Wednesday, March 04, 2015

You're invited...

The new blog is up and running. I hadn't planned on such a long delay, but I kept waiting for a brilliant idea for the first post, and nothing happened. So, I wrote a boring one just to get it started. Here's the link:

To Square a Circle

If you still have this blog in your RSS feed, you should probably remove it. At some point in the next couple of months, I will make a bunch of fixes--updating URLs, linking related posts together, etc, and every time I edit a post, it will pop in your feed again. So, you've been warned. I won't be posting here anymore, so you won't miss anything.

*waves good-bye to Aunt BeaN*

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

the new old blog, or maybe it's the old new blog

So.... HI. It's been about six months since I told you I was shutting down this blog. After the first couple of weeks, I didn't think about it much for quite awhile. But recently I've realized that I really do miss blogging. I think it might be time to start back up again.

Also, I find myself randomly declaiming my opinion in an inappropriately lecture-ish tone on various social media. I think blogging again on a regular basis might keep me from blurting--and even worse, blurting lectures. *shudder*

Not long ago, I came up with an idea for a blogging project that still intrigues me. I went so far as to attend a WordPress class at our community college and mock up a basic web site. I picked a new pen name for me and a name for the blog (not as easy as it sounds--everything I could think of had already been taken).

I still have that name and the site, and I may still use it, but going through the process helped me realize that I really don't need a new place and a new name and a fancy new website. I just need to re-boot.

This is my third blog (in case you couldn't tell from "Aunt BeaN's Third Blog"). The first two were pretty short-lived. This one was active for eight years. When I first started it, I was in a different mental place than I am now. Much of my writing here, especially the early posts, came from a stance that no longer feels comfortable to me.

I made a gradual shift as the years went by, but it still feels old, buried in the past.. What I must have realized at some not-quite-conscious-level when I decided to shut AB3 down six months ago is that I needed to make a decisive break with it, rather than a gradual shift.

But as I created that new blog over on WordPress, I also realized that I hate all that marketing stuff. I hate having to create a new image and a new persona and all that "branding" crap. I don't want a brand, I just want a place to write.

So. I'm still figuring this out, but I think I'm going to start a new blog right here. Same account, same user name, same old Blogger platform. This blog will still be here. I'm not deleting anything, and I will probably be linking to posts here at times, and--taking my cue from some of my favorite professional bloggers-- I may re-post some things (I'm on vacation this week! Here is an old favorite!). If you click on my profile, it will still show this blog along with the new one.

The only problem (and it's a small one) is coming up with a name. I got so disgusted with all the advice about how to market yourself that I'm tempted to call it Aunt BeaN's Fourth Blog and be done with it. Or maybe, since my original Aunt BeaN's Blog is long gone, I'll drop the numbering and call it that.

But I know you guys are more creative than me (if anybody still even has this in their feed), and maybe one of you can think of something better. I'll still be writing about the same stuff (book reviews, spirituality, dealing with middle age, the chickens, etc). I've always had a pretty strong lean toward writing for women, and I may make that more explicit on the new blog. Let me know if you have any ideas. What do you want to talk about?

Otherwise, AB4 will appear shortly. I'm teaching two classes right now with another one starting in less than a month, so it will probably only be weekly posts for awhile.

Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Break on Through to the Other Side

VoilĂ ! Doors from Italy and Ireland. We were struck, especially in Tuscany, by how much effort people put into the way their front door looked. In those tiny ancient towns, there's no room for a garden or a lawn, so I guess a front door is all you've got. If you're on a slow connection, either skip this one or start it up and go get a cup of coffee while it loads.

I don't know what that little iron house is but it is so cool--the lock? a mailbox?

Doors of the Duomo in Florence

Side door of St. Peter's in Rome, with conveniently located brightly-uniformed Swiss Guard

Front Door (one of several) at St. Peter's. This one is blocked shut and won't reopen
until the next jubilee year which I think is 2025??

#7 Eccles Street, the address where Leopold and Molly Bloom lived
(characters from Ulysses). The door was rescued when the building was converted to a
business and it now resides at the James Joyce Centre in Dublin.

Door into Newgrange, an ancient tomb located about 40 minutes outside Dublin

Sunday, August 17, 2014

looking ahead

Hi, gentle readers. You can't possibly know how much your loyalty and support have meant to me over the past few years. It's not much of a stretch to say that having this space to talk about what I'm thinking has saved my life a time or two. I'm more grateful than I can say.

But for the past several months, I've had the distinct feeling that I'm done with this blog. I'd be on the verge of shutting it down, then some more post ideas would occur to me, and I'd keep going. But that "done" feeling never went away.

I could still do that. I could still write the post about things I've learned about travel over the years, or what we saw in Italy, or how being in Dublin made me practically vibrate with resonances with Ulysses, or the books I read this summer (Me Before You, thumbs up, The Rosie Project, thumbs up, A Thousand Days in Venice, meh, plus a few others). But I'm pretty sure the bottom line is: we're done here.

