Friday, December 28, 2007

Humane Farms Initiative

The hope that no living thing suffers needlessly is a basic want for all people. I will believe that. It’s not often that we get an opportunity to easily ban the most inhumane of practices. Californians have such an opportunity now.

The Human Society, Farm Sanctuary and many, many other animal welfare and health professionals are backing an initiative to get on the November 2008 ballot that will prevent three of the cruelest forms of extreme confinement practiced on large Californian factory farms: Veal crates, battery cages and gestation crates. Arizona, Florida and Oregon have already banned gestation crates, and Arizona has also banned veal crates. The European Union has banned all three.

Veal crates are tiny wooden crates in which male calves are trapped for most of their short lives. The crates are just bigger than their bodies and are so restrictive that the calves cannot turn. They cannot even lie down comfortably.

Battery cages are tiny enclosures that confine approximately 19 million egg-laying hens in California. The wire cages are about the size of a sheet of paper. The hens cannot walk, spread their wings; they can barely turn. They are confined like this most of their lives.

Gestation crates are metal cages that confine nearly 20,000 breeding pigs in California for most of their lives. The cage is barely wider than a pig’s body. The pigs are unable to turn. Sores develop on many pigs from leaning or rubbing against the bars. The cages are often kept on concrete crippling many pigs’ feet.

The proposed measure would provide the most basic protection to farm animals; merely allowing them to turn around and extend their limbs. It’s hard to imagine a more moderate initiative. Such forms of confinement are not only inhumane, but archaic and unnecessary only subjecting the animals to stress, fear and pain. And we can end this with our vote!

650,000 signatures by California voters are needed to get this initiative on the November ballot, and they are needed by the end of February. This may seem like a daunting deadline, but the smallest effort made by many caring Californians can make this happen. Please check out Californians for Humane Farms to obtain petition information. Petitions can be mailed to you directly even if you just want to collect signatures from your friends and family. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to relieve the most needless of animal suffering.

This is the letter I wrote and sent off to four local papers today. The Santa Monica Daily Press has already confirmed publication next week! But I throw the letter out to guys too, especially my fellow state-mates. The deadline is fast approaching and many more signatures from registered voters are needed. If you live in the LA area and don't want to get your own handful of petitions, you can sign mine. You can also contact your local coordinator listed on the CHF website to get your signature on there some how, some way. If you don't live in Cali, can you spread the word to anyone you know who does?

It's astounding and hurts my heart deeply that all day and all night an animal must still endure this form of confinement for nearly the entire duration of their life. We can put an end to it.

(Photo credit: Farm Sanctuary. Read FS's Call to Californians here.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

My Band's Name is Free Pie

I've never been much of a gamer. I played pong a couple times in the 70's. I'm not sure if I ever played a full game of Ms. Pac Man. I played Time Crisis a couple times with Husband at an arcade about seven years ago. And I've enjoyed the Wii Tennis with the family on occasion. That's fun. Absolutely never in my forty years have I ever played a video game by myself, just to play.

Uh, until now.

Santa brought Guitar Hero 3 Friday night, the night before Maya left. We haven't stop playing since. Maybe everyone at one point in their life becomes obsessed with a game, like how one reality show might hooks us in. Not only am I addicted, but somehow I'm the best player in our house, which is astounding. Why can I rip off riffs like a seasoned gamer? I'm a fake guitar natural.

This game is a fantastic education in great rock, by the way, which includes blues, punk and metal. Most all of the songs on the game are recordings by the original artists. Even if I don't know 80% of the songs, I'm sure they are all legendary with cult followings despite my ignorance. I'll say, "Wow, that song is so great. Who is that?" It will be Sunshine of my Love by Cream. Or My Name is Jonahs by Weezer. Or Lay Down by Priestess. What do I know? Basically nothing about this huge chunk of music. Growing up, I chose to listen to obscure African and Caribbean music. And more punk than I remember, apparently. Husband will say, "Why do you know the words to the Dead Kennedy songs?" I'll say, "Why do you know the words to the Poison songs?" The kids now hum the melody to Santana's Black Magic Woman and sing the words to Barracuda by Heart. The gamer industry is inadvertently keeping good rock alive for future generations.

I told my husband that the other irresistible appeal to Guitar Hero is that this is closest I'll ever come to being a proficient musician. It's the closest I'll ever come to feeling what it's like to make great music. I knew I was toast when I was swinging the axe and kicking my feet on explosive chords. And not to be funny either; just 'cause I was feeling it. It must be a sad sight. I don't care!

