Thursday, October 30, 2008

All the news you could use...

I had a dream I awoke from about an hour ago in which Scooby Doo and Shaggy were being chased by a Frankenstein-like monster. Besides the fact that Hanna-Barbera clearly cleaved significant in-roads into my psyche at a critical time in my life, this is notable for the fact that it was a truly scary dream.

Which reminds me that when I was a child, I had an aspiration to "program" my dreams, much like a Tivo: each night before I went to bed, I would tell myself, "First, I'm going to watch a Banana Splits episode, then The Flintstones, then Zoom!, then The Jetson's..." As the last vestiges of the Scooby dream faded from my unconscious mind, I realized that I had finally achieved what I had wanted all those years ago. Better late than never! Now I've got to work on that second dream: being the lone female member of the Monkees. I will probably need a time machine for such an endeavor, but, whatever. (The Monkees was (were?) in reruns when I was a child, but that didn't stop me from my indulging in my fantasies. I wore a yellow pajama top around the top of my head as my long, blonde hair and watched on my parent's good color TV after school with the door shut. One day, my brother and one of his friends busted in on me, sitting rapt on the shag carpet with the pajama top on my head - he must have said something to the effect of, "My sister watches The Monkees with a pajama top on her head. Come on, I'll show you!" - and that was the end of my innocent but bizarre habit. Still, I cannot hear Daydream Believer without feeling the elastic neckline of my pajama top around my head.)

What else? We're getting ready for Halloween around here, and my son has broken out his spinosaurus costume about fifty times since the beginning of October, when John first constructed it (out of all the actively discouraged camouflage* my mother keeps buying for my pacifist child - seriously: a sweatshirt, pants and a t-shirt) and I'm just trying to hold that poor safety-pinned creation together for two more days. It has marinara stains on it and the tail has certainly seen better, more jubilant days, and I'm pretty sure that, if challenged, that costume could pretty much go trick-or-treating by itself at this point but we and it will soldier on, in true camouflage-y spirit.

I'm always a little conflicted about the whole candy windfall that occurs for my son every Halloween. (Of course, we separate out the non-vegan candy and he understands this ahead of time so it does not cause any sort of meltdown.) I understand the parents who take all the candy and leave a nice toy in its stead, but, really, no really, that would not work for my son, not without resentment and a subsequent memoir detailing our various misguided cruelties toward him. In raising a vegan child, you have to juggle what you are willing to accept from mainstream culture and what you absolutely cannot abide. It is important for my son to participate in certain activities and I am fine with Halloween being one of them. Nearly all our decorations have been DIY and it's been a fun and creative experience for him to contribute his ideas and craftiness this year. Though Halloween means junk of epic proportion (corn syrup, artificial dyes, and all that other garbage that is verboten the rest of the year), I remember how exciting and thrilling trick-or-treating was for me as a child and I cannot deny him that. Exchanging his candy for a toy would have worked when he was three, but not now that he's six. We all do what works best for our children, and allowing one evening of purely bacchinalian excess a year is something that I can accept. We've got our organic lollipops for giving out - we had fair trade dark chocolates, but, sorry, we ate them all as they were like the size of 1/4 a square each - and we're set to go.

On a different topic, I think we're going to do early voting tomorrow because I just can't put it off any longer. I cannot wait to cast that ballot (although I think doing it the day of the election would also be fantastic). I got a very heartfelt message from a friend who voted earlier today and wrote of how historic and meaningful and, yes, emotional it felt. I feel it in my bones that things will turn out wonderfully for us next week, and, like the Munchkins after Dorothy's house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, we will be celebrating out in the streets, especially, perhaps, here in Chicago. We'll be watching the returns from my friend's condo in the South Loop, which is very close to Grant Park, where the officially sanctioned Obama celebration will be taking place. Moments after it was announced that it would be an event requiring tickets, my husband responded and was put on the waiting list. Fifty thousand tickets had already been claimed. Ah, well. It is certain to be a boisterous night all around, so I'm not disappointed.

