Thursday, March 31, 2011

Eat, Pray, Love and My Quest for Meditation

EPL is a very all or nothing sort of situation. As they used to say, you're either on the bus or off the bus, it's a very all or nothing polarizing sort of book. Some people love it with all their little hearts and others hate it with the firey burning of a thousand suns. Now, lest you think I am uninformed, remember, I'm a Women's Studies grad/dork so believe me, you're not going to really rock my world with cries of ZOMG! Privledge! I know, I got the memo, I get it, I agree. . .sort of [soapbox] look, she got paid as a writer to go on her globetrot to self improvement, I don't know that that's privilege so much as the paid writer's wet dream, I get that she's a white American woman with privilege but, that's my life too. It is what it is, people's stories shouldn't be suppressed due to their race, class, gender, religion, whatever, period. I get that it's easier for privileged people's stories to be told and I support the fight to even the playing field [/soapbox] but at the same time it doesn't stop EPL from having profoundly affected me in personal and life changing ways.

Anyway. The first time I read it, I was still smarting from my own divorce so I really related to the anguish, angst and general feeling of being lost. I really got what she said when she said, The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving. I too had my share of 2a bathroom sobbing and distressed conversations with god/dess/es. She gave me permission to figure out wtf I was doing with my life and her trip to India inspired me to really start my japa practice and start a regular personal practice in my life.

I'm re-reading it now and I just got paid for the privilege by AOL in the form of being paid to write a short summary for it for the honestly truly luxurious price of .10 a word (which is a lot for those of you who don't write for a living, bottom of the barrel writing pays less than a penny a word, on average I make about .07 a word which isn't bad) which will be out soonish. Now that I'm not a mess from the divorce/house buying process, I'm taking different things from it. Firstly, I love the Italy part, the idea of going to a country and speaking the language and just really enjoying the food, that's my jam. I would like to get to do that with France at some point. It gels very well with my efforts to enjoy food fully and to be present in the eating experience (which is a challenge for me) and for me I take it a step further and try to be mindful in my eating in terms of feeling how my body feels about it . . .which I suppose is a meditation in and of itself.

But it's her struggles with meditation that really resonate with me. It's really hard for me to sit with all of those anxious, crappy feelings and to really be present in those moments. I'd really rather jam some food down my throat, not get dressed and eat a metric ton of crap, thank you. But I'm trying to move away from that, as much as I can (and it's pretty uphill). I'm afraid to meditate completely solo at this point, there's too much stuff there that I don't feel comfortable exploring completely unsupervised. My methods by Buddhist standards would likely be considered "cheating" as one is supposed to stick your whole face into the experience without crutches. Luckily, I'm not a Buddhist and not interested in getting a rainbow body.

Deb's Method of Meditation:

1. Keep it short. This is not an endurance test, you're not getting graded, champ.

2. Put on sound machine, which is set to ocean.

3. Get in bed at bedtime in pjs. This is the time of day where my hamsters/monkey mind are going buckwild so it's when I need it most.

4. Do japa practice (which is technically meditation anyway)

5. Close eyes. Go to my night time beach in my head. Sit down next to my totem guide (who is in person form), Crow. Watch the waves for a minute, see Yemaya in the distance. Put head on Crow's shoulder.

6. Start counting breaths. Only go to ten and then start over. It's harder than it sounds for a spaz like me. Try to let thoughts drift naturally and not judge them. Likely fail at that part and start to get torqued. Crow will offer gentle guidance* or gently bring me back to breath counting.

7. Do until sleep.

8. Sleep.


* Crow is not a gentle spirit totem per se but generally if I'm getting "schooled" it's more like: Him: Don't do that dumb thing. Me: WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU BECAUSE I'M DOING THAT DUMB THING! . . .oh shit, things are not going well. Halp! Halp! I will stop doing that dumb thing! Him: I told you so.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Recipe Monday: Stuffed Baby Artichokes

Making baby stuffed artichokes is surprisingly not a huge pain in the ass, I made them as an appetizer during the week, but this could definitely serve as a dinner or lunch easily.

