So it's been a while, but I've decided to re-launch this blog. And do things properly, this time.

I'm linking myself up to Bloglovin' and trying to get some ideas about how to update my blog template to something more modern and clean. Something that's a little more reflective of my style. I'm finding it a little tricky to figure out how to do that. All the blogs I love have gorgeous layouts, but those don't seem to be available as defaults on Blogger. Any suggestions for great blog design sites?

Here's the link to Bloglovin' just in case you're already interested!

<a href="http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/7792035/?claim=j2mnbpqcrvh">Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>


Book Report: The Great Gatsby

One of the highlights of my current trimester is my American Literature class. That I'm not actually a student, and it's not actually a class I'm graded for makes it infinitely better than the English classes I took myself in high school (though I did like those best, back then). 

I work as a special education paraprofessional at a high school, and support different students in their mainstream classes throughout the day. This semester I landed in a couple of writing courses, a social studies class, an ecology class, and the contemporary American Literature class. As soon as the teacher handed out the syllabus, I determined that I would read each selection right along with the students, though I'm not really required to as part of my job. But hey, I can better help my student if I'm following along with all the coursework, right?

We started with The Great Gatsby, a book I read on my own time several years ago. I can't tell you how much better I liked it the second time around.

Really, it's all about the American Dream. And it's an interesting time in history to think about the social construction of the American Dream, at least the popular definition of what exactly that is. In this day and age, there just doesn't seem to be anything dreamy about it. We've all been sold this idea that anyone can get anything they want in this country, if only they want it badly enough to work for it. But we were built upon some half-baked idea that freedom and democracy and order add up to equal fairness for all, and that argument just doesn't really hold water. 

That much was evident even back in the 1920s, at least according to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Since he started out as a bit of a nobody himself, and was propelled into "somebody" status with the publication of a popular early novel, he must have had some tender feelings toward the idea that anybody can make it in America with a little gumption and a lot of hard work. But the passage of time must have soured that idea in Fitzgerald's mind, and The Great Gatsby really captured that notion that there is a social class which no American has access to without being born into it. 

The story, for those who've never read it, is about the millionaire Jay Gatsby, a rich and mysterious bachelor who seems to appear out of nowhere one day to become the toast of the opulent east coast, namely the trendy West Egg, just outside of New York City. He is followed wherever he goes by incessant gossip about his past -- it's a favorite pastime even at the man's own parties for guests to sit around guessing at how he came to be the grandiose man he is.

But Gatsby seems to stir up trouble in the posh East Egg, home to those with a long history of inherited wealth. Namely, Daisy Buchanan, with whom he once shared a brief romance, and her now-husband, the spoiled and bigoted Tom Buchanan. The story is narrated by Nick Carraway, neighbor and eventual friend to Jay Gatsby, and cousin to Daisy. 

I love a book with a good twist, or an element of shock that keeps your mind racing for days. The Great Gatsby has that, but it also has a thousand other quieter points to reflect upon. One question seems to ask how far we can really get ahead in this country, on will and determination alone. Back then, there seemed to be an invisible line that, try as you might, you'd never cross without the proper name and bloodline. The same seems so true today. 

I'm not sure how anyone currently defines the American Dream, but I personally think it exists now only as a memory. It's a wistful little piece of propaganda that kept our country afloat for many years by keeping the little human worker bees working, imagining that someday, all that effort would pay off. 

If we could all just admit that, and work towards building and maintaining a somewhat level playing field for everyone, rich and poor, black, white, purple or tan, gay or straight, then I think we'd be on the right track.

But we should definitely read Gatsby before we try to head out there and change the world. It's a sad and fascinating fable about the flimsiness of misplaced dreams. 


30 Day Shred -- Day 13

Have any of you tried this before? Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred workout video?

Devil in a red sports bra. 

It goes something like this:
20-minute workout, broken down into a warm-up, cool-down, and about a thousand unbearable minutes of thigh-quivering hell sandwiched in between. 

Okay, so the math doesn't quite work out. But that's exactly what it feels like. My poor muscles are still recovering from the last time I completed a full 30 Day Shred. Last March. 

That time around, I really felt like I was accomplishing something, you know? I had just started trying to eat really healthy -- and organic, local, humane, etc. Plus, I cut out wine, my very favorite vice, to see if that would help speed up the process of my belly looking like something other than a lump of uncooked pizza dough. 

Ha ha. That did not happen. I'm not even sure if I lost any weight, because I didn't have a scale at the time. And I was way too lazy to measure my jiggly bits before I started, so I have no idea if my arms or waist or thighs shrunk. But I definitely felt tighter and fitter, and better about myself overall, once I was finished. I guess that's what counts, right?

