Friday, May 29, 2015

Simple Summer Healthier Approach to Eating

I am surrounded by many people who are trying to get back to healthier eating patterns as summer sets in.  I am too.

I am surprised by how much dietary information, the basics, just does not change.  We know what to do:

--eat more plant-based foods
--eat moderately
--limit processed foods
--stay away from traditional fast food--by which I mean anything fried in those industrial vats
--in restaurants, also stay away from those fried and crispy offerings
--stay hydrated, which can include more than water:  tea, coffee, moderate amounts of wine!
--eat ever more plant-based foods

With all the information that's out there, I'm surprised by how much a lot of people don't know.  It's not enough to know the calorie content of food; the carb content is less important than many people think.  We should think in terms of nutritional value--what foods give us the most nutrients for the calories?

We can have a salad made of iceberg lettuce or a salad made of romaine lettuce.  Iceberg gives us no nutrients.  The romaine salad will give us at least half of the vitamin A that we need in a day.

Several weeks ago, I made a pumpkin pudding--that's pumpkin pie filling baked in a pie pan without a crust.  It's delicious and packed with vitamin A and has some protein and the sugar content is moderate.  I told a friend about it, and she said, "I just think of food in terms of the category."

I said, "So you'd classify what I made as dessert and not eat it?"

She nodded.  And depending on what else she eats during the day, that approach might work.  But there are lots of desserts in that category that would be worth the calories--like a berry crumble, made with oats.

I have nutrition on the brain too, because NPR has been covering the Blue Zones research.  The Blue Zones are places where people live to be a healthy old age.  Here, too, the news does not surprise me.  But it is interesting how some of these foods have been in and out of favor through the years.  For example, the research suggests that eating 2 oz. of nuts each day might add 2-4 years to a healthy life.  I remember years when many people were avoiding nuts because of their fat.

Likewise, I've had people tell me I shouldn't eat carrots because they've got too much sugar.  They may have more sugar than broccoli.  But that's fine with me, because they also have lots of vitamin A and fiber.

One suggestion from the Blue Zone coverage was to eat a half a cup of beans each day: I can't find the quote, but one researcher said that most of the nutrients that you need for the day are contained in that half cup of beans. I tried doing that with lots of success back around 1996.   I wonder if I could do it again . . .

When I first considered it, two decades ago, I worried that I couldn't find many ways to enjoy beans.  But all I need is one or two ways.  I ate a lot of veggie stews with beans.  And I cooked a pot of barley and a pot of lentils and combined them with a bit of olive oil, feta cheese, and rosemary/basil/oregano/any spices which appeal.  For awhile, I had a berry smoothie in the morning, a scoop of lentils and barley for lunch, and a sensible dinner.  At that time, I wasn't drinking alcohol, but I was worried about my sweet tea consumption--ah, my wayward youth!

It will not surprise you that I was at my lowest weight of my adult life during that time period.

So here's my summer sensible eating plan.  I will eat my plain yogurt/thawed frozen raspberry/oats/pecans mix once a day.  I will eat a scoop of barley and lentils or some other half cup of beans each day or some other mix that will give me roughly half a cup of beans (you can find good recipes here and here).  I will cut up a cantaloupe and a small watermelon each week and eat as much as I want each day.  If I can do that, I suspect the rest will take care of itself. 

But when we get to Bastille Day, I'll reassess.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Love in the Time of Sea Level Rise

Before I go any further, a reassurance for my South Florida friends.  I am not moving.  I am not even thinking about moving.  I have a full-time job here and a house I love here and it's in a great location and I've waited a long time for this house in this location--and so I am not moving.

But any of us who live here, especially those of us who have bought houses here, must keep a wary eye towards the sea.  Once it was just hurricanes, and at least we could see those coming.  But now, sea level rise threatens us in all sorts of ways.

It's not just the rising water levels that may swamp us.  Long before the sea swallows our landscape, we will have to deal with salt water intrusion into our fresh water supplies.

