Thursday, February 16, 2012

Physical Miscellany, and 2012 to date.

Somehow, the more time I spend on an individual post, the more indelibly it becomes about being a mom to my kid.  But really, I can talk about other things!  I mean, I assume I can.

Let's give it a shot.  

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Meat Review

Since moving to a more paleo-inspired diet last October, we've gotten pretty tired of chicken.  Here are the more exotic meats we've tried, from best to worst:
  • Ground venison.  The first time I made this, I was afraid it would be too gamey so I improvised meatloaf-style burgers which were tasty but they fell apart.  The meat seemed too lean to really work in that application.  Tonight we used ground venison as a burrito base (cooked with onions, garlic, plenty of spice) and it was great.  I think it worked better as crumbles than patties--the meat seemed dry, but with a burrito it didn't matter.   
  • Bison pot roast.  I got the one linked, but didn't pay anywhere near that much for it.  It was really good, really beef-like.  I used the recipe on the back for "street tacos" and found it to be under-flavored.  A ton of extra cumin, chili, and garlic at the end saved it.  Also, I have yet to figure out how to get crock pot-ed beef to go from soggy roast into good machaca, a problem that did not magically sort itself out by swapping bison for cow.  All this is to say: my cooking is not that good, but the meat itself was. Will definitely try again, if I find it on sale.
  • Buffalo hot dogs.  These were pretty good, but more like a dense summer sausage than a real hot dog.  As such, they were better with sauerkraut/spicy mustard than typical ketchup and mustard (especially given no buns involved).  I bet they'd be really good as chili dogs.
  • Ground boar meat.  First of all, the package said "from feral pigs" which made me think "they eat garbage," and then I happened to read something online the day we cooked it that said that pigs particularly take on the flavor of their feed.  Pork goes well with green sauce, so we did an improvised chili verde with pureed canned hatch chilis as the base for the sauce.  The taste was really good, despite my misgivings, but I got a shard of cartilage in mine and then couldn't eat the rest.  We then watched an episode of Sons of Guns in which they go hunting for a monster wild boar, and how the animal had this huge cartilage shield all around the shoulder muscles that small caliber rounds couldn't even penetrate, and that was the end of any interest I had in eating wild/feral pigs.
The 75% ratio of us cooking tacos/burritos vs. other types of food is consistent.  If I'm eating strictly low-carb that day, I'll wrap in lettuce instead.  