But that time, I started out a lot slimmer than I was when I started out this time around. I have gained a good ten pounds in the past several months, and like I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm not quite sure why. I haven't started eating or drinking a whole lot more, in fact, I cut out meat, so I imagined I was taking in fewer calories overall. I didn't have a baby (that I know of), and I haven't been sitting around on the couch any more than I ever did before. I don't think. 

I suspect the meat thing was actually counterproductive for me. I just signed up for this diet plan, Beyond Diet, and they made me take a metabolism test at the get-go. It said I have a protein-type metabolism, which means I need to eat a whole crapload of protein throughout the day to keep my engine burning off fat, at least a little bit at every meal. This is about the only useful piece of information I got from the diet plan, which despite its claims to the contrary, basically goes all Nazi on your eating regimen and tells you exactly when and what to eat. the kicker is they wanted to limit the allowable fruits in my diet. So my personal menu allowed for as many apples and pears as I like, with a half a banana here and there, and everything else I'm meant to stay away from. Um, I think not. I don't care how fat I get, I refuse to stick to a diet that won't let me eat whatever fruits and veggies I want. I just don't have any faith that it's truly as healthy and balanced as it claims to be. How many diet gurus out there peddling their breakthrough plan do you think give a shit if we end up with heart disease in 30 years. Yeah. None. I mean, remember when Atkins was all the rage? Eat as many ribeye steaks as you want, cooked in straight-up animal fat, but stay away from those oranges, green beans and sweet potatoes? Yeah, that's good for you.

Thank goodness for that 60-day money back guarantee. Non-restrictive my ass. 

So I'm back to trying to eat as healthy as I can, without cutting myself down to a supermodel's calorie count (or: 150 calories per day). I just finished day 13 of Jillian, so I'm three days into Level 2. I've been taking Sundays off, which I didn't do last time, but I think is actually better for me. My muscles had just been so sore in the days leading up to both Sundays that I felt like it was hurting my workout. But today, after a day off, I felt totally kick-ass, and much stronger than before. So I'm sticking to no workout Sundays. 

As for pounds and/or inches? I'm not sure. I weighed 145 to start, and when I weighed myself last week, I had dropped maybe a pound, if anything (I don't really trust one-or two-pound fluctuations in our scale too much -- it's a cheapo). Also, my pants, all of which have become waaaay too tight on me in the past few months, are not even a little bit looser at all. I guess it's a bummer, but I'm not giving up yet. After all, 13 days isn't much. I feel like patience will be really good for me here. I'm one of those people that gets all frustrated and quits if I don't see immediate results. I need instant gratification. And that's what's gotten me to a place where I am struggling to button my jeans. I tend to imagine that if I ignore it, rather than work on it, it will just disappear. But no more. I'm sticking with this, for 30 days and beyond. 

But I'm having wine this weekend, dammit. My aunties, cousins and I are congregating at my grandmother's to celebrate her 85th birthday, and where there are Dooley girls, there will definitely be wine. 

Come on, Jillian. Try and stop me. 

Yep. I imagine I'll be doing this in no time. 


Follow up

Last night we had chicken stir fry for dinner. 

Okay, so I didn't make it a year as a vegetarian. I didn't even make it the full three months, to tell the truth.  And recently, despite all the delish veggie dishes we've invented over the past few months, I sort of lost sight of the reason I decided to scrap the meat-eating in the first place. 

I mean, I love animals. Ask anyone. Ask Amaru. He has to hear about it all. the. flipping. time. The other night, he got cursed out for his rough handling of my stuffed dog. I mean, with treatment like that, what hope is there for our future live pup(s)? 

Proof I love animals! This is my cousin's new Great Dane pup, Badge.

And it's not just dogs that make me a little loopy. I boycotted the Human Planet series after watching a group of tribal hunters harpoon a whale. Even back when I was little, I sent a letter to Tom's of Maine expressing my gratitude at their refusal to sell animal-tested products. I think I also told them I liked animals so much I'd decided to go vegan, but I'm pretty sure that first venture into meat-freeness didn't last long. Like, I had probably munched a chicken nugget before I postmarked the letter.

When we watched Food, Inc. last year, I was horrified, just like I knew I would be. I'd avoided the film because I knew it would show me lots of things I preferred to pretend do not happen in the [American] meat production industry.  But after seeing it, I knew I couldn't ignore it. I simply won't accept the industry as-is, where lame, diseased, terrified animals are considered acceptable producers of our pork chops and strip steaks. 

