03 July 18

Soup Beans

Remember when I used to blog because I wanted to remember things? I don’t know why I quit doing that.

Two years ago, Martha Bayne at Soup and Bread asked people to cook something that reminded them of their ancestors. Chicago is a city of immigrants. It’s a soup pot with a little of everything thrown into it. So she suggested we bring a dish that an immigrant (our own immigrant group) would have brought to Chicago with them.

Since I immigrated from Appalachia, I figured why not bring something that was a common dish I ate growing up. I’d get sick of it, for sure. But I wouldn’t have survived without it. So I made soup beans. I should have made cornbread, too. But my cornbread will never be as good as my mother’s (even though we both follow the same recipe).

So, I did. And it tasted like my childhood. I little melancholy, a little bland, but spiced up just enough to make it good overall. I resisted the urge to throw in the various spices I cook with now. I made it like my mom did. Beans, onion, salt, pepper, water, pork fat.

This video of Kentucky soup beans made by the Southern Foodways Alliance is pretty good. I’d suggest you give it a watch.

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02 July 18

Thoughts on Anthony Bourdain and fear

I’ve been talking to a lot of friends lately about how I feel regarding Anthony Bourdain’s death. My friends’ reactions run the gamut from “I’m devastated” to “Maybe I’m an awful person, and it’s sad, but I don’t really feel sad”. And all of these reactions, and everything in between, are fine and make sense.

But I’m also sad. Incredibly sad. If I think about it for too long, or talk about it for too long, I start to cry. Which is an odd reaction for me, to be so sad about losing someone I wasn’t friends with. I did meet him once, briefly, at Hot Doug’s. And it was amazing. He was incredibly nice and talked to people in line about Chicago. Each time someone would start to go on about how awesome he was, he would deftly change the subject to be what they like about Chicago food. It was a skilled maneuver. And it made me think he was just a dude, who liked food, and saw how liking food could get people to like each other.

I’m a little sad that I’ve spent more time examining why I like Anthony Bourdain after his death, than I did while he was alive. A few friends over the years would occasionally make comments discounting him and I just couldn’t put my finger on why I felt the need to defend him, so I didn’t. People like who they like. #shrug

But now that he is gone, and gone in such a horrible way, well before his time. And knowing that he must have experienced such dramatic and awful secret bouts of pain for so many years that I never knew about. Now I can’t handle criticism of him. Sure, he wasn’t perfect. He has ex-wives. I’m sure he broke hearts and made people mad and hurt their feelings. But now that he’s gone, I think I know what and why I liked him so much.

He was just a dude. He just came off like a masculine (but not quite macho, close to macho) guy dude. He was a manly man. He exuded sexual confidence, and confidence, and he smoked and he drank and he ate crazy foods and he got passionate about things and seemed distant at the same time. But I doubt anyone could have, or would have, called him feminine to his face. He was a man. A man’s man. A lady’s man. He was a man.

But he wasn’t a jerk about it. His masculinity did not involve him reducing women to stereotypes or minimizing them or their work. He gave just as much respect to a grandmother who had never left her village or read a book as he did to world-renowned chefs who changed the world with their food. He respected each person for what they did and what they could do, given time. He treated men and women similarly. Sure, it was obvious that he occasionally found a woman attractive, but he still treated her with respect, or seemed to on camera. His name thankfully hasn’t come up with the #metoo next to it.

But how he reacted to finding out that people’s he’s been friends with, men he’s done business with, were involved in some heinous things has been the exact way that all men should react. His reaction made me cry, in a healing way. I’m too lazy to find links, so if you care, you can find them. But his reaction can be paraphrased to be:

I found out people I cared about were involved, had been harrassed, by men I knew. And I had no idea. So I had to ask myself: What kept these people from trusting me with their story? What made them think I wouldn’t believe them?

And, gentlemen, please take this as what you should be asking yourself right now. You know someone who has been affected by this. Maybe it “just hasn’t come up”. But maybe, likely, they don’t trust you to believe them. And if it could possibly be the latter, then the problem is yours to fix, not the women you know.

But it wasn’t just sexual harrassment and sexism he was on the right side of the story on. It was also immigration and racism. For years, more than a decade, he has been very vocal about how awful our immigration policies are and how they so negatively impact immigrants and the people who hire them. The restaurant and general food industry would shut down if all immigrants were removed from our kitchens and fields. And he’s talked about this, intensively, on his show and also in his books and in interviews, and magazine articles. He’s fought strongly for the rights of immigrants. He’s argued for changing our policies, supporting people who are here (no matter what their status is), and generally treating people like people, first.

