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Monday, August 18, 2014

Funeral Blues for Ferguson, Missouri

"Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos ..."
                                                        W.H. Auden

These words keep running through my head as news rolls in about Ferguson, MO. It feels like everything should just STOP and pay attention to what's happening. I read the news, Twitter, so choked up that I can hardly breathe.

But the world just keeps going.  At least, it does for White America. I see a sharp division between my White and Black friends in how much headspace this story is getting. I'm not talking about everyone, but let's be really real for a second: I've seen more Facebook coverage of the ice-bucket challenge than the fact that real tyranny is happening not just in Ferguson, but throughout the U.S. 

And I've been thinking a lot about two little guys I know, just on the cusp of teenagerhood. They are best friends. They love Minecraft, rap music, and have secret crushes on girls. I'll call them H and J. H is White. J is Black.

They are going to do a lot of dumb stuff over the next few years. That's what you do when you're a teenaged boy. It's the result of a partly-developed frontal lobe, a growing body, and more freedom.

But the results of those dumb teenaged choices could be harrowingly different. 

J is more likely to be stopped for things like walking and driving than his friend H.
When he is, he is more likely to be subjected to unconstitutional searches.
If, during these searches, he resists, he is more likely to have force used against him.
J is more likely to be arrested, and if he is, to be convicted, and sentenced more harshly.
The list goes on.

And it can all start with just ... walking down the street.
Memphis, 1968

I've seen a lot of articles like "10 (or 12 or 8) things White people can do about Ferguson." I don't have any good advice. But what I know we have to stop doing? We have to stop acting as if there is ANY justification for killing a young unarmed Black or Brown boy in the street. 

Not his clothes.
Not his past crimes.
Not Facebook photos of that boy doing dumb, teenaged stuff.
Not holding something in his hand, be it a cell phone or Skittles.
Not talking back to authority figures.

When we try to argue about whether that boy was a good boy, or a troublemaker, or a scholar, or a criminal, what we are really saying is this: Black lives only matter to us if they conform to some standard that we White folks have set up.

A boy is dead. Not just one boy... but many.Many more are in prison.

Let's mourn that, and that turn our eyes to the justice that is the only thing that will bring peace.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Re-post: 5 Things You Shouldn't Say About Mental Illness

I wanted to re-post this piece that I wrote a little while ago because, in the wake of Robin Williams's death, many people on the internet have been openly expressing prejudice and hate against those with mental illnesses. This has been in somewhat subtle ways, such as posting articles that provide religious reasons why suicide is not OK, to blatant hatred toward Williams's daughter on Twitter.

I am very lucky, in that I have never considered suicide. I have always been able to get out of bed, and go to work, and complete necessary tasks, even in the worst days of anxiety and depression. Yet that's just LUCK. 

Below, I've written about 5 things you shouldn't say to/about people with mental illnesses. But beyond that, before you post or re-post something on Facebook or Twitter, before you say something to your friends at work, think to yourself: if the person reading this was in the darkest time of their life, if my colleague standing across from me has a mental illness, would my words show grace? Or would they increase the depth of despair that person is feeling? And if the answer is the second thing - DON'T share, DON'T speak. Please don't use the privilege of being mentally healthy to keep others down.

Here's the article:

I'm one of the 57 million Americans who will experience a mental health challenge this year. I know that I will, because I have a chronic anxiety disorder and have dealt with bouts of depression since I was a child. I've been treated for my anxiety with an anti-depressant for about 15 years. 

I'm telling you this because I'm one of the lucky ones. My company is understanding. My family is understanding. I am helped by a very small dose of medication with no side effects for me, and I have been more successful at life than I could ever have imagined when I was pulled over on the side of the road crying for no reason all those years ago. I feel a responsibility to declare the fact of my illness because so many people suffer silently, afraid that they won't be accepted or will lose their jobs. Many people with mental illness wait as long as 10 years before getting treatment - for reasons that include the stigma of being thought "crazy."

I once heard mental illness described as a "hidden disability," and I believe that all of us have to help to "un-hide" it. This means that we have to be careful with our words so that we are not perpetuating harmful stereotypes or casting out microaggressions  that subtly belittle others.

I want to name some of the things that I've heard people say that are hurtful to those of us who have mental illnesses, so that we can start to strike these kinds of statements from our speech, and create a world where people feel free from stigma if they take advantage of the treatment that's now made more available by the new insurance rules.

