“Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” –Thoreau

14 December 2012

It's time to talk about guns.

The title of the post is relatively self-explanatory. What happened today in Connecticut is almost unspeakable, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try. If you don't want to listen to me talk about guns, or you don't believe there's anything to talk about, then this isn't the post for you.

Whenever a tragedy like this occurs, the pro-gun-rights activists are immediately prepared to tell us that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." Factually speaking, though, guns do kill people. A gun killed a whole lot of people today. I'm not arguing semantics, here; I'm just trying to say that a gun is a weapon. To pretend it is only a tool is foolhardy and false.

I find hunting as a pastime confusing. I often want to ask hunters what it is about their hobby that they particularly enjoy. Is it the marksmanship? Because that doesn't require live targets to be satisfying. Is it the outdoorsmanship? Because you could easily enjoy the outdoors without shooting at anything. Do you like the camaraderie involved when you hunt with your friends or family? I can think of many other sports you might try out together. Or perhaps you, like some hunters I know, like to "test yourself against nature." Might I suggest spelunking? Or mountaineering? Or extreme wildlife photography? As far as "testing yourself" goes, I'd argue that modern day hunting isn't much of a challenge. Sure, you can take down a deer from a blind half a mile away with a high-powered rifle and a sight, but the deer isn't really getting a fair shot. I am not impressed.

I'm also not impressed by the argument that you have a right to protect yourself and your family. Sure you do. We all do. But I protect my family through attentiveness, modern security measures, and common sense. My husband was held at gun point this year during a car-jacking, and it was terrifying. Would it have been less terrifying for him (and for me) if he had also pulled a gun? Would it have altered the outcome? Now there are two guns involved, and the situation has escalated, and it's not just about a car anymore... it's an armed stand-off. That's just ludicrous. No, we did not immediately run out to buy a concealed firearm. The gun was the problem, not the solution.

And yes, I know that the second amendment to the constitution guarantees citizens the right to bear arms. It states: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." But I don't feel all that secure. If anything, the fact that anyone and everyone could be carrying a firearm I can't even see makes me feel pretty uncomfortable. Insecure, really.

At the end of the day, I care a whole lot less about your right to bear arms than I do about the lives of these children. These kids are dead. They have no rights. Their rights were taken away from them by a guy with a gun. While the gun did not make him do it, I think we can all agree that the gun made this tragedy possible. In a way that rope and knives and even a bow and arrow would not. Case in point: Chinese man attacks 22 children, 1 adult with knife outside primary school. 23 people were injured but no fatalities. Good thing he did not have a gun.

Seriously, don't even mention bombs.

Bombs are already illegal.

Here's what it boils down to: Guns aren't okay. They aren't fun, they don't serve any recreational purpose, and they don't belong in the hands of ordinary people-- whether those people are criminals or politicians, medical doctors or the mentally ill. If you have one, I don't want it anywhere near me. I don't want you carrying it around me or storing it in a house where I have to sleep. I don't want my child in a home that stores one, no matter how secure you are sure that it is. And I sure as hell don't want my child exposed to anything even remotely gun-shaped until he or she is old enough to understand that they are off-limits. Yes, that includes waterguns and video games. No freaking way.

I don't know how the media and the politicians are going to choose to spin this particular story. I don't know if anyone else will be willing to blame the gun. But I do. I really, really do.

I'm praying for these families, and for this country.

08 November 2012

Accountability after the Election

UPDATE: The Google cache page was finally taken down as well. But you can get a gist of things HERE.
You can't go to the actual Christian Men's Defense Network website anymore because they locked it after this post went viral. But it's available in Google cache, and I think it's a must-read for anyone who voted with their wive's/mother's/sister's/daughter's uterus in mind this year.
"One thing one has to remember about women, especially slutty ones:  They usually don’t make decisions based on reason.  So all the Obama administration had to do was scare them that Mitt Romney was going to take away their birth control and their access to abortion.  The fear for them is that, without birth control and abortion, they might actually get pregnant and have to give birth.  That is scary not simply because of the economic burden of having a child (since, hey, they can get all kinds of cash and prizes if that happens), but because if that happened then everyone would know they’re sluts, and their image as daddy’s pure little snowflake princess goes out the window."
 Read the rest RIGHT HERE.
Thank every god that there are men who don't think this way. Now it's time for you to hold the ones who do accountable.

30 August 2012

I Am Proud of My Size!

I wear a size 10.

What does it really mean to be proud of your size?

According to Rachele of The Nearsighted Owl,
it's pretty simple:
"Don't be ashamed of your number or let it keep you from living your life and doing what you love."