If I had lots of money, I'd be buying/building plants that take salt water and turns it into fresh water.  I'd be the queen of the desalinization industry because I got in at the bottom of the market back in 2015.  Alas, I am not that kind of entrepreneur.

And before we run out of water to drink, we may not be able to insure our homes.  I have this issue on the brain because this is the week we've been getting our bills for insurance for the coming year.  I pay a mortgage, so I don't have to pay the bills directly--but they are staggering:  over $3000 a year for flood, and over $8000 a year for windstorm.  Still to come:  the regular home owner's insurance.

In the early 90's, when I lived 25 miles inland from the South Carolina coast, I paid $300 a year for insurance that would cover the total cost of a rebuild should disaster strike--we weren't covered for flood, however.

I have moved to a high-risk area, and if I owned an insurance company, I'd charge a lot of money to cover South Floridians too.  This post is not one where I will whine about my high rates.

I do want to note a shift, however.  In past years, when we've gotten these envelopes of doom from the insurance company, I've said, "How much longer can we afford to live here?"

It was a rhetorical question, but my spouse always answered, "We can afford it at least another year."  And we did, and we have.

It's a Zen practice, in a way.  We live in the moment.  I doubt that's what the Buddha had in mind.

When my spouse says we haven't saved enough for retirement, I think about how we might not be able to travel, the way my parents do.  Lately, it occurs to me that much of my retirement savings will go towards housing insurance.

Last night, when I opened the envelopes of doom, it was my spouse who said, "We can't afford this much longer."

I was the one who said, "We can afford it for another year."

I love this house and this location.  Happily, if we need to, we have options to cover the increased costs.  We may not be able to do this for decades, but we can last a bit longer.

And an even happier possibility, this blog post says that NOAA says that the pattern of more active, more destructive Atlantic hurricane seasons that started in 1995 might be over.

And yes, I realize that even in a less active time period, hurricanes that decimate communities can occur:  Andrew in 1992 and Hugo in 1989.

So, though I think of myself as a non-risk taker when it comes to being an entrepreneur, perhaps I do have a bit of that spirit.  I'm betting on mild hurricane seasons and continuing to dodge the occasional bullet.  I'm betting that the ocean will repossess my house around the time when I can no longer live here anyway (or better yet, when I'm dead).

My stupidest bet:  that local governments will figure out how to deal with sea level rise.  But history shows that humans do figure it out.  If I've figured out that desalinization plants are a way to make money, I'm sure that others have too--and some of them will have access to money and will proceed.

And maybe, just maybe, if the risk of living here decreases, my insurance rates will too.

But even if they don't, my spouse and I will figure out how to make a way through difficult circumstances.  It's the first time we've both been happy to be living in a place, after all.  I'd like to enjoy that for a time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

In Praise of Poetry Notebooks and Legal Pads

It's been awhile since I've typed poems into the computer.  I usually write my rough drafts on a purple legal pad.  As I've said before,I used to type them and then put the legal pad in a drawer.  Lately, for the past half decade or more, I've just been putting the pad in the drawer as I finish without typing any poems or sending them out into the world. 

But when do I return to them?

In February of 2014, while at Mepkin Abbey, I looked through various legal pads and typed the poems that needed to be in my book-length manuscript revision.  In fact, that's usually why I return to the legal pads.  I can't remember the last time that I typed poems without a larger project in mind.

But that's what I've been doing for the past week.  Let me record my insights.

--I've said it before, but it bears repeating.  I read the poems and can see the thread of the lectionary readings that tinge my metaphors.  Or is it just because those words are always lurking in my subconscious?  Bones, breath, ash, beads, water, wine, flame, stars:  some future grad student can weave a dissertation around these words.

--I am also inspired by science:  stuff I'm reading, stuff I'm hearing on NPR, and more rarely, stuff I see on PBS TV specials.  What will a future grad student make of these threads?  Will it be hard for that future grad student to reconcile the poet who's informed by science with the poet who uses the language of liturgy and the Bible?

