Monday, January 28, 2013

Three Great Things: A Mini Link List

I feel like I’m on a roll with lists these days, so how about a quick link list with some good reading material?  Okay, go:

* Inspiration for tackling big projects: Raquelita’s post about the parallels between running and writing.  It’s such a great essay for the new year.  Remember, all big projects are built the same way, step by step, even things like marathons, novels, and PhD theses.

* I enjoy a good style blog—it’s all about the eye candy!  Sara’s blog, To Be Worn, is my new favorite style treat.  Her style reminds me of a cross between Kendi’s and Tania’s.  For easier clicking, you can check out Sara’s Flickr set.  (If anyone would like to buy me this dress, I’d be most obliged.  Please and thank you.)

* I am drawn to stories about shopping bans and people’s relationships with consumerism.  As a reformed underbuyer**, it’s probably not a good idea for me to go on a shopping ban, but I did enjoy this post about a year-long shopping diet.  (Bummer that the author of that post has taken down her blog!  Luckily her guest post is still on-line at Yes and Yes.)

(** More about this one soon, I hope.)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Five Favorite Kitchen Discoveries of 2011

Wait, what?  2011?  I must have drunk too much red wine again.  Damn you, Pinot Noir.  You are too tasty.

Actually, I’m reaching back into my archives to retrieve a post that I wanted to share a year ago but never did.  Surely I am not the only blogger who has more ideas than she can execute and sometimes comes back to those ideas later.  And as much as there are food trends (I hear kale is out this year?), when you come across something wonderful in the kitchen, it’s worth remembering (kale, I still love you).  So it’s in that spirit, and in the knowledge that I have no sense of time or expiration dates, that I bring you my five favorite kitchen discoveries from 2011.

Indian Bay Leaves

* Indian bay leaves.  My Indian friend Amutha introduced me to these, and they are fantastic.  Strong, herbal, a little spicy—these bay leaves are so much more interesting than their Mediterranean counterparts.  I use them in any recipe that calls for bay leaves.

Refreshing the Lettuce

* To refresh wilted lettuce, rinse it, then dunk it into a bowl of ice water for a while.  Even just a few minutes can turn slightly wilted lettuce into crisp, sprightly leaves.  (I found this tip on Melissa Clark’s blog.)

Quesadilla on Table

* The easiest way to make quesadillas: broil them!  So fast, so delicious, and lower in fat too, if you’re paying attention to that sort of thing.

Flax Bag

 * The versatility of flax.  Using flax “eggs,” as seen in this recipe, or a sprinkle of flax on oatmeal as a nutrient boost, I’ve really gotten into the habit of including flax in my cooking on a daily basis.

Kentucky Dodgers with Cheese

* Kentucky Dodgers!  These thin pancakes, made with leftover cornbread crumbs, became a kitchen favorite for me in 2011.  I haven’t made them in a while, and I haven’t posted the recipe here at all, but now I think I need to amend both of those errors.  The recipe is in Crescent Dragonwagon’s terrific book The Cornbread Gospels.

Now, let’s see if I post my list of 2012 kitchen discoveries before 2014…happy cooking, y’all!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Five Quirky and Possibly Inadvisable Things

Unicorn in Chalk

Finally, I found a unicorn!

1)  I kinda want to raid the closet of Nicki Grant from Big Love.  I love her blouses and belts!

2)  I cannot read a blog that uses center justification as its default setting for the text.  I just can’t.  It drives my eyes crazy.  (Note that I make an exception for photo captions here.  Photo captions are typically just one or two lines—that doesn’t have the same crazy-making effect.)

3)  Nobody has proposed to me lately, but if I did get married, I’d want to dance with my new husband to this song.  I especially love the lines, “I see friends shaking hands, saying how do you do…they’re really saying I love you.” 

What a wonderful world indeed!

4)  I am obsessed with the idea of making these cookies.  It just doesn’t get much better than chai spices and frosting.  Yum.