It's not about vanity, or even about physical health.
It's about mental wellness,
about learning to be at peace
with where you fit in the world.

You see, I think many women are ashamed to talk about their weight or size not because they feel unhealthy, but because they feel unattractive. I've certainly been there. Choosing to view ourselves, to judge ourselves, based on the perceptions of others is self-defeating.

It indicates nothing about our mind, our wellness, our soul.

It has no bearing on our real worth.

 There are women larger than me who are much, much healthier. There are women smaller than me who are less so. There are bigger, smaller, fatter, skinnier women than me all over the world who excel in areas where I lack. I excel in areas they might struggle with. And none of that is predetermined by our dress size. We are so much more.

We are daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, nieces, aunts, cousins, and grandchildren. We are mathematicians or we aren't. We are artists or we aren't. We are big or small or short or tall. And all of that matters,
but it also doesn't matter at all.

At the end of the day, we are all of equal value.
We all take up the same space in the universe.
Nothing and no one can change that.
No one should try.

My name is Jennifer Cary Diers.
I wear a size 10.
What about you?

27 August 2012

How not to begrudge successful friends

We've all been there...

Very Good Friend, a lovely person with whom we've shared both laughter and tears, has finally hit the career and/or personal life jackpot. New job! New home! New marriage! New baby! VGF is over the moon and eager to share his/her good fortune with all and sundry. Facebook status updates abound. Twitter pictures pour in. The email subject line reads: "Finally! Wonderful news!" It is sunshine and rainbows and the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking, and all you can think about is how much the fantastic VGF deserves this good fortune. Your heart is filled with altruistic merriment.

Right? Right?

Well, almost.

If we're being honest with ourselves, we must admit that sometimes altruistic merriment might occupy only part of our hearts. Say, forty percent. Or thirty. At first, the success of VGF makes us feel giddy. We feel like we've shared in their success through osmosis... what I like to call the Transitive Property of Awesome Events. At first, everybody is a winner because everybody loves VGF. This is a good feeling.

Sometimes it doesn't last.

People like me, and probably like you, come down off this sugar-high around day number three. That's when reality likes to set in. VGF, however deserving, is going to have a baby/wedding/promotion/mortgage payment. VGF is making his or her dreams come true. VGF is supremely happy and you... well, maybe you're not. The truth is that VGF's wonderful success hasn't actually been transferred to you. When you come to this realization, it can sometimes sting a bit. It can sting a whole lot.

Sometimes it can suck.

Of course we want our friends and family to succeed. Unless we are sociopaths (and hopefully we are not) then we love to see those that we love find their groove. The tough part is when the success of VGF starts to highlight the ways in which we, ourselves, have yet to succeed. This happens to everyone. You are not alone. Watching other people get what they've been chasing can seem magical... but why is all that good mojo still ignoring you?

Stop. Sit down. Take a deep breath.

Real success isn't magical, and it isn't a race.

It can help to think back a year or two, to remember what VGF went through to get here. No doubt there were bad years. No doubt there were tears. Perhaps you had your own successes during that bad period, as well, and VGF was there with you, hoping for some Transitive Awesomeness too.

Everyone has the ability to be jealous, but everyone has the ability to overcome that jealousy too. This is the secret to long-lasting, mutually-beneficial relationships. We shouldn't be afraid to be honest about this... everyone goes through it. Author Lawrence Durell once said:

"It is not love that is blind, but jealousy."

Could that be more true? When the Green Monster overtakes us, it makes us blind to all the wonderful successes we have credited to our own account. It makes us forget that luck isn't random--it follows those who chase dreams and work hard to achieve them. Don't let yourself forget this. That is the single best way to share in VGF's success story.

We earn our own luck but we don't decide when it's disbursed. Be patient.

18 June 2012

20 homemade meals in 2 hours

Today I made 20 homemade dinners, from scratch, in two hours.

I started at nine in the morning and was completely finished, including clean-up, at eleven o'clock on the nose. There was a time (say, a year ago?) when I would have considered this completely impossible. I was making each dinner, start to finish, every night. I had to remember to leave the meat out to defrost in the morning, then chop up vegetables, then turn on my stove/oven/grill and get everything cooking and the house was 100 degrees and rising and by the time everything was done (around nine o'clock), the last thing I wanted to do was the pile of dirty dishes I'd left in my wake.

Urgh. No more!

Summer in Chicago is hot. Today it's already 83 degrees and rising. Nights do not cool off much. Turning on my stove or--heaven forbid-- my oven sounds like torture. In my desperate, sweaty lunacy, I searched for a better way. I found it, and it is called the crockpot.

