with them plain and delicious. (But you might add fish sauce, if you're so inclined).

Add whatever vegetables or proteins you want, or use whatever noodles you want (I like sobas, but they are really good with rice noodles, and I'm sure udon or somen would be equally good).  A quick, healthy dinner, all wrapped up in one, provided you don't eat the whole pot or anything.

Incidentally, I'm also eating leftover noodles today for lunch.

Peanut Tahini Noodles 
(from Food in Jars)

With two bundles of soba noodles, it makes two generous servings.

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
1 tablespoon peanut butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 inch of ginger root, finely minced (we use a garlic press to mince--works great!)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce


Whisk it all together, pour over cooked noodles/vegetables, and NOM.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Jenn Got Married

Hey guys, I'm a married lady now!  It happened in a whirlwind of snow, flurries, ice, and skirts.  In the end, it was amazing and perfect--all of our friends and family pitched in to make it an event I'll never forget.

And without further ado (because I know this is what you really want), photos!
Red room!




Bride and groom!



Me and the bridesmaids, who were awesome.  The flowers we're carrying are made (by all of us) of felt, hot glue, and flower wire (and ribbon).  I'll just take a moment to say I had the BEST bridesmaids.  One journeyed far from the northernlands and faced lots of stupid airline crap just to be here.  One absorbed bad luck (her shoe broke just hours before the wedding, and then when she figured that all out, she ended up burning her hair).  One was bringer of boozes not to mention up early to help decorate.  They were all freakin' awesome.



The groomsmen, not be forgotten, were also fantastic. Two travel far--one from Eastern Europe!!--and they all pitched in and helped get everything going, decorating, driving me/other people all around, and just being super cool.  Our wedding parties are simply a microcosm of our fantastic group of friends.

I made my veil, which was super fun.  The flower is made of silk circles of varying sizes, and I sewed some beads in the middle to give it a little bling (I was looking for some sort of cool piece of jewelry but never found one).  The veil itself was a pain, until I finally figured out how to shape it properly--I'm extremely pleased with how it turned out!

The shoes! So amazing! They were great--though, I think because they are really high, they are why I didn't cry during the ceremony, which was so beautiful and perfect.

My dress twirls! (Advantages of a full skirt).

I never thought I'd say it, but my wedding was perfect.  Even with all the snow crazies, and with some people unable to travel, we still had a great time and partied hard.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

NYE Outfit: Vintage Finery!

Several months ago, my cool aunt (who is also making my wedding cakes!) scored a sweet find at an estate sale: a vintage dress, in almost perfect shape, for like $2.  (FYI: it's always nice to have someone who knows my tastes looking out for me!).  When I went to visit in November, she brought the dress out of the closet.  I eyed it cautiously for a few minutes because it looked too small for me around the middle.  The dress, however, was a lovely shade of pink and looked exactly like something I should own.

In spite of my worries, I tried it on, and even though it was very fitted, I could tell it fit properly.  This was, after all, a dress from the era of more fitted dresses and more confining undergarments.  I made a few small adjustments to the dress (removed some fading velvet bows and fixed a torn sleeve).  I thought about wearing it to Christmas (but opted instead for my red silk Christmas skirt), but ultimately decided that New Year's Eve would be the perfect venue for this lovely dress.

I was also given some lovely vintage jewelry from Lance's grandma (some that I will wear at the wedding!), so I wore that as well.  While thrifting the afternoon of NYE, I found a great pair of shoes (for cheap!) that I wore.  The best find of all during the thrifting excursion, however, was a lace clutch with matching gloves:

So pretty, and yet so cheap!  If only they were white, I could wear them with my wedding dress.  I will find other reasons to wear them, never fear.

I felt a bit costumed, but you know what?  I felt awesome.  There is definitely something to be said about wearing clothes that fit well and make you feel good in them.

Vintage-tastic!