5)  This week I watched a wonderful TED talk from Sam Harris about science and morality.  Think science has nothing to say about moral decision-making?  Think again.  This talk articulated a lot of my thoughts on ethics, but Sam Harris does it so much more eloquently.  Please watch. 

Happy Friday, my dears!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mini January Resolution: Get Rid of Stuff!

I recognize this post may only be interesting to me, since it’s my blog, but I am just so pleased with myself that I am going to share it.  Along with my big, year-long plans, I made a mini-resolution for January, and it was very simple: get rid of as much stuff as possible.

I’m not a packrat, but life happens and stuff piles up.  That’s just the way it is.  Maintaining a home requires consistent effort to keep things from descending into chaos.  Every day, there are dirty dishes to wash and more clothes added to the laundry pile.  Sometimes I find the rhythms of home to be soothing; other times I think I should hire a cleaning service to make the dust disappear.

This month I’ve been focusing on clearing clutter, and it feels great.  Last weekend I cleaned out my vegetable/cheese drawer and was just tickled by the amount of space and lack of old, slimy produce.  See?

Clean Veggie and Dairy Drawer!

Ah.  I feel better just looking at the photo.

Other projects include donating my old clothes to a lucky stranger from Craigslist, recycling old issues of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and bagging up other recyclables with plans to cart them away to the recycling center.  And last night I started cleaning out my freezer, tossing bags of leftover cookie crumbs and heels of bread.  How many cups of cornbread crumbs does one person need to save, anyway?!?  Right now, zero.  I’m starting fresh.  The freezer clean-out makes me especially happy, as I need room in there for all my baking supplies, like whole-grain flours, almond flour, and ground flax seeds.  My stash of leftover bits and bobs had robbed me of room to easily store the supplies that I do use on a regular basis.

(Besides, now I have a good excuse to bake a fresh pan of cornbread!)

I continue to work on my resolution.  For now, I’ve condensed my newspapers and mail into two piles.  Maybe today I’ll start sifting through them to save the good stuff and recycle the rest. 

Two Piles

And while we’re on the topic of organization, I’m trying something new this year.  I’m keeping a cooking journal in a small notebook so I can jot down what I’m eating and planning to eat.  I’m hoping it will make me feel less overwhelmed by weekday demands.  For example, right now I’ve got the ingredients for a cauliflower “fried rice,” a Mexican-style fried rice (with brown rice, black beans, frozen corn, and toppings), pizza, and oven-baked tomatoes.  That’s four new dinners, and if I make at least 2-3 servings, I can make lunches from the leftovers.  I’ll probably go to the grocery store on Tuesday or Wednesday as usual, but when I go, I’ll know that I’ve already got a good stash of food and dinner ideas for the week.  I can buy fresh produce to round out those meals with salads or roasted vegetables.

That’s what things look like for me at home these days.  How about you, dear readers?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Let’s Celebrate Our Flats!

Flats Collage JPEG

Grandma that I am, I wear flats all the time.  You might think that at 5’1”, I would be self-conscious about my petite stature, but I’m not.  I’m short and there is nothing wrong with that.  I do not need to compensate by wearing heels.  I enjoy wearing heeled shoes occasionally, just for fun, but flats are my go-to, running-around shoes.  And that’s why I was so tickled by this funny tidbit from the February 2013 issue of O magazine:

“Spring fashion is shaping up to be a stiletto-free zone.  No longer will you stand at a cocktail party praying for the sweet release of death.  Embrace your ballet slippers, my friend—the flat will set you free!”

Happy weekend, friends!  I hope it’s a good one for all of you.  And definitely wear your flats—if not your ballet slippers, then your flat boots for a nice long winter walk.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

10,000 Hours

Let’s talk about doing hard things today, shall we?