I can't imagine that I'm done blogging, because I enjoy it too much. Maybe I just need a break. I'll post the doors pictures from our trip after this, and then we'll see what happens. Probably in a few months I'll start up a new blog, maybe over on WordPress so I can have a bit more flexibility in how it's set up. I'll post here and let you know when I get it figured out.

Love and hugs and thanks for hanging with me on my journey.

Blecch. It's making me practically nauseated to post this. But I know it's the right thing, so I can move on to the next thing.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

a light unto my path, but not a laser beam

I spent the 4th of July weekend in East Texas with my beloved family. My aunt and my older sister threw a party for my uncle's 80th birthday, and just about all of his kids, grandkids, nieces and their families arrived for the occasion. There were about 40 of us, and we had a wonderful time.

I was there for four days, including a Sunday, so of course we went to church. It was a little odd. About halfway through the service I realized I was clenching my jaw so hard that it hurt. I made myself relax but I've been thinking (of course). The whole Evangelical mindset is so firmly embedded in that culture. The town where my mom and my sister live is right in the middle of the Bible belt, and there's not much room for alternative views.

It's the most bizarre feeling--on the one hand, I don't feel at home anywhere in the world like I do in that particular region of the country and with that particular group of people (who don't all live in East Texas, but they are all family). The combination of those people in that place left me feeling at home and accepted in a way that I haven't in a long time.

But on the other hand, I completely and utterly don't fit in. If we sat down and talked theology--which is supremely important to almost everyone there, we are a group that approaches our faith through the intellect--even though I and a few of others would be fascinated to hash it all out, the strict evangelicals among us would be horrified to find out that we don't all agree. At least a few of them would not be OK with what I believe these days, how I think. (although perhaps they wouldn't be as surprised as I think they would be.) There are many things that are absolutely non-negotiable for them that have been untrue in my mind for decades. And to be fair, that I don't believe that way any more is non-negotiable for me.

It's a bit depressing. Evangelicals think they are completely and utterly wedded to the idea of the Bible as the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and thus just as applicable to you and me today as it was when it was written. Really they are just completely and utterly wedded to the way they have been taught to think about the Bible. The Bible contains and yields myriad interpretations. wait--stop. I should re-word that and say that they way I used to think about the Bible was more about how I had been taught than anything else. I can't speak to what's going on in anyone else's mind.

So restricting this to my own changes: I don't believe in the inerrant, absolutely authoritative Bible anymore, but it was a long journey. I started out slowly thirty years ago--first recognizing some of the Bible's obvious contradictions and repetitions, then learning more about the historical context, then starting to see how my reading had been slanted by certain assumptions that were based in Evangelical sub-culture rather than any ultimate truth. Finally I've come to see it as a huge, sprawling, colorful, fascinating, inspiring book of wisdom and spiritual advice, entirely worth studying, but not authoritative in the way that I used to think it was. It wasn't written to me, it was written to the Hebrews, the Corinthians, the Christians in Rome, the Galatians.

But it was a scary trip, leaving that traditional, ingrained view of the Bible behind. I was several years into it before I could say with any confidence that I was OK with my new point of view. Now I can say that the further away I am from that old way of seeing scripture, the more irrelevant that it seems to me.

From my current point of view, the way I used to read the Bible seems almost like idolatry--worshiping words on a page instead of the living God. A living relationship with the Divine Being is completely different than measuring my thoughts and actions against words written a couple of thousand years ago in another time and place. I've been trying to think of an analogy--maybe this: if you found a box of your grandparents' letters written over the course of their long marriage, you might find them inspiring and moving and instructive for your own marriage, but it wouldn't even occur to you to worry about disregarding things that were no longer applicable to your own time and situation.

But that would be completely wrong to most Evangelicals. That belief in the universal, absolute authority of Scripture is the cornerstone, the bedrock of their belief system. For most of them, it's non-negotiable.

There are some beautiful things about that. Many Evangelicals take the study of scripture very seriously, which means they have ready familiarity with some of the greatest wisdom literature ever written. I'm the direct benefactor of that one--I passed my first Master's written exam back in 1985 in no small part because there were 4 (out of 15) questions in the short answer section that were about the Bible. I knew the answers without even thinking, while others of my classmates were despairing afterward (who the hell are Ruth and Naomi?).

Also, Evangelicals' sincerity, faithfulness, and devotion are rare in a culture that more and more tells us we should just do whatever we want, believe whatever we want, be cynical about anything other than cycnicism.

But even though I see things to admire, I can't go there anymore. It just doesn't make sense to me, and as I've said a gazillion times before, I can't agree with their opinions about many issues.

