Friday, April 29, 2011

The Lullaby League

Every night before I tuck Westley in, I sing him one song. It used to be three songs, but when stories and snacks and tooth-brushing and pajama-ing, started taking longer - as in, my kid is three and wants to do everything himself - some of the singing had to go. Which is just as well, really, since I'm not much of a singer.

I tend to default to "Sesame Street" songs. They're short, simple, and make me pleasantly nostalgic for my own, Muppet-filled childhood. "Dance Myself to Sleep" is kind of an obvious choice for bedtime, and when Westley was going through his Oscar the Grouch everything phase, I'd sing "I Love Trash." But my favorite, by far, is "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon." It took me months before I could sing it without getting a little teary:


If I don't go in to Westley's room with a song in mind, I'll ask, "What song would you like to hear?" His answer is always the same: Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance." Sixteen months later, Westley is still not tired of this song. Sometimes he even joins in on the "rah-rah"s.

Every once in a while, when I ask Westley what I should sing, he says, "I don't know." Often he's too tired to make a decision, but I think sometimes he's hoping I'll suggest "Bad Romance." When Westley doesn't choose, I ask Rob for song input. And I almost always get a request for some Elton John. "Rocket Man" and "Crocodile Rock" are popular choices. But if Westley's go-to lullaby is "Bad Romance," Rob's is "Your Song":


I do sing other things occasionally, when I'm feeling inspired - Queen, Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul and Mary, Raffi - and I'm thinking of writing up a list of songs and taping it to Westley's bookshelf to jog my foggy memory at bedtime. I'm also giving myself the project of learning a few more songs, but I don't know where to start. Probably because I can't imagine finding anything that could take the place of Lady Gaga in Westley's little monster heart.

.....................................

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Film Festival: 'The Iron Giant'

"Is this going to be my 'geekification'?" I wondered aloud when Rob revealed his choice for movie night: The Iron Giant.

"I thought it would give you something to write about."

And it certainly would have, if Slant hadn't already said everything I would say much better than I could possibly say it.

The Iron Giant is not the geeks-only fare I imagined it would be. Yes, an enormous, possibly-from-space, possibly alive (in the Short Circuit sense of the word) metal man fits pretty seamlessly into my partner's beloved fantastical science-fiction genre. And it's certainly an interesting film to watch now, 12 years after its release, with a retro-future aesthetic zooming through the zeitgeist. But I was also reminded of the Gothic novel. The titular Iron Giant is a Cold War version of the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Technology, secrecy, monsters, and the idea of dangerous knowledge are all pervasive themes in The Iron Giant. What I find most interesting, however - besides the literary parallels - is the film's anti-gun message. The Giant becomes hostile in the presence of any gun. At the sight of a hunting rifle, the Giant's eyes turn red - the sci-fi shorthand for "This robot will totally fucking kill you." But, as the film's nine-year-old hero reminds the Giant, "It's bad to kill. Guns kill. And you don't have to be a gun." Notably, however, for a film with what seems to be such a strong anti-gun (and by extension, anti-war) position, the military is presented as rational, and even sympathetic. The villain of the piece is a power-hungry civilian who throws his weight around via super-secret government agency credentials.

* * *
Other fun things about The Iron Giant:
  • The film is produced in CinemaScope, a popular widescreen format in the late 1950s.
  • The Giant was created using CGI, while the human characters are traditional cell animation. In this way, the medium itself - animation - supports both the Giant's "otherness" and contributes to the film's retro-future look and feel.
  • The ending totally makes Rob cry. Because he's adorable.
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Monday, April 25, 2011

Fertile-Minded

Egg

I don't remember how I ended up reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility. My wedding dress was still warm, and while I wanted to have children soon, having my IUD removed before giving it proper test-drive seemed wrong. I was also pretty happy with the IUD at the time, so how I ended up researching natural methods of birth control remains a mystery to me.

Anyway, Taking Charge of Your Fertility rocks. Having read it, I feel like Dorothy in her ruby slippers: You mean this information about my body was here all along and no one told me?! We should totally be teaching kids - male and female - about cervical mucus when we introduce the rest of the this-is-what-happens-to-your-body stuff. I mean, how nice to know that what you're looking at is just an indication that fertility hormones are doing their thing, and not, say, a vaginal infection! The menstrual cycle is about more than just bleeding and tired PMS jokes, and the public deserves to know the truth!

Or maybe I just like Taking Charge because I like taking charge I'm nosy...even about myself. I'm body-curious. A bathroom looky-loo. Adding cervical fluid (and cervical position, and basal body temperature, and so on) gives me more to check out.

All that to say...

My fertility signals seem to be coming back! Woooooo! Par-tay!


I've finally stopped spotting after what seemed like months. (Wait. Was it actually months? No. Not possible More like a month. But as anyone who has ever been pregnant or waiting for her period knows, weeks in fertility time quadruple in length.) After a few days of ever-so-slightly heavier bleeding - which might very well have been the shortest, lightest period ever - my body seems to be sending its normal "Congratulations, You're Ovulating!" card.

To answer The Question: No, we're not "trying" - mostly because I feel like an idiot talking about "trying to get pregnant." And no, we're not using any birth control. So there's that.


