Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Meat-Eating Crisis

I’ve never been a big meat-eater. When I was a little kid, I was moderately grossed out whenever we had a dinner that involved bones or skin. It took me quite a while to get comfortable cooking with meat, and I am still squeamish about handling raw meat if I think about it too much. I need psychological distance from my food; the less like an animal it looks, the better. For example, my all-time favorite meat source of protein are those big sea scallops. Besides being delicious, they just look like nice, neat abstract cylinders of protein. And one of my most dreadful meat memories is from my sophomore year in college when the slightly odd boyfriend of my slightly odd roommate cooked her dinner in our house and made some kind of tiny bird (quail? partridge? I can’t remember...) that he had killed himself while hunting. Seriously, it just looked like a tiny decapitated bird was sitting on each of their plates.

However, my first serious meat-eating crisis came when the U.S. had its first mad cow disease scare back in 1996. You remember, right? When Oprah said we should all stop eating beef and got sued? Sure, there was the scary degenerative neurological disease with no cure, but the biggest deterrent for me was the media coverage of cattle feed lots. The pictures and videos of even the healthy cows were pretty horrifying to me; they struck me as showing unhealthy and inhumane living conditions. I couldn’t quite face ground meat for quite a while after that, and don’t even show me any pictures of poultry farms...

Lately I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about the environmental impact of eating meat. It makes perfect logical sense that it is less energy efficient to eat an animal that had to eat other agricultural products than to eat a plant-based diet yourself, and then there’s all the environmental havoc that our current system of factory farms wreaks. Then earlier this year, the Humane Society released that video of cruelty to cows in a California slaughterhouse. So now not only do we have to worry that the meat we eat might not be safe and is not environmentally responsible, but also that the cows themselves suffered unduly to get that cheap hamburger on my plate. I’ve been feeling pretty convinced about these issues surrounding what we as individuals eat and find myself averting my eyes from the giant packages of ground beef at Costco.

The thing is that I don’t think it is morally wrong to eat another animal. You see lots of examples of it within the animal world and I am ethically fine with a responsible, fair, respectful use of animals for meat. I am growing convinced that the meat I can buy at my local grocery store does not fill this description, though. Rob and I have decided to pretty much cut out meat from our home-cooking, just having it once in a while when we can afford to buy something good like the beef they sell at the farmers’ market down in New Haven.

In all honesty, it’s not a really big sacrifice for anybody in our house to mostly cut out meat. Rob was a vegetarian for several years during college and like him, I don’t miss meat when it’s not in a meal. And Grace certainly refuses to eat any meat! We like tofu and tempeh and beans and vegetables, and really I would prefer that on a daily basis. Probably I wouldn’t be thinking about these issues at all if Rob or I were serious meat-and-potatoes types who feel there MUST BE MEAT or it is not dinner. (I am sometimes troubled that the issues I spend time pondering are the ones where I am already practically convinced...) Because of our recent eating habits, I picked up this book and do highly recommend it. It’s a very thorough, comprehensive compendium and the recipes have a minimalist/easy but slightly sophisticated style that is a great match for how I like to cook. So far I’ve really enjoyed trying out some soups, stir-fries, quiche, and pizza dough. The introduction on how to think about the vegetarian table was helpful to me as well. On tonight’s menu? Ricotta and red pepper quiche. Mmmmm...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Contractually Obligated

So it has happened! Hooray! If all goes well, we are going to sell our house! We got an offer at the end of last week from a couple who had visited the house twice, the second time during the weekend I was gone to St. Louis. We went back and forth with them negotiating over the weekend and eventually came to an agreement. Their first offer was somewhat stomach-churningly low and we didn’t feel like they were very cooperative in negotiating, but at the end of the day we were able to work something out. And what is it that they say about a successful negotiation being one where everyone leaves unhappy? We are definitely coming out in the red on this real estate transaction, but it’s not too bad if you think about what we would have paid in rent for our three years here. It makes me feel a little queasy if I think about how much money we are losing, but we are coming out with enough to move forward with our lives, and that is good enough, right? And we are so very grateful that we found a buyer so quickly. Our house was on the market for just 3 and a half weeks when we got that offer. I think that in this market, selling our house so quickly and for enough money for us to buy our next house is cause for celebration and gratitude.

Anyway, this evening our realtor came over with the final contract and Rob and I signed it. We are all now legally bound to this thing! The next step is the inspection, which should happen this week. We are keeping our fingers crossed for no big surprises during the inspection and then the buyers’ financing process. If everything continues smoothly, we will close on this house by the beginning of May. Sheesh, that seems shockingly soon. There will be a LOT to get done before then, as far as finding a new house in Texas (despite my previous thoughts we are leaning toward buying now because on a monthly basis it will be cheaper than renting), finding interim housing for Robert and perhaps all three of us here, and of course, packing up and actually moving.

We are grown-ups

This picture is from just a few weeks after we moved in to this house in July 2005. I am in the very early stages of being pregnant with Grace (~10 weeks or so) and we have just been spending all our time painting and dealing with contractors and living amongst boxes and remodeling detritus. It doesn’t show the whole house, which I wish it did, but it’s OK-- I won’t hold it against you, Dad. (My dad came to see us on the first of quite a number of visits he took on the front or tail end of business trips to Boston.)