Off to bed...

Shalom, everyone.

*My son rather likes camouflage because he is into dinosaurs and evolution and natural selection and all that other godless, science-y stuff. I, on the other hand, know of it's association with war and violence (furthermore, aesthetically, it's ugly) but I don't really want to explain all that to my very innocent boy. He does have this particular pair of camouflage pants that somehow ended up in one of his drawers (from my mom, of course, but I can't figure out how it wasn't intercepted by me) and he calls these his "fossil digging pants," which is really what he wears when he digs for nautiloids and such. The problem is that he likes to wear them other days as well and though he does so without knowledge of the dark side of camouflage, I know that to the average lefty he probably looks like some violent, TV-addled miscreant. What is an anti-war, progressive mama to do?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Weight (a heavy issue)...

Most of my life, I have been contentedly medium-sized, occasionally veering off in either direction usually depending on where I was in life (basic equation was love + relative newness of a relationship = thin or relationship - trust + aggravation = not so thin) but, in general, my weight did not seesaw all that much, with a couple of notable exceptions detailed below. This thing with my current weight gain, which really started in my thirties, primarily after my son was born, is fairly new to me and the source of a lot of discontent. In fact, it is probably the biggest area of dissatisfaction with my life.

This is about to get very personal, I fear. Yuck. For someone who is a compulsive writer, I have never been much of a diarist. I think it stems from having a mother who had no qualms about reading any of my personal letters and cards: I just felt too exposed putting my thoughts out like that. Seeing as I am not someone who maintains a dairy, I guess this is as good a place as any to explore that body image bugaboo that's been so vexing to me lately. Yes, it is clearly illogical to release this private, personal stuff into the vast interwebs when I was always so petrified to have just one person read it, but such is the backwards logic that has always ruled my life.

And away we go!

Between my older brother and myself, I was considered The Cute One; I was also considered The Smart One and The Artistic One. As a child, my brother was considered Nice, Funny and Well-Liked, qualities that I, apparently, lacked or had in less impressive quantities. My brother was aware that the little medals he was awarded were considered runner-up trophies, a sort of equivalent to winning Miss Congeniality. In addition to these labels, I was also aware of a nagging feeling of guilt from a young age, one that told me to move aside so my brother could have the spotlight. It hurts my stomach even now to remember. These sorts of comparison-based labels on siblings do not serve anyone. My brother grew up feeling that my parents wished he were more like me, and I grew up feeling like my parents genuinely liked my brother a whole lot more than they liked me.

I figured out in around fifth grade that being considered "chubby" was my way of allowing my brother a place where he could succeed more than me, so chubby I became; later, when I became anorexic in eight grade and my weight plummeted down to 74 pounds, it was my way of feeling like I was finally exercising some control in my life: my parents could dictate almost anything, but they couldn't force food down my throat. I remember my mother threatening to book me into a hospital and I relished the fantasy of the doctors and nurses trying to force tubes into me. "Let them try!" the fantasy me said, cackling like Regan in The Exorcist.

Strangely, and it really pains me to admit this, being anorexic was the first time I really tapped into my personal strength at a critical time in my life. Obviously, there are some very destructive cultural and personal forces at work that make girls turn to anorexia, but, for me at least, my year-long dabbling in it allowed me to know that, ultimately, my parents could not control me, and this was incredibly liberating. I am not in any way advocating anorexia as a pathway to personal liberation, but I do think that our society does not necessarily acknowledge this more nuanced factor into the discourse on compulsive weight loss: that for some of us, especially those of us in abusive home situations (I would imagine that this is most anorexics), it is, at least initially, perceived as a source of power and strength. In short order, though, it spins into a horrible, deadly beast, one that is relentless and fueled on self-hatred, and, of course, there is that hard little kernel of self-loathing right there in the very beginning. By the end of my stint, I could not sit in the bathtub, only float, my concave belly grew hair to keep warm and a "binge" of eight grapes would result in an additional 200 sit-ups (I averaged 500 a day, giving my spine a bad case of rug-burn) and a few sprints around the block. Clearly, it was just an illusion that I was in control, but that illusion was more real to me than anything. The only thing that stopped me - perhaps the only thing that could have stopped me - was seeing my beloved grandmother burst into tears at looking at her shrunken, gaunt granddaughter. I could face just about anything but causing my grandmother to cry.

