cafenowhere: frog, arms crossed, sitting on a rock (chillin)
May is always a hectic, though usually pleasant time for our family. Last week, we attended the Rainbow Graduation ceremony at the university where JJ works. We didn't know anyone graduating, but we went to be supportive and to show our kid some positive role models. Ash was suitably impressed and is now working with eir school's gay-straight student alliance to organize some special recognition for the queer 8th graders "graduating" this year. Ash also turned 13 last week, so we took em to dinner and gave gifts. Eir school had its last dance-party of the year on Friday, so e went to that. Then over the weekend, we had a party in the park so Ash could celebrate eir birthday with friends. Then there was niceness on Mother's Day, including Ash's gift to me: a white elephant sculpture about 7 inches high.

This gift was especially meaningful because, on Friday, I finally got back to work on the historical elephant prose-poem-whatever I've been blocked on for months. As of this morning, I've drafted two of four (possibly 5) sections. It feels more "itself" than any previous version, so I'm hopeful that this time I've got it right. I may be able to get a complete draft by end of week, barring any more allergy-induced headaches.

This afternoon I have a dermatology appointment. Because at some point previously I decided I would FIX ALL
 THE THINGS WRONG WITH ME.  I am no longer so enthusiastic, but I suppose it's for my own good.  



cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (Default)
It's a gray day here in southeast Iowa.

Last night, perhaps too amped up by the excitement of returning to my daily routine, my body decided sleep was "so passé." But I think I came up with a title for my second poetry collection: Now Departing.

From my office window, I can see the boldly rising leaves of lilies, a lot like the bushy potential of daffodils in the front yard. They are persevering despite the lack of sunlight. So shall I! And we all will hope not to have our buds bitten off by rodents.

How's everyone today?
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (I need coffee)
I broke up with vegetarianism a month ago and I feel better than I have in a LOOONG time. I have mixed feelings about this, but I think the results are inarguable. Just a week in to my more carnivorous lifestyle, I felt like I'd dropped 30 pounds. In truth, it was just the relief of not being bloated and in pain anymore. Remember those commercials about sinus congestion that show how pain distorts body image? Like that.

I don't think I've cut anything out of my diet entirely. I severely restrict tomatoes, beans, and dairy. I've cut back substantially on soy and gluten. And I've been pretty intense about keeping a food journal. I use a free iPhone app, My Fitness Pal, to keep track of what I'm eating and any symptoms. A side benefit is that the app shows me calorie breakdowns and provides nutritional info. It's particularly useful for helping me avoid anemia and its exacerbation of my restless leg syndrome. Unintentionally, I have lost weight, but only about 7 pounds.

The weight loss is interesting because, in addition to changing my diet, I've started taking oral contraceptives again. When I used them in the past, I gained weight. I'm not sure what to credit the difference to. I've changed, the drugs have changed, etc. But I'm relieved not to have to fight unwanted side effects. As for possible positive side effects, my skin is clearing up. As with the weight loss, superficial improvement was not my intention, but I'll take it, as it means one less thing to worry about.

Hubster says, now that I've taken care of the digestive problems, I can schedule a doctor's appointment to address my restless leg syndrome. ...I guess. I feel pretty overwhelmed lately, for no reason I can pinpoint. Maybe it's the depression? I just want to sleep all the time. 
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (Yummy!)
Time between "This chicken is nasty" to "You poor, delicious chicken":

36 hours.

Stomach complications were minimal this weekend--I still lost sleep--but I got some breathing room, so to speak. I'm pretty sure tomatoes are a problem, but the jury's out on the rest of the nightshades. I'm afraid to even look at a bean right now. I remain suspicious of gluten and soy.

I've come to the conclusion that, just as the best way to not be poor is to start off rich, the best way to not be sick is to start off healthy. It's really really hard to improve your situation when you're starting from a deficit.

Threshold

Feb. 27th, 2015 11:28 am
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (whiny Cas)
Something really weird happened last night.

I ate chicken. On purpose.

I've been a vegetarian for over 10 years. I backslid a bit when I was pregnant, because it made me feel more secure about getting all the nutrients I needed. I've also made nice and eaten tiny amounts of meat when I ordered badly in restaurants.

I've been vegetarian because of my concern for animals. That hasn't changed. What has changed is my health. For almost a year, I've been suffering stomach problems of one kind or another. I can't count how many hours of sleep, work, and family time I've lost due to stomach woes. I've tried a lot of things to be healthier. When I was on prescription-strength acid reducer, I felt pretty good--which meant I only felt wretched for a few days once a month, rather than a few days every week. I'm on non-prescription meds now, and I'm maxing out the daily dose and still having symptoms. So I'll have to go back on prescription.

