Rediscovering: yoga

It’s not really that surprising that I let go of my yoga practice. After my two yoga buddies left town, my favorite studio abrubtly closed and I didn’t make the effort to go to another one. That was also around the time I started to realize that I was going to be in debt forever if I didn’t stop spending my money on extras I didn’t really need. So out went $10 a pop yoga classes.

And back came my back pain. I’d like to say that surgery fixed all my problems. But the truth is that I sit in a chair all day and that’s why I had problems in the first place. The more I sit, the stiffer I get. Throw in a different activity, and boom. Big time soreness.

But after a few months I realized I could take yoga at my gym, for money I was already paying, up to three times a week. All I had to do was just go. So two weeks ago I finally pulled out my mat and my embarrassingly tight pants and went. And it was great.

The teacher is a veteran of one of my old studios, and her class is just the right mix of challenging and confidence building. When I get home I’m not sweaty and disgusting, but I do feel like I’ve had a good workout. And I just feel that calm that only yoga has been able to give me. It’s amazing, a workout that calms you down. But it’s true! All workouts should end with meditation. All workouts should consist of stretching. Not just stretch at the end — the whole thing is stretching.

So anyway, I’m just feeling like there’s more balance back in my life (ha ha). Of course my teacher is about 8 months pregnant and about to leave for a while, but I can’t let that keep me from going. When you find something that works for you the way that yoga does for me, you think nothing could make you stop going. But life will make you stop if you let it. This week, I’m back to the mat.

At long last, a crafty project

I’ve been working on some photo projects lately. I realized that I have tons of photos, but hardly any displayed in my house. I’ve also been working on collecting some older family photos (and hopefully I’ll get some from Mike) to display. I’ve scanned in a few, and hope to just print them out on glossy paper.

For now, I started with my photos from Europe last summer. I got prints made in different sizes (I use Snapfish and have always been happy with it) and then bought some inexpensive frames at Michael’s. I made a sort of random arrangement on the wall, thinking that Mike and I both can add to it with other sort of artsy photos we’ve taken.

My other project was to hang some ads from old magazines that I’ve had for AGES. Way back when I saw a cute idea in Blueprint (sniff, sniff) to hang them in sheet protectors and tack them to the wall. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to find 11X14 sheet protectors without ordering the ones they suggest, which are not much cheaper than buying frames.

So I found some at Office Depot that were 9X12, and trimmed the edges off the ads so they would fit. Not an ideal solution, but these are not pricey works of art, and I’m not even sure how long I’ll keep them.

They are hilarious, though.

Reggie says…

I will kill that son-of-a-bitch chipmunk. After my nap.

Why am I vegetarian?

Naturally, the more food books you read, the more you start to think about your own diet. And by this point, I’ve read enough Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver to give my food choices a pretty hard look.

I ate a pretty standard American diet up until I was 24. After seeing my cousins, several of my close friends and my boyfriend go vegetarian and not keel over from malnutrition or mope around because they didn’t get to eat what everyone else ate, my mind opened to the idea. They ate very well, in fact, and as a foodie I needed to see that.

But going vegetarian was a decision I had to make entirely on my own. So being in Boulder out on my own (and let’s face it, being in Boulder) was probably the right time for me to start to consider it. I watched a couple of public access shows — one about animal cruelty in factory farms and the second about how quitting meat could reduce your risk for disease, including cancer — and after that thought to myself, why not just try it for a week? If it was hard, I’d just go back to meat. But it wasn’t hard.

I started to realize that I didn’t eat that much meat to begin with. I subsisted mostly on nachos and Spanish rice when I was on my own. When I cooked, I made the recipes I knew. So I started to make them without meat. I think I kind of enjoyed the creativity. It didn’t take long before I couldn’t stomach the idea of meat. I accidentally bought a meat lasagna frozen dinner, and I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it. So I tossed it. I felt bad about wasting food, but this was something I had to do all the way.

Of course, I have never gone ALL the way. I kept fish and seafood in my diet, and if I encountered the occasional chicken stock in soup, I didn’t freak out. The truth is that being vegetarian can be very isolating at times, and it’s a constant battle to look at a menu, or at the spread your family cooked for Thanksgiving, and push it away. Thankfully, most of the time I can find plenty to eat, and it doesn’t feel like a big sacrifice. I’m a pro at picking things out, making a veggie sandwich, whatever I have to do. Well meaning people often feel like they have to make a fuss over a vegetarian, and while we appreciate the care, most of the time we’d rather avoid a fuss altogether. We are really good at fending for ourselves.

I’ve gone back and forth on the fish stuff (and other things like Jello and marshmallows that contain “hidden” animal products). I still don’t have a perfect answer. What I try to do is cook with natural foods that create natural substitutes for meat. For a long time I relied on fake this and imitation that. And what I eventually realized is that those things are no better than their Tyson equivalent.