I don’t know what he wanted and didn’t want on a personal level. But after following his words for a very long time, I know he was unhappy with the political tenor and how it is negatively impacting our country. And he saw how that would affect food. And how that effect on food would effect so many other aspects of our culture. Food was his nexus, his foothold, but it wasn’t his true focus. Getting people to stop and pay attention to everything around them, not just what they saw in their own daily life was his goal.

I’ve seen so many people say that Anthony Bourdain made them want to travel to anywhere, everywhere. But I’m realizing now, after his death, how deeply his focus was not on travel, but on perspective. We don’t have to travel to Columbia to eat Columbian food and talk with Columbian people. Especially not in a city like Chicago. All we have to do is travel outside of our comfort zone. Go down a street we’ve never been down and eat at a restaurant that we’ve never noticed before. Eat the food, absorb the atmosphere of the restaurant, talk with the staff. See them as people, not representatives of their culture, but representatives of themselves. Find what is interesting about them, enjoy it, stop being so afraid. Stop being so afraid and try something new.

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28 June 16

Chicago's Pride

I’ve often felt like a bit of a poser during Pride as a married cis-gender heterosexual woman. Pride is supposed to be a party, and while my heart has always been grateful for the party, I often felt like I was invading a space that didn’t represent me. But this year, I felt like I truly wanted to be present to let people I care for know that I truly do stand with them and want them to have their parties and their safe spaces and I want them to feel loved by all, and safe. Veronica mentioned that they were going, so I agreed to go with them. And then I realized they were marching, and we were welcome to march with them.

I was thrilled. I mean who doesn’t like marching in a parade, right? Especially when it is one of the biggest, prettiest parades the city offers up. So much color to see, so many amazing outfits, so much giddy joy. And this was exactly how I felt as we milled around waiting for instructions on what to do, how to march. One of the organizers told us where to get a poster to hold.

The goal was to begin the parade with a group of poeple carrying a poster for each person murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. 50 posters. 50 faces. 50 people dead. I was sad, but kept thinking to of how Pride is the largest party of the year in this area, and we would somehow turn this into a party. Even though we were marching to show respect for their lives, and show Chicago’s unity with Orlando, I was trying to stay focused on the celebration. Incidents like this shooting are why Pride parades exist, after all.

With a shout through a bullhorn and dance music blaring behind us, we formed rows and began a couple mile walk through several neighborhoods in Chicago that I knew would be full of faces, many that I hoped I knew. But I was surrounded by people who were joking and laughing and hugging and so very happy to be together, that I didn’t stop to think how seeing this as a spectator would be. Tens of thousands of people prepared for a party were faced with such visual proof of the murder of 50 people who had been partying in a safe space. A space not dissimilar from the Pride parade.

And as we walked, we all muttered to each other “I didn’t think about how hard it would be to see so many people cry.” And that’s what we saw. So many faces of people crying, people trying not to cry, people looking away so they wouldn’t cry. People who looked us in the eye and said “thank you”. People who hugged themselves and sobbed uncontrollably. I saw several people who I just wanted to hug. I grabbed the hand of a few sobbing strangers and squeezed them, because they were so eagerly reaching out to make a connection with a caring stranger. Grabbing the hand of a man who is crying and saying “thank you” and trying not to cry is hard, y’all.

It’s been 48 hours, and I’m still humbled and awed by the experience. There are a handful of memories that feel “very Chicago” to me, and this is now in that group. I walked for about 4 miles and saw every sidewalk we passed full of people, and in many places the sidewalks were packed deep. There were people on almost every balcony, hanging out of almost every window. I knew this was a well-attended parade, but I’d not realized how many people came out to see it, until I saw all of them. And there are so many faces that I won’t soon forget. These are some of them:

• A young girl of around 7 or 8, asking her mother “So he hurt all of these people? But there are so many of them!” As her mother cried and held her tight.
• Another young girl with a sign that said “I love my two dads.” While her fathers stood behind her, holding her, holding each other, and cried.
• The CTA bus driver in the cooling station taking pictures and blowing kisses to us.
• Two young police officers looking at the signs, reading the names and saying to each other “It’s just too many. Too many.”
• The older drag queen who openly wept without a care for her meticulously applied makeup.
• Two young, very young, women holding a sign that said “Just Engaged!!” while they held hands and cried.
• Two older women, one of whom had a cane, who held each other as one said “We should have done more to protect them.” Her partner replied with “What could we do?”
• The group of young Asian man glammed up and crying with no care about how this looked to strangers.
• So many people my age or older whose chins quivered, faces were wet with tears, who just raised their fists, or flashed a peace sign, or blew a kiss, and several who couldn’t look at any of us but cried nonetheless.
• So many young people who didn’t cry, but who just looked shocked, and a little scared.

