Monthly Archives: May 2010

Recipe

Ingredients: butter, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, flaxseed meal, water, vanilla, flour, salt, baking soda, brewer’s yeast, oats, chocolate chips

She thought she had everything she needed at home, but realized that they were out of most of the baking supplies normally kept around. A trip to the store was necessary anyhow, but she ended up going to both of the neighborhood stores (one that catered to a wealthy, healthy crowd and the other just a normal store). She forgot the oats on the first stop into the hippie store so had to go back a second time.

I wonder, she mused, as she walked around the neighborhood in the breezy spring afternoon. The yards were full of flowers and new plants and piles of mulch everywhere, signs that people would be spending the long weekend sprucing up their residences after a long, hard, cold winter. I wonder if anyone will ever do this for me.

Dissolve flaxseed meal in water for five minutes. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, vanilla, and flaxseed meal, combine well.

The backpack was heavy, at least fifteen pounds worth of baking supplies weighing her down as she forced her way home through the cold gusty winds. I should have worn something other than a tank top and shorts, she thought. At least the pack helps keep me from blowing away. People were out on the sidewalks with their dogs, evening constitutionals resulting in perfectly preserved poop, something future generations of archaeologists would be scratching their heads to explain. Why did 21st century Americans worship the feces of companion animals and babies? The thought made her giggle a little, and then the reminder of babies sobered her again. Her project would be in support of a brand new little one, who needed as much help as he could get.

Sift flour, brewer’s yeast, baking soda, and salt. Add wet ingredients and mix until well-combined.

She passed the house where the first summer they’d lived in their new place, they’d noticed the young family out playing in the yard. A blond father, a red-haired mother, and two babies, one Asian and one resembling Winston Churchill, both around the same age. She remembered the comment she’d made to him, four years earlier, about how maybe that family had had a hard time concieving, and so they adopted a little boy from another country only to find themselves pregnant halfway through the process. I bet those boys are in kindergarten now, she thought. Wonder if any more siblings ever arrived.

Stir in oats and chocolate chips.

Nearly home, she welcomed the sight of one of the neighborhood roamers, a buff-colored orange tabby who came when she called him. She hadn’t seen him in a while; he liked to come around in the yard and tease their male cat, who was indoor only, but he must have spent the winter inside. Orange Kitty, as they nicknamed him, was very friendly. She was sure he had at least a couple of places on the block who would put out food for him. It’s hard not to care for a cute, friendly animal, she thought, much like how we’re programmed to take care of screaming babies who don’t let us sleep.

Drop by teaspoonfuls on parchment-lined baking sheets.

She thought back to all of the blankets and hats and booties she’d made over the years. So many of those babies were children now, and it would be years before they could ask questions about where the blankets had come from. Maybe it’s because I had one on my bed when I was little, she thought, made by someone I never met, but it was green and pink and purple and it kept me warm. Maybe that’s why I do it. You knit things out of love, hoping that the person for whom you made the thing finds it useful, even if they don’t know who you are and maybe never will. And sometimes the families of those babies need extra help.

Bake at 375F for 8-12 minutes.

This baby, for example, this baby who was only 10 days old and back in the hospital with serious pneumonia. As an outsider, there is only so much you can do to help the people who are hurting. The baby had a charmed existence from the beginning, conceived in love after a beautiful lavish wedding and an adventurous honeymoon to relatively wealthy parents, causing no morning sickness, coming out only 6 days later than scheduled, of average size. He wasn’t named something-that-rhymes-with-Aiden or after a medieval profession. But even the best foundations don’t necessarily translate to an easy time of it later. The baby’s mama wants to breastfeed him after he comes home, and could use some help. So she volunteered.

Makes several dozen cookies. Nursing mothers should eat at least four cookies per day to assist with milk supply.

You feel helpless, sometimes, when a friend is in trouble. Sometimes you just wish there was something, anything, you could do to help. And sometimes there is. Maybe someday, she thought, someone will help me. It will be my turn, and someone will make a blanket. Someone will layer a lasagna. Someone will bake cookies to help me make food for my baby. But today, I’m the one with free hands, and I can bake, and pay it forward, so that if it’s ever my turn to need help, someone might be willing to do it for me.

Advertisements

Goings-on

* My brother-in-law came to visit over the weekend. He prefers to go incognito. (The weather in our part of Colorado was not especially warm on Saturday, hence the hooded sweatshirt.

* I got a haircut.

* Robin spent a not inconsiderable amount of time walking on the floor this week. Yes, this is progress.

Yep, that’s about it. What’s new with you, internet?

When they get it right

Internet, remember back to when you were a kid. Was there ever a book that you just loved beyond all reason, that you read over and over again, that had so many good parts to balance out any of the bad parts that when you finished reading it you’d sigh?

