Tuesday, 22 April 2014

I'm not going to tell you how cute your child is

I am not ever going to tell you how cute your child is.

This is probably not because your child isn't cute.  I'm sure they totally are.  But a lifetime of hearing nothing but "gosh how cute and precious are you" is not going to do your kid any favors.  It might actually be a detriment to them.  So I'm cutting the cute crap, and here's why:

Firstly, "oh you're so cute" is not a message your kid needs to hear over and over and over.  While this might seem like a really good idea, it only reinforces a major problem in our society.  Which is that you (all of us, especially the girls) are only of value if you are pretty/cute/handsome.  And that is a serious problem.  Children are rabid sponges for adult interaction and information.  They are absorbing everything you say (as anyone who's ever dropped an F-bomb around a 2-year-old knows), and using that to figure out their own world.  If all the adults and random strangers on the street are focusing on how cute a child is, this quickly becomes something that they will know is important.  Being cute gets them attention from adults.  Being cute is clearly very important.  And I'm sure that's not the message we're intending to send when we compliment a child's looks, but if that's all they hear it's what they will value.  And this is not a fair thing to have them cope with, especially (I say it again, especially especially) the GIRLS, who will not only be hearing it from the adults around them, but also from their TV shows and music and toys, all of which are hyper-focused on the importance of beauty (seriously, go look at the "girls aisle" in the toy store, I have a whole other rant on this for another day).  And then we grow up trained to be perpetually dissatisfied with our appearance, and end up caking on make-up and spending hours at the gym trying to fit back into that narrow definition of cute that was so repeatedly pounded into our minds time and time again.  So do the kids a favor, and cut that shit out.

Secondly, "oh you're so cute" is actually code for "I know nothing about you kid, so I'm going to comment on the only thing I can readily see about you, which is your appearance."  What about their kindness and generosity?  Or their gentle soul?  Or their mischievous sense of humour?  Or their gregarious personality?  You know, things about them that ACTUALLY MATTER.  Now I know this is harder with babies, who have all the personality of a bag of potatoes for the first several months of their life, but make a little effort to do better than "gosh he's cute".  Banal platitudes on a child's looks can only take you so far.  What do you know about them other than that they have an adorable button nose?  Maybe spend some time with them and get to know who they are, rather than just what they look like.  I'm going to wager that there's probably a real person hiding under all the cute.

Lastly, none of this barrage of cute commentary is good for mom and dad either.  These people are doing their best to turn little Timmy into a reasonable, functional human being, and don't need these perpetual cute messages any more than their children do.  Adults are conditionable too, and hearing infinite repetitions of the same statement over and over and over will change anyone's mind over time.  Because nobody goes into parenthood knowing exactly what to do, our upbringing, our society and peer groups inform us about what's important.  We don't need any of these groups teaching us that cute is priority number one.  It's just not good for anybody.

Maybe your kid really is cute.  Good for them.  Maybe they're also a great listener, or a trustworthy friend, or full of compassion.  And maybe those things are getting overlooked because all the adults can do is comment on what they can most easily see.

Step it up people.  It takes a community to raise a child, and the community needs to stop being so shallow. 

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Curried Sweet Potato Chips recipe

I'm feeling quite the culinary queen now, this is my SECOND recipe that I ever made up out of my head (I'm sure you all remember my vegan chickpea donairs?)!  This recipe serves 2 as a side dish, but could easily be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled to feed a crowd.  So without further ado, here it is!

Curried Sweet Potato Chips

(Serves 2 as a side dish of 1/2 cup each)
Delicious and naturally vegan. :)

  • 1 6oz sweet potato or yam (this is a smallish one, the big suckers you see in the store will weigh a lot more!)
  • 1 tsp vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 tsp medium curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Wash and peel the sweet potato.  Cut the potato into medallions, about 1/2" thick (not too thick or your cook time will be longer).  Cut the larger medallions in half, or even quarter them in the case of a very large potato. 
In a medium bowl, combine the oil, curry powder, turmeric and salt.  Add the cut potatoes to the bowl and toss until coated.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put the seasoned potatoes on the tray.
Cook for 10 minutes, then use a spatula to flip the potatoes over.  Cook for another 10 minutes until just slightly blackened around the edges.
Eat as is, or dip them in ketchup or spicy vegan mayo!

They come out such a pretty color from the turmeric.  They are just a teeny bit spicy and full of flavor, enjoy!  :)

Monday, 24 February 2014

"Whisper" by Chris Struyk-Bonn (book review)

I received a copy of Whisper from in exchange for an honest review.  The book was an advance copy, it will be available in Canada in April 2014.