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Despite the time I spend blogging/twittering, I think I'm still better off for it, productivity-wise.  By naturally talking about what I'm doing, I feel like I'm accountable for finishing projects.  So I thought I would post my major 2012 goals on here as kind of progress report.
  1. Quit job.  Check!
  2. Find/create part-time job.  My first target was to have revenue by 3/1, but that's not going to happen.  I planned start this project on 2/1, and did start 2/1 ... only to drop it pretty much until Tuesday of this week.  I did get the home office 50% together, sorted through a few boxes of crap from my old office, and recorded an incoming voice mail message.  Goals to accomplish by the end of this month include: having business cards printed, figuring out how to make a freaking Wordpress site (grrrr), and actually contacting my contacts.  
  3. Draft a novel from start through first draft, through at least 1 major revision.  Progress so far: not all that much.  I made lists of major character traits and background for main heroine/hero, then wrote out a one-chapter "background" life story for them, just to get my writing muscle used to working in narrative format (my first few chapters on a draft are uniformly horrible). I'm not counting these two (hefty) prologue chapters in the official wordcount because I don't intend to use them.  They're just for warm up.  I'm also not in a particularly big hurry to start the official wordcount because I'm still refining the outline, and I hate to fly blind.  Target date for starting the "official" wordcount: 3/1.  
  4. Get down to my 10th grade weight.  I tend to burn bright, burn hot, and burn out with hobbies and diets (overlapping sets).  I made a plan for monthly weight-loss goals that front-loads it into the earlier months of the year when 1) motivation is higher and 2) numbers of pounds represents a lesser percentage of overall body mass.  To refrain from getting too cocky (who me?) at any big loss on a given day, I decided to only "count" the weigh-in days on the last day of each month.  Hit target on 1/31, followed by two weeks of sloth.  Need to get back into gear, but 3/1 deadline is still within reach, so long as I get back into gym mode.*  
  5. Get educated.  This is more desire than goal, as I haven't quantified my preferred outcome.  I would vaguely like to complete my TBR stack of unopened classics by the end of the year, and finish all the lectures in the Modern Scholar: Odyssey of the West (Classical Education Through the Great Books) series, and reading some of the actual great books along with it.  I'm only up to the fall of Rome so far, and damn, I hate translations, so I've been heel-dragging on cracking the actual books.  (I've read a lot of the major, major works in the Western canon, if not in whole then in large part, but not since law school. I imagine the experience of reading them now will be much different.)  I really enjoy the lectures though--ones I listened to last year on Orwell, Medieval Literature, and Rhetoric were really good, at least to my bumpkin state-school-educated self.  
  6. The Man.  2012 goal is to get right of the law--canon law. In retrospect, it seems obvious that the Catholic Church, with its rigorous systems of law and doctrine (feature!), wouldn't recognize a "wedding" performed by the mail-order minister who, the previous month, performed a mass "wedding" in a public square during a pride event.  NB: The adage "better to ask forgiveness than permission" does not apply in all circumstances.  Unexpected bonus: canon law is fascinating.  Progress: Possibly as much as 5%.  Since I started sorting it out in 2006.  But this is my year!   
  7. Household. Just once this year I would like to have the whole entire house clean, every speck of dust removed, everything put away, all the dishes done, and all the laundry done at the same time.  When the goal is in sight, we will be eating from paper plates until the last day, at which time I plan to borrow towels from someone for us to wear while I run the clothes from our backs through the washer and dryer.  After two weeks of concerted effort, I think we are 4% of the way there.  
  8. Hair.  Having written what turned out to be an impassioned defense of the Twilight books in my last, I can no longer pretend to seriousness, so I suppose there's no harm in admitting that I have a written 2012 goal related to my hair, which is: Don't Screw With It.  I had a near-miss the other day (temporary color counts as screwing with it) and the existence of Zooey Deschanel's bangs continues to haunt me, but for now, the line is holding.   
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*"Gym mode" = Completing consistent workouts of sufficient rigor such that exercise high kicks in and makes the experience pleasurable.  Typically, it takes me about three weeks, working out six days a week, for gym mode to really strongly kick in.  

My preferred, most effective workout plan is to do weights M-W-F for 45-minute sessions, alternating upper and lower body muscle groups on alternating weight days (pyramiding sets to failure).  I prefer free weights but I only have access to machines this time, so I guess I'll make do.  T-Th-S I'll do 20-minute cardio interval sessions.  If I get bored, I do The Firm cardio or sculpting DVDs, but not often.  I'm still klutzy even when I'm in good shape, so I tend to trip on the step.  

The best part of gym mode is that I find myself actually wanting to eat more healthy food and wanting to do active things for fun (typically mountain biking, although its been awhile).  The worst part of gym mode is when I want to be active but can't (because I'm chained to a desk), it's physically painful.  And the rebound in that circumstance tends to be horrifying.    

I hate taking medicine and generally do not, but I love supplements.  I'm currently using (1) concentrated greens, (2) iron-free multivitamin, (3) Ca-Mg-K, (4) Green Tea Extract, (5) Vitamin C, (6) ALA, (7) Omega-3D, (8) Vitamin E w/ tocopherols, and (9) co-enzyme Q10.  I'll eat a light breakfast and take everything in the late morning, which basically substitutes for breakfast.  I want to do some research on timing these, to see if there's any impact on optimal sleep (the prerequisite for exercise/eating compliance, at least for me.)  I usually switch supplements in and out every few months (I've got maybe 30-35 I swap out when I get bored.)  Obviously, I've got way too many variables here to control for any one in particular, and would not be surprised to find that most of these were useless.  But from past experiments, I can tell that the ones that do things are the Green Tea (caffeine) and the ALA/Omega-3D, which make my mental functioning feel just a bit sharper.  They also make my hair shiny.  