But apart from a few convincing sermons here and there (Alicia Silverstone had me second-guessing myself big time about an animals' feelings, and their right not to be eaten, in her cookbook The Kind Diet), I really don't think it's unacceptable for humans to eat meat. We're carnivores. I mean, we wouldn't try to get between a lion and his wildebeest, would we? But crap, the lion sure wouldn't fatten up his prey with nutrient-bankrupt corn feed and E. coli. Would he?

Anyway, this is all sounding a bit like a long, drawn-out excuse. There are other factors at work here, and they all helped solidify my decision to go back to meat. Being a guest in someone else's home, for instance. Like when I went to my Gram's house over Christmas break to spend a night, just the two of us, and she had prepared a big platter of my former favorite, Chicken Divan. I ate around the meat, but it felt really rude to do after she'd prepared a whole meal. The next night, at my aunt's house, I just went ahead and ate some of the chicken she served. 

There's also my body, which I believe has not taken too kindly to being forced into herbivorism. I've gained a whole bunch of weight, and I'm convinced that it's the diet change. I'm pretty sure that's unusual -- to pack on pounds by cutting out meat -- but I really do think that contributed to my extra lbs. Only time will tell on that one, I guess. 

Just to be clear, I'm still going to be super-strict on myself about where I get my meat, and what kinds I eat. I'm not celebrating my return to carnivory with veal chops. I want to make it a point to eat only healthy, humane meat. And I'll spend the extra bucks to do it, believe me. Happily.

I can use all that money I'm saving by shopping at good ol' Sal's (as we affectionately call our local Salvation Army thrift store). I mentioned last post how difficult the recycled-clothing-only rule has proven to be, and it's true that I miss the heck out of shopping in a store that sells multiples, but I'm plugging away at it. I've found a few gems here and there, though I didn't anticipate how crap-tastic the nearby thrift stores would be here in my new home. I mean, I thought up this rule back before leaving Chicago, where you could find a different thrift/secondhand/consignment shop on any corner, and most of them were damn good. I had no idea the ones around here would be lousy. But that just means I have to get more creative with what I've already got in my (waaaay overstuffed) closet.

Okay, so that's the long, unsolicited explanation. Maybe next I'll write all about the sheer agony of Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred, which is what I've been doing the last week and a half to try to sweat off all those extra pounds. 

But no pictures.


Resolutions update

I couldn't quite wait for the new year to make my resolutions this year. Instead, I decided to pile some life changes on top of my move to Massachusetts. 

When I moved to Chicago last year, I quit smoking, cold turkey.
Since I'd been a smoker for years (and years. Ugh.) that was no small feat. But the change of scenery was what made it work. I smoked my last butt the night before Amaru and I piled into the car and headed to Chicago. A new place with new routines, that's what it took for me. I have not had a single puff since. 

So when we decided to move back east, I thought it'd be a good idea to leave a few more old habits behind me. Only this time, it would be on a more temporary basis. 

So I gave up meat. And new clothes. Two things I love, dearly. For one year, I vowed to go veggie and to ditch my retail addiction. Yikes.

Amaru and I had already majorly cut down our animal consumption. For ethical reasons, health reasons, and environmental reasons, it just seemed to be a good idea to skip meat a couple times a week. I had also vowed not to eat meat if I didn't know where it came from. Which was a little tougher in practice than in theory. At home, sure, I stocked the freezer with organic/free-range/grass-fed/antibiotic-free varieties, but at restaurants? Much harder to know my meat's origins. And it turned out that despite its trendiness, meat from healthy, happy, local animals is still really hard to come by.

So in Mass., I vowed to be meat-free.

In Chicago, I'd also started paying more attention to where my clothes were coming from. I don't mean from Gap or Old Navy or H&M. I mean like where they were actually from.

China. Vietnam. Bangladesh.


You get the picture.

I'm not really thrilled with that idea. I don't claim to be an expert on social or economic issues. But I know enough to know that conditions in sweat shops are no good for the humans working in them. And that stuff made for pennies overseas hurts our domestic manufacturing industry (what little is left).

Anywho, this isn't meant to be all preachy. I just figured that since I got so thrift-happy in Chicago, and since I was moving across the country yet again without a job and without a ton of savings, it might not be a bad idea to really go all out and vow to buy only recycled clothing for an entire year. So that's just what I decided to do.