When some people first consider going vegetarian, they worry a lot about nutrients and protein and minerals. Usually much more than they ever did when they ate meat by default. I find myself on the opposite side now: I could stay veggie, but I don't have the spoons to do the differential equations necessary to achieve the balance I need if I don't want to be in constant pain.

I don't know that incorporating small amounts of meat into my diet will solve my stomach problems, either, but it could solve some, and frankly I'm nearing the end of my rope. If I could just not eat anymore, period, I might do that. It's that bad.

So, I ate chicken last night. And it was nasty. But I'm only in slight discomfort this morning, not pain, and I'll take it.

Updatery

Feb. 5th, 2014 11:15 am
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (lennon cat)
Tweetie's school had a two-hour delay this morning, on account of snow. I got up at the usual time anyway, because I was so stuffed up and thought it'd be nice if I could breathe. What coffee, meds, and a shower couldn't quite accomplish, the walk to-and-from school--twice, once with Tweetie, once with her violin and music stand--has. I can breathe now and, yes, it IS nice.

I'm wearing my wrist braces most nights, and often during the day, too. Because of wrists and depression and a trial membership of Amazon Prime, I've been watching way too much tv. I finally got to see the first season of Vikings. I'm most of the way through season 1 of Copper. I'm zooming through Parks and Recreation. I watched season 4 of Justified and season 5 of Sons of Anarchy. I tried Lost Girl. I've been rewatching season 2 Buffy. ALL THE TV GIVE IT TO MEEEEE!

I've roused myself from my self-pity enough to pick up another book to read, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.

Writing time is devoted mostly to the next novel, with occasional breaks to work on a short story for a Secret Thing or to provide extras for recent or upcoming poetry publications. I hope to get back on track soon with the Writing Latin@ Characters Well series, but we shall see.

How's everybody else doing? It'd do me good to focus on somebody else for a change.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (coffee wtf)
Hello, friends. Thank you for your well wishes. I apologize that I can't reply to them individually.

I've had some improvement in my hands and arms. I'm tweeting a little more, but I'm trying to save my spoons for writing work. So no Facebook, no Tumblr, and reading-not-posting/commenting on LJ. Responses to emails and DMs will probably be slow. But I continue to cheer you all on from afar!

Have an excellent weekend!
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (coffee wtf)
The winter holidays strike me as the perfect time to talk about food and its connections to culture. Food is an excellent way to learn about or establish characters. Here I'll talk about the Tex-Mex food I'm familiar with, but different regions have different recipes and traditions. Coastal regions will enjoy more seafood, for instance.

Skimming cookbooks, visiting new-to-you grocers, and sampling cuisines can be fun forms of research. Just remember to be respectful when entering someone else's space. Feel free to ask questions, but don't expect people to disregard regular customers or business to indulge your curiosity or hold your hand. For all they know, you're a one-time gawker.

The Mexican food I associate with winter, and Christmas more specifically, is tamales. I vividly remember the one Christmas our family made tamales from scratch. It was women's work and there was much laughter and gossip and excitement at passing down the tradition. There was also a lot of muscle power involved, as my rail-thin great-aunt cranked the meat grinder to make the filling. I suspect one reason tamales are a holiday food is precisely because it can take a village. There's so much work, it's more fun as an assembly line. Also, with all the people in the kitchen and the steaming going on, it gets really warm, even in a poorly insulated house in the middle of winter. Tamales can be sweet or savory, but I never had sweet until I moved away from home. It just wasn't something we did, and I don't know if that was cultural or family-specific. I like this recipe/historiography about tamales.

My husband reminisces about Las Posadas at his aunt's house. In her community, folks would recreate the procession of Mary and Joseph in search of shelter for the night. At each home, the occupants would turn "Mary and Joseph" away, then join the procession until the entire neighborhood showed up at the aunt's house, where they were all welcomed and a celebration ensued. Obviously, the event took days of preparation, and part of that preparation was the slaughtering of a pig. My husband says that this was also very gender-divided work, with the boys and men expected to stay outside and do (or watch) the killing and the females inside doing the cooking. My husband hated that tradition.

The gendered roles in traditional cooking can be quite problematic, with their normative assumptions about what a man or woman should do/like/be. Alberto Yáñez's short story "Recognizing Gabe" acknowledges how difficult such divisions can be for transgender people, in particular.

Something my husband and I can hate in common is menudo. Since it's a hot soup, it's generally a winter time food. I remember families going home from high-school football games (VERY big in South Texas) and delighting in the prospect of warming up with the menudo waiting for them at home. J and I are not fans of eating organs in general, and there's a distinct smell to tripe that neither of us can get past.

Something that's much easier to love is Mexican hot chocolate, which has more spice (cinnamon) to it than regular hot cocoa. We grew up with the Abuelita brand.

