Legacies and Honeybees

I want to do something that may last beyond me.

I doubt my writing will.

Maybe it will, if I get much better at it than I am now.

But I think the world has moved on, and is moving faster.

I do not think many people alive today will “last” the way their creative ancestors did.

The world is so different now, and it will be so different.

There are so many voices saying so many things, and that will only grow.

We are no longer great marble statues, enduring through the ages.

At best, we’re a good meal: enjoyable, healthful, giving both pleasure and sustenance

Living on, if at all, in the growth and strength we give to those we nourish.

 

Perhaps I will plant some honeybee-friendly flowers on the edge of our yard,

Far from where my daughter likes to play,

Where their buzz is faint, and their stingers out of reach.

Perhaps I can give them some sustenance, some strength

So they can hold on as a species

Beekeepers struggle to sustain their numbers, often failing

Wild bees dwindle

The species skitters across the slippery slope to extinction

If the bees go, a million plants go with them

 

Perhaps I’ll do the same for butterflies.

But these flowers I’ll plant in the heart of our yard

So we can see their stingless beauty up close

Perhaps this means I’ll write less

But create more.

And I am at peace with that;

A life lived wholly before a screen

Is no life at all.

Shoveling “Stuff” (Getting My Life in Order)



 

If this is the year when I get my “stuff” together, well, I still have a lot of “stuff” to shovel and only 5 1/2 months to shovel it.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve done a lot this year so far specifically regarding myself:

  • Earned my Ph.D.
  • Gone Vegan, lost 20 pounds, and fixed some recurring digestive issues
  • Restarted this blog and posted to it faithfully five days a week

But there is still a lot to do.

There is SO MUCH wrong with the world. I can’t go on Facebook right now because I’m just overwhelmed. I find myself ruminating about so many things that need help, and then I end up not taking care of things in my own life.

Being fully present in each moment is a “big” thing and one that probably takes a lot of time and mental practice to do. However, I can start by

  • Not having a bunch of windows open at once on my computer
  • Turning my laptop off when I’m not using it, so I’m not tempted to pick back up at whatever I left off, especially social media and web pages
  • Dictating text as much as possible, using my wireless rig, not seated at or facing the computer.
  • Getting away from my computer unless I’m doing something that specifically requires it
  • Reading more print books and fewer articles
  • (Do you get the idea that technology is a problem for me?)

I’ll also try to more fully devote my time and attention to my daughter, and try to remove things that distract her attention (like cartoons). I work full-time, and I want to really have time to have a real relationship with my daughter, one that isn’t mediated through the TV. I also want to reserve enough time to talk to my wife and give my full attention to the aforementioned conversations.

Even if I don’t get to do some of the things I want to do, I think I need to prioritize giving full attention to both my wife and my daughter.

Swimming, dancing, running more (especially with my daughter)
She is only 3 once, and I won’t waste my limited time with her preschool self being subdivided and not really “there.”

Doing more things that require my hands, not just my fingers on a keyboard.
Like cooking. I like trying out new things, and new recipes.
That would be a calming creative outlet for me, and would help take some of the load off Katherine, too.

Finally, I need to turn my attention to more spiritual pursuits. I’ve always been a churchgoing, active, professing Christian, but I’ve recently learned about some spiritual practices that have ancient roots that most American protestants (myself included) have forgotten.

Three of these that I know I want to try are praying the hours (praying specific prayers at certain times of the day, though perhaps less specifically that the Catholic Church does it), following the church calendar and observing its seasons, and reading through the Bible following the Common Lectionary. The lectionary is used by millions, if not hundreds of millions, of Christians across the globe. In following it, I would be aligning my study with a host of fellow believers worldwide.

I need more sleep, more time outside, and more exercise.

I’ll get there. I’ve still got 5 1/2 months to go.

Twelve Word Tuesday: Medjool Dates

Cup_of_coffee_and_dates Creative Commons יעל י

Photo Creative Commons יעל י

 

Dessert’s Platonic Ideal. What Snickers want to be when they grow up.

