Escape From New York

Yesterday I left Staten Island for the first time in nine years. That’s right, I hadn’t stepped foot off the island, even for other boroughs, in nine long years. Actually that time went by rather quickly.

The drive was surprisingly non-horrific. With two and five year olds in tow I braced myself for the worst. A couple older kids came along for the ride and Mom did the driving, which was heaven sent- I dislike highway driving to the point of phobia.

We went over the Goethals, the turnpike, various parkways. We stopped for lunch at McDonald’s; I had a double quarter pounder sans ketchup and I threw out the bun (not before offering it to the rest of the family, they declined). It was awkward but doable eating the floppy hamburger patties with my fingers, the meat was terribly overcooked. It was edible, but barely, to the tune of $5. My little guys shared french fries and chicken nuggets, mom had a salad, older kids had an egg mcmuffin, more nuggets and fries. For drinks we had water (me), lemonade, mocha latte and diet coke.

I was surprised how many black people and hispanics are now north of NYC. Nine years ago non-asian minorities faded out a certain radius beyond the metro area with the exception of Springfield, MA. Most of the diners at that connecticut McDonald’s were black or hispanic, and it didn’t turn all/mostly white until Vermont.

After five hours we reached my hometown; I didn’t move here until age seven but it’s essentially my hometown. I wondered if I would start crying after all these years. But it was anticlimactic. There were the gorgeous mountains, lush green rolling in distant landscape. There was the guns-n-ammo shop. More lush greenery, an auto shop. Some kind of manufacturing plant (the sole one in the area, industry here has been decimated). The veterinarian where our sick pets were euthanized so long ago. Pretty colonials and victorians, many but not all in disrepair.

We arrived home to my very grouchy father. Grouchy is my dad’s version of happy, it only goes downhill from there. My little guy was all over the place while we unpacked- I tried to lock him in a playroom via baby gate but he howled pitifully so I let him escape.

My parents had dinner but I told them I would eat later. I went for a walk around local roads and hopped briefly into the woods, climbing a steep incline padded with pine needles and thin weeds. Pine trees towered overhead like solemn angels. I sat under one and patiently slapped mosquitoes as they landed on my skin. Later I ate some salmon and semi-raw hamburgers. My mother was horrified as she packed them out of sight into the fridge, asking wasn’t I worried about eating rare beef? Nope.

This morning I went to walmart. I needed shampoo and razors, my five year old requested pretzels. My mom warned me: the town looked worse than ever, but as I drove it looked the same. There was a new CVS. There was an abandoned something or other. There was the middle school where I was mercilessly tormented by my peers. I peeked down the street to my childhood best friend’s house- I considered driving past but that would feel stalkerish. I have no idea if her parents are even still living, and she has long since moved away.

Walmart… it looked exactly the same as nine years ago, except the shopping carts were in terrible shape (nothing irks me more than lousy shopping carts) and the walls were dinged up, in need of repainting. Two women said hello and politely asked how are you? This jarred me. They don’t do that in Staten Island, not that Staten Islanders aren’t friendly in their own way.

I am here for my aunt’s funeral. There is some drama with her estate that has darkened my father’s mood from bad to worse. I feel mildly vulturish hanging around waiting for the proceedings to unfold, but I never asked for this money. It’s all very sad. She should have lived a good twenty, thirty years further. God gives and god takes away.

Abortion: Stories Women Tell

Abortion: Stories Women Tell is an HBO documentary detailing the footing of abortion access in Missouri, a state where restrictive laws render it one of the most difficult states in the nation to obtain an abortion. Women often have to drive hundreds of miles to reach an abortion provider, and within the state are subject to a 72 hour wait period even if the baby is afflicted with a condition not compatible with life.

This is a good documentary, highly watchable, and it makes an effort to allow both sides to speak to the camera. Clinic security guard “Chi Chi” is a character unto herself, snidely telling off protesters- “I wish I could abort HIM!”- she quips of one, and castigating women who churn out babies for welfare (her words, not mine).