--Dave Bonta's blog, where I find the poems that Luisa A. Igloria writes each day, inspires me quite often too. At one point, she wrote a series of poems about the Buddha, who went to a therapist and the dentist, who moved through modern daily life in a variety of ways.  Inspired by her work, I wrote a few more of my Jesus in the world poems.  I named the one about Jesus at the yoga class "Son Salutations."

--I go through the legal pads and often only find a poem that's worthy of being typed into the computer once or twice per legal pad.  Most legal pads cover 6 months of writing.  One or two per six months?  Really?

--But occasionally, there are bursts, poem after poem that takes my breath away.  I'm typing much of the legal pad into the computer.  Almost every poem written in a 6 month period seems worthy of being sent out into the world.  Is it cyclical?  Could I do something to trigger those bursts so that they happen more often?  Or should I just be grateful that they come at all?

--I'm usually working with legal pads from the past few years.  I rarely go back further.  I wonder if future Kristin would find something in the notebooks that present Kristin has rejected. 

--I've read many a how-to-write book, and so many suggest going back through old notebooks, claiming rejected lines, making something new.  I almost never do that, once the legal pad has gone into the drawer.  I wonder if I should?

--So far, though, I'm not seeing many abandoned lines which suggest anything new.  Perhaps I vaguely recall where I was headed with an idea, and so it's hard to come at it from a different angle.  But I suspect something darker, for me as a writer:  if a poem turns out to be stillborn, or half-formed, or malformed, there's not much use mangling it further.

--I'm happy to report that I leaf through old notebooks, and I'm pleased with my life's work as a poet.  And I'm intensely curious to see where I head next.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Almost Perfect Balance

I have had such a perfect stretch of balanced days that I almost hesitate to mention it.  I have this vision of wrathful gods turning around and saying, "Wait, we didn't notice you down in that corner of the U.S.  How dare you have that kind of balance?  We simply cannot allow that."

I've been having the kind of writing days when I both create new work and send "finished" work out into the world.  As I've been doing that work, I've also done the administrative and online teaching work that pays the bills.  It hasn't left me too exhausted--I'm always grateful for those kinds of work days. 

I've been eating enough fruits and veggies most days and getting enough sleep.  I have good books to read.  During my recent vacation in April, I read Jane Smiley's Some Luck, which is the first book in a trilogy; on Friday, I checked out the second book in the trilogy, hot off the press, from our local library.  It's wonderful too.

I've done some quilting.  I got great deals on quilting materials that we'll need for Vacation Bible School.  Some home repair issues weren't as difficult as I'd feared.

Of course, even a perfect week, like my past week, has imperfect moments.  My left eye gets red and irritated and goopy/crusty; it's an allergic reaction, and it only happens in my left eye.  When it's not flaring up, I have hopes that it's gone forever.

For the past week, it's been in full flare-up mode, which is not only unattractive, but slightly painful.  Sigh.  And I have the aches and pains in my feet and hands that make me wonder if arthritis is in my future.

And let me mention yesterday's lunch experience.  We had bought baby back ribs and planned to grill.   We got off to a great start.  I peeled potatoes and put the slices in a pot of water--mashed potatoes on the way.

Well, I let the pot boil dry, but managed to salvage some of the potatoes.  But when I tried to make mashed potatoes, they turned into a lumpy mess of glue.  Sigh.

Worse, when my spouse opened the grill, we saw flaming racks of ribs.  We were able to get a few pieces of meat, but most of the ribs were scorched to inedibility.

We rarely ruin a meal so thoroughly.  So that's something to be grateful for.

And we had invited our down-the-street neighbors, who just had a baby.  But they decided it was too early for an outing.  So at least we didn't ruin their meal too.

I think of the Amish theory of quilt making.  Amish quilters always intentionally make a mistake.  After all, only God can create perfection.

In a stretch of perfect days, I'm grateful that the imperfections are so small.  The flaming ribs didn't set anything else on fire.  Our health is mostly good.  Our houses hold together.

I know the stretch of perfect days will end:  in July, I'm scheduled to teach more online classes, which will tilt parts of my life off balance again.  Happily, they're classes I look forward to teaching, so the tip won't be too severe.

