retreating

One of my don’t-call-it-a-bucket-list items for this year was to attend a retreat. I didn’t know what I meant at the time. I’m not exactly the white-towels-and-green-juice kinda girl. Also not into chanting or prayer beads or sun worship or fasting or self-flagellation or tithing or obeying rules for my sexual activity. I’m rude and irreverent, I swear a lot, I’m a feminist, and definitely down with the gays. Scriptures of any stripe might as well be chloroform, and houses of worship hold about as much meaning to me as supermarkets and bowling alleys. Given all of this, not a lot of churches would have me even if I did believe in God. Which I don’t, and I think that’s maybe a fundamental requirement.

But this is something I wanted to do anyway, because if there’s anything in this world that I worship, it’s alone time. So I booked a stay in an Airbnb Airstream outside of San Francisco and signed up for a course in somatic experiencing at the Green Gulch Farm branch of the SF Zen Center. What is somatic experiencing? I wasn’t sure at the time, I just needed a course that fit into my scheduled weekend. But it ended up being serendipitously useful, because somatic experiencing is all about staying in the moment with your body — something that was nearly impossible for me before I stopped regularly meditating a few years ago.

Back in the day I used to meditate regularly. I really felt that I’d come home to something after the complicated experience of leaving the Mormon church. But eventually the experience of sitting still and tunneling down into my breath became overwhelming, and I gave it up. I’d meditate in a bullshit way from time to time — never more than a few minutes at a time and always superficially — but it was no longer a capitalized Practice.

Shortly after I quit my desk job I found myself thinking about my old practice. I have never been able to fully explicate all the reasons I quit my job, but they were not happy reasons. To friends I may have simply expressed that it was a stressful environment, and I might also have let them believe that starting my business was closely linked to my resignation — but they were not really related. I quit my job with no real plans, much less starting a business. The stressful environment, even, was not the most fundamental reason why I quit. I quit because of serious interpersonal conflict. And when I really confronted that reality, I had to wonder if I would have been so severely impacted if I’d still been practicing at that time. Practice provided a special lens through which to examine my experiences and environment and reactions, and I lost that when I stopped practicing. I could see the truth but only from a distance — it wasn’t intimate anymore.

So I attended this course with the hopes that it would provide some resources if I decided to practice again in a serious way. I stayed with my social anxiety instead of letting it carry me out of the class and away from all those strangers. I talked to a very cool lady from Oakland, and another cool lady from Manhattan. I listened as others in the class talked about abuse, illness, injury, divorce, estrangement, unemployment, homelessness, death, anxiety, fear, anger, exhaustion, alienation, worthlessness, depression, isolation, and war. I didn’t contribute much myself and I could feel the teacher wanting to draw me out, but like any white girl I just can’t even in those settings. I still got quite a lot out of it, though.

I also went to the beach. I drew a little, wrote a little, and mostly just tried to be still for a while. I envisioned with perfect clarity the changes I needed to bring my life into balance. And then I came home and fucked it all up.

That’s the problem with retreating. You slip into another level of consciousness that makes everything seem open and timely and honest, but it’s all bullshit and a lie. So you think, never again will I say goddammit in front of my child, I shall not ever be annoyed in traffic, I will rise early and contemplate meaningfully the writings of Shunryu Suzuki before sitting before my organic unsweetened muesli and almond milk, eating just enough and no more and then placidly walking to work at my nonprofit start-up, or perhaps I will drive in my tiny electric vehicle but I’ll make a donation to a carbon offset company to compensate for the production materials. But what really happens is that eight minutes after you walk through the door, your kids start fighting over who gets to use one of twelve identical lead pencils, you get pissed off and yell THEY’RE THE SAME DAMN PENCILS JUST STOP, for breakfast you eat three bagels, two with factory-farmed cream cheese and one with non-organic peanut butter, and down a pot of coffee which makes you jitter and jump through your day until you go out with friends where you gossip mercilessly for three hours, swearing up a storm and telling several outrageous lies while consuming four margaritas and two shots and by the way that was dinner.

So what is retreating good for anyway? I could give you something laden with corporate mindfulness buzzwords and maybe that would be inspiring, but the only reminder I got out of this retreat is that meditation practice is a serious fucking drag. It’s boring, it’s painful, it’s a lot of sitting and doing nothing with very few insights along the way, it’s itchy and your ass goes numb, you’re far too aware of the roll around your midsection, and there are a hundred more productive things you should be doing, it’s basically a complete fucking waste of time and that’s exactly why I need it.

sunday favorites

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

Hiding in the feathers.