We are introduced to soldiers on both sides of the line: clinic escorts who usher shell shocked patients to and from vehicles, pro-life activists who make a veritable career from organizing pro-life events and protesting at clinics. At one pro-life dinner a teary eyed Susan Jaramillo takes the stage like a quasi rock star, telling her tale of abortion woe and destruction. Her books are for sale on a nearby table.

In the documentary numerous women describe their decision to seek out an abortion. Most cite financial distress, a few cite abusive husbands/ boyfriends, one woman sought an abortion when she learned the father of her child was married. A few women terminate pregnancies after the baby is diagnosed with severe anomalies.

I had a lot of sympathy for all people featured, yes, even the obnoxious preachers raining hell fire on bewildered patients stumbling into the clinic. I can see why people hate them, but having known militant pro-lifers myself, I understand where they’re coming from. They truly believe they are fighting the most heinous form of murder known to humanity.

My own views on abortion are not so clear cut. I’m unsure if I’m pro-choice or pro-life. I’ll tell you my views and maybe you can let me know what I am.

I absolutely believe the unborn baby is a nascent form of human life. How anyone could pretend otherwise, even atheists, I cannot understand. As my friend the atheist once said: Everyone who is for abortion was born. Not complicated right?

I also believe, that as a nascent form of life, the unborn baby is precious and deserving of protection.

However: I also believe forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term is tantamount to rape. Pregnancy and childbirth involve the penetration of the mother’s body, both of her uterus and vagina, sometimes other parts- even if the baby is going “out” the body is still being penetrated, sometimes horrifically (yes I know the “horrific” part firsthand). Penetration without consent is rape.

So on the one hand you have the taking of a human life- murder- and on the other hand you have rape. Forgive me if I can’t decide which is worse!

I have one other thought on abortion, and this is something pro-lifers refuse to acknowledge: women will always have abortions. It doesn’t matter how many laws you lay down. Women will seek and obtain abortions even where it is illegal.

Therefore, if you are faced with an inevitable abortion, and you can either lose one life (the baby’s) or two lives (the baby’s and the mom’s), you are ethically obligated to protect the one life you can reach- the mother’s! Why pro-lifers refuse to see this is beyond me. If they successfully outlaw abortion there will be MORE loss of human life at the hands of shoddy purveyors of abortion, not less!

While Abortion: Stories Women Tell attempts to be even handed, it comes out slanted for the pro-choice side. I’m not sure if this is because the pro-lifers featured are so obnoxious, although one pro-choice SJW type gives a pestiferous rant toward the end of the film, or if it was deliberate. Either way this is one of the better abortion documentaries I’ve seen, and I recommend it to anyone with ninety minutes to spare. It is available on HBO GO as of this posting.

Food Update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. In browsing older posts I realized there might be some confusion to new readers as to what exactly I eat. Thus I would like to clarify (don’t worry, I know the world doesn’t hinge on what I eat, but I don’t want to confuse anyone).

Years ago I was a strict vegan. I truly believed this was the healthiest way for a human to eat. I made this decision based on books like Eat to Live, The China Study, and the various vegan websites out there like vegsource (I have no idea if they’re still around). Eating a whole food vegan diet, claimed these books, led to perfect health and slim waistlines.

I have always been thin but I was trying to improve my health- after my 4th child was born I began experiencing recurring and debilitating fevers. Based on testimonials of vegan converts I switched to a completely vegan diet.

It took a while but my health did improve. I didn’t eat only health foods- I loved vegan cookies and desserts, but I did eat mostly health foods, and I completely eliminated sugar from my diet 4 years ago.

Then I got pregnant with my youngest child and despite being low weight, gaining virtually no weight, and eating a “healthy vegan diet” I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I was 190 mg/dL on the glucose tolerance test. I obtained a glucose meter and began testing my postprandial (post meal) blood sugar. I was horrified to find all those “healthy” whole grains and beans were spiking my blood sugar astronomically.

Then I remembered… in the back of my head… a documentary I watched ages ago. I thought it was funny back then but, as a strict vegan, believed none of it. That documentary was Tom Naughton’s Fat Head, where he eats both a moderately low carb/ high fat diet, and later a nearly zero carb/ high fat diet, and not only does he lose weight but his blood work improves significantly.