But when I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, my mind started to open a little to the idea of eating meat again. Her philosophy is to eat local, and stay small. Small farms, accessible foods. In other words — food you can get to know and people who don’t pollute on a mass scale. I love this philosophy, and I think it takes us back to a time when we had a food system we could manage without intensely damaging our planet. But not everyone wants to be a subsistence farmer. Not everyone has access to the amount of food that she does. Not everyone is going to make bread daily or drop $6 a loaf to get it made my an artisan baker. So I think you have to look at your life and your resources and ask, what is right for me?

The longer I’ve been vegetarian, the more I’ve started to grow uncomfortable with the idea of killing an animal so I can eat it. I don’t need to – I can get my calories elsewhere, no problem. If I’m not doing the slaughtering, I’m not sure someone else should have to do it for me either. So what I’m trying to do is stay vegetarian, but with an eye toward buying as much local food as possible, and growing my own in our garden. (Well, Mike’s the grower. I just eat it!)

I don’t know how much lower my cholesterol is because I didn’t take it before. But I feel healthy, just like I always have. I never noticed a major change healthwise. I certainly didn’t lose weight, though! I read Skinny Bitch, and while it sounded awesome to go vegan and get skinny, it also sounded like an entire menu of fake this and fake that — not exactly a better way to eat in my book.

This works for me now. At some point it may not. I’ve had a lot of fun improvising with meals and learning to cook and eat new things. It’s kind of a food adventure. I think it’s one I share with a lot of other people who have been forced to change their diets for various reasons. If you’ve never read Gluten Free Girl, you really should. She does such a great job of showing how you can absolutely fall in love with food that you once thought would make you miserable. You can take control of your diet and turn it into a good thing. (And you should read about her love story with “the chef”. I got seriously teary after a while).

I also found this article on Slate recently that did a great job of summing up how vegetarians really feel. Read that too while you’re at it.

Oh heavenly berries

Finally, fresh strawberries are starting to appear at our farmers market. We bought a carton, and now I wish we’d have bought two.

I decided the best use of our berries was strawberry shortcake. I sliced the berries thin and sprinkled them with a few teaspoons of sugar. Then I set them in the fridge to make syrup for a few hours.

For the shortcakes, I went with this recipe, entirely because I actually had all of the ingredients on hand. It ended up tasting fantastic, and I will use it again for sure. It makes those sponge cakes you get in four-packs at the grocery store seem totally pathetic. I can’t go back now.

Then I whipped one of those tiny cartons of cream with a little sugar and vanilla in the mixer — voila, whipped cream.

The resulting dessert was one of the better things I’ve eaten in a long, long time. I savored every bite. It was FABULOUS. YOU SHOULD MAKE IT!!

For dinner I tried making chickpea burgers and they were fairly successful, too. The recipe is from Martha. With veggie burgers you always have to worry about them sticking together on the grill (in my case a George Foreman). These made perfect medium-thick patties with a nice crust. They tasted like you would expect – falafel-ish. Sorry for the bad photo. It looked better than this.

Then we had a bunch of potatoes about to go bad in our mold factory of a kitchen. So I boiled them up and made potato salad. I decided I couldn’t go wrong with a Smitten Kitchen recipe, so I grabbed this one. I used golden potatoes instead of red because that’s what I had. And instead of two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, I used my grandma’s trick and replaced one with pickle juice. It always does the trick.

Overall, I would say we had a perfect summer meal. And you better believe I’ll be revisiting that shortcake all season long.

Four years

“Either I’m really sleepy, or the bobblehead on this desk is spontaneously nodding at me.”

That’s how it all started.

Almost five years ago now I had taken Mike’s job when he moved to Pittsburg. A few months later when he returned in a different job, we talked every once in a while, but still hadn’t really connected.

Then one morning at work that message popped up in my inbox. I wasn’t expecting Mike to even be there, as he worked 4-midnight most days. But he was doing a special daytime shift across the room where I couldn’t see him. And for some reason, he decided to e-mail me. Boredom, I suspect. And curiosity.

I already felt an attraction, so this message was a step in the right direction for me.

“If it starts to talk, run…” I replied.

Four messages later, we had a date.

Four years later we’re still together. We’ve outlasted our previous relationship lengths, but that’s not really the point. Getting to this point was more difficult than I ever believed it would be. Full of challenges beyond our control, and some of our own doing. But it still feels good, and still feels right.

It doesn’t surprise me AT ALL that the night we were supposed to celebrate our anniversary by going to Iowa City for a concert, Iowa City was under feet of water and Iowa was in full-on disaster mode. I don’t think either one of us was in a celebrating mood at that point.

So we did what we have learned to do so well — roll with it. We decided on dinner at a new local restaurant instead. It was fabulous and we brought out our inner foodie geeks to examine each course. By the end of dinner, rain gave way to a rainbow framing the Capitol.

No one really writes love letters anymore, but I did save all the emails from our first week together. That’s probably the real reason I remember what day it was (the time stamps). Looking back it seems insane that by our second date we felt like a couple and by the second week we were dropping the L word. But I guess you feel what you feel when you feel it. Others have told me similar stories.