It's good to have goals.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Twilight Saga is the Monomyth for Women.

It seems I have been intemperate: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 is not actually the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I’ve reconsidered for two reasons: 1) someone called me on it, and 2) I saw this at the store today and was reminded of a memory I’d mercifully blacked out. 



People love to hate on Twilight, and there’s no shortage of targets for ire: the sparkles, the prose, the werewolf falling in love with a baby, the sparkles, Renesmee.  When my good friend, also a lawyer/mom, finally read the last book, she kept calling and texting: “Did that really just happen?”  “She did what now?” and so on, until finally I got a series of texts, that simply said, over and over “WTF?!”

The movie tones down the weirdness, tries to make it reasonable and well-grounded in the universe of the movies.  Which is why I was so disappointed with it.  BD1 is a decent movie, but Breaking Dawn, the book (certainly for the first half), is deeply, personally about me—WTF is the story of my life.  I think, perhaps, that it is the story of lots of other women's lives too.  

George Lucas is also full of WTF, but he had a manual.
It is really difficult to tell a woman's life story.  Campbell’s monomyth has a lovely shape, and it works well for men.  The example he uses is Oedipus, and the monomyth can accommodate his story from birth, through marriage and having children, to death.  I have tried to think of examples, and I can't think of any in which a woman's story is told in this shape, where immersive motherhood occurred right in the middle.  So Campbell's monomyth can tell the story of a person who happens to be female and doesn’t have children or focus on them.  Or, more typically, authors just tell monomyth stories around motherhood--typically as prologue--with marriage and baby at the end.  Motherhood screws up your narrative because it's both climax and termination of your old narrative universe in the same event.  It's tough to reconcile that into a pleasing narrative shape.   

Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories

So the Twilight Saga may not be narratively pleasurable, but I think they have resonance.  I think that the dead-on emotional truth in the Twilight books is the reason they never quite succeed on a narrative level (Catherine Hardwicke was commended on her direction of the first movie for creating a plot for the movie based on a largely plotless book).  But if you can get past the random weirdness, and the sparkles, Twilight nails exactly what it’s like for a girl the first time she falls in love, and New Moon nails exactly what it’s like the first time a girl gets dumped. Eclipse exactly gets the strangeness and ambivalence of choosing a lifetime commitment, even or especially to someone you love.  And Breaking Dawn is about having a baby and being a mom.  Critics focus on the limp-wristed sparkler, because Bella does, but really, he’s beside the point. 

The intrinsic weirdness of Breaking Dawn (book) is how the same characters stay the same, but the fact of the protagonist's pregnancy changes everything about the world they're in. 

The title, I think, is fair--dawn makes the world anew, which seems strange after three books in the dark (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse).  For three books, Edward is so central, that Bella's dad comments (Eclipse):
The way you move — you orient yourself around him without even thinking about it. When he moves, even a little bit, you adjust your position at the same time. Like magnets… or gravity. You’re like a… satellite, or something.
(What's so subversive about this is that the books treat this like “yep, that’s how it is.”  !!)  And then in Breaking Dawn, this so-intense relationship ceases to matter.  It makes no sense to the narrative to make Edward irrelevant. The former center of the universe now just drops in and out, rising and setting on the newly sideways axis on which the her world now rotates.  He is such an afterthought that Jacob, the scorned lover, narrates half the book.  Everything about Breaking Dawn is offensive to symmetry and narrative sense.

But I think that's why this series has so much resonance--life doesn't make narrative sense.  Motherhood doesn't make narrative sense. 