Have you ever bitten into something so sweet, so cool, so wonderfully chewy that you just had to stop everything and just enjoy?

I have. It’s called a medjool date.

I always liked dates. I could occasionally get my hands on cubed, sugared dates as a kid. They were great, back then. When I went vegan a month and a half ago, I started eating pitted dates, and they were so much better. I really thought I’d hit the date jackpot.

Yesterday, I found un-pitted, medjool dates in the refrigerated section of Sam’s. Each date was about three times the size of any dates I’d ever had before.

I couldn’t wait to get home and try them.

No, seriously. I couldn’t wait. I bit into one on the way home, and I almost ran off the road it was so good.

Medjool dates are so much better than regular dates, I think they should introduce themselves as “dates, medjool dates” and have their own theme song and favorite drink.

I ate eleven of them on the way home (to be fair, it was a long drive). Numbers 1 through 10 were nothing short of divine. Number eleven was probably a date too far.

They were so rich, with a taste like caramel, but so much more real.

Candy bars are made in factories, with lots of additives and chemicals and such, and though they’re very sweet, you can taste the artificiality. These dates grew, and you can taste that, too.

If you’ve heard the story of Plato’s cave, he explains the difference between the world of mortals and the world of ideals, the world beyond, this way: we are all in a cave, watching shadows cast upon a wall. We can tell a lot by the shadows, but we can’t turn around to see what’s casting them.

Well, when I bit into that date, I got to turn around. That’s what every date and every candy bar (going back to the dawn of desserts) wishes it could be.

Now, excuse me while I go eat some more dates, medjool dates.

 

Recipe: Idiot-Proof and Bachelor-Proof Super-Speedy Black Bean Burgers

So I just made these, and they were GREAT. My wife even said they tasted like beef burgers. That’s high praise from a non-vegetarian.

And I didn’t take any pictures because I devoured them too quickly to think about getting a camera, or even my phone.

I know it’s cookout season, but these will NOT hold together on a charcoal grill. These aren’t designed for the cookout, but for the quickout.

You know: you need a meal quickly, or you’re going to order takeout.

Or, as in my case: it’s late, I’m hungry, and I want a burger now! And there are no vegan burgers for sale in Poplarville, Mississippi, especially at this time of night.

These, like every recipe I’m likely to post, are super-easy. There’s nothing raw, dangerous, or delicate in this recipe. If you smell smoke, flip the burgers or take them off the skillet.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 can black beans
  • ½ cup old fashioned oatmeal (quick oats will probably work, too*)
  • Teriyaki sauce (you can use soy if you prefer)
  • Montreal Steak Seasoning (or your favorite seasonings)
  • [Use the low-sodium beans, teriyaki, and seasonings when you can, for the sake of both health and flavor].

Directions:

  1. Rinse the black beans thoroughly
  2. Smoosh together the black beans and the oatmeal. Smooshing is like kneading, but less bread-y.
  3. Spray a pan with non-stick coating, or coat a skillet with olive oil (a thin layer), and set it to medium heat
  4. As you smoosh the beans and oatmeal together, add teriyaki until the consistency seems “right.” It should be moderately juicy, neither wet nor dry. Err on the side of using too little teriyaki.
  5. Smoosh in some Montreal Steak Seasoning, to taste. Err on the side of using too little.
  6. Form into three large patties, between ½ and 1 inch thick
  7. Sprinkle seasoning onto the outside of the patties. Again, just use a little.
  8. Put the patties into the skillet, which should be nice and hot by now
  9. Cook them for 2-5 minutes (it will take less time if you use olive oil) until the bottom side is dark and a little crispy. Then flip them and cook until the other side is dark and a little crispy. The second side won’t take as long as the bottom took. You can eyeball this. You’re really just getting them warm and adding a little texture.
  10. Put the patties on your favorite buns and dress with your favorite condiments (or use whatever bread-like substance and toppings you have on hand). I like mayo (Vegannaise or Just Mayo are preferable), mustard, ketchup, and bread & butter pickles, on a traditional white hamburger bun. Nope, it’s not the healthiest, but it’s tasty. And it’s a whole lot healthier than eating a full pound of hamburgers.