Against medical advice I immediately began eating low carb. I was concerned about going too low, given I was pregnant [note: I would no longer have this concern today], so I hovered around 50 net carbs a day. A typical day for me eating was as follows: I would skip breakfast then eat a huge lunch. I ate a tremendous amount of lamb and chicken thighs, and of course did not remove any of the fat. I would have a small amount of dried fruit for dessert (dried fruit and some veggies were my only source of carbs). For dinner I would have the same.

My blood sugar immediately normalized below 100 mg/dL no matter how much I ate, and my son was born 6 pounds just shy of 36 weeks. He did not require any NICU.

Well, when they gave me the glucose tolerance test a few months after his birth my numbers were even worse. I was 300 mg/dL! I was now officially diabetic, although it remains unclear if I am type 2 or LADA- adult onset type 1- since I am so thin it may likely be LADA. My well meaning but clueless internist advised me to “eat brown rice and potatoes.” I kept my mouth shut but knew some of my worst postprandial numbers resulted from precisely those foods.

I have been a low carber ever since, even going down to zero carbs for long periods, eating nothing but meat and fat. That’s right, I am still alive despite eating no fiber and eschewing all plant foods. My blood work is perfect. A1C is normal. I’m thinner than ever- not necessarily a good thing, but for those of you who need to lose weight, if it works at my low weight it would certainly work for you. When I was diagnosed with diabetes I was 135 lbs (at 5’9″). After a few months eating very low carb I went down to 120- slightly underweight for my height- and have maintained and even dipped below without trying.

I truly believe eating low carb has saved my life, and quite possibly saved my son’s life. So would I recommend low carbing to any dieters out there? HELL YES! The emphasis on fruits, whole grains and veggies in nutritional circles is ridiculously overblown. I’m not saying they’re bad for non-diabetics, but they are indeed terribly dangerous for diabetics and are not the golden key to weight loss the FDA would have you believe.

I’ve been able to maintain a normal A1C without meds, insulin, or exercise (I like to walk but don’t consider it “exercise.”) My blood sugar rarely cracks 100 mg/dL. So I would plead- yes PLEAD- with any diabetics out there to consider a low carb/ zero carb diet. There are countless resources online and just as many books. Atkins is a great place to start. I eat only foods from the induction phase, plus nuts.

We Should Have Stayed in That Cave

[[very mild spoilers season 1 and season 4]]

After much procrastination I finally am watching Game of Thrones. I tried watching the first episode way back when. I thought it was stupid and boring. Too many plot lines, too many characters, the costumes silly. I couldn’t keep anyone straight. So many dark haired men in leather armor! So many women in bad wigs and sumptuous gowns! Borrring.

Then my husband announced we have a temporarily free subscription to HBO, and with it HBO GO via roku. HBO! They have a lot of good documentaries! And indeed I watched a few, including one about a veterans’ suicide prevention helpline. Did you know a US military veteran or active serviceman kills himself at the rate of roughly one man per hour, every day? That’s more fatalities than the recent wars put together. Anyway it was very well done, very sad, but too short. I hate short documentaries. They always make me feel cheated.

But there is no dearth of Game of Thrones. Since I never watched it before I theoretically had six seasons to plow through. It was so stupid last time you watched it (I said to myself)! But maybe you would like it this time around (I also said to myself). After much inner deliberation I pressed PLAY.

I still thought that first episode was stupid, however, Tyrion (the amazing Peter Dinklage) snagged me in his dialogue with Jon Snow. All dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes. Such nuance, gravitas and wry humor in one man! Peter Dinklage, as they say in The Station Agent, is THE MAN! So I kept watching.

I still thought it was silly, perverted, way too violent. Could you please spare me yet another chopped off head? SO much sex. Gay sex, hooker sex, sadist sex, incest sex, underaged sex, interracial sex, rape after rape. I’m no feminist but I shudder to think how women would fare if George RR Martin ruled the world.