I am not the most adventurous soul, but I seem to keep pursuing hard things even though I know I prefer the comfort of my blue couch and a book.  A neuroscience PhD, a long-distance relationship, a marathon?!?  I mean, seriously: what the fuck was I thinking?  That’s not me!  I’m fuzzy socks and a plate of cookies and early bedtimes.  And yet, I think those cozy things are all the more comforting because I have this strangely bold side of me that says, “Let’s do it!  Let’s move to Texas, to a town we’ve never visited, to work on a project that remains TBD, with a boss we’ve met once!”

Which brings us to present day.  Despite being a bit of a basket case—fueled by chocolate and anxiety!—I do tend to believe that things will work out, so you might as well make the best of your situation.  I am a very pragmatic person, so I’m unlikely to yammer on about fate or higher powers or whatever, but things have a way of working themselves out without requiring you to have a nervous breakdown.  So I try to be kinda chill about things, even if it’s hard.

I’ve been reading Quiet by Susan Cain, and she mentions the work done by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, in which he claims that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something.  I was curious, so I did the math: 10,000 hours is five years’ worth of 40-hour work weeks.  The reason that 10,000 hours stuck in my mind this week?  I’m back to working on a technique that I suck at.  See, I’m so bad at it that I even resort to ending my sentences with prepositions!

The technique goes something like this: dissect teeny-tiny organs out of a fruit fly, put them in tubes, apply several solutions that are designed to mark specific cells with fluorescent labels, mount the organs on glass slides, and look at them on a fancy microscope.  This technique is a way of analyzing gene expression, and I am not so good at it.  I got away with not doing much of it in grad school for various reasons, but it’s a technique that I really should master as a postdoc.  I know this, my boss knows this, and yet I still feel like I’m not very good at it.

That’s probably a bit of an overstatement.  I’m okay at it.  I’m still not good at it, and I find myself avoiding the work whenever possible because I have decided that I don’t really like doing it.  Which is, I think, self-defeating behavior.  So this week, I have decided to embrace the challenge.  I don’t have 10,000 hours to work on this one technique, but I can create pockets of time and more importantly, I can tell myself that I enjoy the challenge.  That I have all the time in the world to dissect and label and fiddle around with the microscope to get the right images.  I can do what needs to be done without overthinking it and (hopefully) with minimal procrastination.

I can do this.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Currently: Copycatting

Today Raquelita posted her January currents, and you know how it goes: if Raquelita does it, I have to do it too. (Not really, but sometimes.  If she says, “Run!” I’ll say “How long?”  26.2 miles, apparently.)  If you like currents, you should also check out Tina’s blog—in my mind, she is the originator of the currents series, and her posts are always so beautiful.

January Currents Collage

{cooking, family, home—all my favorites}

* Current Food: Brussels sprouts, collard greens, and chocolate.  But not all together.  

* Current Drink: Coffee.  Now that I’ve discovered decaf, I can drink coffee ALL THE TIME!  It’s very exciting.

* Current Book: Quiet by Susan Cain.  Quiet is all about introverts and how awesome we are.  I want to write on this topic because I find it fascinating.

* Current Favorite Blog or Website: Oh my gosh, don’t make me choose!  I love you all.  But I’d say I’m especially intrigued by the Whole 30 action happening over at Holly’s blog.  And Kate is doing a pseudo-vegetarian version of Whole 30, and I keep checking her blog for an update.  (C’mon, Kate!)

* Current Excitement: 2013!  With lots of exclamation points!!!

* Current Mood: Happy. (!!!)

* Current Garden Item: My colleague Christopher is a serious backyard gardener (a gentleman farmer, you could call him), and he is letting me order some seeds from his catalog.  I picked out a few herbs: Thai basil, rosemary, and sage.  But then Christopher told me he has rosemary growing in his backyard, so he’s going to try to give me a little rosemary plant for my patio.

* Current Fashion Trend: Jeggings.  I would hang my head in shame, but they are so comfortable and so perfect for biking that I’m too excited to feign shame.  Now, I do try to wear longer tops with my jeggings (which are true leggings, really, but made with a fabric that simulates the look of jeans) so as not to be indecent, but I’ve spent so many hours in running tights that I just don’t feel self-conscious in jeggings.  I feel like me.