That's all. We have company coming (yay!!) for the next two weeks, and the day they leave, we are headed to Italy, so it will probably be a month or more before I post again. Hope you are all enjoying summer.

Friday, July 11, 2014

reading report: too much time on the plane

Remember "the next post" mentioned in the previous post? This isn't it. Still mulling that one.

In other news, you may have missed it in the comments a few weeks ago, but Laurel recommended a novel called Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, particularly for those who are planning a trip to Italy. It is perfect for that purpose, but it's also the best book I've read in years, so go find a copy of it even if you aren't headed to Italy. I tried to read it not long after it came out and never made it past the first chapter. Maybe because Walter's description of Pasquale, a young Italian who has recently inherited the Hotel Adequate View, felt motivated by pity. I've had my fill of novels about poor, victimized, wounded people, how they got that way, and why they will never rise above it. But Laurel recommended it highly, so I persevered. For which I am grateful, because Pasquale turns out to be a wonderful character, the heart and soul of the novel--and he does rise above his circumstances, although in a much more interesting way than I would have predicted. It is a terrific book, warm-hearted and generous, beautifully written, often funny.

This is starting to sound like an overblown description of wine (woody and fruity with a sexy nose and overtones of toasty oak). Just go find it. It's about Hollywood, movies and movie stars, a tiny albergo on the coast of Italy, the sometimes surprising nature of true love, selling your soul (or refusing to), Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, and the Donner party. Can't miss, right? I think I'm going to read it over again, because if it has a flaw, it's that there are lots of things going on and I'm sure I missed some of them.

On the return trip, both of my flights were delayed, so I ended up with plenty of time to read. Tawna Fenske's third novel, Frisky Business, turned out to be the perfect antidote. I've followed Tawna's blog for a long time, so I feel like she's a friend, although I've never met her and she has no idea who I am. She just gets better and better. This one, the story of a woman who takes over as director of development at a non-profit in Bend, Oregon, is just about the perfect romantic comedy--amusing, fizzy-light, but intelligently written with some worthwhile insights into people and their motivations. (see? like a wine description again.) I just wish she'd slow down a little and trust her story more, because it felt a bit rushed at times. Fun read, though, and if you're stuck on a plane circling Minneapolis for 45 minutes waiting for a thunderstorm to move through, you'll be just as grateful for it as I was.

And that's all the news from here. It's hot as heck here and since we don't have A/C, that makes things a bit miserable. But we've got fans and we're headed out to the lake this weekend to swim. Hard to complain, because that's what summer's all about, right?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

odds and ends: no, really, this one is odds and ends

See the next post for why I'm doing this, but here are several half-written posts that have been sitting in my "drafts" folder for awhile now.
Some word pairs that were going to be in a future Words on Wednesday post:
-hoard (a verb, meaning to save stuff up, usually a bit excessively) and horde (a noun meaning a group of people, usually used pejoratively to describe a mob or a dangerous, threatening group)
-prostrate (an adjective meaning lying down, prone; or a verb meaning to lie down)(which, for those of us who grew up going to too much church, immediately calls to mind "let angels prostrate fall") and prostate, which is a gland of the male reproductive system.
-seminary which is a school, usually for preparation for a career as a minister or rabbi (but not always, it is also an old-fashioned word for schools for young women) and cemetery, which is a place where people are buried.
-cavalry (a horse-mounted military unit) and Calvary (the hill where it is traditionally believed Jesus was crucified)

I've been feeling at loose ends lately. For a long time, school was my motivator--getting papers written, making decent grades, writing that damn thesis. Then I was recovering school, and then I had those classes to prepare for. But for the past couple of months, I've been adrift. Entirely too busy doing various different things, but I felt adrift, because I was just doing whatever was next on my to-do list.

So, and I hope you will be able to laugh with me about this, when Rick Warren's uber-bestselling The Purpose-Driven Life showed up on my recommendations feed at Amazon, on a whim, I thought why not? And if I'm going to do it, I might as well do it right. So I've actually been following directions. I read a chapter every morning. I started on May 1st.

I've joined the ranks of millions--for awhile there, just about everybody in our small town was in a PDL group. I hate being part of the crowd. I'm doing it ten years later than everybody else, but still it is a cliche before I even start talking about the book.

But you know, I have to confess. Even though there were times I was so mad or conflicted about what he was saying that I had to put the book down, he asks good questions, and he makes some good points. He has inspired me to think, and of course it has also helped me wade through some further layers of Dealing With My Past. Reading it was good timing. Even when I disagreed with him--and I often did--it was still good food for thought.

I realized something while reading PDL, though. I think I am done with my obsessive reading of Evangelical books. I've been doing it off and on for years now under the guise of "dealing with my past," and it occurred to me as I was reading the last 30 or 40 pages of PDL that I'm done with that. Not dealing with my past--I don't think you ever entirely get over that--but I'm done with mining Evangelical authors to get there. I think it's time to move on to reading more progressive authors, authors who can help me look forward instead of looking back. I'll let you know what I find. (And if you have any recommendations, pass them along.)