Throughout high school and college, I maintained the same natural weight, give or take five pounds, and though I did go through cycles of anorectic behaviors a few times, nothing stuck like the way that it did when I was in eighth grade. I have always been blessed with a healthy constitution and an active nature, and though I don't love clocking in on the Stairmaster, I find ways to keep moving, primarily through bike riding.

But I do love food and love to eat. Love, love, love it.

I have never been one who binges, which I have seen up close and personal through observing roommates, one in particular who would eat whole cartons of ice cream in a sitting. What I am is a snacker, perhaps having this imprinted on me at an early age by my grandmother, who loved to have "Just a tich" of this or that, and had no shame over her Rubenesque figure. She also loved to cook, as do I, and some of my very happiest, most contented memories of childhood were by her side at her homey kitchen table, grating potatoes or indenting cookies with my thumb to fill with jam. Food is love, we are taught, or, at the very least, a temporary but effective salve.

I think it comes down to lacking the mechanism, that inner-switch, to stop eating, to say, "Wow, this food is really good but I've had enough," while pushing away a plate half-full of food. This is an absolutely foreign concept to me even as I consciously work at it. It's even challenging for me to not overeat food I'm not particularly crazy about. Since I've been working from home, roughly concurrent with my weight gain, with our refrigerator now just about ten steps away from where I work in the sun room, this tendency toward mindless eating has only increased.

The point of all this? I am constantly fighting between society's projected images of how women are supposed to look (slender with an inexplicably large bosom, which is impossible for all but a few genetic rarities out there), the reality of how I look, and my rebellion against all of it. I am content being a little overweight if I am truly content with it, but I have to admit that I am not. At this point, I don't care if my discontent is because of society's influence or if I am being manipulated by a misogynistic culture, because it is affecting me on a basic level, undermining my functionality. When I avoid having pictures taken with my son or I duck to avoid my reflection in a mirror or I avoid social interactions because I hate how I look, this is also a feminist issue.

So I'm working on it. Weight and body image are complex, deep issues and I don't know where things will end up with me, but I do know that something has got to change as I do not like living in this limbo land. I'm working on it, though...

Shalom, everyone.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Electricity stew...

So, due to an unfortunate confluence of events (like, for example, an accidental overdraft, a bank holiday and a long line of people who proceeded us in these circumstances), we went without electricity for two days. There is nothing that makes you feel "ghetto" quite like having a major utility (and they all are major, let's face it) turned off. On the second night of being conspicuously "lights-free," our neighbor, a very nice but busy-bodied senior citizen, came out of his house like a shot the moment John stepped into the back yard after work.

"So," he said, in a voice reminiscent of Grandpa Simpson, "how are things, John?"

"Fine. And you, Ed?"

"All right. How's business?"

"Picking up, thanks."

"Keepin' busy?"

"Yep. Pretty hectic."

Ed still lingering.

"Well, have a good night, Ed."

The first night, after a frantic call to ComEd established that it was not a power shortage that caused our neon peace sign in the front window to stop shining but an oversight on our part, we packed up our necessities for the night and did the only thing feasible to us: we rented a room at the new Trump hotel downtown. Nah. We went to my mommy's condo. This is a woman who I don't think ever has bounced a check, let alone paid a late fee: I distinctly remember her combing through the books at our town's library, searching through the stacks for a book it was claimed she hadn't returned. She found it. The point wasn't that the library had made a mistake: it was that my mother was never, ever late with anything, whether it be a bill or a library book. Lord, how I have rebelled. I think that I am well on my way to financing my own wing at my local library. (It's my little way of doing my part.) (Actually, once my mother was legitimately late for something, but my brother and I were born nine months later.) Given her nature and our past disputes, I have to say that my mother was surprisingly gracious about the whole thing involving her grown-ass daughter and shaggy son-in-law showing up with her grandson in tow and several canvas bags overflowing with pajamas and assorted vegan breakfast items. I think she was grateful for the company.