1 carton baby artichokes (my wegman's had it, trader joe's sometimes does, anyplace fancy-shmacy will), prepped (see how here)
2 pieces of bread, made into breadcrumbs (directions found here)
3 pieces of pancetta, diced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup grated cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

First off, save yourself some heartache and it's better to snap off too many leaves than not enough. I learned this the hard way. Put the artichokes in a pot with enough water to cover them. Add salt, a dash of oil and the lemon juice. Cook on medium heat until boiling. Once boiling, cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Drain. Let cook for a few minutes until you can touch them without cussing. Then slice off the top tips of the artichokes (again, learned that the hard way. They're still a bit spiney) and then cut them in half. Heat the oven to 400. Arrange them in a baking pan cut sides up. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix breadcrumbs, pancetta, parsley, oil and salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the artichokes. Cook for 15 minutes.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

On the Magic of Self Care

So, roles within our family are always changing and evolving. Motherhood has done something awesome to my sister in that she now can think calmly and rationally no matter how pissed off she is at someone, a skill I lack in the utmost of capacity. So now our conversations about estranged family that is making all the badness with my uncle in ICU go worse go something like this:

Me: (screams a bunch of psycho rabid dog stuff about our estranged family)
She: (calmly agrees with what I said but rightly points out x, y and z as to why we need to get along with them)
Me: (begrudging agreement because she is now the saner sister)
She: Now go grind some meat* and feed Jow dinner. Also, jinx family member Z.
Me: . . .really?
She: Yeah I'm co-signing. Go make a doll and call him Fredo and do what you need to do.

When everything is falling apart hardcore, it's the little things that are pleasing. Just planning all the jinx-y inconveniences I would do to Fredo (syph! get caught in all his lies! Never drive a nice car!) made me feel better, better enough that if Fredo has any bad low level luck, well, maybe it's my fault in a low level Malocchia sort of way but not in a super intentional sort of way.

Self care, real self care (not just in the form of a pizza or whatever other comfort food you can jam down your throat) during a time of crisis is hard to come by, especially when you come from a family of do'ers who like to burn themselves out. But it's important, even vital to the process.

When contemplating self care, I also contemplate how maybe this time/energy should be put into magic. But the more I thought about it, past trying to do my japa practice, send reiki and make some heart felt petitions/novenas to Our Lady of Guadalupe, it just hasn't felt right. I'm a mess, I'm not thinking clearly and the world as I know it may be changing in drastic, permanent and sad ways. Sometimes, past prayer. . .in my opinion, magic just isn't the answer. A shocking view among us here on our corner of the blogosphere, I know. If I were a "proper" magic user (whatever that is right?), I wouldn't be daunted! Nay! I would gather my magical tools and beat god/dess/es in a show of SHEER FORCE OF WILL! I will win this, universe!

Except . . .I can barely manage to shower (fibro during times like this? Also not awesome), how exactly am I going to show the universe who's the bitch in this relationship? And here's another phrase that is supremely unpopular among magic users (including Jow on most days), I can't.

Yep. That's right.

I can't.

I mean for me, firstly, honestly, because I don't believe I can best the universe in a pissing match for it is much bigger than me but *mostly* because I don't have the will. And magic is all about will. Dorking out, in White Wolf roleplaying games, Willpower plays a role in your character sheet. If you're playing Vampire**, willpower is so important that if you lose all your willpower, you will immediately go into a vampire frenzy and will be unable to see logic or reason and kill everything in your path. And in WW's Mage, willpower can affect your ability to cast a spell. At the risk of sounding like someone who believes that D&D is truefax, I think it's true in real life spell casting.

In WW, you can regain your willpower points which helps you be more effective through various methods. I will share here some of mine:

- Sleep. Sleep works like whoa. Sleep makes you a lot more sane, calm and rational.