Whisper is the first novel from Chris Struyk-Bonn, and hopefully not her last.  The dystopian setting of Whisper is certainly meant to be of our own society, and is not a terribly distant future either.  We find the titular character living in the woods with other rejects, individuals who have been cast off from a society which shuns those with any physical defect.  Whisper’s crude but happy life in the wilderness is abruptly ended when she is reclaimed by the father who rejected her, and brought to his house to work as a servant.  As Whisper is traded from hand to hand into a life in the highly polluted cities, she retains her dignity and independence and never surrenders the hope of returning to her simple camp and the only family she has ever known.

I am a very picky consumer of dystopian fiction, as it is one of my favorite genres.  But I thoroughly enjoyed reading Whisper.  While some of the ideas are not completely original (very much reminded me of The Chrysalids), the characters are what really make the story.  Whisper herself is a highly interesting and endearing character, and the supporting casts of characters have strong personalities as well.  Character development is really what made this book for me, as the reader can see how various experiences and maltreatment impact Whisper and shape her personality and future encounters.  There are a few odd moments of inconsistency, but they are not enough to detract from the overall growth of the characters.

My only complaint about Whisper are the few odd places where the story goes off on a tangent that seems to be completely unnecessary to advancing the plot.  One example of this is a scene where Whisper is rescued during transport to the city, but then quickly returns to her captor.  I found this scene to be contrary to Whisper’s established character, and almost completely unnecessary.  The explanation of trying to protect her family of cast-offs just doesn’t work in this scenario, as she is being sent by her biological father into a life of begging in the streets.  Being fully aware of the terrible destiny that awaited her, I would have thought Whisper would take her chances in the familiarity of the woods and try to return to her kin, rather than going back to her dastardly, creepy uncle who was transporting her.  The whole scene just didn’t fit.  There is a later scene where Whisper is briefly jailed in the city, which I also felt could have been omitted without damaging the storyline.

Despite a few inconsistent and unnecessary scenes, overall I was very impressed with Chris Struyk-Bonn’s inaugural effort.  The story is interesting, moves at an appropriate pace, and the characters are fascinating and multifaceted.  I look forward to reading more by Chris Struyk-Bonn, and recommend Whisper to anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction.  

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Feeling all the feels - Bridge to Terabithia (book review)

Oh, the feels.

Book club selected "banned books" this month, and I thought it would be a natural fit to pick a children's book, because so many of the books that are challenged every year are for kids/YA.  This is probably because people are worried about their fragile little minds being unable to handle basic life concepts. Like swearing.  Or people having same-sex parents.  Or death.  Or other reminders of reality.

Now some of this concern is justifiable.  Some concepts are confusing for children.  My 5-year-old niece, who has experienced death in the passing of her great-grandmother, is a prime example of this.  Her understanding of death as it stands right now is that she doesn't want people to die because then there will be skeletons.  She doesn't understand it in terms of the cessation of life or that she will miss the person if they are gone, she just REALLY dislikes the idea of there being any skeletons in her vicinity.  But when children have a misunderstanding like this, it is an opportunity to teach them at their level about the concept, rather than pretend the concept does not exist.

Really, it is this whole "at their level" thing that throws people off and is usually at the source of the debate on most challenged books.  It's the same with other topics like suicide, drug use, drinking, sex, etc.

And this leads me to the banned book which I read for this month, The Bridge to Terbithia.

The main reason that this work has been banned in the past is because it features death as a predominant part of the story.  Which in my own personal (professional librarian) opinion, is a dumbass reason to ban a book.  Apparently people have also taken exception to the book because the main character Jess uses the word "lord" outside of prayer, and that the book portrays secular humanism in a potentially positive light. 

(Excuse me while I go clutch my pearls.)

Clearly, most of these objections to Bridge to Terabithia are products of the time from which it was written, in 1977.  More than forty years later our sensibilities have changed... or so we would like to think, but this book was among the most challenged in America between 1990-2000.  I couldn't find a stat on it since then, but I'm sure calls for censorship didn't stop just because they 90's did.

Now I've been referred to as a crazy-left-wing-hippie-plant-eater more than once in my life (actually), but I'm going to go ahead and say that these objections are pretty much ridiculous.  But really, most objections and challenges to books ARE ridiculous.  It always comes down to fear and misunderstanding of a different person or group (i.e.- foreign people, people of other religions, people with a different lifestyle, teenagers, etc.) 

