9.19.2013

[LIFE] September Stream of Consciousness

Original digital photomanipulation from PierceXy

SO MUCH going on this month. The usual being:

  • getting kids back to school
  • kicking off a new swim team season 
  • kicking off a new dance season
  • kicking off a new marching band season
  • birthdays (mine, my daughters, my MIL's)
  • seasonal yardwork

and adding some new things to the mix:


and trying to maintain some of my old favorites:

  • regular exercise (volleyball, walking, pickleball, yoga, aquatic therapy)
  • scratch cooking
  • reading for pleasure!
  • a life WITHOUT homework, yippee!!
  • gardening and home improvement
You'll see in the next few weeks how it all sorts out, but here's a hint: I'm mostly going to use the RWC site (where you are at right now) to crosspost from other sites until I get into a groove with them. This means mostly sleep links and an occasional post from me. My food blog, Extra!Extra!, is on the back burner for now (pun intended) because I am going to restart my CSA subscription next spring and the blog will be my reflection of that experience. My personal website will, with any luck, be transformed by the end of October and my goal is to have an active sleep health presence in social networks and via journalism, PR and other writing routes by November. 

As for my creative writing life? It's still on hold as I wrap my mind around a lot of new science and technology writing (which I'm thrilled about!), but of course the urge to write a poem or story or personal essay persists, so it's just a matter of time until my brainspace opens up enough to allow me to reenter the world of literary writing. And that's just fine. If there's one thing I know about myself as a writer, it's that I have more stories to write than years to live, and I expect to live a long time, so... all in due time, right?

7.09.2013

[EATZ] True Confessions: I don't care about your diet

I learned a pretty important lesson as a "foodie" over the last 15 months. Actually, three... here's a third one for True Confessions time.

Lesson #3: What I eat is my business.
Original artwork from roaringsoftly -- subtle pop culture art made with love

If I've managed to cement one mode of thinking about food these last several months, it's the idea that diets are just plain bad unless they are prescribed specifically for you by a dietitian, a nutritionist, an MD or a naturopath. BadBad. And more bad. Specific food avoidances are really and truly only for people who absolutely have a verifiable need to do so. Diets, in this vein, are GOOD for diabetics, for instance. These people definitely need to cut out simple sugars and increase complex carbs. Someone diagnosed with celiac disease is definitely going to be better off cutting out gluten, a known antagonist for this painful chronic ailment. Cutting down on sodium is useful if you have high blood pressure. I'm good with these efforts to be healthier, for these particular people and their conditions.

That doesn't mean these diets are going to be good for me.

Listen... if you have not been diagnosed with a health condition which is directly impacted by the consumption of certain foods, then be very careful about eliminating foods from your diet unless you have proof they are the devil. And I mean real proof. And if you can find real proof, please let the rest of the world know because, frankly, unless it's coming from a major research facility with decades of replicated studies, it's not going to be real proof. Not in my book.

Everyone has different dietary needs. I need to eat animal protein, for instance. I choose to eat lean animal protein of the kind that is most ethically raised or harvested (as in, grass-fed, free-range, hormone-free, wild caught, etc.) whenever possible. But it means that sometimes I don't or I can't. I also eat gluten (wheat and its many forms, barley, rye, oats) because my body does very well with whole grain soluble fiber and the rich source of B vitamins these foods provide. I like soy and it likes me back; my kids fared much better on soy formula, as well, but none of us are lactose intolerant or dairy sensitive. Skim milk dairy does my body good (kefir, fresh mozz, lebna and crème fraîche, anybody?). And nuts... don't get me started on nuts, I eat them all day long. I'm not fat-fearful; I love me some avocados and olive oil and peanut butter and kalamatas and flaxseed and cold water fish.

I'm not without my sins, of course. I eat eggs, yolks and all. You busted me in my last post when I admitted to eating carry out pizza; the same goes for Thai, Indian, teriyaki and Mexican take-out. Sometimes you'll catch me cooking with ghee. Heaven forbid I eat a steak or a hamburger every once and again. I confess to eating McDs french fries while waiting for the ferry recently and, guess what... lightning did not strike me dead, because I'm here to tell about it! Indian buffets are a portal to Nirvana for me. And I'm not one to turn down a piece of cake at a celebration or pass by cookies at Christmas or a piece of dark chocolate for no good reason at all.

