Thursday, November 27, 2014

Uppity green bean casserole

Last year's casserole, bottom left.
Sauteed thinly sliced mushrooms bathed in a creamy, garlicky bechamel. Fresh crunchy green beans, blanched. Crispy sliced onions. All baked to perfection.

Only not really. My attempt at gourmet green bean casserole (following my beloved Smitten Kitchen's directions) turned out alright. Merely okay. A little gloopy with oddly hard to eat, too-long green beans.

My sister's boyfriend, with a reputation as a gourmand, was meeting the family for the first time. I wanted to impress so I abandoned the tried and true, and attempted the high falutin'. Why? Whyyyyy?

That was last year and now I'm back to the traditional, Campbell's-n-French's green bean casserole. If loving canned soup casserole is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

All that is to say: Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Hope yours was damn fabulous. And if it wasn't, hope you survived.

Now, to decorate for Christmas!!

xoxo,
shawna

Related:
- Green bean casserole SACRILEGE
- It's complicated: Why I prefer to forget Thanksgiving
Thirdsgiving and other things
Thankful type things
Confessions, volume IV, Thanksgiving edition
Counting my blessings

NaBloPoMo posts

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It's complicated: Why I prefer to forget thanksgiving

Image from Gratisography. Used with permission.
Am I really being screamed at, literally screamed at, in front of the entire family?
This thought ran through my head as my then-fiance (now husband) and I grabbed the folding chairs we had just brought in and hurried through my father’s garage to the car whose engine hadn’t had a chance to cool off yet.
Screaming down the freeway, it was 20 minutes before I was able to speak without blubbering incoherently.
Happy Thanksgiving. 
***
The holiday had started like any other for us, a whirlwind of visits—his sister’s, his mom and dad’s, my mom’s and then up to my dad’s. It wasn’t unusual for our Thanksgivings to include four turkey dinners over a few days (which is why I usually welcomed a roast or ham at Christmas) but this year, we were cramming in most of the celebrating into one long day (of indigestion).
By the time we got to my dad’s for dessert, I was ready to relax. But due to drama that’s best left to generalities at this point, a vicious argument ensued and we left—angry, bewildered, and me, bereft.
That was five years ago this Thanksgiving and the last time I saw my father.
 ***
Suffice to say: I have a complicated relationship with Thanksgiving.
Even from childhood, Thanksgiving set me brimming with anxiety as my divorced parents both declared it their favorite holiday. As any child of divorce knows, it’s difficult to negotiate holidays and accompanying emotional baggage. And I wanted to please everyone, feeling desperately guilty for having to alternate which parent would get me for the “real” Thanksgiving.
Into adulthood, this guilt would mean eating so many meals—heartily, I might add! I wouldn’t want dad to think I ate too much at mom’s or vice versa—that sour stomach became my norm from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Without chagrin, I admit somewhat relishing my four years away at college when I couldn’t afford to come home for Turkey Day. 
So it’s with unease that I approach the fifth anniversary of that Thanksgiving and really, the holiday in general. I like the idea of giving thanks. I love the idea of stuffing and gravy and pie and (all hail) green bean casserole. But I’m bittersweet about Thanksgiving and never surprised when I think ahead to Christmas where I can at least cover my historical family drama with tinsel and lights.
Although I will gratefully celebrate this week, I just wanted to say: To those for whom Thanksgiving isn’t completely a day of happy gratitude, I’m with you.
xoxo,
shawna
NaBloPoMo posts

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I'm tired of the ugly talk about Ferguson

Photo used with permission from SplitShire.
"It means they're treating us like we're terrorists."

One of my students said this yesterday when I asked our class to consider the rhetorical implications of comparing pictures of militarization (armored tanks, cops in riot gear) in Ferguson with similar images of war zones (see this "Ferguson or Iraq" Mashable piece from August).

We discussed how images are used to manipulate and argue, and how they set the tone for public debate and courtroom proceedings.

And last night, as images of looting and protests and violence flooded the media, I thought about my student. A cheeky and cheerful young man who brings joy to the classroom, I thought about how earnestly he checked the clock in class, waiting for the Ferguson grand jury to announce its decision.

Last night, I could not stop thinking about how disappointed he must be after learning police officer Darren Wilson won't go to trial for killing Michael Brown. And all today, I've been ruminating on how so many people aren't disappointed. How so many people are saying things like "Well, he shouldn't have attacked a police officer," how it's "not about race," and how "classy" it is for Ferguson residents to be razing and looting local businesses, as if somehow that justifies any of this.

I'm disgusted by the tone of "conversation" about events in Ferguson, the totalizing and ugly comments about "blacks" and "whites" as if people can possibly be defined by one identity category. I'm bowled over by the complete and utter lack of empathy about the people involved.

The thing is, I'm sad for Michael Brown's family and Darren Wilson's. I'm sad for the community of Ferguson and how the political maneuvering in this case demonstrates yet again, institutionalized racism in America. I hoped against hope that there would at least be a trial so people could have more answers and information.

And I'm especially worried that the aftermath of this situation--the looting and rioting, the unfettered online outrage--will only serve to stymie important conversations about race, privilege and inequity that our country seems so bent on avoiding.

