OOC: Avocados are not pudding.

OOC stands for “out of character.” This blog isn’t a fitness or food blog, but I need to write about this experience, and by god I’m going to use my blog to do it.

I’ve been feeling pretty down about my weight and body image recently. I completed my fourth half marathon a week and a half ago, but that still doesn’t make me feel any better about my no-longer-flat stomach or the number on the scale.

So in an attempt to feel better about my body, I’ve been looking into clean eating diets, food prep ideas, and substitutions for sugary snacks that don’t help with weight loss. Between a friend who just had a great experience on Whole30 and another who has had a good experience with a detox, surely I could find something that works for me, right?

I found a two-week clean eating challenge from Buzzfeed one day while looking for recipes, and the tab sat open on my phone’s browser for weeks. As soon as I finish this half marathon, I thought, I’m going to try this clean eating diet.

But the longer I looked at the diet, the more nervous I got. It was a pretty big commitment. So, I googled the plan. And found some reviews of it.

That’s right, reviews of a clean eating challenge posted by Buzzfeed in 2015.

There were two consistent aspects of the reviews that gave me further pause: the cost of buying all the food, and the time it takes to prep all of it. Healthy food costs more, we all know this. But almost every meal is different, meaning that even if you’re making the meals for one like the recipes call for, you have to buy different ingredients for every one. That adds up, especially when you’re buying dates, pistachios, avocados, and portobello mushrooms. The time commitment was also alarming. With an estimate of over 20 hours to prep all these meals, the reviewers had zero social lives. One barely even had time to work out, let alone hang out with anyone.

With these two red flags flapping in my face, I ultimately didn’t decide to take on the whole challenge.

Thank god.

Because I did go ahead and try a couple recipes from the challenge. I kept the browser tab open and looked forward to blackberry chia seed pudding for breakfast and trying the delicious-looking chocolate avocado pudding.

Maybe I’m just not into healthy puddings. Because those two recipes sucked.

First, the chia seed pudding. I hate putting blackberries into any recipes, not because I don’t like them, but because I love them so much I want to eat them unaltered in their beautiful full-berry state. So having to crush up a handful of blackberries was hard, but I did it. It looked like jam, and I like blackberry jam, so I was okay with it. I added the chia seeds, the almond milk, the coconut, stirred it all up and set it in the fridge to be enjoyed in the morning. The next morning, I grabbed a spoon, stirred up the pudding (it looked a little thin), and dove in.

Blech.

It tasted like milky blackberry jam. And nothing else. It wasn’t thick enough to be satisfying, and it wasn’t sweet enough to make up for the lightness. It was just bland. I ate the whole thing and was starving for the rest of the morning.

So chia seed puddings aren’t my thing, fine. What about this chocolate avocado pudding? Avocados probably make for a great consistency, and who doesn’t love healthy chocolate?

No one. No one loves healthy chocolate. Because it’s disgusting.

I whipped up this “dessert” tonight. What a waste of an avocado. I froze half of the avocado earlier this week so it was ready to go. I dumped it into the blender. In went the almond milk, the cocoa powder, the vanilla, the date. Then I hit “blend.” Yikes. Frozen avocados are hardcore–and I have a hardcore blender. So I blended and blended, then scraped down the sides, then blended some more. Finally, it looked like pudding, so I scraped it out into a bowl… and noticed it was studded through with chunks of avocado and date. Okay, I thought, I’ll just eat around the chunks. Most of it got blended together, so I’m sure the flavors are right. Dear god, I hope those flavors weren’t right, because it smelled like chocolate, but it tasted like avocado. I take that back, it tasted like bad avocado. It was bitter and cold, and it smelled wonderful, which just made it worse.

What’s sad, is that this pudding recipe made with a frozen banana instead of an avocado is probably delicious. Banana ice cream is good because bananas are sweet. Avocados are not sweet. They go on toast and tacos. Not dessert. Not with chocolate.

I read another Buzzfeed article recently about a woman who cut added sugar out of her diet for 30 days, like a less strict Whole30. The tagline of the article is, “No added sugars, no artificial sweeteners, no fake sugars, no honey, no agave, no syrup, no joy.” That’s what this clean eating challenge sounded like. And, from what I experienced, it’s what it tasted like, too.

Eating healthy is hard. Cutting out sugar is hard. Cutting out carbs is hard. But you shouldn’t be miserable while trying to eat healthy. Try healthy foods, and stick with the recipes you like. I love the Thug Kitchen Cookbook, which is nothing but vegan recipes. I discovered this morning that I like blended oat smoothies. I like salads with homemade dressing and home baked sweet potato fries. All of these things are good for me, and they taste great. There’s no reason to cut joy out of your diet for the sake of a flat stomach. That saying “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”? That’s bullshit. Cake tastes better than zipping yourself into skinny jeans.