- Cooking. Even if it's baking bread in the bread machine, making something from scratch start to finish gives me a sense of accomplishment. I find also making a full meal with fresh ingredients and eating healthy foods help too.

- Bitching. Not to the point where it becomes word vomit but to the point where you can release it as best as possible.

- Exercise. It gives you a place to put your aggression.

- Mind Rotting TV. I always feel better after an episode of Intervention or 16 and Pregnant. My problems seem downright manageable afterward.

- Focus on things you can control. I personally focused on teeth whitening and self tanning as well as my spring looks.

Sometimes I feel like I could be doing something super awesome right now with my time but the truth is, it's hard enough to get through the day. And that's okay. Regaining willpower through self care is a necessary and dare I say sacred act and right now that trumps just about everything but what I am using to deal with my fam's medical crisis. It would be nice to be having a grand time of it right now, it's spring, sort of, I have ideas and plans for things I'd like to do and wouldn't it be fun to be dressed nice and go someplace awesome and do something spontaneous? It sure would be! But it's not where I am. And owning where you are makes it possible for you to get to the next place, which will hopefully be better. Where ever that is.

* When I went through my divorce, using my meat grinder attachment on my MixMaster was one of the few things that kept me remotely sane. It was weirdly therapeutic, I don't know, I guess the Sweeney Todd aspect of it or whatever. If you have a MixMaster but no meat grinding attachment, buy one right now. I mean it. It will change your life.

** I want that 20th Anniversary Ed of Vampire: the Masquerade so bad I can taste it and I don't care who knows!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Recipe Monday: Spinach for Your Face

Okay, part of what's been hindering Recipe Monday besides other life stuff going on is that (a) I'm getting bored of the retro cookbooks I have (vintage cookbook donations welcome!) and (b) I thought that the recipes I made all needed to have like magical meaning instead of just being food for your faces on a weeknight. From now on, if I have a magical purpose in mind, we'll discuss. Otherwise, recipes ahoy!

Spinach, Chickpeas and Tomatoes With Dressing

1 bag fresh spinach
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 plum tomatoes, cut into eighths
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup feta cheese
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
2 tablespoons dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in stock pot on medium heat on the stove. Saute the onion until it's softened (for a brief video explanation see here) and then start adding the spinach until it's melted down enough that the whole bag is in the pot and none of the spinach is raw anymore (for a brief video explanation, see here). Add chickpeas, tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, the white wine, salt and pepper, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and the garlic while stirring. Cook covered for 10 minutes.

While the pot is cooking, put the 1/2 teaspoon of cumin, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, yogurt and parsley together with salt and pepper to taste and stir. Serve the dressing over the spinach mixture and eat with pita.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pizza and Dead People

But first, real life. My uncle is in the hospital in ICU right now. This has been difficult for my family for a lot of reasons. a) If he passed, that would leave my uncle fatherless at 19. No one I knew who is part of the "dead dad" club who lost their father around that age came out unscathed. My cousin . . . is troubled would be the kindest way to put it and he has a lot of things working against him. He *just* started to pull his shit together a month ago. If my uncle passed, it would be a one way trip down the spiral, hard. We all can see it. (b) For Italians, we're a small family. We're still rocked from losing half of M.'s family two years ago unexpectedly. We only have (1) baby on that side. It would just . . .make us that much more inconsolable. There's only like 14 of us now total.

When we first got the news that he was in ICU, we had no information. Generally I take point in these kinds of situations, but my sister wanted to go and she's an adult now so I wanted to give her the chance. I wanted me to have the chance to stay behind and tend to the home fires and take care of her kid. I could be patient and calm and wait.


Apparently family roles exist for a reason. If it was a movie, it would almost be comical, me at home with her child screaming and inconsolable, me looking stricken and gasping in panicky breaths, pacing and pacing, at a loss with nothing to do but sit on my hands and try futilely to get the baby to calm down. She at the hospital, stricken and overcome by the sight of my vibrant uncle, hooked up to so many tubes and machines that she didn't know how she would handle it and didn't know what to do with my mother or the situation. Both of us whispering to each other through text we chose wrong, this isn't what we're good at, not at all.

