Friday, January 16, 2009

Great Joy Today

Pilot hailed for "Hudson Miracle"

"The pilot of an airliner that ditched in New York's Hudson River has been hailed a hero after all 155 passengers and crew were rescued."

All 155 Escape Jet's Plunge Into the Hudson

"A US Airways jetliner with 155 people aboard lost power in both engines, possibly from striking birds, after taking off from La Guardia Airport on Thursday afternoon. The pilot ditched in the icy Hudson River and all on board were rescued by a flotilla of converging ferries and emergency boats, the authorities said.

What might have been a catastrophe in New York — one that evoked the feel if not the scale of the Sept. 11 attack — was averted by a pilot’s quick thinking and deft maneuvers, and by the nearness of rescue boats, a combination that witnesses and officials called miraculous."

I am so joyful at how this story turned out. I am so joyful and grateful that everyone survived and there was no structural damage to the city. I'm also glad I wasn't in the city yesterday to experience that traffic nightmare!!

Yay!!!!!

Pasta makes for Easy and Quick Dinners

There are some nights when I just don't have the energy, time or will to be in the kitchen for hours making elaborate, plan-ahead meals. Pasta dishes are my stand-by dishes because they are generally quick and easy to prepare. Here are three of my favorite pasta dishes: Quick and Easy Tomato Pasta with Vegetarian Sausage, Quick and Easy Tofu Balls in Doctored Up Pasta Sauce, and Quick and Easy Lasagna.

1. Quick and Easy Tomato Pasta & "Sausage"
I came up with the recipe when 2 summers ago we were part of a food co-op. We would get tons of the most delicious tomatoes you ever did taste as well as peppers and garlic. Sometimes I really couldn't figure out what to do with all that stuff. This dish can use as much tomatoes as you can stand to chop.

Ingredients
1 onion diced
3 cloves garlic minced
1 green pepper diced
extra virgin olive oil
oregano, basil, thyme, red pepper flakes
4-5 fairly large tomatoes or 1 large can diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen smoked tomatoes)--or as many tomatoes as you can stand
2 Italian "sausage" links (can be Field Roast Italian or Tofurkey Italian sausage) cut into small pieces or make your own Spicy Italian Vegetarian Sausage* chopped
sun-dried tomatoes
sweet corn (frozen)
broccoli (frozen)
spiral pasta (about 2 cups dry)
1/4 cup minced parsley

Directions
Put water on to boil. Boil pasta till firm (not too soft). In a pan, brown the chopped vegetarian sausage in about 2 tbsps. of oil. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a towel-lined plate to drain. Saute onions in remaining oil (you may need to add a touch more oil) until translucent. Add garlic and green peppers till peppers soften a bit. Add about 1 tsp. of each spice and saute till fragrant. Add tomatoes and cook until tomatoes break down a bit. Once tomatoes have let out a lot of their juice, add the corn and broccoli and cook till they've defrosted. Cut up sun-dried tomatoes into really small pieces and add to the pan. Turn off the heat. Drain pasta. Add lightly browned "sausage" to the pan. Add the drained pasta. Toss everything together well. Add salt to taste. Top with fresh minced parsley.

*I make my own sausage at home. It's very simple once you get the hang of it. The recipe makes 8 and since we don't really eat them a lot, I freeze half and keep half in the fridge.

2. Quick and Easy Tofu Balls (adapted from Tofu Cookery by Louise Hagler)
These tofu balls are great on top of pasta but they also make a great sandwich or finger food. Play with the spices to make a curry tofu balls or chili-powder/cumin tofu balls.

Ingredients

1 lb tofu
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/8 cup dried parsley or 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder or 4 cloves fresh garlic
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp oregano
1 tsp veggie broth powder (I use the one from Vogue Cuisine as it's the only brand without MSG)
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Preheat oven to 350. Place all ingredients in food processor and process until the mixture makes one solid ball (see picture). Form the mixture into 1" balls. Lightly spray all the balls with olive oil.* Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes turning after every 10 minutes.
*I have a Misto oil sprayer which allows me to use any oil as a cooking spray. I just fill the bottle with the oil of my choice and use like Pam or any other commercial cooking spray.

Doctored Up Pasta Sauce
Tofu Spaghetti Balls go very well with Doctored Up Pasta Sauce. Doctored Up Pasta Sauce is basically store bought sauce that I "treat". Here's what I do.

You'll need:

One jar of store-bought pasta sauce (I use Trader Joe's Basil Tomato Marinara Sauce--you don't want something too spicy)
one large onion, diced
4-5 cloves of garlic minced
one red pepper diced
one green pepper diced
one zucchini diced
5-6 white mushrooms diced
1/2 tsp each dried oregano, thyme, basil, red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes (or 2-3 tomatoes)
2-3 large plum tomatoes
dash sea salt
dash sugar or maple syrup
1 cup minced fresh kale (optional)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley or 1/8 cup dried parsley (optional)

Directions:
Put water on to boil. Boil pasta till firm (not too soft) and then drain. Saute up the onions for about 2 mins then add the garlic. Stir for 1 minute. Add peppers and spices. Saute 1 minute. Add mushrooms, zucchini, fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, salt and sugar. Simmer about 10 minutes. Turn off heat. Add kale and parsley.*
*The addition of kale and parsley is an excellent way to get greens into little people (and big people) who have an aversion to greens.

