Wednesday, September 26, 2012

it's a fart, it's a bird, it's a blogaversary! a (trying to be) writer reflects

I remember writing my first post.  Butterflies of anxiety flapped around in my belly--as if the internet would light up and sing when I hit "publish," drawing hoards of readers to my page like hungry bees on flowery honey.  I almost hoped they wouldn't come.  In some respects, the blogging train had left years before, chugging out of the station while I was buying a coffee at the student union.   How humiliating, I thought, to have a blog with just one post, let alone in the tardy year of 2011!   For months, my little archive taunted me, screaming "newbie!" with its meager list of writings.

Perhaps because of those anxieties, I kept my blog a secret--even from Steve.  It took months for me to share my writing with people I knew.  And while I wrote about our family, I shared little about me. 

I'm still a newbie, but after a year, I suppose I'm veteran enough that I don't worry about that stuff anymore.  Instead, it seems like a good time for a reckoning.

What am I doing? How did I get here?  My profile is vague and elusive, if you ask me. 

So today, the skinny: 

I suppose I embarked on this it's-not-a-career back in my twenties when I gave up a lucrative and successful job in business because of the boredom.  I wanted to pull every one of my very fine and numerous hairs out of my head so that I could count them during the long and tedious afternoons.  I needed creative work.  I wanted to write.

I went to graduate school--thinking if I wanted to write, I should study the masters.  Naively, Steve and I figured I'd be out of work for a year or so.   Two kids, a Ph.D. and a mere 10 years later, there I was, looking for a tenure track job as an English professor.  I had changed my life, raised my babies, published academic papers, and earned my degree.  After years of chasing toddlers  around the house while academic demands chased me around the clock, I anticipated the relative rest of raising elementary-aged kids while working a mere 40-hour week. 

I know.  I know it wouldn't have been just 40 hours.  I know it wouldn't have been easy.  But to me it seemed perfect nonetheless. 

Except there were no jobs.  

While looking for a position on the tenure-track, I worked as a part-time adjunct professor (1/4 the pay of a tenured professor, no job security, no benefits, no respect).  After two years of that, I could see the writing on the wall (literally: it said "This dump sucks" in faint yellow highlighter on my communal office wall at the university). 

So I quit the search and quit the job and became a tutor for dyslexic learners (Gareth has dyslexia),  wrote grants for a local non-profit, and wrote a book about all that stuff I just summarized in a few paragraphs. 

Geez - I'll never get it published now that I've given everything away!

If you have a creative impulse, then you already know that creativity is like gas.  You can't hold it in.  If you try, it just explodes uncomfortably inside you until you're bloated and cranky and needing to lie down.  Sorry folks, but you just gotta let it out.

So when I finished the book, I started this blog.  If we want to run with my unsavory analogy, then I suppose blog posts are like farts.  Aren't you glad you stopped by?  I hate that word, but it's true.  Writing this relieves the pressure, so to speak.  It makes me really happy.

Except there is a difference between a blogger and a writer.  Can you guess what it is?

Yup.  Money.

Unless you're dooce or The Blogess or some other such sickeningly successful scribe (the alliteration was unintentional until i threw that last word in on purpose), you don't make a dime as a blogger.  That's really ok with me, actually.  I mean, should I get paid just because I'm feeling flatulent? 

Which gets me, at long last, to the point of this post. 

Who am I? 

I'm a (trying to be) writer.  Which means I hope someone will someday publish my book.  And the next one.  And the next.  Which means when I'm not tutoring or mothering, I spend a lot of time querying agents and writing proposals, and editing, and formulating the next project, and reminding myself to stay the course. 

As a (trying to be) writer, I have to believe in myself everyday, despite the rejection letters that come in the mail like torpedoes aimed at the bare-naked hull of my confidence. 

It's hard.

With not enough respect and no income, (trying to be) writers resemble stay-at-home moms.  We birth words like they're babies, love them like we're mothers, and nurture them to maturity in hopes they will fly free of us and make a name for themselves in the world. 