So I'm feeling pretty good, like some of the post-miscarriage healing is setting in. And just as I'm starting to feel more like a person and less like a walking downer, the most fascinating thing happened: Out of the blue, Westley started talking about babies.

"Mommy, when you have an udder baby, I will tell it all about Wall-E."

He's been noticing them, too. Practically every time we go somewhere, I hear, "Aw, Mommy, wook at dat cute baaaybeee!" And last week, Westley asked me to read to him from It's So Amazing, a book we haven't touched for weeks. I'm often alarmed by just how on my wavelength that kid can be.

But in this case, I guess it means he's recovering too.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Beside the Lake




















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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Post-Kid Kitchen: Soy to the Girl

Rice Pasta, Veggies, Tofu, Pesto

My soy sensitivity isn't as clear-cut as my gluten intolerance. If I eat a piece of whole wheat bread, I notice. But one, two, even three servings of soy won't upset my system enough that I take note of it. Consequently, I'm not always as diligent as I should be when it comes to avoiding soy. But then I'll start to feel bad "out of nowhere," and upon further reflection realize that I had a lot of soy over the past week.

After holding myself to a six-week super-strict gluten-free, soy-free vegan existence (and feeling pretty healthy but really missing tofu), I decided to experiment with adding a leetle bit of soy back into my diet. Limiting my servings of soy to two a week seems to work well. It's nice to have slightly more variety in my diet, and I feel more like a "normal vegan," chowing down on tofu stir-fry.

Stir-fry(ing)

I know, I know: you don't really need a recipe for stir-fry. But I will never forget an incident that happened when Rob and I were first married wherein I made a delicious (dare I say gourmet?) shrimp-and-red-cabbage stir-fry one night...and could never make it again, because the recipe was lost or forgotten or there never was a recipe to begin with. I continued to mourn that stir-fry long after going vegan.

So. Here's my family's current favorite stir-fry. It's not gourmet, but it is veggie-ful, super-healthy, and comes together in a snap. (And the leftovers reheat surprisingly well.)

Stir-fry

Tofu-Cabbage Stir-Fry
Serves 4

1/2 large head of green cabbage, chopped
1 large onion, sliced
canola or olive oil spray (I have this oil mister and I adore it! It's one of my most-used kitchen gadgets.)
14 oz. firm tofu, drained and cubed (or 2 cups cooked chickpeas)
2 cups peas
about 10 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp arrowroot powder
1 Tbsp low sodium gluten-free tamari (or coconut aminos)
1/4 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder or 1/4 tsp garlic powder and 1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 5 oz. can water chestnuts, drained, liquid reserved

Spray a large covered pan or wok with oil. Saute the cabbage and onion over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the tofu, peas, and mushrooms. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the arrowroot powder, tamari, seasonings, and 3 tablespoons of water chestnut liquid. When the mushrooms are cooked to your liking, add the sauce mixture and water chestnuts to the pan and mix well. Cook a few minutes more, until the sauce has thickened slightly. Serve over rice.

As I experiment with eating soy regularly, I find myself gravitating towards simple recipes, where the soy element (usually tofu or tempeh in my house) is optional. The following pasta dish would be equally delicious with white beans or chickpeas instead of the broiled tofu.

I'll also admit to being something of a lazy cook this past week; this is one of those super-simple, I-don't-want-to-think-about-dinner dishes.

Rice Pasta, Veggies, Tofu, Pesto

Busy Weeknight I-don't-want-to-think-about-Dinner Pesto Pasta
Serves 4

14 oz. firm tofu, cubed
canola or olive oil spray
1 pound mixed vegetables (I used celery, red bell peppers, asparagus, and broccoli. If you really don't want to think about dinner, frozen mixed vegetables will do just fine here.)
8 oz. rice fusilli
1/2 cup vegan pesto (I used the recipe from Joanna Vaught's Yellow Rose Recipes, substituting walnuts for the pine nuts)

Preheat the oven to broil. Start your water heating to blanch the vegetables and cook the pasta. (So as to think less about dinner, we're going to crib off of the Rice Fusilli with Vegetables recipe from last week.)

Spray your favorite cast iron pan or baking sheet with oil. Add the tofu and spray again. The goal is to get a teeny bit of oil on all sides of the tofu cubes. (You could do this by putting the tofu cubes in a bowl with about a teaspoon of oil and tossing with your hands, but you're feeling lazy and don't want to think about dinner, remember?) Broil the tofu for 10 minutes. Toss it around with a heat-proof spatula, and broil for 5 to 10 minutes more, depending on your preferred level of golden-brown crispiness.

Meanwhile, cut the vegetables into bite-size pieces and blanch them for a few minutes. Drain and set aside. Cook the pasta according to package directions. (If you didn't start with your pesto already made, whip it up while the pasta is cooking.) Top each serving of pasta with vegetables, tofu, and pesto. You're done! Stop thinking about dinner!

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Film Festival: 'Amélie'

"You could write a whole paper on just the credit sequence!"

Amélie had barely started, and we'd already paused the movie twice to break down shots, and were engaged in a mini-argument over the foreshadowing in the intro. Rob argued that many of the activities we see six-year-old Amélie engage in during the credit sequence demonstrate her patience. He suggested we were supposed to understand Amélie as being characterized by a willingness to spend a long time building up something with a relatively short payoff (arranging dominoes, placing a raspberry on each finger before eating them). I argued that we were in fact seeing Amélie's strangeness, as represented by her tendency to use objects in ways they wouldn't normally be used (painting eyes and a nose on her chin, playing a wineglass, hanging cherries from her ear).

