Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eating Omily: You're Toxic, I'm Slipping Under

It's been a bakey week in my apartment.  Jealous?  First there was the strawberry-rhubarb crumble, built to simultaneously make the best use of one of my favorite fruits, and use up the the last of the frozen strawberries.  It worked gloriously.  I've been eating it for breakfast with plain yogurt on the side most days.  Then, there was the chocolate silk pie, necessitated by the soft tofu languishing in my fridge a few days past the use-by date.  The pie came out delicious, too, but that's another post.

Let's get back to one of my favorite fruits.  Ah, rhubarb!  Mysterious, tart, floral, astringent, citrusy, complex, and...highly toxic!  What's not to love??  Ok, maybe that's just me being attracted to danger...besides, the rhubarb stalks we eat are substantially less toxic and are probably safe to eat raw!  The leaves that grow at the ends of those stalks on the other hand...those can kill you dead.
So, when was the last time you tasted rhubarb?  Was it in the form of a store-bought strawberry-rhubarb pie?  Odds are all you tasted was strawberry.  People are never brave enough with their rhubarb.  Personally, I prefer a straight up rhubarb crisp, so I can really get right into those tart flavors...rhubarb is also laughingly easy to turn into jam!  Just let chopped rhubarb sit with an equal amount of sugar overnight, then bring to a boil, and keep boiling for five minutes.  When it cools, it will be jam.  Feel free to can it, freeze it, use to ingratiate yourself to anyone who invites you to brunch, spread on toast and waffles, etc. etc. etc.

The wikipedia page for rhubarb offers this little gem: "It [rhubarb] has also become a common nickname for women in Vermont."

Another thing, aside from being toxic and a woman in Vermont, that makes rhubarb special is that it is a rare bird, indeed: a vegetable that is treated like a fruit.  We all make a fuss about tomatoes being fruits treated like vegetables, but they are far from alone.  The entire squash family: zucchinis, summer and winter squash, pumpkins, etc. are fruits.  So are cucumbers.  On the other hand, no other veggie is treated like a fruit the way rhubarb is, and, in fact, in 1947, a court in New York ruled that rhubarb is a fruit because of the way that it's used, even though it is decidedly not a fruit botanically speaking.  Crazy renegade judge!  That, too, is courtesy of the Wikipedia page.

But speaking of rhubarb, because we are, it occured to me the other day that though I offered a sweet Summer libation recipe, I offered nothing for those who might be teetotalers!  Are there any teetotalers left?  Well, maybe you're just on a cleanse and avoiding anything that makes your liver work hard.  Either way, I have a sweet Summer potion for your drinking pleasure, too!

Rhubarb Soda.   Yay! 

Take equal parts water and rhubarb, and add a quarter cup of sugar for every two cups of rhubarb, and half a vanilla bean, if you can be bothered to get one.  Chop the rhubarb into small pieces, and combine all the ingredients in a saucepan.  Bring it up to a boil, then reduce the heat, and let it simmer till the volume has reduced by half, and the rhubarb is falling apart, about fifteen minutes.  Strain the juice from the rhubarb, and you'll see more rhubarb magic: the juice will be a delicate pink, and the pulp will be a warm green!  You can discard the pulp of course, but why would you?  It's tender, and sweet with vanilla syrup!  I like to stir it into plain yogurt for a tasty, tart snack. 

Refrigerate your rhubarb syrup, use or freeze within five days, and when the mood strikes, put ice in a glass, and add one part rhubarb syrup to three parts of soda water.  Swirl your rhubarb syrup around before pouring, to mix in all the little solids that precipitate out when it sits in the fridge.  Yum!  Light, sweet-tart, refreshing, and the color of a ballet slipper.  If you aren't cleansing, you can also mix it one to one with tequila over crushed ice for an incredible take on the margarita.  Do that.

Rhubarb is also precious because it has a short season.  Which is!  Don't miss it!  Buy too much, then blanch and freeze to keep those amazing rhubarb flavors happening all Summer long.  After a taste of this poison paradise, you might be addicted, but you won't be sorry!

[insert Britney's "Toxic" here]

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Omily Tarot: The Five of Cups

It's Tuesday, and it's Tarot Day!  Did you have a lovely weekend?  Grill some dogs?  Sleep in on a Monday?  Great!  Now that we're back in the work week, it's time to keep moving through the fives.  What?  The fives?  Why?  Because this is the Omily Tarot!  Each week I go over my interpretation of a tarot card from the Waite-Smith deck based on numerical, and elemental significances, as well as the images on the cards themselves.  When I've finished interpreting the whole deck, it's going to be professionally designed into a gorgeous zine available for purchase.  Won't that be fun?  So, we've faced the big challenge of the staves: cooperation.  Next up is the big challenge for the cups.  Last we left those chalices of watery emotion and dreams, they were waxing contemplative, carefully assessing their situation before moving forward.  So did it work?