Honestly I found Bridge to Terabithia to be pretty tame.  Yes there is a death (I'm not going to say who and ruin the book, although if you read the back cover it's pretty obvious), but I think there is more controversy to be had with the book's quiet subversiveness (a la Catcher in the Rye, only much less whiny).  Terabithia is really all about building the world you want to live in when you don't want to live in the world that authorities have built for you.  Which is also exactly what makes this a wonderful book.  If like me you somehow escaped your childhood without having read this one, I highly recommend it as a fast read with a real emotional punch.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Something that needs to be said

I'm going to write today about a subject I have not written about before.  And unlike pretty much every other blog entry I've written, this one is serious.  I don't usually like to blog about serious things (because I like the blog to be a happy place), but this is something that I felt the time is right to address, because I am simultaneously fed up and at the same time quite elated, as you will see...

So here goes.

Last night I experienced a moment of pure happiness and joy as my 29-year-old husband applied to go to school in the fall, to become an educational assistant.  It was a moment years in the making.  And I have to say something about everything that has lead up to this point.

As many of you might be aware, my husband has a mental illness.  This is not a secret and neither he nor I have ever been quiet or uptight about it.  These things belong in the open.  When we keep them a secret we show we are ashamed and that we have been made to feel guilty about them.  We do not shy away from admitting that we have diabetes, or epilepsy, or other LIFELONG illnesses, so why should we shy away from discussing mental illness?

But why do so many people shy away from discussing it?  Because of the JUDGEMENT.  Because if we fall sick with cancer, people gather around us and lift us up.  They bring us food and help us with chores and take care of the kids, and do everything they can to help us while we are ill.  But admit that you have a mental illness... admit that you have schizophrenia, that you have a borderline personality disorder, that you have an issue with anxiety... and people do not gather around to help.  THEY RUN.  AND THEY JUDGE.

This is because people seem to think (for some god unknown reason) that mental illness is something you can control.  That it is a simple manner of choosing to overcome it. And because you can't control it, you are therefore not really trying very hard to get better, and not worthy of being helped.  All compassion, understanding, and care for people with mental illness goes out the window because of this ignorance to one of the most common illnesses.

Here are the things I am sick of hearing people say to me about my husband:
  • Why can't he just be happy?
  • Why doesn't he just get a full-time job?
  • Why doesn't he just try harder?
  • Why can't he do ___?
so if you are one of the people saying these things, please stop, because he is doing his best with the condition he has.  As the person who lives with him, I am more than aware of his various shortcomings in the sight of his friends, family and of himself.  He does not need to be reminded (nor does his main support and caregiver person, ME) of what he is not able to do.  This only feeds his illness.  An illness which tells him constantly that he is incapable, worthless, and not even worthy of living.  Certainly he doesn't need this reinforced by anyone else.  You wouldn't remove the mobility supports of someone with cerebral palsy, why would you remove the very tenuous lines of hope which hold up someone with mental illness?

I am witness to the worst of it.  And I am lucky enough to see him at his very best. I am also the one who gets the privilege of seeing that he is improving everyday.  When you say "why can't you just _____", what you are really saying is "I have no patience for your illness, you need to get better right now or I can't accept you as a person". 

But I am proud to say how well he is doing, and that there is so much that he can do, in the midst of what everyone says he can't do.  He is able to get out of bed nearly every single day.  He takes his medications diligently and without being told.  He attends therapy twice a week.  He is focusing on healthy eating in an attempt to lose weight and be healthier.  He keeps looking for a job, despite repeated rejections.  He makes friends and socializes with them.  And most importantly, he makes plans for his future.  He has come light-years in terms of progress with his condition over the last four years,  I would like it very much if everyone could choose to see that in place of seeing only the negative.  He will never be perfect, and he will quite likely never even be what we call "normal", and his condition will likely last for the rest of his life.  But he is thriving despite of it. 

And if he can do that, with all that's working against him, I think you are capable of some understanding.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Going the distance: making homemade pasta

Yeah so long time no blogging.  I am well aware.  This is mostly because I upgraded from having a "pretend-sort-of-job" to "almost-real-job".  Now I have to do work at work and even sometimes do work at home.  THUS, we wind up here, with very little bloggy action.

So to remedy, I'd like to tell you all about the time not that long ago that I made homemade pasta using my new pasta maker that I got for Christmas!

Shiny new toy.
On my list of unnecessary but fun things to own (along with an ice cream maker and spiral slicer), we have the pasta machine.  This one is quite cool, you've got the main roller component for squishing down your dough, and then it has two cutters on the back.  One does spaghetti and the other is fettuccine (I think).   You clamp the heavy sucker to the counter and roll away!

