sunday favorites

A biweekly-ish feature of my favorite photos and reads. Enjoy!

For what it's worth.

For what it’s worth.

Lovely Mendo morning.

Lovely Mendo morning.

sky // seed & feather

Blue skies.

Isaiah's class at the pumpkin patch.

Isaiah’s class at the pumpkin patch.

Haulin' pumpkins.

Haulin’ pumpkins.

kids // seed & feather

Back to school.

Celebratory cheese. Absolutely cannot recommend that weird fruit & nut Lancaster cheese in the middle. Possibly the grossest thing I've ever eaten.

Celebratory cheese. Absolutely cannot recommend that weird fruit & nut Londoner cheese in the middle. Possibly the grossest thing I’ve ever eaten.

My man.

My man.

Michaelmas mushroom.

Michaelmas mushroom.

Girl feet.

Girl feet.

Isaiah made these booties (and the box) for a classmate with a new brother.

Isaiah made these booties (and the box) for a classmate with a new brother.

Deer that gave me a heart attack.

Deer that gave me a heart attack.

The real reason everyone should panic about Ebola.

Regarding that egg-freezing bullshit.

Two things about sex: while married and on your period.

Correcting Fed Up, one premise at a time.

Lovely photos of SF’s drag scene pioneers.

How MDMA affects empathy.

So much yes: obsessive parenting is destroying marriages.

Why you should care that Lady Gaga is suing this artist.

Sad news for avocado lovers.

Home-cooked meals: let’s just calm down.

Stuff I want to cook… Tuscan white bean soup, two ways, buttermilk maple pumpkin pie, butternut scones with cheese & chives, meatball cottage pie, and autumn kale salad with fennel, apple, and goat cheese.

Have a great week!

what I think you should eat

Recently my post on recovering from gluten exposure was shared on a Facebook page with a large readership. Thanks to that share, I got a big boost in traffic, a bunch of new comments and followers, and some nice emails and virtual fist-bumps. Thanks, everyone!

Of course, I also got a little reminder that some people can be a little, shall we say, touchy about food. One message claimed that it was totally irresponsible to even mention consuming soy because soy is a toxin. Attached to the message were a series of links to popular blogs detailing soy as the culprit for everything from acne and breast cancer to sterility and Alzheimer’s disease. The small mention I made of sugar was also frowned-upon. Bear in mind, I was referring to one teaspoon of sugar, added to tea. If the very mention of four little grams of sucrose makes your blood pressure spike, I would like to gently suggest that your approach to food might be a little off-balance.

A Food Puritan’s nightmare: a block of tofu weighed down by a 5-pound bag of sugar.

Truth: all things are food that you can consume and use for energy and essential nutrients without becoming ill. But I have a significant history of not believing this statement. I was sick for a long time because of this belief — sick in the head, that is. So ’round these parts, we believe that food is food is food. (We also sometimes refer to ourselves in the plural. Deal with it.)

Now, when I say this some people want me to know that THEY DISAGREE. IN ALL CAPS. They don’t believe that sugar, for example, is a food. Or beef. Or brown rice. Or bananas. Or whatever Mercola is fear-mongering about this week. They won’t eat white rice because of arsenic, chicken because of antibiotics, yogurt because of saccharin, olive oil because of adulteration, sugar because of obesity, soy because of man-boobs, beef because of BSE, broth because of lead, kale because of goitrogens, beets because of GMOs, bread because of autoimmune disease, quinoa because of Bolivians.

If there’s anything that characterizes the modern sensibility about food, it’s fear. Which is funny because in most ways, food is safer than it has ever been, throughout all of human evolution. But most people don’t really want to believe that. They are committed to the belief that transgenic food, for example, presents the greatest threat to human health. And if you say something like, “Well, I think it should be labeled but I doubt it’s single-handedly responsible for this whole list of ailments you just handed me,” they will freak RIGHT OUT. Some people are uneducated, some people do read the research incorrectly (if at all), and some people are undoubtedly shilling for biotech companies… but most people, I’d venture to say, are just a little more moderate than these folks would like.

My views on food are deliberately moderate. I maintain my moderate views aggressively because I refuse to be afraid anymore. It’s just food, people. Yeah, I said it. It’s just what your body uses to get through the day. I know that makes it the most fundamental thing, but I won’t allow that to make me a fundamentalist.

So what do I think people should eat? Here’s the list.

1. Enough.

2. What you need.

3. Whatever you want.

Dear friends, please eat enough to support your activity level. Low-level starvation, the kind that makes you perpetually exhausted and irritable and causes your hair to fall out and your libido to disappear, is no way to live. Do try to ingest enough vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients to avoid malnutrition and really thrive, however you define that. And apart from that I think you should probably eat whatever you want.

