I am not fat, but I think I am

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Growing up, I was skinny. Stupidly skinny. After puberty, and throughout most of school, my rib cage stuck out more than my breasts. My arms and legs looked like sticks. I graduated high school at 110 pounds and just under 5’10” (which is still bigger than most models, but definitely in skinny territory).

Beyond a modified princess phase as a little kid, where I wore pink nightgowns and purple corduroy skirts — and then horrified my mother by climbing trees and jumping into ditches (Southern Ladies just don’t do that), I wore a lot of tomboy attire. I wore baggy t-shirts and shorts and jeans that never quite reached my ankles, sweatshirts and sneakers. I wore my hair long because, contrary to popular belief about all tomboys having short hair, long hair is easy. It grows out, you stick it in a rubberband and you go. No styling, few haircuts, and once it’s long enough it’ll stay behind ears or over shoulders.

In my twenties, I bought my jeans in the men’s department and my shirts in the girls’ department. I tried padded bikini tops, but you can’t swim in those. Wet, they’re like sponges. Gross. I had a friend back then who was a hardcore fashionista. She’d loan me clothes, drag me shopping, and otherwise try to girl me up. She was very column-shaped herself, so that worked out well enough.

The thing is: I hate shopping. Those people who wander malls and stores for hours, for fun? I cannot understand. In fact, after the friend and I stopped speaking, I ended up buying most of my clothes online. This was back when searching for “vintage” on eBay returned results other than vintage-inspired tinywear from China or neon plaid from the 80s. Vintage worked on multiple levels: the dresses looked structured and cute without too much fuss and the sizes made me feel normal because I wore an 8 or 10 instead of a 2 or 4. I mean, 2? I’m taller than a half the population of Miami (okay, that’s no scientific, but it certainly feels that way), a size 2 just seemed…stupid.

In my mid-thirties, I took up martial arts in addition to my occasional slow running and yoga. Somewhere along the way, I developed some muscles and my rib cage and shoulders seem to get wider all the time. I also all of a sudden seem to have hips. I have no idea where those came from or why they’d suddenly appear between 35 and 40, but I can’t wear men’s pants anymore and women’s jeans are full of spandex so they’re crazy tight going on and then fall off a half hour later.

It’s really just too bad I can’t live in knit shorts and t-shirts or yoga pants and tank tops. Knit dresses and a few of those vintage dresses still fit. I have jeans that fit one day and not the next, jeans that fit great in the leg but are too baggy in the waist and jeans that fit fine in the leg but are too tight in the waist. All of this makes me feel fat, despite the fact that I’m still technically on the thin side of normal.

Yet my hatred of shopping means I keep trying to wear things that don’t fit and complaining about being fat. I apologize for that. I don’t want anyone to think that because I’m uncomfortable in my sister’s hand-me-downs (she’s three inches shorter and forty pounds lighter) and clothes I bought ten years ago, that I think other people are fat or that being fat is anything other than an adjective, a description like blond.

And maybe one of these days, I’ll get around to buying some clothes that fit better so I can stop whining. Just, don’t make me go shopping.

Spring is on the Horizon

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We had house guests over the weekend. My sister and her best buddy showed up for some diving and warm weather, which the day they arrived it was our coldest in four years so there’s that. It did warm up enough that her buddy made it to the beach yesterday and “got a base tan!” (I wore SPF 50 and hid in the shade.)

I do have to admit it was nice being at the beach yesterday. And that’s weird. I’m such a summer girl that once it gets chilly (mid-70s) for the first time, I kind of pack away the bikinis and and don’t really go to the beach until summer happens again. It’s easy to forget how nice the beach (and the area) is when you’re stuck at your desk all day. (Self-imposed stuckness is just as valid as actual stuckness for the record.)