Yet… somewhere mid season one I was hooked. It wasn’t just about Dinklage anymore. I was asking my son (a rabid GOT fan) questions. How did Tyrion meet Ser Bronn? Why exactly did Daenyrus kill the black guy? I was in tears over the kidnapped baby dragons, and further along wept as Jon Snow cradled a dying Ygritte in his arms. We should have stayed in that cave Jon Snow

So would I recommend this series to my gentle readers? Uh, not sure. It ain’t exactly family programming, though apparently every family on the planet has watched it. It is a brilliant story, or rather a series of brilliant stories within other brilliant stories, the characters are beautifully villainous and multifaceted, but somehow I’m left with the same feeling as having eaten a sicky sweet, overly rich slice of cake when the credits roll. Gird yer stomachs men, and forward march!

Paramahansa Yogananda’s Excellent Adventure

When I related my daughter’s Koran shopping episode I noted that Barnes and Noble carries exactly zero books about Hinduism in its religion section. Being married to my husband, I know that not a single book at B&N is accidentally placed: exhaustive research is executed on buying habits of customers, and the potential profitability of each and every book. In fact, even how the books are laid out is thoroughly researched and deliberate. You know those tables scattered throughout the store? Publishers pay a premium to have their volumes displayed on them, as opposed to the shelves.

There are tons of new age, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist books– but nary a volume on Hinduism. Which is strange, because immigrant Hindus in the U.S. tend to be well educated and of the book buying capacity.

However, I do occasionally see one or two volumes published by the Self Realization Fellowship, which as far as I can tell is a quasi-Hindu organization devoted to bringing the “spirit” of Hinduism to a western audience. So it’s not exactly Hindu per se, but probably the closest you’re going to find at B&N.

One day earlier this year I bought one of those volumes: Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, pictured below:

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ommmm…

I got the book home and my husband immediately asked: why did I bring Steve Job’s book home?

Huh? I had no clue what he was talking about.

As it turns out Autobiography of a Yogi was handed out at Mr. Job’s funeral per his request. The Self Realization Fellowship had to scramble to supply oodles of copies, and those who watched the scion interred walked away with a parting gift. Which I now happened to own as well.

The book is not what you think– or at least it wasn’t what I anticipated. I imagined a few hundred pages of Hindu apologetics, and while the volume does include that betimes, Mr. Yogananda’s chirpy, almost silly voice delivers a spellbinding tale that, like most truth, is stranger than fiction.

Way back in the 1930s Mr. Yogananda received a call from God to preach Hinduism, or quasi-Hinduism to the west. So he peregrinates to the States and not only was he well received here, but eventually, with a couple western disciples, embarked (in a model T Ford!) on an around-the-world journey to interview a variety of saints and gurus, including Mahatma Gandhi and stigmatic Therese Neumann.

While in audience of Ms. Neumann Mr. Yogananda uses his vulcan mind-meld powers (yes, he can read minds, but typically only does so with permission) to see if she’s a fake: she isn’t, and by entering her mind Mr. Yogananda witnessed the passion of Jesus Christ in excruciating detail, just as Ms. Neumann did during her stigmatic episodes. He concludes that Ms. Neumann was granted the gift of the stigmata so that Christians could have the veracity and suffering of Jesus Christ validated. (Even if you don’t feel like reading the whole book, reading that chapter alone is worth the effort and $12.50… not to mention the volume is available free online in pdf form.)

The book is not entirely autobiographical and does delve into Mr. Yogananda’s theological “unifying theories–” namely that there are no vital differences between Hinduism and Christianity. Of course, this will make your average believing Christian’s head explode, but he does offer salient points, or at the very least food for fodder. For instance there is evidence that early Christians held a tenet of reincarnation- as does mystical Judaism, from whence Christianity arose.  When Jesus heals the man born blind, he asks: did this man sin, or did his parents sin? Well a baby cannot sin, so where did this sin originate? Plausibly this is a reference to a previous incarnation, hearkening to the concept of karma. Furthermore the gospels imply that John the Baptist is the “recycled” (to use the hebrew term, gilgul) version of Elijah. In Matthew 11 Jesus says of John the Baptist, And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Mr. Yogananda’s theories on Christian-Hindu unity are complex and I can’t pretend to understand them fully. However, one his stranger postulations is that the Hindu concept of maya– illusion- is synonymous with the Christian notion of Satan. This will be a foreign concept to believing Christians, who view Satan as a personified fallen angel who tempts mankind toward evil deeds.