I’ve been thinking about how the whole process of selling a house is structured to get you ready to emotionally detach yourself from your house. You are presented with lots of data and graphs that make your house just another statistic among all the houses in your area, realtors come in and move all your stuff around from where you have been living with it, you picture yourself growing to resent the house if you don’t sell it in the timeframe you need to, and you fervently hope and pray for someone to come and take it off your hands. Even after only a month of our house being on the market, I am starting to feel enough emotional separation from it to not grieve leaving it too much. Part of me does wish that this house that we put so much time and energy into renovating, our first home that we chose together, the house to which we brought Grace home from the hospital, was going to be lived in by someone who seemed a little more accommodating and friendly during the negotiation process, but really I don’t care too much. I am feeling much more future-centered right now. I might feel mournful as the process moves forward when it feels more real that we will be saying goodbye to this darling house, but right now I say, “Goodbye, house! Nice knowing you!”

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Spring Break! Party on!

Warm spring day

This week is my spring break from teaching. I am not teaching as much this spring because of the house and the impending move so it doesn’t make that huge of a difference in my week, but it still lovely to contemplate a week off from all manner of gainful employment. Of course, at my other job you never get a spring break, or weekends off, or really even a day off at all, come to think of it. Being a mommy does not have good hours, I will admit.

This morning Grace and I are listening to an iTunes mix entitled “Julia’s Favorite Songs”. Every time a new song comes on, my first thought is, “Oh, I love this song!” Probably this shouldn’t surprise me every time.

I have been fighting some kind of cold for almost a month now and I have grown quite weary of it. I have progressed from sore throats and achy-ness to lingering sinus and ear congestion. Oh, the ears... I believe that is my least favorite part of a jaunt into upper respiratory illness. Being vaguely sick is so tiresome; one isn’t sick enough to actually go to a doctor or be excused from normal responsibilities, but day after day is tainted with discomfort and vexation. When I am finally well, I know I will take great pleasure in feeling hale and hearty. I sometimes forget how lovely it is to have a fully functioning body, but being sick for a while does make me relish my return to health.

In the past couple of weeks, Grace has finally started sleeping through the night with some regularity. I know! And she’s only two years old! What a sleeping prodigy! No, really, I know that is not typical and if we were willing to take more drastic measures she probably would have done this much earlier. However, we did what we were comfortable with and it wasn’t all that terrible in the interim. We really did all sleep well, despite Grace’s waking and coming to join us in the big bed at some point in the night. Anyway, she has recently started sleeping in her own crib straight through from 8pm until sometime between 6am and 7am. Previous to this new development, it was sometime between 3am and 5am, and she would then regularly sleep until 8am with us. Such luxury...

A luxury that now appears to be finished, unfortunately. She may be sleeping on her own, but she is getting up earlier now, which means I am getting less sleep than before. I need to start going to bed earlier, I think. I have found myself feeling very droopy and spent come mid-afternoon lately. I must tell you, however, about this marvelous substance I have discovered-- caffeine! You ingest some of it and then suddenly, you are full of energy and renewed vigor to face the rest of your day! I’ve never been a regular coffee drinker (despite my very great appreciation of its bracing deliciousness) and a cup of coffee can make me feel jittery and interfere with my sleep. However, I have stumbled upon the delightful alternative of green tea. (Hmmm, I see from this link that I could obtain the same caffeine with 1 oz. of dark chocolate. More delicious, but also more calories...) It seems to provide just the right amount of caffeine, along with the fortifying, calming ritual of making it and drinking it. Hooray for staying awake!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Back Home


I am back home in the bosom of my family now, and glad to be here. My trip to St. Louis went smoothly, and it was great to be with my extended family. Rob and Grace did wonderfully together and now we are all settled back into the normal swing of things. I know that life for my grandmother and aunt (and to some extent my mom as well, although she lives far away from the rest of them) won’t seem normal for a long time, so hopefully I can put out the effort to be there for them in a helpful way.

We had a big snowstorm here in Connecticut the night before I was leaving for St. Louis that continued into the morning. I just cannot get used to that-- snow in March! What madness is this? Doesn’t everyone know that March is when you get out short sleeves and perhaps have to turn on the air conditioner? There was a good 8” of snow on the ground when my flight was supposed to leave, so although the plane boarded on time (after a bit of a harrowing drive to the airport), my plane sat on the runway for 2 hours waiting for things to be plowed and de-iced and whatnot. I had the iPod and my knitting and I sat there for those 2 hours feeling so luxuriously still. Two hours of uninterrupted time to sit tranquilly and do exactly as I chose! No one demanding my attention! Nothing to take care of! Just blissful calm and quiet and people leaving me alone... Then at the end of the two hours, I realized that my plane hadn’t even taken off yet and I was ready to get going again. I didn’t veer too far into annoyed-traveler mentality because things weren’t yet to the point of interfering with plans at my destination, but my zen serenity did come to an end. I don’t go through life with Grace feeling desperate to get away from her, but some time to myself was certainly not amiss.

Anyway, the snow and cold weather seem to be on the wane as it has been noticeably warmer since I returned. It has been 50 degrees for a few days, which strangely feels quite warm. I’ve been motivated to get out and run again, and soon it will be warm enough for the park and other outdoor springtime fun. The turn of the weather seems to be encouraging the housing market as well as we have had more people coming to see the house after a bit of a lull. In just a matter of weeks, spring will be upon us!