It’s also exciting to feel a bit of spring in the are. South Florida weather in March is usually utterly awesome as it’s before it gets too hot, but the chilly days of February are largely over. It’s also interesting to see the way, up close, visitors react to the place you take for granted. (I realize it’s a special kind of hell to take the beach for granted, *rolls eyes* but after a while the stress of everyday life and building the life and work you want and navigating this land of money-related pitfalls, overwork, etc.)

So, I guess the takeaway here is to stop and smell some roses and appreciate what you have or have access to.

Vegan Potato Soup

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It’s finally warmed up nicely here, but I realize much of the east coast is still encased in ice. This soup is great for warming up on a chilly night and, with the impending St. Patrick’s Day holiday appropriation, it’s similar to the creamy, cheesy soup at our nearby Irish Pub, but without the actual cream, cheese, or bacon.

Ingredients:

  •  Approx 3 cups of unsweetened original almond milk (soy, cashew, hemp, etc.)
  • 1 cup of water (tap is fine)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of flour (whatever kind makes you happy: quinoa, all-purpose, wheat, rice, etc. You could also use cornstarch, arrowroot or xantham gum, but I find that last one makes things…”squeaky.”) Alternatively, you could also just cut back on the water (above) and let the potatoes be the thickener.
  • potatoes (You pick. No, I don’t know how many, that would depend on the size of the potatoes and how thick you want the soup. I’d say 3 large or 5 medium, or a sack of small, but again, up to you.)
  • Onion (I used a white onion that was a bit on the small side so I used the whole thing. If you find one of those giant onions, you may choose half if you don’t want the soup super-oniony.)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (chopped or smashed, etc. to your liking)
  • a bit of “Fat Paulie” seasoning (Let’s say 2-3 shakes.)
  • “shit ton*” of “Salad Sprinkle” (blend of chives, dried onion, parsely, pepper)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of vegan butter or margarin (I used Earth Balance)
  • 1 “no-chicken” bullion cube
  • Several shakes of “veggie pepper” or fresh ground pepper
  • Vegan cheddar shreds (I used Daiya)
  • Vegan bacon bits (many are — just check the label)
  • Chives (dried or fresh)
  • Scallions (optional)

Make the soup and use most of the bag of cheese to blend with it. Sprinkle a bit on top with the facon bits and some chives or scallions if you have them.

The things to say or not to say

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Yeah, I’ve been quiet here of late. Because, I’ve been trying to be on my “best behavior.” You know, try not to  stir controversy or rant or generally be myself. To avoid politics and religion and the things you don’t say at dinner. There are very good reasons to do so, as I’ve been told.

The trouble is, you know, you’re also told to be a brand, that brands aren’t people, that companies are people, that people are marketplaces… It’s all confusing and, frankly, illogical. Because, you avoid controversy to that you don’t anger potential readers or family or friends but you’re supposed to be social and interesting and…does anyone really want to read a blog post about my favorite color? (I sincerely hope the answer is no.) Without the bitey parts, people are boring. Of course, too many bitey parts and they’re shark-like caricatures. It’s a fine line.

Unless you look out into the internet these days and realize the fine line has been stomped into smithereens, that everything is ripe with potential controversy (if I say my favorite color is black, am I being morose? Blue is symbolic of my ball-breaking feminist agenda? Red might be the color of the secret society of barn-based terrorists this week). We’ve somehow reached a point where no one can say anything that isn’t some sort of anti-ist-ish unless it’s so plainly self-serving, egotistical, myopic and boring that it’s only interesting by the navel-gazing barometer of selfies and food pics and cats riding household appliances.

Except, that’s not fair to those things either. If we’re sharing our interests, our lives, with others — as a means to connect to communities we feel a part of, as a branding strategy, as a beacon like scrawling “i wuz here” on a bathroom stall that proclaims we existed to the universe –why do we only feel comfortable anymore sharing the best bits? If we only share selfies when our makeup is perfect, desk photos after we’re done organizing, lunch photos when we’re humble-bragging about the expensive lunch being bought for us…have we become more brand than person? Have we cultivated ourselves to remove our humanity?