For all the times I've sneered when Husband was obsessed with Rollercoaster Tycoon, I'm sorry. When I pouted because I was a Grand Theft Auto widow for months, I'm sorry. A characteristic I greatly admire about Husband is that he makes no apologies for things like this. My sneering or pouting does not affect him. He'd say, "I just want to chill and be obsessed with this right now." It's a reasonable request really. And I'm gonna tell him the same. Papi, I'm gonna be a GH star for a minute.

I'm ready to rock -- with this maniacle look on my face:

Husband has the fever too.

Mina may very well soon pass us all up, with her nappy head.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Smells Like Holiday Spirit

I've been staying true to my month-long holiday commitment. It's been a blast so far. The smallest things have been the most impactful. Aren't they always? Marigoldie and I were discussing the beauty of sitting quietly in the glow of holiday lights as a nightly ritual. It's one of my favorite things of Christmas; lighting a fire, plugging in the tree -- no other lights are on -- and trying not to blink. It's so (nearly) unbearably comforting; it's worth trying to extend the moment until it reaches timelessness.

Hey, here's my go-to cookie of the season:
It's a Raspberry Rugalah with Ground Pecans. I found a basic recipe in . . .like a Family Circle or some sort of homemaker's magazine. I futzed and veganized and tweaked and ended up with these.
One of my co-workers, Big M, works on-sight at our largest customer in Arizona. He informed me that I had to send him something for their big Corporate Cookie Off. He said, "I've been going on and on about how you can bake your ass off so send something good." Hey, no pressure there. I made the above beauties and fed ex'ed them out with the note, "Don't tell anyone they're vegan until they've eaten about seventy-five of them." Another office-mate said, disgusted, "You made Arugula Cookies?" I said, "Yes, it's the ultimate in vegan baking; wrapping a cookie in greens." After the Cookie Off, Big M emailed me. He said my cookies were tops. "Top two, if not the best." I said, "Really?" He said, "There's only so many chocolate-chip cookie bars a person can take."

So that was cool.

Check us out ice skating! Santa Monica plopped in an outdoor rink downtown. We Southern Californians were confused and bewildered, but the rink was precious! Like a small-town movie scene.
As you can imagine, I am not the best of ice skaters. I've maybe gone five times in my life, but that doesn't mean I'll let the children drag me down to the ground with them. Shoot, this backside saw no ice, thank you, even with Mina hanging and pulling and falling herself many times. She's fearless though.
There went Maya, on the ground to the right, as her mother laughs . . .
Mr. Husband, on the other hand, is hotness on ice. He's all smooth and suave and crossy-leg cross-over skating, skating backwards looking all great doing so. East-coast upbringing and ice hockey wars as a youngster will do this I suppose.

Maya leaves tomorrow to spend Christmas with BD and Sanne and Baby R. I won't think about that now. Mina is not happy at all about it. But we're opening up most of the family gifts tonight. I heard an elf was going to drop off a couple of Santa's gifts too. Mina might still believe in Santa though we have our suspicions. I think she's keeping her mouth shut clinging to the sentiment that you must believe to receive. Anyway, celebrating all month has made it easier to let Maya go for the actual day of Christmas. I figure we've already had twenty-one days of the holiday so being without her for the one, real day might be ok.

Welcome Winter!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Happy Holiday, Animals

We went to Animal Acres for holiday festivities yesterday. I can't emphasize enough how City I am, but the energy of this farm sanctuary is so organically compassionate that I feel soothed there. Even if I don't feel compelled to hug the chickens. The cows have grown on me though. They were in a good mood this weekend. Sweet, calm and not endlessly hustling food. Here Maya's bonding with Roscoe.

Roscoe tried to nuzzle me a couple times. He chewed cud and circled his bottom jaw at me revealing the most suprising bottom row of straight and bright white teeth. He batted his eyes and I was a little sunk. I loved him. Don't tell the chickens.

A quality I find impossibly endearing about vegans is how we try to overemphasize how great animals are. We'll say, "Goats have an ability to stare into the soul." Or, "I love how a turkey pecks at the ground. I mean, it's so powerful." We can't help it. It's because we feel the need to go overboard praising their instinctual traits to expose more the barbarity of slaughtering or mistreating them. Though Roscoe really did stare into my soul. And the goats really are hilarious. And the pigs are smarter than most people I know. More sarcastic too.

This cracked me up: A choir came to sing holiday songs for the sanctuary guests. Mid-way through the first song, two goats came trotting around the corner of the building and hung out at the gate; one staring at the choir, the other sitting down just enjoying the music. A chicken stood atop the gate and stayed motionless until the singing was over.
I know I've reported this before, but Mina has a connection with animals. It's an interesting and beautiful thing to witness. Maya's a little freaked at first, but Mina jumps in, and animals respond well to her. She spent a lot of time with the chickens and turkeys this visit.