The whole process takes about 15-20 minutes, from opening the can of beans to pulling the burgers off the skillet and onto buns.

It’s a low-skill process. Go easy on the teriyaki and seasonings, so it doesn’t get too salty. If you smell smoke, flip the burgers. There’s nothing raw, dangerous, or delicate in this recipe.

You can use a full cup of oatmeal, if you like, to stretch the burgers and make a larger batch. The burgers will actually hold together a little better this way, too.

Nutritional Information:

In the entire batch: Calories 480 Fat 5 Protein 32 Sugar 7** Fiber 28.

A pound of hamburger meat: Calories 810 Fat 26 Protein 40 Sugar 0 Fiber 0

So, 40% fewer calories and 80% less fat than unseasoned 80% ground chuck. And you get to eat more, since the bean burgers don’t cook down as much. If you use olive oil, you’ll add some fat and calories, but they’re at least the healthy kind.

Here’s the nutritional breakdown of the components:

  • Oatmeal 150 Fat 3 Protein 5 Sugar 1 Fiber 4
  • Beans 385 Fat 2 Protein 24 Sugar 0 Fiber 24
  • Teriyaki 45 Fat 0 Protein 3 Sugar 6 Fiber 0 (for 3 tablespoons, which is way more than you’ll actually use).
  • Seasonings 0 Fat 0 Protein 0 Sugar 0 Fiber 0
  • Olive Oil adds 120 calories and 14 fat per tablespoon absorbed by the burgers.

Notes:

*If you use Apple Cinnamon or Maple Syrup flavored instant oats, you’re braver than I am. Let me know how that turns out, will ya?

**If you’re worried about sugar, use soy sauce instead of teriyaki, and you’re down to 1 gram sugar (and 465 calories) in the whole batch.

 

Pray for Dallas and the Families of the Slain

This was a terrible, terrible tragedy.

We should pray for the families of all involved:

  • The offers who were killed
  • The officers who were wounded, and struggle to recover
  • The civilians who were shot
  • The family of the murderer, who by all appearances were ignorant of his terrible plans, and now have to wonder how the person they loved could do something like this
  • Pray for the whole city of Dallas, and for our nation. Pray for Baton Rouge and St. Paul, too.

Being a police officer is obviously a dangerous job. While some jobs (like logging and fishing) are more dangerous in terms of death and injury, police face the added psychological danger of active, malevolent violence.

It can’t be an easy job to do, and they all need our prayers.

Black and White

Becoming vegan was surprisingly easy. It was definitely low-risk.
Not like protesting in the streets.
It’s not going to get me fired, arrested, or shot
(Although as a 41 year old white man, that last one is pretty unlikely)

And I don’t know what to do about that.
I’m not willing to get fired, arrested, or shot.
(However unlikely that last one is)
I have a daughter to protect and provide for.
I have a wife I don’t want to leave.
And honestly, I don’t want to suffer.

So what can I do? What will I do?

We don’t live in a just world. Let’s put aside the shades of gray for just a minute and try to see the world in black and white:

Black people are far more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for selling drugs, even though white people are more likely to actually sell drugs

Black people are incarcerated at six times the rate of white people

Black college students have the same rate of getting jobs as white high-school dropouts.

Black men with no criminal records have the same rate of getting hired as white men fresh out of prison. It seems people expect black men to have criminal backgrounds.

Black people have been killed by police at over twice the rate of white people in 2015 and 2016 so far.
12% of the US Population, but 27% of the dead
306 out of 1146 killed in 2015
136 out of 561 killed in 2016
That’s almost a hundred people of all races, and 25 black people a month.
That’s almost three people a day, with a black person being killed almost every day.

If you’re wondering why your Facebook feed won’t stop blowing up with videos and reports of black men being shot down, it’s because it’s happening almost every day.