Watching the sequence again, and without the added influence of a glass or two of Cabernet Sauvignon, I see that we were both right.


I'm sure there is a cohesive paper to be written about Amélie's opening credits; here's a shot-by-shot analysis to get things started:

Amélie's credit sequence feels like a film within a film. It's over-cranked, giving it an old-movie quality. The film speed practically says, "Once upon a time..." The sequence also features the jerky, handheld movement of a home movie, suggesting that the images we're seeing (and the story that follows) are especially personal. The handheld camerawork is also a nod to the camera belonging to the "Glass Man," and foreshadows the home video that shapes the film's climax.

As the opening credits begin, we see fingers come in from the bottom of the frame to arrange the letters - and then "tweak" them, so they're just so. This is a film about arranging things (lives), and the "homemade" quality of the arrangements is important. Furthermore, touching (with hands, but also metaphorically) is fundamental to this story.

From hands arranging cut-out letters, we cut to a close-up of a young girl's hands as she interlaces her fingers and an performs a simple trick. Adult Amélie plays tricks, but they're closer to this childhood finger-play (basic magic) than mean-spirited practical jokes.

A shot of six-year-old Amélie, upside down, with a face painted on her chin follows. This is both playful and a suggestion that Amélie's world-view is unconventional. In the next shot, little Amélie presses her face and hands to a pane of glass. Is she an outsider looking in? This is another example of the importance of touch to the story; Amélie cannot touch or be touched behind her glass barrier. (Glass is also connected to Amélie's neighbor the "Glass Man," who has to be extremely careful about touching because of his brittle bone condition.)

Amélie with cherries hanging from her ear shows us Amélie's unconventional world-view again - using a common object in an unexpected way - while also connecting her to food (nourishing, nurturing).

Amélie knocks down an S-curve of dominoes, the first of many chain-reactions she causes or participates in over the course of the film. It's noteworthy that this chain-reaction is caused by Amélie's hand, continuing with the touch theme. And to further cement the importance of hands and touching, we have the following shot: Amélie's hand, decorated with eyes and a mouth. Amélie's touch, represented by her hand, is a character in the film.

In the next shot, Amélie plays a wineglass. Under her finger, a common household object becomes a musical instrument. (I don't know what to make of the fact that the water - is it water? - in the glass is green.) Next, we see another glass, but this time from Amélie's point-of-view. Milk disappears up a straw and off camera: more food, more simple tricks.

Hands in close-up unfold a chain of red paper dolls. The cut-outs themselves are holding hands. Once again, we see the theme of touch, as well as Amélie's influence over other people's lives.

In the following shot, we see the back of six-year-old Amélie's head as she claps her hands over her ears repeatedly. She is changing her perception of the world, and the composition of the shot suggests that the audience will be privy to her process (being literally behind her and her actions).

The leaf-as-instrument in the next shot goes along with the wineglass-as-instrument (maybe that's why the water is green?), the act of pulling dried glue off an outstretched finger fits with both the glass wall (a touch barrier) and the use of common objects in an uncommon way. Amélie turns something practical into something playful.

Amélie blows a coil of paper out in front of her, in a perfect example of what Rob was referring to as a lot of planning (cutting, coiling, and holding the paper) for very little payoff. This is Amélie affecting the world around her, using her breath to temporarily change the shape of the paper, while also suggesting the nature of her good deeds. She plans carefully, but executes her projects anonymously and practically without a trace (breath), so the direct payoff for her is very small.

The spinning coin is a perfect summation of the film's relationship to fate. Spinning a coin is arguably prettier than flipping it, and also not as likely to produce a random result. In other words, we can insert ourselves (hands) into chance (coin) and create something that is both pleasurable and more certain. Amélie creates her own destiny.

Confession: Whenever I find raspberries big enough to fit on my fingertips, I recreate the next shot in my kitchen. Again we see food, this time with the pleasure of eating, both with an Amélie spin on them.

In the closing shot of the credits, little Amélie ducks out of frame. She disappears in the same direction that her hands appeared from in the opening shot. Not only is she in control of her own destiny, she controls her own image; Amélie chooses to appear in or disappear from the film. The character is the auteur, in a sense, which the localized title - simply, Amélie - where she is the only subject, suggests.

If I were a better scholar, I'd take on that project: Amélie and auteur theory. But the truth is I find it difficult to watch Amélie with any kind of scholarly eye, because I just like it so damned much! With its bright, yet still somehow also muted color palette and voice-over narration, the film is a bedtime story for adults. A fable about the ways in which we touch each other's lives.

