Monthly Archives: April 2010

Call for Blogs

Okay folks. I need some help.

Part of my study this semester is how women are using writing (i.e. blogging) to connect with each other and help manage stress due to our current economy.

I’m looking specifically for women-written blogs (although, if you know of a man-written one, I’m all for checking it out.) I’m having a hard time articulating exactly what I’m looking for, which is making a Google search tough. Basically, I’m looking for women who are writing about things like sudden poverty, unemployment, a change is social status, etc. Their whole blog doesn’t have to focus on that, but I’m looking for things like how they are changing, what they are doing differently, to weather whatever they are facing.

I know of a few blogs already, but I’d love a broader range. I’m really excited to research compare how women in particular have managed the stress of a sudden upheaval in social structure during the Civil War, the Great Depression, and today.  And you guys already know that I’m particularly into understanding how skills that women of other eras used could be helpful to us now.

If anyone has experience in their own life along these lines that they would be interested in sharing with me, I would be eternally grateful. Part of my study is going to be sending out a questionnaire to women bloggers, so any volunteers would be loved by me forever.

One of my major projects this semester is going to be writing and producing and distributing two editions of a zine that I’ve talked about here already. It’s tentatively called What My Nana Knew, but that may change.

Okay…so please, please, please post any blogs you think I should look at. Thank you so very much.

You know I love you, right? I do. I really do.

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Pictures

I finally had time to work on the pictures from my trip, and I thought I’d share a few.

Central Park was both way less scary (not scary even a little) and far more beautiful than I expected it to be.

The Met’s beautiful architecture.

The intersection near my hostile.

The New York Times at dusk.

My fabulous roomie, Moona.

Goddard’s gorgeous design building.

The Learning Village, where most of the dorms are.

Okay. I figured out how to use Flikr, so if you’re interested you can check out the rest of the pictures here.

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Tuna Salad (for those who don’t do mayo)

Tomorrow I have to start working on the first of five packets of work I’ll have due, one every three weeks, by the end of the semester. My plans are to read Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a chapter on character development in a text book called Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway, complete the exercises at the end of that chapter, work on some other writing exercises, and begin an analysis of some blogs. (More on that later, I promise.)

So, as you can see, I’m going to need something good to eat. I thought I’d share one of my favorite study treats.

I have always, for as long as I can remember, had a rather dramatic aversion to mayonnaise. Even looking at mayonnaise (or Miracle Whip…they are the same to my irrational self) makes me feel pukey. Yes, looking at it, even though it’s the smell that turns my stomach. I don’t have an allergy or anything, because I occasionally eat a tiny bit of mayonnaise mixed with something (like tuna) that smells stronger than the gross stuff, and I don’t get sick. I just plug my nose and close my eyes when I scoop out my fraction of a spoonful.

I have a mayo story. When we’d been dating about three months, Kevin and I took the kids (only Adrienne and Nick, this was about 7 years ago) to an outlet mall outside Vegas just before Christmas so they could ride the huge merry-go-round there.  We ate lunch in the food court. Kevin got some big sloppy thing from Burger King. To my utter horror (it still makes me shiver to think of it) he lifted that messy thing and literally sucked the dripping mayo from around it’s perimeter. I couldn’t do anything but stare in abject disgust.

It’s a damn good thing that I already loved him, or I would have taken a kid with each hand and left and never looked back. I’m not even kidding.

So, all of that is a long prelude to my recipe for tuna salad for anyone who doesn’t appreciate fish swimming in nasty white goo. My grandma used to make it for me, never once mentioning how silly it is to be pathological about something like mayonnaise.

Tuna Salad (without mayo)

12 ounces of albacore tuna

2 T chopped black or green olives, or a mix

2 T pickle relish

2 T finely chopped white onion

Mustard (yellow is fine, whole grain is better)

Red Wine Vinegar

1-2 T  plain yogurt

Salt and Pepper

Start by opening the cans of tuna, draining them well and putting them into a medium-sized bowl. Add the onion, olives, and relish. Mix very well, breaking up the tuna. Add about 1 T of mustard, or to taste. I love mustard, so I use at least a Tablespoon. You might want less. Add the yogurt a spoon at a time, mixing until you have the consistency you want. Dash in some vinegar and season to taste. Mix again and taste, adjust as necessary.

This makes a fairly dry tuna salad. If you want something more creamy, you could add more plain yogurt (I especially like Greek.)  It’s great on a salad. I’ve dumped it all in my Magic Bullet and made a spread which was delicious as well.