The parade passed one of the largest dance clubs in Boys Town, the nightclub likely most similar to Pulse in Orlando, and the group of shirtless men dancing with glee just stopped when they saw us and grabbed hands with each other and others standing nearby.

So many faces. I spent the parade fighting back tears. But I wanted to look as many people in the eye as I could. I wanted to see them. I wanted to see their pain, and their anger, and their hope. I wanted them to see a stranger looking at them and seeing them, seeing how they felt. I wanted everyone I passed to know they were surrounded by people who felt the same way.

And it was overwhelming. It was physically exhausting to walk from Uptown through Lakeview to Lincoln Park, some of it spent holding a very large sign made heavier by the cooling breeze off the lake. But it was more emotionally exhausting to be a part of the largest memorial I’ve ever seen.

I was doing well through the parade. Tearing up a little, but not really crying until the end. We rounded the final corner and heard Purple Rain blaring out of a speaker. And I looked to my right and saw a dozen people, who didn’t seem to be together, crying. Ugly crying. It was too much. I lost it and looked at Tony who quickly looked away from me so he wouldn’t cry.

We all wore t-shirts that said #weareOrlando. And for an hour on Sunday, I truly felt like we can hold each other and get through this pain and make our world safe for everyone. No matter who we love. I’ve looked in hundreds of sad eyes and I need hope to prevail. I need to hope that the Pride parade returns to being one of every city’s largest parties.

And my wonderful husband created a time-lapse video of his view of the crowd during the parade.

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20 November 15

Refugees

I watched a video yesterday that struck me in a way I wasn’t prepared for. It was a video showing a large rubber raft landing in Greece full of people fleeing Syria. It started small and then got larger and I could see there were children and elderly and men in the prime of their life and women my age and younger. And volunteers in Greece were greeting them, carrying people from the boat to the shoreline. Removing cold, wet clothes from children and wrapping them in blankets. And this was heart-warming.

But then I saw a girl of about 12 get carried to the shore. Everyone else who was dropped on the shore was instantly wrapped and cared for or being hugged by others on the beach before them. But this girl began to say a name repeatedly. She looked frantic and panicked and then a volunteer with a three year-old and seven-year-old boy called to her and she turned and saw what I could only assume were her brothers and the relief that flooded her face broke my heart and sent me into a crying jag that felt cathartic.

Because I recognized myself in that girls face. And it was through watching her face light up with relief and love at the sight of her brothers that I saw my own past differently. Because I was her, once upon a time. I was a twelve-year-old refugee. I didn’t flee an oppressive regime. I fled a father. I fled a father with my mother and my two brothers who were the same age as this girl’s brothers. My father was a tyrant. He wasn’t trying to destroy a huge population, just a population of four. Or five if you count him, because he certainly ruined himself, too.

When I got a call that made me realize that we were fleeing our tyrant with literally the clothes on our backs, I was scared and elated at the same time. Both of these are emotions that can leave a physical taste in your mouth. Copper pennies and strawberries swirled together on my tongue as I ran out the door of the safe house I was hiding at to get into a pick-up truck that would take us to safety. But it wasn’t until I got into the pick-up truck and I realized that both of my brothers were there already that I relaxed. I was so worried that they may not have made it. I don’t remember why I was doubting they’d be there, but I remember strongly the feeling of relief that slid through my body, like a splash of cream poured into hot coffee.

Thanks to the kindness of strangers, and no thanks to the rude comments of police officers (at least I made it to twelve before I learned that police couldn’t always be trusted to protect you), my family has made it. And, I think we’re better off. Far better off than we would be if we’d stayed. But my mother’s fear of the tyrant we left was greater than her fear of being a refugee dependent on others for our shelter, our food, even our clothing.

But that relief on the girl’s face is the beginning and the end to me being able to understand her situation. The night we escaped our tyrant we slept on clean, warm beds. As the house manager at the domestic violence shelter told me, “You’re safe now. You have nothing to fear here.” But this girl’s journey is far from over. Very far from over. I have no idea where she slept that night, or who is helping her with food and shelter and dry clothes. I have no idea if there is an adult who can help her navigate what is sure to be a troubling and exhausting time.