The Five of Cups
"Our figure stands, head down and wrapped in a black cloak, facing the three spilled cups.  He seems tempted to allow his efforts thus far to go to waste.  If he’d only take the time to turn away from his happy dreams, flowing away from him down the river, he’d see that there are two cups left, steady ground on which to build: if he turns back to his original choice, he may find the strength and the motivation to see this through.  What happened to the joy and confidence expressed in the three of cups?
Remember the description of the four of cups as the honeymoon being over?  Our clever character took a time out to assess if this situation or relationship was worth pursuing, or in need of a major overhaul. Maybe that time of solitude was actually pretty satisfying, and now the question of opening up and sharing life with another has become that much more complicated.  When those beautiful dreams of couple-bliss are going to be sullied by reality, it just doesn’t look like as much fun anymore.   Maybe knocking over the three cups shown on the last card illustrated how unfulfilling what they contained really was.
Where will a choice to walk away lead him?  We don’t know.  The land looks barren.  The town in the distance may be the safe choice, but as any dreamer knows, the safe choice is rarely the most fulfilling.  The dreamy cups have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater when things aren’t going exactly their way.  Being in touch with your emotions is essential for a well-lived life, but it can be a short trip from there to being governed by your emotions, which is to be strapped onto the most intense, non-stop roller coaster imaginable.  Of course, there’s a difference between throwing away your progress at the first sign of pain or difficulty, and dreaming big and holding out for what you really want.  After some contemplation, its obvious things aren’t as magical and perfect as they looked in the three of cups, but the question is: are they still good enough to take a gamble on?  With this card the question is not how to proceed, but will this person proceed.  And until the figure on the card can move beyond the pain he or she is feeling, the answer won’t appear.
In a reading, you can easily spot what event this card is referring to: when did you last feel gut-wrenching disappointment?  This card reminds us that new beginnings and opportunities are always a part of loss if we are ready to see them.  If the end of the honeymoon turned out to the end of your relationship, feel grateful it happened now and not five years later, and enjoy the free time and energy you have to invest in relationships you already know are meaningful and healthy.  If the career path you were so excited about turned out to be unrealistic, keep a healthy perspective, and don’t let yourself mourn a future that never was for too long.  There’s a whole list of other exciting majors to choose from!"

Even for happy cups, loss is a part of life!  Remember that in most cases, pain is only our resistence to change.  If you accept the situation, it becomes bearable.  If you really can't imagine what good there can be in a situation, ask your tarot deck!  Pull a few cards, and you'll quickly see the other side of your loss.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Define: Marriage

Gay people want their right to marry.  In their fight for this right, the approach has typically been to focus on the fact that they are being denied civil rights by being denied marriage.  This makes perfect sense, because the inability to marry the person they choose as their romantic partner does deprive them of important civil rights and protections. 

The problem though, is that I think most people who are against gay marriage are not against gay marriage on the basis that gay people should not have civil rights.  There are probably a few sign-carrying crazies who adopt precisely that stance, and there are probably more who subconsciously feel that way though they would never admit it to themselves, but for the most part, I think, these people are just normal, generally loving and accepting human beings who are afraid of change.

And, we have to face it, we are proposing a really big change.  We don't like to discuss this issue from the perspective of the institution or definition of marriage much.  I just got a petition in my inbox the other day asking an online dictionary to change its definition of marriage from 'a union between a man and a woman' to 'a union between two people'.  It's quite reasonable to say that's a change whose time has come.  It's quite reasonable to say that that's how we've thought of marriage all along anyway.

The thing is, though, that isn't how we've, collectively, thought of marriage all along.  Marriage does have a documented, lengthy, international history of being a union between one man and one woman.  We are in fact changing an institution that's been around a long time, and has a lot to do with the fabric of our society (for better or for worse...).  I'm in favor of that change, but if we refuse to recognize and discuss what we are proposing with our opponents, how can we ever have the kind of open debate that has the potential to change hearts and minds?  All we'll be doing is shouting at each other.  And it looks like that's about what's happening.

So, Marriage: the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc.

Why was it accepted and defined as being only between members of the opposite sex, anyway?  Let's consider why marriage came to be in the first place.

There was a time in our species when there was no marriage.  There was a lot of sex, a lot of children, a lot of hardship, and some pair bonding that in some cases may have been permanent.  I'm referring to our early hunter-gatherer days.

Then, for various reasons I forget because I'm not an anthropologist, we started growing things.  This required us to stay in the same place, at least for the period of a growing season.  We started building shelters, acquiring objects, having time in which to try new things.  This was the beginning of civilization.  Suddenly, you didn't have just yourself and perhaps a favorite digging stick you carried around with you.  You had: yourself, your perhaps quite sizable, and carefully located hut, all the produce you could grow, and all the cool stuff you were able to trade your produce for: maybe a very pretty pot or two, a nice rug, who knows.  These objects belonged equally to your offspring as well as to yourself, but if you were enjoying the old style of mating, who knew who your children were!  You couldn't share your belongings with a whole primitive city of urchins!   That once somewhat rare practice of pair bonding became a much more practical choice: any children this one woman had were yours, and no one else's were.  The whole ceremony, and official status of the pair bonding came about later, but you get the idea.

Marriage was not founded because two humans loved each other sooooo much they wanted to tell the whole tribe they wanted to be together forever.  And marriage was not founded because two people wanted a secure, permanent place for their children to grow up in.  They had the tribe for that, back in the days when we understood that it takes a village.

Marriage was founded on economics within a society that all too quickly made the shift to patriarchal once men figured out they had something to do with the whole making new humans thing.

And that's how it was for a long, long time.  You (or more likely your father) chose your spouse based on who would make a good alliance from a political standpoint, and increase your holdings from an economic one.  There was a great deal of negotiation, and things like dowries cropped up to help encourage the taking off of one's hands of those pesky second-class-citizens, and the church stepped in to point out that one of the most precious results of marriage, and the reason it was to be a permanent stable union, were the children that resulted.