Yes, really, whatever you want.

I don’t care if you use your food stamps to buy Lucky Charms, if you hit the drive-thru five nights a week, if you mostly live on ramen — unless you wish you could eat other things but can’t afford it or don’t have the time or the skill to make it happen. Then I care, just not specifically about the food. I don’t care if your milk is raw, organic, non-homogenized, and extracted from your own goat at 5:30 am by your unschooled child. CAFOs are obviously problematic, but if you eat CAFO meat, I don’t care. It’s not your responsibility to single-handedly end industrial animal agriculture, nor is it possible for you to do so. I also don’t care if you’re vegetarian or vegan. In short, it’s none of my business what you eat.

Now, if you want to talk about shifting our food systems in a direction that recognizes the finite resources on this planet and strives to make the production and distribution of food more fair and equitable, I’ll be there. If you want to talk about fighting social constructs that promote fear & self-loathing and disordered eating, I’m in. But if you want to talk about that one food blogger who promotes real food but constantly posts recipes containing wheat and sugar, you’ll have to count me out. Because I just don’t care.

To me, the interesting questions are not: is gluten toxic? Or is it FODMAPS? Will transgenic foods be our demise as a species? Are pesticides safe? Are we being sterilized by fluoridated water? Should we all be smoking cannabis on the daily? (Duh, yes.) To me, it’s far more interesting to ask: why are we so insistent on moralizing food? And not the truly moral question of whether everyone has adequate access to the same spectrum of high-quality foods, but what individual people choose to eat. Why do we treat our diets like religion and construct our sad little identities around the foods we choose not to eat? Why do we take photographs of the insides of our pantries and refrigerators, label everything with various qualifiers — it’s not just beef, it’s 100% organic, grass-fed and -finished local beef — post them online, and wait for people to comment?

What’s missing in our lives?

While we burn out brain cells trying to convince people that they’re being sterilized by tofu, our destructive and seemingly immutable industrialized food system rolls on and on. How can we possibly do the most productive work of improving our food — not only for ourselves, for those who can find and afford it, but for everyone — while tinkering around the edges in this way? At this point in history, access to food is a straight-up caste system, one that we reinforce every time we condemn an individual for buying Ritz crackers or brush off the concept of food deserts by saying that poor people living in dense urban areas without transportation or disposable income should grow their own food. I don’t care what you eat, but I do care whether water and topsoil and arable land are preserved for future generations. And I think it’s critical to understand the difference.

what feels like freedom

For the six years that we have lived in Mendocino County, we’ve talked about leaving it. This is a hard place to live. The cost of living is high, jobs are scarce, incomes are low. There is little public transit and no university and most professions are in decline. Families come and swiftly go because of the lack of job opportunities and sketchy environment.

And I, too, have those days when I think, fuck this place. Fuck the lack of jobs, fuck the lack of a university, fuck cannabis culture, fuck free love Burning Man acolytes, fuck frothing-mouth conspiracy theorists, fuck 105-degree summers, fuck forest fires and asthma attacks, fuck the drought, fuck everyone on a juice fast smoking an e-cigarette, fuck the livestock predators, fuck the head shops, fuck the vineyards, just fuck it! Fuck it all! I’m moving to Portland, or Atlanta, or North Carolina, or Seattle, or fucking Dublin!

At the end of the school year in June, we’d pretty well decided to move on after Jeremy graduates his class this year. It makes rational sense on many different levels, so we plowed ahead with the new school year holding that intention. I made a list of all the Waldorf primary schools in the country with an adjoining or nearby Waldorf high school and we had long debates on the relative merits of New Hampshire vs. North Carolina, Oregon vs. Washington, chilly coastal towns versus the South, east versus west, Canada vs. everywhere else. I made lists of people I knew in each city we were considering, read articles about each city’s climate and food culture and community base and political influence, and tried to feel excited at the prospect of living in a completely different place. But after a few weeks of this I opened my mouth and told Jeremy that it just didn’t feel right. “This is our home,” I said, “and our school, and I’m not ready to give up on it, despite how hard it feels.” And he said he felt the same.

It’s really difficult to explain this feeling. Most people don’t seem to understand it, why I still feel turned on by this persistently depressed little county. I’ve moved almost every year for almost 15 years; the longest we’ve stayed anywhere was 18 months. To some extent I’ve always loved moving — the opportunity to slough off a bunch of belongings and start over with a fresh new foundation. It’s not the move that scares me, the packing and unpacking, the need to integrate into a whole new place. I feel pretty comfortable with that concept. It’s what’s here, specific to here, that is holding me back. It’s the people, the community, this little Island of Misfit Toys, the only place where I’ve ever felt I could be truly myself, where I receive that permission daily. And it’s the environment. I bitch & complain every day of the summer, but in the end I still feel just as enamored, just as romantic about these mountains, rivers, coastlines as I did the first day we arrived. This place fills the gaping windy hole of my childhood heart, starved by the urbanized desert. Being uprooted from this place would be… just that. An uprooting. It would tear my heart out.

