Friday, August 22, 2014

Ferguson Is Complicated and Yet So Simple

It is hard to write on current events nowadays.  There is so much noise everywhere that it feels like each of us becomes just another undecipherable voice in all of the racket.  Besides, chances are, someone has already said what you think, and said it better.  Such is the case here.  I have heard and read wonderful treatments of white privilege and unacknowledged racial injustice and am both heartened and saddened by their eloquence and passion--heartened because many people care and are fighting, saddened because we have such a long way to go.

Michael Brown reminds us--as did Treyvon Martin--that truly to address racial bias in our country, we must rethink our entire systemic structure.  It's complicated.  Our neighborhoods, prisons, education practices, public transportation, minimum wages, and laws all need over overhauling.  We need to end the unfair suspicion of young black men (inculcated into us by the narratives told by our dominant power structure) by integrating them--and all people of color--fully into society.  We whites need to listen hard and look closely for the numerous ways that all people do not enjoy the same opportunities or benefit of doubt that we take for granted, that the cards are stacked against some before they ever leave their mothers' wombs.

The problem can seem crippling, insurmountable, hopeless.  Where do we even begin? 

And yet.  

It is so simple.  We love.  We love Michael Brown and Treyvon Martin and their mamas as much as we do our own families.  We see every person of every skin color as an individual with a unique story to tell, a special gift to offer the world, a blessed creation of God.  To change systems, we must begin with individuals.  To move mountains, we first move rocks.  

We know all of this already.  I firmly believe this conviction is in all of guts, at the most fundamental levels of our being: we are made to love one another.  When we do not love each other, it is because we are afraid or do not understand, and so the solution is to get to know, especially those who are not like us, who come from different backgrounds or cultures or sides of the railroad tracks.  It can be too abstract to think about loving Michael Brown as my our son or best friend or neighbor when we live 600 miles away from Ferguson, but we can get to know someone down the street--or several miles away, or across town, or however far we must go to encounter and engage that someone.  These cannot be token relationships, allowing us to feel better about ourselves because we can each say, "Oh, I have a black friend; I'm not racist."  No, these must be relationships undergirded with respect and  dignity (nut necessarily even affection), which are the hardest but only authentic kind of relationships.   

Oh, God, help us to remember to love--to love so fiercely that when any member of our human family suffers, we feel it too.  For as long as one of us fails to thrive, our work is not done, our hearts are not yet whole.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Kitchen Hacks Learned Over My Last 1200 Hours in the Kitchen

I'm estimating on the conservative side of the spectrum, but granting that I have spent somewhere from thirty minutes to an hour in the kitchen at least four days a week over the past six years (about the time since I left my parents' nest and dorm life), I'm thinking that my guess isn't too far beyond the realm of possibility.   I haven't yet hit the 10,000 hour mark, so I cannot call myself an expert--nor do I pretend to hold a candle to those who have decades worth of cooking experience--but that doesn't mean that my skills haven't improved. It's no secret that I am a big proponent of meal planning and cooking, so I thought I would share a few tricks I learned along the way.

Eliminate Food Waste

1.  Freeze your greens.

Seriously.  I thought this sounded so strange at first, but Dan's mom turned me onto this trick.  The frozen greens are great for green smoothies, and the frozen texture is actually a boon because it makes the smoothies icy, cold, and thick.

2.  Save and freeze bread ends for breadcrumbs. 

When you have enough, thaw and pulse in your food processor.

3.  Make croutons out of stale bread.

Cut bread into cubes, bake at 400 degrees for about 10 or 15 minutes, and toss with salt, olive oil, and spices.

4.  Reimagine an ingredient's purpose.

Often a "close enough" ingredient that you do have on hand can stand in for one that you need.  A half jar of pizza sauce that has been sitting in the fridge, for instance, could be used for enchilada sauce with additions of chili powder and cumin since tomatoes and oregano are the dominant flavors.  

5.  Save guacamole by pressing plastic wrap directly onto the dip's surface.

This prevents the air from touching the surface and causing color change.

Organize Your Meal Prep

6.  Integrate lunchbox preparation into dinnertime cleanup.

Pack leftovers into containers for work and school lunchboxes as you are cleaning up and doing dishes for the meal.  There is no sense in transferring food from a larger tupperware to individual smaller tupperware containers the following morning!

7.  Set aside a few hours to prepare food for the week, or prepare food as you are cooking dinner.

Roast a bunch of vegetables and wash and chop some produce on a Sunday afternoon or while your meal is in the oven.  It takes a little upfront time, but it is always worth it.  In the long run, you save money, time, and calories.

8.  Plan your meals.

Dan and I have found that about four per week is what works for us, but again, a little upfront effort saves us headache down the line.  Make choosing meals less daunting by saving recipes and ideas as you come across them while browsing the web (services like Pinterest, Pocket, and Evernote are some of my favorites).  Then, add these links to a shared calendar so either you or your partner (or whoever shares the cooking duties) can execute the recipe.

9.  Get a garbage bowl.

If you haven't heard of this tip, you must be living under a rock.  Rachael Ray may not have invented it, but she sure put it on the map (We basically just use our compost container since most of our stuff is compostable).

Cook Faster and Better

10.  Grate your garlic.

Okay, here's another Rachael Ray hack, but it may be my favorite.  Peel your garlic cloves and then grate the clove using a Microplane.  It is much faster and safer than attempting to mince by hand.

11.  Go meatless.

You probably know by now that I am a vegan.  But did you know meatless meals are cheaper and faster 99 percent of the time?  That's because you never need to worry about anything being underdone (not life threateningly, anyway).  And what takes longer?  Roasting a pork loin or opening a can of beans?