Evidence that a seared beak heals, but won't ever grow back.
Of course Squirt needed some love too. Who can't love a pigmy goat!?
I volunteered baked goods for the event. I made over a hundred cupcakes somewhere between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning before we drove off to the farm. I can't really express how satisfying it is to stack them all up. It's more satisfying to raise money to help keep a good thing running. But I feel embarrassed by giving charity. I feel very drawn to volunteering my time and resources, but at the last second I kind of wanted to drop off the boxes at the doorstep and run after ringing the bell.
I made a new flavor. Candy-cane frosting! Hell yes. I first made it on Thursday when a friend needed cupcakes for her holiday party. It was a basic "buttercream" with crushed candy canes & peppermint extract mixed in. I used a bit of beet coloring for half the frosting and swirled the halves together. Even the candy canes were colored with beet powder, no artificial or unknown coloring. I bought the canes at Whole Foods. They're called Hammond's Hand-Made Candy Canes.
For the farm event, I nixed the color all together, changed the frosting to a basic "creamcheese", added 1.5 tsp of peppermint extract and added enough crushed-to-powder candy canes to see sporadic flakes. This was the tweaking it needed. They were really good. And they were a hit!

They asked me back for their big Earth Day event next spring. I am honored, and in hindsight a hundred plus cupcakes wasn't that many . . .

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Stay Classy, Brokers

You guys are probably wondering, Madness, what of your Broker Holiday Party 2007? Ah, glad you asked. This year's party didn't exactly reach the level of shenanigans of 2005, but neither was it weighted by my bitterness of
2006. So, we're ahead of the curve.

Our company party sticks to a script of sorts. The intro always involves the Open Bar and is slathered with comments on how we all clean up nicely. Then onto a civil and lovely dinner coupled with Open Bar. Then a touching and praising toast from the owners. We were up yet another 20% in growth this year, considering a bad overall market, so why wouldn't they feel all vklemp about us? This was followed by more Open Bar. Then it was time for the Steal the Present Game with a side of Open Bar. This year, we all preemptedly tried to rig the Gift Game. Usually our controller goes out and buys an assortment of expensive gifts for the game and we reek havoc from there, trying to steal the most coveted items. This year, our controller asked us individually what we might like to personally see as a gift. Charged with the idea of cheating the game and getting something we truly would like, we all gave a wide variety of answers, not one of us asked for the same thing. I asked for a Cuisinart mixer. I researched a variety of mixers, including the famed Kitchen Aid, and decided on the industrious Cuisinart to help me with all my baking needs soon to come. Most of us knew what each other had wished for weeks in advance, going so far as to say things like, "Oh Madness, I can't wait until you get your mixer." And I would say, "Oh my gosh, I know! And I can't wait until you get your phone." Giggling would then ensue. We were jazzed. Not many were more jazzed than I, so much so that I told my closest friends outside of work about my impending killer gift. As the game began, extravagant and fantastic gifts revealed themselves. Pricey spa gift certificates, cruise-ship dinners, Broadway shows, a 42" Plasma TV, for christ's sake. I nervously waited for the mixer distracted by none of the big-ticket items. The mixer was unwrapped by our IT guy. When my name was called soon after, I predictably walked over to him. The IT guy even met me half way across the floor to hand it to me. The crowd cheered and I beamed. At our table, we were jolly and laughed easily as the game came near the end. Husband squeezed my hand, happy for me. Our warehouse guy's name was called and we watched him get his ear bent by his wife. After a minute, he strode across the dance floor, rounded my table and picked up the mixer. The entire room gasped, then groaned. It wasn't the usual finger-pointing and laughing that goes on when a good gift is stolen. It was genuine surprise and empathy. Everyone had known how much I had wanted the mixer. The warehouse guy had asked for the Dewault cordless drill/saw set, which was poised for the taking, but the wife demanded the mixer at the last minute. We brokers are cold, but she made him break our subjectable code. I tried to play it off, like I didn't feel kicked in the stomach. I watched the mixer box go back to his table to someone who hadn't spent weeks researching and hoping and wishing and praying for the mixer. I walked over and stole the Dewault drill for my husband.

I will say, I was really embarrassed for how long it took me to shake this off. I was mad at myself for feeling the way I did. I typically could care less about material things; they most certainly come and go. I was the most mad that I had let my hopes get so high and locked when in reality this is how the game is played. God bless the fucking warehouse guy's wife. (I suck.)

After the Gift Game, and many condolences from my co-workers including a sad, drunken one from the warehouse guy, we went back to the Open Bar, and the DJ started to spin the CD's. This is when we exercise our demons and let it all hang out. We don't judge those who dance like lunatics or fall and slur and break things and flash body parts or pass out right there on the rug. Hell no. We expect it. We laugh hard about it and we help them up, and keep going until we feel a little better ourselves.