My crockpot used to be relegated to wintertime cooking. Since the appliance excels at simmering stews and pot roasts, I never considered it appropriate for summer foods. But the crockpot, that most magical vessel, does not heat up my kitchen. Not even a little! Summer foods can be cooked all day in the crockpot without adding a degree of mind-numbing heat to our dwelling.

Genius, I tell you! Pure genius!

It was this revelation that led to my particular style of marathon cooking. When I fall in love with an idea, it ain't no joke. I go all the way, friends. I figured out that if I spend extra time prepping meals at the start of the month, I could construct enough meals in one morning to feed my husband and I healthy dinners all month long. Healthy, cheap, chemical-free dinners. With no extra work required.

Here's how I do it...

I start with four or five crockpot recipes. I usually try out one or two new recipes, along with some of our tried and true favorites. This time around I made Barbeque Chicken and Veggies, Orange Beef, Cranberry Turkey, Summer Vegetable Stew, and Cherry Chicken. Most of these started out as recipes I found online, which I heavily modified to fit our tastes. These are great summer foods, all gluten-free and dairy-free, and we serve them with rice, polenta, pasta, or quinoa. Some can also be served as sandwiches.

Once I've got my recipes, I assemble my ingredients for the first recipe. I use two gallon-sized freezer bags per recipe, and this is going to hold enough food for four people (or, in our case, two meals for two people). I label each freezer bag with the date, the contents, and simple cooking instructions. This is so Casey can make these foods when I'm not around.

Then I start prepping everything, dividing everything in half to go into the two bags. Most of my recipes include every single ingredient, from meat to sauce to veggies, and after everything is in the bags, I seal them up and shake them pretty well. I want everything as mixed up as possible. Then I lay the bags flat on the counter, open a corner, and press all the air out until the bags lay as flat as possible. I seal them up and stack them flat in the freezer. Getting them nice and flat means I can store way more bags than if they were sitting upright. I move on to the next recipe, and just keep repeating until I'm done. Pretty easy.

I'm practiced, so I can make five full recipes (or ten bags) from scratch in two hours. Now, I know two hours seems like a long time. But this is the only hands-on time I'll spend on these recipes all month. So really, two hours isn't bad at all. If I had a chest freezer and more mouths to feed, I'd probably make even more.

When it's time to eat, I take the bag out of the freezer either a) the night before and put it in the fridge or b) 30 minutes ahead of time and leave it out on the counter. It'll thaw enough to be broken apart. I dump the entire contents into the crockpot and follow the directions on the bag--- almost always eight hours on low (or four hours on high, if you're rushed). Then I leave it alone all day. I quickly cook up some rice or gluten-free pasta or quinoa or polenta, and I usually serve it with a salad. We always have leftovers, and we eat those again later that week. Delicious!

Sometimes people think I'm some kind of Holly Homemaker because we usually eat homemade meals. I guess it's nice that people think I'm so dedicated, but I figured I better come clean. Our meals are easy because I prep them in advance. I'm just as lazy as everyone else but I'm committed to eating healthy, chemical-free, made-from-scratch foods. This is my process, demystified.

Thanks for reading, and get out your crockpots!

Blessings to you and yours.

15 May 2012

Chemical-Free: Meat!

This is such a touchy subject, folks. I come from Nebraska, land of the amazing steak, and Nebraskans don't like to talk about where their meat comes from. It makes sense: almost all of us know someone who makes at least part of their living off beef cattle, and you don't want mess with another person's living. We tiptoe around the topic of antibiotics, hormones, and cruel slaughtering practices. We don't want to think about pen sizes or whether our hamburger ate grass covered in pesticides. There aren't many vegetarians in Nebraska, I can tell you, and the ones who are have a hard time. After all, tomatoes don't put food on your neighbor's table. Touchy, touchy subject, I can assure you.

I am not a vegetarian. For one thing: I like to eat meat. For another: I have Crohn's disease, which limits the foods I am allowed to consume. Limiting myself further would make it difficult to get the nutrients I need, especially since my body doesn't handle soy well. So yes, I eat meat every day. I'm not here to talk about giving up your bacon cheeseburger.

Let's talk, instead, about how to eat meat right. You heard me! Bam! Value judgement, right out of the gate. I'm not backing away from this, friends. In my (educated) opinion, there are right and wrong ways to consume other animals. I'm going to tell you how to eat meat the right way, and you can leave me annoyed messages amending everything I've said in the comments. I'm cool with that.