I had lots and lots of those books. (I still do, and I’m not even remotely a kid anymore.) I love kids’ books so much to this day that I have two whole shelves of ’em, books that maybe will belong to my someday children but then again, maybe not. Maybe I just have them because I love them too much not to have them around for when I want to pick one back up and re-read it again.

A few of those books stand out more than the rest. Some of them I loved so much that I was able to include them in my undergraduate thesis. One of them in particular I love so much that I still cry each and every time I re-read it, even though I know exactly what is coming because I’ve read it so many times and because it’s such a quick read. That book? Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Patterson.

I can’t really put my finger on why I love this book so much. Maybe it’s the language, or maybe it’s the characters, or maybe it’s that it was the first book I remember reading that really didn’t pussyfoot around the idea that sometimes young people die, too. A lot of books were written in the late 60s through the early 80s centered around the very idea that kids shouldn’t be sheltered by life’s problems – death, divorce, drugs, etc. (I could go into further detail about this, but then I’d have to just refer you to my thesis which I still intend to scan because I think it’s pretty good, even 10 years later.) But the point of the books isn’t usually to ruin childhoods or to drive home LIFE’S NOT FAIR, but to show how the main character deals with whatever the problem is. In Bridge to Terabithia, there’s a poor kid who makes friends with a new kid and together they create an imaginary life for themselves outside of the mundane world. There’s no shying away from the fact that Jess, the main character, is poor, or that a lot of the kids at school have family problems. The dialogue and characterization is totally believable. And after Jess’s friend dies (offscreen, as it were), the rest of the book shows him coming to terms with it, with what it means for his life, and what happens next.

A few years ago, when we were in the movie theater, we saw a trailer for Bridge to Terabithia. The trailer looked so incredibly disappointing, as though they’d taken one of my favorite childhood books and transformed it into something totally Disneyfied and not at all the point. In fact, seeing the trailer made me actively angry and I decided that not only would I not go to see the movie when it came out but I’d avoid seeing it in any other fashion as well. It would serve them right, it would, ruining one of my favorite childhood books for the purposes of greed.

I didn’t give it any additional thought, really, until last night when I was flipping through channels and realized Bridge to Terabithia (the movie with the awful, awful trailer that so enraged me) was on the teevee. More out of morbid curiosity than anything else, I decided to see just how bad it was and started watching it while Dan was still making dinner. I was all prepared for righteous indignation and a bit of PALATR, but from the opening credits I realized I had been All Wrong about the movie. Seriously.

The kid who played Jess was perfect. The kid who played Leslie was just fine. There were so many places that they could have changed the story, but didn’t. And even the parts that had been in the trailer, with CGI used to show what Jess and Leslie were imagining, totally fit in the context of the rest of the movie. They even got the casting perfectly for two of the best characters in the book, Janice Avery and May Belle. They showed and didn’t tell, about Jess’s family’s poverty and what an amazing treat it was for Jess, a budding artist, to be allowed to go to a museum in a big city. The characters I’d read and re-read and loved for at least 25 years came alive on my screen and were everything I could have hoped for in a Hollywood movie. But I knew, I just knew, that even though they’d gotten everything right that they’d find a way to screw up.

I waited and I waited, but it didn’t happen. The movie was about as faithful an adaptation of a book as I’d ever seen. There was no hiding of or shying away from the bad things in the story. And the part of the movie that I was convinced they would completely ruin made tears run down my face. I cried and cried, watching that part, and I think it wasn’t because the movie had done it well (though it had) but because they had done such an amazing job bringing the story to life that all my memories of crying over the sad parts of the book came back. 31 years old and I cried at a kids’ movie. On the teevee. With commercials for horrifying toys and breakfast cereals. I dried my tears just in time to see the best part at the very end, the part where Jess shares his secret magical world with his little sister, and it was everything it needed to be.

So there you have it. Every once in a great while, Hollywood gets it right, and I guess I can’t always say that I’ll never see a movie based on its trailer because I may be wrong about it. I was wrong about Bridge to Terabithia and I encourage anyone else out there who loved the book and was afraid of how bad the movie would be that no, really, it’s worth watching. They get it right.

Consensus: Not defective

I wanted to thank those of you who took the time to comment on my post about stuff. I had been thinking about it for quite some time before I wrote it, and I talked to Dan about it after I wrote it, and he helped me to clarify some things in my head.

It’s not that I don’t like stuff. It’s that I’m just not into stuff that doesn’t have a personal meaning FOR ME. As Dan pointed out in his post (along with photographic evidence), pretty much everything we have by way of decor has a personal significance to one or both of us. So maybe when I see the photos on the design and style blogs, I generally feel “meh” because the stuff they show doesn’t have any personal meaning or significance for me. I have a hard time imagining how most “stuff” will enrich or enhance my living experience unless I have some sort of personal tie to it, I suppose.