After a discussion with a friend, I've been thinking about spiritual boldness. I think it's under-appreciated.

Job is the best example. Job loses everything because of what is essentially a wager between God and Satan. He is outraged that the God he loves and trusts would treat him so badly. He sits upon his ash-heap and laments loudly, questioning God's fairness. Some of his friends join him, telling him all the standard platitudes about how God is bigger than we are, we can't understand God's design, we have to trust God no matter what. But Job is hurt and angry and he continues to pour out his frustration.

Eventually at the end, God appears to Job in a whirlwind. He tells Job basically the same thing his friends have been telling him--you are a human peon, you are nothing compared to God. But this time Job gets it. He experiences the hugeness of God and he finally understands. At the end, God rewards not the friends, but Job. God didn't want the platitudes, the easy answers given by the friends. God respects Job because Job was honest. He didn't pretend to say something he couldn't mean. He expressed his anger and his frustration, and he didn't turn away. He kept going until he understood, until he found answers that satisfied him down to his core, not just the glib theology. Even though the glib theology turned out to be pretty much the same thing as the real answer.

And Job isn't the only one. Time and again Moses stood before God and questioned his decisions or demanded that God act. David sinned hugely and yet in Psalm 51, he bares his heart before God and is forgiven. Peter stumbles and screws up and denies Jesus, but he is the cornerstone of the church.

It's clear God doesn't want us to go through our lives doing the right thing out of habit. God doesn't want robots. It isn't going to hurt God's feelings if we're honest and say exactly what we think.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

in which I do not use my words

Since I seem to have nothing to say these days, I thought I would pass along some things I've read recently that have made me think. I'm not a huge fan of inspirational quotes, because so often when you pull things out of context, you lose much of their meaning. Also, it starts to sound like you're designing those idiotic inspirational posters. But, like I said, I got nothin' these days, so here you go.

Brene Brown, in Daring Greatly, on the value of allowing yourself to be vulnerable: "Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it's understanding the necessity of both; it's engaging. It's being all in. Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection."

Jim Palmer, in Notes From (Over) the Edge: "When are you going to stop taking cues from others about what you should be and do in life? When are you going to stop denying your authentic self to satisfy the expectations and scripts others have put on you? When are you going to start listening to that voice inside you? When are you going to start trusting your own internal guidance system? When is the violation of your true self going to be a bigger violation than displeasing others?"

Bob Goff, in Love Does: "There is only one invitation it would kill me to refuse, yet I'm tempted to turn it down all the time. I get the invitation every morning when I wake up to actually live a life of complete engagement.... It doesn't come in an envelope. It's ushered in by a sunrise.... It's the invitation to actually live, to fully participate in this amazing life for one more day. Nobody turns down an invitation to the White House, but I've seen plenty of people turn down an invitation to fully live."

Tara Brach, in Radical Acceptance: "The belief that we are deficient and unworthy makes it difficult to trust that we are truly loved. Many of us live with an undercurrent of depression or hopelessness about ever feeling close to other people. We fear that if they realize we are boring or stupid, selfish or insecure, they'll reject us....We yearn for an unquestioned experience of belonging, to feel at home with ourselves and others, at ease and fully accepted. But the trance of unworthiness keeps the sweetness of belonging out of reach."

Tara Brach also tells the story of Ed Brown, a Zen teacher who is also a cook. Early in his career as a cook, he spent considerable time and effort in trying to create a biscuit recipe that measured up to his memories of the biscuits he loved as a child. Until one day he realized that this remembered perfection was actually Pillsbury biscuits that popped out of a can. His biscuit recipe was just fine, once he realized that his standards had been shaped by forces he no longer wished to support. Moments like that one, Ed Brown says, "can be so stunning, so liberating, these moments when you realize your life is just fine as it is, thank you. Only the insidious comparison to a beautifully prepared, beautifully packaged product made it seem insufficient. Trying to produce a biscuit--a life--with no dirty bowls, no messy feelings, no depression, no anger was so frustrating. Then savoring, actually tasting the present moment of experience--how much more complex and multifaceted."

What words are inspiring you these days?

Friday, June 06, 2014

odds and ends: I got two hands, one beating heart

1. PellMel finished her first year of medical school a couple of weeks ago, was home for a week, and then took off again to do a month-long rotation at a rural clinic. She is so excited about the stuff she's learning, it's infectious--even I got excited when she called to tell us about her first experience with a cardioversion yesterday (which is the thing you see on TV all the time where they yell CLEAR and then jolt the patient with paddles, but apparently that's not the way it's done anymore. It is more civilized now. But they still say CLEAR.). MadMax is done on Monday. Their school has a long-time policy of allowing those with less than two absences during the semester to skip end-of-semester finals. Apparently, it cut absences by some outrageous amount when they first started it (60%?? something like that), but over the years it has been less and less effective. So they are changing it next year so that everybody has to take finals again. But for one last time, MadMax gets to skip exams. Summer is about to begin.