So if you (like me) don't savor the idea that I'm farting on you when I post, think of these writings as hatchlings, teetering on the edge of the nest with untested wings at the ready.  Whether they soar, or fall flat, I want to thank everyone who has taken time to hang out in the canopy and cheer.

THANK YOU for a super fun year! ☺

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

4 minute shower - no way?

image from Going Green Consulting

I am a shower hog.  A water glutton.  An H20 vampire.

And yes, a hypocrite.

In the morning, before Steve and Gareth leave for work/school, I chastise them for failing to unplug their cell phone cords.  Don't they know that wastes 2-3 kWh a year? (to give you some perspective: the average family uses about 4,000 kWh/year).  

Once I've secured the electrical grid, and the kw vampires have taken their leave, I enjoy a shower in all my self-righteous glory.

Quite frankly, with no one here to shame me, I'm surprised I manage to get out by the time they return home in the afternoon/evening. 

How long is it, really?  I don't know.  20 minutes?  It could be longer.

It's probably longer.

What do I do in there?  I have no idea. I think I fall into some kind of a water trance.  I also think I'm transition challenged.  I cannot bring myself to turn off that hot water and face the cold air outside. It's just so...cold.  Do they have Showers-Anonymous for people like me?  It's a disease you know. 

Like all maladjusted behavior, we can trace the roots of my excess to my childhood--or at least to graduate school.  While enrolled as a full-time student, I experienced both the challenge and trauma of studying graduate-level literature with an undiagnosed reading disability.

If you've ever been a graduate student or a teacher (or both!), then you know the work is never done, disability or not.   Wherever I went, my books went.  Like a line of faithful little ducklings, they followed along behind me, chirping at me incessantly over weekends, on road trips, during vacations: even in the bathroom.  They pecked at my time and trampled my sleep. Thinking they would drive me to madness with their river of words and ideas, I sought a place that, despite their webbed feet, they could not follow: THE SHOWER!

Oh, the bliss of those long nonliterary moments.  Something about that ritual of escape stuck.  Got a long day ahead? How 'bout one more minute in the shower? Cold outside?  Just hang out here in the steam.  Incidentally, the shower is also a really great place to grieve.  You can cry in there and your kids will never know about it. 

Over the years, I've made feeble promises to myself about improving, but when I'm in there I get distracted by the fact that there are no distractions.  I forget that I should turn off the water.  Then when I remember, I still don't want to do it.  So lame. 

Yesterday, I made these beautiful zuchini breads (yes, this matters to my shower story). I added precious ingredients: zuchinni and pecans from my local farmer; organic eggs from my co-op; and whole grain flour that I ground myself.  I popped those four fantastic loaves into the oven.  Yes.  Four.  Olivia has food allergies so hers contained local duck eggs and a combination of gluten-free flours that I also ground.  Basically, I did everything twice.

I'm telling you all that so you can appreciate how hard I worked on that darn bread.  I had planned to take my shower while it cooked (it takes at least an hour, so I figured even a hedonistic fool like myself can get a shower in that time, right?).  But you know how one thing leads to another.  By the time I'd cleaned the kitchen and prepared for my ritual of excess and debauchery, the timer on the bread said 4 minutes. 


I had an appointment to get to, so I could not wait.  And I could not burn that bread.  So guess what folksies? When you've got bread in the oven, it's possible to take a 4 mintue shower!  Which tells me something distressing:  it must always be possible to take a 4 minute shower.

No worries.  I am not here to tell anyone to shorten their shower time.  I am in no position to judge or advise. This is my own personal tale of waste and woe.  I do want to make a personal commitment, however.  I will shorten my showers to a more reasonable time.  Which is?  Although I felt so proud of my 4 minute shower, I also thought it was a ridiculous limit for every day.  Right? 


It seems most local water authorities think I've only shorted myself out of a minute. The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (I figure Nevada knows a thing or two about saving water) has a great fact sheet on how to conserve water--including their 5 minute shower recommendation. 

Apparently, my family of 4 can save up to 20,000 gallons of water a year by taking 5 minute showers. How could I have worried about cell phone chargers wasting 2-3 Kw/year while ignoring this truly astounding water conservation opportunity?