Yet, shaming people for presenting exactly what they’ve been told by our culture to present is unfair, too. The television schedule is littered with “reality shows” edited to show what the producers want you to see: conflict, drama, “weirdos.” The producers are telling us simultaneously that these people we think are “so different” are just like us because they fight and struggle, yet emphasizing their differences to get us to tune in. Nothing is sacred. No one is safe. We’re all here to be judged. So, put on your best face and post that YouTube video for your promised fifteen minutes while we all sit and comment that you’re fat or skinny or ugly or hairy or old or liberal or conservative or dumb or does it matter? It can’t matter because no one can be all to everyone.

Which brings me back to politics and controversy. We can’t be all to everyone. And being silent is what my mother always told me to do in the South. I never listened to her before. Why would I start now? Granted, I’ve had to warn people that I’m a bit like a fungus; I grow on you.

But, let’s be honest. The character I’ve written most about is a former prostitute with a wretched snarky streak, a few PTSD issues she most assuredly will not be discussing with you because she’d rather prefer they don’t exist, and a regular urge to punch her problems that she mostly keeps under control. She’s held together by almost as many screws as the average piece of IKEA furniture and she flatly refuses to bother covering up her scars because it’s too damn hot in Florida to walk around in a full-length bodysuit and it’s not really anyone’s business anyway.

In other words, if someone’s put off by anything I say, they’re really not going to like Davis Groves all that much. Maybe they’d like Seth with the elusive last name? *goes off to find the right selfie filter*

Perceptions of Status

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I’ve noticed a curious thing about people. American people, I should say, because that’s my frame of reference and perhaps the larger culture in the U.S. leads to this behavior more than some other countries. And, in a lot of instances, it seems to be split along gender lines, which means these observations seem to lack any sort of predictive energy outside cis-lines. Then, it’s just an observation. Not a scientific study, though those seem to hold little weight these days when everyone wants to subscribe to his or her own version of reality. And maybe that plays a role, too.

See, we’ve had this friend for years. When we met him, he had a decent apartment and an okay job. He’d tell people he grew up “in tha hood” which was perhaps the lowest rungs of lower middle class back when members of that group could own a house if they used their money conservatively. Several jobs, several more apartments and houses, and two wives later, he lives in a very nice, upper middle class home that cost more than half a million dollars and boasts not only a nice pool and fancy grill but a chef’s kitchen and the sort of furniture yuppies in the 80s did cocaine off of.

It’s lovely, it really is. It also, to me, seems like a bit much. I mean, I say this as I sit in a “craft room,” a room that used to hold a bed for guests, but we loaned that to a buddy with too many in-laws and now it just houses candle-making supplies; paints and canvases; camping gear — stuff that  to many makes me sound rich and fancy and embarrasses me to admit it exists. And there’s the difference. He crows about his new-found money (that he married). And he makes assumptions about what other people should be able to afford or buy based on what he has available to him.

I need to replace the wall next to me because of some water and termite damage. He tells us how we should hire a contractor and then proceeds to give us advice on how to cheat said contractor out of his or her fair share of money. The husband just shook his head because he has a DIY streak six miles wide. It’s why we have a nice patio area in the backyard. It’s why the place is full of track lighting. It’s probably also why there’s a termite problem. He hasn’t figured out how to do that himself.

We have another friend who has worked off an on in restaurants for years. He’s in college. He’s got plans for something else, but after he got a job at a high-end restaurant, he started making comments, like he suddenly felt himself in a higher tax bracket. And he marvels at how easy it was to get the money in one breath — because he’s run beers and wings at sports bars for an eighth of what he earns on a couple of tables now. But in the next, he expresses how he feels entitled to it, how he feels like he’s worked for it.