* * *
Other fun things about Amélie:
  • The event that prompts Amélie's chain of good deeds is the news that Princess Diana, known for her philanthropy, has died.
  • Amélie's bob cut is simultaneously childish and grown-up (when film stars of the 1920s started to popularize the hair style, the bob cut was considered a sign of independence).
  • For a film so filled with color, we see very little blue. The color blue seems to be unique to Amélie, appearing mostly in her apartment in the form of a bright blue table lamp, and featured when she is thinking or hatching a plan. It is the color of the chalk marks Amélie leaves for Nino. Blue is also the dominant color in the movie theater, when Amélie speaks directly to the camera for the first time. (I love that this happens in a movie theater, and that Amélie is talking about enjoying watching people watch movies. We the audience end up looking at a movie audience in the world of the film, becoming at once each other's mirror image and each other's story. Should we expect to see ourselves in this film?)
  • The name Amélie means "industrious."
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Spring Gleaning, Still

My bedroom smells like shit. Not My bedroom smells really bad. No, it smells like actual shit...and something else. Oregano, maybe? It's truly awful. Last night it was so bad I couldn't sleep.

After sniffing madly, washing everything, stripping the bed and discovering a crime scene of old pee stains (Where the hell did they come from? I swear I change the linens regularly, and the mattress did not look like a piss-soaked Jackson Pollack reproduction), I doused the mattress in Nature's Miracle, even though the, uh, specimens were definitely human and not feline.

Many loads of laundry, half a bottle of Mrs. Meyer's room freshener, and seven hours of box fan usage later, the bed was "sleepable" again. But the room still stank. Then I discovered - while replacing the sheet - that the kitty had puked under the bed. A while ago. Moldy kitty puke is its own kind of gross. Why we didn't notice it or smell it before now, I have no idea.

Suddenly, I want to clean under every piece of furniture I own.

* * *

Never have I wanted so badly for my period to come. I'm suddenly fixated on the idea that my uterus isn't clean inside. That I'm congested with black-brown "old blood."

None of my health care providers is concerned. My naturopath gave me some herbs to take, mostly so I can feel like I'm doing something to recover. And I feel fine.

But a regular period will make it official: Miscarriage = Over.

* * *

Okay, that's not true.

I don't feel fine.

My depression is nicely under control, but I've unearthed something else. Anger. A bundle of anger I didn't know was there. It's alarming; I don't think of myself as an angry person. But I see that I contain the kind of rage that makes people absolutely cruel.

* * *

So far, I hate everything about gardening. Weeding is mildly satisfying. Ripping living things out by the roots feels surprisingly naughty, in a mustache-twirling sort of way. But I still hate it.

As my inner voice was complaining, and my outer voice was snapping at Westley, my hands were minding their own business. I semi-noticed marks in the soil - Great. Some creature has been digging in my yard - but not before putting my hand directly in mystery critter shit.

* * *

There are a few things I distract myself with when the awful starts to take over. Several of them are films.

So I was watching How to Cook Your Life recently. Every time I watch it, a different thing Zen priest Edward Espe Brown says stands out. This time...
"If you have a little piece of shit on your nose, then you'll smell it wherever you go. This stinks. Oh, this stinks! Cooking stinks, everything stinks...It's all bad. So the expression in Zen is 'wash your face'."
* * *

(A year later, and I still need to spring-clean my life.)

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Baby

One

Sometimes he still takes a nap. He wakes up with different proportions. His legs look longer. Little bumps of knuckles have replaced the dimples on the backs of his hands.

Two

He looks so grown up. It's hard not to think it. He's getting so big. Which is true, in a way. His whole job right now is still to get bigger and learn things. And he's doing both beautifully.

Three

But he's not really "grown up." Three, even three-and-a-half years is not a long time in the grand scheme of things. It wasn't all that long ago that he was on the inside, cushioned in his warm, watery world. Curled in a ball, bracing his tiny feet against bone.

Four

Sometimes it feels as though he's been here forever. But he's much closer to brand new.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Post-Kid Kitchen: Salt Freedom

Rice Fusilli with Vegetables and Dry Vermouth
Most of my recent cooking has been inspired by my mother. Just as I'm learning to manage my depression and chronic pain with exercise instead of medication, my mom keeps her blood pressure low by following a very low-salt diet. I enjoy trading recipe ideas and leftovers with my mom, and I'm aware that all too often, I'll rave about something she can't actually eat.

I'll admit to being a sucker for salt. I'll often add salt at the table to an already well-seasoned dish. And fortunately, my blood pressure is doing just fine. But too much salt can have other negative effects on the body - not to mention that it's completely nonnutritive. Salt eating is an acquired habit.

As I aim to use less salt, I've found several recipes that don't seem to "need" it, even to my salt-loving tastebuds.

Simple, Salt-Free Beet Soup

Simple, Salt-Free Beet Soup
Serves 4

4 medium beets
4 cups water
1 onion, diced
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp agave
1 bunch Swiss chard, cut into spoon-sized pieces

Scrub the beets well and cut them into small pieces. Start them cooking in the water, along with the onion. Simmer until the beets are tender, about 40 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and agave. Add the Swiss chard and cook a few minutes more. Serve!

I suspect this soup would be delicious with a dollop of cashew yogurt, but I haven't attempted yogurt-making yet (it's been too cold here!)

Pasta is always a hit at my house. I thought this variation might encourage my suddenly picky kid to eat a few more vegetables. Sadly, my plan didn't work, but the leftovers were delicious the next day!
Rice Fusilli with Vegetables and Dry Vermouth

Rice Fusilli with Vegetables and Dry Vermouth
Serves 4

1 pound mixed vegetables (I used carrot, celery, red bell peppers, asparagus, mushrooms, and the last of a bag of frozen green beans)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large (preferably sweet) onion, diced
4 (or more!) cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 cup dry vermouth
8 oz. rice fusilli
1/4 cup fresh basil, minced or cut in thin strips
1/2 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes

Start your water heating to blanch the vegetables and cook the pasta. Cut the vegetables into bite-size pieces. If you're using mushrooms, feel free to tear them into little bite-size chunks rather than slicing them. You get more mushroom per bite this way - and tearing up your food is fun! If anyone comments, just call the dish "rustic."

