Thursday, December 22, 2011


I've had a few revelations over the last weeks, sometimes while taking walks outside in the mild Carolina weather, or while watching my baby make bubbles and faces at me, but nothing really worth writing an entire blog entry about.  So, I'll write about what's been on my mind:  sugar.

I was overweight for a lot of my life.  I was a chunky kid and teen, before the obesity epidemic hit and most kids weren't chunky. My mom cooked all our meals and we ate nutritiously, but subscribed to the, "finish your plate" concept.  Or maybe I just liked to overeat? I lost weight for a short time in high school, but I don't really remember what drove me to, or how I did it.  I didn't enjoy sports or come from an athletic background so I didn't exercise.  Once I got to college, I gained a freshman 15, then a sophomore 15.  By the time my sister graduated high school in the spring of 2002, I didn't even recognize myself in a photograph, I had gotten so fat.  How did I get that way?  I walked everywhere, and had jobs in kitchens where I was on my feet the whole time.  One of those jobs was as a cake decorator.

While working, there was always something to snack on in the bakery.  Fresh chocolate chip cookies, leftover cake crumbs, you name it, it was there.  My significant other and I would treat ourselves once a week or so to a dinner at a restaurant, and probably cleaned our plates, not realizing each plate was really meant for a family.  I developed a  love for cooking, and used a lot of butter, olive oil, and I'm sure I didn't eat enough vegetables.  Anyway, by the time I realized I was fat, I was pretty fat.  It really grossed me out to see that photo.

One day sometime around the time I started graduate school, or maybe before that, I decided once and for all that I would start getting active.  I realized my current diet and exercise routine was not cutting the mustard, and so I got a bicycle and told myself I would ride it to work one day a week.  Slowly, I enjoyed it, so I increased the amount of times I rode to work.  Then, I kinda just started riding it everywhere.  Sometime after that, I decided I wanted to do yoga.  So, I checked out this DVD from the library, liked it, and moved to the next level once that got easy.  Slow changes. 

My love of cooking started in college.  I remember my friend Melissa and I would relish our Saturday nights when we could watch Iron Chef together on the free college cable in her dorm room.  We would marvel over how the chef could butcher an eel and create five first-class dishes in one hour!  Nothing was off limits, and boy, was I curious.  Growing up, I thought I hated steak because steak was black and chewy.  It wasn't until a "steak dinner night" in the dorm cafeteria that I realized steak could be pink and soft and tasty!  Granted, I did go to an ag school (woot woot Oklahoma State!), so they knew about their beef, but you get the point.  An entire culinary world awaited me that I never knew existed, and I intended to grab it by the horns and make it mine.  That included the cake decorating and baking world, the magical world of sugar.

Fast forward like 5 years to today.  So, I took up running when my nephew was born, September 2008 but didn't really get any distance behind me.  I ran 2 miles like 5 days a week with my dog, and I had really gotten my diet to a healthy place:  lots of fresh, local veggies, fresh fruits and not very much meat, but legumes and yogurt.  Whole grains, all that good stuff.  Cooking nearly every day, for myself and for friends.  Then I joined the Peace Corps, and lo and behold, lots of runners in my intake group!  Several people, especially, were so encouraging that I keep running and try for a marathon.  Me, who has never been athletic, or even that physically fit, run a marathon?  You've got to be kidding!  I thought.  But, I thought if I could get to South Africa, live in a village and do crazy education work that I know little or nothing about, I guess I could train for a marathon.  And so I did!  Living in the village with no oven and a very tight budget, I did not make very many sweets.  A couple times, i made cinnamon rolls in my leftover food tins and took them to school, and they were a very big hit.  But, I bought and soaked my beans, ate rice often, veggies, fruit, and battled for the clean water.  Talk about healthy living!  But I really did miss making those cakes.  Before I left the USA in July 2009, I was doing wedding cakes and other celebration cakes on "the side" out of my kitchen, here and there in my spare time.  While I was away though, I realized that is something I'd like to pursue full-time.  But there arose a quandry:  how to rectify my new healthy changes to my baking?