* Current Outfit: Right now?  Shlubby house clothes: baggy track pants, old t-shirt, cute new button-up sweatshirt, old slippers.  I am so sexy.

* Current Love: Life.  All of it.  I can’t pick one thing.

* Current Indulgence: I don’t feel like I’m being very indulgent right now.  But I always have deep pockets for great food, whether it’s fresh vegetables or a bottle of organic maple syrup.

* Currently Pondering: Whether it’s the right time to start dating again.

* Current New Find: Woodchuck Hard Cider, Winter edition.  I can’t decide if I like it.  It tastes like hard cider got together with eggnog—there’s some nutmeggy, spicy flavors in it.  It’s not bad; it’s just different. 

* Current Peeve: Nothing of note here.

* Current Song: “Upward Over the Mountain” by Iron & Wine.  I listen to this song daily.

* Current Triumph: Last week’s departmental talk.

* Current Wishlisting: New running shoes, new glasses, and a new haircut.

* Currently Delaying: Buying things on my wishlist (see above).  I think I’m going to try to hold out until February for those items.  Please note that this means I’ll be guaranteed several weeks of great hair because my hair always shapes up and stops misbehaving right before haircut time.

PS  Thanks to Kate for inspiring the photo collage!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

2013’s Ambitions

Blurry Plants 

Oh, 2013!  If you were a person, I would give you a high five because I am so happy to see you.  I’m actually really surprised at my joy in welcoming the new year because usually January 1st feels like another day.  This year is different.  Last year was so hard that my head and my heart agreed that we all needed a fresh start.  2013 is a good excuse to declare the start of something new and happy.

In 2012, my word for the year was devotion.  For 2013, my word is finish, which will make sense when you see what my biggest projects of the year are.  But I also want 2013 to be a year of fun and happiness, with some lighthearted projects to balance out my more serious pursuits.  I’m not really making resolutions here—I already feel like I’m a work in progress, with resolutions to be kinder, more loving, more forgiving, more present.  I am always striving to maintain a healthy balance, to make my ambition sustainable with my need for time to relax, reflect, drink some wine, and have fun.  So while I’ve sort of ditched the idea of resolutions, I love the idea of setting intentions for the new year.  Without further ado, here is my list.

* Finish.  My two big projects for the year are my first-author paper and my first marathon.  My boss and I literally just discussed the paper, and we agree that I’m really close to wrapping up my current project into a manuscript.  We’re waiting for the news about the grant we submitted last month, but for now, it’s full speed ahead toward the finish line on my story.  I’m estimating that I have about two solid months of experimental work to complete, and maybe hopefully I can start writing the paper while I’m working on those experiments.

The second project is 26.2 miles long and five months of training: a marathon!  I am equal parts excited and apprehensive about this.  The plan is to run a full marathon in October.  After some deliberation, I have settled on the Detroit Marathon.  I’ll be writing about my marathon experience over at Feels Like Flying, so feel free to pop in over there if you want to hear more.  Right now, I’m training for a half-marathon in March—I ran ~7 miles this morning, and it was glorious.  I love winter in Texas.

* Explore.  This one is a more lighthearted goal.  Like many young women, I was inspired by Eat, Pray, Love, and the country that resonated the most with me from that book was Italy.  I don’t really care if it’s cliché—we all do lots of things that are cliché.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing.  This year I’d like to learn some Italian and practice my Italian cooking.  I don’t have a plan for my language lessons yet, but for the cooking, I’m thinking of getting my paws on one of Marcella Hazan’s books.  (I should have asked Santa to bring me one!  Shoot.)