Serve over freshly cooked whole-wheat or multi-grain pasta with Tofu Balls on top. Also, Doctored Up Pasta Sauce is good with tempeh sausage crumbles sprinkled on top (I don't like the crumbles mixed into the sauce and it muddies the flavor of the sauce).


3. Quick and Easy Lasagne

You'll need:
4 cups (about 1 jar) store-bought pasta sauce or Doctored Up Pasta Sauce
bunch of fresh spinach or fresh basil
1 box lasagna pasta cooked until al dente

Ricotta Style Filling (from Tofu Cookery by Louise Hagler)
1 1/2 lbs. firm tofu
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tsp. dried basil or 2 tbsp. fresh chopped basil
2 tsp. honey (sub maple syrup)
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic or 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Run through the food processor till it reaches the consistency of ricotta cheese.

"Meat" filling
1 pkg. Lightlife veggie ground round
1 onion chopped
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt to taste

Saute onions in olive oil till translucent. Add seasonings. Add ground round and saute until lightly browned, adding salt to taste.

To make the lasagne:
Lightly spray 9x13" pan and start making layers
pasta
ricotta filling
"meat filling"
fresh spinach or basil
tomato sauce

Cover with foil. Bake at 350F for about 30 mins.

Admittedly, I don't make this often anymore since we don't eat processed soy anymore. You could easily substitute the veggie ground round for ground seitan or even the ground Italian gluten sausages or tempeh sausage crumbles.
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These are three relatively quick and easy meals that everyone in my family likes (even Z2 although he likes everything) and looks forward to. With some help from the store (not too much), I can prepare a meal even if I haven't soaked beans overnight or cooked brown rice in the rice cooker.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What does a mother of Black boys do in the face of police brutality?

Everyone is talking about the latest killing of a Black man by law enforcement officers.

As a little girl, my mother told me if I ever got lost to find another mother (someone with kids) and tell her that I was lost. She never told me to find a cop. I will never tell my children to find a cop. My experience has been that cops don't lend much protection when it's needed. They often wield their power, beating red lights just because they can. Now, I know that they are necessary to maintain peace and order in a society where there is so much imbalance. And if a serious crime were committed against me or my family, I'd probably seek the help of the police. If they'd help or not, I'm not sure.

Anyway, as a mother of Black boys, the killing of Oscar Grant reminds me that I have a lot to teach them about navigating this world where they are never viewed in a positive light; where as men they will often be thought of as oversexed and criminally inclined. Now, I won't jump on any bandwagons to lament the killing of Oscar Grant (mainly because I'm tired of jumping on these bandwagons--it doesn't make any real difference as they just keep on a-killing). We all know that the killing was wrong and that justice should be served. We know that life is not valued--especially the lives of young Black men-- and we should never stop fighting to make sure the value of life is recognized and appreciated. I personally can't think of anything more devastating than losing a child and my heart goes out to those that loved Mr. Grant. But for me, spending too much time focusing on Mr. Grant's killer, the system and on the whole story is not healthy. It makes me feel anxious and sometimes powerless. I have to stay off that bandwagon.

See, I can't change how the world takes on my boys but I can certainly influence how my boys take on the world. Therein lies my power as mother. I think to myself that the hubby is in his mid-30s and has never so much as been stopped by cops except for a busted taillight. Somehow he has managed to stay out of the way of racist cops and I'm glad my sons have him as an example. When I think of what I will tell them, these things come to mind:
  1. Don't act the fool in public. Be disciplined with your emotions. Do not act out in anger or frustration. Do not fight or be otherwise involved in altercations in public. It doesn't matter if people are trying to punk you. You can't be punked if you are not a punk. Any aggressive act can and often will be misconstrued. Including kicking your own car when you realize you have a flat tire. We are not in control of anything outside of ourselves. So you'd better be in damned good control
  2. Be respectful. Say good morning, please and thank you. Go out of your way to show you are not a threat. Do not go too far though. More than anything, you must be true to yourself.
  3. Know where you are/who you are with. If you notice you are the "other," be extra vigilant. The "other" is usually an easy target/scapegoat.
  4. Walk with the knowledge of your history. In America, there is a plan in action to eliminate Black men. Know that.
They will sometimes feel like their freedom is being encroached upon. But ain't nobody really free, my beloveds. Even the oppressor is not free because he is a slave to his oppression.

I know that there's no guarantee that my sons will not be targeted. They could do everything "right" and still. But I can make sure I equip them as best as I can. Teach them: you can be authentically you while still being cognizant of where you are and how those around you see you. Teach them: true freedom can really only be found in the mind.

Meanwhile, stay alive. And as physically free as you can be, considering.