The next day, John went to pay our bill and was told that our power would not be turned on until the next day, most likely. There were many more people in line in front of us. So we didn't have power again yesterday - which means no lights, no oven, no telephone, no computer - but we decided to tough it out and sleep at home last night. "We'll make it into an adventure," John told me, all Wayne Dyer-style and the poor guy had Nancy Spungen for his audience, hissing and heckling at him. But, still, I had to admit that he was right: it would be an adventure. Hadn't I suggested going on an energy fast a couple of years back in solidarity with an anti-war group? Yes, but then it was my choice, which feels very different. Anyway, we got the flashlights and candles together and we did it. John and our son made dinosaur shadow puppets and a sheet fort for a screen that the cat insisted on attacking, and I read my beloved Flannery O'Connor by flashlight. I had to grudgingly admit that I enjoyed the break. It felt very 19th century and lovely, which was how we presented it to our son, which really is much more age-appropriate then "Let's Pretend To Be A Typical Family in Fallujah!"

This morning when we returned from my son's piano lesson, I saw that the lights were on. Hallelujah! The computer was fired up and all those coveted penis enlargement and bored girls in Russia messages were subsequently crammed into my email box! I could screen my phone calls again! Modernity has returned to us and I am no longer muttering under my breath whenever I see a illuminated house, "Goddamn show offs with all their fancy lights!" The patina of ghetto living is no longer on me but I have to say, I like having lived through a mini energy fast. It has made me very aware of all I take for granted and how wasteful I can be. As I write this, nearly eight o'clock at night, the only light on is the one in the room with me. I'd like to maintain this.

Anyway, with the electricity, I now have a working stove again. (Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can messily kiss my ass!) I have to say, this is a good recipe. Make it and appreciate all the blessings in your life. It's kind of like massaman curry but without curry as I am fresh out and I had to improvise with what we had left after the refrigerator had been turned off for two days.

Electricity Stew*

3 small to medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp melted coconut oil or olive oil
3 tsps cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsps tamari or soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400. In a parchment paper-lined rectangular pan, mix the sweet potatoes and the other ingredients. Roast for twenty minutes or so, stirring midway.

Meanwhile, puree in a blender for about a minute until fully integrated:
1 14 oz. can 'lite' coconut milk**
2 Tbsps smooth peanut butter
2 Tbsps pizza sauce (sounds like a gross combination, but trust me on this. The Muir Glen pizza sauce is particularly good)

In a large sauté pan on medium high heat, melt:
1 Tbsp coconut oil or olive oil or light sesame oil

To this add:

1 diced red bell pepper
3 or more cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp tamari

Oh, yummy. Stir this up for about five minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and the sauce from the blender. Add to this:

1 15 oz. can or three cups cooked garbanzo beans

Cook this together until it is at a low boil, then lower the temperature and cook for about three minutes. Stir frequently with a spatula to keep the sweet potatoes from sticking. Season again with cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Serve over rice or rice noodles.

Even a confirmed sweet potato loather like my son ate this happily.

Nice additions/substitutions: this needs something green, like defrosted petite peas around the time of adding the garbanzos, and you can leave those behind if you wish. Steamed broccoli florets would be nice, too. Toasted, coarsely chopped cashews to sprinkle on top at the end! Tamarind paste instead of pizza sauce. Lemon grass and/or lemon balm at the end. Sliced jalapeno peppers to dress it up at the table. Curry powder in the blender with the sauce. Sriracha sauce for the grown-ups at the table, most def!

*It is really annoying when people are all like, "Oh, I don't know the exact measurements because I'm like a improvisational jazz artist just throwing things into a pot," but I have to say that these are approximate measurements. Yes, because I am like an improvisational jazz artist...