We're going to dive right in with my home-state's trademark: The Cow. Cows have been domesticated since the early Neolithic era, which means we've had a long time to breed them into exactly what we want them to be. Basically: really large, really docile, really delicious animals. My husband's family live on a cattle farm (no, it's not a ranch, I do know the difference). Casey assures me that cows are perfectly content to be penned up together, chewing up grass and sleeping a lot. Cows are very big, heavy animals and--little known fact--they can jump pretty high. If a cow decided it didn't want to be in the pen, it'd just walk right through it. Or jump right over it. It's pretty much impossible to stop a cow from doing whatever it damn well pleases.

But cows have been bred to trust us, much like sheep and goats. That's pretty sick when you think about it, although very convenient. Cows believe we are going to take care of them and so they stay where we put them. Contrary to popular belief, they are not stupid. Cows will come when you call them, just like dogs, and they form incredibly complex social bonds. They have friendships, social hierarchies, and even hold grudges against other cows. After I first witnessed the separation of the calves from the mothers on the family farm, I did a little research. My husband's pleasant lie-- that after a few days, cows simply forget their own babies-- is completely false. Cows have very long memories. They don't forget; they give up in despair.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because if we're going to eat an animal with the capacity for emotion, for friendship, for love, then we need to make sure we're dealing with them humanely. Most people wouldn't put down a dog by slitting its throat and throwing its body on a hook while it is still alive. We do this to cattle. There are many ways to slaughter cattle which are approved under the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958, and all require the animal to be knocked out before it is killed. But it is well-documented that the methods of doing so often fail, and the animals sometimes bleed out while conscious. Even if they don't, other cows can usually see the dead cows hanging in front of them while they wait their turn to die. This is no way to treat an animal which is giving its life to sustain yours.

Putting all that touchy-feely stuff aside, there are still the chemicals to consider. Commercially-bred and -raised cows are usually given a series of antibiotics (such as these), vaccines (like these), and steroids (see this article). They are fed hay which has been sprayed down with pesticides and weed-killer. And, if they can get away with it, they will wash the meat down with ammonia prior to grinding it. We're not even talking about Pink Slime, here, which is actually chicken. I don't know about you but when I order a hamburger, I just want to get hamburger.


As is often the case, we vote with our wallets.

Look, the beef industry doesn't care if you like a YouTube video. They don't care what petitions you sign or what stories you share on Facebook. All they care about at the end of the day is what you pay for in the grocery store.

If you continue to buy beef based solely on what is cheapest, you will be feeding your family chemicals that you shouldn't knowingly feed to your cat. I know, I know, it's easy for me to say. We don't have children to feed and clothe and house. I'm going to hit you some hard facts though. I'm sorry, but I just can't help myself:

1) You're eating too much meat anyway.

According to the USDA, "In 2000, total meat consumption (red meat, poultry, and fish) reached 195 pounds (boneless, trimmed-weight equivalent) per person, 57 pounds above average annual consumption in the 1950s." Although we are consuming leaner cuts of meat than our predecessors, most of us are still consuming too much protein. And we're getting it from sources that are higher in saturated fats and more expensive.

2) Meat is an expensive protein.

The average cost of a pound of hamburger is $3.33 and that makes four quarter-pound hamburgers. The average cost of a pound of black beans is $1.99 and makes roughly 8 cups. You also get protein from nuts, cheese, yogurt, eggs, soy, and even quinoa. You're probably taking in more than you realize; there's really no reason to think you need to have a meat option at every meal. I eat meat once a day, usually at dinner, and that is more than sufficient. Buying less means you can afford to eat better quality meat when you do consume it.

3) If your kids are eating school lunches, they are eating animal by-products.

Just watch Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. I don't have time to go into all of this here.

Okay, so here's what to look for if you want to eat meat the right way...

Certified Organic. The USDA requires certified organic beef to meet some requirements. The cows must be raised on a certified organic pasture. They can never receive antibiotics or hormones. They can only be fed certified organic grains and grasses, which means no pesticides or chemical weed-killers. They also must have unrestricted outdoor access, and be slaughtered in the most humane way currently available.

Don't be fooled by packaging that says the beef is "natural." This only means it has no additives-- which is good for hamburger but otherwise pointless. "Certified Organic" is the only guarantee you're going to get, short of driving out to the farm and seeing the process for yourself. We sometimes stock up on beef from the family farm, but only because I know exactly where and how it's raised and slaughtered.