Foolish foolish girl.

Intent on trying it again today (sans the bread imperative), I noted the time, jumped in, then bolted back out like a water phobic cat.  Shaking myself off victoriously, I checked the clock and realized I'd forgotten what time I'd started. 

But it was quick.  I know it was. 

I don't know if I can keep it up.  It's like giving up your morning coffee.  or butter.  or sex.

Still, I keep thinking: 20,000 gallons of water...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

green bean runners

When I was Olivia's age, my parents had a plantation big vegetable garden where I slaved  helped for hours on end  on occasion.  One summer evening, having planned to meet my friends in the neighborhood, my father stopped me as I skipped out the door, chomping a wad of grape bubble yum.

"Where do you think you're going?" he accused, adding, "We have beans to pick." 


Chained to the garden fence like a wild dog, I snapped those beans from their plants and threw them into the colander as if I were spitting them. 

Pick beans?  In the middle of my summer?  What kind of crazy parent...stupidest thing I ever heard...cannot believe...It's not my garden...I shouldn't have to...why can't you pick your own beans!

"What kind of crazy parent?"  Huh.  Let me think about that. 

A new neighborhood friend of Olivia's came over the other day and said, "How come whenever I'm here you have piles of tomatoes or beans or..."

Olivia interrupted and answered for me: "Because she's a crazy hippie. C'mon."

She dragged him out of the room.  I just smiled.  She had not picked the beans, but she had helped me snap all the ends off, right in the middle of her summer.  The least I could do was to let her save face and make her escape.

This time of year, when the August sunshine has faded out of the tomatoes, leaving nothing but mealy imposters on the vine, the canner runs regularly, bottling summer like its love potion for our winter pleasure.  Jars of salsa, sauce, whole tomatoes,

tomatoes that still taste like August sunshine



and various jams now populate my pantry shelves. And there's more to come.

Despite my commitment to eat local produce through the winter, the idea of canning usually overwhelmes me.  I don't have time!  So instead of planning ahead, I trick myself into it by going to the market and simply buying a lot of something. Then I get it home, set it on the counter (if it will fit) and say, "Holy sh^*! What am I going to do now?"

Once I've spent the money on the produce, I always find a way to make the canning happen.

Last Wednesday when I went to market, they had beans. Pretty ones.

Me: "Ooh, these look good!"

Olivia: "Mom. Don't."

Me: "You're the one who loves green beans in winter. Right!?"

Olivia: "I guess."  Eyeroll.  "I'm going to go get a honey stick."

Me to farmer: "Do you have a bushel of these?"

So, last week, there I was in the middle (or the end, really) of my summer, wooping it up on a CRRRRAZY Friday night...canning beans...with Steve. 

Was he surprised?  Didn't he listen when I said my vows?  "I, take you Stephen, to be my food storage partner, to wash and to blanch, in summer or in fall, for tomatoes or for beans, with peaches or with pears, to can and to freeze, from this day forward until death do us part."

The real beauty of it is that somehow I have convinced him that this is fun.

We enjoy this revelry on our carport, where we run our canner on a camp stove (we can't put the canner on our cooktop inside).  On Friday, we kept vigil until after midnight, ensuring that the pressure didn't drop as we processed two batches of beans. 

Sitting out there in the middle of the night with our beers, I told Steve I felt like a moonshine runner.  We had cover of darkness; we had bluegrass music; we had vast quantities of mason jars; we had a big boiling vat of something. 

We giggled at the idea of loading our trunk with illicit beans then heading out to make clandestine deliveries to fellow locavores.  Instead of intoxicating our customers, we'd inflatulate them (or is that a different kind of bean?--and yes, I made that word up).

Would Al Capone come after us for infringing on his territory?

our new car

No.  But Monsanto might.  Monsanto is a multinational agricultural biotechnology company that manufactures corn and soybean seeds that have been genetically modified with the herbicide glyphosate.  Plants grown from Monsanto seeds resist weeds because, well, they essentially have Roundup inside of them.  Great if you're into eating herbicides, but what if you're not? 