5 Things You Shouldn't Say to Someone With a Mental Illness

Why doesn't she just get treatment?
I've heard this said about people who are struggling in their work or lives because of mental illness, and it's often said with a great deal of judgment, and often said to others who have gotten treatment for their mental health challenges. First off - you don't know that this person isn't being treated. Finding the right treatment for mental illness can be difficult. Doctors often have to try several varieties before something works. And second - the illness itself can keep someone from getting treatment. For example, I have an anxiety disorder, which means that when untreated, I experience paralyzing anxiety about new situations. I couldn't overcome the anxiety of getting treatment until the need became greater than the fear. That took awhile. And finally, the stigma of being thought "crazy" can keep people from facing their illness. Or they may have their own stereotypes of mental illness, and not realize that they don't have to hear voices to be in need of help. It absolutely breaks my heart every time I hear of someone who is struggling but won't see someone; they need our love and understanding, not our judgment.

Have you tried ... (insert: yoga, meditation, therapy, getting a pet, etc.)? That always makes me feel better.
Mental illness is different than a lot of health problems, because the symptoms are often extreme versions of things everyone experiences. We all have anxiety sometimes - it was necessary to keep us alive in the evolutionary environment. But just because you've experienced anxiety, it doesn't mean that you can treat mine. For example, when I'm untreated, I have a crippling fear of talking on the phone. I have literally felt that I would die if I called a pizza place or a store to ask their hours. Even with treatment, I have been known to write out what I'm going to say on the phone. That's an extreme kind of anxiety, and it belittles my experience when you suggest that you know what will fix it.

Have you tried ... (insert those same things) instead of drugs?
Does anyone ever say to someone with the flu, "Have you tried meditation to get rid of that virus?" We don't (most of us, anyway) just say a prayer when someone is having a heart attack. We give the person aspirin and call 911. But for some reason, we think it's OK to suggest to people with mental illnesses that they shouldn't need medication. It's seen as a sign of weakness. 

Most people dealing with mental illness are incredibly strong people. They are going through terrible suffering, and still managing to live their lives, take care of their children, do their jobs. Why would we then suggest they should not have something that will improve their suffering?

You have to just face your fears.
As I mentioned, my fears are completely irrational. For example, I have very little anxiety about: spiders, public speaking, snakes, the dark, and most other things that are considered rational fears. But those things that make me anxious provoke a strongly physical reaction, almost a paralysis. I literally could not face my fears because I couldn't move. I've had students with selective mutism (a kind of anxiety disorder) who wouldn't speak in class, and who were harassed by teachers (even special ed teachers) and other students, urging them to talk. These kids can't just face their fears and start talking. 

There is a point where you can be helped by exposure to things that scare you, but it's usually not something that can just be done through force of will. 

You're just sensitive/special/extra caring/sad/nervous, etc.
Being depressed is not like being sad. Having an anxiety disorder is not like being nervous. Both have physical symptoms (like joint pain, lethargy, sleeplessness or over-sleeping...). This isn't something that's all in your mind. It's all over your body. And even when symptoms are primarily mental, this doesn't mean that someone is just being dramatic or overly-emotional. Depression can be triggered by things that are supposed to make you sad, like the death of a loved one or pet. Doctors can diagnose when someone is having emotional reactions that are proportional to events, and those that aren't.

These are just a few of the things people say that bug me. I hope that by having some open conversation, we can begin to de-stigmatize living with mental illness and come to accept it as we would any other health challenge.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Resurrecting SAID

The new school year is almost upon us. This year, I think it's time to start a revolution.

We need to resurrect said.

See that ghost rising from the grave?
That's Said. We're bringing him back.
In classrooms all over America, teachers create posters, decorated with gravestones, memorializing the word said.

"Said is dead," they say, and urge kiddos to use other words as dialogue tags. Writing teachers plan lessons dedicated to the idea that "good writers use more interesting words than said to let us know how characters are speaking." They have funerals for said and ban the word from their classrooms.

The problem is that this is wrong.

Said is dead has become such conventional wisdom that teachers actually get upset when I've tried to suggest otherwise. Google "said is dead" and you'll get hundreds of hits for posters, lesson plans, and charts you can use in your classroom.

For a long time I figured that this was  a battle that wasn't worth fighting. Teachers I respect and admire tell their students that said is dead.  As someone who writes teacher trainings, I've found that this constantly crops up in lessons, but it's hardly the biggest fish to fry when it comes to writing instruction.

This morning I was scrolling through Pinterest and saw an example poster that a teacher might use in class, listing other words that could be used instead of said.

"Great poster!" was written in the comments.

I was filled with a white-hot rage. I decided it was time to speak out.

The Case For Said

Contemporary authors rarely use dialogue tags other than said or asked.


