24 December 2011

My Boyfriend Pillow: Something To Lean On

There's something about curling up next to another body--even just wrapping around my little dog on a giant bed.  There's something about sharing warmth.  There's something about being a pillow and about resting on another being.  I think perhaps this is something we lose track of today, when each of us is sequestered in our own room,  with our own pillow, to our own side of the bed.  In days gone by people shared, and still today people share, sleeping spaces.  I don't think we were meant to be such solitary creatures when resting.  I think we were meant to sleep in piles, with tangled limbs, sharing warmth.

Anyway, for awhile now, I have been casually looking for a husband pillow.  A husband pillow has a high, firm back and short armrests.  It is perfect for sitting up and reading in bed.  They seem to have gone out of vogue somewhat.  I remember my parents having at least one when I was a child, and they seemed to me to be the height of bedtime functionality and comfort.  My sister and I were at Target this Fall.  I had difficulty explaining to her just what a husband pillow was, and she kept helpfully pulling body pillows and giant square things off the racks.  But alas, there were no husband pillows to be found at Target.

My sister remembered my quest for the elusive husband pillow, in whose arms I could spend a lifetime of reading comfort.  This evening we had our family Christmas, and my sister presented me with a boyfriend pillow.  A boyfriend pillow is a pillow with an arm attached to it.  You lay your head on the pillow's "chest," and the arm wraps around you, protectively.  It is extremely comfortable.  After cuddling with the pillow for awhile, the arm starts to get warm.  The button down shirt is removable, so it could be washed in the inevitable event of drool.  I might monogram the pocket or keep pens there.  My boyfriend pillow might get a name.  Kudos to my sister for her exceptional, thoughtful shopping find.

There are many things I like about being single, but not cuddling at bedtime is not one of them.  Perhaps someday I'll trade in for a human pillow, but tonight I'll be sleeping in the warm embrace of my boyfriend pillow and drooling contentedly on its blue, button down shirt.  We all need someone (or something) to lean on.

06 November 2011

Thoughts From A Bus Seat On Economic Inequality

In college, I took a class on Latin America.  Part of our assignment was to create political cartoons about aspects of Latin American history.  When we got to economic inequality in present-day Latin America, I drew a picture of a mansion with a courtyard.  Through the window of the mansion is a dining room with a man and a woman seated at either end of a long, bountiful table.  Outside, the courtyard is packed with people without food.  I meant it to be a sort of pie graph, demonstrating the relative amount of resources (shelter, space, food, etc.) controlled by those inside the mansion versus by those outside in the courtyard.

I had thoughts along similar lines as I looked out the bus window the other day.  I watch a lot of shiny new cars go by--cars with one person in them, with airbags, climate control systems, sound systems, lots of room for groceries.  And on the bus, people pack in side-by-side, holding grocery bags or children on their laps.  There is no safety system--no seatbelts, no child safety seats.  Sometimes people have to stand.  This disparity bothers me.  It seems to suggest that the life of a child in a safety seat in a new car is worth more than that of a child in a stroller or on a lap in the bus.  That's what I am thinking when I look out the bus window.  And I wonder if the child on the lap next to me is thinking that when she looks out the window too.

In my idea of home, money isn't very important.  But I do think the concept of "home" includes an expectation of safety.  I think people need to feel safe in order to feel at home in our communities and in our world.  Children especially should feel safe.

29 April 2011

Just One Fork, Please!

Sometimes I am at home by myself, and I'm hungry.  Grocery shopping is a campaign; ordering in is a quick fix.  My roommate and I have a library of take-out menus.  I have the phone numbers of my favorites saved in my phone, and have memorized my favorite sections of their menus (as well as the Soup of the Day schedule), so that I can order while walking home from the bus stop and arrive home just before the delivery person. 

The delivery people.  I don’t know any of their names, but I do know their faces:  the cute boy from Jimmy Johns, the nice, nerdy guy from Tom & Jerrys.  There are probably few delivery people in town who haven’t been to see the eccentric, ensweatered lady late at night, the first lady of local dine-in.  And they have seen me in all of my staying-in glory:  frizzy hair, mismatched pajamas, giant sweaters, bright socks, disintegrating house slippers.  And sometimes they see me like this on a Friday night. 

I’m not a very big person, but I can pack food away when I’m hungry.  I could probably be in eating contests, if I thought that would be fun, which I don’t, because eating should be pleasurable, nourishing, and not painful.  Somedays I don’t eat very much at all during the day, so that by dinner time I am very hungry.  I’ll order a lot of food then, usually with the noble intention of saving some for later.  Sometimes they bring me two forks.  Probably because it’s a lot of food.  More likely, as with tonight, when I only ordered a half order of fettuccine alfredo, because it's Friday night.  Everyone knows that on Friday nights you should (1) not be at home. But that (2) if you are at home, you should be entertaining, and apparently entertaining a small company, if we are to take the delivery forks as a guide.