The other topic I want to explore is Vincent Van Gogh and his beautiful paintings.  I have always had a soft spot for Van Gogh.  His work makes me feel happy and peaceful.  I want to read a Van Gogh biography.  I also want to buy this print, which reminds me of the neighborhood in which I grew up.  Something about those tall trees…

* Sparkle and glitter.  I tend to be a “get the basics done” person.  I don’t always embrace the little things that add something special to an occasion.  This year I want to make more of an effort to do small, special things.  For example, last week I wore eyeshadow two times!  It was a record-setting week.  But I had a funny moment in the morning where I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, You look perfectly lovely without any makeup.  And I still believe that—I am a minimalist at heart, despite my chronic overpacking for travel.

“Sparkle and glitter” is me giving myself permission for more than just the basics.  I’m not entirely sure what this will mean over the course of a year.  But I’m excited to see where this idea takes me.  Maybe mimosas after the marathon?  Or some sparkly shoes?  Some new furniture for my patio so I can properly enjoy Texas in the springtime?  I’m open to suggestions for this category!

* * *
So that’s that: three themes for the new year.  I hope your 2013 is off to a great start, too!

PS  Photo credit goes to my niece Lydia, who took that photo accidentally while she was playing around with my camera.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

“You are doing it!”

Rainy Saturday with Umbrella

I’m still glowing with happiness over here, even though today is grey and rainy.  The winds are so strong out there that they almost snatched my umbrella out of my hands!  But now, I’m back inside, sitting on my cozy blue couch, writing to you, and I am calm and happy and well-fed.  Life is good.

Before I tell you about this week, I want to confide that when I returned to Texas from Michigan, I did not want to go back to work.  It was a deep, visceral feeling that nagged at me for four days while I struggled to reacquaint myself with my work rhythms.  I did not want to take care of my flies, I did not want to start doing experiments again, I did not want to look at data or think about science.  In short, I wanted to stay on vacation forever.  That didn’t happen, of course, because I’m not independently wealthy.  Even if I’d had an extra week or two of vacation, eventually I knew I would want to go back to work because really, I love my work.  I just hate going back to work when I have no food to eat, a huge pile of laundry to do, and what can only be described as an emotional hangover from the holidays.

But during that week, my boss asked if I would be up for giving a talk to the whole department the next week, and I said yes.  I knew there was a good chance I would be giving a talk in January since he had mentioned it back in December, but getting the official notice meant that I had to end my whining and get back in the science saddle.  So that’s what I did.  I prepared my talk for its first vetting by my boss, and I made a bunch of revisions.  Two days later, I presented the talk to my lab, listened to my colleagues’ comments, then made more revisions.  The next day, I presented my talk to the whole department, which is an incredibly diverse group of scientists: we have people who study everything from intracellular transport to DNA replication to cancer to behavior.  This talk was my first opportunity to show my work to people outside my lab, and I had no idea what to expect from the audience.  As much as I feel confident about my decision to pursue my project, I have a certain amount of healthy anxiety about what other scientists might think.  They could think I’m full of crap, for example.  And while I am not a very confrontational person, it would be my professional duty to defend my work and more importantly, to explain it in such a way that it makes sense to my general science audience.

But I’m lucky in that I’ve grown up in labs that hold themselves to a very high standard.  If I could convince my boss that my project has merit, then surely the department would be an easier sell!  After all that work—two practice runs, two rounds of revision, and several hours of rehearsing by myself—my talk went beautifully.  There were lots of questions afterward, but they were all of the curious variety, not the “I think you are full of crap” variety.  The new chair of my department asked an insightful question about the topic, revealing the end of our knowledge about the area in which I’m working.  I always find it sort of liberating to say, “Nobody really knows how that works,” because it both validates the question and allows me to acknowledge that I understand the importance of the question.  And when nobody knows how it works, it means the field is wide open for discovery.  That’s exciting.