It's OK if you don't believe me. Go to your bookshelf and open to random pages in some of your favorite books. Likely, you will see that almost all of the dialogue tags are said or asked (or variants thereof). I just did so, and opened up To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Atonement, and Faithful Place, by Tana French. Out of thirty or so dialogue tags, two were anything other than "said" or "asked".  One was "boomed" and the other was "called."

See. This sounds silly.
None of these are necessary.
Why is this so?

The purpose of dialogue tags is to let readers know who is speaking when the situation might be ambiguous. In these cases, So-and-so said is all that's required. Our brains usually register the name of the character, but don't linger on the word said. Many teachers tell students that we shouldn't use said because it's boring, but it's not boring because our brain doesn't really notice it. It's more like punctuation. If periods and commas aren't boring, neither is said.

When we use other dialogue tags, we create sort of a hitch in the smooth reading that we want our readers to be doing. By telling students not to use said, we're forcing them to conform to rules that actually make them sound like amateur hacks.

The Case Against Exclaimed, Snuffled, Chortled, Screamed

The secondary purpose of dialogue tags is to tell readers how the words are being said. 

Ha-ha! you might be thinking. That's when we use our other, interesting dialogue tags!

Yes, true.


There's a caveat here. These should only be used if the way the character is saying the words contradicts the emphasis or meaning the reader would infer. Otherwise, most "interesting" dialogue tags are redundant or silly. Let's look at some examples.

"Let her go," he commanded.
Commanded is redundant, because "Let her go" is already a command.

"It's my birthday!" Grace exclaimed.
Again, redundant. The exclamation point implies exclaiming.

"It was all part of my plan," he snickered.
Can you really "snicker" words? Go ahead. Try it. This just sounds silly. To snicker means to "give a half-suppressed laugh." You can't snicker words. Likewise, you cannot sneer, laugh, or chuckle words.

"You stole my baby," she whispered.
Now, here's a case where you might actually use this dialogue tag. If someone's baby was stolen, you might infer that she would be wailing or screaming or crying. But she's whispering. This provides a more complete picture of what's happening in the scene, and the dialogue tag is necessary because most of us wouldn't imagine her speaking in that way.

Double whammy! Using a redundant dialogue tag
with a redundant adverb.

What we should teach instead:

If said isn't dead, what do we teach kids about dialogue instead? I think we should be teaching them three considerations: 

1) When you write dialogue, choose meaningful words that tell the reader something important. Choose punctuation carefully as well. If you choose your words and punctuation carefully, the reader should be able to hear how the character is speaking.
2) Use a dialogue tag to show the reader who is speaking. It's only necessary if the reader might be confused about who is speaking. Use said almost exclusively.
3) If the character is speaking in a way that is unexpected, then you might use a tag other than said.

Why this matters:
This might seem like something trivial to blog about at length. However, there are a few reasons why I think this is important:

First, and most importantly, we should strive to teach children things that are correct and true. It doesn't matter that funerals for the word said are fun, if we're encouraging students to write in ways that are not skillful. (Trust me, there are lots of overused words that deserve funerals.) Truth matters. It's easy to forget that in teaching, but we should all be vigilant that our kids are learning things that are critical and truthful.

Second, we undermine our credibility when we teach students things that are obviously untrue. Any child who reads a lot is going to realize that "good writers" use the word said all the time. I did by the time I was in high school. When I asked my teachers about it, they fumbled for answers and couldn't explain. I didn't see them as trustworthy anymore, and so I didn't accept feedback on my writing from them that might have actually been valid.

Third, teaching kids not to use said is indicative of a larger problem with writing instruction in general: we tell kids that we are teaching them what "good writers" do, but we are actually teaching them what "good writing students" do. We default to conventional wisdom about writing because we're not writing or reading enough ourselves. To be good writing teachers, we have to truly understand what real authors do. We have to read, write, and think if we want our students to do so. We can't just look on the internet for cute lessons, or follow a curriculum that gives "rules" for writing that are based on conventional wisdom. If we write, we'll help our students to be better writers.

Last, we just don't want this to happen:
When I was a kid, I was a zealous reader. I mean, I read a ton. I loved old-fashioned books like The Five Little Peppers, Little Women, and Little House on the Prairie. Apparently, I would read anything with "little" in the title. 

Of course, my teachers taught me that said was dead, and I tried to find other, clever dialogue tags in the books I was reading. One day, I found an unusual one that I knew was going to make my teacher proud. I added it to my writing and showed my mom my homework. She blanched.

"What's wrong?" I said.

"Honey, you just can't say that."

"Why not? It was in the book I was reading."

"Honey, we don't use the word ejaculate to mean exclaim anymore. It means something else now."

Lesson learned.