So the decision was made: to stay. Probably not forever. but for now. And it’s staying with the understanding that we’re making big compromises. On income, education, amenities, housing, cost of living, benefits. The blush of first love is well off from Mendocino County and I do see her for the tired old lady she is, with her funky feet and poor spending habits and her moods. But dammit, she’s my old lady.

A while back I heard a quote, something like, “Go with the choice that feels like freedom.” I looked all over for the source but could not find it. It’s definitely resonated with me, though. And that’s what this is, the choice that feels like freedom. What feels like freedom to me might seem a little odd, but I’m okay with that.

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lemon pear marmalade

Dang, it’s been a long time since I posted a recipe. This one came courtesy of a 20-pound bag of pears from a friend.

I’m always surprised to realize that I like pears. I’m not much of a fruit person; usually I buy fruit with all good intentions and it quietly rots in the bowl before finishing its wasted life in the chicken yard. Pears, though, tend to end up in mah belleh. But they’re such a humble fruit, sometimes I forget I like them so much.

pears // seed & feather

lemons // seed & feather

lemons // seed & feather

If you have a food processor this recipe could not be simpler. Everything goes straight into the shredder or slicer. Even the lemons. Prep time is less than ten minutes, then it simmers for about 45, during which time you just need to stir occasionally. With the high pectin content of the lemons, you don’t need to add any extra pectin. It’s a nice simple recipe for a quiet autumn weekend, or for avoiding the guilt of letting a gift go to waste.

lemon pear marmalade // seed & feather

lemon pear marmalade // seed & feather

LEMON PEAR MARMALADE

8 lemons

10-12 pears (about 5 pounds)

3 c. sugar

Halve the lemons and remove the seeds with the tip of a knife. Run the lemons through the slicer function of a food processor and pour into a large soup pot.

Core the pears and run them through the shredder function of the food processor. Add to the pot along with the sugar. Stir everything together, then let stand for 1 hour to macerate. Taste the fruit before beginning to cook; it should be just slightly too sweet. If not, add a little more sugar until you like the flavor.

Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot. Bring the fruit to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently for about 45 minutes, until the temperature reaches 220F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, place a small plate in the freezer while the jam simmers. When the jam no longer runs on the frozen plate, it’s ready.  )

To can, pour the jam into prepared jars with 1/4″ of headspace. Attach new lids, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Any jars that don’t seal can be re-processed, or simply refrigerated and used right away.

self-employment report

A few people have asked how the self-employed thing is going, so I thought I’d do a little update.

Labels for school lunch.

My last day of office work was the first week in June. Over the summer I really didn’t do much. I wanted to enjoy time with my family and put a lot of thought and care into my business concept. With the start of the new school year I took my first orders, but I’m still moving slowly with the whole thing. I’m just one person, with very little money to invest. I started with $500 for packaging, containers, and my first couple weeks of food. And now I work one week at a time, sometimes one day at a time, jumping from one fistful of cash to the next.

And that’s okay. Not that a teacher is rolling in the dough, but we keep our expenses low enough to be capable of living on just Jeremy’s income if necessary, and I have other work that keeps us flush while this thing gets off the ground. Because I hate being cute I’ll just say outright that this other work is processing cannabis for local growers; I know all y’all local peeps can read between the lines anyway, and I don’t have any shame about it. This is NorCal, and that is just how we roll.

Combining my own business with this other work is… challenging. Right now it’s standard to work 14-hour days, half of that being my own work. Sometimes my days go like: wake up at 6 am, make & package school lunch, deliver at 8 am, drive to a friend’s house, trim for six hours, drive to the store, buy ingredients, drive home, make & package dinners, deliver dinners, pick up the family at school at 4 pm, make dinner for the family, drive to my personal chef gig at 5 pm, drive home at 7 pm, prep for the next day. It can be a little tiring.

Eventually, I hope to be able to give up the trimming altogether because I’m making enough with just the one job. I don’t want to get ahead of myself but I hope this isn’t too far off in the future.

Loaded up for deliveries.

Lunch for 25.

I’m tinkering as I go, of course. In the beginning I thought I’d do lunch deliveries. Pretty quickly I realized that it was impossible for one person to make any money doing on-the-spot deliveries all over this rambling valley of ours. So I shifted to dinner, and threw in school lunch (just at my kids’ school) in response to demand. School lunch has been way less successful than I expected while dinners have been more successful. Dinners are more profitable and less stressful, so I’m not complaining. If interest doesn’t increase I’ll probably drop school lunch altogether after the new year.