In recent years, Monsanto has waged a systematic and successful legal campaign against family farmers, suing them for patent infringement.  If an organic farmer lives next to a farmer using Monsanto seeds, the crops inevitably cross pollinate.  Monsanto ironically argues that after their seeds have contaminated the seeds of the organic farmer next door, the farmer must in turn pay Monsanto for the seeds they cultivate from the contaminated crop.

Suddenly, I'm sipping my beer feeling like locavores and bootleggers actually have something in common:  they both have their respective antiestablishment philosophies.  Bootleggers opposed the intrusion of government into their drinking habits.  Locavores oppose the intrusion of industrial agriculture into their eating habits. 

Will there come a day when all seeds are Monsanto seeds?  When all farmers have been bullied into using them?  Steve and I just might end up running beans.  We'll need trench coats, contraband camp stoves and trunks full of vegetable-laden mason jars.  My god.  Will we need guns?

I don't know if you could say I'm "sipping" my beer anymore.

Who knew when I picked those beautiful organic beans with such venom all those years ago, that I'd grow up to to put a whole new face on the idea of  "crazy parent." 

If you want to know more about Monsanto, you might read this book that I haven't gotten to yet. Also, there's a segment on the company in the excellent documentary Food, Inc.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

eating my words

I know I said "don't get glammed."  I meant it, but do I have to practice what I preach?  Last night, as Bill Clinton closed his speech with these rather sappy remarks:

I love our country— and I know we're coming back.
For more than 200 years, through every crisis, we've
always come out stronger than we went in. And we
will again as long as we do it together. We champion
the cause for which our founders pledged their lives,
their fortunes, their sacred honor— to form a more perfect union.
If that's what you believe, if that's what you want, we have to
re-elect President Barack Obama.

I found myself smiling and joining in the resounding applause.  I almost stood up. 

Remembering myself, I looked around our empty living room, heard my solitary clapping and laughed, embarrassed in front of nobody.  The night before, Michelle Obama actually brought a tear to my ever-cynical eye as she concluded her talk. 

What's happening to me?  Republican or Democrat, I usually adopt a call and response formula when listening to political speeches, forcing Steve to suffer my regular outbursts as I complain about all the things left unsaid. 

AND, I have never even really considered myself to be a Democrat, because honestly, I'm left of them.  In the old days of Clinton and George Bush, Democrats frustrated me with their positions on things like trade, deregulation and gays.  I never thought the Democrats looked much different than the Republicans. 

Then, in the 1990s, Ralph Reed and his Christian Coalition marched the Republicans up to the deep end of fundamentalist conservative politics.  It was only a matter of time before young impressionable men like Rick Santorum and Paul Ryan would strip off the garments of reason and jump in (leaving poor Mitt on the side with his life preserver and his toe in the water, trying to look like a joiner). 

Everything's relative, right?  If what tweeters not-so-affectionately call "right-wing-nut-jobs" (#RWNJ) want to spew bigoted messages of hatred toward American people while ironically espousing the humanity of corporations, then the Democrats, with their moderate messages of tolerance, diversity, community, and public service, look pretty darn good. 

It doesn't hurt that I truly believe Obama's economic plan to tax the 1% and invest in the middle class represents our best chance for getting out of this economic mess  (very optimistically assuming oil prices remain stable and the European economy can hold itself together).

Clinton was right when he said that trickle down economics have no history of success.   In our current climate, tax cuts for corporations who are already hoarding money won't trickle down to us, rather, they'll flow in a broad band river to Switzerland, the Cayman's and elsewhere.  

Why should we pay to pad their already flooded bank accounts--and then pay for the schools, the Medicare, the roads and everything else they privatize for their further profit along the way? Let's face it folks, we have to pay for those services one way or another:  either through taxes to a democratically elected government over which we have at least some power, or to corporate providers to which we would be completely beholden.  I choose the former.

I want Democrats to get tougher on climate, to cut out the drone strikes, to deal responsibly with Guantanimo, but those are things to fight for after the election (and those are things I could never hope to see Republicans address). 