Monday, July 28, 2014

To All the Fandoms I've Loved Before...

If you're a proud feminist fanwoman,
you can buy this at lookhuman.com
When I was about seven, I held an established and respected place in the playground hierarchy: I was the only girl who played Star Wars every day at recess. This meant that I always got to be Princess Leia, no matter the occasional girlish interloper who got tired of whatever girls do and decided to play with us for one or two days. She could be my handmaiden.

Playing Star Wars was a demanding pastime. You had to remember where you hid your stick that looked like a blaster so you could come back to it from one recess to another. You had to weave your way around other kids who didn't know the monkey bars were the Millenium Falcon. If you were the only girl who was Princess Leia, you had to transfer your burgeoning geek girl crush from the kid who was Luke to the kid who was Han because (spoiler alert from 1983) Luke was your brother. You also had to wear Princess Leia buns to school sometimes.

Being a fan is not easy.

This is Nathan Fillion,
and this was huge news in the geekoverse.

This past weekend was Comic-Con, the four days when every geek's heart beats in San Diego. For those four summer days, the city that's always 75 degrees and sunny becomes the capitol of all fandoms. Hobbits mix with Avengers, and Avengers hug it out with Westerosi. Westerosi give the appreciative head nod to Whovians. Nathan Fillion dresses like Captain Kirk.

For non-fans (one might call them Muggles, mundanes, etc.) this all sounds as indecipherable and pointless as the NFL draft does to me. Google "psychology of fandom" and you get a whole mess of articles about fandom as coping mechanism, fandom as outlet for personality type, and on and on. For fans of genre entertainment (that's what all that Comic-Con stuff is), I think there's an alternate explanation: we're narrative junkies.


Very rarely does someone become a rabid fan of something one-off. If they do, they often clamor for more. (Visit the Twitter profile of Rainbow Rowell, author of the near-perfect Eleanor and Park and you'll see how many people want a sequel, even though it's the ending that makes the book so amazing. You know, according to me.) Ongoing entertainments (comics/book series/TV/multiple movies) provoke our deepest fan-love. We become fans of expansive universes with multiple ongoing narrative threads, histories only-hinted-at, minor characters who have their own back stories and favorite breakfast cereals. And because of this expansiveness, there's always more to explore.
Supernatural fans have a reputation for being able to make
any conversation on the internet about Supernatural.
It's actually pretty impressive.


Critics of genre fictions call this escapism. There can certainly be an element of that. As a fan, I'm pretty fan-lite. I may pin a few Doctor Who-related jokes on Pinterest, but that's about the extent of my extra-curricular fannishness. However, there are plenty of fans who write fan-fiction and go to conventions and talk on forums about their fandoms and sort Supernatural characters into Hogwarts houses. They continue the narratives, analyze them, build their own corners of the stories. Escapism? Yes. But no more so than calling radio shows to talk about sports teams or visiting all the Major League baseball stadiums in a summer (something friends of mine did), which is considered mainstream.

Many say that escapism is all there is to genre fandom. Consider the following quote from Steven Petite at the Huffington Post:

"The main reason for a person to read Genre Fiction is for entertainment, for a riveting story, an escape from reality. Literary Fiction separates itself from Genre because it is not about escaping from reality, instead, it provides a means to better understand the world and delivers real emotional responses."

Petite states that one is not better than the other, just different. However, saying that literary fictions provoke "real" emotional responses implies something ... that our emotional responses to our genre stories are not real. Anyone who has watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Doctor Who knows that there are real emotional responses to be had in these stories.  Just because the world of Buffy has vampires in it, doesn't mean that it's not also our world, and that it can't help us navigate the world around us.

That's what narrative does. Our brains are hard-wired to make sense of the world in stories, and the narratives we love most help us figure out how to be in the world. From Buffy we learn what it means to be a woman with power, and what it means to accept and choose that power. From Who we learn that no matter who we are, we have a responsibility to make our own story great by helping to make the world better. From Supernatural we learn what it means to strive to be a man and fall short, and then keep striving. At least, those are the things I learned. Because each of these stories has its own universe, fans will pull universes of meaning from them.  Stories are meant to be our teachers.

But even after all that, I still don't get the Sherlock fandom.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I'm sorry... was I standing in the way of your privilege?

The other day I was at Spec's, which is this giant liquor store we have in Texas. It's more than just a liquor store - it's your one-stop-shop for entertaining. Do you need (for some reason) Kahlua, a single-malt scotch of the finest quality, a prickly pear, a frozen pizza, and a roasted duck? And you want to pay discount prices? Then Spec's is the place. (Seriously. It's a miracle.)