Right now my plan is to try this for a year. After a year, if I’m making at least as much as I was making at my office job, then I’ll consider it a viable business. To do this I need 6-8 clients a day. Right now, after one month and with no advertising, I’m serving 2-4 a day, with more orders every week. I don’t think it’s impossible that I could meet or even exceed my goal. But I’m still taking a modest, careful approach. If I become overwhelmed, I’ll make mistakes and the stress will be unmanageable. I don’t do so great with stress, to be honest, especially interpersonal stress. So pacing and self-care are really essential.

I do feel pretty worn-out most days. Some things have taken a hit, specifically my workout program. I haven’t figured out how to fit scripted exercise into these long, tiring days. I also struggle to eat normally. Somehow being surrounded by food all day is a real appetite-killer. I tend to jump between bowls of cereal with few actual meals. Regular meals and exercise are both critical for my health, so… I’m working on it.

A rare actual meal.

Five-minute rest.

But I feel more vital than I did in my office job. Standing all day in my kitchen with open doors on both sides is a completely different experience from sitting in front of a computer under fluorescent lights. I’ve had a couple of WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING! freak-outs and more than one THE MONEY IS RUNNING OUT!! moments of panic. But most of the time, I just feel really, really lucky. And happy. After all, I’ve been looking for an excuse to spend my whole day cooking for a long time.

here’s what I want to say

I

A few days ago I signed off from Facebook, turned off notifications, and removed the app from the front page of my phone. Before I did so I posted the following.

Due to losing:

focus creativity balance time compassion energy sleep attention contemplation perspective humanity…

I will be taking a break from Facebook YES AGAIN SHUT UP.

for the foreseeable future
which means I’ll probably be back in a week
(if I’m realistic)
or never
(if my actions reflect my values, LOL).

Seriously I have not written anything in weeks. Or really read a book. This has got to stop.

You can still reach me by Messenger (which is no more evil than Facebook already was so just stop), and I’ll still be on Instagram because it’s the least egregious waste of my time energy focus creativity…

BUT NO PINTEREST because it’s been taken over by pumpkin spice circa 2009 anyway.

See you IRL, or will I? Because parties are only announced on Facebook now so I won’t even have the option of saying yes I will attend and then deciding at the last minute to stay home and watch The League instead. My social life might take a serious hit but I just have to take that risk. For my art.

II

Here’s what I want to say about life without Facebook. This morning I woke up and did not reach for my phone. My kids had friends spend the night so they were already up and playing. I took a stack of books from beside my bed — including The Martian, Shining Girls, and All Joy & No Fun — all good books that have languished on my bedside table because I’m ponderously slow at reading now — even though I used to rip through books in a weekend — because I spend most of my time on a device hopping between tabs and apps. I read for a while in the living room. Then I made breakfast, and while I made breakfast I only made breakfast. I didn’t take breaks to respond to notifications.

I drank my coffee, washed the dishes, and had a real conversation with Jeremy. Then I watered the garden, harvested tomatoes and peppers, tore out the dying cucumbers, picked sunflowers, and decided to plant some greens. Jeremy and I walked down to the apple tree to see if there were any apples to be had.

During this time I responded to one text regarding pickup schedules. I thought about checking Facebook or reading one of the 50+ articles I’ve saved on my device at least a dozen times. But I did not.

I came back into the house and fed the dog. Then I sat down at my laptop (where I am now), and began to write.

Which is to say, I required no more than a 12-hour break from social media (7 hours of which were spent sleeping) before I had the inspiration, motivation, energy, time, focus, and attention span to write, for the first time in many weeks.

III

Here’s what I want to say about pervasive Internet connectivity. Most people I know struggle with social media and connected devices. There may be perfectly balanced persons in the world who do not have these struggles, but I don’t personally know any — especially those folks identified as “digital natives.” I do know people who are so enamored of connected technologies that they have no concern or shame about having a phone practically embedded in their right hands. But most people I know are like me — impressed, but resistant. In a constant dance of two steps into the tech, one step back.

The most anti-technology family I know — off-grid biodynamic farmers, Waldorf parents and staunch evangelists of Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy of living, who barely have reception at their valley farm — still require a smartphone for business purposes. For my own part, I did not anticipate that owning a smartphone would be such a problem. Relative to my fellow Millennials, I’m conservative about new technology and specifically suspicious of social media. I take breaks, set limits, and maintain the belief that social media is a very distant cousin of true human connection. And yet. And yet. I have not written in weeks. And the sad, embarrassing reason is that I have been too distracted by and absorbed in the world inside my phone.