Here's my man Big M working it out with himself on the dance floor. He said later, "I might as well of had some glow sticks."
This year the raucous spotlight was on our Purchasing Manager, Ling, whom I've know for ten years. She's always had a screw loose, in a good way. These last couple years have been hard on her. She fought a battle with a rare, cancerous tumor. We joke that only she could get something so rare. So far, she's winning the battle. She battles other things too so we give her space to go nuts at the party, and elsewhere. She also loves my Husband and always expresses this a lot when she's drunk. She likes to hang on him like he's a coat rack. I'm sure she'd like to use him in other ways, but he draws a line as I laugh and take pictures.

I mean, good god, he is so handsome. I can't really blame her.

Help me, he might've said here.
Here's Ling doing the elusive and endangered crane dance. Her form is top notch! If you look closely at the right edge of this photo, you can see my mixer being guarded by the lady in the white dress. You better guard it! Ok, breathing and letting go. Breathing and letting go.
Moments later we all saw Ling's beige panties when she fell and her legs stuck straight up like a doll's. But this was way after she flashed us her boobies about four times. Nothing to hide, girl! That's right.

I love this next picture because that guy in the middle looks like he's in his own world, doesn't he? It looks like that may be one of the drinks that was one too many, but his face says FUUUCK IT. This guy had actually officially said good night and had left the party only to be seen moments later ordereing this drink. He wasn't done. Nuh uh. It wasn't over yet for him.

All in all, another blast of a party thrown by the Job. As for the mixer, I finally let my grudge go the second I got my period. Go figure. I also went on eBay yesterday and bought the mixer for $100 less than the store price, which made me feel less guilty. It should be here next Monday and I can't wait.

I'm still saying unto you: Happy Holidays Damnit!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Test Day

My girls tested for higher belts in Taekwondo yesterday. Mina tested for her red belt and Maya tested for her second degree in black. It was nearly a four-hour long affair, unbegrudgingly though; even the littlest testers showed patience beyond their every-day capacities. During these tests, it's hard not to transform the experience into a huge metaphor for all things; a benchmark of their growth as people, an indication of how they will be able handle all things. My girls are amazing people and they are extremely clutch, man. Their abilities and poise seem instinctual.

Mina was focused and calm. She performed all her requirements before a big crowd of peers and parents and a panel of judges without the slightest sign of pressure. She broke a wood board with the single swipe of her round-house kick. When she missed a move of her form, she just did it again without a problem, even as the crowd felt tension for her. And she demonstrated super bad-ass technique such as this near-perfect jump back kick:
One of the greastest things about Mina in regards to Taekwondo is that she practices the sport with almost near autonomy from Maya's experience. They take classes together and we are, of course, a TKD family, but Mina doesn't idolize Maya as an athlete nor does she downplay Maya's accomplishments. Mina is supportive and praising, but her involvement does not hinge on Maya's. It's impressive. It's another example of her independent and strong mind.

Here's Mina putting on her head gear for her sparring portion of the test. I love this angle even though I can never get a clear picture of it. I always take this shot, don't I? It is the moment before battle; the butterflies, the questioning of oneself: Am I prepared? What am I made of? It is always an electric moment.

This was a big test for Maya. A second degree is not only an honor, obviously, but it is a clear indication of commitment to the practice. Earning a black belt is a lofty and praiseworthy goal. Going beyond that is sheer dedication. Age twelve, I'm told, is a hurdle year for kids in TKD, especially girls. We have wondered about Maya, even loosened the reins as far as the decision for her future participation. There have been times when she hasn't known herself and I feel she has to feel her own way through right now. For the first part of her second-degree test, she had to deliver a speech. This is standard for black-belt testers and any level beyond that. I told her to make her speech heartfelt and honest. She put a lot of thought into it and when she got in front of everyone she told the crowd that after the Junior Olympics she didn't know if she wanted to continue the sport. She told them that since she has rediscovered a love for it. She said she doesn't know what she'd do without TKD in her life. She loved feeling confident that she could defend herself, that she knows how strong and fit she is. She ended the speech by saying it is an honor to test and that she hopes she's an inspiration to the others. I think the answer to that is most certainly yes.
Maya also had to demonstrate two different forms, show her knowledge of moves and self defense, and kick the heavy bag three hundred times quickly and without stopping. Mina had to kick this bag a hundred and twenty times. This is way harder than it looks. Your fitness level has to be top notch! I thought one of the guys testing for his second degree, a fit guy in his forties, was going to pass out during certain parts of the test.

Taking down an attacker.

