Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Back in Chicago

I'm back after a brief hiatus in Iowa. I hadn't seen my mom since Christmas and I missed her, so I hopped on Amtrak last Wednesday and spent a long weekend with her.

Amtrak is funny once you leave the east coast. It's the strangest mix of people...students, hippies, people going short distances, people afraid to fly, and a bunch of Amish. It's actually quite comfortable for the short trip home, and it gave me an excuse to eat strange snack foods like the cheese and cracker thing I bought at the Kwik Trip in Caledonia on the way to the station Monday morning. (Note to self - go to the co-op the day before you leave Decorah and get something healthier.)

I also got a lot of reading done. I finished The Omnivore's Dilemma, and I confess I really enjoyed it. I am more convinced now than ever that vegetarianism isn't the only ethical diet, but am now checking for grass-fed animals and finding local producers, because it just seems that this is the best way to eat. It made me extremely sensitive to the giant loads of corn in my diet and now I'm bird-dogging for all those hidden corn products in processed food and trying to limit my intake. I'm also on a tear about gum arabic, what since I'm not keen on Saudi Arabia and don't want my money going to them just because in a moment of weakness I have a hankering for some chocolate. (This is not mentioned in TOD, but instead is just a food-related obsession that seems tangentially related to the corn squeezin's thing.)

My next book was Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. I loved this book. It's a collection of short stories examining love, family obligation, relationships and the tensions and triumphs inherent in acclimating to a foreign environment. I've always loved Lahiri's work. I think her characters are beautifully subtle and complex, and she's adept and pulling intense emotions out of simple things. With this book, I found that it especially resonated with me, maybe because I've just moved to a new place, maybe because of my expat experience or maybe because of all this plus the fact that I read it on a trip to my mom's. Who knows. But I do a lot of thinking about the fork my life just took, and how I will be different now that I'm back here in the US from what I might have been had I stayed abroad and built my home in the UK. In UE, Lahiri masterfully illustrates the things I feel...when you've left your homeland and built a life somewhere else, the new place becomes as much a part of you as your original home. You develop a hybridized identity, and "home" becomes less of an external thing and more about living an honest, happy life. I think the New York Times' review said home was where you were able to truly be yourself, and that is exactly it. I'm not taking the time to write a well-thought-out review that makes sense, but suffice it to say I highly recommend this book.

I had a great time with my mom. We basically hung out, went to dinner, played Scrabble. Nothing exciting. But my mom is always good company and I needed a break from the endless days of job searching and it was an excellent way to spend my weekend. And now I'm back, and I'm starting to make little inroads that may lead to something that may lead to a job someday, and it all seems a little more hopeful and a little bit better and a little bit easier to deal with.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The book you're looking for

If you're looking for the book mentioned here, it's Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres. It's a memoir written by a woman who was raised in a strict Calvinist family in rural Indiana and chronicles the racism directed at her adopted brothers (they are black in a sea of white rednecks,) the hypocrisy of parents who give lip service to Christian values while creating a hell at home, and her years with her youngest brother in a Christian reform "school" in the Dominican Republic. It's a brutal, compelling read.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Short updates on a long day

I have a to-do list a mile long. I've kind of been slacking this week, either getting tons done or doing absolutely nothing, depending upon the day. But since it's Thursday now, what would normally be an even-paced week of to-dos is now a crunch-time-get-it-done to-do day. Therefore you get a numbered list.

1. The alternating balmy to freezing days we've been having are making my hands freaky dry. And the windows in this place are these heavy double hung ones that come down from the tops as well as up from the bottom, and now that we've broken their winterseal they aren't totally closed, which means wind really whistles and cold air gets in. It's chilly in here.
2. I have an azalea plant that I seem hell bent on killing. Plants and I, we are not made for each other.
3. I am going through a phase where I hate cooking. Hate it. Think it's tedious and annoying. This is not ideal.
4. I've decided that there are benefits to wearing a plus size. For starters, they don't make us walk all over the store looking for things to try on...all our items get shoved in one corner, usually at the far end of the top floor of the store. I guess they figure we should probably be forced to work off the big lunch we've likely just had. Plus, there is generally not the overwhelming selection you see for the smaller ladies, and the really cute stuff is often still available because so many larger gals hate their bodies and are busy trying to look frumpy. And if you wear anything from a size 14 - 18, it's likely that at least half of the other women that size would rather spend twice as much money on something, anything that is from the "normal" section of the store, therefore the styles are yours for the picking.
5. I am embracing the whole "cheap is chic" thing. I have downgraded my moisturizers to drugstore brands, bought a Covergirl lipstain the other day, and as soon as the supply of Lush bath products is gone it's getting replaced with something from Walgreens. As you can tell from item 4, I have been wandering the Mile, but not spending money even though I badly need new jeans, a couple of spring tops, workout clothes and some sandals. It is a bad idea to lose weight when you don't have the resources to replace your too-big clothes.
6. I am reading The Omnivore's Dilemma. I know most of you are probably thinking, "Sheesh, Mindy, that's SO 2006." Well, in 2006 I was a) in England, and b) in graduate school, therefore books about the US food chain weren't a priority. But I'm using my library privileges to get caught up on NYTimes Best Books of 2004 - 2008, and it's on the list. I thought it was a bit of a slog at first, but now I'm sucked in. I tweeted something like this yesterday, but I am fascinated by the whole River of Corn and industrial food thing. As you know, I grew up in Iowa, ground zero for the corn empire. I didn't grow up on a farm nor did my family really have any ties to farming, yet I still know quite a bit about corn growing and fertilizer and crop rotation and feedlots and agricultural policy. When the author started explaining these things, my initial reaction was, "Well, DUH," but now I realize that I have specialized knowledge that city kids simply didn't get. I also hadn't really ever thought about all the ways corn is turned into not-corn things that are taking over the world. And I REALLY hadn't considered the amount of petroleum involved in the corn industry. And I'd NEVER considered corn an anthropomorphized into a Machiavellian devil set on taking over the world, let alone freaky mutant grass. Well, I'm here to tell you. Eyes. Opened. Wide. Very interesting stuff.
7. I went to Tango Sur with my friends Will and Sarah last night. Loved it. Great food, great prices, and huge portions. I have at least two meals from my $18 steak, plus it's BYOB so it's easy to keep the tab low.
8. I'm sure it's difficult to imagine that I occasionally did not do all of the reading/coursework in my casepack during my MBA. Well, I didn't. So now I've decided to get caught up, and am doing a bit of review each day. How geeky is that.
9. Totally suckered in by American Idol. Totally.
10. I've also become quite the fan of Vanilla Silk Creamer in a cup of decaf coffee in the evening. Of course, now that TOD has got me thinking about the power of corn, I realize that I am really adding a bushel of corn and a gallon of petroleum to my coffee to make it creamy and sweet, but for now I'm turning a deaf ear to that voice screaming, "Gross out!" in my head.
11. Ask CP to blog about Jesus Land.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Pet peeves, vol. 873