What we have now is much deeper, a respect we have for each other based on all we’ve been through together. When you find yourself running to the pharmacy because your partner has unexplainable hiccups or yanking gobs of their hair out of a clogged tub, you realize that the best part about being in love isn’t the giddiness, but knowing that someone would actually do that for you.

So, here’s to four years of adventures in love, and lots more to come.

Run, dad, run

Today as I was rounding the corner onto my Beaverdale street to go home from work a man crossed the street with his baby in one of those jogging strollers with the giant wheels. Then he took off running. And I just thought, YES!

On single motherhood (and no, this isn’t about me)

I am a freak for documentaries — so I’ve put as many as I can possibly find into my Netflix queue. This week “And Baby Makes Two” came. It was made about 10 years ago in New York, and it’s about a group of women who decided that they wanted to have children, even though they didn’t have a spouse or partner.

Some of them had focused on their careers during their child-bearing years or just hadn’t found a spouse, and felt that time was running out for them to raise a child. One woman was widowed. Some of them were having IVF, others realized their bodies weren’t going to produce children anymore, so they adopted.

I found the whole thing really fascinating. And even though I’m not in that situation, in some way I felt like I could understand them. Something about being a woman, and knowing that you are able to do such an incredible thing as giving birth, makes you feel like you should. But I think what these women were really searching for was a sense of family. Sure, they all had parents and siblings and cousins, but they were missing out on the closeness and intimacy of an immediate family.

One interesting part was that this group of women, as they spent time together going to birthing classes or welcoming others as they came home to the airport with a newly adopted baby, they really became family to each other.

The film crew checked in with them a few years later. The women all said that motherhood had turned out to be much harder than they realized, and certainly harder alone. But I don’t think any of them would go back and change what they did.

So here’s the question — if you found yourself in your late 30s or early 40s, single and with no children, would you consider having one on your own? Is that pathetic? Is it human nature? Is it selfish and hurtful to the child? Or is it just another form of family?

They had Gloria Steinem comment that our culture seems to approve of a single mother when she’s been victimized — the baby’s father left her, or she was widowed or divorced. But for her to be in control of the decision is very controversial.

What bothers me is not the idea of a child growing up with one parent, but the idea that the child doesn’t know who its father is, or doesn’t have a “normal” relationship with him. I think that’s somewhat confusing. Although, is that any worse than a situation where a child doesn’t know its father because he left?

Some of my friends were discussing this article about how Alice Walker’s daughter doesn’t have a relationship with her feminist mother because they disagreed so much on the topic of motherhood. Walker (despite being a mother herself) hates the idea of it, and basically disowned her daughter when she announced she was pregnant. The daughter felt that motherhood was something to be proud of, and that she missed out on a great deal of her childhood having an absent mother.

First of all, I don’t think motherhood and feminism have to be two separate things, by any means. That’s just nutty. But I do think women have to ask themselves, if I have kids, what’s gonna give? I believe you can have a lot, but you can’t have it all. A partner who shares in everything certainly makes it easier for you to balance career and family. But I look at my schedule now and can barely find time for myself. How would I stay sane with all that plus kids?

It’s just like being in a relationship. At some point, you can only be so selfish. And that’s not being unfeminist, it’s being realistic. If you wanted to have a dog or a business, you’d have to give up some things, too.

The other question this brings up, and it’s a big one, is do we need to have kids at all? Just because we can, does that mean we should? Bringing another person into this world, a very tough world that can barely handle the residents it has, is a big responsibility.

And I was talking to my best friend about this — at our age, the idea does start to affect our relationships. If we didn’t feel we had a limited amount of time to decide to have kids, we wouldn’t feel this sense of urgency that often pressurizes our relationships. It makes us look at ourselves and go, Did I really mean that? Why is XX such a big deal to me?

Not too long ago I interviewed a woman who told me she didn’t want to have kids for the longest time. And then, nature gave her a little push. At the time I talked to her she had a two-year-old and 7-week-old twins. An exhausting responsibility, I would imagine. But she sounded content. Like it was hard, and kind of ridiculous sometimes, but it just felt like the right thing for her to be doing. And I guess that’s what it comes down to. Do you feel in your heart that it’s the right thing for you to do?

It didn’t take me a whole lifetime to figure out that family was more important than all the bullshit we put up with in other parts of our lives. As women, if we want our family to grow, is that so bad?

Not recommended: Photography while driving

When I was driving back to Iowa from Kansas I, of course, passed through a storm. When I was coming up on it, it looked really ominous. The water coming down through the clouds formed a kind of funnel shape. But then, while it poured down rain, a hole opened in the middle of the clouds and the sun came out.

As I continued on and the sun set, I just thought the sky was beautiful. The clouds were bluish-purplish and pockmarked with little indentations.

And then last week I took this photo while I was walking to work. Amidst all the panic at work about the flooding, life seemed to go on for downtown workers. These guys worked in tandem to clean every surface of this building.