And in a way, he has. Because we don’t really pay for “hard work” in the U.S. even thought we talk about it ad naseum. We pay for specialized knowledge. The more specialized, the pricier it is. He makes more now because he knows the wine list, he knows the BS origin story of the dead cow bits on the plate. He knows the customs of the wealthy and how to cater to them. Before he just knew how to work the POS and carry a tray and a pitcher without spilling. You pay more for a cardiac surgeon than a general practitioner. I can spend the day designing a label, making two batches of candles, writing a short story, teaching breakholds, and doing our taxes, but if the husband writes five lines of code from his cushy desk chair, he’s worth five times as much (or more).

But a weird thing happens as we feel more entitled to the money we make based on the things we know. The men I know, start thinking they’re richer than they really are. They start acting like members of a class a rung up. They see themselves that way, so they’re more protective of the tax breaks and benefits of the people one or two rungs up. They see themselves getting there — and soon — even if there’s no reason to believe that other than wishful thinking. And they suddenly have a hard time relating to anyone they see as “below” them. They somehow can’t remember the “house in the hood” or the day they searched couch cushions for bus fare or the day the unemployment checks ran out. And they get annoyed at peers they see as not keeping up.

The women I know, seem more grounded in where they fall on the economic ladder. They may strive to get higher, but they live with the fear of how easy it is to slide back.

Maybe it’s because women all know a friend or colleague who took time off to have kids or to take care of an aging parent or deal with an illness and never made it back to the place they held. Maybe it’s because guys are generally encouraged to pompously boast their successes and they just start believing their own hype.

Maybe it’s why politicians have such an easy time convincing the masses to vote against their own interests.

Thoughts?

Camp Cooking Part 3: Valley Girl (the butane cookstove edition)

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So, our most recent roadtrip took us from Las Vegas out to Long Beach. The shortest distance between two points might be a straight line, but there are very few straight roads out in the mountains and that’s no fun anyway.

Now, since we were going to be out in small towns and the middle of nowhere, I looked into food ahead of time. Not a lot of vegetarian options. Even Las Vegas isn’t exactly hip to the concept of vegans yet — though they’re learning (we found a tiny pizza place with vegan cheese in a casino). And the guide book for Death Valley warned vegetarians to “B.Y.O.B. – bring your own beans.”

I can do that.

We stopped at a Target and picked up a small butane cookstove, some cheap metal spoons and forks (seriously, the 4 pack of each, total, was the same price as a box of disposable junk), flexi-cutting mats, dish soap, sponges, aluminum foil, aluminum pans, zippered plastic bags, small plastic containers, and a paring knife. (Everything but the aluminum pans and the butane canister came home with us in our checked bags.) Then we hit up Whole Foods for the following:

  • two tomatoes
  • whole wheat wraps (burrito or sandwich size)
  • two boxes of black beans (boxes are easier to open than cans if you forgot your army can opener and don’t want to buy another)
  • a box of vegetarian baked beans
  • a white onion
  • a bag of new/fingerling potatoes
  • a 4-pack of veggie Italian sausage
  • a mini box of Italian seasoning
  • a mini box of Tex/Mex seasoning
  • two avocados, one “hard” and semi soft (meaning one riper than the other so I’d use them as they ripened)
  • yellow bell pepper
  • jar of salsa
  • tub of siracha hummus (This was delicious and I want it NOW.)
  • bag of bagels
  • tub of vegan cream cheese
  • tortilla chips
  • Daiya cheddar
  • jar of coconut oil

Later, at Von’s, I picked up a box of Minute Rice Medley (had wild rice, brown rice and quinoa in it). Minute rice, as opposed to regular rice, works best for camp cooking because “simmer” is hard on a butane or propane stove and it’s crazy to run a camp stove for 20-40 minutes trying to get rice to cook.

Meal 1 (Potato and Sausage)
Cooked at a picnic area in Valley of Fire State Park after a hike.