Getting back into my knitting

I have a soft spot for crochet as the first needlecraft I learned so I feel a bit treacherous admitting that I like to knit just as much if not more. I tend to enjoy knitting more than crochet because the motion is a lot more fluid and easier on the wrists. Crochet is faster though and so I'm usually motivated to move through a crochet project with more gusto. The gratification is more immediate. Crochet yields finished objects (FOs) that are strong and durable. Knitting, in my opinion, results in FOs that have more movement and are a bit more delicate. I think crochet lends itself well to blankets and hats whereas knitting is more suited to sweaters, socks and gloves--garments that need to be very light and flexible to accomodate the body's movement.

Anyway and in any case, I haven't been doing either really consistently but I decided to get back into my knitting (and crochet). Z2 is at the age now where he can move around fairly easily which means that I can sit down on the couch while watching both of them play. I have to do a fair amount of refereeing though which means that the projects I do while the boys are awake have to be pretty straightforward or else I mess up tremendously. If a project requires me to be tied to the pattern or requires a lot of intricate stitches, I have to save it for when they're asleep.

So I've been working on the sweater for Emma (I decided on Swing Thing and may even try to tackle the simple embroidery), Z1's friend he met at the playground. I started on December 29 and hope to be finished by the second week in February at least. I've almost finished the yoke and the knitting is going smoothly. I'm enjoying it a lot. I would take a picture to show the progress but my camera is really on its last leg. I have to really do quite a lot of gymnastics to transfer the pictures to the computer which often keeps me from bothering. I'll try to get a picture up soon though.

You know, when I first started knitting, I was overwhelmed by the amount of implements I had to buy to complete projects. To make a hat or any other small diameter FO, you need to use double pointed needles (DPNs)











("DP Needle Holder" by HomemadeOriginals on Flickr)

or start with a 16" circular needle and then switch to DPNs






(Image from http://www.modernknitting.co.uk/images/needles_addi_circular_metal.JPG)

or learn the magic loop technique which uses a long circular needle











(Image from https://www.shopitm.com/photo/image/7203/full/PBRY-FT-MAGICLOOP.jpg)

With crochet, you just crochet a loop and make what you need to make!!! That's it. Have hook, have yarn, will make whatever strikes my fancy!! So for a long time, knitting did not appeal to me--too much stuff to get.

But as I grow to appreciate knitting, I grow to appreciate how good quality implements (needles and yarn) make the craft all the more worthwhile. I made some Ebay missteps when it came to knitting needles and purchased a lot of circular bamboo needles (3 different cord lengths) from a seller in China for $20 all told. They are okay but not great. Especially the 16" needles whose actual needle (the bamboo part) is so short as to make knitting with them uncomfortable (it cramps my hands). I've actually considered (and am still considering) buying the KnitPicks 16" fixed circulars because of it. All the sizes I need would run me about $40. The lesson to me is to buy quality needles even if they cost more because they will be with you for a long time. In trying to save money initially, I purchased a Denise Interchangeable Needle set. Although for a new knitter they were great: no running out everytime I wanted to start a new project to get the requisite needles. Nowadays, it is the *last* thing I go to when I want to knit. The joins come apart and I'm just impressed by how sub-par the set it. There's a new set out now called KnitPicks Options but there is no 16" cord option which means I would still like to buy a set of 16" fixed needles (or continue to use the ones I currently have) or resign myself to using the longest Options cord to do magic loop. I don't hate magic loop per se but it's a bit too fussy. I like to just knit. The Options are a beautiful set though that any knitter would love having. I've actually looked at them and touched them at one of my knitting circles and they are dreamy. I haven't heard a single complaint from a knitter yet.

Oh, and I'm not completely writing Ebay off for needles either because you can get Addis (which folks swear by) for a couple of cents cheaper (check the shipping and handling always) and I managed to get a nice set of bamboo double pointed needles for $20. They're smooth, long, and quality.

As much as I can acknowledge the importance of quality implements, I also have to acknowledge that just like any other hobby, knitting can get expensive if you don't watch it. The Options set is $75. It's hard to justify that expense when you have other serviceable needles that do the job. But knitting is really about the implements. I've seen folks make their own needles using dowels from the hardware store and I'm thinking about that too. I know I'd enjoy that self-sufficiency and I'd definitely enjoy how little I'd have to spend on needles. All you need, really, is a Knit Chek to figure out the various sizes. Right now, though, I'm trying hard to carve out time just to knit. And so far I'm doing an okay job. If I can complete eight projects this year, I'd be happy. Next on the agenda are Clessidra socks after which I will be knitting my first Clapotis for my good friend who graduated recently.

For me, it's always a balancing act to do all the things I love to do (in a budget friendly way, of course). Knit, crochet, read, write. I sometimes have to take a step back and see which one is being neglected. When I do, I can get back into it and re-realize why I love it in the first place.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Change is the Only Constant

When you study evolution and ecology, you learn the phrase "survival of the fittest" and all that means is that if a species successfully changes or adapts itself to handle a certain environmental challenge, it does not go extinct. For us, being fit means being willing to change not only our way of living completely but also our way of thinking, as I've said before.

Pretty much everyone can (or should) sense that things are changing right now. Even if you don't buy into the peak oil theory or if you believe that what the U.S. is facing right now is just a recession, a mere "bump in the road" on the way to continued "riding high" in terms of the American way of life, life as we know it is changing. What determines whether or no we make it though, is our ability to adapt.