Now, I don't know when this idea first started.  We see it in shakespear's plays, so obviously a hot second ago, but it's an idea that's still up for debate much much later in the days of Jane Austin: marrying for love.  What a crazy idea!  Basing a lifetime commitment with very real economic consequences on a fickle emotion??  That's a good way to end up both poor, and miserable!  Or so a lot of people still thought at the time.  But, this wacky new fad of marrying for love simply wouldn't die.  All of Jane Austin's heroines managed it, and here we are, two-hundred years later, pretty well set on the idea that marriage is for LOVE, dammit, and not economic or political alliance!

So, why is marriage defined as a union between one man and one woman?  Because, one man and one woman are capable of producing offspring, and we need to know whose offspring are whose, so we know who to pass the purse strings to.  Since a homosexual union does not produce biological offspring, marriage did not include homosexual pairings.

To put it another way: our current definition of marriage, which many people are fighting tooth and nail to defend, is based on marriages of political and economic convenience, not our current standard: marriages based on love, and potentially the mutual desire to raise children in a stable, loving relationship.

When you put it that way, it becomes pretty clear that we are way behind in terms of redefining marriage.  We did it two-hundred years ago, give or take.  We've changed the definition of marriage from something that is inherently hetero because it was instituted to solve an inherently hetero problem, to something that is inherently open to anyone who is capable of love, and making a lifetime commitment: two adults of sound mind and free will.

And one more thing: There are other places to get a definition of marriage besides a dictionary.  Many sacred scriptures explicitly define marriage as between one man and one woman.  Of course, any religious institution has the right to marry or refrain from marrying any couple it pleases in accordance with its beliefs.  This can very simply be kept separate from a couple's legal rights to marry.  In the Catholic Church, for example, a hetero couple consisting of two people who have been divorced from previous marriages may obtain a legal marriage and have access to all the rights and privileges that entails, but they cannot be married within the Catholic Church, and their marriage will not be recognized for religious purposes.  Because we have freedom of religion in this country, and a wide variety of beliefs, we cannot legally define marriage based on one, or even several, religions' definition.

 So, do you think it's about time to update our dictionaries and our laws, and bring them in line with what we think marriage is in the 21st century?

I do.

Live Omily,

Friday, May 25, 2012

Eating Omily: Freeze, Infuse, and Be Merry!

As we close in on that ambiguous moment of having 'made it through the Winter', (I know, Memorial Day means Summer to you guys, but my fingers are staying crossed till my quarts of tomatoes have been used up, and fresh ones are right around the corner...), I get to evaluate my first year as a home preserver.  That sounds like the opposite of a home wrecker, but no, I don't go around counseling men to use their head instead of their...anyway.

I've got one or two quarts of tomatoes left, so it looks like nine was about the magic number for those...ten wouldn't have hurt, and I would have liked to have more dried tomatos on hand.  Dill pickles were my personal favorite, with dilly beans playing a close second at first...but I'm over them now.  I may do two batches of dills instead!  And I give up on preserving beats!  I don't think much of them fresh, and no canning recipe I've tried makes me like them more.

We definitely had enough jams and jellies to sustain us, even though I didn't make those classics: strawberry and blueberry jam.  My blood orange marmalade was the hit of the house!  I found a last jar tucked in the back of the canned goods cupboard the other day, and we waxed jubilant!   I'll just have to break the seasonal rules and do a batch this Spring, before canning gets underway big-time.  I never did get a hold of a big watermelon to do watermelon jelly with.  I'd really like to do that, but it will definitely mean extra jelly on my hands, unless I skip rhubarb jam this year.  That's a shame, since rhubarb jam is without a doubt the easiest spread to make, but if I'm honest I prefer rhubarb cooked up in a fruit crisp, where it can retain some of its toothsome tartness, and it's not the cheapest flavor around, with its short season, so maybe I'll freeze some for future crisps, instead of jamming it. 

I shirked on apples and pears this Fall, which really is alright, because those are around all year round at my Farmer's Market; there are just more varieties during Apple and Pear Season.  I really enjoyed the chewy dried apple rings I made, though, and am interested in doing dried pear chips this year.  The frozen asparagus didn't retain its texture as well as I had hoped; it came out better if I chopped it into bite-sized pieces instead of serving it whole.  My husband loved the mustard asparagus pickles, but I'll be toning down the mustard in the recipe just the same, in the hopes of tasting the asparagus.  The frozen green beans were good, but the jury is still out on the dried ones.  I love their chewier texture, but my husband isn't a fan, so we still have half my airtight container left, waiting to add extra nutrients to brown rice, and soups.  I'll do less this year for sure.

I just finished up my frozen (rasp, black, and blue)berry stash this morning, and I never did infuse brandy with two cups of it, so that confirms that berries are a hot commodity, and I need to get as many as possible into my freezer when they come rolling in.  Strawberries, on the other hand, probably because they take longer to thaw, and the difference in texture between fresh and frozen/thawed is more obvious, didn't get all eaten.  Even after using two cups to infuse vodka with, there are still some left, and the fresh ones are already coming in!  So I can definitely enjoy eating those fresh, and if I find myself with a bunch frozen at the end of the season, they'll be going into vodka bottles, and jam pots, and maybe one jar of infused vinegar, for sunny, strawberry vinaigrettes...

And I think that's it...this year there will be more infusing, different jams, different, freezing, and different drying, and a little less canning.  Sounds about right!

 But, before I go, I have to show you what I'm the most excited about right now...
What is this dark, and juicy stranger??
It' infusion in progress!  Two cups of last season's frozen strawberries are working alchemical magic with two cups of vodka to form sweet, ruby red, decadent strawberry vodka!  Perfect for Summer cocktails.  I cannot wait.
As you can see, the berries are already losing a lot of color to the vodka, and by the end of a week, they'll be looking pretty sad, so we'll strain them out, press them for every ounce of strawberry vodka goodness, then eat them!  Hoohoohahaha!!!