You know what I hate? I hate commercials that use the music, the graphic style or, worse, BOTH from the hit movie Juno staring that delightful ingenue Ellen Page. What is charming and clever in independent film is not when you're trying to push me to buy something. 

Comcast and the Atlantis Resort can suck it.

What a nice day

It's gorgeous here in Chicago today. A bit overcast and a little windy, but still. Warm is warm. I've had a productive day, moving my little office to the back deck so that I could enjoy the fresh air. It's so nice not to be inside.

Cali had a big ball chase this morning, and now I'm taking her back to the lake and we're doing a little training run. I have it in my head that fitness is a great new goal for this gap year, so I am doing a little run/walk alternating training schedule with the intent that I can be running 5Ks later this summer. I'm also doing yoga most days, and some weight lifting on the balance ball for good measure. I had a knee injury from last summer that has been troubling me all winter, but I'm taking things slow and it's getting stronger.

In the meantime, Beth and I had this brilliant idea that we would go on South Beach together. It all started because we've been pretty much justifying treats non-stop for the past two months. Oh, I really really want a pizza for dinner tonight. Oh, the only thing in the world that could possibly make me feel better today is a brownie. I've been dreaming about sherbet for the last three nights...I better have some and get rid of this craving. And on and on. Between us, though, that meant that pretty much a day didn't go by when we had some sort of food we really didn't need. In an effort to stop, we decided that cutting white carbs would be a smart idea. That became South Beach.

We did pretty well the first week. By pretty well, I mean to say that we only ate a few fruity yogurt cups, I avoided white carbs when I went to dinner with my friend Will and only had a bite of his flourless chocolate cake, and on Hot Dog Day I only had a bratwurst. But then the other day, we decided that we needed a break. We had pizza. And oatmeal. And thai food. And chocolate, all within two days. So, BANG. We started again. Great day one, except for the left over pad thai that could not make it to the bin without some snacking. Great day two, except that I was miserable because I kept getting hungry. Great day three, except Beth had a vegan muffin, I didn't eat snacks or lunch because I had a meeting downtown, and we had burritos and ice cream for dinner. Today is Day Four, and while breakfast was exactly what we should have, I have no idea how Beth is doing and I had a bagel for lunch because I happened to be near Beans and Bagels and I could simply taste that whole wheat bagel with the chive cream cheese and I needed a latte anyway and, well, you get the idea.

I've lost weight, though I attribute that more to the exercise than the lack of dieting. And we still agree that it's a good idea. So tomorrow is Day One, aka Third Time's The Charm. And while I will stop phase one 10 days in again when Tom and George are here, I'll try not to let it be a blowout, and I will definitely get back to phase one when they leave for another 10 days. It's not that this is so hard, it's that it's a pain to have to cook meals all the time and to eat the volume of vegetables required not to feel hungry. But that's what gap years are for. Doing things you've always intended to do. Right?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Thai food overload

We've discovered a fabulous new thai restaurant.

We'd taken the Scots to the airport, and by the time we got home we realized that we were pretty hungry. A kashi multi-grain waffle and yogurt will only take you so far, and since it was already 330pm we figured we'd just order dinner. and eat at old-people time - we hopped on to see who was delivering. Grubhub is great, because it lists tons of restaurants you might not know deliver to you, it has every kind of cuisine imaginable and you can even order online instead of calling someone, often an advantage when ordering ethnic food because phone orders usually just result in some sort of misunderstanding and an hour later a plate of gelatinous goo with chili peppers shows up at your door. Online orders definitely simplify the whole language barrier problem.

We found King Noodle on Argyle Street. It got raves on every one of the reviews, so we thought we'd give it a try. Everything on the menu looked good so we ordered way more than we needed for lunch. It's really a lunch/dinner thing anyway, and then we can have a snack later, we reasoned. Good thinking, but this food was MARVELOUS and the next thing you know we'd pretty much snarfed it all down. I am now belly-distended-tick-about-to-pop uncomfortable.

Woe is me.