The hardest part of the test for Maya was having to spar three people at once. It was like watching her get jumped into a gang. It was rough and it was hard for Maya not to make light of it by at one point running to the other side of the mat, making the crowd laugh. BD, Sanne and two-year Baby R drove in from Vegas to watch the test. During the Jump In, Baby R was weepy and concerned for Maya. When the rumble was over, the room fell quiet. Baby R yelled out in severe toddler cuteness, "K, MA?" She can't completely say Maya so she calls her Ma. "K? MA?" Four or five times in a row, just yelling it out. Maya had to break concentration and say, "I'm good, Baby R. I'm fine."

Here she is recovering.

Baby R with Maya after the test. K, Ma?

Here's the panel of judges, a Brazilian contingient of bad-ass fighters and masters. Congratulations girls. You did exceptionally.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Holidays Or Bust

I've decided to be all about the holidays all month long. Just get drunk off of Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey Christmas CD's, maybe don a holiday sweater. And hat. A flashing broach. Watch Elf and Scrooged, and bake things with colored sprinkles. Maybe it will seem a bit maniacal. What of it? I don't feel like capping the raging holiday spirit that's abrewin' this year. And I'm bringing all my people with me on this crazy all-out celebration.

On the second day of Christmas, we decorated the tree, took the holiday-card photo and made a holiday iPod playlist. Maya tolerated my Dave Matthews and Aaron Neville song selections. She even forbade Mina to fast forward Dave Matthews whispering loudly, "Mina, no. That's mami's man." I nodded. Then we moshed about the living room to No Doubt's Oi to the World. The children are down with the all-December holidayathon.

I couldn't get enough of these back lit photos of the girls. Finally they said, "Mami, we can't decorate this side of the tree any more."

Trying to get the holiday-card photo is always fun. The dogs were killing me though. They love to be cradled like the babies that they are, but couldn't they look a teeny more lively? Dang. They're lucky I didn't make them wear the Santa gear.

Wake up, puppies!

Now Lupe's eyeballin me. Maya glows though, doesn't she?

Here's the other beauty. (Hello? Carmen, over here.)

Here's the final cut for our 2007 card. Ah man, a shot to remember, huh? Today's my lucky day, again. It's my new daily grace. That and Happy Holidays Goddamnit!

Friday, November 30, 2007

El Día de Mi Suerte

This morning when I woke Mina I said, "Mina, time to get up. Look, it rained last night." Mina bolted up and looked out the window. "Mami!" She said. "Today is our lucky day. Our ancestors came!"

She's been reading a story this week with her class about the Tewa Native Americans. The story's about a man, the head dancer of his town, who teaches his grandkids and other kids how to dance a prayer; or more that: Dancing is prayer. The story explains that rain is lucky, and it's a sign that our ancestors are visiting us. Mina's morning proclamation and full absorption of the story touched me a lot.

I can't say that she's coasting through third grade though. Modern-day third grade seems to assign a tremendous workload and requires an ambitious, must-learn schedule. But what do I know? I come from an era of smoking/drinking pregnant women and when kindergarten was state-funded babysitting. Mina and I welcome the work still; we're plugging away, but her teacher said she struggles. My heart sank when I heard because, of course, I think she's doing great. Man, am I labeled as Mina's Crazy and Blinded Mom? I do love her teacher though. We talk a lot and he certainly has a good grasp of Mina's personality. He told me that though she sometimes has a hard time or sometimes she spaces out in class, that sometimes she says things that aren't just a couple steps ahead of the class, but twelve steps ahead. He said, "She kind of perplexes me because there's nothing specifically I can put my finger on." He told me to keep working with her ("the best thing for her") and we'd see how the year pans out. Mina seems to think she's doing great too. At least she and I are on the same page. Sigh.

And she understands when the ancestors come.

When Mina was four years old, I had a tshirt made up for her that read "deep". I should just keep getting it in larger sizes. Man, I love that kid.

I feel better, in general. I still have lingering blahziness, but when a little bright face surrounded by matted sleep-hair yells through the early grey-light of a gorgeously rainy morning that IT IS OUR LUCKY DAY, it's hard not to believe her. Cleansing is lucky, right?

Coincidentally, I have been overlistening to a particular Hector Lavoe song this week. His songs are encased in a cemented sadness. They are ironic and doomed and I can't stop replaying them right now. "Pronto llegará, El día de mi suerte, Sé que antes de mi muerte, Seguro que mi suerte cambiará . . .Y ¿cuándo será?" (Soon my lucky day will come. I know before I die certainly my luck will change. When will that be?)

Mina said today's the day. I'm going with that. Today's the day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I recently admitted to my friend Ma that my drug of choice is hope. I'm addicted to it. I crave it in my literature, in movies. It better be in my morning cup of coffee. To me the sparkling lift of possibility is a high like no other. Ah man, let it never cease to wash over me.