Eat a piece of cake, run a couple miles, and be happy.

And don’t make pudding out of avocados.

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EXPeriencing ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood [The Novel]

Cover image via.

I had always heard Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was a disconcerting dystopian novel. Nothing encouraged me to pick it up, though. It was simply a book written before I was born about some hypothetical “What if.”

And then Donald Trump was elected president, a man who multiple women have accused of sexual assault, and yet he gets to sit in the Oval Office and enact laws (or attempt to). If anything is illustrative of white male privilege and the need for feminism, it’s this, our new reality.

“I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.”

Knowing things could somehow still be worse, and having seen previews for the Hulu adaptation, I asked my sister to buy The Handmaid’s Tale for me for my birthday.

I read the book on my deck in the warm sun. I read it snuggled on my couch under cozy blankets. And yet, I couldn’t quite shake the chill that crept up my spine with every page.

Atwood thrusts you into the life in the new United States–Gilead–a nation that has been taken over by a religious right that strips women of their rights. They are no longer able to own property, make their own decisions about money, or even read. Women (the lucky ones? It’s hard to say.) are classified into three categories: Wives, Marthas (housekeepers), and Handmaids (breeders). Human reproduction has plummeted, and now Handmaids, those women with the most viable reproductive systems, are tasked with conceiving children. Not for themselves, but for the families they are tied to.

“You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, is what he says. We thought we could do better.

“Better? I say, in a small voice. How can he think this is better?

“Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some.”

You almost want to read the novel at arm’s length. The main character, Offred, describes things with almost detached interest that makes you similarly want to detach yourself. But you can’t. Especially when Offred tells the reader, “I don’t want to tell this story.”

Those parts, the parts Offred doesn’t want to tell you, are where the novel gets too real. The flashes of life before Gilead are an America that looks remarkably similar to our own. There are subtle, slow changes that are easy to overlook, that everyday citizens think they’ll work through. But then it’s too late and too much is different and resistance isn’t just a hashtag or a march but a death sentence.

Offred’s tale isn’t one of information and facts, but of humanity and emotions that can’t be undone by a religious regime. It shows the dangers of a few at the top holding all the power, and how the erasure of science and reason in favor of piety can have devastating consequences for society.

The world of The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t as far away as it should be. But living Offred’s story through her eyes ensures I will fight tooth and nail to keep that reality far, far away.

“But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”

EXPeriencing ‘Power Rangers’

Cover image via.

I was born in 1989, which means I grew up watching Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and was a die hard fan. I don’t know anyone I grew up with who wasn’t a Power Rangers fan, because all kids are Power Rangers fans. Not all kids may be Might Morphin’ fans, but since some iteration of Power Rangers has been on air for 24 seasons, if you’ve watched TV as a child at some point starting in 1993, you are a Power Rangers fan.

So of course when the 2017 live action Power Rangers came out, I was going to go see it with my husband, who also grew up a Mighty Morphin’ fan (although we do differ in our opinion of best/favorite Ranger. I’m for Pink/Kimberly, obviously, and he’s a Green/Tommy fan.). We didn’t have high expectations. I mean, have you actually watched a Power Rangers show as an adult? It’s terrible. Which is why kids love it.

But let me tell you, I was pleasantly surprised. A better word would actually be thrilled. Or delighted.

Because Power Rangers was fucking awesome.

I said this on Facebook, but it bears repeating: You know when movie reviewers say “It’s the most fun you’ll have at the movies all [season]”? Yeah, that’s Power Rangers. If you were born between 1985 and 1993 and watched Power Rangers on TV, this is one of the most fun movies you will ever see.

One of the things that surprised me the most was that the story line is well done. (I know, I set the bar pretty low.) The plot made sense, and the characters’ small town teenage problems were both believable and current. They’re dealing with stuff teenagers nowadays deal with, particularly as it applies to the internet and social media.

The characters were also believable, and thankfully diverse. When Alpha 5 (the Rangers’ robot trainer buddy) first meets the Rangers when they’ve gotten their power coins, he says, “Different colors, different kids, different colored kids!” he’s not kidding. They could have taken it a little farther by not making Jason, the Red Ranger, white and blond, but you know. Hollywood.

The best part about Power Rangers is the very deliberate but judicious camp. As I said, the original Might Morphin’ Power Rangers series is terrible. It’s so campy it’s hard to watch if you’re older than 8. But the camp is what makes it undeniably Power Rangers, and the 2017 movie pays respectful tribute to that without hurting the overall quality of the movie. It ramps up the nostalgia factor, and there’s one part in particular that had the entire back row of the theater I was in—all couples in our mid-to-late 20s—laughing so hard in delight we were almost cheering.