I wish things were different. I wish people like Bryan Stevenson from the Equal Justice Initiative didn't have such a grim picture to paint about injustice in America (watch his incredible TED talk "We need to talk about an injustice" right now). I wish black teens were not 21 times more likely to be shot to death by police than white teens. I wish people would listen and think reasonably about racism instead of shutting down or lashing out because the topic is so uncomfortable. I wish I had more solutions than just a few words of solidarity.

xoxo,
shawna

Related:
I didn't care about Trayvon until Ferguson: Why we need more empathy in America
Why the lack of indictment for Mike Brown's shooting is a devastating blow
The independent grand jury that wasn't
Self-segregation: Why it's so hard for [white people] to understand Ferguson
Explaining white privilege to a broke white person

Monday, November 24, 2014

A few things I learned about Chicago

Downtown Chicago
Although my most recent trip to Chicago for the National Communication Association's 100th anniversary convention did not warrant much touristyness, I learned a number of things by hanging out with some new locals.

1. It's dense city living in a lot of places. Hailing from suburbia, sometimes I forget what it's like to be surrounded by people and skyscrapers in big cities.
So many houses and people and apartments everywhere!
 2. Layers are critical. When I arrived, the city was a balmy 16-17 degrees with little snow flurries. My sister's admonition to bring all the warm things I owned was completely accurate (and clearly heeded).
That's a California popsicle, in case you wondered.
 3. Popcorn is complicated. Cheese and caramel corn, together? I was prepared to hate it, but it turns out the combo works well.
I also learned that the city flag is very important. Check out the colors and stars in these two photos. I saw the flag featured everywhere during my visit!
 4. Local liquor. Apparently Chicago has it's own signature liquor: Malort. (Which is icky, in case you wonder.)
Ick.
 5. Cold weather prompts bonding. Or maybe that was the five months apart. Either way, I got quality sister time in Chicago!

 6. Some restaurants are  BYOB. Who knew?
As a transplant from New York, this girl knows how to dress for winter.
7. Chicago isn't hip to the California drought. An entire jug of water for our table? Outrageous.
I didn't realize how attuned I am to water waste after this year's water restrictions.
8. The street art is awesome. I would have more pictures but pictures require ungloved fingers which for most of my visit was just untenable. Here's a picture from Pilsen. So cool.
I saw so many cool murals and sculptures in my short visit.
9. Public transit is easy. If you know where you're going. Below is a photo I snapped while marching along Michigan Avenue during a frigid morning where I navigated to the wrong hotel. Ahem. That mistake aside, I found the transit system pretty accessible, especially compared to New York and Washington DC.
Downtown Chicago.
10. There's more to the local cuisine than deep dish pizza. But the pizza is pretty good!
A slice from Gino's.
 11. Chicago's a great place to catch up with friends.
Four friends convening from four states. Our conference dinners are now a ladies' night tradition!
 12. The windchill is NO JOKE. They don't call Chicago the "windy city" for nothing. Thanks to the surrounding bodies of water, the wind chill factor is serious. I learned how much the buildings downtown work as wind blocking devices.

13. Architecture is huge.
Inside the Hilton Chicago. Our conference was based here and in the Palmer House, a historical landmark.
 14. The best chicken of my life. Visited Harold's Chicken Shack during my first trip to NCA in 2007, and the memory lives on. It's simple fare and probably not too healthy, but so. damn. good.


 15. Hot dogs are huge. Not in size, but popularity. Apparently the "Chicago way" includes lots of toppings like onions, relish and super hot peppers. My sis lives nearby a famous hot dog stop, and she says she'll sometimes see a trail of peppers by her apartment, as people pick off and throw them while eat-walking.
Dinner of champions!
I love the "veggie burger" addition, and the fact that a cup of cheese and a slice of cheese are only 5 cents difference.
16. Midway Airport is easy to maneuver. The free wifi doesn't work and the coffee choices are lacking, but it's easy to get around.

Can't wait to actually explore the city some day!

xoxo,
shawna




Friday, November 21, 2014

Why I’m afraid of Ebola

Photo by Ryan McGuire of Gratisography. Used with permission.
On an airplane, I’m that person. The one who immediately upon boarding pulls out a Wet Wipe (or two) and disinfects all the hard surfaces I might touch during the flight. Seatbelt buckle. Arm rests. Tray table. Tray table latch. Window frame (in case I fall asleep). Head rests (if they’re not cloth). Air vent knob and overhead light button. If it’s anywhere past the first of the month, I won’t touch the in-flight magazine.

You may rightly think you’re reading the diary of a hypochondriac, but the thing is, people are gross. Germs, especially in close quarters, pervade. I can’t tell you the number of times as a formerly weekly flier I’ve been sneezed on in-flight or watched grubby (and loud darling) children rub snotty fingers all over seats and windows. Aside from being generally disgusting, this is how illness spreads. And while I’m annoyed to catch a cold or flu, I admit, I am actually afraid of Ebola.

Yes, I’ve seen all of those memes flying across the internets—“more Americans have married Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola” being my favorite—and I know the odds of dying from regular influenza or in a car accident or by just about any other means are definitely higher than catching Ebola. However, those snarky memes hold for our current situation, where there are but a handful of folks in quarantine.