2. Reading Report: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. This is one of those books that if you think about it too much, it starts to fall apart. But if you just read it and let it be, loved it. Louisa Clark loses her beloved job at a cafe when it closes and must find something else. When she reluctantly takes a job as caregiver to a quadriplegic, she never expects it to change her life. But it does.

3. Our chickens got sick. We have northern fowl mites, apparently. I feel terrible, because we let it get really bad before we realized what was happening. We've done the initial treatment and they are already much better, but we aren't getting many eggs. I might have to buy a dozen eggs, for the first time in two years.

4. I caved into the pressure. I'm trying gluten-free for one week. I'm embarrassed to even admit it, because it seems like such a food fad, one of those things everybody is doing this year and by next year we will have moved on to something else. But a) I do know some people (including one of my sisters) for whom it has solved a myriad of health problems, and b) this way when yet another person tells me I should try being gluten-free, I will be able to tell them that I DID try it. You can probably tell that I'm not expecting much, but I will let you know.

5. So I don't think I"ve told you we're going to Italy this summer. Dean's dad has rented a villa in Tuscany for July and August, and how in the world were we going to resist that? We'll be there for five days, with stops in Florence, Cinque Terre, Rome, and Dublin smooshed on to either end for two weeks total. (yes, I did say Dublin. It's a long story.) I promise pictures on our return, but not too many of them. Any ideas for a theme? I did doors last time. Maybe I'll just do doors again, because those were some really cool pictures.

6. Amazon vs. Hachette. Clearly I don't know the full story here. Probably none of us do. You can't paint Hachette as the little guy being crushed by the giant, because Hachette is huge publishing firm that has done its own share of crushing. And also, I'm not giving up Amazon. I live in a small town in Northwestern Montana. Without Amazon, I would be.... oh, there are so many things I love about Amazon, and some of them have nothing to do with buying things. I read reviews there all the time, even when I end up buying somewhere else. You have to take the reviews with a grain of salt, of course, because you never know when a review might be a plant, but still I can generally figure out what I want to know.

But in this instance Amazon is wrong. Just sayin. For the time being, I'm shopping elsewhere. And for the love of Mike, why can't we get Stephen Colbert and Sherman Alexie together more often? (see video below, if I embedded the code correctly.) If you can swing it in your book budget, go to Powell's website and buy California. (watch the video to understand why.) I adore Powell's anyway. If I lived in Portland, I would be there every day.

7. We have been blessed with the most beautiful spring I can remember. It took a long time to get here, but it has been gorgeous. I'm saying that now, because June is often the rainiest month of the year and and we're just getting started on June. I'm getting off to enjoy it while I can. Hugs to everybody and have a great weekend.

Friday, May 30, 2014

in which I confess to nothing

I have three half-written posts in my drafts folder right now, and another one in my head. They sound fascinating in my head before I sit down to write them, but when I am actually in front of the keyboard, they disappear. I think I'm going through my midlife crisis, and as I say that, I think I remember telling you that before. HA. I just went and did a search and it was back in 2007. Apparently I'm having a seven-year midlife crisis.

Anyway. Every time I start working on a post, it turns into a whiny, navel-gazing bore-fest. Even the few I've posted in the last six weeks have had that screechy scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel feel. So I'm sparing you. I will tell you two things, though.

One is that I read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, which is the mega-best-selling story of her trek along the Pacific Crest Trail back in the mid-90s. Her writing style sucked me right in. I couldn't put it down. But it's also pretty odd. I'm not sure I'd recommend it. It just wasn't very believable--not that I doubt that she's telling the truth (I have no way of knowing), but anybody who has tried to write non-fiction knows that just because something "really happened" doesn't mean it needs to go in your narrative. One small example: practically every man she met on the trail was handsome. Maybe they really were, but it makes her seem shallow and silly to say that every time a new man shows up.

Also, I find it difficult to relate to people who have had a lot of experience with heavy-duty drug use. It's just so far outside my experience that I can't understand it. Which probably makes me sound like the ultimate prude, but so be it. I want them to get over it and then feel bad about their experiences, then make the standard anti-drug lectures based on what they've learned, but it doesn't seem to happen that way. For some, it just seems to have been a necessary phase of their growing up.

Anyway. Reading it did seem to be just what I needed, though, because I'd picked up two or three fiction books in the week previous and hadn't been able to get absorbed in any of them. So I'm grateful to her for that, at least. Wild is very entertaining. Read at your own risk.

I have now started out two paragraphs of this post with the word "Anyway," and edited it out of another sentence. Which is probably about how I talk in real life, so now you know.