Our living quarters are not the only way in which this personal style, for lack of a better term, seems to manifest itself. Virtually every detail of our wedding, for example, was something that was personally significant to at least one of us. I started to make a list in my head and realized if I wrote it all down, anyone reading this would fall asleep – the venue, the decor, the apparel, the officiant, and just about everything else other than the date (March 29 was pretty much the only date we could do it taking into account the schedules of everyone involved plus our venue) meant something. On the site where I did a bunch of venting about wedding planning, there was a thread called “Repository of meaningful details”, and I never did get around to posting about ours there because it would read like a laundry list.

The funny thing about weddings, or home decor, or what have you, is that nobody really knows or cares about the stories behind the choices you make. Or at least, nobody will ever care as much as you will. I kind of like that I can look at the shelf in our living room and tell you what everything is, why we have it, and where we got it/who gave it to us. Maybe it runs in my family, because my Aunt Edy has a story about just about everything in her home as well. I even now have a few things that were hers, including a lithograph on silk depicting an Irish wedding from the turn of the previous century. I like the idea of everything having a story, and hope someday that I’ll have a kid (or two) who want to know the stories behind the things that we have.

* * * * * *

We spent a good chunk of Saturday going through and culling stuff, including 3 boxes of books and some kitchen things we don’t need/want anymore. It felt really good, and freeing, to know that just because we have something, just because someone gave something to us, or because we bought it, doesn’t mean we have to keep it. And just about everything we’re giving away or getting rid of is something that can be replaced later if we decide, down the line, that we can’t live without it.

* * * * * *

One of the projects I have in the queue is a t-shirt quilt for Dan, kind of like the one I made Oldest Friend for her 30th birthday. It’s a perfect project for my current mindset: a way to preserve old memories for posterity, in a way that is productive and useful, and rids us of a whole lotta stuff we don’t need. Maybe I’ll start on that this weekend.

Hair for a good cause

I saw this today on a friend’s facebook wall, and since I was planning to cut my hair soon anyway, I think I’ll ask the hair cuttery to save it for me so I can send it out to San Francisco. Sadly, even though it’s shedding season I don’t think I can collect enough kitty fur for it to be worth bothering with.

So, how short should I go?

Despite appearances, I do occasionally think about things outside my immediate sphere of awareness

I may have mentioned my friend Jonathan here a time or two. Jonathan is the sort of person who works for several months, saves up a lot of money, and then travels for several months (or years). He has done this over and over again in the time I have known him, and I always try to keep up with his latest exploits, because I find them fascinating.

Jonathan is currently living in Hong Kong, finishing up a master’s degree and working on his next steps with what he wants to be when he grows up. I’ve been following him on twitter and get Facebook status updates, many of which link to articles that interest him, and yesterday he linked to one that I just couldn’t help but read. See, a few years back, Jonathan spent several months traveling through and living in parts of Africa. And by Africa, I mean really, really Africa. He spent at least a month living in a town of 3000 people in Mali, for example. So when he linked to the article, saying it was representative of his Mali experience, I had to check it out.

Internet, after reading the article I was totally ashamed of myself. I’d rarely given more than a passing thought to most countries in Africa, other than a vague desire to see Egypt one day, and of course when various friends travel to various countries (Morocco, Ethiopia, and the aforementioned Mali are all places friends have gone). I thought some about South Africa when I watched District 9. But Niger? What is there in Niger? I know absolutely nothing about it, know nothing about its culture or its history or its geography or what it’s like to live there. Now, thanks to this article, I do.

Of course, the article is about how there’s little to no media attention for Niger, despite its serious problems. The problems Niger has are exacerbated by climate change, by its patriarchal culture, by things as small as cutural taboos of feeding eggs to children or not allowing newborns to drink colostrum. The statistics in the article about Niger just completely blew my mind: 1 in 7 babies dies before age 1. Women have, on average, 7 children. SEVEN. When there’s not enough food for anyone, let alone that many babies. It’s a sort of life I can’t even imagine living, and a sort of situation I can’t even imagine how it can possibly be changed for the better. There are so many factors in play, so many reasons why people do the things they do and why Niger, in general, is so poor. They don’t have anything to export, really, and no way to bring in tourism dollars. The way of life people lived for thousands of years isn’t really sustainable in a world where countries have borders and you can’t just pack up and move to where there’s less desert and more food and more opportunities.

Every so often, I catch myself having a pity party. Things are not going the way I would like them to, and I feel sorry for myself. It really takes something mindblowing like this for me to realize just how good I have it. My kids, should I ever be lucky enough to have some, will never, ever be this poor, or this hungry, or have to wait for dad and older brothers and mom and older sisters to eat before they get to eat. We live in a society where that doesn’t happen. We have clean water and a huge infrastructure set up to ensure we have plenty of food, and a myriad of choices both miniscule and profound. I’ll never have to watch a child starve to death, and never starve myself.