But I look at that girl, and I see myself. I hear of so many politicians and even regular citizens, some of whom I’m even related to, who swear we should turn away all of these people. And I’m reminded that not everyone can be empathetic. And this makes me sad. Because as much as it hurt to truly recognize that feeling on this girl’s face. It also healed me a little. It made me realize how far I’ve come from that night. I have hope that she gets relief and help and is able to lead a happy and healthy life. Because I deserved that much out of life, and I feel everyone does. But mostly I’m happy that recognizing an emotion on a stranger’s face, a stranger on the other side of the world, leads me to feel like we have something in common.

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16 November 15

I'm back

Maybe? This here site has been a little broken for a long time. It is still a little broken. I need a Textpattern update to truly fix it. But the instructions for doing that make want to cry a bit because they’re so over my head. But a few months ago, they would have made me want to cry a lot. So, I’m not complaining. It could be a lot worse.

So, now that I have my blog back up. I just have to figure out what I might want to talk about. Of course I’ve had dozens of ideas in the last several months, but no idea what any of them are now that I can post again.

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14 April 15

Old School Bloggers

I started keeping a personal blog in July of 2001. That’s almost 14 years ago. And I’ve barely written the last couple of years, and slowed down significantly several years ago. But I’ve been thinking about why that was. And there are a variety of reasons, which may only be interested to people who have gone through this process themselves, but may be interesting to people who are still blogging who were blogging years ago, or maybe even to people who think about blogging. I don’t think my experience or thoughts on this are unique. But I do have them. So here are some of the reasons why I slowed down and mostly stopped writing:

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09 April 15

Competition

A couple of decades ago, a friend I no longer know told me I was very competitive.

My gut reaction was to say: “I’m not that competitive! You’re far more competitive than I am.”

But I thought better of saying it because I feared she would think I was being competitive.

So, instead I asked her: “Can you share an example? I’m not sure I know what you mean.” (I hadn’t even gone to therapy yet, so I’m still kinda proud of my response.)

She told me: You’re always comparing yourself to other people. You’re always looking at people and seeing all the things they do better than you. You’re always looking at your result and comparing it to the result of someone more experienced than you.

This conversation left me in a mental state of confusion and self-doubt, for a very long time. I found myself definitely comparing everything I did to everyone around me, and I always came up lacking. My effort needed more passion, my drive needed more focus, my skill was always amateurish.

I was probably 22 or 23, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that everything I did paled when compared to other people with more experience and resources than I had. At least now it makes sense. But at the time I kept thinking, “but I’m in college! I should be so much better now!”

My friend then suggested that I stop competing with other people, and instead compare current-me to previous-me and see how I was doing. And that helped, a lot. And despite the fact that our friendship ended many years ago because we were both hurt and stubborn, I still remember her saying this to me and I still try to force myself to stop comparing my effort to the effort of people around me.

So, it makes it hard to come here and have the desire to write, but have the words fizzle before they make their way to my fingertips on a keyboard. Why? Because there are so many people writing great things about feminism, writing great things about food, writing great things about craft, writing great things about every topic under the sun. And me? Well, I don’t even know as much about cast-iron as I once thought I did, because I found someone else who writes about it deeper and better than I do or could.

So, I think my reluctance to write something that is just okay is keeping me from writing. I used to not care what people thought about my writing. Because I wasn’t writing for them. I didn’t care what they thought. And now? Do I suddenly care what people think of my writing? I don’t think I do, but it has felt like I would be better served to read other people’s writing than I would be to write my own items. But that feels painfully one-sided now.

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05 December 14

#BlackLivesMatter

I’ve tried incredibly hard since I was 10 to not be a racist and not do racist things. I’ve not always succeeded, but I’ve tried and will continue to try. And I’m so very, very far from where I started at the age of 10. But still, even now, after taking college courses on where racism and history and privilege intersect, I still have that gut instinct to say “But I don’t do that/think that/feel that” whenever I read or hear about something that is “typically” white. And it occurred to me today, that there is so much more written about/spoken about that is “typically black” or “typically Latino/a”, etc. And I can’t help but feel that people who are black, or Latino/a, etc., are also feeling the urge to say “But I don’t do that/think that/feel that”.

And so I encourage you to suppress that urge when reading this article published on Gapers Block. I do not want to enable any deaths of anyone. I haven’t been silent, but I also haven’t been as vocal as I could. So, yes, “All Lives Matter”, but its time we all started thinking about people who aren’t ourselves who need more help than we do. As soon as unarmed white people are killed by police every 28 hours (or less), I’m willing to talk about how police need to stop treating white people so poorly. But until then, I’m going to focus on how “Black Lives Matter”. And I ask you to do the same. Especially if you’re not black.

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