I had my last hoorah(s) in late September. I grabbed a cute scarf at Old Navy with an old merchandise credit card, my last purchase from one of my favorite cheapo clothing stores. And then on September 30, I introduced Amaru to my favorite hometown biker bar and rib joint, Dinosaur Barbecue. Hands down the best barbecue on the whole frickin planet (not biased at all here). I piled my plate high with pulled pork and dug in for my own last supper.

The Dino
Hell yeah. 

After Oct. 1, no more piggies. And I limited myself to buying Goodwill, Salvation Army, and consignment clothing only (hand-me-downs and gifts are allowed too!)

So here we are three months later, and I'll tell you, it's been tough. And not quite what I expected. Of my two pre-New Year's resolutions, one has been killer, but doable, and the other has been a little easier to get used to, in terms of forging a new routine, but I've decided it's not for me, and it won't be joining me in the new year.

Can you guess which one?


First comes love...

When I went to wake Amaru up at zero-dark-thirty this morning, he told me he'd just had a most peculiar dream. 

He dreamt I was nine months pregnant and we were walking up stairs. Lots and lots of stairs in a house that apparently had lots and lots of staircases. Once we got to the top, I went into labor. 

I'm paraphrasing here, but I believe his next thoughts were something like:
"Holy sh** she's really having a kid."

And then I'm sure he had something of a deep-sleep heart attack before he realized that we'd already arranged for some nice adoptive couple to take the thing. Saved.

I have to say the little shyster seemed awfully happy to have woken up from that dream. If I had had my wits about me I'd have realized it was the perfect time to tell him we're pregnant. 

We're not, people!! (and by people, I mean mom). 

But I think that little bugger needs a good scare every once in a while. Keeps him on his toes!

Now I would normally try to figure out the deeper meaning of a dream like that, but in this particular case, I think it had more to do with the fact that shortly before we went to bed last night, Amaru accepted a substitute teaching position in a preschool for today. And his subconscious was subconsciously preparing him for a day amongst the babies or something.

So then, hours later when we got home after work, I logged in to catch up on my Facebook crack and I noticed lots and lots of comments on this photo, which Amaru posted last night:

Yeah so apparently he accidentally posted it into an album titled "A few wedding photos."

The commenters were concerned, and not just with the idea that I may have chosen to wear a dingy gray sweater in my wedding photos:

"Did you guys get married??" asked a friend.

"Anything you want to share?" asked my cousin.

"Hahaha," wrote Amaru's buddy.

Once we discovered the little Facebook snafu, Amaru wrote a nice thorough explanation, just to put everyone's mind at ease. But apparently people don't find him all that trustworthy because it was followed by another one of the "did you get hitched" questions.

So that was my day. Had a baby before 6 a.m. and was married by late afternoon. I may not do stuff in order, but I damn sure don't waste any time setting things right.


Decked the Halls

Isn't there something about tree-trimming that calls for a warm wintry beverage? Like hot cocoa or peppermint tea?

Or warm apple cider?

We opted for the spiked variety. My first three sips of my first mug-full were delish. Then I kicked it all over the carpet. But my second mug-full was a fine runner-up.

We picked out a little five-footer last weekend at a Christmas tree barn near our house. It's a short skinny one that ended up fitting perfectly in our bitty little apartment. It's been so warm here that it's been tough to get in the holiday spirit, but that's nothing a little tree-decorating and Kenny G Christmas music can't solve.

Now that we're a mere two weeks away from my very favorite holiday of the year, I'm sure I'll be hastening up on the holiday festivities. Amaru and I (yep, his name's Amaru. I'm sick of the charade.) are trying to be super vigilant about pinching pennies this year, by forgoing exchanging gifts with each other and by focusing on thoughtful, un-spendy (word?) gifts for our family members. I'm determined that mine will be either entirely homemade or will be purchased from a little local vendor rather than a big box store. Or they will be books. You can't go wrong with books, and I stocked up on a few great gift-y ones at the Ashfield Fall Festival I went to in October.

It kind of ties in to another little social/environmental experiment I'm working on. Which requires that I not purchase a new piece of clothing for an entire year, among other things. Sound tough? It sure is. But I've been at it for two-plus months and I'm determined to go the distance. I'll tell you all about it in an  upcoming post.

For now, I'm off to blog-surf in bed 'till Amaru wakes up. Then I'm looking forward to a weekend full of Christmas baking (and breakfast-making. I'm dying to try this recipe for gingerbread pancakes), a little dinner shindig at my aunt and uncle's, and a Sunday Christmas shopping spectacular.

What's everyone else doing this weekend? If anyone's going to see The Nutcracker ballet, don't even bother responding. I'll die of jealousy.

Sorry for the crap-o pictures. Still using my iPhone as a camera.