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were just two more in a long list of black lives cut down violently.

…Now, back to the shades of gray …

I’m still not willing to get fired, arrested, or shot.
But I’m willing to put my voice out there.
I’m willing to keep talking and writing about it
I’m willing to sign petitions
I’m willing to write to my various elected officials
I’m willing to consider this the most pressing issue our country is facing, and vote accordingly (even if I’m voting for someone I otherwise don’t like)

I’m willing to LISTEN to people who have LIVED this experience
I’m willing to admit that I’ll only ever know ABOUT these things, that I won’t ever KNOW them.

I’m willing to admit that I DON’T and CAN’T have the answers to these ongoing atrocities, and to LISTEN to black voices as they speak up:

  • Campaign Zero has outlined extensive, comprehensive solutions that address the problems of police militarization, community distrust, and disproportionate impact on the black community from a number of angles.
  • The black police union in St. Louis have started something powerful. They’ve released a 112 page report of what’s wrong with their department, and they’re calling on their chief to quit. This is a radical and almost unprecedented action, breaking the “blue wall” that shelters violent police officers and penalizes police who speak out. If other police groups join in, this could be the start of real and lasting change.
  • Also, be sure to pray for Officer Nakia Jones, who just called out the police responsible for Alton Sterling’s shooting. Pray that she isn’t harassed, doxxed, fired, assaulted, or worse.

I’m willing to admit how privileged I am to be in a position where I can choose to play it safe, and admit that it’s because I’m white.

I’m willing to say “Black Lives Matter.”

Because black people aren’t safe. And too many people treat them like they don’t matter.

And I’m willing to say their names, or at least a few of their names:
Alton Sterling
Philando Castile
Eric Garner
Sandra Bland
Tamir Rice
John Crawford III
Freddie Gray

And hundreds more.

Perseverance Strategy 1: Vegan for the Holidays

We had my wife’s side of the family over on Sunday and Monday, for a big Fourth of July celebration.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’m given to flaking out on things. I tended to pursue a diet, ethical eating plan, or round of “not eating dairy” for a few months at most. At some point, there would be a “special occasion,” whether a family get-together, a birthday party, or something at work…

… and I’d make an exception, just one exception…

…and then something else would come up, and I’d make an exception then, too…

And pretty soon, my plan had more holes in it than a cheesecloth.

It happened time and time again. So this time I decided not to make any exceptions for the party.

It was easier because we were hosting and Katherine would be in charge of the food. So we bought veggie burgers for the cookout, made some veggie spaghetti to go along with the meatballs, and made sure there were plenty of raw veggies, raw fruit, salad fixings, and baked potatoes.

I made it through without any obvious exceptions (I don’t think the marshmallows and margarine in the Rice Krispies Treats were vegan, so there may have been one flub) or major deviations.

And Tuesday, I didn’t have to get “back on track” because I never really got off track.

I felt a lot better than I usually do after these kinds of events, despite an unusually high amount of sun and swimming and an unusually low amount of sleep.

I plan to do this every single time an event comes up. I’ll bring my own lunch if I have to. I’ll socialize and visit and be a part of everything else, but I’ll hold to my own eating plan.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll make it this time.

Nobody Is Pure: Aligning My Actions with My Ethics

How do you live completely harm-free in a world as complex and interconnected as ours?

You don’t.

Even if you focus on present, ongoing harm and ignore past historical harms – a completely arbitrary decision – you still can’t find or fix everything.

We pay taxes to a government that does a host of bad things (anyone reading this, regardless of political leanings, can probably agree to that). Christians have instructions from the Master Himself to do so (“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” – Mark 12:17). We all have a gun literally pointed at our heads to make us pay.

We can’t even know the origins of all the things we put on or into our bodies or our vehicles.

What do we do? Well, we can vote, if we can find someone worth voting for. We can sign petitions and write letters to our representatives in state, local, and national government. We can protest and make our voices known.

And we can educate ourselves on the issues.