More recipes here. And here. And here.

And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

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What I Learned in Vermont (and NYC)

You know those experiences that divide your life into before and after? Yeah. That’s what the last two weeks were like for me. It was so strange to come back feeling so changed only to find that the Earth turned at it’s slow pace and no one else in my life changed with me while I was gone.

I feel like my eyes have been peeled open, my heart has been set free, my soul has been lit like the sun.

Sound dramatic?

Yeah, maybe. But I can’t help it. Here are some things I learned while I was gone:

1. There are ideas floating around, and caught up by amazingly bright and wonderful people, that I have never even conceived of.  Being surrounded by conversations I was a part of or even just overheard that were so stunningly smart and stimulating was one of the best experiences of my life.

2. Everything I saw in Vermont was almost creepily cute. (No offense Vermonters, I loved your state!) Each little house was a sweet little Victorian with gingerbread. I expected Little Red Riding Hood or maybe some fairies to come skipping out of the woods at any moment. Every coffee shop, every book store, the food co-op, even the hardware store beckoned with it’s adorableness.

3. I have heard my whole life that the West has big skies. I never knew what it meant until now. In Vermont, and in NYC for that matter, you can only see the sky just over your head. There is no horizon, thanks to huge pine trees and huger skyscrapers. When I got home, I looked up and breathed deep of dry desert air, and decided I really like seeing the sky.

4. I am capable of so much more than I realized a couple of weeks ago. During my residency I designed a six month semester for my self, studying character development in my own writing, character in literature, and how women respond to stress by bonding (especially how modern women have used writing, i.e. blogs, to bond during this economic crisis.) My adviser said I’d designed a graduate-level study plan. I’ll carry that with me for a long time. (Maybe forever.)

5. I am also capable of figuring out how to take the New York Subway system from Pen Station to the Metropolitan Museum (the C train to the Museum of Natural History and walk across Central Park) and from the Met to Brooklyn. That one took some doing, because I had to figure out two transfers. (The 4 Train, then the F train, then the G train.) I was scared. I spent the last three or four months expecting to take cabs all over, because the subway scared me so much. But I did it. I did it.

6. I am ALSO capable of spending two nights in a hostel bunkbed, sharing a room with five very young European and Asian men. Yeah. I did that, too. (I even climbed up to the top bunk my first night, with my ass inches from a window on my way up, with 8th avenue three stories below.)

7. In Vermont, when you order a Diet Pepsi in a restaurant, they bring you a tiny glassful (about a third of a 12 ounce can.) When you ask for a little more, they fill that little class 1/2 way. In New York, they bring you a slightly larger glass, charge you $2.50, and then $2.50 more when they refill it. In Nevada (and in Florida when I was there, too, for what it’s worth) when you order a Diet Pepsi, they bring you a decent sized glass for $1.50 and then refill it without being asked and without charge until you leave your table.

8. I had the best dorm room and the best roommate at the Spring 2010 Goddard residency. My room was out a door and across a beautiful courtyard from the main hall that held the computer lab, the dining room, and most of the workshops. The room was tucked under the stairs and was dubbed Harry Potter’s Dorm Room on the first day.  My roommate was a lovely, lovely woman named Moona who brought her own kimchi (kimchee? Some super stinky sauerkraut stuff) and organic raw whole milk plain yogurt to every meal and became my instant and I just know life-long bosom buddy (yes, just like Anne of Green Gables.) The best part is we were able to request a repeat next semester. That means I’m not lugging my 12-pound laptop across the country by plane, train, and taxi cab in October.

9. I had absolutely no idea that there was anyone alive who wanted other people to ask them their ‘preferred pronoun.’ Or that there is a gender-neutral pronoun (ze) that many prefer. I had no idea that I would be brave enough to ask such a question. But I was. And I did. And I learned.

10. I no longer have any doubts about dropping the whole social-worker-or-teacher debate. I may choose to do either. Hell. I’m a social worker now, and I’ve been a teacher, all without a degree in either. I am a writer. I have proven to myself that I’m capable to doing interesting and important work without spending years and thousands of dollars on a degree that I don’t want. I don’t need a Plan B anymore, but it wasn’t easy to let go of it. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I feel free.