**I know foodies are all like, "Lite coconut milk! How tacky and bourgeois!" But the thing is that I am not a foodie but a food lover, and the sauce was rich enough with the peanut butter.

Enjoy and shalom, everyone!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Halloween, Vegan Style...

So we had our annual Chicago Vegan Family Network (CVFN) Halloween party on Saturday and it was the typical bacchanalian affair we've come to expect, like, if we had rafters, the children would've been totally hanging from them. Instead, rafter-less, the children - there were twenty-five, plus all the parents and an odd honorary uncle and grandmother - were running up and down the stairs, running outside to play, grabbing the cat and running with her, running up to the food table and grabbing yet another cupcake. Everything seemed to involve running in their various Halloween ensembles, princess hats and magic wands and hockey sticks akimbo. John and I have come to expect the CVFN Halloween potluck to be a major event in our year given the preparation involved, which includes cleaning, cooking and baking, craft-making, goody bag construction and assembly, and every year, at around ten in the evening immediately following the party, we are faced with the aftermath (including but not limited to: plates, bowls and cups on every available surface; sticky substances of unknown origin on the floor; a melange of crushed crumbs like New Year's Eve confetti; a collapsed bed upstairs; assorted left-behinds - hats, accessories, toys) and every year, somehow, we are grateful to have done it. I am willing to accept that this is proof positive that we are deranged, hoping that if I ever need to use the insanity defense - which, really, I hope my life is not on that particular trajectory - but at the very least, I can point to our continued enjoyment of an event that threatens to destroy our home. But you would love it too, unless you happen to be a cranky Republican hunter. In which case, like I really care what you think.

A little background might be useful here. My friend Lisa and I started CVFN four years ago - this was our fourth anniversary, actually - to create a community of vegan peers for our children. At the time, my son was two and Lisa had three- and one-year-old boys. Our mutual friend, a fellow who goes by an adopted name I will not mention here and the odd honorary uncle I mentioned above, connected us. At first, before we met or spoke, we were a little wary of one another because this mutual friend keeps some rather colorful company. Let's just say that he is essentially homeless (by choice), has a long, white beard (some might say scraggly) and is inclined to wearing multiple layers of clothing at a time regardless of temperature. He is also among the best groomed of his social circle, positively buttoned-down in comparison. When he told me about this vegan mother in Evanston he wanted me to meet, I was pretty much expecting a Dumpster-diving, VW-living, hanging-for-a-bit-before-we-leave-for-the-Phish-tour kind of person, which, while perfectly lovely for another time in my life, was not exactly what I was seeking at this particular time. Lisa, apparently, was expecting the same person with the same sort of feeling of dread with me, so we were both pleasantly surprised to find that neither was shilling 'shrooms or bootlegged cassettes from the show in '93 out of our cars. Whew!

Anyway, once we were mutually assured that neither was subsidizing the patchouli incense industry nearly single-handedly, we determined that, yes, we would very much like to start a local vegan family network, and, thus, the Chicago Vegan Family Network was born. We started with five families the first month and each month or two it seems to get a little bigger. Now we have, I think, forty families on our list, but it's generally ten to twelve families each month at our gatherings. Things slow down in the summer months with traveling and busyness but pick up again in October. It is such a joy for me to look around the room each month and see this robust and diverse group of people. The children, too, get along spectacularly well. In our four years, I do not recall a single fight. That's almost stretching the bounds of reality when you get that many children together.