It’s not an addiction. It’s a compulsion. The rat who knows that if he pushes long enough on the bar (the refresh button) he’ll be rewarded with a tasty treat (a fresh distraction) is not addicted to the bar, or the treat; he is compelled simply by the erratic but irresistible promise of a reward. Even if the reward is really not that great, as I can only imagine pellets of compressed sawdust to be.

The pellet of compressed sawdust of a new notification, post, like, article, comment, update is irresistible not because I need it, or even enjoy it, but because I can be distracted by it. For a tiny moment, the world feels fresh again.

I just hit the space-bar twice expecting a period to appear. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve really written anything.

IV

Here’s what I want to say about children who are exposed to media. Most of the time I temper my thoughts and feelings on this issue because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Here’s how my opinions form: whole and discrete, like Athena borne from her father’s head. Then I whittle them down for public consumption, making ten-thousand allowances for individual variation. Now I’ll give you the Athena.

Children who are persistently exposed to media — television, movies, video games, and connected devices — are quite identifiable even at a distance. They hold a thrumming energy in their bodies. Words, phrases, sound effects, and jingles erupt from their mouths at random, as if they are off-gassing some chemical too potent to be absorbed or naturally excreted. They struggle to maintain eye contact or to stay seated when appropriate. Their play is mostly consumed with processing the images and scenarios they’ve consumed through media, most of which is way, way beyond their developmental stage. They don’t project a human-shaped shadow and explore their thoughts and emotions within it; they insert themselves into a created character and behave in the expected fashion. They don’t create their own songs; they sing theme songs. They don’t draw pictures that spring from the world around and within them, but rather images from movies, television shows, and video games. They fixate on the same pictures, voices, characters, songs, and events with little spontaneous creativity. Their focus is limited and scattered. They often have a restricted range of often obsessive interests. Their bodies move in the prescribed fashion of their favorite characters and stories, with little presence or expansion. Their posture is crooked, their shoulders slumped, their movements tight and jerky, and they are generally irritable, struggle to find the limits of their physical space, attempt to dominate the people around them, are disrespectful of property, are prone to outbursts of a violent nature, and above all are interminably, irascibly bored.

Although the current crisis in American education can be attributed to dozens of problems, I believe pervasive, intensive, early media exposure to be at the top of the list. It’s unreasonable to expect that children who spend most of their time sitting and staring with, by turns, obsessive and scatter-shot focus can learn normally. This is not a normal state of affairs for any human brain or body, but especially a developing juvenile brain and body. And as in so many areas of human health, when lifestyle changes are not up for consideration, medication may be the only option to fill the gap.

V

A recent NPR segment discussed about a shortage of mental health services in universities. Students are seeking these services in greater numbers than ever before as stigma against mental illness has declined. This is a great thing. So I was confused when the spokesperson referred specifically to procrastination. “If someone has to wait to see a mental health professional a little procrastination at the beginning of the semester can turn into a full-blown crisis by the end,” was the gist of what she said. WTF? I thought. Then I realized, ah yes. A student who is so attached to his or her device that s/he cannot put it down to study and feels anxiety at being parted from it at the classroom door is not mentally well.

Can we accept that constant access to connected technologies might affect our mental well-being? Or are we too acquiescent because we are just as attached and anxious?

VI

Here’s what I want to say about Waldorf education. My children attend a Waldorf school because I want them to stay human. To maintain the beautiful, fluid movements of their healthy young bodies. To sing without shame. To run so hard that sleep comes easily. To meet another’s eyes and hold that connection. To hold a single focus nearly indefinitely when required. To understand the natural rhythms of a day filled with work. To be moving most of the time, as humans should. To explore and respect the full range of human experience. To truly love to learn, to walk into every new situation without fear, to embrace rather than avoiding effort, to be open and exposed without anxiety, to fail and shrug it off, to try a hundred new things so they know exactly who they are and what they can do, and why they should do it, or not. To never once ask “Will this be on the test?” when learning of a critical human development or error, but rather to resonate.

In Waldorf schools we battle incessantly about the encroachment of media on our lives. The public and charter schools on all sides of us are receiving shipments of computers and iPads so children as young as 5 can participate in Common Core testing. Meanwhile, the only computer on my kids’ entire campus is in the admin office. Yet, though we are ostensibly a phone-free campus, nobody really leaves their phone in the car. We can’t bear to be parted. What if something happens, what if the notification tone rings and we’re not there to receive it.