Hiding in the feathers.

She sneezed after this one.

Morning walk.

Morning walk.

His favorite snooze position.

His favorite snooze position. Evidence the shirt.

Crafting.

Crafting.

More crafting.

More crafting.

Our autumn driveway.

Our autumn driveway.

Typical Sunday morning.

Typical Sunday morning.

Good day sky.

Good day sky.

A beautiful meditation, life & death on the homestead.

Damn proud of my little county.

Love, love, LOVE Heather’s comments on the nature of blogging.

Laugh & agree: Halloween is the only pure holiday.

Did you know that Michael Stipe occasionally writes for The Guardian? And it’s wonderful.

Oh my, did I need this. Give me gratitude or give me debt.

My kitchen is making me crazy. I might try some of these ideas.

Stuff I want to cook… zucchini baba ganoush, grapefruit pie, mushroom alfredo pasta bake, pumpkin seed maple horchata, and GF cumin & black sesame naan.

‘Til next time!

spicy ramen broth with smoked tofu and tatsoi

spicy ramen with tatsoi & smoked tofu

A few days ago a friend posted an article on Facebook about how bad ramen is for you. The title claimed, “Scientists Reveal Ramen Noodles Cause Heart Disease, Stroke, and Metabolic Syndrome.” I did not read the article so I can’t comment directly apart from the obviously unscientific, fear-mongering nature of the title. I just want to say this: ramen is fucking delicious.

If I could eat ramen every day, I would. And yeah, you damn well better believe I’m talking about those 30-cent packages of wheat, chemicals, and MSG. I love that stuff. I ate it regularly as a kid, daily in college, and several times a week all through my early 20s. When I went vegan I still ate ramen, just the very small selection of animal-free options.

I have never tired of ramen. It’s the ultimate comfort food. When I get sick I want nothing more than a big slurpy bowl of “Oriental” (cringe) flavored noodles. But thanks to gluten I can never eat them.

noodles // seed & feather

That hasn’t stopped me from trying — every time I find a gluten-free product claiming to approximate ramen, I jump on it. But it’s just never right. The flavor packet is never intense enough or properly balanced, the noodles are never appropriately toothsome. These companies keep trying to make them healthier, that’s the problem. Dear food producers, ramen is meant to be a salt bomb. It’s supposed to make your blood pressure spike, mmkay? It’s all part of the experience.

A while back I had a brilliant solution — I’d buy a packet of ramen and just use the flavor packet with my own GF noodles! Why hadn’t I thought of this before? I might have left for the store that very instant. Sadly, the flavor packet contains wheat as well. A girl just cannot win.

Finally I reached the breaking point. I combined a bunch of ingredients from my pantry and set about creating the perfect ramen broth. And not just any broth, but an approximation of the BEST RAMEN FLAVOR OF ALL TIME — chili. (I never spell “chile” in that way, but that’s what Maruchan calls it so I will defer. )

0 grams of trans fat! It's basically sprouted lentils it's so healthy.

0 grams of trans fat! Sounds like health food to me.

To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be able to achieve that flavor without the MSG and other additives. And it has been a while since I could have ramen so I can’t claim that it’s spot-on… but I think it’s very very close. Salty, spicy, a tiny bit sour. Is this even remotely authentic? I’ve never had real Japanese ramen so probably not. But it definitely evokes the memory of shitty packaged ramen and that was my intention.

As for the noodles… there just aren’t any gluten-free noodles that can match the specific quality of ramen (yet!). But all is not lost. I’ve tried this broth with several varieties of noodles and I must unequivocally recommend the Tinkyada brand of spaghetti or fettuccine. These don’t get mushy and don’t absorb too much broth.

ramen broth // seed & feather

tatsoi // seed & feather

I added tatsoi (an Asian green) and smoked tofu to make a complete meal. Leafy greens, protein, bone broth, and spice — hm… that doesn’t sound like something that’s destined to cause heart disease, stroke, or metabolic syndrome. But even if it did, it would be worth it.