My relationship to food reflects mostly who I am, and one of the things I am not is obsessive about unnecessary dietary restrictions. I eat to live. Eating gives me pleasure. The variety of what I eat is part of what makes me a happy camper. One way to make me an unhappy camper is to tell me to put away the fixings for S'mores.

That's about all I'm going to say about special diets. At this point, I have truly learned the art of avoiding dietary conversation much in the same way one typically avoids chatting about politics or religion in polite company. Just don't go there. It gets too ugly and, ultimately, it doesn't matter. I'm gonna eat what I damn well like. If you're not convinced, allow me to repeat my six-word memoir penned many years ago: "Tell me I can't, I will." That applies to everything about me, including my job as sole arbiter of my own omnivorism.

Lesson #2: [EATZ] True Confessions: Scratch Cooking = Not Easy
Lesson #1: [EATZ] True Confessions: Privilege and eating "right"

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7.02.2013

[EATZ] True Confessions: Scratch Cooking = Not Easy

I learned a pretty important lesson as a "foodie" over the last 15 months. Actually, three... here's a second one for True Confessions time.

Lesson #2: Privilege sugar coats the realities of how "easy" it is to cook from scratch.
"Cold Pizza" by Rick Audet, courtesy CCA 2.0 Generic

This is what the Universe taught me over the last 15 months when I found myself barely able to cook at all while in school, doing homework, raising teens and trying to keep active. Me, the scratch cook, dialing for pizza! There just wasn't TIME.

This is not a blank check permission for anyone to school me on time management, mind you. College homework for me took, on average, 6 hours a day, every day. At the end of the day, there is still the shuffling about of kids to and from their activities, housework and all the other commitments that daily life demands. Sure, to someone who doesn't have to work full time, spending 2-3 hours a day preparing healthy food in advance is easy peasy. But listen. Even Superwoman cannot master the extraordinary burdens of a Sandwich Generation schedule. When it's 10 pm and you're still doing homework while cycling laundry and need to get up super early for labs the next day and your teenager is telling you about their really bad day and you have just learned your elderly parent might be heading off to the hospital again, the last thing you'll be thinking about is peeling carrots, boiling down a chicken for stock or making a sourdough sponge.

It's not that I don't know how to cook from scratch in a totally simple way. I do. I tend to arrange a meal based on food groups and keep the food as close to its original form as possible. Some sort of whole protein, check. One non-leafy vegetable, check. One whole grain side, check. One fruit side, check. One leafy vegetable, usually in a salad, check. Fruits and veggies, simply made, are good: I have perfected fruit salad and steamed broccoli and sauteed mushrooms and fruited salsas and myriad salads incorporating whatever's in the fridge with the best of them. I use appliances to speed things up, too: the microwave, the rice cooker, the pressure cooker, the immersion blender, the mini choppers, the Advantium 120 (a secret weapon, I tell ya!).

Here's an example of what I can do: I know how to make a quick vegetable sauce of mushrooms, garlic, spinach and olives in about 10 minutes flat. Or a quick tomato sauce of chopped Romas with garlic, balsamic vinegar and basil. But in order to do that, I have to already have mushrooms, garlic, spinach, olives, Romas, balsamic and/or basil on hand. I'm better at most people when it comes to keeping the pantry stocked, but once I started school, just fitting in a trip to the store was a challenge. And here's the thing: when you go out, all well meaning and gung ho, to buy fresh produce, you can only buy a few things because you will need to prepare those few things very soon or else they ROT. And when you get home, Lifus Interrupticus happens and all those plans for making fresh food? Poof. I got tired of throwing out fresh fruits and vegetables because of the failures of best laid plans and the fact that my family isn't quite as into the "eat your greens" mode of thinking (aside from my youngest, who can be a vegetable genius). If I didn't go to the store for a few days, the fridge would fill up anyway... with boxes of carry out.

Any do-gooder who wants to tell me how I need to educate my family about eating well can just take their gospel elsewhere. Been there, done that. Nagging loses its charm pretty quickly. You can't turn a corner in my house without tripping over a whole foods cookbook of one kind or another. I have one head on my shoulders and it does not, in any way, control all the other heads on shoulders in my immediate vicinity.