Also: what Breaking Dawn lacks in narrative cohesion, it makes up for in awesomeness.

What I expected from Breaking Dawn, Part 1.


For half the book, the half-vamp fetus nearly kills her in graphic detail.  The books go from teenage longing and a sweet honeymoon to full-on gruesome horror.  Baby kicks cause broken ribs.  And the birth--where Edward has to chew the baby out of her stomach, and what happens next. . . I had such high hopes for the movie's ability to show this rift: the birth scene is where the story severs the connection with everything that comes before, just like the birth trauma severs Bella’s spinal column. 

Every mother has a horror story in her.  And I do so wickedly love to horrify people with mine.  One nurse walked into the birthing suite wearing a full Hazmat suit, and the other one laughed.  “You really think that’s necessary.”  “Look at her chart.  It’s Dr. Miller,” she said.  The other nurse paled and ran out.  I didn’t start to panic until they started covering the equipment with plastic.  “He’s just a little messy,” they explained, like that was supposed to make me feel better.  Later: screaming, blood on the walls and ceiling somehow, and when Dr. Miller did arrive, he started screaming because Hazmat nurse, who at one point smacked B in the head (he deserved it), was standing there holding the baby he’d come to deliver.   

It was awesome.        

What it looked like after I gave birth, as I recall. 
Movies are supposed to give us heightened reality.  I wanted to see something that awesome for Bella onscreen. 

Because oh jeez, I have really, really high hopes for Breaking Dawn Part 2, out this fall.  The second half of that book has the most promising, most hopeful, most awesome depiction of the power of motherhood as anything I’ve ever read.  I loved reading it—I love thinking about it.  And I want to see it be as awesome as it already is on the page and in my head. 

Because fiction is hope, it’s uplift, I want to believe that Meyer gets it right about what comes next in this story we never hear.  In this case, I want to see story of how a weak, whiny, kind of boring girl is become Life, protector of worlds.

Plus this time, finally, she's the sparkly one. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Breakfast conversation with a Pre-pre-pre-teen.

I don’t think I could ever be a “mommy blogger”—I like my kid.  Which I guess says good things about my self-esteem, because sometimes it seems like she’s my clone.  She has her dad’s brown hair, but otherwise, in appearance, in intellect, in temperament, we are incredibly similar.  Her teenage years should be so fun. 

For now, she’s at the age where she wants to be like me.  Before breakfast this morning, she caught me eating a cookie* and refused to eat her eggs, until I told her I already had my egg and showed her the shell.  (My little skeptic—it warms the cockles of my lawyer’s heart.)  When I asked her what she wanted to drink, she said milk, and added under her breath “just like you.”  Way to make the subtext into text, kiddo. 

See recipe below.
I love it when she challenges me.  To the limited extent that parenting even matters, the paramount values I’m trying to instill and promote are: independence of thought, initiative, kindness and emotional stability.  Based on our similarities, I expect that some of these may just be aspirational.  But at least that’s the direction we’re pointing. 

In raising a girl, I’ve had to question some other values that don’t seem quite so good.  I always thought it was best to try everything for yourself, at least once.  Or twice.  If there’s an easy way and a hard way to learn things, I learn the hard way (to learn it better).  I have difficulty learning from other people’s mistakes, much preferring to make my own. 

Except I’m pretty sure there’s a direct line from there to the scene at yesterday’s breakfast.  My beautiful little girl, with her pigtails and her glittery Hello Kitty t-shirt, came to breakfast wielding a lid-off marker and sweetly asked for help, please.  She’d covered both legs with “tattoos” but she wanted one just like mommy, and she couldn’t quite reach the back of her neck.**

Gah.

Is there any, please God, any possible chance, that the form her teenage rebellion will take is a refusal to lose her damn mind?

Wait, don’t answer that.  I’m not ready for the answer, and besides, when the time comes, I’ll figure it out myself. 