Did I mention how simple infusions are?  Take the fruit (or veggie if you're feeling creative) of your choice, and mix it in a clean jar with approximately an equal amount of not-your-best liquor.  Any subleties will be lost to the fruit, so as long as it's not gag-inducing on its own, it will be great as an infusion.  We use Tito's, which is the best vodka for the money...ever.  Brandy, rum, tequila, or whiskey can all be infused, too, just think carefully about how the flavors will go together, and how you'll serve your resulting tipple.  Let the jar sit in a cool, dark place for about a week, and give it a shake every couple days to encourage full flavor mingling.  Stone fruits, like cherries or peaches, tend to hold their shape and color better than others, so you can potentially leave those in the booze, for an enticing snack or garnish!  Have fun stocking your hipster-rific bar!

Drink Omily!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Omily Tarot: The Five of Staves

Is someone going to send me a cookie for all this blogging?  That would be great.  I like chocolate.  Anyway!  It's Thursday!  And it's a Tarot Day!  We've made it through the fours, so what do the fives have in store?  Well, let's review...we've had it fairly easy on the tarot journey thus far...oh, comeon, guys, don't get too hung up on that three of swords, now!  Overall, our journey has been: insiration, decision, action, reflection.  It's kind of a neat little journey all to itself, but zoom out to the big picture, because it's far from over.  Today we move into rockier territory.  The fives are the first big upset on our path.  Sure our initial action may have had consequences we weren't too wild about, but the stakes were low, and all it took to recover was a little nap, right?  Right?  For better or for worse, life goes on, and the first of those big obstacles, the ones that maybe you foresaw in your time of reflection, and maybe you didn't, has arrived.  Each suit features its own challenges (of course), unique to the journey at hand and what stands to be gained.  You game?  I thought so.

And for anyone who just jumped in and isn't so sure if they're game or not, this is the Omily Tarot!  Each week (with a pumped up schedule for the next week or two) I'll be offering my interpretation of a card from the Waite-Smith deck based on the numerical, and elemental significances of the cards, and the images on the cards themselves.  Once I've worked my way through the whole deck, this set of interpretations will be designed, laid out, and printed by a professional into a gorgeous, easy-to-reference zine-style book.  Whose excited?  I'm excited!  Let's go...

The Five of Staves

"You’ve taken a moment to celebrate that small victory, and now you’re ready to build on it…or are you?  The figures in this card are often interpreted as fighting, but to me it looks as if they’re trying to build a structure.  Each may know exactly where their piece needs to go to create something strong and solid, but without knowledge of what the others are up to, it won’t do much good. 
The four of coins was hesitant to share his resources, and it may be that very hesitancy that’s creating conflict here.  It may be tempting to use your tool of building as a tool of destruction: beating anyone who won’t get out of your way over the head!  That’s definitely an option, but choosing to listen and cooperate with those around you will likely serve you better.  Your fiery passion and ambition, seeking for growth as you define it, has made your journey one of solitude thus far. 
In the last stave card we celebrated with others, but it’s one thing to let someone buy you a congratulatory drink, and quite another to let them in on your secrets so you can work together to move your plans forward.  If a spiritual journey is the issue at hand, opening up can seem even scarier.  The higher the stakes, the more you may hesitate to be open with your resources and your info, and to continue to take risks, which is crucial to the stave journey. 
Perhaps the conflict is within yourself: different options lay before you, and unless you’re super-clairvoyant, you can’t be sure of which is the best one.  You need a different approach to avoid getting stymied.  This card challenges you to open up to outside help and outside resources, or possibly a different facet of your journey altogether for the time being.  If you don’t, this may be as far as you get.
In a reading, consider where you may be in conflict with yourself.  Are you not reaping the benefits of your new healthier lifestyle plan because part of you still really wants to sit on the couch and eat doughnuts?  Has your significant other not declared his love because he senses your hesitancy to say those words back, even if you don’t?  Sometimes internal conflict is what causes conflict between members who should be working together: Are you insanely frustrated with the PTA’s refusal to understand your plan to integrate better sex ed into schools, when you’re the one withholding the details?  To use a simple example: if you want to shoot all the baskets in the game, your team is probably going to lose.  Recognize who your team is, and start cooperating, internally and externally!"

Fun, right?  So get out there and pass that ball!  GO TEAM!


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Omily Tips for Writing Right, or, Five Ways to Write Omily

So, I've been thinking a lot about writing lately.  This has a lot to do with the fact that I've been doing a lot of writing lately.  And this has a lot to with the fact that I always feel like writing, and I'm beginning to see more of my future in that field than in the others I enjoy so much.  I thought today I would share with you some of the things I have learned about writing.  Doubtlessly they don't apply to everyone, but I think they're pretty basic, useful gems...

1. "Write drunk.  Edit sober."
-Ernest Hemingway

I don't find it necessary to get a good drunk on everytime I write, which is good, because I'd have to adopt Amy Winehouse's (God[dess] rest her soul) last chart-topping hit as my mantra if I did.  That said, the best cure for writer's block I know is a generous pour of Jameson on the rocks, or for the extra strength version, skip the rocks, and just do a splash of water. 
See the quill and ink?  Obviously legit...