For the convention, I admit I'm having fun sitting alone on my couch eating my words, getting glammed, and feeling hopeful.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

don't get glammed: vote the issues

image from google images:

I hear a lot of folks say they don’t have time for politics. 

I get that. 

Except I don’t. 

Olivia’s recent celebrity obsession with the boy-band One Direction bothers me in part because I see it as a warm up, a practice infatuation with a glammed up media image. That’s Ok when you’re eleven and hanging posters on your wall, but it’s not OK seven years later when you go to the polls. 

If we ignore the issues because they feel overwhelming or we don’t think we have time, then what information do we use to vote?  A charismatic personality?  An attractive face?  The feeling we get when we watch a candidate tour a disaster zone? 

Many politicians count on that kind of empty boy-band-approach to voting.  Why else would Ann Romney tell us that she had fun with Mitt at their high school dance?  I can’t begin to see how that information bears on the election.  Are we supposed to be relieved that he didn’t pin her down and cut off all that blond hair? 
I’d much rather have heard her thoughts on what she would have done if she’d gotten pregnant at that dance.  That would have been interesting!  Would she have wanted to bring her pregnant unwed belly to congress for a review of her options? I doubt it. 

If you pay attention to issues, speeches like Ann’s fall flat.  You wonder, “why is she telling me this?” 

Similarly, you see through depictions like this one, delivered by Paul Ryan in his convention speech.  He described our current American existence as:

a dull, adventureless journey from one
entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country
where everything is free but us.

Who knew that Mr. Ryan was such a drama queen?  As if we're all wearing gray jump suits standing in a bread line for a free but tasteless dinner in communist Russia.  

Not all government “intrusion” is created equal.  As I listened to Ryan speak, I stirred a vat of pureed tomatoes so big it took 12 hours to cook down into a sauce suitable for canning.  Why would I do that?  Because I want to avoid the many nasties that come with industrialized food: anything from sugar to E. coli. 

Even if you don’t follow the issues, I’m sure you eat.  In Ryan's promise to free you from the tedium of  “a government planned life,” does E. coli poisoning qualify as the next big "adventure?"  With his budget set to cut the already underfunded FDA by half, I guess we could expect to see a lot more of that kind of “excitement” in our otherwise boring futures. 

All I can say is thanks but no thanks for the fun Mr. Ryan.  I don’t think of food safety as an “entitlement” any of us can live without.  I guess on this issue, Ryan’s like the honey badger: "he don't care."

Too bad for Ryan that I care.

It took me so long to finish that sauce, I was still ladling it into jars when Romney took the stage.  Not surprisingly, he got through his whole speech without mentioning the word “climate” a single time.  Instead, he made a flippant joke about Obama’s efforts to stem the rising seas.  Really Mitt?  
He wants me to laugh and appreciate how funny and likable he is.  But I’m too busy stirring sauce until 2am so that we can eat local organic tomatoes in winter, tomatoes that don’t use petroleum-based pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizer and petroleum-fueled trucks for transcontinental shipment. 
I’m busting my butt to do what I can to protect our environment even though I know it’s not enough.  Meanwhile, Mitt mocks climate science to get a laugh while protecting his profiteering cronies in the energy industry?  I guess I’ve heard funnier jokes.

I don’t claim to have the skinny on every issue, and I certainly don’t have the solution to every problem we face.  But I do know enough to see through empty campaign speeches.  Ann hoped I would say, “Aw! – what a nice guy!” when I learned that Mitt acted nervously on their date.  Ryan anticipated I would smile hopefully as he promised to spice up my mind-numbing government-run existence.  Mitt expected I would laugh heartily at a joke intended to humanize him for me. 

Instead, I cringed because all I heard was Ann glossing over women’s reproductive rights during an election where they are hotly contested; I scoffed because I heard Ryan insinuate that unfettered corporate power would serve me better than my democratically elected government, and I marveled because Mitt got upstaged in the world of responsible politics by a lady with a blender, a paring knife, and a hot water bath canner. 

You might disagree with my interpretations, but I don’t believe you can disagree with the importance of paying attention. 

Don't get glammed. 

Read, listen, think, vote!