There is a certain financial imprudence in ordering in frequently.  This I readily admit.  But there is nothing inherently wrong with either the Fridayness or the aloneness of the dining.  

Grilled cheese has been a treat for me since childhood visits to the Woolworth lunch counter (also to pick out a new book).  It’s so satisfying to have that crispy little square, wrapped up in wax paper, delivered right to my door, along with dill pickle spears, also wrapped in wax paper.  And if someone is willing to bring you tiramisu at home, then I say engage such a person in such a purpose.  Sometimes you need tiramisu now.  Sometimes now is Friday.  And sometimes you only need one fork!

(Don’t even get me started on the joys of dining out as a woman solo!  Ariel Leve’s article “Is Eating Alone an Act of Bravery?” treats this subject quite humorously.)

02 April 2011

Independent Librarian

I have always loved maps, plans, giant answerbooks--unabridged dictionaries, with ten definitions to a word.  For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to summarize the universe, especially the part touching on human affairs--to capture it, to categorize it, to draw out its main themes, and to build new things on that scaffold.

I used to take a globe, close my eyes, and spin it.  I would stop it with my finger and wherever my finger landed, that place was my destiny.  By this method, I would have many destinies by now.  Mostly I just enjoyed the process, the thought of somewhere and someday.

I used to spend hours at my grandma's house, peering into my aunt's doll house, not moving anything around, just making up stories.

I still look through books of Dover Publications bungalow floor plans-- knocking out walls, building additions, hunting fireplaces, built-ins, and the greatest possible number of windows, and making up stories and planning libraries and parties.  (If you don't know Dover Publications, you need to!  They print Dover Thrift Editions of many classic works for one to two dollars each.  You can sign up for free catalogs on their website.  Or look for a store near you which carries them.  If you're in Michiana, The Griffon Bookstore in South Bend is a great source!)

I have a reproduction of (part of) a massive 17th century Atlas (Atlas Maior) of the world.  There are close-up drawings of walled, medieval cities.  Each town is marked by a red spire.  There are drawings of national costumes.  Every territory is labeled with its 17th-century Latin name.  I got it because I thought I might learn more about my family history if I could see the land they came from nearer the time they immigrated. 

I think the impulse to classify, to have a pocket-reference to the universe, is human.  We are, many of us, natural librarians.  Several years ago, I started working on my own library classification system, something I may implement in my personal library someday.

When I go to the local Barnes and Noble, the brevity of the European history section leaves me with a sense of loss.  Someone who hadn't read much history might think that that was all there was, the voices of dissenting historians silenced by swift cuts to the retail catalog.  My brother tells me that science has suffered similar losses at B&N, while at the same time the new age literature section has grown.  We need to make room for the new ideas, but without continuing to look back, we lose essential chapters in the grand story of human endeavor.

While I think reducing one's material possessions is admirable, I think books are an exception.    They allow us to connect, not just with human beings globally, but with human beings across time.  We must never lose that connection.  Build, collect, organize your library however you want to.  Become a volunteer librarian today!*

*Trees have housed us for generations.  And now they house our words.  Good library-tree relations are essential.  There should be a little of Bombadil in every keeper-of-books.

Every book I own, has my name in it.  If you are in need of bookplates, I found these fairy plates at Oiseaux on Etsy.  These gnome bookplates from Bookplate Ink have been favorites for awhile.  He seems nice.  (Let me know if you have any ideas as to what the animals around the border might mean... perhaps a zodiac from a different sky.):

The Librarian, by Laura Jane Scott.  

17 March 2011

Bus Chivalry

We are brought together by our need for groceries, by our need to visit doctors, by our need to go to work, by our need to go home.  We car pool, or bus pool, rather – considerately, cooperatively, sharing our ride so that we can each get where we need to go.   

As I look out the window of the bus, I see two and three car garages, for those who don’t have the time or inclination to carpool.  As I walk around town, I meet cars that barely have time to let me cross the street, each driver focused on his/her personal mission with little time for anyone else’s.  I won’t promise that I don’t slow down when crossing the street sometimes… in protest.  A human being is not a roadblock. 

To be honest, I also have road rage, or sidewalk rage, rather.  I am a fierce walker, fierce and fast.  I honed my weaving skills in high school cross country, and now I weave past everyone in front of me.  I can’t say that it’s just about efficiency either, or about the beat of the song I’m moving to.  I just like being faster.  I like feeling that, when I arrive at my destination, I’ve just won twenty races, even if no one else knew we were racing.  Sidewalk rage (walking), though, is healthier and less dangerous than its gasoline-fueled counterpart.