So when it comes to the dough I searched around the web for basic egg-free vegan pasta recipes, which are pretty numerous and all generally about the same.  Along with your flour and water, the universal recommendation seems to be to add a pinch of turmeric for colour.  I used predominately white all-purpose flour with a little bit of whole wheat thrown in for some pretend healthy. 

The "fun" part comes before you get to even use the machine.  Once the dough is made you have to work it out for a good solid 10 minutes.  It's a heck of a forearm exercise I'll tell you!  Then you break it up into smaller sections and the rolling and cutting begins!  I hung the pasta over the cupboard doors to dry so it wouldn't stick together.

Not very glamorous...
A single recipe ended up making enough for two meals, so I bagged and refrigerated half, and cooked the other half for supper!

All-in-all, I found the pasta maker to be pretty easy to use, and the pasta it made was pretty yummy!  However it is one of those things that I'm not sure how often I would go out of my way to make it.  The whole process was about 2 hours from beginning to end, which I would qualify as a very time consuming recipe.  But I feel the same way about samosas and green onion cakes.  There are some things that end up getting relegated to the weekend for this reason.

Kind eating!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

This is the real world! - A holiday with two dystopian YA reads

Ah, the Canadian winter.

For reasons I'd rather not get into, I found myself stuck on semi-operational passenger trains full of awful children in the middle of the prairies for what added up to several DOZEN hours over the course of the holiday season.

At any rate, with such extravagant amounts of time on my hands, you had to know I would get lots of reading done.  And I did.

Here are a pair of reviews for the YA dystopian novels I read, which were highly suitable to the situation if I do say so myself...

#1: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf - Ambelin Kwaymullina

I wasn't sure what to expect from this particular YA read, which I snagged as an advance copy through LibraryThing (the rest of you will have to wait until April 2014 to get your mitts on this one).  This is Ambelin Kwaymullina's first novel, but the premise sounded very interesting.  In a post-apocalyptic world where there are regular folks, there are also individuals who are known as "illegals", who have special abilities which many fear will upset the Balance which keeps society intact.  One such illegal is Ashala Wolf, whom we meet at the outset of the novel as she is being brought into a detention centre for interrogation.  Now this seemed to me like an odd place to start the novel.  I really wanted to know more about her deeds before being brought to prison, but that is actually part of "the twist" so I can't say anything more about that!  However at the time this aspect of the novel really bothered me, I had a hard time getting into the story for about the first 100-pages.  And I can't tell you what part of the book changed my mind without spoiling the whole thing for you, but trust me when I say that the action in the book picks up dramatically, and that it was a very enjoyable and exciting read from there on out.  There are many twists and turns and leaps through time, and the ending is really quite satisfying.  I am very glad that I didn't give up on this one, it was worth the initial struggle and turned out to be a really interesting story in the end. If you enjoy dystopian fiction like The Hunger Games or Matched, then I would recommend you pick up a copy of The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf once it is released.

#2: More Than This - Patrick Ness

As some of you may already be aware, I am guilty of being a HUGE fan of Patrick Ness.  I absolutely devoured his Chaos Walking triology, despite the fact that it is probably the goriest set of teen books I have ever read, and I'm not usually a big fan of violence in my reads.  But his stories are so riveting and the violence is sometimes just an integral part of the action.  Also, if you haven't read A Monster Calls then you should, it's not his usual vein of writing but it damn near broke my heart and not many books can almost make me cry, but it was damn close.
Anyway, onto the matter at hand.  Ness' latest YA release does not disappoint as the author delivers us into a world that keeps the reader guessing right up until the end. When young Seth drowns he does not meet his end as one would suspect, instead he wakes up in the old home where he used to live, completely alone.  At least for a little while.  Seth strives to understand how his reality has changed, while at the same time trying to figure out his new environment and avoid forces that don't want him to know the answers.  And I'm sorry for that terrible description of the plot but I really just can't tell you what happens in this book because it would totally ruin it for you if I did.  Trust me when I say that it is a great read and keeps you guessing right up until the end.  Ness' consciousness of relying on old tropes is directly addressed within the book, so while some aspects of the story are not entirely original ideas, the way that they are put together is exciting and fresh.  And the ending!  I'm a fan of great endings that don't let you know exactly what happens after the book ends.  This one really reminded me of the lake scene at the end of Haruki Murakami's Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World; the protagonist steps into the unknown with no clear answer for the reader as to where exactly he will wind up.  
While I think I was more engrossed with the Chaos Walking books, I found More Than This to be an exciting and engaging read, and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA books, dystopian fiction, and works with GLBTQ leads.

So that's it for now.  Book club is reading classics this month, so excuse me while I go completely switch gears...