Since then, we've gotten a routine. Every other day either she goes with my mother to the hospital two hours away and I stay home with her kid or vice versa. I grill the nurses, nag my mother. She does my uncles laundry and replaces household items.

We're getting there. He's getting better, little by little. We're not out of the woods yet but the outcome looks promising at least.

My sister and my mother are troopers. I'm not strong like they are, I've been sleeping til noon, exhausted. My sister cares for her kid, my mom goes to work. But I hope that when I take a little time to breathe and recharge, I can help them do the same, have a clear head to help find answers, make them take breaks, etc. The days are long, going til midnight every other day.

I haven't been able to light a novena candle yet, but I think about it a lot, Our Lady of Guadalupe sitting serenely on my altar and I think about Her prayer that I don't know by heart but know the gist of and lighting the candle in my head and hope that it counts, almost as much. My japa practice has become erratic, but I think about that a lot too and say a few mantras when I can remember. I think about the rosary in one of my uncle's mittens, prayed on by so many of my ex-aunt's family members. I try to pray before bed, try to go to my internal meditation space and clean that out since I haven't had the time to in my actual home. I think about asking to go to Umberto's tonight, my father's favorite pizza place out in NY. So much so that when he passed, a cousin ribboned a box beautiful and displayed it at his wake. We go there, whenever we go to the cemetery, whenever we go to a wake, sometimes when we're leaving the country out of JFK, sometimes just when we're visiting my uncle and we can be happy as a family. But mostly I think about pizza and dead people and how it's a part of our pilgrimage to visit our beloved dead, just like the shitty diner in south Jersey we go to when we visit my dad's grave where we always order pancakes and burgers.

My mom is my family's keeper of the dead, I guess that's where I get it from but she's hardcore. She specializes in what I call "drive by cemetery visits". She's got a wreath in her hand, twine, scissors, whatever she finds around the cemetery to help hold up wreaths, flowers, palms, she's the MacGyver of the Cemetery. She knows where everyone's buried and has inscrutable markers in her brain that helps her find whoever. She does drive bys because she'll decide on a day's notice that that is what she's doing and then gets put out when I can't decide on a whim (and really, who decides to drive two hours to either cemetery on a whim? Fran [our last name], that's who.) to go visit all of our beloved dead. Sometimes I think I'm too soft and squishy because I get all emotional and shit about this kind of stuff, but when it comes down to doing, I can get through it all nice and neat like my mom does, once I'm there. It's just getting there. But I'm learning, or at least trying to because some day this will be my job. We have the same organized brain though and the same black humor. We talk about where everyone's buried like normal people talk about files. I explained my eventual plan to get everyone in one general area in a mausoleum all nice and neat and she laughs ("We'll just move Dad and put him like across the street from Grandma and Grandpa and then everyone will be organized, right Ma? Keep everyone close and nice and tidy!"). So I go with her and she tells me family secrets off handedly (it's the only way to get them out of her) and I try to figure out the bunny trail of our beloved dead. I'm learning. Slowly. And then we get a slice of sicilian and try the Arancini di Riso and head home, back to central New Jersey, back and forth between life and the dead as sure as an abacus.

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Not So Secret Life

So, as you all know, I write smut in part to make a living. In case you're curious about my other life, a copy of my short story Party Girl can be bought for a mere $1.25 in Kindle or PDF format.

Writing a review in Amazon guarantees you a place in Pagan heaven, the kitten gods told me so!

The description: Amaretto martinis, sashimi, a hot tub, and an anything-goes attitude make for a wildly sexy party. But despite her best efforts, she can't seem to stop missing her lover. Things heat up for our heroine when the lover unexpectedly arrives to find her alone outside under the stars!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Radio Silence

I will likely not be posting for a bit including recipe Mondays due to real life being under construction :) Getting work life in order.