11. When I was there, in Vermont at school and in New York on a mini-vacation, my weight was the furthest thing on my mind. My mind was upmost on my mind. My words. My thoughts. The amazing thoughts of other people. Other people’s words. Joining a debate on how to encourage the school to mark which food is gluten-free after a small group of us made ourselves sick on some vegetable stew. Getting to know a student who was the first person ever to give me concrete proof that the way I see my son and his future aren’t wishful thinking. Discussing the merits of popular fiction with a horror writer.  Dancing with my friends at the Goddard prom. Walking the wooded path to the library. Listening to student and faculty readings. All of those things mattered. The size of my ass? Not even a tiny bit. Honestly, not even for a fraction of a second. (I’ll write more about this later. But it honestly feels like an inner revolution.)

12. I love to travel and learn and grow and change. But I love to come home. There is nothing in this whole world like my own bed and pillows and shower. And my own Ruby to snuggle with before we sleep, my own husband to crawl into bed with me in the morning when he gets home from work, and those big skies overhead when I go out into my world every day.

I’m home now. And jumped straight into work. But I’m done for the week tomorrow at lunch time, and then I’m off to the races with studying for my first ‘packet’ (more later) due on May 11. It involves reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s and an essay on the Tend and Befriend strategy of stress management. Fun, huh? I can’t wait!

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I meant to write more…

I did. I swear.

I can hardly describe what this week-ish has been like. Intense. Insane. Incredible. Those are a good start, I suppose.

Today is the last full day of residency. I have a meeting after breakfast with my advising group (six students, all who have the same advisor…plus our advisor of course.) I have to nail down my study plan by five o’clock today.

Here is the thing about Goddard. I have never been in a situation before where every conversation I have or overhear is interesting. I hear snippets of someone describing their study into designing a different kind of school, or someone wanting to go deeper into understanding social justice as it regards some marginalized group–and I think me, too!

So I join a conversation. That’s so unlike me. I’m such a shy and socially awkward person in my real life. It’s why I’m more comfortable connecting with people here in impersonal internet land.

But how can I, or anyone, resist being part of a discussion about sustainable communities, or how death shapes a person? How can I resist talking to the man next to me who writes superhero comics, or the woman who is rooming down the hall who says she birthed poetry when she hit menopause?

I would defy anyone to remain in their protective shells in this atmosphere.

I have so much to tell you. So much to share. I’m so excited about my study for this semester. I’m studying character development, and also how women manage stress differently than men. And how women use writing to connect to each other, especially during times of social upset.

And! And the best part is that my little ‘zine idea? It’s going to be part of my work this semester. How cool is that?

Tomorrow we check off campus. I’m spending the day and night in Montpelier, Vermont (which is so stinking cute, I keep expecting Hansel and Gretel to come skipping around a corner and pixies to peek at me from the storybook woods).

Then I’m off on a train to New York City, where I’ll spend Saturday evening and all day Sunday. I met a wonderful woman who lives near the city who is going to spend part of the day thrift shopping with me. Then finally back to Las Vegas on a Monday morning flight, and home on Tuesday afternoon.

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Where do I start?

With the beginning I suppose.

The travel.

The flight was uneventful. I shared a three-seat row with a man from New York who lives in Las Vegas now. We both mostly slept, or watched reruns of Law and Order (me) or Southpark (him) on our little behind-the-seat mini-televisions.

I arrived in New York just when the sun was rising, even if my body did insist it was three thirty in the morning and my mind was outraged not to be lost in dreams.

This  was the view I saw out of the window just inside the airport as I came off the gate.

How do you argue with beauty like that, jet lag or not?

I had expected to take a cab to Penn Station. But then I learned it would cost $45 plus tip and toll–and a bus ticket was $15. So I bussed it. I felt like this was the beginning of my adventure. I didn’t really know what I was doing, or where I was going. The bus driver was a maniac that people were running out of crosswalks to avoid being murdered by. It was amazing. I met a couple from somewhere in Eastern Europe and a girl from Spain.

I was dropped off at Grand Central Station, where another maniac picked me up and took me to Penn Station.

Next was a three hour wait at the station for my train. I was so tired by this time that I would randomly fall asleep sitting up. But I got on the train and everything was fine. I upgraded to business class, and it was both so worth it, and so not. It was worth it because the seats were comfortable enough that I got a great sleep in one. Wide, almost too much leg room, and cushy.

Not so worth it because there was none of the comradery that I’ve found in coach class. No one talked to each other. Everyone was plugged into their own world. Plus, this train was far bouncier then any I’ve been on before. I wasn’t able to use my computer, which was the whole reason for going business class in the first place. (There are outlets at every seat.)