spicy ramen with tatsoi & smoked tofu

SPICY RAMEN BROTH

1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

6 garlic cloves, peeled

1″ fresh ginger, peeled

1 small tomato

3 T. soy sauce (I use gluten-free tamari)

2 T. toasted sesame oil

2 T. sriracha

1 T. chile-garlic sauce (such as tuong ot toi, generally sold next to sriracha)

2 t. rice vinegar

4 c. beef broth

In a blender, combine all ingredients except the broth, then add enough broth to cover the other ingredients. Blend until smooth, then pour into a soup pot and add the rest of the broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

TO SERVE, FOR EACH BOWL

2 oz. gluten-free noodles (such as Tinkyada spaghetti), cooked al dente

1 handful tatsoi or other Asian green

1 handful smoked tofu, or choice of protein

Scallions and cilantro, as desired

Fill each bowl with noodles and top with tatsoi and tofu. Ladle broth, just off the boil, over the noodles, greens, and tofu, and sprinkle with scallions and cilantro. Enjoy!

becoming myself

Ten years ago when I first began blogging, there wasn’t much I wouldn’t put on the screen. I’d rant and rave and insinuate and push buttons deliberately because I was 20 and highly principled and that’s just what y’do. Now I’m 30, and I have less to say. Aloud, that is. I still think things, work through things, but I understand that most people don’t care about those things. And I’ve developed a quiet voice inside that asks me why I feel compelled to say this thing publicly. Is this an original thought? (Are there any original thoughts?) Does it need to be said? (Does anything?) And that quiet voice has created many unfinished drafts and even more sentences, paragraphs, whole essays that never make the jump from my mind to the screen.

At the same time, I’ve settled into myself. I don’t define myself by political and social beliefs anymore, even if they are still important to me. If really pressed I will confess that I consider the suburbs a dystopian nightmare, for example, and that I believe 9/11 occurred as a consequence of U.S. imperialist policies, and that I think religion is kinda shitty overall. But I realize now that these are finite belief systems that really don’t serve me in my relationships with other people. And I’ve changed my mind and heart so many times that it feels foolish to hold too tightly to any belief, much less to define myself by it.

Even as I’ve been a high horse-riding crusader on social issues, I’ve evaded many small truths about myself, inconsequential things that have nevertheless caused me shame and embarrassment, or at least mild anxiety. These small things, I’ve realized, are actually the very humanizing attributes that I find charming in other people. To whit: I’m a white girl who likes rap. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are my jam. I once watched an entire season of America’s Next Top Model in a single day. I wear leggings as pants. These are silly things and I shouldn’t care if people know about them, but they are still weaknesses. And sometimes I feel so innately ashamed of who I am that I’m taken aback when I reveal such facts and people are surprised and even delighted by them. You watch reality TV? You go to Starbucks? Yes, me. And there are less cute things as well, like that I can be an insatiable gossip, I can hold a grudge for years, I can perseverate like nobody’s business, I can be emotionally manipulative and judgmental and harsh and even cruel.

Over the years, I’ve realized that I’m happier when people see me for who I really am. When I can gossip shamelessly with a friend. When I can confess that I have a predilection for a particularly well-bearded character on a certain medical drama. When I can reveal that I know every word to Jay-Z’s American Gangster. When I can admit that I hardly ever vote because what’s the point. And when I can share a secret shame that’s haunted me. For a long time I tried very hard to avoid seeming particularly human, and I think this is the dilemma of anyone with a militant-type personality.

Even though the coffee at the local hipster coffee shop is a thousand times better, I still prefer Starbucks because of the drive-thru. Binge-watching television is comforting for me because I need the break from thinking. I fucking hate meditating and I only do it because sometimes you just have to take your medicine. I can be unreasonably hard on my children and sometimes I deliver scenes from my own childhood upon them. I can hate, genuinely hate another human being.  I can be small-minded, mean, selfish, and ignorant. None of this is pretty, but it’s me. I’ve tried to be more comfortable with the whole picture of who I am, to reveal these less-than-pretty traits in order to temper the pull of the radical, the zealous, the all-consuming crusade. I’m slowly becoming myself, learning to live with the whole truth of myself. And somehow that translates to less writing, less forcing forth the pieces that seem worthy of being seen while smothering and suppressing the silly, the embarrassing, the mindless, the mistaken, and the broken. I’m just hoping I’ll find a new way of writing in the process.

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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