Anyway. (sorry, couldn't resist.) Here is the second thing: Yesterday was our 30th anniversary. Woot! You know he's a pretty special guy if he's put up with my nonsense for that long. Since we already took that trip back in March, we just went out to dinner last night, but it was pretty nice.

And speaking of time flying by, we're just a couple of days away from June. At the moment, I can't imagine that I will have anything else to tell you for quite awhile, but every time I think that, I come up with something new to post about, so who knows. Have a nice weekend.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Food on Friday: Not-so-sweet treats

Remember when I gave up sweets for Lent? It went so well that I decided that for the most part I should just cut out sweets altogether. For the most part, I have. I haven't been a saint about it--I had chocolate covered strawberries at a party last week, and there may have been some ice cream once or twice. But really, I'm finding that I don't need sweets.

Except sometimes. Sometimes you just need to indulge. So I've been scouting around looking for recipes that are relatively healthy sweet things for those moments. Not necessarily low-calorie, but sweets that have some nutritional value so I'm not just downing empty calories. I have several, but I'm just giving you two today. They're based on recipes in Alicia Silverstone's cookbook The Kind Diet, which actually has a lot of cool ideas in it. She's vegetarian all the time, vegan most of the time, and some sort of raw-macrobiotic combination sometimes, too. Since we are none of those things, I didn't think I'd find much in her cookbook that was useful, but it's good. She's a pretty creative cook, and although she clearly has strong opinions about food, she's not preachy. Just enthusiastic.

Aside: have I ever told you about my love of cookbooks? Maybe not. I love to read cookbooks. I have an astonishing number of cookbooks for someone who doesn't really cook all that much. And also I check them out of the library--our tiny library has hundreds of cookbooks. But I'm not a recipe follower. I modify recipes to fit what we have on hand, and also to fit what I know we like. The cookbooks just give me ideas for different things to do other than my standard six recipes that I make all the time.

(This is based on a recipe from The Kind Diet, but practically every vegetarian cookbook has a version of these, sometimes called power balls or protein balls. Feel free to experiment and use what you have on hand.)

1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
3-4 tablespoons cocoa powder (dutch process or regular, doesn't matter)
3/8 cup maple syrup (3/4 of a 1/2-cup measure)
1/2 cup almond or peanut butter
1/2 t vanilla
1/4 t salt
optional: unsweetened coconut or chopped nuts

Pulse the walnuts in the food processor 5 or 6 times for 2 seconds. Add the dates and continue to pulse another 5-6 times. Add the remaining ingredients (except optional coconut and chopped nuts) and process until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be really sticky, so spray your hands with Pam and then form it into balls about an inch in diameter. Roll in coconut or chopped nuts if you like. Freeze until firm. Alicia says you can eat them straight from the freezer, but I keep them in the fridge. These are pretty astonishingly fudgy, and sometimes that is exactly what I need.

(This is also based on a recipe from The Kind Diet, but when I made them following her instructions, they came out a sloppy mess-- you had to eat them with a spoon. Which isn't exactly a tragedy, I know--dang, gooey chocolate and peanut butter-- but sometimes you want to be able to transport them without having them fall apart. So I changed it up a bit, and I actually like this version better. These are not nearly as sweet as their orange-and-yellow packaged counterparts, but they are more satisfying.)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or Earth Balance
      (Earth Balance is vegan "butter" and it's actually pretty useful stuff)
3/4 cup peanut or almond butter, crunchy or smooth
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup brown rice crisps or Rice Krispies
     (brown rice crisps are the whole grain version of rice krispies)
1/4 cup maple sugar or brown sugar

Optional Topping:
1 cup chocolate chips
1/4 milk (any kind)
extra chopped nuts (peanuts or almonds)

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or use silicon muffin cups. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs, maple or brown sugar, and rice crisps. Spoon about two tablespoons into each muffin cup. If you want the chocolate topping, melt the chocolate chips with the milk and spoon a tablespoon or two of the melted chocolate over the peanut butter mixture in the muffin cups. Top with chopped nuts if desired. Refrigerate or freeze until firm.

Ingredient of the Week: The brown rice crisps are pretty cool. They're the whole grain version of Rice Krispies, so they have more fiber and more nutrients. The brand I can get at my grocery store is Barbara's (nice name, yes?), and you can swap them out anywhere you would use Rice Krispies. I've never been a fan of the marshmallow Rice Krispie treats (marshmallow = blecch), but at least this would make them slightly healthier.  But you could also go with the theory that marshmallow Rice Krispie treats are a hallowed tradition of childhood and you just can't mess with them. They're not supposed to be healthy.

I have a few more like these, but this has gone on long enough. Maybe I'll do more another time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

the post menopause post

I thought about calling this post "Ladies Only" but I figure putting the word "menopause" in the post title has done the work for me, and my three male readers have already run for their lives. So here we are.