12.  Designate salt and pepper pinch bowls.

These are not just for chefs.  Allow these bowls to live on your stovetop.  It is far more efficient to pinch the amount of seasoning you need rather than shake out granule after granule.

13.  Speed up soaking with boiling water.

If a recipe calls for you to soak beans, dried fruits, nuts, or the like for several hours, you can hurry this process along by dumping boiling water over the ingredient in question.

14.  Harden chocolate with coconut oil.

Don't buy those candy coating chocolate chips; they are full of a bunch of crappy food-like substances and don't taste nearly as good as the real thing.  Instead, add a little bit of coconut oil to your melted chocolate.  It will help the shell harden (and it makes an all-natural magic shell for ice cream too!).

15.  Freeze cookie dough before baking for super soft cookies.

If you like your cookies doughy as Dan and I do, freeze the dough first, no matter what the recipe instructs.  After a long quest for the perfect cookie, I have found that chilling the dough for at least an hour and then baking the cookies results in barely crispy outer edges and thick, gooey centers.

16.  Get a dog.

Then you never have to sweep.  Ha!  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sixteen Months Later

Last year, Dan's parents died in a plane crash, likely caused by a severe storm.  What follows are my reflections from the event and how it has changed me.  Out of respect for Dan, I asked for his permission before I shared this and leave his feelings mostly out my musings.  His response to the event is his own story to tell, not mine. 

I have decided not unthoughtfully to write about vulnerable parts of my life in a public forum because I think we tend to highlight the bright, sunny parts of our life on the internet--sometimes twisting everything to be so, even when it is not--to the exclusion of what is real.  I enjoy my share of the silly stuff too, but my world is not perfect and joyful all the time.  Thanks for exploring the less sunny side with me.

Today it has been sixteen months to the day.  We got the call on Friday night.  I had served in a funeral several hours before.  The site for the funeral was an atrium of sorts--the building had huge picture windows encompassing the entire structure--and during the service, light flooded into the room and danced off the pews and the blond hair of the deceased's grandchildren.  It was beautiful and happy, if a funeral can be that.
Later that evening, after I was safely home and Dan had finished with work, clouds overtook the sunny, clear skies and rain began pouring, so furiously so that water began seeping through our storm door.  But otherwise Dan and I were content.  We were cozy on our couch and enjoying a lazy start to the weekend, free from needing to go anywhere, free to stay sheltered from the rain and listen to its peaceful pounding.

Dan answered his phone.  He had missed a call while we were eating dinner.  His grandfather began: "Dan, I'm afraid I have some bad news."

*        *        *

People say that the busy-ness right after a death absorbs you, and I found that to be true.  We had to retrieve his parents' cars--one was in the shop, and one was at a small airport (we did not know which ariport and visited two before finding the correct one) and plan a family funeral, a public memorial service, and a commemorative military ceremony.  We had to move all of their belongings out of their house on the Ft. McNair base quickly, since the house was needed by another family.  We had to begin settling the estate, making sure that we uncovered every bank account and insurance policy, that we cancelled every credit card and magazine subscription.  We were doing, doing.  We did not have much time or space for thinking.  That was okay by us.

*        *        *

Grief did catch up with us (as it always does), but my grief was of course much different than Dan's.  My grief was for Dan's sake, not my own.  I never did know Joe and Sue very well and could not miss them as I would my own parents or dear friends.  They were good, kind, big-hearted people, but because Dan and I were still young in our marriage, they had not yet made a significant imprint on my life, which helped me to appreciate all the more how much they had a firm hold on Dan.  Dan and I were--still are, I suppose--still babies, adjusting to being married and beginning a family unit of our own.  Not that he would have loved his parents less as he grew older, but he would have become less dependent on them, less shaped by them, less beholden to them--and more committed to our marriage.  We were in the process of leaving and cleaving.  Joe's and Sue's deaths sped it along.

*        *         *

My soul aches for what never was and never will be.  Dan's parents would have delighted in Dan's promotion to captain, far more than I could, because they know the military world so much better and understand fully what it means.  Dan's dad would have teased and encouraged Dan as Dan tackled home improvements, good-naturedly pointing out every flaw and misstep while beaming with pride.  Both Joe and Sue would have pressured us to spend every holiday with them, like all parents of grown children are wont to do, and given us grief those times that we declined.  That was how it was supposed to be.

My thoughts often drift to the mundane, which is somehow more painful than the realizations that our future children will only ever have and know one set of grandparents and that we will never spend a Christmas with Joe and Sue ever again.  These revelations catch me by surprise, when my guard is down.   I think about how I do not have any funny in-law stories to share anymore, how I cannot commiserate with friends about what a pain my husband's parents can be.  When I search the Facebook site, I occasionally see Joe Brown pop up in the search engine, and I marvel at how strange it is that social media pages survive human bodies (Dan and his sister opted not to delete their parents' accounts so that they could have access to all of the pictures and messages of support that the pages have recorded).   Instances when Dan and I spend money for professional help rather than attempting to do a task ourselves, I hear Joe and Sue's comments in the back of my head (The two were incredibly frugal and almost never hired a job out).

Time lessens the sting of these memories and imaginings, so that they now, more often than not, evoke in Dan and me a smile or a laugh rather than pangs of sadness.  But I am not sure that any amount of time will make all of the pangs go away, or that I would want them all to be gone.  Loss is still loss, and my husband and his sister lost decades with their parents.   At the end of the day, they are just children who miss their mom and dad.