In the final analysis, food in my household will always come by way of the path of least resistance unless I do all the shopping and cooking. Now that I'm entering a new career path and have become recently employed, what are the odds of that happening? Well, I'll be working night shifts, so what do you think? The good news is that I don't have 42 hours of homework a week anymore (it's more like 25 hours a week from now until I take my board exam). So my goal for now is to be a bit more vigilant about working my way back into the kitchen as well as back into the good graces of the whole foods gods. When I do eat well, I feel fantastic, so there's a known payoff and a future in scratch cooking for me. I just have to get back into the food groove.

(PS for those who hope I'll write a cookbook, I'm still working toward the goal! It will definitely be the same concept but I plan to keep in mind the path of least resistance we all endure when it comes to cooking and maybe I'll even include some notes about how to keep a stocked pantry on a budget with a mind to time and resource management now that I have had a serious reality check with regard to managing a "scratch" kitchen.)

Lesson #1: [EATZ] True Confessions: Privilege and eating "right"
Coming soon: Lesson #3 [EATZ] I don't care about your diet

—Like this entry? Send your "one dolla" (that's right, just $1!) pledge to the Clarion West Write-A-Thon in my name and help support writers of every stripe in this excellent writing program.


6.25.2013

[EATZ] True Confessions: Privilege and eating "right"

I learned a pretty important lesson as a "foodie" over the last 15 months. Actually, three... here's one for True Confessions time. I'll post the other two separately.

Lesson #1. Privilege makes eating "right" easy.
1937 photo by Margaret Bourke-White – Breadline during Louisville Flood.

Just watching the price of yogurt go up, and then the price of "premium" Greek-style yogurt double the regular variety, is proof enough. My kids would eat 4 cups of yogurt a day, every day, if this was an option. I would add 1 more cup to that total. That's 5 cups a day, over 30 days equaling 150 cups. Multiply by $1 and you have spent $150 just on yogurt alone. I'm not someone who has to watch the grocery budget, but even I won't spend a buck on a cup of yogurt. There are families trying to get by on  less than $30 a week with their groceries, it's ridiculous to think that everyone can afford yogurt. Even the watery, sugary store brand is pushing 60 cents a cup where I live. That's still about $25 a week (do the math). That would mean the family would only have $5 left to spend per week on food. Crazymaking. Yes, children need to eat yogurt to stay healthy, but what price, good health?

I notice the prices at the farmer's market as well and think, how frickin' cavalier we privileged foodies are to demand that everyone eat local and organic all the time. First of all, it's not possible in most places to even access this kind of food (do you know about food deserts?), and second of all, cha-ching cha-ching, cha-ching. I still love and support our local farmers, don't get me wrong. I just also dread the thought that families are eating at McDs two to three times a day because it's the cheapest way to feed the kids, because food from the farmer's market is just trop cher for so many. Who can truly judge these families for making this choice? Inequity, unaffordability and inaccessibility are bigger factors here than ignorance, though to hear it from the privileged foodie world, it's really as simple as buying an apple. It's not.

I have to applaud those farmers markets which accept WIC coupons and food stamps. I'm happy to pay full price as a kind of subsidy if it means someone else who's eating from the local food shelter pantry can have affordable veggies. Unfortunately, it would take a whole lot of people like me to make this possible, and that's not the reality among the foodies I know. They might be conservative, they might be liberal, but mostly, they are the ones who are ignorant to the privilege it requires to eat "right," because there are realities to the cost of eating "right" that they never even have to consider.

Coming soon: 
Lesson #2: [EATZ] True Confessions: Scratch Cooking = Not Easy
Lesson #3: [EATZ] I don't care about your diet

—Like this entry? Send your "one dolla" (that's right, just $1!) pledge to the Clarion West Write-A-Thon in my name and help support writers of every stripe in this excellent writing program.

6.24.2013

[WILDERNESS] The untethered brain

Image courtesy San Francisco State University, Psych 200 Unit.
[Warning: Mixed metaphors and serial commas may appear without warning in this post.]

It's going to be a challenge to write this post. Why? Because I'm now hovering in that limbo between structured life and unstructured life that comes with finishing up school and parenting, and the transition between the two can be extremely challenging for me. Life with an Untethered Brain.

My multitasking brain (aka Tethered Brain), so used to studying and managing commitments and obligations, so used to cleaving to a rigid schedule, is now allowed to  remove its seat belt and move about the cabin freely.