As you can imagine, such a fantastical magic land is usually packed, particularly on the weekends. On this Friday afternoon in question, several folks, including myself, were patiently waiting at the check out. It's one of those places where they have one line that feeds into all of the check out stands. As we were waiting, a man walked up to one of the customer service employees (they have lots of knowledgeable folks to assist you in picking out whatever you need; they are real experts. Did I mention that this place is amazing?).

The man had a bottle of champagne in his hand.

"Is there a way I can just pay for this one bottle?" he asked.

Meaning, without standing in line like all of these people.

This stuck out to me because not too long ago read an article about such a situation at the post office, discussing how in these situations White men are acting on their White male privilege without even thinking about it. In that article, though, the man who tried to cut to the front of the line at the post office was denied and sent to his rightful place in line.


At the liquor store, however, the employee tried to put off the man for a moment, but the man continued to press, and so he was ushered to another check out that had just opened, passing by the women and people of color who had been waiting in line (there were no other White men in line). None of us said anything.

In a nutshell, this is White male privilege at work.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, you might be thinking. You are reading way too much into this situation. After all, the guy was probably busy. Maybe he was late for something.

Sure, of course. Maybe we were all busy and late for something, but we waited in line.

Let's play out the situation if it was a little different. What if I, a White woman, had been the one asking. After all, I only had five things in my basket, and several people in front of me were buying cases of liquor.

First off, women are socialized not to ask for favors that inconvenience others - so it's pretty unlikely that I would do so. In fact, if there was some urgent, urgent reason I couldn't wait (I don't know, like an alien invasion?) I think it's more likely that I would actually leave the store without buying something than actually believe I should go to the front of the line. 

But I do know what happened one time recently when I was the airport, in the security line, and I heard the announcement that my flight was boarding. I was nearly at the front of the line, and I asked the woman in front of me if I could bypass her, as my flight was boarding. I received a hate-filled look from another woman. She did let me go ahead in line (after all, women are also socialized to say yes, even when it inconveniences us), but when it turned out we were on the same flight, she gave me the bitch, you are out of line look - the one that women use to regulate other women who aren't following norms. To this day, I still feel sort of guilty that I even asked for this favor.

That's your problem, you might be thinking.

Of course, I can't know what it feels like to be a person of color, and so I don't want to speak to as if I could. But I will say, I think most of us know that if the man at the liquor store had been Black, it's a lot less likely that he would have gotten his own lane opened for him. That doesn't mean that Black men don't have male privilege, but intersectionality makes it complicated.

It seems like when it comes to privilege, a lot of the "advice" out there is for those who don't have privilege to be more like the dominant culture. For women, it's about how they can be more like dudes. Men are successful because they're confident, says The Atlantic.  Women can learn to take more risks and be more confident. "Lean in" and ask for more, says Sheryl Sandberg. And when it comes to White privilege, many seem to believe that the answer is in teaching children of color in "successful schools" to be facsimiles of some weird version of WASP life, wearing polo shirts with khakis and sitting up perfectly straight with their hands folded and unmoving.

Well, what if the answer isn't leaning in? What if we need to look in the mirror, and when our privilege is hurting others, try to lean out a little bit? Not just teaching girls to take risks but also teaching boys to be more nurturing and considerate of others? Teaching White children about their privilege and at the same time affirming the value of cultures other than European, making schools places where success doesn't mean "White and male."

 To do that, we need to change the big systems of society of course. My whole career is dedicated to that. But I also believe that when it comes to ending oppression we have to sweat the small stuff, the moments in line at the store, the tiny words we use that put people down, the eye rolls that tell others they aren't doing life right. We're definitely going to get it wrong a lot of the time, miss opportunities, make mistakes. I do it all the time when it comes to my own privilege. But when we're not even willing to consider that our small actions actually do have weight to those with whom we have to stand in those lines, then all the governmental change or policy papers in the world won't make a difference.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

More Blogging!

Why, hello there.

I'm back.

Actually, I didn't go anywhere. I've been here in Houston all summer, working at my organization's summer teacher training institute. Because I worked 12-hour days for much of the summer (and had a blast doing it), I decided to take some time off from blogging. And to be completely honest, dear reader, I felt like I needed to figure out the place blogging has in my life right now. 

Turns out, I was constantly thinking of blog posts as I was going about my day-to-day of training amazing young teachers. You should probably be glad you were spared the World-Cup-themed rant about how sports mania contributes to a culture of war.  But I found that I have a lot that I still want to say.  I'm still not 100% sure how often I'll be blogging (more on that below) but I'm not giving it up or anything.