But some days - not often -- I run low. Sometimes I'm dry. I wade around in What's-the-Point genuinely, if only briefly, perplexed and lost. I wonder if hope is as detrimental as any addiction.

When I feel dry, I don't scramble to feel better. I just let it flow through; run its course. I suppose it's ok to be weighed down for a little while. I think of the sparrow. It's one of the few Christian-isms I held onto after I escaped the church. His eye is on the sparrow. It supposed to mean that if god can keep his eye on the sparrow than surely he watches me, but I take it more to mean that maybe when god feels dry, he looks to the smallest of things.

Mina ran into the room on Sunday from just getting dressed. Her hair is near her waist now and as she stumbled into the dining room, long strands caught light and bent in mid-air around her, her bangs wisped up. She was laughing because she was losing her balance, pushing too far forward as she ran. I froze that frame and pasted it like a stamp behind my eyes. Last night at dinner, Maya was breaking in a new Real Food Daily waitress. Maya was charming and on. She cracked a corny joke and turned to me with a raised eyebrow and a smirk. This morning, before dawn, I watched my husband stand before a mirror and button a crisp shirt that glowed grey in the darkness. He yanked at the bottom of the shirt and futzed with the cuffs for a long time. When I made the Thanksgiving pies, I cut the shortening into the flour, and everything else fell away. The pastry expanded and filled my entire vision. It was a living universe. Trace flour was smeared on the counter, the dough cupped and cradled. The heels of my hands knead in only clear intention. I push in love. I push in care. I am thankful.

These are sparrows. When I can think not before or beyond them, I feel a high cusping.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Photobooth Friday, 12 Year Old Stylie

I don't get a chance to contribute much to Photobooth Friday, but Maya brought this home from her school Halloween carnival. Maya's in the back and in the forefront are two of her closest homies, Palmo and Lindz. This is a glimpse into Maya's fast-approaching independent life; hanging with her girls, free from mami and family. All naturally cool and fun and secure on her own. This picture, for some reason, makes me feel alright about it all.

More photobooth friday brilliance AQUI.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tell Your Girls to Call for the Ball

I was speaking to a young mother of a two year old girl last week. She confided that her daughter hangs out with too many boys; she is not maintaining her girly-girl ways. "What next?" the mother said, "She'll want a baseball mitt for Christmas?" I smiled and checked my watch. What year was I in? I said quietly, "I hope she wants a baseball mitt." My smile confused her.

Over the weekend, Mina had a play date. The mother wanted to come over so I could give her baking tips. That sounded fun to me. She brought all three of her young daughters. The mother then spent a lot of the visit dogging her girls. The middle girl, from what I've seen, is a real kick in the pants; a five year old firecracker with strong opinions and not shy about speaking up. She is secretly my favorite of the three. I think she's special, but her mom used words about the girl within ear shot like "grates on my nerves" and "we'll always butt heads". Taken aback I said, "That's the type of girl that'll do great things." The mom asked sincerely, "You think so?" The oldest girl is in Mina's class and has a mild, sweet temperament. The mom relates more to her personality, which she clearly told me a few times. This older girl is also a stunning height, head and shoulders above her class. The mom told me she hopes she doesn't end up like one of those "amazon women with size 10 feet.” I sighed. "Maybe she'll be a great athlete." Rising up in me was a dislike for this woman that I didn't want to feel. I just wanted to tuck her girls away; maybe keep the middle one for myself. We also spoke about how she was so impressed that I could pass baking on down to my girls. This was funny to me because that hadn't really occurred to me. I think of baking as a love that I developed late. In no way do I look at it as a necessary skill that my girls should learn. I told the mom, "Hmm, you know, I don't bake often with the girls. When they really want then I do." She said that she felt it necessary to pass down cooking skills to her girls. I said the only thing I would make them learn how to cook was beans, but I'd do that if I had sons too. All Puerto Ricans must learn beans, boys and girls. My husband certainly knew how to cook beans when we met. There were a couple awkward silences during the visit. We were cordial and I tried hard to still like her. When they left, she apologized that her girls were so wild. I said, "Huh?"

A few months ago, my company hired an outside sales rep, who has since quit. He was a bulldog of a guy; aggressive with an agitated vibe. He never looked at me in the eyes. During one sales meeting, I asked him questions regarding our customers and he would answer my male higher-up instead, which I thought was astonishingly strange. The discussion switched to strategies of how we would pitch a new, reluctant customer and the rep suggested that they fly me in for a personal visit. The conference room erupted in approving laughter and brow-raised nods. I smiled and looked at my hands. In fifteen years of brokering -- even in the fray of this boy's-club industry -- I had never been talked about that way, to my face at least.