As a general rule, I think that asking other people to validate your decisions can be dangerous.  But it was so wonderful to give a talk that was well-received and to listen to other people’s enthusiasm about the project.  I felt lifted up by the reaction from my department, and it was really the perfect antidote to my post-holiday slump.  During my first week back at work, I gave myself a pep talk in which I said, “You are doing it!  You are bringing this project, this knowledge, into existence.  And that’s just so cool—to be the medium that is generating new knowledge about a poorly understood topic*.”  I feel like I’ve finally found a way to bridge the gap between my intellectual interests and my need to connect spirituality to my work.  By seeing myself as a medium for science, I can acknowledge the weird relationship I have with my work where failure is a routine part of the job.  But sometimes, everything comes together, and we begin to weave the data into a story.  In those moments, when I can see the fibers creating something lovely and strong, I remember why I wanted to be a scientist in the first place.

* I study female sexual behavior in fruit flies.  You can read more about my work in the interview I did for Amber, “Featured Career: Scientist.”

Friday, January 11, 2013



Tonight I would write a long, rambling blog post about how this week was the best work week ever.  But you know, it’s 7:50 PM on a Friday night, and I’m short on words.  I am just feeling so happy and fuzzy about the week that I want to wallow in it for a few days.  I want to remember this feeling when the doubt and the anxiety and the fretting start to creep up on me again.  Tonight I feel none of those things—I just feel happy.  Happy, with a mug of decaf coffee, a few cookies, some Big Love on DVD, and a friend waiting to talk to me.

There will be time tomorrow for that long, rambling blog post.  Or maybe it will be short and sweet.  I don’t know.  For now, I want to wish you and yours a happy, fuzzy weekend.

See you tomorrow!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Devotion in 2012: My Resolution Review

Michigan Trees Summer Evening 

I for one am thrilled that 2012 is over.  I’m even more thrilled that I did not become pregnant, an alcoholic, or both.  (You think I’m kidding.  I’m not.)  I am probably less happy and healthy than I was at the start of 2012, but I didn’t start digging my grave either.  I’m okay.  I survived.  I have a chance at a new year now, a metaphorical fresh start.  I learned a lot

Today I want to review my resolutions from 2012 with an eye toward what worked, what didn’t, and where to go from here.

* Publish, publish, publish.  I had hoped to publish my first-author paper by the end of 2012.  That did not happen.  I did however submit three grants (one was a resubmission) and self-publish a piece on scientists and teaching that The Chronicle was not interested in publishing.  (The Chronicle is more geared toward the humanities anyway in my estimation, so it’s not super surprising that they didn’t take my piece.)

I put an enormous amount of work into those grants, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get funding for my project this year.  Whatever the outcome, though, I am at peace knowing that I did everything I could to stick with my work during a very difficult year.

As a bonus, I also published 139 posts on the ol’ blog here, and I am darn close to publishing 600 posts total.  Pretty cool!

Verdict: I am going to declare this resolution a success!

* Peace and quiet.  I had resolved to establish some practices to make peace and quiet a routine part of my life as a way to manage my chronic anxiety.  I wrote, “For this year, I am going to try a 2x2 approach: yoga twice a week where I do a 20+-minute session, and two evenings a week during which dinner is a quiet, candlelit meal.”

Yeah, that didn’t happen.  In a year when quiet time usually led to me crying inconsolably (and I cried a lot at night—it was awful), I started to avoid spending time alone with my thoughts.  My days already have plenty of built-in quiet time, such as when I’m running or biking, and I just couldn’t take more of it.  There was too much sadness in my heart.

I did, however, practice yoga once a week most weeks, and I almost always do some yoga stretches before bed.  Toward the end of the year, I rediscovered Gabrielle Bernstein and have become more interested in trying to meditate.  Mostly, though, I remember this quote and feel better:

“Those who are certain of the outcome can afford to wait, and wait without anxiety.”

So now, whenever I feel I am waiting for something to change, I remember that I am certain of the outcome: it’s going to be okay.  I don’t know the specifics, but it’s going to be okay. 

Verdict: Resolution fail, but it’s going to be okay. 