This iteration of Power Rangers was made for two audiences: kids who are currently fans of Power Rangers, and millennials who are paying big for nostalgia and reliving our childhood. Power Rangers delivered some serious nostalgia, and it was a fun and well-made action movie. If you’re looking to relive your childhood, I highly recommend going to see Power Rangers.

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I like their new suits. Don’t @ me. (Image via.)

EXPeriencing ‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith

Cover image (and a more comprehensive review) via.

As an introduction to Zadie Smith, Swing Time may not have been the best choice. While I did enjoy the novel, Goodreads comments tell me it’s not as good as her earlier White Teeth or On Beauty.

That said, as a standalone novel without the comparison to Smith’s other works, I thought it was a fascinating coming-of-age tale of two girls—one who fancies herself a dancer, and one who truly has talent—who become women with quite different lives. From the narrator and her best friend’s childhood dance classes, to the narrator’s work and subsequent dismissal from her job as a pop star’s assistant, Smith jumps back and forth in time to paint a picture of how two similar childhoods can become very different adulthoods.

One of my favorite narrative elements of Swing Time is that the narrator remains unnamed throughout the entire novel. I find this to be a masterful storytelling technique, that 400 pages can go by, you know the entire life of a character, and yet, you never learn her name. This of course is a far cry from many of the stories I tried to write as a teenager that started with my main character examining herself in the mirror so as to perfectly describe her features before her mother calls her name telling her to come downstairs…

I also found Swing Time to be an important read simply because most of the main characters are people of color. In our new America, it’s more important than ever to read books about brown women written by brown women.

It’s taken me a while to write about Swing Time, and in the time since I read it, the characters haven’t really lived with me. I finished the book and they faded from my thoughts rather quickly. The story sucked me in, but it spit me out pretty fast.

If you like coming-of-age novels and want to read more books by and about people of color, I do recommend Swing Time, but maybe start with another one of Zadie Smith’s novels if you’re more curious about the author’s storytelling than this story’s characters.

Fight, Resist, Rebel… and Rest

Cover image via.

When I started listening to NPR a few years ago, I never thought there would be a day where I just had to turn it off because I couldn’t bear to hear one more horrible thing about what’s happening in our country. I never thought I would go on Facebook and Twitter and be so overwhelmed by news that I would have to hold back tears because it felt like a mountain of animosity was sitting on my shoulders.

But today was that day. I nearly flung my phone away from me at lunch with despair. It was only after listening to Beyoncé and Les Mis really loudly in my earbuds at work and not allowing myself to look at the news that I felt better.

I was alarmed by the crushing despair and anxiety that hit me today. I suffer from depression, so the feeling itself wasn’t new. But the energy and enthusiasm and drive I had felt since the Women’s March evaporated almost immediately, only to be replaced with hopelessness. It was such a drastic emotional shift that I really struggled to get back to normal.

This is when all those self-care tweets you’ve been seeing actually start to make sense. You see people saying to take time for yourself, log out of social media, take a bath, watch a movie. But how can you when the Trump administration does something insane every half hour? Trust me: you can. You need to.

The only way we’ll be ready to secure the House and Senate for Democrats in 2018 is if we have the energy to support Democratic candidates for those offices in the run up to elections. The only way we get the current president out of office in 2020 is by having the strength the come together as a party and elect a qualified candidate. And, let’s be real, the only way we can continue to even watch the news over the next four years and protest and rally and fight for America is if we have the energy.

You only have energy if you take care of yourself. Don’t look at social media for an hour before you go to bed. Read a book. A YA book. Re-read Harry Potter. Watch comedies that have nothing to do with politics. Don’t check your phone during the movie. Binge cooking shows. Eat cookies while watching baking shows. Exercise. Eat more cookies.

Whatever you want to do to rest and recover, don’t feel guilty about it. Listen to yourself. Now, when you’re fighting for the freedoms and rights of all Americans and feel like the world rests on your shoulders, let the weight off a little and do something for yourself that feels good. I promise you’ll feel better.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a book to go read.

A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance

Cover photo art by Hayley Gilmore and is available for download along with her other designs! Thank you, Hayley!

Well it’s been a bit of a week, I’d say.

outside-hamilton

Me at Hamilton in Chicago.

On Wednesday, January 18, I saw Hamilton in Chicago with my best friend. It’s hard to put the experience into words (without a lot of superlatives). After listening to the Hamilton Soundtrack for nearly a year and the Hamilton Mixtape since it was released in December, I thought I knew the show pretty well. And it’s true, 90% of what’s on the soundtrack is in the show.

But there’s a reason why musicals are more than just concerts. Everything that’s happening on stage is incredible. From the minimal, rotating set, to the company dancing, to the inflections and movements of the actors, each bit of visual candy creates a richer experience than just blasting the soundtrack in your car every day.