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. (Make sure it's large enough to hold all your vegetables plus the pasta.) Saute the onions in oil until they're translucent. Add the garlic and cook a minute more before adding the mushrooms. After the mushrooms have softened, had the vermouth, and continue cooking until the liquid has reduced by half. Set the skillet aside.

Blanch the vegetables individually, until they are as cooked as you like. (I do mine for about two minutes each.) Remove from the water with a strainer and add vegetables to the skillet. Next, cook the pasta according to package directions. When the pasta is almost fully cooked, reheat the vegetables in the skillet with the onions and vermouth.

Drain fully-cooked pasta and add it to the skillet, stirring to combine. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and about half the fresh basil. Serve garnished with remaining basil.

* * *
Again, this is not me saying, "Down with medication!" Please follow your the recommendations of your doctor/nurse/naturopath/health-care expert with regards to medications. However, I think it's safe to say that all of us living in the United States of Processed Foods could stand to have a little less salt in our diets.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Film Festival: 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'

It was Rob's turn to choose our weekly flick, so I knew I was in for something action-y, possibly involving superheroes.
Indiana Jones is something of a superhero, with his "secret identity" as a university professor, his fedora-and-bullwhip crime-fighting ensemble, and his one, somewhat odd nemesis ("Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?"). And I have the type of nostalgia for the Indiana Jones films usually associated with men my husband's age and their fondness for Star Wars. I can't help it. Together with my dad, I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade more times than I can count.

So I really wanted to like the fourth installment, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And I really disliked it. (Though not in a George-Lucas-made-the-Star-Wars-prequel-trilogy-and-ruined-my-childhood way.) The problems with it, most of which stem from the script, are so glaring and pervasive as to be distracting. And for a movie with a single character's name in its title, there are a helluva lot of people in this film! And everybody lives! Indiana Jones ends up with four (or is it five?) sidekicks by the film's climax, and most of them aren't terribly interesting.

The one character who kept the movie from being a complete waste of however-long-it-took-us-to-watch-it-with-all-the-pausing was the Soviet villain, Irina Spalko. Several times during our viewing I grumped, "Enough of this! I want more Cate Blanchett!"

Spalko is only okay as a villain - which, again, has more to do with the script than anything else. She postures with her rapier and alleged psychic skills for most of the movie but doesn't follow through with a "Look, I'm not fucking around!" moment. She certainly never rips out anyone's heart. Still, I dig her as a villain, in part because she so perfectly embodies a particular female villain "type."

Spalko isn't the femme fatale, who achieves her goals through seduction. Rather, she is both masculine and feminine, and this is what makes her so dangerous. She's attractive, with her severe-yet-sexy Louise Brooks bob, but walks and stands with a masculine air, proudly taking up space. Oh, and she has a sword. Not to get all Freudian film theorist, but that pretty much screams "phallic woman" loud and clear. And just in case we didn't get it - no, Spalko will not be a love interest for Indy, since she's just as "manly" as he is - we get a lovely visual representation of Spalko's gender, vis-a-vis the film.

Early on, in a moment that's meant to establish Spalko's prowess as a villain, she moves as though to strike with her rapier. In close-up the blade crosses in front of her face, filling the space between her nose and upper lip. The rapier-phallus becomes a mustache.

Unfortunately, this androgynous, dangerous character breaks down as the film progresses, and by the third act, she barely seems more like an annoyance to the main characters than an actual threat. And she's still the best part of the movie!

Perhaps it would've helped if I'd watched this one with my dad.

* * *
Some other fun things about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:
  • The name "Mutt" is a fantastic bit of foreshadowing (though I can't imagine anyone being surprised that this knife-wielding whipper-snapper is Indy's son).
  • When Mutt and Indy talk in the diner, the scene begins with a nice long two-shot, building a relationship for them before they actually have one in the narrative. This is followed by a shot/reverse shot sequence wherein we see the youth culture of the diner over Mutt's shoulder, and the busy "grown-up" world through the window over Indy's shoulder. In other words, we're seeing literal representations of their backgrounds . . . in the background.
  • Is there a director more in love with aliens than Steven Spielberg?
  • In a shot that almost redeems the film's writing issues because it's just that fucking cool, we see Indiana Jones, having been captured by the Soviets, surrounded by the shadow of his own head. It's hard to describe, but completely rad onscreen.
  • The overall look of the film is very stylized, with the colors sometimes looking oddly saturated or washed out. When the screen isn't filled with CGI, the film often appears older than it is. It's almost as though we're watching a period piece within a period piece: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull takes place in the 1950s, but attempts to "match" its three prequels, which were filmed in the 1980s.
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Evolution of a Face

Four

Three

Two

Eight

Eleven

Seven

* * *
He makes me crazy. And crazy-happy.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Epiblogue: 60%

After my recent meltdown over the state of my health, I got mad. And when I get mad, I start doing research. I started reading everything I could find about pain.