In order to remain true to myself, my purpose, my calling, I had to find a way to bake more healthfully.  Sure, a big, fat, rich, piece of chocolate cake is amazing to eat every once in awhile, but do I feel good about proffering this to a public saying, "this is good for you, buy it?"  not really.  So, I've been on the hunt for recipes that are more healthful than the traditional butter, sugar and refined wheat flour-filled treats we are accustomed to, and recipes for those with special dietary needs like gluten-free and vegan diets.  It has been kind of a bumpy road, let me tell ya.  Nothing is worse than pulling your pan out of the oven and having the item look like a science experiment, or waiting patiently for a cupcake to cool only to have it feel like gummy sand in your mouth.  When the highlight of my day is waiting for enough time to put together a recipe, and it is a bust, it can be depressing.  But, there have been some bright spots, which is encouraging.

I tried Jessica Seinfeld's recipes from her book Deceptively Delicious, thinking that is a great idea, to use veggie purees instead of milk or oil in recipes, but they aren't right, IMHO.  You can tell there is something "amiss" and sometimes even taste the veggies in the finished products.  I've tried lots of different suggestions for vegan stuff that doesn't involve "fake butter" or "fake eggs," and those don't really work out either, for the most part.  I've had the biggest successes with the gluten-free items, blending different flours together to get good taste and textures for some things.  So, I think this will work.  It's just too bad that seven minute icing doesn't last longer than a day, because that is the perfect icing!  Very low fat, marshmallowey texture, and oh-so-dreamy...I digress.

A good friend of mine thinks that sugar is evil.  In order to stop my unhealthy habits of eating, in the beginning, I had to think that way, too.  I had to take it out of my diet almost completely in order to be able to incorporate it moderately.  I realize though that each person has his or her own way of dealing with difficulty.  I also realize that, in my never-ending quest for knowledge that our bodies process sugar in the same way they do alcohol- as a toxin.  On a chemical level, our body cannot tell the difference between fructose, glucose or alcohol.  Sugar is found rarely in nature and is not a part of a whole-foods diet.  It has been linked to obesity, particularly in children.  Etc, etc. etc. etc.  So, what is the answer to a health-conscious bakery question; to replace all sugar with Splenda?  To make products that are just much less sweet?  Yes, no, other.  To promote an active, balanced lifestyle and "practice what I preach" seems to be a good solution, sort of.  One of my friends was recently training for a marathon, and I told her how awesome that she keeps us aware of her fitness updates.  I think my exact words were, "You're a machine!"  She said, "No, I just have a wicked sweet tooth."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Learning Compassion

Immediately, when I read or hear the word, "compassion," I think of the two aspects of a Bodhisattva, an enlightened being trying to achieve nirvana, wisdom and compassion.  A Bodhisattva is a follower of the Buddha, one who wishes to throw off the shackles of attachment to worldly goods and thoughts, to help others, to achieve moksha, or freedom from the cycles of life and become one with the universe.  These two attributes are most difficult to learn, and even more difficult to put into practice. 

One personal goal I hoped to achieve by leaving my professional track in the information sciences was that of compassion.  I wanted it, and not like a new bicycle or bag of apples.  I wanted it like one wants a good pair of jeans or a cashmere sweater, something to last a lifetime and something that gets forgotten about but used all the time.  I sincerely desired to become a more compassionate person, as opposed to the cerebral, clinical, critical cynic that I am.  It was paramount at that time to make a foolish financial decision by leaving my student loan debts, contacts, career and home behind in favor of a period of personal growth and diminished physical goods.  The rationale was that I could always work, but I could not always be so unemcumbered to embark on such an adventure.  And I don't regret it.  I'm just wondering what happened to the zeal I had for wanting to soften up and get to my underbelly, to live in the bottom of the pot of human need and emerge with a new sense of humanity.

Lately, I have been reminded of my cruel humor and that I delight in others' failure.  While this may sound terrible, it is true.  I just can't wait to point out what someone has done wrong, and find it hard to hold my tongue.  I just want to give everyone advice, as if my thinking and knowledge are the right ones.  What about those lessons I learned in rural South Africa, about the importance of family, and looking out for one another as fellow humans, giving attention to a child because maybe nobody else does?  What about all that listening, and time spent observing and helping, rather than being the first to criticize?  There were entire days that would pass in SA where I wouldn't speak more than a greeting, and I sure did an awful lot of helping.

One theory is that, because the pendulum swung so drastically from "free, selfish American" to "poor, stranger, volunteer" it's now swinging back to the selfish American side again.  Instead of softly and gracefully transitioning back to this cushy, wasteful lifestyle, I whirled like a dervish into it, thrashing about, trying to find my way amid a cespool of wasteful gluttony, gasping and grasping at whatever I could find that seemed normal. 