(I stay far away from over-reading the news . . . but of course, unless you live under a rock somewhere, you've heard of the conflict going on right now between Israel and Palestine. I don't take sides except the side of innocent children on every side. I just want to scream, "Stop the bullshit already!" Think of yourselves as the image of God. This way of thinking just doesn't work anymore and will surely lead to extinction.)

But I digress. So this morning I'm getting dressed and I am thinking about how cold it is. I live in an old house. The house might not even have initially been hooked up with heaters at all. It's cold in here and I want to be warm. So I pull out long johns of all kinds, wool sweaters . . . but as I'm getting ready to get dressed, it strikes me. If I put on all this stuff inside the house, it won't really help much when I get outside. The high today is 15 degrees with a windchill of -6.

I started thinking about adaptability. We dress in layers to face the cold outside, put on coats, hats and gloves. But adaptability doesn't always mean adding stuff to or putting stuff on. Sometimes we have to induce the body to get used to certain things . . . to learn to handle them. Now, I'm not saying we get used to freezing temperatures but every once in a while, it might do us some good to step outside for one or two minutes in the freezing cold without any extra stuff. Feel it. Process it.

Since having kids (and subsequently adding a little extra padding), I really hate packing on clothes to go outside because it limits my mobility. I usually am juggling kids, diaper bags, toys, books, groceries, etc. So, I find myself dealing with the extreme cold covered in less so that I can do more things more efficiently. And recently I've found that on days when folks are whimpering about how deathly cold it is outside, I'm saying to myself, "Hey, it's not that bad."

I remember a story my sistren told me about a group of indigenous people in Australia who the White explorers hired to show them the terrain. It would get to upwards of 105 degrees during the day and plummet to 30 degrees at night. The indigenous folks didn't flinch and seemed comfortable at any temperature without adding or taking away from their minimal amount of clothing. They had adapted fabulously to the climate, slowing up metabolism and dropping body temperature in the day whiled speeding things up internally during the cold nights. The White explorers, on the other hand, did not have the extra equipment they were accustomed to using to deal with extreme temperatures. They were at a distinct disadvantage (and of course, fascinated by the brown folks).

The point of this post is this: change is a-coming, we know that. It was coming long before Obama said so. It doesn't hurt us to think about ways that we can adapt that don't include putting on/acquiring/getting more stuff. The key to peak oil is not electric cars but returning to a walking lifestyle. The key to weathering the weather is not always packing on more stuff, getting more high-tech clothes but it's training the body to be nimble, flexible and adaptable. I'm not suggesting we all throw out our winter gear but let's every once in a while remind our bodies and ourselves that our survival is based on our ability to adapt. Physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Change is the only constant.

Photo Credit Cold Weather Gear by mbgriby on Flickr

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pizza: A labor of love and good eats!!

So a reader of mine (thanks to all my readers) sent me an e-mail about making pizza. Now, in our house, pizza is perhaps the most favorite of all foods. Before I got married, there was a spot in the city where you could get vegan pizza but it was not the greatest. I settled for it. A few months ago, I decided to give it a try here at home. And with fabulous results.

Now, I'm not going to front. Pizza making is classified as an "advanced technique" not because it's hard but because it takes practice. The first few times I attempted pizza, it was not pretty. At all. So here I'm going to give a step-by-step tutorial about making your own homemade pizza and encourage you: pizza making can be challenging at first (especially if you're unfamiliar with yeasted doughs or dough in general), but it is well, well worth the time and effort!

Before I start, I'm going to recommend some equipment, namely a pizza stone. You can pick one up at any home goods store. The pizza stone, I have found, is the key to really fantastic pizza. It helps to cook the dough all the way through and makes it crispy. When I went to Bed, Bath and Beyond, I was able to find a pizza making set which included the pizza stone, a pizza peel, pizza cutter and a carrying rack for the stone for about $14. It was the last one. With my 25% coupon, I walked out of there with the whole set for $10. Not bad (although there was a guy also shopping for a pizza stone that looked like he was going to try to beat me down to get the one I was holding--all the others were considerably more pricey but didn't seem to be much different). A pizza stone, when used properly will last for years and years.

Anyway, first step for pizza making is perhaps the most tricky: the pizza dough. The recipe I use is the one that came with my Kitchenaid Mixer. You could do this by hand if you don't have a mixer. For every minute in the mixer, it would be about 4 or 5 mins by hand. Find the original recipe here. I've modified it just a little (and stopped at step 7):

Pizza Dough

Ingredients
1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 1/2-3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
4 teaspoons sugar
Directions
1. Dissolve yeast in warm water in warmed bowl
2. Add salt, olive oil and 2 1/2 cups flour
3. Attach bowl and dough hook, turn to speed 2 and mix 1 minute
4. Continuing on speed 2, add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough clings to dough hook and cleans sides of bowl. Knead on speed 2 for 2 minutes.
(**THE TRICK IS TO MAKE SURE THAT THE DOUGH IS NOT TOO WET!!!***)
5.
Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top.
6. Cover, let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour).
7. Punch dough down.