Parents’ claws come out when you suggest that twelve hours of video games on the weekend might affect their children’s attention span, energy level, teacher responsiveness, and relating to other children. Because they need that time. And besides, they spend almost as much time on their own devices, and it’s not really affecting them

VII

Waldorf education is accused of being regressive because of its condemnation of media exposure, but as my children grow in this school I realize that it is actually intensely progressive. Consider the popularity of Waldorf schools among tech executives, or that Steve Jobs wouldn’t let his own kids use an iPad. Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the questionable ethics of the 1% restricting their own children from using the very compulsion-inducing technologies that have made them wealthy… Just consider: what sort of human beings are churned out from an education system that is based on standardization via glazed-eye technology? I would say, standardized human beings. If the future workforce is flooded with standardized human beings, then what will be valued? Creative human beings.

But fuck the workplace. What kind of people do we want our children to be? How do we hope for them to live, apart from how they make a living? And how much is “screen time” going to help them get there? Be honest now.

VIII

Here’s what I want to say about time. I’m 30 years old. My children are 9 and almost 8. I have only ten years left to live with them.

Even if you’re on your smartphone at the park, you’re doing fine. I believe that. I fucking despise uppity mother-bashing. And now that I’m self-employed I understand more intimately the challenges of smartphone-assisted constant availability. Do we need to see every last movement our children make? Do we need to be in constant contact with them? Will they shrivel up if we miss something? Nope, nope, nope. My parenting can best be described as benign neglect. I used to get dirty looks from mothers at the park because I sat on the bench and read a book instead of climbing through the jungle gym or going down the slide with my kids. This is not my wavelength when I point out that I only have ten years left to live with my children and I don’t want their primary picture-memory of me to be sitting on the couch, and in the car, and at a meeting, and on the bench, and at the beach, with a screen in my face.

Hospice volunteering gave me the idea that the value of a life is not really intrinsic. Plenty of lives are well and truly wasted. I’ve already well and truly wasted a HUGE chunk of my life being distracted and afraid. But every day (cliche alert!) is another opportunity to try out that whole being-truly-alive thing. Can we be truly alive while scrolling for the twenty-eighth time through Facebook? I dunno, man. I really doubt it.

VIIII

Here’s what I want to say about reality. I’m well-aware of all of the arguments against everything I’ve said so far. I know intimately the defenses of video games, television, movies, and connected devices. I realize that I took a risk with that paragraph about media-exposed children. So here’s where I equivocate.

I watch TV every single day. Every day! I spend most of the day in my kitchen, with a Netflix guilty pleasure on the laptop screen — right now it’s Gossip Girl — or an audiobook coming from the speaker connected to my phone. In the evenings, after the kids are in bed, the dishes are washed, and the dog is fed, Jeremy and I sit on the couch and find something to watch on Netflix. And not even, like, an edifying documentary. Right now, most nights, it’s The League. Pretty much the trashiest television possible. It does not improve me as a human being in any way.

This morning my kids watched a cartoon while I sat here on this chair and typed this essay. I don’t even know which cartoon. And on the weekends they are allowed to use tablet-based game apps for an hour.

I still have a smartphone. I still use it daily. Sometimes hourly. Although I left Facebook, I accept that it’s most likely temporary. And since I left Facebook I’m using Instagram MUCH more often. I have all sort of excuses for why this is okay.

I intend to continue blogging for the next ten years as I have for the past ten years. To this end, I am currently staring at a screen while my children play nearby.

X

I want to believe that it’s possible to include media technologies in one’s life without becoming a complete slave to them. I am really trying. I came down off the mountain where we lived in a tiny house without Internet or normal electricity so I could focus my life on the Middle Way rather than the extremes that are so much easier and more attractive to me. I strive to avoid giving my children any great walls to push against, so they can learn intrinsic self-mastery. I hope for them to be both high-minded and populist. Better than I am.

My friend Mel always tells me, “Don’t let perfect be an enemy of the good.” Bullshit! I used to say. If you can’t do it right, why bother doing it at all? If you’re not living your ideals line by line, why even fucking bother?

I get it now. Perfection is impossible and constant failure is demoralizing. But if you allow real life to keep your ideals in check, your ideals will keep real life in check. My ideals combined with real life inspire me to say “That’s enough, go play now” after one cartoon. They inspire me to leave Facebook when it becomes overwhelming, to read a little more often than I watch trashy television, to take up a handwork skill to balance my smartphone usage, rather than running away to another tiny house on another mountain where I don’t have to continue the hard work of learning, as always, that incredibly boring life task of Middle Way moderation.

sunday favorites

A biweekly feature of my favorite recent reads and photos. Enjoy!

Erm… perhaps not so biweekly. It’s been a while! Here are a few photos from the first day of school and little scenes around the house, ending with the billowing smoke cloud coming up over our house yesterday from a wildfire. The fire is still going, currently at 500 acres and 50% contained. I’ve got my inhaler very handy, just feeling thankful that the wind hasn’t shifted this way. NorCal summer is a bitch.