Another is that, by choosing to live with my family, with whom I had not addressed several deep and large issues from the past, I compounded my difficulty of readjusting to American life, and have been failing miserably at achieving my goals because I just couldn't hack it.  I really only have those two theories, so if you have a better one, please send it my way.

By becoming a mother, I automatically have more compassion for babies and children, as this is a biological necessity for survival, I think. I must be sensitive to the needs of my child or he will not prosper, and that just makes sense from a scientific perspective.  Crying means something is wrong, whether it be company, diaper change, hunger, or sleep.  Movement indicates development, so once he starts moving a lot I must be more careful where he lays, such as, not from a high ledge or near anything sharp or precariously balanced.  Ok, that makes sense.  But I'm trying to make sense of this set of values that is cruelty/compassion, and that is not as clearly sensible.

In one of my classes in "library school," I enjoyed learning about information seeking behavior and sense-making.  All queries, informal or formal, are a person's way of making sense about the world.  As we study the different ways people can come at a problem, we can understand a lot more about them and about the discipline of information management (new term for library science) as a whole.  One big surprise to me was that most people, especially professors with doctorate degrees, will first ask a colleague when they need a question answered. That's right, they want to talk to a human being, not an encyclopedia, or a peer-reviewed journal, a buddy.  Medical doctors are the same way.  So now, physicians bring laptops or notebooks into the exam room and record their info into your digital chart, but you know what?  Even though they have access to the internet, to look up medical information in journals or or whatever, they don't do it.  They go next door to consult with their colleague or they rely on their memory to give you the information you need.  The South Africans I lived with placed their trust entirely in those with authority for their information seeking.  Need help with a tea, go ask the sangoma (traditional healer).  Want someone to help you fix the water, go ask the kgosi (chief).  Need help with your homework, go talk to the legkoa (white person).  It was pretty simple, you ask the person who knows.  You don't go to the internet and "google it," or ask around until you get the best deal. 

So far, what i have done to feed my query is the following:  sought out books, documentaries and web sources to remind me what is important i.e. sustainable food and living, composting and gardening, living a life of little carbon footprint.  I have been in communication with friends who are compassionate and seek the same kind of higher living and thought.  I have asked trusted family members to help me with my quest, and engaged them in some difficult conversations.  The key, it seems, is awareness.  Now that I am again aware of my quest, and aware of my shortcomings, I can begin to achieve success in my goal.  I don't see this as a terminal quest, but one that will take a lifetime.  Sometimes the task seems daunting, but mostly I see it as an exciting challenge.  The tough part is trying to explain to people how the moral compass fits into life outside the box of religion...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

in da club. parenthood club, that is...


I find it strange, crazy and hilarious that I am in the parenthood club.    For one, I don't even really like kids.  For two, I did not receive a copy of the handbook.  I like my own kid, and kids I get to know on a one-on-one basis, if they are reasonably well-behaved, but large groups of children in general, I have never really enjoyed.  South African village living did go a long way in changing this fact about me, as I had many enjoyable moments with children there, but had many dreaded moments with the thought of being around children all day long, as well.  And I am a Virgo, which means I like to know the rules, regulations and expectations of any given situation before embarking on membership.  Unfortunately, this club has very few rules, and is really hard to understand the purpose unless one has joined.

One thing I've noticed that is different since joining this club is that I make sure to keep up with other people's kids and their goings-on.  I wasn't very good about doing that before, but now, I see how much a priority one's child becomes in one's life.  For example, I've started keeping track of kids birthdays and plan to send cards or greetings each year, if I cannot attend any functions due to proximity barriers.  I remember my birthdays as a child, and they were always a lot of fun even though they did not usually include friends, but cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.  We lived near many family members, which made these family parties easy to facilitate.  Once there was a birthday in the park with a pinyata (tilde, where art thou?), a raggedy ann cake my mom made, a Casa Bonita birthday, the list goes on. Anyway, people really shape the life of a child, and I guess I didn't really "get" that until now.

Another thing that's different is that I find things "cute" where I would have sneered or not batted an eye at said things a few months ago.  Such as, my nephew jumping on the bed and my four-week-old son being bounced up and down to mimic his jumping on the bed, too.  Or a newborn flannel shirt.  Or the small, dark watchful eyes of my son.  You get the idea. 