I ended up sitting right next to a woman from Wyoming who was also going to Goddard. So we talked some, but not a whole lot. I was getting nervous. We ended up sharing a cab to the campus, which was nice.

I met my roommate a couple of hours later, and was so happy. She’s amazing. Smart, sassy, and just all around a fabulous girl to know.

Here’s my dorm bed:

And the view from the window next to my desk:

Here’s the cafeteria at breakfast this morning:

I wish I could find words to really bring you here with me. It’s so hard. I’ve had two crazy days of travel and one incredibly full and amazing day at school. Our room is a little cubby under the stairs–like Harry Potter’s dorm room. The people here are incredibly smart and diverse and just completely fascinating.

The campus is so beautiful. I’ve never been anywhere like this, ever. It’s green and misty and mossy. It’s old, some of the buildings over 250 years old. It smells fresh and clean.

Here are some of the dorm buildings:

There’s a labrynth of boxwood:

The library is a 15 minute hike through woods:

There is beauty everywhere I look:

But the real beauty, the true magic, is the people. And the feeling that everytime I turn around another layer of assumptions I had about myself and the world around me changing. I know that probably seems like a big dramatic statement. I’ve been here one day.

But the idea that I can learn this way. That I can dig deep and dive wide, and find out things and interpret them in a way that maybe no one else has done before. That’s beyond amazing to me. It’s life changing.

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The Hard Stuff

I came across this picture today.

This girl is walking into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. She was one of nine chosen to desegregate that school. The president, Eisenhower, had to intervene so that the principal would let her in the doors.

An act that even with presidential intervention required military in the background, and that inspired at least one photographer in the foreground. As I was looking at this picture I wondered about the girls in the background. At the hatred in their faces, at the frozen words spewing from their open mouths. What brought that anger? Was it just fear of change?

It has to be more, right? I has to be more than fear of change.

Where are those white girls now? What do they feel when they see this picture? Is that level of animosity self-perpetuating–does it have to be held on to in order to avoid shame and guilt?

I was raised in the West by a leftist liberal father, and by a mother who made me swear I wouldn’t sit directly on the toilet seat at school after my class had an influx of Vietnamese refugee students. Did fear of change, or maybe fear of difference, make my mother racist? Because she was a beautiful, lovely woman otherwise. Was she taught to be the way she was?

If she lived in Arkansas in 1950 something, instead of Southern California, would that fear be aimed at black girls just trying to get to Algebra class instead of Vietnamese kids learning English at my school?

I don’t remember being angry when I went to school one day in the third grade and my class had ten new Vietnamese students. I don’t remember any real anger from any students at my school. That was  twenty-ish years after the Little Rock Nine integrated Central High School. (Think about this. Twenty years ago was 1990. The twenty years between 1957 and 1977 weren’t any longer.) Did these teenagers and their ploy to get into school change the world enough that the Vietnamese kids at my school didn’t have to fight as hard?

I’m leaving for Vermont on Tuesday. I’ve been scared. The kind of anxious scared that makes you stare at the ceiling all night. But I looked at this girl today and realized that I don’t have to be. If she was brave enough to walk through that gauntlet day after day, then I shouldn’t be scared.

No that isn’t right.

I realized that it’s okay to be scared. But it’s not okay to give in to fear.

I tell my kids, and my clients, nearly everyday to choose the hard stuff.  I try to teach them that they don’t have to always pick what’s easiest. That they are capable of the hard stuff. It’s why I didn’t let Adrienne drop her calculus class at mid-year, even though the C is bringing down her grade-point average. It’s why I don’t let Nick use autism as an excuse.

And it’s why I’m putting myself on a plane, a train, and a taxi on Tuesday. This is my hard stuff. It was easy to study my plan B. It was easy to prepare to be a social worker, in case writing doesn’t pan out. It’s incredibly hard to study something without a safety net.

I know I’ve been gone for a couple of weeks. Trying to get my head around things I guess. Trying to get things done. But I’m taking you with me to school. I’m bringing you along with me as I do my hard things.

I’m not comparing my situation to that if the little girl in that picture. I have a daughter her age, or close to it, and I’m not sure I could have been brave enough to send her into that war zone. No, I’m not comparing. I’m drawing strength. Because that girl, and eight other children, did their own very hard thing–the rest of us know it’s possible.

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