That's always the hope.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Winds of Memorial Day

The wind has howled all night, as we have moved from Pentecost to Memorial Day.  I woke up with a vague unease, as I often do on Memorial Day.

Is it because of Memorial Day?   Even though my dad was in the Air Force, and then the Air Force reserve, for most of my life, I, like many Americans, have felt some ambivalence about the military. I have some trouble reconciling my religious beliefs which tend towards pacifism, to the necessity for military protection. There have been times in my lifetime where I've thought, at last, we're moving towards a world that won't need military action. And then the world launches into a new form of barbarism.
It is impossible not to realize the cost of war.  There's the money, of course, and the death of soldiers.  We may forget the other costs:  the families of military members, the injured veterans, the civilians damaged in so many ways, peace of all kinds shattered.

So, on this day which has become for so many of us just an excuse to have a barbecue, let us pause to reflect and remember.  If we're safe right now, let us spend a moment in gratitude.  Let us remember that we've still got lots of military people serving in dangerous places.  And recent events have reminded me that the world we feel is safe can quickly dissolve into conflict and war.

Oh so quickly.

Today, I'd like to be at a national monument, listening to one of the service bands perform. Or maybe I'd rather be in a contemplative spot, saying a thank you.  Or maybe something more festive.  I miss the small town parades; I know that my college town of Newberry, South Carolina will be celebrating in ways that remind me of the 1950's.  Now, I no longer know the stories of my neighbors.  I don't know whose great great grandfather/uncle served in which ways.

Now I live in a place that feels more like a future U.S., where English isn't the dominant language, where there are more recent arrivals than people with ancestors buried in the soil. Most days, I'm cool with this, and invigorated by it.

But today, I feel uneasy.  Part of it is the wind.  I've lived in states in the U.S. South where this kind of wind portends a fiercer wind later, as the heat has time to build to storms.

Part of my unease is how invisible the military feels to so many people today.  Once, all of my schoolmates had relatives, often a father, who had served in the military.  Now I find that I'm often the only one.  Growing up, I chafed a bit under the expectations of military family discipline.  Now I find myself thinking we might all be better if national service was required.

In his lecture several weeks ago, David Brooks responded to a question about the value of national service.  He said, "A kid from Connecticut living with a kid from Birmingham living with a kid from Cody, Wyoming--that would be valuable in many ways."

We've become a more stratified society in so many ways, and not just the economic ways that often trigger handwringing.  More and more, most of us tend to meet people just like us.  Maybe that's the source of my unease.

But most likely my unease comes from this day to honor the dead--while realizing that we are far from a world where we can beat our swords into ploughshares and practice war no more.

So, let me return to a valuable practice.  Let me pray to the One who has more power than I do in these matters.

A prayer I wrote for Memorial Day (see the end of this post) could also make a good poem.  Let me try some transformation.

The wind howls on this Memorial Day, as if the souls
lost to war have come to claim our attention.  The howls echo
the moaning of those who celebrate this day not by a grill
but beside a grave. 

At least those souls have graves.  On this day, how many honor
the bodies fertilizing foreign soil?  Civil War soldiers sewed
addresses of loved ones onto their uniforms in the hopes
that they would be remembered.

On this day after Pentecost, we welcome
visions of a day when soldiers have no jobs
to do.  We dream of the time when we beat
all our military metals
into instruments of peace.

This poem is different than the prayer I wrote for Memorial Day:

God of comfort, on this Memorial Day, we remember those souls whom we have lost to war.  We pray for those who mourn.  We pray for military members who have died and been forgotten.  We pray for all those sites where human blood has soaked the soil.  God of Peace, on this Memorial Day, please renew in us the determination to be peacemakers.  On this Memorial Day,we offer a prayer of hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Terrorist's HR Files

I have spent much of the week-end with my thoughts circling round and round on various subjects.  Some of those subjects will not surprise you:  how wonderful it is to have a 3 day week-end, how can I eat more fruits and veggies, which book should I read now/next, how did I get myself into this writing tangle and how shall I get myself out, do those clouds portend rain later . . .