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Put the pizza stone in the oven and turn the oven up as high as it will go. Crank it all the way up!! Let it preheat for about 10-15 minutes. *
Do not put the cool pizza stone in a hot oven or it will crack.

Next, you're going to spread your pizza peel or cutting board with coarse cornmeal and roll out your dough using a floured rolling pin. *I only use half of the dough to make a 10" pizza--I like the crust be thin. If you like a thicker crust or want a bigger pizza in diameter, go ahead and roll out all the dough. If you want to get jiggy with it, you can try to spead your dough the way real pizza makers do--I'm not that brave. I roll it out to about 1/2" thick. Anyway, it is important to make sure that your dough can freely slide around your rolling surface.

Add your pizza sauce. You can google and come up with tons of pizza sauce recipes. Basically it will be tomato sauce, garlic, onions and Italian spices. You can also buy ready made pizza sauce r use ready-made pasta sauce. You don't want gobs of sauce . . . a little goes a very long way.

Then for the toppings. This is the part where you can get most creative but remember: *THE TRICK IS TO MAKE SURE THAT THE DOUGH IS NOT TOO WET!!!*** and that your dough can freely slide around your rolling surface. That means you must limit how much you put on top of this dough even though I myself have gotten carried away. Most of the time, I like to use the tempeh sausage crumbles recipe and I saute some onions (sweet red onions are fabulous), garlic, red and green peppers-- that's it. Again, you really don't want to overdo your toppings because you don't want the dough to be so wet or heavy that it doesn't come off your cutting board or pizza peel easily. Trust me, I've been standing there 'nuff times with the pizza peel in one hand, oven open, trying to shimmy the pizza onto the stone and it just will.not.move. Anywhere. So I'm scraping and just trying to keep some semblance of a pizza look.

Anyway, so once you've got everything on top, open your *blazing* oven and transfer the pizza from the cutting board to the peel. You might need a spatula to help it move off but it should not need much help at all. Bake it for 10 mins or until the crust is nice and brown. Take it out (pizza stone and all and set it down on a heat proof surface or cooling rack). Try to keep your people from burning fingers and mouths trying to eat too hot pizza! I know Z1 is all about the pizza--he is never seated at the table as quickly or as enthusiastically as on pizza night. Let the pizza cool down a bit then cut with a nice, sharp pizza cutter. If you put enough cornmeal on your rolling surface then the pizza should not stick to the pizza stone. In the beginning stages of pizza making, I'd put some cornmeal down on the stone too just to make sure it didn't stick. It wouldn't stick but we'd be crunching down on cornmeal. Definitely not good eats!

The pizza is gone in literally 10 minutes. We love it. It took a whole lot of trying just to get up the hill of fantastic pizza making, to be sure. But now it's almost effortless and I don't really need a special ocassion to make it either. Sometimes I make extra dough and freeze it. I always make a lot of sauce and store it in a glass mason jar in the fridge. Sometimes I make extra tempeh sausage crumbles. Because they are spicy, they keep well.

***NB--A word about the pizza stone. The pizza stone is porous like cast iron. You do *not* want to clean it with anything more than than warm water. You do not even want to immerse it in water. Just scrape it down (a stiff silicone spatula works well for this), brush it off and wipe it down. It will get stained and darker over time. But don't use soap or anything else to clean it because it will get down into the stone's pores and flavor your future pizzas. My stained and dark pizza stone irks me because it's stained and dark. My inclination is to bust id down with soap and peroxide. But I just suck it up. It doesn't have to be pretty to make excellent pizza.
Pictured is last night's pizza. Not the neatest or most round pizza but delicious nonetheless. (Notice the pizza stone: oil stains and dark spots--don't worry about it!)

You can experiment with toppings and all that. Have fun!! But the key is a nice dough that's not too wet or heavy with toppings.

I wanted to add that if you just do not want to go through the hassle of making pizza dough, you have options! Many finer grocery stores sell pizza dough (just the raw ball) in the refrigerated or freezer section. You just roll it out, top with sauce and toppings and you're good to go. Alternatively, you can go to you favorite pizzeria and just purchase the raw dough. Many places are now using unbleached white flour not only because it's more wholesome but also because it just tastes better.

There is nothing like homemade pizza. Well worth the time and effort.

Ahhh . . . Pizza! A labor (no kidding!!) of love but wonderfully, fabulously good eats!!

We are 5 years old now!

"Love and Marriage" by Hammer 51012 on Flickr.com
We made 5 years of marriage today. I remember five years ago, on an extremely cold and icy day, we went on down to the justice of the peace and made it official. In these five years, through many challenges and many joys, I have grown more deeply in love with the hubby. Some folks were betting that we wouldn't make it this long but we are still going strong. In this relationship, I have grown by leaps and bounds. The hubby has given me the space to evolve, heal, grow and learn. I think the challenge of being married in your 20s is that you still have a lot of growing up to do. If the hubby were not who he is, it's difficult to say if we'd still be together. But he has loved me through confusion, tears, frustration, realizations both good and bad. I didn't come into this marriage knowing or loving myself completely. Sometimes, I don't even know how I stumbled into marrying such a phenomenal guy. I did learn one thing that I never forget: always follow your gut. I couldn't place a finger on why the attraction was so powerful but I know now . . . this relationship is a safe space, the vehicle through which I've become more authentically, healthily, wholly me. It was divinely ordained. And so I'm so blessed today to be celebrating.