Anyway, back to the party. We always start out trying to be organized, trying to pace ourselves well by starting a week early with preparations, but we always wind up windmilling our arms around like some jacked-up cartoon characters in a desperate attempt to complete everything by five o'clock, when the first guests begin to arrive. Saturday, I was making peanut butter cups (yeah, they were amazing) in the kitchen when I stepped on a splinter - barefoot in the kitchen, just as God intended - and I called John over to get the damn shard out. I didn't even have time to stop for three seconds. So I lifted my foot, rinsed it in the sink and I did not skip a beat in my chocolate making while John got the splinter out. Later, John was cleaning our son's room with him, in other words, shoveling piles of assorted dinosaur bones and game pieces into sundry boxes, when, as he was putting away a puzzle, about ten more wooden puzzles went crashing on his head. Again, without skipping a beat in my duties, I laughed, correctly guessing at what occurred and moved on, dipping pretzels in chocolate. This is our life when the annual Halloween party is upon us. It doesn't matter how early I start with getting things done as there is just that much to do. If I have time left over, I'm going to find something else to do (more cookies? Paper bats? Skeleton rock skulls?) to make our party that much cooler. And, yes, I already admitted that I am crazy.

I think that I am partially motivated to overcompensate because of the perception that vegan parents are causing our children to miss out. My child deprived? Hell, no. I am going to make frosted pumpkin and bat cookies because that's what little omni kids eat this time of year. I am also going to raise them that and throw in some chocolate covered pretzel rods (magic wands) and cupcakes with gummy worms. Yes, I found vegan gummy worms because, you know, the lack of them creates a gaping hole in the vegan diet. So they exist now, perhaps this is their inaugural year, and our kids got to have them at our Halloween party. So nya nya nya, omni haters: anything you can do, we can do better! (I do see how crazy this is, really, and maybe some day I'll be content just to know in my heart that vegan children are not deprived, but for now I am inspired to prove it to the world. Is that so bad? They get feted once in a while? Believe me, my son goes back to his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like every other kid come Monday.)

So it was an orgy of vegan celebration and conviviality. We are tired but thankful and gratified. Halloween was celebrated, vegan-style.

Shalom, everyone.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


I fully have intended to post more but life has been kind of kicking my ass lately, mostly in a good way, like the sort of workout that leaves you feeling sore but kind of tougher than you thought you were. I've had a big assignment, one that required a lot of research of a rather depressing nature, and that was finally turned in Friday, so, while I imagine I'll be getting a bunch of final edits to finish off, the bulk of the piece is done. The past two-and-a-half weeks, though, have meant squeezing as much work as possible into the approximately 2.5 hours my son is in kindergarten and then using my predisposition to insomnia to my advantage by waking up at midnight and writing until around 5 a.m. Needless to say, I've been kind of loopy lately and I think that I've established myself as the Mother Who Occasionally Hallucinates
among my fellow kindergarten mothers. Everyone needs a role, so I guess I'll take that one. Go, me!

So, given my scattered mind, how about some random thoughts until I'm able to put together a cogent sentence? You say go for it? I think I shall.

1. I love Joe Biden's smile. I don't really have much thought about him other than a sort inclination to dislike him for being such a Washington insider and for supporting the invasion originally. But his smile is truly Cheshire Cat-like which I appreciate. Anyway, I'm certain that he could have mopped the floor with Ms. Palin but refrained because one doesn't know how that would be received by the American public. It could have instigated a big wave of stupid sympathy toward her, which, really, she doesn't deserve.

2. In talking with John, I think I fleshed out part of why my dislike of Ms. Palin is so visceral. In addition to that whole anti-evolution/anti-choice thing, I mean. She reminds me of every passive-aggressively rude person who's ever questioned me about being vegan. Like, I can just imagine her sitting across the table from me (truly, heaven forbid such an arrangement) and saying in her bizarrely Fargo-meets-The-Church-Lady sort of way, "You're vegan? Well, isn't that special. I actually think that people matter more than chickens and cows. But, hey, more power to ya!"

3. Her distinctly inappropriate winking and weirdly plastered on smile fill me with a sort of wobbliness which makes me consider that she may be my personal kryptonite.

4. My six-year-old said something really cute the first night of the debate between Obama and McCain. I was explaining to him what a debate was and how we were hoping and expecting that Obama would win. "I am too," he said. "Why?" "'Cause I've been hearing a lot of good things about him lately."

5. Garbanzo beans probably make it into five or more of my meals a week. Just so you know.

I'll return when I have something worthwhile to share.

Shalom, everyone.