I've been reading online a bit recently about menopause trying to figure out exactly where I am. Technically speaking, the bad part of menopause is actually peri-menopause, the months or years leading up to menopause, when you can be *smirk* swamped with heavy, unpredictable, long periods, hot flashes, irritability, mood swings, forgetfulness. Oh, yeah, I had those in spades. But menopause is actually just the cessation of menstruation--which has traditionally been defined as 12 months after one's last period.

So I'm there. It's been a couple of years at least. I'm actually not sure when my last one was, I think maybe fall of 2011?? And the worst of the symptoms is long gone. Thank God. Goddess. Whoever. I still have the occasional minor hot flash--maybe once a month??--but they're not nearly as severe as they were awhile back. I've always been a bit of a ditz, but it's not nearly as bad as it was three or four years ago when I was so spaced out I thought I was already in the early stages of alzheimer's. And I can't say how nice it is to not have to mess with the paraphernalia of periods. (paraphernalia. I had to look up how to spell it. That is a thoroughly excellent word.)

Maybe the best thing though is--as just about every woman I know who has been through it says--suddenly you're just not so concerned about what other people think. It's like this cloud of worry and anxiety about whether or not I fit in and how I hard I should work to make people like me--all of that is lifting away. It's not gone. I still have to deal with it, but it's so much better. I'm not so willing to throw away what I want just to keep everybody else happy.

Anyway, that's not what this post was going to be about, I just wanted to make sure that I buried this far enough down here that I'd have lost everybody who's not going through this. Because--also like many women I know who have been through this--suddenly I'm twenty pounds overweight. We've talked about this before. I've never been as thin as I wanted to be, but I've never really been overweight, either.

But now, I am. It pisses me off. I didn't change anything. I exercise more now than I ever have before. But suddenly I packed on the pounds. It happened in the space of about a year during my first year of grad school. Then I gained another ten pounds while I was writing my thesis. I lost that last ten pounds pretty easily, but the twenty that were from the first year of grad school and menopause--they're still hanging around.

I absolutely refuse to become obsessed with thin-ness, because being ultra-thin and being healthy are unrelated, as much as the diet industry would like us to believe otherwise. You have to find the size that's healthy for you, and it may not be the same as anybody else. I am at an unhealthy size for my build and lifestyle, so I've been working on this for awhile--those of you who have been around for awhile will remember some of this from a couple of years ago. I've tried various different things, but after failing miserably at anything that resembled a "diet," I swore off dieting some time ago. We've talked about that before, too.

But you know, a couple of weeks ago suddenly it occurred to me: to lose weight, you have to have a caloric deficit. There's no way around it. You may be able to achieve that through various different means, but that's the bottom line. And if you have caloric deficit, sometimes you're going to be hungry. And there it is: I hate to be hungry. I'm slightly hypoglocemic, so when I get hungry, I get angry and anxious and bitchy and obsessed with food. And sometimes I get a migraine. The surest way to make sure I'm thinking about food all the time is for me to be starving.

After I realized that, I spent a couple of days thinking, well, I'm just going to have to get used to being this size, because I can't deal with being hungry. But last week, I decided NO. I'm going to do this. I don't want to get back to the weight I was when I was 25 (which would involve losing about 45 pounds). I'll never be that thin again. But I can lose ten pounds--I've already done that, right? And if I can do that, maybe I can lose another ten and get down to the weight I was when I turned 40.

So I started a new rule. It's not a diet, because there's no prescribed list of things I eat. I eat pretty healthy food already, I just eat too much of it. But I can only eat every three hours. I've told you before I don't wake up hungry, so my new routine is: eat at 9:30, 12:30, 3:30 and 6:30. The first two days were pretty miserable, but I had decided I would do it for a week--you can live through anything for a week, right? and it was the beginning of the month, so I had plenty of migraine drugs.

You know what? By the third day I was starting to get used to it. And now, a week and a half later, it actually feels good. I feel so much more in control of my eating. I didn't realize how often I just cruised by the kitchen and put a bite or two of something in my mouth, and then if it tasted good, I'd cruise back by and have a few bites more.

All of that is eliminated. And it takes less food than I would have expected to fill me up at the times when I eat. I've made exceptions a time or two, but for the most part, I've been sticking with it. And I'm discovering that there's a different kind of hungry that goes with migraines. The migraines kind of hungry isn't what causes migraines, it seems to just go along with them, just another symptom like light sensitivity.