Already, we’ve seen new cases of the disease popping up, with the most frightening to me being a physician recently back from treating Ebola patients in Guinea gallivanting around New York. While the doctor was following protocol, meaning he was checking his temperature twice a day and reported himself to the health department immediately upon registering a fever, that guy rode the subway, took cabs, and visited a bowling alley, all while becoming symptomatic. In the most densely populated city in the U.S.!

How easy would it have been for him to sneeze and leave infected droplets on a subway rail? Sure, Ebola doesn’t live long, but in a place like New York where thousands of people ride the subway all day, how easy could it be for someone to pick up the bug? And then go about their day having no idea, and a couple weeks later think they’ve come down with the flu? (If you want a particularly scary read with lots of Ebola-related science including how many Ebola particles live in a drop of blood the size of the letter “o,” check out “The Ebola Wars” from The New Yorker.) And when we can’t keep control of chains of infection, that’s when outbreaks start. And that is what I’m afraid of most.

Yes, I can hear the protests about how I’m paranoid and how unlikely an Ebola pandemic really is. And man, I hope you’re right! However, I can’t help this uneasy, unsettling fear that’s lodged in my chest right now, especially when I think about the 50+ % mortality rates, and how there is no cure, and how U.S. hospitals seem completely unprepared for treating individual cases of Ebola, let alone a mass outbreak. And if we’re relying on people to quarantine themselves* and use oh, basic hygiene in public, based upon my years frequent flying, I worry for our future.

Sincerely,
Your friendly neighborhood hypochondriac


*Case in point: A nurse returned from fighting Ebola in West Africa refusing to stay in quarantine for three weeks.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The pretty things I see while lost

A little morning jaunt in 20-something degree weather thanks to my terrible directional skills.
I swear, it's not a real visit to a big city unless I get lost on public transit. And today's first adventure in Chicago on my own was no different.

I was so proud of myself for catching the bus on time, and even though I accidentally got off one stop too early, I thought: Hey look at you, you're doing public transit almost by yourself. (Yeah, my sister and favorite tour guide was giving me google map pictures of the route, but whatever)

And then I hopped on the train and went the correct direction! (No mean feat for me.)

And I left the train station and walked out to see the hotel I was looking for, right across from the train. Except for it was the wrong Hilton. Ahem. There are apparently a dozen Hiltons in this town!

So I mapped the route to the correct joint and started walking thinking "Oh it can't be too far." Except that it was forever. And after walking a couple miles (in high heeled boots, for the record) and turning into a California popsicle, I thought it best to hail a cab.

But. I got to see the above gorgeous view of Chicago. Sometimes I love the things I see while lost.

xoxo,
shawna

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A grateful heart: My favorite tour guide

Nothing like a little 20-something weather with snow flurries to make a
Californian appreciate winter.
When my sister announced she was leaving Brooklyn earlier this year, I thought: Oh no! We’re going to New York in December. How will we do the Big Apple without our favorite tour guide??

I was only partly joking. I’ve been to New York three times now and always with my sister.

I traveled with her when she moved to Manhattan to attend NYU. We stayed in a nasty little hostel on Bowery across from the CBGB club, hauling most of her worldly possessions in several giant suitcases up five flights of stairs in triple digit heat. We piled them in our teeny room with no ceiling, just thatching made out of trellis fencing. Over a few days, we got lost, lots. We ate black and white cookies in Times Square (like you do). We visited Central Park, the Met, Empire State, Ellis Island, the State of Liberty, and Gray’s Papaya hot dogs, all the big tourist traps. I cried on the cab ride to JFK and I’m sure B cried a little when I left her alone in her  wee dorm room to face living with several strangers in a confined space.

The next trip was for B’s graduation a few years later, a family adventure where B played tour guide for our parents, Mr. T and me. We enjoyed a gorgeous Mother’s Day in Central Park, sipped frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity, and ate the. best. BBQ. at Fette Sau in a back alley in Brooklyn. Oh and did I mention I got to see my sister walk across the stage at Radio City freaking Music Hall, and listen to Hillary freaking Clinton speak at her commencement ceremony at Yankee freaking stadium (the original one)?

The third visit, chronicled in my “Malvinis take Manhattan” post, involved a work trip at a methadone clinic in the Bronx, but B and I got in an entire day of sightseeing, walking 10 miles including across the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan. We visited The Strand, New York Public Library (closed, alas), and ate hot nuts from street vendors because it was a whopping 35 degrees most of the day. It was a beautiful sisterly whirlwind.

Although I’ve tried, I seriously can’t fathom our midwinter trip to New York without B to guide us through the subway system and drag us to the best eats in Brooklyn.

But. But! What I’m grateful for: B’s recently taken up residence in the Windy City, which happens to be where the National Communication Association convention is celebrating its 100th anniversary. And it also happens to be where I’ll be spending a few days this week and hopefully a couple days here and there every few years. Here’s hoping I can build a collection of Chicago memories to rival the ones in New York. We’ll see!

xoxo,
shawna