Even though we saw the Wednesday matinee, we saw all the main cast: Miguel Cervantes as Alexander Hamilton, Ari Afsar as Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, Karen Olivo as Angelica Schuyler, Chris De’Sean Lee (a junior in college) as Lafayette/Jefferson, and the new Aaron Burr, in his second day of shows, Wayne Brady. I had my doubts about Brady as Burr, but rest assured, he was incredible. So many goosebumps in “Wait For It.”

The best thing about Hamilton, though, is what makes it so amazing no matter what form you watch or listen to it in: the history of our country’s founding is told through performances by diverse men and women who more accurately reflect today’s America. It was comforting and empowering to see people of color performing roles previously occupied by white men and women telling a story about a country—our country—that fought for its freedom.

But that fight continues today.

It was a unique experience to see Hamilton just two days before America’s first black president left office, only for that office be taken over by the man we must now call President. I couldn’t bear to watch the inauguration and see our country slide backwards.

So when the inauguration ceremony kicked off, I was at the movies watching Hidden Figures, a story of the black women who helped get America’s astronauts into space. What an incredible film! I had never heard the story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and all the black “human computers” who worked at NASA in the early 1960s. Not once. To paraphrase a black woman’s post on Facebook about the movie: “I was moved to tears by the movie and so proud of these women. But I’m also angry that I was never taught about these women and others like them. What would have been the trajectory of my life if I’d known of them?”

I, too, am angry and feel a sense of betrayal that I never once learned about these women. I didn’t know they existed. To not teach little girls that women—specifically black women—helped get astronauts into space seems such an egregious oversight. All women and all minorities should have been looking up to Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary for the past 50 years, but we’re just now getting a movie? It’s not fair, especially not to black girls and women.

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A couple great Hamilton signs at the Women’s March in Indy.

And that is just one reason why on Saturday, January 21, I marched. I marched (or rallied, as it were, in Indianapolis) in my pink hat with a Planned Parenthood button on my Hamilton-Chicago t-shirt because of the inequalities we still face in this country. I marched because women don’t make equal pay for equal work. I marched because I’m afraid my access to affordable birth control is in jeopardy. I marched because I am afraid for the lives of the thousands of Americans who will lose their insurance without the Affordable Care Act. I marched because immigrants deserve the same rights as natural born American citizens. I marched because LGBTQ individuals face discrimination every day, particularly in Indiana. I marched because people of color face discrimination every day, no matter where they are. I marched because I believe in the power of women, not just the power of 3 million women and their friends yesterday who marched across the world, but the power of all of us moving forward to fight for what we believe in.

We will not go back. Let’s get to it, ladies.

womens-march

Love trumps hate, indeed.

EXPeriencing ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker

Cover image via.

Banned books, particularly those by women of color, always seem to be the most beautiful.

I have a long list of books to read on my Goodreads account, and when I was making my 2017 reading challenge, I decided it was high time I made a dent on that list. As I was scrolling through, I saw The Color Purple and I knew I had to make that one of my first reads of the year.

I’m so glad I did.

My previous knowledge about The Color Purple came from watching the 1985 movie version with Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Danny Glover. Watching it as a kid in the ’90s meant I didn’t quite understand what was happening other than Whoopi Goldberg’s character had a rough life and Danny Glover’s character wasn’t very nice.

Fast-forward 20+ years, and I’ve discovered there’s so much more to The Color Purple than I ever imagined.

The story is told in letters, mostly by Celie. The letters begin when she’s 14 and span her whole life. First they’re written to God, then to her sister Nettie. They depict an arduous life on sharecropper farms in the south. And Celie suffers. She is abused—physically, verbally, and emotionally—by her father, her husband, and the woman her husband loves. Through her letters, Celie recounts her relationships with her family and her friends in their small community, and how those relationships bloom and change throughout her life. Celie begins the novel as a down-trodden individual, but grows into a strong, confident woman. The transformation is slow over the decades, but every new letter reveals a new facet to Celie that we didn’t previously know.

I love how The Color Purple is written: in letters in Celie’s dialect. I’m sure reading dialect isn’t everyone’s favorite, but when it’s done well, as Alice Walker has done in The Color Purple, it tells a story like no one else could. It has to be Celie’s voice in her letters, and no proper grammar is going to get that job done.

The Color Purple is the second book by a black woman I have read in the past three months. In 2016, I read a whopping one book written by a black author. As an addendum to my 24-book reading challenge for 2017, I’m going to ensure that at least half of those books are written by women and men of color. Good books shouldn’t be dependent on the author’s ethnicity, but when all the books you read are by white people, it’s probably time to broaden your horizons. #WeNeedDiverseBooks isn’t just for children and young adults. Particularly as we head into this new US administration, it’s time to broaden our horizons and read books we normally wouldn’t by people with different backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions than us.

You may learn a thing or two.

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” —Alice Walker, The Color Purple