The book is an easy read and would be of interest to anyone with a yen for religion or history, as the era in which Mr. Yoganada travels prefaces World War II. Heck, it would be an interesting read even for people with an interest in Steve Jobs! So if you are looking for a book to page through by the pool, this one comes highly recommended.

Zootopia Looks Like Staten Island

After all the hype, after my mother raved about it, after my children raved about it– including my 19 year old nerd son with ice in the veins– after my daughter put the dvd on view for her psych ward– I watched Zootopia once it was on netflix. I’ll reserve my observations for a future post, but I could not help but notice that the city of Zootopia greatly resembles Staten Island.

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staten-island

I’ll note this: if having a tiny bunny on the police force is novel, how does Zootopia police its rodent population? That doesn’t make sense.

Corn Cooked in Husk

It’s corn season! I grew up in New England so corn season conjures up vivid childhood memories. Farmstands overflowing with corn, husking it with my beloved paternal grandmother at our kitchen table, my mother boiling it up in cauldrons of water, and biting into ears so fresh it tasted like candy.

Fast forward to my own kitchen, and being the safety conscious freak I am, I’m always reluctant to boil water on the stove top. We have a center island in the kitchen where the stove is located, and the kids love to sit, and pile paper, around that island. This led me to seek alternative corn cooking methods, and lo and behold: it can be baked in the oven, so long as the husk is intact. That’s right: you don’t have to bother shucking corn before cooking it. In fact the husk creates a perfect “envelope” in which the corn can steam.

So this is what you do: Preheat the oven to 350F; trim off any extraneous ends (or don’t, it probably doesn’t make any difference). Line up the corn on a cookie sheet:

rawcorn

… and stick it in the oven for 30 minutes. I had something else going in the oven so it was at 400F for about half the time. No harm, no foul. Once time has elapsed remove it:

cookedcorn

… and you have perfectly cooked ears of corn. Surprisingly, the outer husks cool almost immediately, but to peel off the very inner layers I had to protect my hands with an oven mitt or paper towel. Voila:

huskedcorn

… a perfectly cooked ear of corn. Delicious and juicy, with no cauldron required.

Hamilton

Earlier this year my husband told me the most brilliant marketing decision in the past hundred years was not including the word rap in publicity for Hamilton. Because the kind of people who buy broadway tickets would eschew anything rap.

“What’s Hamilton?”

“A rap musical about Alexander Hamilton.”

“Rap musical? The Alexander Hamilton?”

“Yes– it’s hugely successful.”

“It sounds ridiculous.”

I didn’t give it another thought until I kept seeing references to the musical and articles about it. Brilliant! A work of genius! Shattering all barriers! Okay, I decided, let me listen.

Before I proceed further let me explain I’m a classical music snob. If it’s not classical, I don’t really consider it music. I can enjoy popular songs and find them interesting, emotionally moving, but music… not really. I guess it’s the difference between the Costco food court and a Michelin rated restaurant. It might taste good, but is it really food in the foodie sense? Plus, I have a distaste for musicals in general. I find them stupid and maudlin, with a handful of exceptions: I love most songs from Jesus Christ Superstar and “I’ll Cover You” from Rent is cute.

As it happens the entire soundtrack for Hamilton is available in spades on youtube. I listened to the show in full and have to admit I was surprised. If you’re going to create a rap musical this is as good as it’s going to get. Composer Lin-Manuel Miranda creates an extremely clever, catchy blend of rap, melodic, and traditional musical fodder. But that’s about as far as it went for me: clever. In fact when all was said and done I felt I’d just spent two hours listening to advertisement jingles (beware, like commercial jingles these songs get stuck in your head!). My favorites being “Right Hand Man,” “Guns and Ships,” and “Hurricane.”

So I fail to see what all the hoopla is about. $1000 a ticket? Seriously? I mean it’s a cute show but not the second coming. Though if I recall correctly, there was hysteria over Rent, which I also found lame. I think Steven Sondheim is kind of lame too (although my girls love, LOVE Into the Woods).