I thought to get back in the groove, I'd update you on this year's theme: the year of MORE. I had three things I wanted to focus on:
1) eating MORE whole foods
2) spending MORE time outside
3) fitting in MORE time to write 

So how did those things fit into my crazy summer schedule?

1) More Whole Foods
I made these in my garden.
I gave myself a lot of grace when it came to cooking this summer, but I had two main commitments. I cooked on the weekend so that I could bring my own lunches to the institute, and I made a green smoothie every day. The lunches weren't always whole foods - I made burritos and Thai peanut chicken over rice - but at least it was home cooking and I could choose ingredients that were low in salt and preservatives and didn't have high fructose corn syrup.

A lot of people asked me throughout the summer how I had so much energy, given those 12-hour work days. I owe that to drinking a cup of kale or spinach every day in the form of a smoothie. I don't think it's magic or anything, but having a green smoothie just kept me going throughout the day. 


Spontaneous day trip to the beach!
2) More Outside Time
OK, I'll be completely frank here: I don't like to spend time outside in the summer in Houston. When I lived up north, we stayed inside much of the winter. That's how I treat summer in Houston.  Really, I don't even try to go outside. There are giant mosquitoes! Flying cockroaches! Alligators! (I've never seen an alligator in Houston, but there are definitely signs by the bayou telling you to watch out for them.)

I have managed to keep a slightly successful garden going. I say "slightly" because by most standards, it would be pretty pathetic, but it's been my most successful foray into green-thumbing it. I've gotten some tiny tomatoes and jalapenos, and my basil plant is going nuts. It's the first time I've kept a garden this long with ALL the plants surviving. I call that a win. 

3) More Writing Time
I've actually managed to make this a priority. I thought about what held me back from writing as much as I want to, and I found that I'm tired of the computer at the end of the day. I decided to start writing by hand, and on the weekend type up what I created. This has worked like a charm, and has allowed me to sustain my creativity through sketching, making notes, and otherwise being the stationery nerd that I am at heart.

However, this is not a great solution when it comes to blogging. (Blog by mail anyone?). I'll continue to think through my relationship to my computer and what that will mean for writing.

What's coming up?
You want to know more about how I've fit more leafy greens into my diet, right? Especially since I break my mother's heart by not eating a salad every day with dinner.

I'm also planning posts on fangirling, a summer pop-culture round up, and some thoughts on White privilege at the liquor store.

I'm glad to be back!





Monday, May 12, 2014

A Little Hiatus

Hey there -
As you may have noticed, there's been a lag in my posting. 

I'm not leaving you forever!

I'm just taking a little hiatus while I prep for and work at my organization's summer teacher training program. I'll be back in mid- or late July.


Until then, stay green, my friends.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Recipe: Shamrock Shimmy Smoothie

Mid-morning snack attack at work!
Shamrock shimmy smoothie!
Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm always ahead of the trends.

Exhibit A: Before most people had heard of Nirvana, I had already decided I didn't like them. Billy Joel, people. That's where it's at.


Exhibit B: Prior to "boho chic" being a major trend, I was sporting hippie threads that I dug out of the drama closet at summer camp.

Exhibit C: Prior to knitting becoming a trend, I taught myself knitting from a kit called "I Taught Myself Knitting!"

(Hmm... I'm beginning to realize I may not be as cool as I thought...)

One trend that I just haven't been able to get behind, though, is KALE. Seriously. Why would I want a salad that's made out of wadded up paper towels? My nightmare is being forced to eat a kale quinoa salad at a pop-up restaurant while watching Girls and listening to EDM. I imagine that in ten years, people are going to wake up and be all: why did I eat that? And why did we think that stuff was cool?

Even more baffling to me: putting KALE in a smoothie. A smoothie is supposed to be a bait-and-switch so that you can drink milkshakes and feel healthy about it. Peanut butter, banana, Hershey's. That's a smoothie.

Do you sense that I'm about to eat my words?

I still don't want a kale salad or a big plate of kale or a kale cupcake. My mom got me the Oh She Glows cookbook for my birthday, though, and it has several recipes for green smoothies in it.  Oh She Glows is a blog of vegan, whole foods recipes (when you Google it, the first search that comes up is "Oh She Glows kale salad"). The blog and the cookbook are great because lot of vegan recipes are heavy on soy products and processed fake-meat-like foods, which I try to avoid, particularly because it's the "Year of More" and that means more whole foods

For some reason, I thought I'd give green smoothies a try after every blogger in the world had already decided they were God's gifts to moms who give their kids cute nicknames on the internet. Guess what? 

Reader, I loved it.

So let's come around to the recipe, shall we?