Last month, in Maya's P.E. class, there was an invitation for boys and girls to try to make the Elite Running Club. Runners would have to beat a fixed time for the mile, and if they did they earned an Elite Running Club t-shirt and their photo would be hung in the PE office. The time Maya had to beat was 7:30. On her first try, Maya missed the time by ten seconds, but she was determined about trying again the following week. I said, "That's great, Maya. I think you can make it." Then I asked, "Which girls made the time?" And Maya said, "No other girls tried out." I looked at her as she casually took books and a binder out of her backpack. I said, "Not one other girl tried out?" She said, "Nope." I said, "Did a lot of boys try?" She looked up, "Yea, there were quite a few." I said, "Of all the girls in your school, you were the only one that wanted to make this? Why?" Maya said, "I dunno. They didn't want to get all sweaty before lunch. They thought it was stupid." I felt we were on a greased hill sliding back down. The following week, when Maya ran a 7:28, beating the time, I made a huge deal of the Elite Running Club. I told her she was inspiration to all the girls at her school because not only did she make it, but she had gotten out there and tried.

My heart sank, however, for all the girls I see from her school be-makeup'ed and heeled and fiercely fashionable. They strut around self consciously, masked by a You-Go-Girl era only to be devoid of real empowerment. It's just not the same as speaking well of ourselves, of other women, of our daughters, is it? It's not the same as flipping off our heels and jumping in the game because we're able, because it's fun, because we want to see exactly of what we're capable. I hope we all get a baseball mitt for the holidays.

Here's the sleeping dream I had last night; kind of on topic:

I dreamed that I was in a park playing a pick-up basketball game of three-on-three. I handled the ball most of the time. I drove on my defender to the baseline, pulled up and shot. The ball spun off my fingertips perfectly. I felt the adrenaline of shooting when a person guards you. I felt completely on fire. The ball cut through the basket in a perfect back spin that rubs against the net and make a sound that every shooter craves. On the next play, I drove the lane. I saw the opening clearly. I spurt past my defender and attempted a lay up against a big guy in the middle. I missed the lay up, but I felt so pumped that I knew I'd make the next one. I strutted to the top of the key and called for the ball.

I woke with a start, thrilled. I hadn't felt that good about basketball since I really used to ball the dudes up.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

(Little) Girls Talk & Baking and I Are Sitting in a Tree

Mina picked up Papi's new Details Magazine featuring a smoldering photo of Jonathan Rhys Meyers on the cover and said, "Those are beautiful eyes on that man." Maya and Mina then had a ten minute conversation, between each other only, about how beautiful he was. No other word was used; simply beautiful. Mina then said while still staring at the photo, "He's more beautiful-er than Papi. But Papi is more handsomer-er." Maya agreed, "Papi's handsome. This guy? Beautiful." Watching their taste in boys (and men) develop has been a gas. Maya has tended to crush on the skinny, short geeky boys, though now she seems all over the map with who she thinks is attractive. Chris Brown is her number one, along with every other tweener and teen. A young Elvis? Not so much. Wiry, effeminate Benji from So You Think Dance? Hot to Maya. Mina on the other hand has been consistent about her love of the pretty and slick boys, a complete opposite of my taste or Maya's. The guy that's always portrayed in movies as the great looking asshole? Yea, that's the guy Mina likes. When we watched So You Think You Can Dance a couple years ago, she was ga-ga over Dmitry, the gorgeously pretty Russian dancer who had a severe hip swiveling problem and who kept his shirts unbuttoned to his navel -- and not just for dance competitions. Oh, we find this so highly amusing -- now; coming from an eight year old. I hope I find it as funny in eight to ten years.

Speaking of mad crushes, I'm not sure what's up with my affair with baking. Neither of us is really talking commitment. But it's love, or obsession. With all my other passions, I've had a plan, a solid direction whether they ever materialized or not. Even with brokering I've known what I wanted out of it. (My new brokering plan involves the word "exit.") But this obsession with baking has no attachments. Maybe I've tossed around the idea of "side biz" and maybe I've prepped myself for that if that's what this is, but honestly I don't know what I'm doing or what any of this all means. It's liberating to let the obsession be boss.

Twenty years ago, I used to bake a decent budín de coco (coconut bread pudding). It was an easy recipe until a coworker suggested that I caramelize sugar and glaze the top, which seemed complicated and extreme at the time. But I thought I'd give it a fumbling try anyway. I took a glass pyrex dish, put sugar in it and put it on a burner set at high. As the sugar started to ball up, the dish shattered with an extreme pop and I watched a large shard of glass flip up in front of me and tumble down below until it stabbed me in my big toe, standing on end in my skin until I pulled it out. I still have the scar. I spent the next hour scrubbing tiny balls of cemented sugar off my boyfriend's floor and cabinets and stove and walls.