But here's what you might not expect.  I find myself thinking about Osama Bin Ladin's documents and files that were recently released. I heard about some of the items released on Friday's edition of The Diane Rehm Show which covers international news. 

You may have heard about his bookshelf; I had heard bits and pieces about what he had been reading, and nothing surprised me.  Apparently he read lots of books about politics and industrialized countries, particularly in the U.S.

I wondered if he read any fiction or any theology or any poetry.  If so, no one has noted it.  I thought about the strange places where my books might go.  Would I be mortified if a book I wrote wound up on a terrorist's bookshelf?  Or would I feel like somehow I had failed in my essential message?  Or is it ridiculous to think that way at all?

I've dreamt of having a book of mine adopted for a "Community Reads" event or a first year University 101 class at a university--lots of book sales there!  But what if Osama Bin Laden had ordered hundreds of copies of one of my chapbooks?  What if one terrorist cell had said, "Hey, read this poem!  I don't think we have to blow up buildings to affect change!  Let's feed the hungry instead."  And then another could have said, "Hey, I know what would really drive the U.S. crazy--let's help all those folks fleeing repressive regimes south of the U.S.  Let's create an underground railroad to resettle them in the U.S."

I know, I know, it's ridiculous to think this way. 

But what's really captured my imagination is Bin Ladin's HR files.  Commenter Greg Myre calls it "the universality of bureaucracy."   He said,  "You saw some very odd stuff in the application, such as, you know, if you are martyred, whom should we contact?"

An application to be a terrorist?  Now there would be an interesting mock application to create!

And there were expense reports.  I was both comforted and saddened to realize that not even terrorists are free from the tyranny of spreadsheets.  It's a different kind of martyrdom.

I keep thinking of assessment and rubrics.  I have this vision of a rubric to assess the effectiveness of various terrorist strategies.  In the current climate, I would not dare to write this kind of satire--well, I would, if I felt strongly enough about it.  But I spend quite enough time with spreadsheets and rubrics and assessment reports.

I shall, however, create a poem in the terrorist leader's voice.  It might start this way:

"From the distance of several continents, I can destroy
buildings.   . . .

Perhaps it will end in this way:

"Now I am become death, destroyer
of worlds.  Even the destroyer of worlds must balance
the books."

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Spinning a Title

--I've been working on getting my proposal for my memoir/book of essays ready to send to agents.  It occurs to me that I should settle on a title.

--My memoir looks at trying to balance my life as a creative person, my life as an administrator at a for-profit school, and my life as a church going Lutheran.  For a long time, I was loving the title "Monk or Marxist."

--Last summer, when I brainstormed book titles with a group of creative friends, however, they didn't like that title. I wrote about the experience in a blog post.  My friends came up with a different title:  "It's Hard to Be a Goddess in the Corporate World.  One of us thought that was too long and voted for Goddess in the Corporate World."

--But I'm not really a goddess.  And to me, that's a different book.  I would pick it  up expecting a book about pagan spirituality.  Or maybe something fluffier, like make-up, hair, and fashion tips for women with corporate jobs.

--Gods of Corporate Academe?

--Let me take a classic approach to titling a book; let me look at chapter titles.  Here are some which seem possible:
       --Incubating the Improbable (probably too many big words for a catchy title?)
      --Ministries of Interruptions
      --Mac and Cheese Eucharist (would people expect a motherhood memoir?)
     --Setting Sail in Tiny Boats

--Of those title possibilities, I'm pulled to Ministries of Interruptions.  It's clear and it gives a sense of the book.  The words are familiar.  I would pick up that book and read it.

--Would others be pulled to that title?

--Over the week-end, I'll flip through the manuscript and see if anything leaps out at me.  And soon I'm off to spin class.  I often get solutions when I'm spinning away in the dark.

--Spinning in the Dark.  Now there's a title!  A title for a different book, alas.