Is it going to cost more? Yes. But it will taste better. It will be safe for you and for your family. It will ensure that we're treating our fellow creatures, even those we eat, with humane respect. Just try it for a month. One month of buying meat that is certified organic, even if it means buying less. You'll taste the difference, I guarantee, and you won't suffer from eating a little less beef.

Good luck, and bon appetit!

10 May 2012

As promised, on writing

UPDATE: I am not the technological genius you believed me to be (ha ha). I thought I'd posted this yesterday, and instead I just saved it. Fail. Here you are then.

I promised I would write about writing, and I keep my promises. Of course, writing about writing is a bit too meta for someone like me (I have a tendency to veer into the philosophical when discussing turkey sandwiches or subway smells) so I'll try to keep myself on track here.

In case you somehow missed this: I attend the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I'm studying Writing for Children and Young Adults, and in roughly 21 months I will have my masters degree. At which point I will require you all to address me as "Master Cary Diers" or, alternatively, "Master Jenny, Empress of Narrative." My husband is so excited about this, I can tell you. The program is low-residency, which means that I spend most of my time accountable only to myself. It's good training for the gut-wrenching, hair-pulling, time-devouring life of a novel writer. It's also good training for living like a grown-up.

My first semester advisor, Mark Karlins, has been excellent. He's gentle with me but never patronizing. His comments are concise and fair. When I need a butt-kicking, he administers it politely. And when I succeed, he helps me actually believe in my success... I think that last bit might be the most valuable piece of all. He's also a brilliant writer in his own right (see here, here, and here) which completely negates the worn-out adage that "those who can't do, teach." Not that I believed that anyway.

I've always been a voracious reader; now I read more and more in-depth than ever before. I write with purpose and I edit with a finer eye. I understand terminology I'd never even heard before. I dream about editing, too, which is neither as scary nor as productive as you'd think. I've made incredible friends in my semester classmates. I'm working on a novel which might turn out to be my best work yet-- although it's impossible to tell at this point-- and Mark is helping me to ask myself the hard questions. His help is absolutely invaluable. I dread giving up his critique next semester, although I know I'll fall just as much in love with my next advisor too. I am a baby bird, and Papa Bird must thrust me from the nest. He thinks I can fly. I'm just hoping I fall with style.

When I first broached the topic of attending graduate school for writing, even I thought I was a little bit crazy. Wasn't I an actress? A singer? A performer? Wasn't that what I'd always been, and thereby who I was as well? I certainly thought so at the time. Looking back at that long period of wondering, of questioning my choices and pondering my purpose, I wish I could speak to that woman from here. I wish I could say: Don't worry so much about who you are. Your soul is an intact creation, whole and complete and everlasting. No one can take that away from you. A vocation is only a way to spend time; the goal is to enjoy it and to make it mean something. We are not what we do, but what we make of it.

See that? I slipped into philosophy there. That means it's time for me to wrap up this rambling account. The sun is shining, the birds are conversing, and there are strawberries in my fridge begging to be eaten. Plus, I need to get editing the start of chapter five.

As promised, a cat photo:

Blessings to you all, and good luck on your journey today.

09 May 2012

Chemical-Free: Who, Why, and How

I've been slacking badly in the blog world. I know it. You know it. I had a good reason, lots of good reasons, but it's time to get back on the proverbial horse. Actually, it'd be great to get back on a real horse. But they're harder to come by.

Tomorrow I will put up a lengthy post on my own writing, and the impact my graduate program at Vermont College of Fine Arts has had on my process. It will be epic! Angels will sing! Probably not the angels part, but I will include a picture of my cat.

Today, I need to write about anything but writing-- since that is all I've been doing for four months now. So instead, I am going to talk about something I am almost as passionate about as writing for teens.

Chemicals. Or, actually, a lack of chemicals.

Here's the thing: I joke about being something of a hippie, and in many ways I'm not. I like living in a busy, urban area. I like eating out at restaurants that serve ridiculously expensive imported cheese. I like taking the car to the grocery store; I don't even know how to ride a bike. I'm a very bad hippie, indeed, and so my jokes about being one are just that. Jokes. But there are some parts of my life in which I am committed to "living lighter": to protecting the temple that is my body and reducing my impact on the planet I love. It's a lot easier than it sounds.

Every few days, I'm going to offer up some easy ways to avoid needless chemicals. I'll also explain why I made the switch. Take what you want, leave what you don't, and let me know how stuff works for you. I'm interested to hear your thoughts and opinions. Let's start with...