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*The cookies are these phenomenally good Dark Chocolate-Chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Cherries and Pecans.  I recommend toasting the pecans immediately before adding them to the batter, adding them last, and then chilling the batter for 30 minutes before scooping so that the hot pecans don’t melt the chocolate.  Also, I frequently swap butter in cookie recipes for butter-flavored shortening, because even though it’s so artificial it makes my skin crawl, it makes the cookies softer and they taste better.  Except this recipe is actually better with straight butter.  I should have known better than to question Cook’s Illustrated.

**I learned a lesson from the tattoo incident, and learnt it good and hard.  I got the stupid thing shortly after my eighteenth birthday—a blue crescent moon wrapped around a kanji figure.  The kanji figure I picked was this one—which means courage, but which I picked out because the shape of it looked like a funny little guy. 

 
This story is not going to end well.
So I had my hair up when I moved into the Honors College dorm a few months later.  Yes, I was moving into the nerd farm, but I was an edgy nerd now.  

A boy I knew from high school, Lee-Sean*** (whose chemistry homework got at least 7 people passing grades) lived in the room below mine.  I caught him giving me strange looks one day, and he cautiously asked to see my tattoo.  I suppose I thought he was intimidated by my new-found bad-assery. 

Except when I held my hair up high so he could get a closer look, he breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Because, he caught a glimpse before but couldn't quite see the whole thing with my hair in the way.  And it turns out that the little triangle on top?  That changes the meaning quite a bit.  This kanji character:

MAN. 

The lesson:  Don't take myself too seriously.   

Because with a tattoo this stupid, no one else is going to!

***Huh.  Turns out Lee-Sean has a blog.   

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Work begins at home.

I threatened death by shovel to anyone who dared suggest that I would be bored if I left the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom, so I wish to make this known:  I’m not bored.

Did you buy it?

Well, you should, because I’m not actually bored.  Boredom is a personal failure, and not something anyone should brag about or admit to.  If you can’t find something interesting in any aspect of the magnificence of creation, that’s a you problem.  It hasn't been my problem so far--I've had lots to amuse me last week.  Aimlessness is my problem.  

The hardest part about being productive is figuring out what not to do with my time.  I love to buy productivity books,* but they never really help me accomplish everything I’d like to because I’d like to do too many things.  When I don’t narrow down interests, I get overwhelmed, avoid tasks out of guilt, and then end up under-accomplishing.  I thought it would be easier to get things done when I didn’t have work/commute sucking up 50-60 hours a week, but it seems harder now.  Because I've been having such a good time, the days are flying by.  

And it’s gross.  Unproductive self-indulgence gets kind of repulsive.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow talks about the difference between pleasure and enjoyment:
The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness.  This happens when psychic energy—or attention—is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action.  The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else.  These periods of struggling to overcome challenges are what people find to be the most enjoyable times of their lives. 
The difference between pleasure and fulfillment lies in having discrete goals around which to organize the self.  So on Saturday I started over on my book. 

I've got some figuring out to do on my other goals, and some ramping up to do, activity-wise, but I'm happy with my meager progress this weekend.  I've nailed down the year and location, and one of my main characters has discovered some goals for himself.**  I initially set my novel at the end of the Regency period, because the overall prosperity and lack of conflict in the time/location/class lets you focus on more personal stories.  But I seem to have lost my appetite for decadent frivolity.

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*My favorite time and place to actually to read productivity books is to get a sitter on a weekend afternoon, send B somewhere, and curl up in bed to read for hours while ignoring the housework.  The languid satisfaction is almost as good as the smug illicit thrill I get from reading diet books while eating nachos.  

**1744.  Derbyshire.  And my hero is quite probably an arms dealer supplying the Jacobite rebels.  What can I say?  It's a love story. 