A few days after this revelation, I was cruising on that great recipe-box-in-the-cloud, Pinterest, and there was a recipe for "healthy Shamrock shake - with mint!" I have never had a Shamrock shake, but that sounded pretty good.

For some reason, I pictured "mint" as being, you know ... mint. Like leaves, and stuff. I always forget that a lot of people don't eat natural things. The recipe was made with milk (I'm cutting way back on dairy), chocolate chips (didn't have those), and peppermint extract. Since I have a bunch of mint growing in my garden, I decided that I could make a "Shamrock" smoothie that would actually be healthy.

Below is the recipe my first stab at making my own green smoothie. I think it is SO delicious. At least to me, and I'm the one drinking it. 

A few notes:

  • I've made it with both baby kale and baby spinach, but if you're making it for kids and you want them to forget there are greens involved, I'd go with the spinach.
  • I used honey in this recipe, but if you want it to be completely vegan, then substitute a plant-based sweetener.
  • This is not a cute color.
Shamrock Shimmy Smoothie

Ingredients
1 c. non-dairy milk (I like hemp milk)
3/4-1 c. baby kale or baby spinach, de-stemmed and torn
1 banana, sliced and frozen
6-10 fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. honey

Step 1) put everything in a blender and blend it and drink it. 


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pop Culture Round-Up: Sick in Bed Edition

Wow! It's been awhile. I can't really blame anything...

Well, I was sick for a week. During which time I watched all the TV. Not only did I clear my DVR, I enjoyed entire seasons of some shows, which are now being added to said DVR. I also watched a bunch of rom-coms, which I only watch when I'm sick. However, I wouldn't particularly recommend any of them. (OK, I thought Austenland was pretty cute.)


So what did I watch?

Gimme some TV that
goes down easy!
Arrow, The CW
Over the past few months, I'd slowly been catching up with Arrow (The CW's pretty-person reboot of DC Comics' Green Arrow). However, while sick I binge-watched the end of Season 1 and caught up with Season 2. Yes, it follows the CW's formula: people who all look sort of alike and yet are better actors than you expect, enacting adventurous yet preposterous tales. I like the CW formula, however. It's sort of a less-witty play on the Joss Whedon formula. No one will ever accuse Arrow of being anything but candy, but it's the Lindt truffles, rather than the Whitman's sampler, of teen TV.

The Americans, FX
Last year I DVRed The Americans but never watched it. In preparation for Season 2 (which begins tonight!), the first season was released free for Amazon Prime members. The Americans might be compared to FX/AMC/HBO shows that are about tough people doing tough things, but frankly I don't feel like I'm giving up my feminism to watch it (I'm looking at you, Mad Men.) The show centers on two Russian spies embedded in suburban DC, who pretend to be a clean-cut American family. Keri Russell and Margo Martindale play a couple of TV's biggest badasses, and all the women on the show (even the woman who is seduced into a sham marriage by one of the spies) are more complex than on your average television show.

Plus, it brilliantly evokes the early 80's, and that feeling that the world was balanced on the head of a nuclear pin. I remember how frightening it was too be a kid at that time, how central the USSR was to the news, how many of us worried that the world could end tomorrow. The Americans capitalizes on that paranoia brilliantly, and it's suspenseful even though we know the world didn't end.

True Detective, HBO
Now that's haggard!
What was that about feminism? Oh, hey Emily Nussbaum from The New Yorker, calling out True Detective for its thin female characters. 

I haven't thought in depth about whether I agree with Emily (maybe she's right; but it's also a story told in the voices of White, Southern men in a rural area - so, this criticism seems more like criticism of the POV choice... whatever). I just know that I am absolutely mesmerized by this show. It is, in many ways, about what it means to truly live one's philosophy, even if that philosophy is brutal and nihilistic. Shot beautifully, with a stunning, haggard central performance by Matthew McConaughey, it's one of the best things I've seen all year.

See. Cute as a bug in a backpack.
Looking, HBO
Lots of folks have called Looking the gay Girls. It's totally not. I hate Girls. I want to punch all the characters. I gave up on it at the beginning of Season 3. I might end up watching it (although I resisted all through my illness) because it totally sucks you in, but I'll feel guilty about it.

Looking is not like that. Looking makes me want to hug all the characters, even that poopy-pants Augustin. It is, quite simply, the most romantic show on TV right now. Yes, it's a kind of romance that will make the Fox News crowd uncomfortable (one whole episode centers around whether the main character can get over his shame of being a bottom), but it's romance all the same. Jonathan Groff, as usual, is too cute for words. If only he got to sing!