But is that enough? My taxes are still paying for drone strikes against civilians, and indefinite detention without trial (both happening on the CIA’s word, with nominal executive oversight and no due process), and so are yours, if you live in the U.S.

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:” (Romans 3:10 KJV)

But that doesn’t mean we can’t push back. It doesn’t mean we can’t find one little corner of our lives and push back against the cruelty, violence, and exploitation that have been baked into our governmental and economic systems, and the deception that hides them.

It just means that nobody, vegan, vegetarian, meat-eater, tax-dodge, pacifist, or soldier, can ever fully claim the moral high ground.

I know I surely can’t.

And I know that when I try to, I can end up hurting people I never intended to.

A wise long-term vegan told me that you can only go where your consciousness leads you. And that we should not be “holier than thou” with people whose consciousness (and consciences) aren’t leading them the same direction ours are.

And experience leads me to understand that nobody can care about everything at once. A single human being just doesn’t have the energy.

So, I’ll say this. Try some vegan dishes – some are very yummy – and see if you’d like to add them to your weekly meal rotation.
But beyond that, whatever your conscience is leading you to care about, care deeply, and act wisely.

And if I ever start acting holier-than-thou, let me know.

Twelve-Word Tuesday: Raw. Vegan. Not Gross

 

Laura Miller makes vegan un-cooking fun. Healthy, fun, self-deprecating, good for morale.

(Because nobody likes a pompous, overly-serious vegan. Seriously. If I ever get that way, hit me with a comment stick).

The videos are short, and they don’t really give you what you need to make the food, but the full recipes are available on her website, I Am Laura Miller.com

The recipes tend to require some “serious vegan foodie” ingredients, some of which I’m not entirely sure where to get here in rural south Mississippi. But the point of the videos for me are less to get recipe ideas as to just remind myself that being vegan can be fun.

You can find her videos just by going to YouTube and searching, or you can follow her YouTube channel.

If you want a very different style of fun vegan cooking videos, check out the “Vegan Black Metal Chef.”

You can watch his guest appearance (Halloween, naturally) on Raw. Vegan. Not Gross. below:

 

 

 

 

Meat-Free Monday: The Best Reason

There’s another reason that I’m going vegan, and it’s both a moral and a health reason: I want to be there for my daughter for as long as I can.

She’s 3. I’m 41. She should not have to bury her father anytime soon. Assuming she has kids, they deserve to get to know their grandfather.

Now, I’m not ticking off the time. Most of my recent male ancestors made it to 80 and beyond. One great-grandfather died young, at 59, from a heart attack.

But none of them (not even the one who died young) was fat. And, in case my profile picture and last Monday’s weigh-in haven’t tipped you off, I am.

Now, I’m all about body positivity, so when I say “fat,” I mean it descriptively, not pejoratively. I’m definitely a big deal.

And while the actual evidence about BMI and morbidity is a lot more complex than the diet pill pushers want you to believe: BMI is a terrible measure of health, to the point of “lying by scientific authority,” and the topic of weight and weight loss are so emotionally and financially fraught that they’ve developed their own mythology.

Read Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata and Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon to see how some of that mythology developed, and to see through some of it.
BMI balderdash aside, even at 6’7″ tall, it can’t be healthy to weigh 375 pounds.

And while diets have been repeatedly proven to not work in the long term, I promise I’m not dieting (I lost another 2-3 pounds this week, depending on how I stand on the scale, but I promise I’ve been sucking down food like a vegan vacuum cleaner), so I hope I can escape the almost certain re-gaining plus interest that comes after five years.

In all the health and weight talk, people often forget to mention one thing:mobility. I was slowing down. I was getting hurt more easily. It was getting harder and harder to keep up with my little girl.

And while I’m still not ready for the Olympics, I’m doing a lot better. It’s easier to get down to the floor and back up again, I move more quickly, I feel better, and I’m even healing a little faster. Swimming has helped, to be sure, and so has the lost weight, but I feel like my eating has really “fueled” the improvements.
Eat better, feel better. There you go!