I learned that many of the most common treatments for pain involve, of all things, antidepressants. While it makes inherent sense that depression would be comorbid with pain, but it's interesting (encouraging?) to know that the experts agree.

I've certainly had my share of depression - both before I started having chronic pain and afterwards - and I know how debilitating it can be. In fact, in my mind it's a toss-up as to whether the depression or the pain makes it harder to get things done. But as for antidepressants . . . I don't want to go down that road again unless I absolutely have to.

But one thing was clear to me after my rage-inspired research. Managing my mood is as important - or possibly more important - than addressing my physical pain. Furthermore, it occurred to me that I know how to manage my depression without medication quite well, thank you! Nothing helps me quite like exercise. Rigorous, daily exercise.

Admittedly, exercise is one of the first things, along with vitamin consumption, to fall away when I'm not feeling well. When you're depressed and hurting, getting up and moving around seems like torture. The worst idea in the world! But I can't deny that it does help me.

After I came out of my despair-followed-by-pissed-off funk, I recommitted myself to daily exercise. I'm doing a three-point program of physical therapy exercises, abdominal strengthening to support my back, and a long, aerobic workout (or PAW, if you're into acronyms and mnemonics). And I've already noticed a huge difference - certainly in my mood, but also my pain level. Things still hurt, but not nearly as much they did just a week or two ago.

It feels like night turned to day inside my body. (Bonus: I'm getting my waist back!)

* * *
I'm still going to work with my doctor and my physical therapist, take my supplements, and eat an anti-inflammatory diet as much as possible. I'm looking into chiropractic treatments and Maya abdominal massage. Also, I'm certainly not suggesting that exercise-instead-of-antidepressants is the way to go for everyone! It's just what works for me. A workout is my pill.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Knit One Together

Baby Hat

I was looking for a particular circular knitting needle in my box of needles and stitch holders and stitch markers. It wasn't there. I found it in my box of projects-in-progress, with about an inch and a half of forgotten yellow baby hat hanging from it.

I debated over what to do. It was just an inch and a half of work, not representing much time at all. I could easily unravel the little hat brim, roll the mustard colored yarn back into its ball. Forget that I had ever started knitting this particular baby hat. (After all, I'd forgotten about it once already.) On the other hand, I've completed a surprisingly small number of projects in my five years as a knitter. Baby hats knit up quickly. I could just finish it.

While I was still trying to decide what to do, I found myself picking up the needles, winding the yarn around my right hand. I could always stop, I decided, if finishing the hat didn't seem right.

I cannot knit without thinking of my great-grandmother. Most of my knitting supplies used to be hers. I wish she were here to teach me to knit, so I could move beyond scarves and baby hats.

Her name was Irma. I have a picture of her holding my infant mother in a tiny frame by my bed. (For some reason, it's one of the only family photos in the house.) She had her babies at home and raised four children. And at the end of her life, she was terribly depressed.

Lately I've been fighting off my own depression with good old-fashioned aerobic exercise. It seems to be working, but a dull sadness comes through every now and then. I guess that would be loss. Which everyone tells me I need to acknowledge. But it feels strange mourning something that may have existed only in my mind (and perhaps not even there).

I finished the baby hat. Knitting it felt strangely meditative. It was good to create something, to let my hands be hands for a while. As I worked, I tried to remember why I had started knitting this little hat in the first place. I hadn't been pregnant at the time, although I'm sure I wanted to be. Maybe that was it: a little knit talisman. Something to put in my hope chest, if I had one.

Baby Hat

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Post-Kid Kitchen: Awesome Sauce

I've been making a concerted effort to eat more leafy green things lately. I love kale, cabbage, spinach, and Swiss chard, but I often forget about them - probably because I tend to serve them plain. Steamed, with a little salt, maybe some pepper. In other words, boring stuff. Sauce to the rescue!

It turns out that serving greens under or in a simple sauce not only makes them that much more delicious, but can also make them seem more meal-like. This making-veggies-into-a-meal has been especially important for me lately, as I've been trying to limit the amount of grain I eat.

The wonderful thing about sauces is that they're often better when kept very simple. This creamy red lentil sauce comes together almost instantly once your lentils are cooked, and uses ingredients you probably have on hand.

Red Lentil Awesome

Red Lentil Awesome Sauce
Serves 4

1 cup red lentils
3 cups water
2 Tbsp tahini
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt

Cook lentils in water for 20 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and blend (an immersion blender is ideal here). That's it! Done! Pour over some steamed kale and green cabbage and call it lunch.

* * *
I'm a sucker for anything "Florentine." "Florentine" is fun to say, and it just sounds delicious. Plain quinoa? Fine, sure. Quinoa Florentine? Ooh, yes please!

I love this sauce over just about anything savory. It's perfect for pasta or tofu, or pasta and tofu, but it also stands up really well to white beans and brown rice. I used a brown-and-wild rice blend for the supper pictured below.

Speaking of tofu, I've tried reintroducing some soy into my diet, and so far, things seem to be going pretty well. But that's another discussion for another time.

Mushroom Awesome
This sauce is a little on the thin side, and tends to disappear into rice,
but I assure you it's there - and it's delicious.