Speaking of Fox News and feminism...
I'll continue to watch The Mindy Project
as an act of resistance.
Is it just me, or is Fox totally undermining the ideals of Fox News? (The answer is YES). Although they have the same parent company (21st Century Fox), Fox has been quietly filling its prime-time slate with shows featuring strong, diverse female characters. In particular, their programming features women of color prominently: on Sleepy Hollow, The Mindy Project, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The New Girl (no, I don't mean Jess), Glee, and Enlisted. The White female characters often come from diverse income backgrounds, ranging from Bones (tough crime-fighting anthropologist who  grew up in the foster system) to Raising Hope (the family matriarch is a house cleaner who is a well-rounded, strong female character and has one of the best marriages on TV). While Fox News is consistently making statements that undercut women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, their sister company is doing something much more powerful: telling stories that portray people from these backgrounds as agents of their own fates. I know that Fox is just trying to make a profit, but it makes me happy that they are participating in the unraveling of the prejudice that Fox News tries to sell.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Recipe: Thai-inspired Coconut Curry Soup

The soup at the end of the story.
Tuesday, I hopped on a plane with seven co-workers, heading to Birmingham, AL for a conference. As we began our descent into Bham, the pilot announced that the airport was closed due to ice and snow. We would be able to land as soon as they cleared the runways.

We were diverted to Nashville, where we spent the day waiting for updates about those runways. As we sat in the airport, much of the South was plunged into a state of emergency, with people abandoning their cars on the side of the road, kids sheltering at school overnight, and people sleeping in Publix. Houston's strategy under even a threat of ice is to close the schools and a lot of businesses pre-emptively, People make fun of us for it, but as a Northerner who now lives in Texas, even a wee bit of ice is no joke in the South. There are no plows, no sand trucks, no studded tires. It's best to keep as many people off the roads as possible. The fact that some cities didn't is partly why there was such a problem on Tuesday.
Here we are - we made it home!
(That's me, second from right)



We were pretty lucky in that we were safe and warm in the airport, and by evening our flight was finally canceled. Nashville was chilly but there was no severe ice or snow, and the airline gave us a discount on a hotel. With Birmingham airport remaining closed, we turned around and headed home.

What does this have to do with food? you might ask.
I'm like Ponyo when I see a bowl of noodles.






Well, two days in an airport leaves one feeling kind of funky. On the way home, I began thinking about what I could cook up that would be warm, comforting, and healthful. Of course, I landed on the idea of chicken soup... but not just any chicken soup. Since making chicken pho from Smitten Kitchen last week, I'm sort of obsessed with warm, slurpy bowls of noodly goodness (well, truth be told, I'm always kind of obsessed with this, as any fan of Miyazaki should be).

I learned some new techniques from the chicken pho - namely, how to make a good chicken broth - so I decided to use those to make tom ka gai, which is a Thai version of chicken soup. On the way home, from the airport I stopped at the store for ingredients, and by that evening I was slurping away.

Tom Ka Gai (Coconut Curry Soup)

For the broth:

3 1" x 1/2" pieces of ginger, peeled
2 Thai chilies, halved and seeded
1 lime, quartered
1 onion, peeled and quartered
4-6 bone in, skin on chicken thighs or drumsticks

Add all ingredients to a soup pot and add 6 cups of water, or just enough to cover. Bring to a boil, and lower heat to simmer. Simmer 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from the pot. 



Remove the chicken meat from the bone and set aside. Return the bones and skin to the pot and continue simmering for 20-30 minutes.

Remove the broth from heat, and strain, discarding all the solids.

While the broth is simmering, prep:

1 red pepper, sliced thin
1 shallot, sliced thin
1 package of dried wild mushrooms. Pour boiling water over them to cover and let sit for 20 minutes, then slice thin (you could also use sliced fresh mushrooms)
1 package of thick rice noodles (pad thai noodles or rice sticks) - prepare according package directions

To finish the soup:

Return the broth to heat, and whisk in:

2 cans of coconut milk or lite coconut milk
3 tbsp. Thai red curry paste
1 tbsp fish sauce (if you can't find fish sauce, add a tsp. of salt)
a squeeze of Sriracha (Thai hot sauce - optional)
1 tbsp. brown sugar
the juice of 1-2 limes
pinch of black pepper

Let simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Add the chicken, red pepper, mushrooms, and shallots and continue to simmer until the chicken and veg are heated through.


To serve:

Put some of the noodles in a deep bowl, and ladle the soup over them. To garnish, add chopped cilantro, basil, scallions, and a wedge or two of lime.

Note:
If you have left overs, refrigerate the noodles and the soup separately so the noodles don't break down in the liquid. The coconut milk may separate somewhat in the fridge, but just heat it up and give it a stir!