***If you have any recommendations for research references, email me.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Experiments in Integrated Personality

The longest-running disagreement in our marriage is: Which one of us is funnier? Which just goes to show how skilled B is in arguing the losing side.  I go on instinct, but B has reduced his theory of humor down to three rules.  
  1. Loud is funny.  
  2. If the joke gets a laugh, tell it again and again (and again).
  3. If the joke doesn't get a laugh, explain in detail how it is funny. 
Yes, it’s as painful as it sounds.  If you have to explain that something is funny, it isn’t.*  

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My last day was Tuesday, so everyone’s had a chance to weigh in.  The reaction at work was mixed.  There were many sincere well wishes, but most of the ones from women had a brittle edge—some sort of oblique reference to their own life choices, variations on “you’re lucky you can do this.”  Lucky?  Well, yes; but the greater portion of this is the flying leap from the class-hierarchy high dive.  My “bubble score” on the bullshit test that’s been making the rounds is 7. 

In all the chaos and uncertainty of the last few weeks, the thing that’s been bothering me the most has been the reaction of my closest friend from work: silence.  It took a while to realize that was his form of well-wishing—by avoiding me, he refrained from telling me that I am making a huge colossal mistake, that I’m hurting myself and hurting my family, that I don’t know what I don’t know.  It was a huge relief for both of us this week when he finally cracked. 

So how do you explain to someone that you’re not self-destructing?  That’s a statement you disprove by making it, like explaining that a joke is funny.  Chucking a career that so many would envy feels kind of incendiary.  And isn’t self-immolation is the ultimate performance art?

That marshmallow is an attention whore.
This is my attempt at a controlled burn.  I think of this as the life version of the time I whittled down my library.  When we condensed down from big house to small apartment, I could only take two small boxes of books out of all the books I owned (south of 1000, but not by much).  I packed them last, spreading all out on the giant empty floor and walking up and down in rows to evaluate.  The only usable selection criteria was “Can I live without this?”  I didn’t notice until I unpacked that nearly all of the books hewed to the same subject areas—the empires of Rome and Britain, sailing ships, children’s fantasy, and theology—and I thought Hey, I am kind of a pretentious douchebag, but I also thought So this must be what it’s like to have a personality.

I can’t even begin to explain how completely disgusting I find all of this New-Agey, be-true-to-yourself touchy-feely bullshit, so it kills me to admit that I am seeking happiness by being more authentically myself.  Please excuse me while I lose my lunch.

I don’t think I’m suited for lawyering (for now)—it’s too damn appealing to my tendency toward obsession and competition.  There haven’t been many minutes in the last nine years in which I haven’t felt like I shouldn’t be doing more—revising motions, reading cases, billing hours.  I fell out of touch with my friends who weren’t lawyers, stopped doing hobbies that required big chunks of time, let other people raise my child.  And even though my most desperate desire has always been to write and publish a novel, I never breathed a word of it to anyone at work.  I didn’t want people to know that I was spending all that time writing when I should have been not-writing; I was afraid if anyone knew I’d have to give that up too.  In the end, I felt like I was pulling so hard in so many different directions that I was going to pull myself apart, like Molly Weasley’s Howler (0:38).

So even though the last weeks have been scary and painful, good things are happening.  I started writing this blog so that I could actually say things I’d only just thought, and sent the URL to family and friends out of principle of not hiding, and many have written me privately to say nice things.  I started talking to people online that I thought were interesting, and to my continuing pleasure and amazement, sometimes they talk back.  I’ve been talking to friends I’ve been missing, including the gentleman pictured below in my wedding dress who wishes it known that although our friend the yo-yo champion was there for the rooftop antics referenced in a prior post, that particular unicycle was his.    

Wedding Protip: Hide your dress from the best man prior to leaving for your honeymoon.
And on my last day, I told my work friend that I was going to write a book.  His response: "Maybe you'll become the next J.D. Rowling."  I think he's actually more worried now than he was before.  But at least he knows, and maybe this way we can still be friends.  

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*I’m being dramatic: only 2/3 of his rules are horrifying.  In 13 years of field-testing them, it turns out he is actually right about loud = funny.