Awesome Sauce Florentine
Serves 4

2 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
10 oz fresh spinach
1 cup plain, unsweetened rice milk
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp (that's one heaping 1/4 cup) nutritional yeast
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt

I make this sauce in a big electric wok, because it gives the ingredients lots of room, even with the lid on. A large saute pan or even a pasta pot works well, too.

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion for about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook a few minutes more, stirring frequently. When the mushrooms have begun to soften, add garlic and cook a couple more minutes. Add the spinach, lower the heat to low, and cover for 5 minutes. When the spinach is good and steamed, stir in remaining ingredients and simmer about 5 minutes more. Serve over protein and/or starch of your choice. (Chickpeas! Tempeh! Baked potatoes!)

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Film Festival: 'Away We Go'

Away We Go was to be the first in my "40 Weeks Film Festival." It's one of my favorite films about pregnancy, in part because the pregnancy isn't really the focus. It raises the emotional stakes, but the movie focuses on the protagonists' relationship with each other, rather than on their relationship to being expectant parents.

* * *
I'd just started up Away We Go for the second time, and was getting ready to jot down some notes when Westley interrupted me. I paused the movie, warmed up a cup of soy milk and located a lost toy. When I turned my attention back to the screen, this is what I saw:

Away We Go follows Burt and Verona, a couple three months from the birth of their first child, as they travel around North America trying to decide where to call home. The moment above occurs about eight minutes in, and it tells us nearly everything we need to know about the film we're going to see. Burt and Verona occupy the far left of the frame, kissing, unquestionably a loving couple - but with some tension between them (Verona's arms are crossed, Burt's hands are in his pockets). There's a considerable distance between the couple and the right side of the frame, foreshadowing their impending physical and emotional journey. The framing suggests that they have quite a ways to go before they arrive. Landscape fills most of the frame, placing the characters in the realm of the emotional and the romantic (as in Romanticism). The World is, if not front, certainly center; it is just as much of a presence - if not quite a character - in Away We Go as Burt and Verona.

The film's establishing shots often position the characters in such a way as to emphasize the power of the world around them. Burt and Verona often appear to be searching for their place in the film itself in addition to the world of the film.

However, The World is something of a red herring. In the end, it doesn't matter to this little road-trip movie nearly as much as two-shots and close-ups of the protagonists do. Locations certainly matter, and expository text repeatedly appears to tell the audience where we are - or, rather, where we're going: "Away To Tucson," "Away to Phoenix," and so on. But in each location, the story is really about relationships.

And that is the thing I love most about this film. As Burt and Verona visit friends and relatives, they find something broken in every relationship - abuse, cynicism, self-righteousness, sorrow - but each of the couples featured in the film is a perfect match for each other. Interestingly, Burt and Verona are the only couple we see argue with one another onscreen. Even the most insufferable people seem to have found an equally insufferable partner. The minor characters are, in effect, perfect for each other. (Interestingly, the couples who are never onscreen together - Verona's sister and her boyfriend, Rob, and Burt's brother and his wife, Helena - are, apparently, not good matches at all. Rob and Helena never appear. Verona's sister and Burt's brother point up the protagonists' anxieties about their own perhaps not-so-perfect match.)

When I first saw Away We Go, I didn't think much about the event that prompts Burt and Verona to choose a location, but it's a wonderful antidote to the not-so-perfect world (and families) they've encountered. Verona tells a story from her childhood: Her father had an orange tree, of which he was very proud, but which never produced any fruit. One morning, Verona's mother got Verona and her sister up early to hang fruit - oranges, pineapples, melons - in the tree. This becomes a "thing" the girls do from time to time, though after the first instance, they switch to plastic fruit.

This is literally a "family tree," planted by Verona's father and growing on her parents' property. It's not perfect, but it still "bears fruit" and brings the family a lot of joy. We learn that Verona's parents both died when she was in college, and as the film unfolds we see that Verona's greatest anxiety is that she is not good enough to fill the "Good Parent" shoes her own parents wore so well. She worries aloud that she and Burt are "fuck-ups." But the tree story - which is immediately followed by Burt and Verona arriving at and deciding to live in Verona's parents' empty house - proves that it doesn't matter. You can be "broken" and still bear fruit. It's not about being perfect, but about choosing to overcome ones own brokenness.

* * *
Some other fun things about Away We Go:
  • The names are genius. "Verona" is, of course, the city of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (the unsurpassed imperfect perfect couple), and Burt's last name, "Farlander" suggests travel.
  • Verona is the driving force of the relationship (she puts together their travel itinerary and then explains it to Burt before literally attaching it to him), and is frequently shown behind the wheel of a car. Burt only drives after the tree story is told.
  • Burt clearly gets his penchant for malapropism from his father, one of the film's first suggestions that being "a fuck-up" is inherited.
  • The production design is phenomenal. Looking at the "stuff" in the background, I think, "These people would absolutely have that!"
  • The protagonists have some conversations that Rob and I have totally had. It's kind of embarrassing.
  • Burt and Verona have a meal with every couple they visit. This is a great way to contrast the couples as units, by cutting across the table from one two-shot to the other. It also gives weight to the idea that Burt and Verona are trying these various people on as potential friends and chosen family by staging a "family dinner" with them.
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Monday, April 4, 2011

60%

I had a little meltdown this weekend. The combined weight of trying to heal (I'm still bleeding, two weeks later), resume my physical therapy in earnest, diet, get enough sleep, and give Westley something like a normal schedule not involving countless hours of TV just flattened me.