I want to be clean. I want my husband to be clean. But conventional, store-bought laundry detergent is both expensive and laden with unnecessary chemicals. Did you know that there is no practical reason for your laundry soap to have suds? It's true. Suds are the result of the addition of Surfactants-- chemical substances added to detergents to promote suds and (soap companies say) to help break down stains. They are completely unnecessary and harmful to the environment (especially fish). They don't wash completely clean, and we wear those chemical additives against our skin. There's evidence that they might act as an endocrine disruptor, which can adversely affect metabolism, reproduction, and growth. And this is just one of the many chemicals in store-bought detergents! Don't even get me started on "optical brighteners"...

Plus, fun fact: HE washers can't even handle the suds. The large soap companies now have to offer "low-suds" formulas for use in these machines.

So what do I do about it? I make my own laundry detergent. Fact: It is incredibly cheap. Also fact: It is fast and easy. Further fact: It is the best option if you have folks in your house with sensitive skin.

The recipe I use can be found all over the internet. There are a million variations. Casey and I don't get our clothes and linens very dirty because we have clean, indoor jobs. You may want to increase the concentration of your liquid if you're dealing with more serious grime. The basic recipe is as follows:

1/3 cup washing soda (similar to baking soda, and made by the same companies)
1/3 cup borax (usually found in the cleaning section)
1/3 bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap (or any bar soap)
big pot
container large enough to hold two gallons
funnel, if you need it

1) Fill your container with water, leaving space at the top for future shaking. Filling the container with water ensures you'll never make more detergent than you can store.
2) Pour half the water into the pot. Put it on medium-high heat.
3) Grate your bar soap into the pot. A Fels-Naptha bar is large, so I use 1/3 of the bar per batch. A Dove bar is smaller, so I'd use 1/2 of that size.
4) Let the soap flakes melt into the water completely. Stir occasionally.
5) When soap is completely incorporated, add your borax and your washing soda. Stir it up well.
6) Let that sit on the heat, stirring occasionally, so that it can thicken a bit. It will not get as thick as store-bought detergent. I usually wait until it just begins to bubble. Don't let it boil; it will cause a mess... personal experience talking here.
7) Take the pot off the heat and stir in 1/2 of the water left in in your container (1/4 of the total water will remain). Let this cool for a while. You can wait until it gets to room temperature if you want but I'm too impatient.
8) Using the funnel (if you need to) pour your detergent into your two-gallon container. Put the lid on. Shake the whole thing to mix it up.

Each full load requires about 1/4 cup of detergent. Heavily soiled items might need more, delicate items a little less. I just eyeball it, but you could measure it out if you want. I always give it a good shake before I use it. Remember: This will look much thinner than you're used to. That's okay, it's still going to work. Your clothes will still smell fresh and clean, but they will have no scent (unless your bar soap is scented). You can dry them as normal.

When I first started making my own laundry detergent, I kept track of my costs. I bought my ingredients online, and I bought the exact ingredients I've linked to in the list above (although not at those exact prices). I use a well-cleaned container that originally held cat litter, which has worked very well for me. Each batch makes roughly two gallons, and each load takes about 1/4 cup. I have been making my own detergent for five months now and have only repurchased the bar soap. I still have plenty of washing soda, and I'm pretty sure I bought enough Borax to last me an entire year. My math isn't complete, since I still have product to use up, but I can tell you for certain that my laundry costs me no more than a penny a load.

That's right: one penny per load. Or possibly less.
You absolutely cannot beat that.

I encourage you to give this a try. I swear it takes very little time and effort (certainly no more than getting down to the store to pick up some Tide). If your first batch doesn't seem perfect, play with the proportions a bit. If you just aren't sold in the end, fear not! I will be posting more good ways to use up those ingredients. It's better for your body, better for the environment, and better for your wallet. It's Win-Win-Win!

11 February 2012

Healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Early to bed and early to rise
Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

I've been thinking about this today. It's a strange adage, isn't it? If Silicon Valley is any indication, it's not terribly accurate. And I'm not all that interested in being wealthy; I'd be quite content just to live comfortably and help my kids go to college if they choose. Of course, I would very much like to be wise one day but I'm willing to wait until I've earned my keep. I'm not the sort of person who compares herself to others in this way. Well, almost never. With one glaring exception.

I envy the healthy so much right now that I can hardly stand it. It's my own little green monster, my jealous Achilles heel. I've never been one for assigning blame-- not since I've outgrown my teenage angst-- but I do go through bouts of incredible anger when I think about my health. It's not directed at people, or at Gods, or at fate. It's mostly directed at my own body, which is exhausting. The jealousy I feel can make me lash out in unexpected ways.  I feel embarrassed by my own envy, which is exactly why it's better to get it out in the open.