And contrarywise, if you tend to fall in love with every word that drips from your pen or flashes across your screen, get drunk before doing vast cuts to your manuscript to give you be sure you're cutting and pasting to a spare document, not deleting...just in case.

2. Keyboards are really freaking important.

I have a laptop.  It's seven years old, and it has seen better days, but as a word processor, it works just fine...except for the 'A' key.  It has to be hit several times at just the right angle before it will produce an 'A'.  I cannot write on this keyboard.  It stops me up faster than having the harsh critic of my nightmares reading over my shoulder.
It's the old thinkpad my college gave me.  Those are fruit stickers, mostly acquired in Paris, where I started my current novel.  Obviously legit.

  This is sad, because in general, laptops tend to have the best keyboards: compact in size, and with responsive keys set low and even...sigh...
Notice the compact size, and low profile of the keys.

When I was younger I had a love affair with good pens, the kind that glided smoothly, and always had enough ink.  Now that I'm older, and wiser, it's keyboards.  I found a computer on the curb, and rescued the keyboard thinking I could resuscitate my laptop.  No such luck.  The keys were too big, and too hard to press to allow for the smooth flow of thought to words I was looking for.
Yes, I carry this shit to the coffee shop.

  I found one of those floppy, waterproof, rollable keyboards at Old Navy for only $4, which, admittedly, should have tipped me off, but, the keys were small and not raised much, which is a very desirable characteristic in a keyboard.  But, since it's squishy, hitting the corner or side of a key doesn't type a letter.  You have to squarely make contact with the center of each key.  My hands aren't that big, and I am in a hurry, dammit!   This keyboard, too, was leaving much to be desired.  Especially in the shift key department.  Ever try to hold down the center of the shift key, while flailing wildly for the actual letter you want?
I tell myself this is less dorky for coffee shop writing.

  If you have on your hands, the perfect Writer's Keyboard, please mail it to me.  I'll pay postage.

3. The internet's power as an evil distraction far outways any good it may do as an advanced spelling and fact checker.

Unless I'm in a really really really good workflow, I find myself all too often losing my train of thought and somehow thinking that facebook is going to give it back to me.  I should know better, as I'm really no fan of facebook, but there it is, beckoning me, assuming there's nothing in my inbox to keep my busy.  It's amazing how quickly I can make it through those pauses between inspirations if there's nothing for me to do but reread what I just wrote!   Simply amazing!  I've got a novel to turn out, and no time for your damn notifications.  This is why I use a seven-year-old terminal laptop, instead of the flashy iMac that serves as my husband's work computer, and our family computer.  Which, might I mention, has the perfect.  Fecking.  Keyboard.  Easy to press keys, small in size, eminently moveable to find the perfect extension for my arms while maintaining a straight spine (at least some of the time...).
Gotta hand it to you, Apple.  That is a sweet keyboard.

  But, of course, it uses stupid bluetooth technology to connect to the computer, so there's no way to hook it up to the laptop, and if there was, it wouldn't be compatible with Windows xp.  Yeah, go ahead and laugh...

And yes, that's right, my yearning for the perfect keyboard is outweighed by how unproductive I get when I work on the same computer I do meaningless internet tasks on.

Here she is lying on my bookbag so I can't load it up and walk to the coffee shop!  Thanks, cat!
4. The same goes for cats.  (Wait, what useful thing do cats do?)

Save your cat cuddling urges.  They pair nicely with that whiskey I was discussing earlier.  My cat seems to think writing time is cuddling time, and the monitor is a big silly backdrop for her beauty.  She is perhaps the number one reason I write better in the coffee shop down the street.  On my crappy keyboard(s).

5. That said, like booze, cats are mandatory for the writer.

Don't ask me why I have a cat if she's not helpful to the writing process!  I'm a writer, dammit!
Simon made a better muse (God[dess] rest his soul).  I hope he's chilling with Amy Winehouse.

Bonus Tip: Lady Gaga's discography on shuffle is the other ultimate Writer's Block/Blues/Lack of Faith in Yourself cure.  Thanks, Mother Monster.

Hmmm...a bit early to resort to the bottle of Jameson...and I have to finish cleaning the house, anyway, but at least the cat's asleep!  Do you have Writers' Rules, either that you've articulated, or are now doing so for the first time?  Do tell!

Live Omily,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Eating Omily: Omily in Wonderland

Isn't food amazing stuff?  I mean seriously...we were blown away over and over again to spot real, live, juiceable oranges and lemons growing ON TREES all over LA!  I've eaten my share of citrus, but I've never been an eye-witness to where it comes from!  In.  Credible.  And then there were the avocado trees!  Can we just shorthand it and call them money trees?  Because, seriously, avocados.  Growing.  On.  Trees.  As in, reach your hand out a window and pick a freaking ripe, buttery avocado.   And then why don't you just stroll down to your front yard for a bright, juicy lemon to serve it with?  What else you got?  A salt mine in your backyard??

Yes, I got really excited.

I was sorry to leave the Locavore version of Wonderland...till I strolled through my Farmer's Market yesterday to find quart baskets bursting with brilliant-red strawberries, at 3 for $12!!  I bought three.  Of course.  We ate half of those berries, a couple pounds of them, last night.  Out of the bag.  I froze a tray-full last night, but no doubt we'll gobble the rest.  Yum!!

I grabbed a bundle of asparagus, too, which rounded out our dinner perfectly when delicately sauteed in butter.  Yum...