I sliced up the onion and potatoes on the mat. I cooked the onion in some coconut oil in one of the aluminum pans for a few minutes before adding the potatoes. I sliced up two of the four sausages into small bits and added those with a bit more oil and several hearty shakes of the Italian seasoning. Then I stirred it all up and covered it with foil. We talked and watched the slide down the sky while it cooked.

Meal 2 (Leftovers and Baked Beans)
Cooked at a picnic area outside Tonopah, NV.

We’d left the potato-sausage dish in the aluminum pan, but it was only half full, so we filled the other side with the box of baked beans and heated it all up.  We’d been hiking around the Tonopah Mining Park and eaten a small breakfast, so I also made some guacamole with the softer avocado and some salsa to eat with chips on the side. The single serving of leftovers went in a plastic storage container.

Meal 3 & 4 -& beyond (Tex-Mex & Italian Casseroles)
Cooked on the mini-wall around the hotel in Death Valley.

Pan 1: Oil, some of the onion and chopped tomato, sauteed.

Pan 2: Oil, some of the onion, and the yellow bell pepper, sauteed.

Pan 1: Dumped onto a paper plate. Added water and boiled. Added rice and Italian spices and cooked covered on low for about a minute. Then removed from heat, still covered, and put on the rock wall.

Pan 2: Dumped on another paper plate. Added water and boiled. Added rice and Mexican spices and cooked on low for about a minute. Then removed from heat, still covered, and put on rock wall.

Pan 1: Back on low heat, I added the other two Italian “sausages,” cut into small pieces and the contents of that first paper plate (the one with the tomato). Heated and stirred until the sausage was cooked. Recovered and put back on the wall.

Pan 2: Back on low heat, I added the two boxes of black beans (drained), the contents of the second paper plate (with the pepper), and some salsa. Heated and stirred for a couple of minutes. Recovered and put back on the wall.

Both were ready shortly after and yielded enough food to feed most of the people in the hotel. I had a burrito with the Tex-Mex mixture and some more avocado. We ate on this for several days (though the next hotel lacked the amenities of the Clown Motel (microwave), so I had to eat some of it cold.)

Teaching, Instructing, Leading

Teaching math and teaching karate have been wholly different experiences and not just in the obvious ways.

As math teachers, we were always demonized — both by the students and the other faculty. No one wanted to do math. No one liked math (except a couple of nerdy kids who pretended to hate it to keep up appearances and the stray science teacher who actually liked science, too). We were always pushed to pass the kids along, to make things easier — as long as they still passed the standardized tests! — and fun. We were assured regularly that no one does math outside of high school so it really didn’t matter if anyone understood it because ha ha ha, no one does. I always took exception to this because I’ve used math regularly and not just to teach it.

As karate teachers, we’re supposed to be tough, but fair. We’re supposed to challenge and when things are hard, we’re supposed to encourage kids (and adults) to practice more, to study harder, to give it another try until they get it. People who don’t do martial arts tend to view it as either something so easy six-year-olds can manage or so complicated we must all be secretly action movie stars who leap over cars instead of walking around. Some parts are more fun than others and most students tend to accept this fact even if they whine a little. Then again, they’ve signed up for this, agreed to it, so they’re more willing to put their all into it.

As math teachers, we were told never to grade lower than a 50. I wasn’t allowed to take off points if the kids hadn’t circled their answers, or if they wrote in pen, or even if they blatantly copied the answers of the kid next to them.

In karate, we have standards, concepts and skills students have to learn and perform sufficiently to progress to the next phase or belt. Sure, the five year old isn’t expected to do as well as the 22-year old, by the time both get to the higher belt levels, a lot of that leeway has been leveled out. By the advanced material, you can either do the thing or you cannot and if you cannot, you should practice until you can. (And because by the time they reach the higher belt material, the five year old is likely around ten and much more in control of muscles and mind.

As a school teacher, I always wanted to lead, to instruct, to facilitate learning. What I ended up doing more often than not was disciplining and grading on the biggest curve this side of the Sierra Nevadas. My “teaching” often got swallowed up in a culture of disrespect and displeasure.