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I have to apologize because I saved SO many great articles this month… but when I tried to sync my storage they disappeared. These are still good, but mostly not the ones I really wanted to share. Oh well.

Resonating with the death activist. This is a drum I’ve been beating for a loooong-ass time.

Loving Ben Hewitt’s blog. I can’t recommend any one post. Just get over there.

The couple that gets high together…?

How libertarians could be a significant force for good in U.S. politics (and it’s not by being purists).

Who really controls California’s water? Looks a lot like taxation without representation to me.

On being a white trash Buddhist.

A great many of my friends go to Burning Man every year, and based on those folks I think this article is probably on the right track.

“We’re taught that women’s privacy is less important than men’s pleasure.” A punch in the gut.

The ultimate homesteader’s ambition: raising a year’s supply of meat.

Stuff I want to cook… pasta with mushrooms in creamy mustard sauce, a gorgeous rose & pistachio cake, nori-spiced homemade potato chips, meringues with lemon-clementine curd, spicy sausage, potato, and kale soup.

oh hey

I sorta forgot I had a blog for a minute there.

School started. Business picked up. Inspiration is low, and the Internet is distracting.

I spend most of my days with no pants on but still can’t seem to find time to write.

I’ve discovered a strong inverse correlation between the number of times I post on Facebook each day and the amount of time I spend writing actual writing-type writings.

Plus, there are currently 56 articles about the Iraq War: Version 8.6 saved in my queue.

More critically, heartwarming animal videos. (This one is my very very favorite.)

Why not share something funny or interesting or inspirational in the comments? I’ll be back tomorrow with links.

let’s make the most of it

A few weeks ago the kids and I packed up the car and drove two hours south to San Francisco to pick up a friend visiting from Puerto Rico. We left early in the morning, in anticipation of morning bridge traffic, and arrived at the airport right on time at 9:45 am… only to receive a text from my friend that I’d mixed up her arrival and departure times and her plane wouldn’t land until nine hours later.

I felt only mildly panicked at the prospect of spending nine hours in one of the most expensive cities on the planet with a quarter-tank of gas and exactly $28 in cash… with two children. So I did what any good Millennial would do: I posted my predicament to Facebook and asked for advice from friends.

Here’s what we did.

Drove to Golden Gate Park, where the kids looked at some ducks while I did some frantic Googling.

Drove to the closest library.

Looked for free parking for twenty minutes.

Looked for paid parking for ten minutes.

Drove to the next-closest library.

Repeated #2 & #3.

Drove to the next-NEXT-closest library.

Holy shit, free parking only 1/4-mile from the library?!

The library was closed.

Two hours down!

Drove to the closest park with a jungle gym.

Realized my kids are really too old for parks with jungle gyms (sob).

Searched for San Francisco beach access.

Spent at least ten minutes completely baffled that “the City by the Bay” has virtually no beach access?

Fretted about the gas tank for a few minutes before driving to Daly City.

Nearly drove off the highway gaping at the ultra-dense urban housing.

Found a Safeway and wasted another 45 minutes buying $18 worth of chili, yogurt, water, chips, and Larabars for lunch and dinner.

Four hours down!

Arrived at Ocean Beach. Kids stripped down and went straight into the ocean.

Read on the beach until I unfortunately made eye contact with an extremely friendly, pregnant, inebriated surrogate mother, who regaled me with tragic stories for…let’s just say a while.

Eight hours down!

Drove to a strip mall where I unwisely spent $4 on a desperately-needed corporate latte and then parked in a shady spot and read until it was time to drive to the airport. I put my last $6 in the tank before we left, just enough to get back home to civilization.

Not a completely terrible day. My kids were absolute ANGELS throughout this whole ordeal. Through all of my searching and texting and map-reading and false cheerfulness, through warm yogurt and stopped traffic and sorry-you-can’t-just-pee-on-a-tree-here, there were no complaints.They read quietly in the backseat almost the whole time.

And I didn’t have to pay for parking even once.

SF | seed & feather

SF | seed & feather

SF | seed & feather

SF | seed & feather

SF | seed & feather

SF | seed & feather

SF | seed & feather

SF | seed & feather

SF | seed & feather

SF | seed & feather

SF | seed & feather

how I recover from gluten exposure

rich chicken broth | seed & feather

So I forgot the brown rice that I’d pre-cooked for a client’s supper. I’m usually well-organized but NOT THAT DAY, so I used a bag of pasta from the client’s pantry instead, regular wheat-based pasta. And the thing about pasta is that you really need to taste it to test it, so I had two noodles. Two.

I should have done something else, I know. But I was rushed and in perfectionist mode and already pissed at myself for forgetting the rice and just wanted the meal to be right. I didn’t fully realize that I was reacting until later the next day.