But now, the Art of Baking -- the nuances and the finesse, the sense not to put glass on a burner -- all comes spontaneously natural. I have no idea why. I can't wait to practice new things. After Día de los Muertos I thought I would not want to bake for a while, but after a day I had to try something else. I couldn't wait. I think about baking an embarrassing amount of time during the day. It's like I've contracted a viral baking disorder.

The Pastry Princess came up with this beautiful idea for a cupcake: Pumpkin Seed Brittle stabbed in a cupper. I thought I'd give it a vegan whirl. I omitted the chili powder from the brittle and used a chocolate cake laced with pumpkin pie spice. The icing is plain vanilla "buttercream" sprinkled with the pumpkin pie spice. I had to caramelize the sugar to make the brittle - gasp - and I am scarfree after the fact. Because of my new disorder no doubt. Hey, here's to all of our shit-against-the-wall late-blooming obsessions.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Dead Would Be Proud

My neighbors and I pulled off an outstanding Dia de los Muertos party in our courtyard last night. A lot of the night was spent gushing to our friends and family about how lucky we are to have such a tight-knit and dreamy complex. I have no doubt we will all look back on this time living here, whether it's three years or thirty, as one of our most glowing.

A lot of my favorite moments of the party were centered around the ofrenda. I put it together in the center planter on top of the lemon balm that grows wild there. It was made out of storage boxes and covered in a bed sheet and on top our family photos and marigolds and candles and salt water were placed. When people asked, I told them who were in the photos and explained that the salt water clears the air and represents ongoing life. It's my favorite point of Dia de los Muertos, the often forgotten fact that we're still alive (so, live it, fools, live it!) During the course of the party, more photos just appeared on the ofrenda. They were sparked with energy because I was always drawn back to the ofrenda when another photo arrived. My five year old neighbor Diana asked her mom about the whole set up. Her mom explained that it was a special place to celebrate the people we love who have passed on. And Diana shouted, "We have some of those!" And Leonard, my eighty-one year old neighbor who has lived in his apartment thirty-six years pulled me aside at the beginning of the party. He is frail, inches shorter than I, but his hair is perfect and full and he sports Clark-Kent glasses. He said, "This was a great idea, the honoring idea, I mean. I'm so glad you did that." Moments later I noticed a picture of Leonard’s wife on the ofrenda. The photo is from the 1970's and she is standing near the ruins of Central America. She is sketching on a pad and two local children, shirtless and barefoot, are stealing peaks over her shoulder. I stared at it for a long time.

I was able to put a photo of my grandmother on the ofrenda, which was monumental for me since I hadn't had a decent picture of her until only last week. This woman was my life preserver as a kid even if I didn't see her as much as I had wanted. I spent a lot of time begging god in my mind to see her more. She died when I was fifteen, a little young I thought to lose my foundation of emotional support, but maybe she knew I'd be ok. And though I didn't know her when she was this young, that stare in the photo pounds at my heart. Wow, I miss her, but I think I'm doing her proud.

On to the living, fools! So, yes, we dressed for the party. Here I am as La Calavera de la Catrina. I think most people know Catrina as an icon for Dia de los Muertos, but the initial sentiment behind José Guadalupe Posada's 1913 drawing of La Calavera de la Catrina -- which means fancy skeleton -- was that no matter how rich you are or how fancy or important you think you are, you will still die. Don't just live, fools, live well; do good.

As usual, Mandy and Melissa came fantastically correct. This photo needs to be made into a gigantic wall mural.

Here's my neighbor and good friend Molly as a beautiful butterfly. She made a quinoa salad for the party that kicked serious ass.

And oh lord, did I bake for this party. I baked my ass off; four days straight. I still have Halloween baking to do for the office, but here's my best foot forward:

These were actually for Mina's class party on Friday. The tombstone is vegan fondant-covered amaranth graham cracker. I think fondant is nasty, but the kids loved it! Because they'll eat dirt and poo mixed with lots of sugar!

The pies came out great. Ironically, the pumpkin pies especially. I figured out that my original pumpkin pies weren't setting because of the lil' mini tins in which I was first baking/experiementing. I can't explain why the filling wasn't setting in them, but whatev. I got it now. Molly said, after my many attempts, "Now that's perserverance." Here's the vegan Cobweb Apple Pie:

And the pumpkins. The Picado Pumpkin Pie was raffled off at the party.

And finally, the cupcakes . . . Fondant skulls and flowers (and designs in edible pen!) on top of lemon cupcakes.

Life is good, fools.