Marriage is togetherness but it is also separateness.

Of course, Kahlil Gibran had something to say (I just re-read The Prophet this weekend so bear with me):

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow

I can't imagine life without my beloved. I don't want to. But the most important relationship, the most important marriage is my marriage to myself. It can never end in death or divorce. I will always, always be with me. The most powerful lesson I am meditating on today is that by working on myself, loving myself, fully and completely accepting myself, I am able to give more to my beloved and more to this relationship.

Baby, I love building with you. Love being with you. Love you.

Here's to many, many more blissful years.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Every Black Woman Has a Hair Story . . .

. . . that left her with a distinct impression of her hair as either good (easy to care for, manageable) or bad (unruly, coarse, tough, unmanageable). Of course, the hair issue has been discussed time and time again. There are books and documentaries all over that discuss the complexities of Black hair. Hair is so many things: political, personal and fashion statements. Sometimes trendy and sometimes classic. Hair is problematic in that even when a woman is not trying to make any kind of statement with her hair, she is. If you want to suggest that Michelle Obama is a militant or a terrorist of some sort, picture her with an afro. Many would argue that since Black hair in it's natural state is such a statement, dreadlocks and afros are not acceptable in the professional setting where personal statements of any kind of frowned upon and assimilation is prized.

I read an excellent and highly-recommended book called Hair Story : Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps. The most significant thing I gleaned from that book is that taking care of our own natural hair is indeed a lost art. I wondered as I read the book, "Were all those days of hot combs, pulling, blow drying, tears and pain simply a result of not knowing how to care for my hair?" Was caring for my hair really as simple as say baking bread (another art that is considered lost) except that I just did not have a memory of how to do it? When I hear women complain that their natural hair is "too hard to care for" and "takes too much time to deal with," I wonder if it's really just because we have forgotten how.

Hair Story posits that hair has always been extremely important to Black people and that before slavery and colonialism, we spent much time and gave much attention to what was on top of our heads. Hair care was an art form. Even the combs that we used were specially carved and the hairdresser was a crucial and essential part of traditional African society. It's not a new thing that Black people still pay so much attention to their hair although the dynamic has certainly changed. Slave catchers knew one of the best ways to break the spirit of the enslaved African was to shave off his or her carefully coiffed hair, take away her comb and oils and other styling implements. The slave catcher knew how important hair was to Black people so beyond this act of physical violence, they also instituted a psychological campaign of violence against Black hair and indeed all things uniquely Black. We as a people internalized all of that. The generally accepted standard of beauty has never included uniquely Black attributes and so we've spent so much time, energy and money trying to change those attributes. The argument is sometimes that we change ourselves to try to be more White. I think we know on a base level that we can't be White. But we can try to change those things that make us unequivocally Black. From this stems the whole idea that less kinky hair is better hair and that straighter noses are better noses and the whole brown paper bag test. Growing up, being mixed or "part-Indian" was a mark of pride no because of being proud of one's who heritage but because it meant that you weren't 100%
Black straight, no chaser.

We spend millions of dollars every year to alter our natural hair either through chemical treatments, heat treatments or weaves.
There are thousands of style options especially with the advent of the weave and dreadlocks becoming more and more acceptable, Black women are free to wear any style they like. To be sure, every Black woman has the absolute right to wear her hair however she sees fit.

But I often wonder how things would be different if the standard of beauty included or rather was typically Black features. If the "norm" were kinky hair that grows up and not down, wide noses, etc. I like to question why women decide to wear their hair the way they do. I like to know the reasons behind their style choices. Some women never think too deeply about their hair choices, asking themselves why they make the choices they do. I find, though, that most women who have decided to wear their hair in it's natural state (no heat or chemicals), have in most cases thought about their hair and what they do to it very deeply. That's not to say that they've all come to the same conclusions but I find that a woman wearing her hair naturally is generally more conscious of the personal, historical and social ramifications of her hair style and walks in that consciousness.

A while back on a message board I'm on, the question was asked: Do some people bring a "permie" mentality to dreadlocks? In other words, do some people approach this natural style in the same way they approach a perm. My answer was no. That even if one did start dreadlocks with a desire to see them "perfect", i.e. lying down flat and staying just so, being perfect width, height, having the perfect coil, etc . . . they would soon realize that when Black hair is in it's natural state, there is no way to get it to be perfect in that sense. By it's nature, Black hair does what it does (and therein lies its true perfection) so a person trying to achieve perfect dreadlocks would soon either cut them off or accept them for what they are. Now, that doesn't mean that folks with dreadlocks who've accepted the nature of their hair are anti-styling and anti-grooming. Just that they know that no amount of styling and grooming will change their hair. Just like no amount of exercise will change my height. My hair and my height are inherently perfect because, I believe, the creator made them that way. I can twist or braid my hair or wear high heels to change what it is temporarily, but I should and have embraced the perfection of me. And that's not some vain idea of perfection either. It's the realization that everything is in divine perfect order.