So will it result in weight loss? I don't know, but I'm sticking with it because it feels better. I lost a pound and a half the first week, but that's not statistically significant, as they say. It could just be fluctuations. But I'm sticking with this for awhile. I don't know if you remember this, but a couple of years ago, in this post, I said that I hadn't found the joy in food choices yet but I was sure it was there somewhere--and this is starting to feel like I might have found it. I'm not sure if this would work for anybody else, but it's working for me.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

more odds and ends, because it's an odds and ends kind of week

1. I've been a little discouraged about the number of headaches I'm still having even though I went through all the misery of getting off caffeine. But it's the end of the month tomorrow, and I still have six maxalt left. The drugs don't lie, I guess. My prescription is for twelve every month, and last fall I had to get extra a couple of times. So having six left at the end of the month means I'm not having as many as I used to, even if it doesn't seem like it. I always get migraines when I travel, and I've traveled quite a bit recently, so maybe that's why I've seemed headache-y recently. Whatever. I was happy and surprised when I went up to get one this morning and there were still six of them. (okay, now five.)

2. I haven't told you about one of my travels yet. A couple of weeks ago I met my mom, my sisters, and Cheery-o near Chicago so we could go to the memorial service of the beloved family friend (and Debbie's dad) I told you about in November. It was a great trip--I was able to catch up with my family, visit with Debbie, meet some new people, and celebrate a life well lived (although he is sadly missed). But it also brought back boatloads of memories, both from my childhood --we moved there when I was two and moved to Dallas the summer I turned seven--and also from my two years of college there. I had one of those classic throwback experiences: we drove the route that I used to walk every day from our house to the elementary school. It seemed like miles when I was a kindergartener, but it is only about three blocks. Ha.

3. Reading Report: I haven't done one of these in a long time. But besides the Jane Austens and the Jim Palmer book I already told you about, in the past two months I've read: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson, Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen, A Letter of Mary and A Darker Place by Laurie R. King. All recommended but none of them exactly knock-your-socks off. Then, to my surprise, I loved Elizabeth Gilbert's book on marriage, Committed. I wasn't a fan of Eat Pray Love, and Committed didn't get very good reviews, so I didn't see any reason to bother. But a friend recommended it recently, and it was available on ebook from our library, so I decided to try it. I was fascinated. Good mix of personal anecdote and research into the history and sociology of marriage. It's not anything like EPL, and maybe that's why I liked it. Also I read Tenth of December by George Saunders, which is getting all kinds of kudos as the best short story collection ever. He is a jaw-droppingly, stunningly good writer, but the stories are not easy reads. One of them was so horrifying ("Semplica Girl Diaries") that I almost put the book down. But there are a couple that save it from being too sharp, too cutting, so I'm glad I persevered. Recommended with reservations. :-)

4. As will surprise no one, it is easy for me to overdose on church. Really, sadly easy. I hit that point--with a vengeance-- last week. Poor Dean got an earful (okay, maybe two or three) about my frustration with long meetings, always having to be there, and etc. etc. Church is useful to my spiritual life, but it isn't the center of it, and I don't want it to be. Plus I am not particularly mature about being bored. But I knew when I signed up to be a deacon that I was signing on for three years of being more involved than I generally care to be, so I have little excuse. Fortunately last night I attended a "leadership training" session that restored my patience. We have a great church. But even so, I am glad that summer is coming, which means that choir and session both end for a few months and we can skip church for weeks at a time.

5. Starting just this week, I can look out the window and see green. There's still snow on the mountains, but our grass is (mostly) green, the shrubs are budding out, and the people across from us who actually have a real lawn have real, emerald green I can look at (we just have a big field). There comes a point every year where I start to believe that spring will never come, so this is a relief.

And that's all I can think of. Tomorrow is May, happy May Day to one and all. You will note that I remembered to add labels before I posted this one. Go, me.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I've said before that I'm more into fiction than I am poetry, which is probably a bit unusual for someone who spent too many years studying English literature. But there are a few poets I treasure--Emily Dickinson and Yeats come to mind, and I've told you before about my affinity for Philip Larkin. Another one is Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest who wrote gorgeous poetry back in the nineteenth century, but struggled throughout his adult life with the conflict between his nearly irrepressible desire/need to write poetry and the humility and self-abnegation he felt his religious calling required. I could go on and on, but if you're interested, there's lots of info about him out there on the web.

Anyway, I was reminded of him earlier this week and since then lines from his poems have been floating around in my head, so I thought I would share a couple with you. It was hard to pick just two. Google "Pied Beauty" and "God's Grandeur" if you want to read more. I'm not always sure exactly what he means (who is "him" in "half curls earth for him"? the beholder? the behold-ee?) but it's just so stunningly lovely to read. I think of his poems as poetry of incarnation--the Divine made manifest around us.


Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise
  Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
  Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
  Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
  And eyes, heart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a 
Rapturous love's greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

And the azurous hung hills are his world wielding shoulder
  Majestic - as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet! - 
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
  Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
  And hurls for him, O half curls earth for him off under his feet.

To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
  dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
  As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
  Buckle! And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous. O my chevalier!

  No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.