And, I also saw the first of the sugar snap peas, and rhubarb!  I'm in my own NYC Spring Time Locavore Wonderland!  We get so excited about the glory days of Summer that we forget the special treats of this precious time of year...English peas simmered in water, then served with a pat of butter...rhubarb crisp...fresh strawberries...buttery, garlicky scapes...and, (whisper) fava beans, broken out of their pods, blanched to remove the skins, then simmered in water until tender enough to turn into a delectable puree.

Isn't food amazing stuff?  I feel like the luckiest person on the planet to be living so close to a veritable gold mine of amazing stuff to stuff my face with.  But, a whole lot of us are actually this lucky, and spend way too much of our time getting soaked by artificial thunderstorms in brightly lit produce sections to realize it.  I'll stop waxing evangelical.  Just let me say one more time: GO CHECK OUT YOUR FARMER'S MARKET!!!

That'll be all for today.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Omily Tarot: the Four of Coins

Woo!  Ok, I'm back!!  I had such an incredible time on the west coast, both because it's a special place, and because I was with such amazing people.  I wish I could see my west coast friends more often!!  It's your turn to come out to the east coast this time, guys!

My goal is to update my blog more frequently while I'm disgorging all the amazing stuff I encountered in LA, San Diego, and Portland.  You've earned three Omily Tarot posts, and two each Eating Omily, and uh...the other kind...posts.  Hope I can get caught up!!

So today's post will be of the Omily Tarot Variety.  We've made it up to the four of coins, which is a great card, because the imagery is just so easy to recognize.  It's not buried under too much cultural or era differences.  It's often shorthanded as 'the miser' but I'm not a fan of that title myself, because it's too overtly negative.  Like all cards, this one may be cautioning against a behavior, or suggesting one, and it's an oversimplification to say that in either case the behavior in question is 'bad', or 'good' for that matter.

The Four of Coins
4 of Pentacles:

"This card can be partially described with the phrase, 'money on my mind'.  But not only does a coin rise out of the crown of the man's head, but he's clutching another in front of his heart and throat chakras, and holding two more down to the pavement!  It's definitely stepping out of the usual generous nature of coins for this character to be clutching his so tightly.  Perhaps things got to be moving too fast for him in cards 1, 2, and 3, so he's putting the breaks on.  Seeing his plans, and his money, literally carved into stone may have made this figure a little gun-shy.  Seeking a higher perspective, going for a walk in nature, or shutting yourself up in your room (or your tomb…) is going to remove you from the situation, but the situation may well carry on without you!  This card is about taking a time out, and holding onto your resources for yourself. 

This can definitely be a negative thing: being selfish or miserly, but on the other hand, sometimes it's really important to stop giving your abundance away, at least long enough to take stock of it!  Those resources are at your disposal, to protect your well-being: your connection to the divine (symbolized by the crown chakra coin), your connection with yourself, and your connection with others via self-expression (symbolized by the throat and heart chakra coin.) 

The out-pouring nature of coins is arrested here, stamped down as though he’s afraid it will fly away without his consent.  The coin on the head and in front of the heart can also refer to integrating some swords and cups energy: what does he think and feel about how he's handled his wealth thus far?  Is it time to let loose and dream big, trusting those optimistically yellow coins to only return to him re-doubled?  The coins can be equated to seeds, and seeds can’t grow as long as you insist on holding onto them.  However, it is equally legitimate to conclude that holding on a little longer, and taking the next few steps slowly is the right path, particularly if you weren’t too thrilled with how that chapel turned out.  After all, pressed close to the earth is the natural home of coins as seeds, not flying around at the mercy of fickle winds and rains, or melting down in hot fires!

If this card comes up in your reading, a gut check to see where you may be withholding unnecessarily is certainly in order, but if you’re known among your friends as the one who they can count on to give of your resources, whether that’s time, labor, money, or patience hearing out every sob-story, this card is not telling you to be more generous.  Quite the contrary, this may be a time to kindly and respectfully decline to offer further assistance, and turn toward healing and help for yourself.  Resources and friendships aside, is it time to put the breaks on a given situation for further evaluation?  Is your whirlwind romance making it impossible for you to pay attention at work or school?  Is your new job at a bakery throwing your healthy eating choices for a loop?"

Going on vacation was definitely a time for us to step off those coins and let them fly!  Now that we're back home though, we need to stamp down quick.  Eating out for virtually every meal for two weeks means not being very frugal, and not being all that healthy, either.  It was fine for a while, but we need to get back in control of our resources and our habits now that we're back in familiar surroundings.  If you're not sure what this card, or any card, is telling you about yourself, a useful place to start is to ask yourself how it looks like the character in question is feeling.  Be speficic!  It's useful to start with 'happy' or 'sad', but what about, 'jealous', 'trapped', 'relieved', 'sleepy'?  The emotions you imprint on that face can tell you a lot about whether you're being told to emulate this character, to stop doing so, or something in between.  Good luck, see you tomorrow!


Friday, May 4, 2012

Eating Omily: Spring Flavors and West Coast Preview

Happy Friday, guys!  It's especially happy for me (albiet also especially stressful) because tomorrow the husband and I are heading off on a two-week escape to that other coast I keep hearing so much about.

We'll be hitting up LA for most of the first week, with a quick trip to San Diego because it's a beautiful place where a beautiful friend of mine lives, and then we'll be heading up to Portland, where another beautiful friend of mine lives, for the second week.