The relationship with my body is complicated. It was even before I developed Crohn's. I've never really enjoyed living in my body. I've never appreciated it. I've never had the strength or the emotional capacity to be satisfied with it. And what does that mean, anyhow? To be satisfied with my body? It sounds distasteful to me, like settling for something you don't actually want. The further along this road I go, the more Crohn's Disease takes away from me. The list of foods I'm allowed to eat gets shorter almost weekly, and the roster of medications keeps increasing. I'm not getting better. I'm trying to learn to see not getting worse as a win.

Fact: My body and I are in a never-ending battle of wills.
Additional Fact: I am losing.

My body is starving-- not for food, obviously, but for the nutrients it cannot pull out of that food. My cholesterol is high, my vitamin absorption is low, and I'm so inexplicably tired. It's frustrating to know that I'm eating healthfully and exercising, and my body is still suffering like this. My doctor suggested starting the Specific Carbohydrate Diet in an attempt to get back in control. The diet focuses on foods that are simple to digest. It means cutting out both diary and starch, as well as soy products, chocolate, and sugar. No, I'm not happy about it, and I'm not doing it because I want to. I really do not have a choice. That anger I was talking about? It bubbles very close to the surface when I think about this.

I think about these sorts of things a lot, and that's when I start to feel depressed. Focusing on my work helps. Reading helps. Looking up SCD recipes helps. Facebook helps, and so does television, and I don't care if you judge me for that. Living inside this head, inside this body, really sucks right now. I spend so much of my time pretending it doesn't. I tell people I'm feeling fine when it feels like my guts are eating themselves. I want to complain but I generally don't, and I feel so guilty when I do. What’s healthy about that?

On top of all this, I'm tired of being a burden. I think about the weddings I'm set to attend this year-- my brother's and my sister-in-law's-- and I wonder what the hell I'll eat there. And I hate that anyone might have to worry about that, because it turns me into a problem. Everything in me rebels against being anyone else's problem. Sometimes well-meaning people imply that I can be braver, or that I should beware using my disease a crutch. “Such-and-so got sick, and became such a whiner, and isn’t it terribly sad when sick people just wallow in it all?” I want to tear their hair out. Only a healthy person would say this. The jealousy monster rises up in me, green-skinned and red-eyed, and commands me to go for their throat. But I don't. I never do.

So I guess I’m doing my ranting here. Poor you, really, for reading all of this. See that?! I did it again! Guilt is very powerful. My husband has been struggling with the fact that Crohn's Disease is incurable. He's a "fixer," and so he has a hard time accepting that this isn't something that can be fixed. Sometimes I want to lie to him, to tell him my doctor said I'm improving when he actually told me the opposite. I want to comfort him, and I want him to comfort me, and neither of those things ever really work out. There's very little comfort to go around right now. I want to be sorry for dumping all of this on the internet, and for making you read it, but I won’t let myself feel guilty about that. You didn’t have to read it. I don’t owe you an apology. If I was a mantra-having individual, I might try that one out: I don’t owe you an apology for my honesty.

Where do I go from here? Nowhere profound. I’ll make an SCD dinner, and then head to bed early.

Early to bed, early to rise. It really can’t hurt to try.

26 January 2012

Book-banning freedom: a bit of a rant.

"In Arizona, the Tucson Unified School District governing board recently voted to suspend the controversial Mexican American studies program. The move came after the state superintendent John Huppenthal deemed the program in violation of a state law banning, among other things, classes that promote resentment toward a race or class."

Listen to or read the NPR interview with Michel Martin.

Sometimes I really don't know what to say. Sometimes I do.

So, here's the thing:

Let me preface by admitting that I personally know some of the authors on the list of books no longer available to Tucson students. It's only fair I mention that because it implies a clear bias. A lot of people have a lot of opinions on this program, and you ought to formulate your own. Therefore, I won't discuss this particular ban any more than I have to. I'm just here to talk about school book banning in general.

Fasten your seat belts.

The United States of America has taken a pretty clear stance on things like freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, and freedom of information. As in, "Yes, please, all of the above." Even documents pertaining to national security are made available to the public after a sufficient period of time, and with persistent enough requests. Now, I'm not saying there aren't flaws-- historically, the government has seen fit to redact and even fabricate those documents in an effort to keep us in the dark. But that only works to a point. At the end of the day, Americans truly believe that the truth shall set us free. Well, most of us do. Usually.