It’s still surprising to me that two little noodles can cause several days of pain and discomfort when I used to deliberately eat wheat a dozen times a day. Of course, I received the “placeholder diagnosis” of IBS at age 8 and did experience varying levels of pain and discomfort throughout my life, so things were happening in my body all along even if it took a while to make the connection.

People with celiac do tend to become more sensitive to gluten when they adopt a strict gluten-free diet, because their guts heal. It’s the difference between being rear-ended in a wrecked car and being rear-ended in a vehicle that still has that new car smell. You’re going to feel it much more when your guts still have that healthy intestinal membrane smell. I think I lost my metaphor.

Every person has a different experience of gluten exposure. Some people aren’t symptomatic at all, though that doesn’t mean there isn’t damage. Others end up in the hospital. Most reside somewhere in the territory of fatigue, abdominal pain, bleeding, bloating, “brain fog,” joint pain, itchy skin, diarrhea and/or constipation.

I get to enjoy all of the latter, plus wheezing because gluten exacerbates my asthma. (By the way, that’s what was going on here. I’d been using my [banned, discontinued, stockpiled because I had no health insurance] inhaler 2+ times a day, which caused heart arrhythmia, tachycardia, and high BP. Going gluten-free stopped the daily attacks entirely, so I was able to stop using my inhaler, and my heart rhythm normalized. That doesn’t mean YOUR asthma has anything to do with gluten, that’s just my experience.)

I’ve been strictly gluten-free for a while now, but occasional exposure is nearly impossible to avoid, especially when you cook for a living. So I have a little action plan to help me feel better. I don’t know if any of these things will help you, but you’re welcome to try.

REST

For me, fatigue is the most significant symptom of gluten exposure. Muscles weak, eyelids at half-mast, I feel like I’m walking through fog for a few days. I just go with it. I nap a lot. I get a lot of reading done.

BONE BROTH

Bone broth is the great healer. Gelatin is soothing to inflamed guts and minerals help with cramping and irritability.

PROTEIN

The body uses proteins to knit structures back together. Tofu and eggs are my favorite post-gluten proteins; beef and pork feel too harsh on my system at that time.

MAGNESIUM

Natural Calm, baby. Drink it up. It eases anxiety, and can help ya poo if you need it.

FIBER

Also helps with nasty digestive problems that we’d all like to pretend don’t exist, but sadly cannot. I prefer soluble forms of fiber from oats, fruits, and vegetables. Insoluble sources like corn, crucifers, root vegetables, and raisins can be difficult to process in a pissed-off belly.

EASILY DIGESTED FOODS

This is not the time for that triple double-decker three-cheese burger on a gluten-free bun with a mountain of cheesy garlic fries. Save that for next week. Whole grains (except oatmeal), lentils, beans, cheese, red meat, nuts, and gluten-free goodies with binders & gums are all on hold, just for a few days. White rice, (certified) oats, non-cruciferous vegetables, eggs, and fruit are all ideal. Plain ol’ sugar in tea or coffee can be an easy source of energy; I find honey a little hard to digest after gluten exposure.

WATER

Oh, so much water.

YOGA

Some nice deep stretches are good for the gut, help to ease stress and make it easier to sleep.

CULTURED FOODS

This is not a blanket rule. Some fermented foods do NOT help me feel better, such as sauerkraut. I have reflux continuously for a few days after gluten exposure, and although fermented foods help some people with reflux, they do not help me. For the most part I don’t do cultured vegetables during this time. Instead it’s yogurt and fermented drinks like water kefir or (even better) coconut kefir. These are very soothing and help to tamp down the bloating and pain. Kimchi sometimes helps, but it’s kinda hit-or-miss.

REST

Yep, I put it on the list twice. It’s really the most important thing.

congee | seed & feather

My favorite dish for any kind of illness is congee (also known as jook, and probably three hundred other things), a Chinese (and probably three hundred other places) porridge of rice flavored and topped with whatever’s around — herbs, scallions, pickles/ferments, leftover meat, chiles, sesame oil. In its most basic guise, congee is just rice cooked with lots of water. Even like this, it’s delicious, soothing, warm, and easily digested, perfect sick-person food.

It’s very simple to make. Start with a short-grained rice (white is traditional, brown is fine). Combine one cup of rice with anywhere from 5 to 10 cups of bone broth — I usually use 8 and add another cup or two at the end. I know it seems like a helluva lot of liquid, but that’s what makes it so unctuous and comforting. I like to add garlic and ginger to the cooking broth, but it’s not required.

Simmer the rice for about an hour, stirring every now and then to prevent sticking. Add a little more liquid toward the end if it’s thicker than you’d like. Then top with whatever you like — this time I used cilantro, chile-garlic sauce, scallions, and some crispy chicken bits.

congee | seed & feather