This is especially exciting news for my Eating Omily lovers, because the west coast has awesome things like good Mexican food, avocados...avocados...and citrus!  And margaritas!  And avocados!  And Portland of course, is one, big Farmer's Market Paradise!  The tourist sight reads, "You'll find it hard NOT to eat local here."  I absolutely cannot wait to check it out, and share the deliciousness with all of you!  I can't promise I won't switch up to two Eating Omily posts a week while I'm there...but I can't promise I will, either, since the computer situation will be a bit dicey.  I solemnly swear I'll take good notes, and catch you all back up by the end of it, at the very least!  So today is my last post before I'll be in LA.  Happy Travels to me!

In the meantime, can I just remind you that ASPARAGUS IS IN SEASON!!!  If I didn't joyfully know it myself from seeing it with my own eyes, it'd be pretty obvious from the number of search engine hits I'm getting on last year's in-depth asparagus post.  And just like last year, I'm telling you, get out there are get your hands on this stuff!  Snap off the woody ends, and for an amazing treat, saute it with ramps or scapes for a subtle garlic kick in BUTTER.  Toss in some crumbled firm tofu for extra protein, and serve over brown rice for an incredibly easy, satisfying dinner.

You can also shave blanched asparagus stalks into long, elegant ribbons to be added to mixed baby green salad with a syrupy balsamic reduction.  Yum.

But as always, asparagus isn't the only thing to be hopping with happiness about in your Farmer's Market!  One of my very favourite venders just started offering pints of home-made yogurt.  Now, if you don't much like yogurt, I don't blame you.  I don't have much of a taste for the grocery store variety.  It's either loaded with sugar and still fiercely sour, or inedibly plain and in need of loads of sugar.  It just doesn't work for me.  But, yogurt that is cultured in small batches by hand does not have that industrial strength pucker.  It's so smooth, and subtly tart, I enjoy it eating it totally plain.   I do enjoy eating it more with a modest splash of maple syrup and a hint of vanilla extract, but you know what I like even better?  Stirring in spoonfuls of my home-made apple preserves...mmm...soft, syrup-impregnated cinnamon-flavored bites of tender apple, swirled in creamy ever so neglectfully tart's the perfect snack.  Hmmm...the picture isn't doing it justice.  Just trust me on this one.

Yogurt that is cultured in small batches and has no added pectin or stabilizers in it will be a little lumpy, and will require regular stirring to keep the whey dispersed; no biggie.

So along with those amazing, tender, crisp Spring veggies you're picking up, ask around, and get your hands on some yogurt worth eating!  And if you don't make your own jams and preserves, buy some from someone who does, probably just down the way from the yogurt.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Yoga Bubble

There are two sides to the proverbial yoga coin.  One side is this incredible, transformative, innately, and inevitably positive and powerful practice that is the birthright of every human being.

On the other side is a fiercely competitive hard-scrabble hustle where teachers find themselves pitted against each other, studio owners, even against students, in their efforts to do things like, pay their rent, and find a little time for their own yoga practice.

A lot of people don't like to think of yoga this way.  They prefer to focus on abundance, to trust that everything they need is coming their way from the generosity of the universe.  Which is fine.  I totally believe that stuff, too...but sometimes the abundance is a long time in coming, you know?  Sometimes the reasons why are staring you too hard in the face to be ignored. 

The truth of the matter is, there was a time when yoga was all one abundant and beautiful coin, but then it got imported to the land of the free where there is no free lunch.  And it doesn't do any good to complain about the westernization of yoga.  The geography didn't do this; we did.  We don't live in a society that recognizes leaving everything behind to live and beg in the countryside searching for spiritual meaning as a legitimate decision.  And if we did, would you have been content to keep plugging away in your cubicle for forty more years until it was your turn?  Because you can do that, actually.  We call it retirement.

Fair compensation for our efforts is a pretty important value around here, and I don't see that as a bad thing.  That means that yoga studio owners who kick ass working tons of hours want to not only cover the rent from their space, but walk away with a paycheck that allows them to live in relative security.  That's no easy task.  Have you seen how high our rent is in these parts?  That also means that yoga teachers who spend hours practicing  and researching poses and adjustments, crafting sequences, arriving early to set up for class, and leaving late to answer student questions, want to be compensated for the effort they put in, not for the hour and change they spent at the front of the room, and definitely not for the number of people who saw fit to pop in that day.

Let me elucidate for those of you not in this profession: payscales vary, but it's very rare to get more than $50 for a group class.  Actually, it's pretty rare to get $50 for a group class.  $30 is sort of the going rate, and more often than that, you actually get paid a base of maybe $10, pus $5 per student who shows up after the first two, or some variation on that system, such as $20 base plus $1 per student.

So, I spend a couple hours doing research, testing out poses and variations in my body, testing adjustments on my husband, writing out a sequence, crafting a playlist, updating my blog and social networks in an effort to attract new clients, and keep old clients coming to my classes.  We'll call all that two hours, although that's quite a low estimate.

Then I show up a minimum of fifteen minutes early for my class.  I light some candles, adjust lights, turn on music, basically set the stage.  Students start to arrive, and I greet them, introduce myself, ask questions, try to build rapport.  Maybe only one or two come because it's the middle of the afternoon and most people are at work, or it's raining cats and dogs, or any number of reasons.  I teach a class, carefully altering my sequence as needed to fit the bodies that are in the space, offering feedback in real time, providing physical and emotional support, and expertise, plus a mini massage and guided meditation at the end.  Class is over.  The students thank me; I feel great.  Maybe they have questions or comments, which I answer graciously.  Then I blow out candles, put away props, turn off lights and music, do any minor paperwork that might need done to keep track of how many students were in my class, and go home.  We'll say I was there for two hours, arriving early and staying late for my hour and a half class, although it can easily be two and a half hours.