Even if your story does not involve a holiday, food details can enrich the characters and setting. For example, our household eats a lot of Mexican food. It's our comfort food. When I'm feeling sad, I often want beans and rice and enchiladas. (If we go out to eat and I'm feeling fragile, chances are I'll choose the neighborhood Mexican place, because no one will look at me "that way.") Our family's too-tired-to-think go-to meals are Mexican or Mexican-inspired: chilaquiles, burritos, tacos, nachos, quesadillas, black bean and tofu scramble. Our special treats include black bean soup, maranitos, sweet empanadas, botanas, and tamales. And meals that wouldn't ordinarily be considered Mexican become so in our household, because we use cumin, garlic, onion, and chili powder the way other families use oregano and basil or fennel and marjoram.

Contrary to most fast-food versions of Mexican food, our homemade food is not smothered in cheese or sour cream. Using ALL THE CHEESE is not authentic. Besides, my daughter and I are lactose sensitive (as is most of my side of the family). It's unclear how prevalent lactose intolerance is among Latin@s. At least 10% of Latin@s self-report as lactose intolerant, whereas some studies predict 50-80% are lactose intolerant. In any case, I make our cocoa with soy milk.

Of course, my extended family might argue that some of my food doesn't "count" as Mexican. When my aunt found out we intended to raise our daughter vegetarian (we didn't, but that's another story), supposedly she said, "But then she'll never taste fajitas!" Apparently mushroom and veggie fajitas don't count? Likewise, TVP burritos, soy-rizo, and Quorn tacos would be oh-so-wrong. This kind of conflict can be useful for storytelling. Cooking disputes can reflect conflicting values, or generational differences. Your Latin@ character might roll their eyes at someone else's food choices, or they might welcome the variety at a potluck or family function.

You can convey a lot about a character by showing how they react to new foods. For example, I became much more interested in trying different cuisines when I realized most cultures have a tortilla correlate or proxy. There's fry bread and pita and na'an and the pancakes in mu shu pancakes and crepes. However similar to or different from those foods tortillas actually are, that's what I compare them to, because that's what I know. Likewise, when I encounter a pupusa, I think it's like a gordita, whereas someone else might think, oh a pasty! So get inside your Latin@ character's head and figure out what their foods are and what they're going to be comparing everything else to.

On the other hand, just as some people are "meat and potato" folks, with no interest in experimenting, some people are "rice and beans" folks and anything outside their traditional meals is viewed with suspicion or dread. And, of course, just because your character is Latin@ doesn't mean they can or want to cook (or eat) traditional foods—they might be into South Indian cuisine or really love sushi or crave wasabi peas. If they hate okra, they probably hate nopales, too, because both can get slimy if not prepared properly.

Other matters to consider regarding your Latin@ character and their relationship to food.

Latin@s are not immune to eating disorders. (see also) Research has shown that Latinas have higher rates of binge eating than other groups. Adolescent Latinas, in particular, may have the highest rates of dieting and unhealthy weight control behaviors. (The trend seems to be that the more assimilated one gets, the greater the likelihood of having an eating disorder.) And yet, I can't think of one story I've read in which the person with an eating disorder was Latina.

If allergies and sensitivities are underdiagnosed among the general population, they are usually even more so among minority populations, who are understudied and for whom traditional diagnostic rubrics may not work. I already mentioned the uncertainty regarding lactose sensitivity in Latin@ populations. The incidence of celiac disease among black, Latin@, and Asian Americans is estimated to be 1 in 236. But there doesn't seem to be enough research among the individual minority groups, so take that stat with a salt lick.

About 12% of Latin@s have diabetes, which is a rate 66% higher than the non-Hispanic white population. Among the Latin@ population, the incidence rates seem to be highest for Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Adjusting to a new diet is hard even when you have plenty of resources and support, but imagine what it's like for recent immigrants, who may not be able to find or afford products that are both healthy and nurturing in their familiarity.

Add these food realities to whatever SFnal premise your characters face, and those characters become more complicated, three-dimensional. A great example is Gordo, in Daniel José Older's "Salsa Nocturna", who takes his high-blood pressure medication every morning with a side of bacon or sausage, for balance. If I hadn't loved Gordo from paragraph one, then this admission of his in paragraph two would've completely won me over.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (studying)
...or even entirely lucid, but I can't stand not to be writing, not a moment longer. So, back to my rat killing. 

Coming Up: Greater Horrors
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (misunderstood)
On the off chance that this info will be helpful to someone else...

I've been taking an evening primrose oil supplement with meals, self-medicating for some PMS symptoms. The most commonly cited potential side effects are stomach woes and headache; seizures may be a problem for people who are also taking medication to treat schizophrenia. I've not experienced any of these side effects, but I have been unusually bitchy, by which I mean, I'm easily irritated and quick to anger.

This reminds me of when I took melatonin to help me sleep and it gave me sleep paralysis and night terrors. Why does my mileage always vary?



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