Now, I’m not saying that people who live in Niger have shitty lives (though I suppose by some standards, they do). It just never ceases to amaze me how the luck of the draw entitled me to live in the United States, be born into privilege, and ensure that I had enough food while my brain was developing that I was able to learn and realize my full intellectual potential. For millions, even billions of people, they never get that opportunity. Next time I’m feeling sorry for myself, I’ll remember how much better I have it than most of the population of Niger, and while I’ll feel like an asshole at least it will remind me to get out of my own head once in a while.

Defective

Last week, when Dan and I were sitting in Pete’s Kitchen consuming greasy breakfast foods and processed meats, I mentioned to him how I think I might be a defective female-type person. When he asked me to clarify, I told him about something that’s been on my mind for a while – something spurred from the interwebosphere. Here’s my dirty confession, internet: I’m just not into stuff. Like, at all. It’s as though the part of me that is supposed to want to coo over fashion or squee over cute stuff or swoon over some sort of well-designed dealy bopper just…doesn’t exist. Nearly always, when I go into a store or shop a bit online, all I can see is stuff. Stuff that costs money, and sure, it might be cute or fashionable or design-y, but it’s still just…stuff.

I see bloggers that I read (and friends) asked to contribute to design blogs or style blogs, and I read them sometimes. I’m especially intrigued by the gift guides on blogs like that. The idea of pouring through websites to find a bunch of items, put them together into some sort of cohesive whole, and make people want to buy them is about as appealing to me as hanging up my laundry. And, as Dan can tell you, that’s my least favorite chore. Even more alarming, most of the time I look at those sorts of gift guides and don’t see a single thing I might want – or, at least, not a single thing I’d consider buying for myself. The idea of spending money on stuff I don’t need, just because it’s a thing I like, is something that rarely crosses my mind. I’m even (and I know this is going to be shocking, because how could it not be) not a huge fan of Etsy. I mean, I love that there is a place where people can sell cool stuff they make directly to people who want to buy it. But I’ve only ever found a few things on there that I might actually want, so I just don’t find it especially useful for *me*.

For the last several years, my mom always asks me to put together a list of things I’d like for gift-giving occasions. I have a very, very difficult time with this task, because it’s so hard for me to think of things that I want. Sometimes I wonder whether I’m the only girl on the planet who doesn’t have a wish list stashed away someplace, itemized and categorized by gift giver, occasion, and how much each item is desired. When it’s time for me to come up with ideas for what I want, usually I resort to asking Dan for ideas, because there’s just never really anything that I *want* that much. In my day-to-day life, I am so much more likely to enjoy spending money on an experience than on an item, a thing, or a stuff. I save up for trips and would nearly always prefer tickets to an event or a well-planned outing over just about anything.

It’s not that I don’t like looking at stuff, because sometimes I do, and sometimes I even fantasize about how it might look in my living space or what outfit I might wear it with or how cute it would be on the counter in the kitchen that’s already containing about as much stuff as it can while sill remaining functional. Maybe I’ll be singing a different tune when, someday, we have our own place that we can transform into anything we like. But maybe I just lack the stuff-wanting thing that seems to be so common to just about every other female person I know. In the last year or so, I’ve had an urge to purge, to get rid of stuff that I don’t use or don’t need or don’t want or just don’t have the space for anymore. While we wait for a job opportunity or the heavens to open up or something in California, I daydream about downsizing the amount of crap we will have to move.

I used to love stuff. But all the moves I did in college (and if you count moving from one room to another in the same building, I moved 9 times before graduation) taught me that it’s just not worth it to haul so much STUFF around on the off chance that someday one might be able to use it. Granted, some of the things I’ve held on to over the years came in handy down the line – the recycled calendar origami crane mobiles I made for our wedding, for example, would not have existed had I not saved so many old calendars. And I can throw together a costume with the snap of my fingers. But so many of the “maybe someday” things take up so much space. As I get older, I find that clutter bothers me more and more, and I find myself wanting to de-clutter my living space which in turn helps me to de-clutter my brain.

Very soon here, I think I’m going to have to put on a different set of glasses in which to view all of my stuff. I’m going to look at everything with a critical eye – will keeping it enhance my life? How much enjoyment do I get out of each thing? Is my sole enjoyment just HAVING it, and if so, is that enough to outweigh NOT having it? Does it have some sort of sentimental value, or have I just been hanging onto it out of habit? I’d like to break out of the bad habit of just acquiring stuff, and figure out how to just keep the things that really enhance my life.

So how broken a girl am I, really? Am I missing out? Should I attempt to style-ify and stuff-ify my life, or am I just better off not caring all that much about what’s in Anthropologie or Crate and Barrel or the boutique down the street? WHAT AM I MISSING BY NOT BEING A VERY STYLISH GIRL?