So now, I've worked a minimum of four hours on this class.  If I got paid $50 for teaching this class, that's not so bad, but how many classes can I reasonably teach in a week?  Not enough to earn a living wage.  What if, as is more likely, I earned $30 for four hours of work?  What if, as is even more likely, I earned $10 for four hours of work, $5 per student?

Hmmm...better start doing that abun-dance, huh?

It's important to keep in mind that this is not a matter of studios being grabby with their money.  Most studios in NYC are barely making ends meet, and are genuinely paying their teachers what they can afford to pay them.  Theoretically, the studios could charge their students more so they could pay their teachers more, but many people, myself included, have already worried that we're pricing yoga out of the reach of too many people.  It's supposed to be a birthright, remember?  What kind of a birthright is $15 a pop?  A price, by the way, that is almost obsolete.  $20 is more the average these days.

In an effort to do more than break even on a given month, many studios who wouldn't have taken on the task and the responsibility in more profitable times, are starting up Teacher Trainer programs.  These run a few thousand per person, and can be quite sizable: from ten to fifty people depending on the size of the studio, the nature of the program, etc.  Of course, all that money isn't profit.  Getting certified as a Yoga Alliance training program isn't free, or simple, and there might be increases in liability insurance, outside people might have to be hired to teach some of the skills, etc.  Still, it definitely helps make ends meet, so just about every studio is doing these, regularly, back to back.

Cranking thousands more teachers out into a super-saturated market.  A freshly minted teacher can expect to find him or herself competing to teach $5-10 classes in an effort to gain experience and get a foot in the door, and also maintaining a job elsewhere to pay their bills.  And attempting to keep up with their personal practice.  Meanwhile they're expected to continue their education with workshops, maybe eventually the 500 hour level training, and they're required to if they're registered with the Yoga Alliance.  With what money, pray tell, let alone what time?

I shorthand this whole messy situation as 'the yoga bubble.'  And yes, just like any bubble, I'm watching it get bigger and bigger and bigger, and I know it's going to pop.  Frankly, I can't wait.  As it's grown my opportunities and income as a teacher have only shrank, in spite of my increasing experience and skills.  And as much as I'd love to continue my education with a kids yoga teacher training and an aerial yoga teacher training, the money's not there.  Things may get worse in the aftermath, but from there, they're only going to get better.

People are finally beginning to get it, that teaching yoga is not the more fun alternative to waiting tables while you go to auditions, or work on your novel.  And New York has handed down some reforms that studios are finding hard to swallow: sales tax on all classes (sorry yogis, your prices just went up...), a hefty fitness facility registration fee, and my personal favourite, a requirement that teachers be hired as employees, not contracted as free-lancers.

That last one is big.  It lowers our tax burden, and gives us more security, as well as, I think, more power to demand we're compensated fairly for our time.  The thing is, I'm more than willing to spend more hours at the studio.  Should I be working on adjustments with other teachers at the studio, and paid an hourly rate for that?  No problem; I'm there!  Would you like me to file some paperwork after I teach my class for that hourly rate?  Come early and sweep out the space?  I don't mind at all!  Would you like to offer advanced teaching workshops and take the price of attendance out of my paycheck?  That could work...

But, yes, all three of these things mean the prices for yoga classes (already closer to $20 than $15) are going up.  I think that we have to keep in mind that, yes, this beautiful, life-changing practice is a birthright.  But it's a birthright because all you need to do it is some floor space.  The part of yoga where you try to put your leg behind your head is only 1/8 of the practice, remember?  Anybody can meditate.  Sit down, and don't do anything else for a hot minute.  And you can work on that 1/8 via free youtube videos, podcasts, internet articles, etc.  You can practice all by yourself, and obtain all of those powerful benefits, for FREE.  Yes, even in the land of no free lunch! 

If you want me, or another trained expert, to offer specific guidance, help, adjustments, and a mini-massage, you're going to have to pay an amount that allows the studio owner and the teacher to live.  And that means those perks might not be available to everyone.  Although, just about every studio I know offers some form of donation, or community class (generally taught my all those teacher trainer graduates, but also increasingly by people like me, with years of experience under their belt, trying to get work at more studios) that would give those struggling financially the chance to get into a studio setting.

I have no problem acknowledging all of this.  But a lot of people do.  A lot of people don't want to talk about any of this at all.  A lot of people are completely put off by my desire to be able to make a living doing this.  "It's a SPIRITUAL path!"  They say.  "Gurus give their teachings to their pupils for FREE!"  "You should be doing this because it's your CALLING, because it's FULFILLING!  Not because you like to EAT!"

You're damn right this job is fulfilling, but being spiritually fulfilled and homeless is just not all that cool.  We have some very cold winters up here.  I offer a service, and I feel I have every right to be compensated fairly for that service, and I won't apologize to anybody for making a living by working hard to share this spiritual practice with others.

I hope I've made it clear that this is a really complex, multi-faceted problem.  I'm hopeful that time, and the recent reforms, will straighten it out, and that in the meantime I can continue to get by, growing my personal practice as well as my teaching practice all the while (ABUNDANCE!!!).

I sometimes wonder if tipping yoga teachers could help offset things a bit...but that's just another way of raising prices, ultimately.  I don't really have the answers, except that I think the prices for classes are just going to have to keep going up.  Maybe our current studio model is just not sustainable.  What do you think?  Tip jars by the incense holder?  Studio classes as luxury item?  A whole new vision for the yoga future?  Do tell!

Live Omily,