* Thoughtful consumerism.  I’m really pleased with how this resolution turned out.  Let me say upfront that I did NOT do what I proposed at the beginning of 2012.  I didn’t pursue any blog-based partnerships with green or sustainable living companies.  But I did use the idea of thoughtful consumerism to spend more time writing about my approaches to thoughtful consumerism.  I wrote about biking for your groceries, awesome wrapsacks for carrying your belongings, and simplifying my life with small decisions.  I dabbled in veganism for a month and emerged much more aware of how subversive it is to choose not to eat animals.  Toward the end of the year, I started a series on freedom and what it means to me, and I’m going to keep writing on that topic as time permits.  (This post is the most current one in that series and contains links to the other posts, if you’re interested.)

Verdict: Success!  I loved all these projects.    

* Bonus: “Devotion” as my single-word intention for 2012.  That single word really carried me through a hard year.  I thought about it frequently, and it reinforced my commitment to all that I have created and built in my life.  It provided a kind of metaphysical foundation for me when I felt like I was in freefall.  Devotion.  It’s powerful stuff.  Devotion is a prayer, a wish, a hope.  It’s being present in the moment.  But it’s also remembering that life is bigger than whatever is weighing your heart down right now.  Devotion is the union of past, present, and future, woven together into the actions you choose for today.  2012 was a year that needed devotion.  I feel like a warrior.

Verdict: Success.

Some years we thrive, others we just survive.  2012, we are finished.  And I believe that 2013 is going to be a better year.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Three Things for Thursday

* A man who calls himself “an unabashed feminist.”   This fabulous line is from my friend Daine, who wrote a very eloquent post on his position as a future abortion-provider and advocate for women.  As Daine puts it, “Although the debate around abortion often centers on the exceptions, I feel passionately that abortion is moral and should be legal at any stage before viability.”  Regardless of your position on abortion, his post is worth a read because it will make you think very, very hard about the issues at hand when we talk about abortion.

* Shaved orange zest.  When I say shaved, I mean shaved with a vegetable peeler so you get these long, lovely slices of zest, which can then be chopped into smaller pieces.  I like how the chopped pieces have more chew to them than grated zest—they have more of a presence in a cooked or baked dish, and I love that.

* My first bunch of collard greens.  Yay for greens!  I’ve had a craving for greens all week.  Last night at HEB, the kale was feeling pretty sad, but the collards were looking pretty and perky.  I took the collards home with me, sliced them into ribbons, fried some onions in olive oil, added the collards along with some garlic, shaved orange zest, salt, and chili pepper, and stewed the whole mess for a bit.  I ate my greens over rice, and they were delicious.  I see more collard greens in my future.

Happy Thursday, friends!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Freedom to Love and Be Loved

Hey, hey!  It’s another installment in my on-going series on the many meanings of freedom.  You can read the first three installments here: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

Infinite navel-gazer that I am, I spend a lot of time thinking about love and kindness and how these ideas manifest themselves in my life.  There are few things more important to the human experience than love, but I think it’s always important to remember that love is so much bigger and richer than romantic love.  Even romantic love itself is more satisfying in the context of a friendship—that’s a lesson that Matt taught me.

Another lesson that has stuck with me from recent experiences is that there is nothing like a serious crisis to reveal a person’s true colors.  It’s one thing to yammer on about love and kindness when everything is good and happy; it’s quite another to put those principles into practice when you’re being squashed by life.  I think that’s part of why I’ve struggled so hard with 2012: because I wanted to prove to myself that I could live according to my own values.  Heaven knows I had plenty of moments when I just wanted to run away from my problems or, at the very least, hide in a closet until the storms blew over.

But I chose not to hide.  I tried to be brave.  My brand of bravery demanded a certain amount of honesty that was, to be honest, scary even for me.  That’s what I wanted to write about today: the way that honesty in relationships frees us to be our true selves.  Honesty is what lets us love and be loved.  Honesty is the union of courage and vulnerability.