Part of me wants to go there; I need the stress relief after a tough spring of health concerns, family challenges, raising teens and finishing school. Let things go! Play life by ear for a change, right? Can I just go to the movies for daily matinees and eat potato chips and candy for dinner?

Alas, no. The other part of me looks at the potential for chaos and wants to flee immediately. It's so damn overwhelming to see what still needs to be done, as well as to project out what will need to be done and soon. There's simply no time available or responsibility given to such mercurial pursuits. Life remains an all or nothing proposal.

Writing can be like this, too. A fresh, new idea without a form to apply to it can have the beauty of being anything it wants to be while also possessing an air of unstoppable calamity.

I am reminded of the spindle in the window at one or another of the many restaurants I worked in during my teens and twenties. The spindle can hold a dozen (?), twenty (?) customer orders. One on the spindle is easy, five or six spaced apart is manageable. But a dozen or more jammed on there all at once, with more on the way? Add to that the noise of a busy kitchen, personality clashes between wait staff and cooks, unpleasant and demanding customers, and running out of favorite items, and you have a recipe for overload of the part of the brain used to managing executive functions like problem solving, short term memory, communications, and risk management.

I'm not ordinarily a control freak, but I do appreciate parameters, "orders," anything to reduce my options in a way that allows me to focus. I'm not a writer who suffers block; I'm a writer who has ideas that come like an endless stream of bowling balls to the ball return. They get stuck inside the mechanism if you don't keep them moving. It's a strange kind of creative pox I still haven't cured, regardless all the strategies I've tried over the years.

This summer I try again. Or do I?

Recent scientific research (here, here and here) has focused on the notion that multitasking is probably not the best thing we can do with our brains. My knee-jerk response? Bullshit. Multitasking is the domain of brilliant women; how dare anybody tell us we aren't smarter for doing it? There must be a conspiracy afoot that I don't know about, one against strong women with sharp minds.

Yet, this year, my attitude has changed. MultitaskingI can do it well enough, but has it turned me into a Jane of All Trades, Mistress of None? My grades were good enough this year; I graduated and have already landed a job and potentially a second complementary one. I'm managing the throes of parenting teenagers well enough, though I'm sure I haven't earned an A+ in that category, especially not lately. What cost, multitasking? The laundry remains undone, the weeds are four feet tall, the house needs its spring clean from 2012, my office is a deadly firetrap in waiting, and I can't seem to stay on top of the schedule. I forget things. I sometimes find myself struggling to do simple math in my head. I have to use my iPhone to remind myself to eat breakfast and lunch. People tell me things that just shoot in one ear and out the other, failing to imprint to memory. Word recall is... (I can't remember the term... fragmented? fractured?...)

No one else seems to notice this, but I'm painfully aware of these things, every day of my life.

I wonder if I'm like my friend Jay... smart enough that a little cog fog may not be apparent to the rest of the world, though it remains quite apparent in day-to day-functionality. As a writer and thinker, I don't like this one bit. Now I wonder, has my quick brain multitasked itself into a mediocre new reality? Is this something I can undo?

Being a Libran, my first impulse is to achieve a balance. I need a tether fifty percent of the time, maybe. But how to establish that in this transition period? I have discovered that sitting down and pounding out schedules actually just takes a lot of time and may not make me more productive (though I might feel more relief in doing so). So I think about priorities: health management, passing my board exam, controlling the dull roar that is my household right now, while building in some fun and spontaneous time doing absolutely nothing practical. Yoga and meditation can't be far behind, but I am still in Tethered Brain mode and, right now, the schedule doesn't seem to have space.

I don't know how this will work out. All I can do is keep going because, ultimately, transitions are temporary, and I find tremendous relief in this unchanging truth. This, too, shall pass and I'll find myself in a place where I can achieve a balance that suits my brainTethered or Untethered. But all this talk about multitasking's dark side is giving me pause; here's a great argument for trying not to do it all at once from Forbes, as another example.

How about you? What is multitasking for you? A bane or a boon? Do you agree with what the new research is saying? Is it a chick thing? Inquiring minds want to know.

—Like this entry? Send your "one dolla" (that's right, just $1!) pledge to the Clarion West Write-A-Thon in my name and help support writers of every stripe in this excellent writing program.