The thing that hurt the most was the realization that I am a sick person.

I think of "being sick" as having a cold, the flu. Something acute. It has struck me before, but didn't really sink in until a few days ago that I have been sick since Westley was born. I've been sick for over three years.

I have new, unexplained food sensitivities. I have new, unexplained pain. I am in pain every single day of my life, from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep. I have pain doing totally normal things, like loading the dishwasher. I almost burst into tears recently in the library parking lot, because I was in so much pain I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get Westley into his car seat.

A year and a half ago, I was paying out of pocket for physician-prescribed physical therapy. My goal wasn't even to be pain-free. It was to be able to lower Westley into his crib without feeling like I was going to collapse.

I'm not trying to throw myself a pity party here. I'm writing out of astonishment - that I could let myself be this sick for this long. That rather than pitch a fit in the doctor's office, demanding a diagnosis and a pain-free life, I've gotten used to being sick. I've let 60% become the new 100%. I talk about things like "normal pain."

Really? Normal pain? It's not normal for a (seemingly healthy) 28-year-old woman to be in pain while getting dressed or cooking dinner. Or even just lying down.

"I'm tired of being sick all the time!" I cried to my mom.

"It seems to me that when you don't feel well, you think it's 'all the time,'" she observed. "You don't think like this when you're feeling well."

"I haven't felt well in over four months!" I snapped.

"Well, no one feels completely well during their first trimester!" she said. "And now, having to recover from this...event-"

She went on to hypothesize that a lot of what I'm feeling right now is fallout from the huge hormone shifts involved in being pregnant and then being not-pregnant.

But pregnancy hormones don't even come close to explaining everything else that's going on. My new physical therapist tells me my pelvis is out of alignment, and my core muscle strength is practically non-existent. (And she's helping me work on both of these things, but progress is snail's-pace slow.) However, that doesn't explain the food sensitivities, which seem to get more unpredictable all the time.

The bottom line: I have no idea what's going on with me, health-wise. And miscarrying has just complicated that. But it is absolutely not right to be sick all the time.

So today, I refuse to be a sick person. I don't really know what that means. Only that I will no longer accept 60% as "whole."

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Little Duck

Ducks

Now we are ready to look at something pretty special.

It is a duck riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf,
And he cuddles in the swells.

There is a big heaving in the Atlantic.
And he is part of it.
He can rest while the Atlantic heaves, because he rests in the Atlantic.


Probably he doesn't now how large the ocean is.
And neither do you.
But he realizes it.

And what does he do, I ask you?
He sits down in it.
He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity -- which it is.

Couple

That is religion, and the duck has it.

I like the little duck.
He doesn't know much.
But he has religion.

Stick

* * *
Poem by Donald C. Babcock

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Friday, April 1, 2011

I'm Sorry

The Office Manager at my midwives' office sounded genuinely cheerful on the phone yesterday, like she'd just received some good news. She was calling to confirm my appointment for next Tuesday, and she was so happy and energetic, I forgot for a moment why I was even going in.

A two-week follow-up for my miscarriage.

Beth will do a blood draw to check my HCG levels. She'll check my uterus to make sure it's returned to its normal size. We'll spend the rest of the hour talking about cats and vegan food and politics and what happens if I get pregnant again. But first, she'll hug me and say she's sorry.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

It's all anyone can say. Which is not a complaint at all. Each "I'm so sorry" massages the still-heavy place in my heart. Sorry fits that place well. Its antonym is "happy." It's a relative of "sore."

Still, we hear "I'm sorry" most often as an apology for a mistake, or some wrongdoing. In this sense, I feel like I'm the one who should be uttering the phrase.

Shadows

In the days after I started bleeding, I dreaded making the necessary phone calls. I had - and still have - a list of people in my head who needed to be told. I felt deeply sorry just thinking about picking up the phone. It was relatively easy to share the news with my parents and friends. But I waited to tell my naturopath until I could leave a message on her voicemail without bursting into tears. I told my physical therapist, Pam, at our regular appointment this past Wednesday, and promptly burst into tears after not having cried for nearly a week.

"I'm sorry," I said, wiping my eyes with the proffered tissue. "I really thought I was done crying about it."

Pam shook her head. "Oh, no," she said with a wise-woman smile. "It's hard. You'll need to cry about it for a while. And then you'll just cry about it less."

There are still a few people to tell, and I'm sure I'll cry then, too. And apologize for doing so - and for having news that could elicit tears in the first place. I still haven't told my dentist, with whom I had to reschedule several treatments to occur during (what would have been) my second trimester. I'm sorry. And I'm dreading the call to the midwives' billing specialist to request an updated invoice. I'm so sorry.

Every time I tell someone I had a miscarriage, I feel a deep sense of regret at having to be the bearer of bad news. I want to follow up with "I'm sorry." To apologize. Which is not to say that I believe I did anything wrong. (If I've internalized anything in the past two weeks, it's thatthis just happens. All the time.) I'm sorry for sharing a sad part of myself instead of something joyful. For inflicting that sudden sense of loss on someone else.

I'm so, so sorry.

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