I’ve struggled a lot in my relationships this year.  A friend whom I assumed would be there for me failed to do so, which was deeply disappointing.  Another friendship threatened to sail into forbidden territory, so I had to throw out my anchor on that one.  In both of these cases, I felt like I was out of my element, overwhelmed by need and grief.  How do you say to a person, “You can’t give me what I need”?  It sounds like an accusation, and yet it would have been the most honest thing to say.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that some friendships simply have built-in limitations, and this is okay.  With some people, I can’t have a deeper connection due to personality mismatches or outside commitments that deserve respect.  I wonder if being with Matt spoiled me because I felt like I could tell him anything, and without his steady presence, I wanted, no, I needed a replacement.  But some losses can’t be replaced on demand.

* * *

This week I’ve been thinking about the difference between being liked and being loved.  Jessica Valenti wrote this provocative piece about the female desire to be liked at the cost of being true to our authentic selves.  What I wonder is this: what is the distinction between wanted to be kind versus wanting to be liked?  To put it bluntly, I could give two shits about being liked.  That doesn’t matter to me at all.  But I care very deeply about being kind, and I’m not entirely sure what the difference is.  Maybe the distinction is arbitrary.  To me, being kind is some combination of the following:

* Help where you can.

* Act with love.

* Know the difference between speaking your truth and saying something mean.  Honor the truth; stay away from being mean-spirited.

* Assume good intentions.  (I cannot tell you how valuable this one has been for me.)

Four guidelines is pretty succinct, don’t you think?  This list works for me in professional and personal settings, and I like to think that it has relieved a lot of anxiety about being liked by others.  Because I’m encouraged to speak my truth and assume good intentions, it keeps me focused on finding common ground.  As a friend of mine said about her relationship with her fiancé, “I like to win, you like to win, so let’s win together.”  I really like that.

Built into Jessica Valenti’s analysis is the insidious notion that women can choose to be liked or they can choose to be successful.  I think there is a third option: we can choose kindness as we pursue our goals.  Inherent for me in kindness is gently pushing aside my own ego because let’s face it, it’s not all about me.  For many of us, success is something we seek in cooperation or collaboration with others—spouses, families, colleagues, bosses.  I would like to believe kindness honors the collective quality of our experiences.

Maybe I’m lucky in that I have always moved through life with a deep sense of my own worth.  I don’t have to care about whether other people like me because I know I have so much more to offer than a shallow likeability.  I am not an easy-going person, which means I’m not always easy to like.  I know this.  (And oh, my family and friends—they know this too, poor souls.)  But what I lack in shallow likeability I make up for in the depth of my relationships: an appreciation of other people’s strengths, a willingness to hear and consider positions that differ from mine, the way it’s not hard for me to apologize and open up the chance for meaningful conversation.  In short, by not trying to be liked, I choose the freedom to be loved for who I really am. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Not-so-Deep Thoughts on a New Year

One of the problems with being an academic/vegetarian/feminist is that your analytical skills don’t turn themselves off ever.  Or at least mine do not.  Being so sensitive to the unfairnesses and cruelty of the world can be painful, so the following passages resonated with me as something worth striving for.

“’I have perceived that in all cases man must eventually lower, or at least shift, his conceit of attainable felicity; not placing it anywhere in the intellect or the fancy; but in the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side, the country.’”

“The ability to live at the surface, to take the events of daily life with the meanings they present rather than to seek their hidden purpose, to find happiness and joy in what there already is, finds its easiest expression in a pre-Christian age.  Indeed, not just a pre-Christian age, but a pre-Buddhist, pre-Platonic, pre-Hinduist, and pre-Confucian one as well.”

(Both passages are quotes in order from All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, but the first passage is from Moby Dick.  Bold added by me.)

Maybe it’s okay to seek the surface as a way of protecting ourselves against daily frustration.  Then again, maybe I’m too far gone to ever skate so lightly over the surface of things.