I’ve learned a lot from the people who ride the bus, about patience and sharing.  I’ve also found that there can be a lot of generosity among people who don’t have very much.  I wish they had warmer coats—polyester with a little fluff inside isn’t enough for the harsh Illinois winter, nor is just one layer of knitted wool each for the hands and head.  And they need warm coats more than most because they spend more time in the elements, waiting and walking.  I have found, among this population, who live in state-funded apartments and a homeless center, that civility is alive and well, perhaps more so than elsewhere.  When suffering is your companion, you are quicker to recognize it in others.            

As a family, we went through a book on etiquette together when I was fourteen.  I learned from that book that for an informal table setting, the knife and the spoon go to the right of the plate and the fork goes to the left.  I learned that I should introduce a younger person to an older person.  I learned that I should stand when meeting someone new who is also standing.  Many of these rules might seem arbitrary, but I believe that there is an underlying goal (aside from the table settings) of showing respect to other human beings.  The people who ride the bus have internalized this sort of etiquette.  As we approach a bus stop where a mother and two young children wait, someone inevitably relinquishes his or her seat near the front of the bus and moves quietly to the back to make room before the new passengers get on.  This sort of behavior is common on the bus.  And it elevates my opinion of humanity.

In a world where selfishness is pervasive, when complaining abounds from those who have much more than my bus companions, it is refreshing to be with these people, who trouble to pay attention to their neighbors and their needs – ready to share information on bus schedules, grocery stores, etc.

My Dad used to ride the bus to work every day so that we could have the car.  My brother, when he was young, thought that my Dad’s job was to ride the bus all day.  If we happened to pass a city bus on our way to the library or the store, he would waive at the bus and say “hi” to Dad.  (My brother uses public transportation now, but not all day.)  I’m glad my sidewalk-raging, speed-loving self has the opportunity to share my morning ride to work, and to get scooped up by the same little white and green bus at the end of the day, to share a ride with my neighbors to our respective sleeping places.

20 February 2011

Diary of a Healthy Day

This isn't really a reflective essay or strictly a how-to.  It's more a diary of habits that keep me healthier in the day-to-day.  And I want to share them with you.  I'd also like to hear about your healthy habits too!

In the morning, while my rolled oats are microwaving, I do a few simple sun salutations (kind of like this, but without the beach). It gets my blood flowing and starts waking me up.  It is especially good if it is a sunny day, because then I can face the sun.  I open the blinds.  I connect with the greater world.  I am humbled by it’s greatness.  And I am ready to move through it, and to be part of it.  It’s sounds cheesy.  And maybe it is.  But it definitely makes me feel better as I approach my day.  That’s pretty much as far as I've gotten with yoga.  I got a little disheartened with the tree pose when my trees kept falling over, but I would like to try more, and you should try it too!

The oatmeal ritual.  (My parents set the example of the morning oatmeal habit.)  I add a little vegan spread, chopped nuts--like walnuts or almonds, honey, berries--either dried or fresh, and a little 8th Continent soy milk (which is yummy plain, too).  This breakfast is very balanced.  It contains protein, carbohydrates  and vitamins.  It is light yet substantial, which means it keeps me full until lunch time, without that heavy feeling.  I usually have some black tea or coffee, and a multi-vitamin.  I'll add additional vitamins if I feel like I need them.  Like if I feel weak, I might add an iron supplement.

For lunch, I usually have a sandwich--like PB&J:  organic peanut butter (just ground-up peanuts) and organic jam (basically just smashed fruit).  I try to use a bread from the bakery section with a relatively short list of ingredients.  I usually have more nuts on the side.  And a Clementine orange.  (They're so juicy.  They make the perfect snack.)  Try not to put things a lot of things in your body that aren't nutritionally useful--like preservatives.  You need to make friends with the produce section.  Make raw things a part of your everyday.  It's a great way to get your dietary fiber.  There's also something very pure in the experience of biting through skin and encountering those natural, unadulterated flavors.  ...Sometimes I'll take a cup of green/herbal tea back to work with me then.  Also, I drink water throughout the day.  Caffeine is dehydrating, so if you don't drink it at all, that's great, but if you do, tempering it with water is important.  Try to avoid carbonated beverages too.  In addition to dehydrating you, they don't do your body much good.

After work is the moment of truth.  I'm usually tired and hungry and don't feel like cooking, and there's a Jimmy Johns between me and home.  I break down often.  I'm a little bit addicted to the #6 Vegetarian sandwich, with oregano, onion, and extra oil and vinegar.  And I get the salt and vinegar chips.  Vinegar to me  is a sweet, sweet nectar.  (I blame my Mom, who loves vinegar too.)  But if I can manage to get past Jimmy Johns, I like to keep things on hand which don't require a lot of work.  I'll make a big pot of stew/soup and then freeze most of it in little containers to be thawed as needed.  This makes me feel like I have viable alternatives to Jimmy Johns.  I also try to keep fresh things on hand as much as possible.  If I already have rice and lentils made, and fresh veggies to add, then that's easy.  Or I'll saute some veggies with fresh garlic and onion and throw them over pasta with olive oil.  Lemon juice and zest are transformative.  They're like sunshine for the tastebuds.  Sometimes I'll boil a whole artichoke as a yummy snack.  (A treat my Mom acquired an appreciation for in California.)  I like to finish with fruit.