But how do we get along in a society that says that our hair just in it's natural unheated, chemical-free state is a political statement of aggression? Unprofessional? Disorderly? Ugly. I've heard sisters say before that when they went from natural to relaxed they found that men paid them more attention. But is it the chicken before the egg conundrum? Is it that as a natural there is a sense that she is not as pretty, not at chic and so therefore her confidence is lacking or is not as pronounced and ebullient as when she's rocking it straight? Or is it truly that straight hair is just better, prettier in the eyes of most, especially to ourselves as Black women? [I find myself asking that question too . . . when I notice how pretty a woman looks and I realize that I never noticed until her hair was permed or she was wearing a weave. I feel annoyed when I am thinking, "Oh, she looks cuter what that (straight) style than with her afro. Why do I think that?] It was pointed out to me that it's not only Black women who alter their hair--that all races of women do. But it is only Black women who are constantly inundated with the message that they must change their hair in order to even be considered amongst the ranks of the truly beautiful. I've watched celebrity after celebrity go from rocking some natural style and being called "Earthy" to rocking a straight look and being called "Sophisticated". Natural and sophisticated are terms that are not used simultaneously to describe women.
There is indeed a psychological assault on Black women that says natural is just not the best and most attractive way to be.

Many women have rejected that message and you are more apt to find clear examples of extremely confident and beautiful women who wear their hair naturally. I am working on that. I've said before that keeping a close cut has in a way forced the confidence out of me--in a way that wearing locks, braids, and twists never did. When people ask, "Oh, why did you do that?" or "Why did you cut all your hair off?", you had better find that confidence somewhere or else your response will be all mealy-mouthed and apologetic. You energy simply sinks. This style option, which I sometimes feel is an imposed style option for me, takes confidence and has again made me look closely at what I value about hair.


Many women have rejected that message and are extremely confident and beautiful women who wear weaves and relaxers consciously as style options
, simply and purely . Not because they don't like what their unheated, unprocessed hair looks like. Not because it's too hard to deal with, too consuming, just don't want to be bothered or takes too much effort. But too many women, in my opinion, have embraced that negative message and the weave is the marker of self-rejection.

I'm not a militant natural in that I want everyone to wear their hair in it's natural state. Again, I want women to be free to be women and express that however they want to, to wear their hair in ways that flatter them and emphasize their beauty. But I also wish every woman would examine the reasons behind why they do things. Of course, I know in our society people don't really like to think too hard or too outside of the box. We are encouraged not to. But I think for Black women, who drive the entire hair industry, that would be a worthwhile ideal. Maybe we'd find ways to keep that money in our own pockets.

I'm glad that my own hair story has reached an end where I know that no chemicals or heat will touch my hair again. I'm not anti extensions (although the hubby adamantly is)--I think it does give freedom to change up a style. But I'm 100% content with what grows out of my head. That is my own personal peace.

My hope is that every woman can make peace with what grows out of her head. Loving it. Embracing it. Calling it names that uplift. Manageable. Soft. Touchable. Cooperative. Easy to care for. Beautiful.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Peace within the Home: Gentle Discipline

I knew from the minute I found out that I was pregnant with Z1 that I wanted to do things completely differently from how my parents did things with me. I wanted to honor my children's spirits not try to break them. Of course, I know my parents did the best that they could with what they had so I don't hold anything against them. Plus, I realize that I am most certainly the person I am today because of who they are and my experiences.

My credo for how I approach raising my children comes from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It is called "On Children"

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, "Speak to us of Children."
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I keep these few lines in the back of my mind all the time in hopes that it will shape how I interact with and treat my children.

If there's one thing I didn't anticipate before having children was the level of commitment, energy and time they require as I've said before. Children are not half-people. They are people within their own right. They have thoughts, opinions, feelings and preferences. Unlike most adults, however, they are highly egocentric, which means that they don't really understand (or care) how people outside of themselves feel. As such, they can be demanding, impatient, unreasonable, unsympathetic and generally unpleasant at times. I know that I feel frustrated a lot of times dealing with Z1 because he has a strong will, i.e. is very determined to do what he is going to do. It makes little to no sense to try to reason with him when his mind is set on something. The only way to break his focus is to change his focus or redirect him. Now, my challenge has been finding effective redirections and doing it consistently. Sometimes I have resorted to yelling. Other times, shamefully, I have resorted to hitting.

Which brings me around to the point of this post: Peace within the home. For the past few months I have been meditating on cultivating more patience, more discipline, more creativity in dealing with Z1, and more peace generally speaking in my home. I have been working very very hard to eliminate yelling and any kind of hitting (violence) from the relationship dynamic between Z1 and me. I know I need more resources and supportto help me because it is a *very difficult challenge*. At times, he will do things meant to hurt his brother. Throw things across the room after I've specifically asked him not to. I know all this behavior is age appropriate however it is still infuriating and sometimes the behavior needs to stop immediately. Since I don't feel like I have a very big resource box to work with of practical tips and advice, I feel paralyzed at times about what to do. All I know to do is what I've been shown myself--hitting and yelling. But I feel positively awful when those become my way of dealing with my beloved. So I've been working.