I would like to see this one day, as I’m curious how exactly it’s staged. There are paltry live clips anywhere that I can find, but instead of taking the ferry I’ll wait until it’s on PBS. And if Mr. Miranda is out there taking requests, I’d love to see a rap musical version of Vikings. Now that I might pay good money to see.

The Terminator

Somehow I managed to reach the tender age of 42 never having viewed The Terminator. I’d seen one of the later iterations, and more recently my husband forced me so sit through Terminator Genisys (a painful experience). Since his company has put out some Terminator books, I decided to finally watch the original version to see what exactly has been paying the catholic school tuition.

  • There are a lot of car chases and gunfire. At least 80% of the movie contains either a car chase, or gunfire. It gave me a headache.
  • While Linda Hamilton is a decent actress, the Sarah Connor character utterly lacks gravitas. Her pet iguana has more depth. No way can I believe the savior of humanity issues from her loins.
  • Michael Beihn is very good as Kyle Reese, the hardened time-traveling soldier sent through time to rescue Sarah. The love story between them is kind of sweet, and in theory could occur in an infinite loop.
  • Arnold is brilliant as the terminator. What stage presence! And hardly any lines. I asked my husband how he was cast for the role, and he says James Cameron got the idea for a near-silent character from Conan the Barbarian, where Arnold likewise barely speaks.

conan-the-barbarian-arnold-schwarzenegger-movie-image
strong silent type

  • I find it impossible to believe a ragtag, starving army of humans would have any chance against robots and cyborgs. If the robot apocalypse ever does transpire, we’re toast.
  • On that note, the portrait of humanity portrayed in The Terminator is so grim (note how Sarah is mistreated as a waitress) one wonders why it’s worth saving.
  • Squishing the terminator works, but blowing him up multiple times with nitroglycerin doesn’t work. This doesn’t make sense.
  • Why does Sarah embark to Mexico to wait out the robot apocalypse? If anything life will be worse in post-apocalyptic Mexico than in the states, particularly for a single woman traveling alone. In fact, life is so dangerous for women along the border that female migrants go on birth control so they won’t get pregnant when (not if) they’re raped during the crossing.
  • Where did Sarah get the money for the new vehicle and german shepherd? My sister’s german shepherd cost nearly $2000.

So, would I recommend this film? I guess, if only because it has grown iconic to our society. For example, I never knew the precise context of “I’ll be back” until now. As my husband informed during the final credits: My dear, you’ve officially been inducted to geekdom.

The Accidental Vegan Baby

Back when I was vegan, I never expected my kids to be vegan. I made chicken and scrambled eggs for them on a regular basis, and they devoured blocks of cheese like locusts while I enjoyed my quinoa. In fact, one of my 17 year old’s first words was “cheeeeeeese.” Of course those days are long gone as I’m now a hardcore, low carb carnivore. I rarely crack 30 carbs a day.

Thus it was with some chagrin that it recently dawned on me that my 20 month old has been, essentially, a vegan baby since he weaned. And if breastmilk doesn’t count as “an animal product” he’s been vegan since birth. No, I don’t have him on a lettuce diet. He’s just a terribly finicky little eater, as were all my children. He lives on guacamole, crackers, fruit, and water (he absolutely refuses anything but water in his bottle). Yes, I have offered him milk, cheese, lamb, bacon, chicken, steak, fish and mayonnaise!! He shoves it all away with an annoyed glare.

As you can see, he’s withering away from this plant based diet:

aleric070616

(Now that I’ve started allow me to spam you with more baby pictures:)

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If gobs of protein are so vital for human growth, why is he robust, beautiful, and healthy eating nothing but grain and avocados? I don’t have an answer, except for an opinion I’ve voiced previously on this blog. I think we humans are more like rats when it comes to food than we care to admit. We can thrive on just about anything- so long as it’s not outright poisonous or carcinogenic, and we don’t go overboard (or underboard (nothing like overuse of parentheses when writing!)).

So go ahead and enjoy your vegan diet, or your meat based diet, or your cookie diet (as long as you’re not diabetic!). Just take things in moderation and go for a long walk every now and then. And don’t forget to occasionally take a bath in the sink.