Banning books, for any reason, is completely counter to everything the United States is meant to stand for. We are a free market, an open market, and that means freedom to publish anything anybody anywhere might want to read. That means allowing our citizens access to information we don't agree with. Information that scares us. Information that sickens us. It's tough, and it can be painful, but that's the social contract we sign if we want to live and work in this country.

Of course, there's a wealth of difference between allowing these books to be printed and using them to instruct our children. But I admit some concern when school districts are granted the power to teach my child religion in biology class. And when administrators have the balls to tell 50% of their student body that the study of their own history promotes "resentment toward a race or class."

Wake up, John Huppenthal: If these students didn't resent powerful white men before, they sure as hell do now.

Okay, okay, I said I wouldn't go into this particular case. My larger point is that these kinds of value judgments-- about who resents what and why-- aren't really pertinent. Aside from the fact that they cannot by quantified, they imply that the school has some kind of right and/or obligation to teach morality to their students. But the thing is, they don't. They really, really do not.

It isn't a teacher's job to parent your child. It isn't a librarian's job to parent your child. It's your job. The school district's only obligation is to tell them the truth, all the varying versions thereof, and try to encourage them to make up their own minds about it. If our schools become nothing but Citizen-Factories, pumping out equally-brainwashed young cadets to fill an outdated workforce, then American innovation will die. The American Dream (such that it is) relies upon innovation. It relies upon men and women with eager minds and wide open hearts.

You can't build those people in a world that tells us what to think, rather than teaching us how to.

Any time someone decides for you what your child can and cannot read, that should frighten you. No one has the right to form your child's opinions for them. Not even you. And no one has the right to implement rules that stand in the way of giving teenaged students a more complete understanding of the world. It's a big place, and we need to raise big people capable of tackling these really big issues. These teenaged years are the last time we have with them to prepare future citizens for adulthood. We should be trying to teach them about the importance of freedom, and how to maintain it, and exactly what our fore-bearers went through to get it. All of our fore-bearers. No limitations.

Stand against banning books.

Stand against limiting knowledge.

Stand with and for your country.

24 January 2012

Bucket List.

Back to the future.

Yes, yes, I know. I really haven't posted since November. I had a good reason, any number of good reasons. I apologize for my absence. One of my very good reasons is the subject of my blog post today.

I spent ten days in Vermont this past month studying at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. It was a weighty experience. Everything about VCFA is heavy-- the travel, the work load, the analysis, the lectures, the snow. Well, perhaps not so much snow in the summer. That remains to be seen. The point is that VCFA is not for the faint of heart. Or the poor of health, it turns out, though I'll get to that later.

Let me begin by saying this:

I learned more in this ten day period, about work and about writing and about life, than I did in the four years I spent on my undergrad. This is not an indictment of my alma mater. I did not study writing in undergrad, and so I have only myself to blame. Perhaps those who studied writing at other institutions were less dazzled than poor little overwhelmed me. All of my professors are famous. Many of my classmates are published. I felt silly and ill-prepared. I do not know the meaning of "objective correlative" or "cultivation theory." I did not know that semi-colons had gone out of style; indeed, I adore them! I knew I'd be going in behind and was prepared to catch up. But catching-up will take more than reading a few craft books and learning the lingo.

VCFA is a program for writers, for serious writers with serious goals. Well, I certainly have the goals. But I have not given myself permission to think of myself as a "serious writer." I'm not even sure what that means. Every lecture I attended, every workshop I sat in, gave me new insight on how to approach my own work. After Susan Fletcher's incredible lecture on exposition, I wanted to spend days ripping apart my own manuscript. I think most first semester students experienced this same awakening.

Some of my classmates (wonderful writers, all) had done almost no research before choosing this program. Some did not know our professors or recognize their work. I could not understand this. And yet, I felt they had a stronger sense of belonging, of purpose, than I did. I'm an excellent researcher, an above-average student, but what kind of writer am I? I'm not sure. And what does it mean that I do not know? I am a scholar of children's and young adult's books, but it does not necessarily follow that I'll write it well.

So now I am home, and I'm ill, and I think my body is punishing me. Ten days in frigid Vermont? Two days of hard, non-stop travel? No, no, I don't think so. You are going to bed. I suppose I expected it. But I still have school work to do, and a household to run, and eventually I'm going to have to take new work again. VCFA cannot be my whole life. It ought not to be anyone's. This balancing act of worker and artist and scholar and wife will take time to perfect. I'm working on it. It is hard.

My brain is too scattered. The bathroom needs cleaning.  I hate doing the laundry when it's snowy outside.

I promise to post something more coherent later.

At least my cats missed me.

Blessings to you and yours.