Before bed, I'll do some Pilates, which is a program of toning exercises, especially focused on the core:  abdominals, gluteals, and lower back.  I feel like the lower back is especially important.  A lot of aerobics programs neglect it.  It is important to your health to have a strong lower back.  I also think its good for your personal appearance as well.  Having toned lower back muscles will give you a smaller waistline, and will help you stand up straighter.  There's something about good posture that conveys confidence.  My Pilates routine also includes push-ups (and diamond push-ups--Form a diamond with your hands while doing push-ups.  This will work the triceps.  Normal push-ups work the biceps on the other side of your upper arms).  I usually follow this up with some supplemental crunches, being sure to include the side muscles (obliques).  I have been using Brooke Siler's The Pilates Body book as a guide for ten years and highly recommend it.  If you find this sort of workout boring, and I often do too, you can try working out to music.  Or for something different, try a belly-dancing video.  This style of dance isolates and works the core.  And it's fun.  Kick-boxing is also very fun.

I do a lot of walking during the week, so I don't make a special point of doing extra cario.  I occasionally do some running.  But forever and forever, my favorite aerobic work-out will always be to just turn on some music and dance.

I moisturize.  See my Four-Fold Path To Silky Smooth Skin post for more ideas on healthier skin.

I try to sleep eight hours a day.  

If I need a snack, I like to pop some popcorn in canola oil on the stove and then dust it with sea-salt.  It's light, tasty, and fibrous.  (Popcorn-on-the-stove is a warm, wintertime ritual that I learned from my Mom.)

I make of point of including happy things in my day, like good music and a happy book at bedtime.  

Also, I have to say it, I think regular masturbation is important for overall health.  Orgasm is great for the circulatory system.  It releases a flood of endorphins in the brain, making you feel happy, relaxed, and confident.  I can't recommend it enough, especially to women, who tend to masturbate less often than men.  It is your body.  It is your sexuality.  It's natural and healthy.  You can buy sex toys online, like at Amazon.com.  They arrive in discrete packaging.   

These are my tips for a healthier day.  I would love to hear yours!

01 February 2011

Keeping Winter Bright

Imbolc is the Celtic festival of hearth and home.  It falls midway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, and is celebrated with the lighting of candles and hearth fires to celebrate the return of warmer, brighter days.  According to Celtic folklore, Cailleach, the old woman of winter, ventures forth if it is sunny, to gather firewood for a long winter still-to-come.  But if the weather’s bad, Cailleach will remain tucked up in her bed, and winter will soon end.  The forecast in the Midwest is for a blizzard, so be of good cheer, spring is near!  

Until then, light some candles.  A berry-scented candle that my youngest sister made me for Christmas is keeping me company right now.  I’ve been lighting a candle every night.  It travels around the apartment with me in the evening as I work on things.  

It is a big, beautiful star that we have up in our sky.  But until you see it again, you can make your own light!

"...[I]t is winter in Narnia, and has been for ever so long, and we shall both catch cold if we stand here talking in the snow.  Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?" -- Tumnus the Faun to Lucy Pevensie, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Friends are bright too!  Say "yes" to tea!

07 January 2011

Laptop Hearth

For almost as long as there have been humans, we have taken comfort in our hearth fires. Historically the heart of the home, the hearth was used to meet essential needs like food and warmth. And it has long provided a focal point for social gatherings. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a real fireplace, but the good news is that now you don't need one! I was in the check-out aisle at the drugstore last month, and what should I find but a $2 DVD promising to turn my television into a roaring fireplace, with all of the sites and sounds of a crackling, flickering fire. It was the perfect gift for my family, who have always wanted a fireplace, and who enjoy the novelty of a gift like that. And it did make the family room cozier.

Now I want to turn my laptop into a fireplace too! Like reading at the library, but find the environs a little too austere? Bring your laptop fireside and read to your heart's content by your own blazing hearth. In the mood for love? Just turn your laptop into and instant fireplace, and things are sure to heat up! This is the DVD that just keeps giving. Seriously, the video is on a loop. The fire never dies. Think of the savings when you don't buy are a real fireplace: no mess, no trees felled, no having to always be where the fireplace is. A laptop fireplace goes where you go. Buy your own "Instant Fireplace" today and get crackling!