As a sensei, I find myself shocked to realize students listen to me, expect me to have answers, and follow my lead. And I just hope I’m leading them to their better selves.

F.A.S.T Sandwiches

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This is a recipe my buddy came up with and if he ever actually opens his own restaurant, go and eat one of his along with anything else he cooks — it’s all delicious.

Anyway, one hot summer Vegan Dinner Party night, we were thinking of something to make that would be tasty, but “summery” and didn’t involve a lot of cooking. He found a picture of a BLT on his phone that someone had put sprouts on, and said that looked good. The husband loves sprouts, so he voted yes. That just left the vegan-zing. Hence:

F – is for “facon” or fake bacon. (I prefer the tempeh strips from either Lightlife or Tofuky. The husband likes his crispier like the fakin bacon from Lightlife or Morningstar Farms (note the Morningstar is owned by Kellogg’s and is vegetarian, but not vegan.)

A – is for avocado. Mmm…avocado. (a little citrus juice will keep it from browning before you can eat it.)

S – is for sprouts. Spicy sprouts are our favorite, but alfalfa sprouts, kale sprouts…whatever. go nuts.

T – is for Tomato. Heirloom, big boy, Florida 91, you know…tomatoes.

For bread, I love this recipe (I use the Bob’s Red Mill egg substitute) and I make this loaf of bread at least once a week for sandwiches and toast. You, of course, can use whatever bread makes you happy — chewy sourdough, French loaf, ciabatta, multigrain…

As a spread, we use Vegenaise. I like it with a sprinkle of dried jalepeno on it. The budy likes with blended with fresh herbs and garlic.

 

Candle Tins!

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Candle fans, I’m test-marketing a batch of my soy candles in travel tins during Bouchercon. If I keep them, they’ll be a bit more expensive on the website (plus shipping.) So, if you want to leave Bouchercon with some yummy soy candles in little travel tins (great for freshening a funky hotel room and small enough to fit in the suitcase or box you’re taking books home in), help me pick the scents to bring.

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I’m making three sizes (4oz, 6oz, and 8oz), two of each scent in each size. So, the top twelve scents below get made. Here’s your chance to pick the scents (up to twelve). Ready? GO!

Book Review: DEADLY DEBUT

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DEADLY DEBUT is an anthology of short stories written by some terribly murderous residents of NY. You should, honestly, just pick it up because it’s seven stories by great writers for less than three bucks. That’s less than most of the coffee drinks at Starbucks and will keep you entertained longer than finish one-seven venti-mocha-frappa-soy-latte-whipped whatevers depending on how fast you read/drink.

Just in case there’s even one of you out there thinking “Two-ninety-nine?! That’s too much to pay for a book! Only seven stories! Ha! Never!”…let me just start with, “Don’t say those things out loud, please. Especially while you’re holding a six-dollar coffee. Art takes time and energy to create — far longer than that beverage — so treat it well.” Beyond that, let’s break this down and consider that 2.99 divided by seven is just under 43 cents a story. Now, imagine the author in front of you, offering to entertain you for a few pages, to tell you a story of a little kid’s lie that left a lasting, life-long weight or about a dutiful daughter who uses her P.I. skills to help out her dad’s friend or a just-sober guy who finds a body in his closet only to have it disappear before he can figure out what to do about it. Now, realize that if you’re like me you haven’t even seen vending machine soda for fifty cents in years, much less forty-three. Isn’t it worth 42.7 cents to find out who murdered the belly dancer in the locked room? Or who stole the test out from under the flustered newish professor’s nose? Or how Edgar Allan Poe managed to kill a boy in 1961?

Besides, somewhere in these pages is the only other female Davis I know of besides the one in my own fiction, so go make with the clicky and find her. (She’s just as tough, but far less damaged than mine.)

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

iTunes

 

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