One book I found with some tips that I've been incorporating is The Secret of Parenting by Anthony E. Wolf. Although the book seems geared more towards older children, I've found some useful information about how children think and would recommend it. More than that though, with every challenging situation I am presented with, I take a minute to . . . think. If it's not an emergency situation where someone can get hurt, it doesn't hurt to stop, take a minute, breathe, and think of creative ways to diffuse the situation, let Z1 maintain his autonomy and pride, while giving me an outcome I want (him doing what I need him to do or stopping what I need him to stop) and creating peace. In that minute I am able to ask myself, "What is the harm if he continues?" "What if the harm if he doesn't stop?" "What can I do to re-focus him?" "How can I turn this into a game?" Every day I do a little better. My friend told me that it takes human beings 21 days of consistently doing something to establish it as a habit.

I'm not parenting the boys alone and herein is often another source of frustration. I often stay away from message boards about gentle discipline (gd) although I did venture to ask a few questions (read how I phrased my question). I got some decent advice and I'm going to re-read the thread at some point today. The hubby does not have a problem with spanking, in fact, he credits spanking with why he is the man of substance and character he is today. He maintains that his father spanked him in a controlled fashion meant to correct and to teach and to this day does not think of his father (or himself) as violent. On gd boards they'd tell me to take my kids and leave. But I know that the hubby would lay down his life for his boys, without a doubt. he loves them without question and wants the best for them But when I try to make our house a "hitting free zone," the hubby feels like I am encroaching on his right to parent effectively. It makes me anxious sometimes when Z1 is "misbehaving" because I feel under pressure to change the behavior or fix the situation before his father shows up. (I'm being completely honest.) Spanking of anyone, especially my beloved, makes me cringe. I hate it. But no amount of reasoning or explanation seems to change the hubby's mind about it. And no, it's not often at all. But I wasn't spanked often as a child either. I still remember the times when I was and I have grown to feel it is not effective, spiritually in-tune or evolved as a form of discipline. To me, it just shows an unwillingness to respect another human being and try to find ways to work him or her. I *know* children are not adults. If you tell an adult to stop swinging from the curtain--well, adults generally don't swing from curtains. At least not while sober.

But I spend the most time with the children so I have purposed to become so good at disciplining gently that the hubby will find spanking less and less appealing. I am committed to reading as much as I can and meditating every day on it--to making the relationship between Z1 and me a good example of a non-violent, cooperative, give and take, child-parent relationship.

Of course, this means letting go of the need for things to always be perfect. For Z1 to comply RIGHT NOW all the time. And some folks may take this to mean my children are spoiled or undisciplined. Actually, when dealing with Black folks, they may feel like I'm raising them to be like the White kids you can find at Target telling their parents "I don't like you!" and "Leave me alone!" or else generally raising hell. I know very well that this society tolerates different behaviors from different people: my Black boys simply cannot behave the way their White counterparts do. But these lessons, I believe, can be taught without raising a hand, gently. It seems like my ideas about gentle discipline, however, are looked at as not having a strong hand and letting my kids do whatever they want. I sometimes get that vibe from the hubby himself you know, that I'm not strict enough. However, the real message behind all that is that only kind of discipline that is real discipline is spanking. That what really works is violence. And to me, it's simply not true.

For me, the key to gently discipling my children is to understand their minds and needs. Sometimes, children need a minute to settle their mind. I find that one of the most challenging times of day is after dinner when we have tea and "watch" Wheel of Fortune. I spend most of that time speaking to Z1, then yelling Z1 to stop some infuriating behavior (which is why I put watch in quotes). So that routine will have to change as it riles him up too much. I'm also going to borrow some yoga DVDs for children. It helps to still the body and I am finding immense benefits just from the little bit of yoga that I've been doing for the past week. I used to do a candle meditation with Z1 before Z2 was born and I'd like to go back to that. That quiets everything down before bed and I think gives Z1 a more restful sleep. One of the most important keys to children's behavior is how well-rested they are. And so in this whole quest to have peace in my gates, I know that is something that will have to be a major focus.

I don't want fear or intimidation to be a part of our family dynamic but I won't focus on what I don't want. Instead I focus on what I do want. I want my home to be a peaceful, safe, liberating space for my children to grow and blossom into who they are supposed to be. A place to begin finding the meaning and purpose of their lives. Gentle discipline, i.e. discipline that doesn't employ shaming, yelling, hitting is a large part of that.

The best gifts . . .

. . . are the ones that are not expected.

A while back I mentioned that I wanted a Coach wristlet. And I got it as a gift for my birthday about a week ago. I could hardly believe it. I had actually filed that want away almost permanently and then surprise!! I was cheesing all day when I got it and I wear it all the time everywhere I go. It is so incredibly functional--I didn't even realize how functional. It stays securely on my wrist while I juggle carrying Z2, holding Z1's hand, the diaper bag and whatever else I'm trying to hold.

Anyway, I'm so grateful.

(Thanks Nya!!)
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