Another thing that really gets me about this whole "parenthood" role is that there need not be fanfare or hullabaloo surrounding the transition into parenthood, especially after pregnancy.  It's just the most natural thing in the world to take care of the thing that was growing inside you, at least that has been my experience.  My friend Barbara said that very thing to me, giving me small snippets of this sage advice as I was preparing for the birth of my child, and she was certainly right on.  Most answers can be derived from instinct.  Those that require outside help can be quickly and easily found if one has a good network in place, and accurate media.  The first few weeks were rough, attributed to the adjustment of mother and child to aspects of our new lives and the rush of hormones that accompanies delivery.  Now, it's pretty gravy, akin to troubleshooting a computer problem.  That cry means something's wrong...hungry, diaper, lonely?  That cry means he is angry.  Gas?  Too long in one locale?  That cry is kind of a fake one...he just wants some cuddle time.  Kind of like, did you plug in the machine?  Did you try restarting the program? 

I've enjoyed taking tons of newborn pictures, sending out birth announcements, comparing baby's body parts to mom and dad to see who he resembles more, trying to keep socks on his feet, figuring out what he likes to do best so he doesn't cry all the time, and my life has been completely consumed by my child.  Instead of this being an inconvenience, or a bigger deal than I expected, it has just been the way it is supposed to be, the next step of the journey.  I wonder how much of this ease comes from biology, and how much can be attributed to conditioning (aka spending time in the Peace Corps)?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Labor and delivery, some after birth (but not placenta)

So anyone who tells you there is something romantic about natural childbirth is a dirty liar.  Just want to preface that right away, get it out in the open.  Now that's out of the way, I can try to describe my labor and delivery experience, resulting in one teeny baby named Jasmir Francis Alam.

For about one week up to the day of delivery, I started having mild cramps that lasted for a few minutes, mostly in the evening time, similar to a normal monthly menstral cramp; that is to say, not too painful, but an indication that some change is happening.  The first time this happened, I thought it might be the indicator that labor was shortly coming.  Then, when it didn't, I just kind of ignored them, or just got used to them and didn't really pay closer attention.

The day I actually went into labor was Saturday.  I visited a local bicycle shop with my mom, sister and nephew because I asked for a bicycle for my birthday gift.  Since I was 41 weeks pregnant on that day, we knew labor could happen anytime, so we thought we should go try out some bikes while I could comfortably sit and before September 10, which is my birthday, rolled around.  So, in the early afternoon, I found this great cruiser that was on a special clearance, and it happened to be super comfortable and awesome, so I took it for a test spin, and could comfortably ride at 9 months pregnant, so deemed it a good fit.  Then, we went to eat lunch at a local Thai restaurant, kind of a hole in the wall place, and with an incredibly amazing sushi bar.  I know that certain things are not recommended for pregnant women to eat, raw fish included, but being the rebel that I am, I took my chances several times throughout and indulged.  We ate, took a grocery shopping trip, which entailed me hanging out in the parking lot with my nephew, letting him pretend to drive, then headed home.

After a few hours, I started helping with dinner.  That's been something nice my family has been trying to do, at my request, is eat dinner together.  That was the "last meal," as I started having some serious labor pains after dinner.  It just slowly creeped up on me, starting more that morning, then just coming like in 15 minute intervals, then 10, then 5, and by that point, I was starting to freak out a little.  It was really hurting, and I thought, "well, this sucks." My sister suggested it was time to go to the hospital, but I just wasn't ready.  Mentally, I thought I would be more prepared, but I wasn't.  But I just started getting in that mode where I listened to her, then my doula, once we arrived at the hospital, then went into my own world from there.

We arrived at the hospital at midnight, and they kept me in triage for over an hour.  My cervix was dilated 4 cm and the baby was at -2 station, so maybe they were keeping me a bit longer so they could admit me.  I'm not really sure, and the contractions had sort of stalled out by that time, and weren't very painful (in comparison to the later ones, anyway) so we were just chatting with the nurse and waiting on my body to do its' thing.  Once they admitted me, after about an hour or so, the contractions started getting really painful and I was, well, surprised about how hard it was.  When I broke my leg, i thought I could not top any pain like that, ever again, as that was so intense and so crazy, and it made me kind of bitter, so I thought labor would be a cinch.  Wow, do I ever feel like an idiot!

So for some reason, I had decided I wanted to keep my new running shoes on.  Ever since I broke my leg and could walk again, I have pretty much lived either barefoot or in running shoes.  My mom bought me some a few days before I gave birth, so I was ecstatic about having foot comfort again, after limping around in my old South African running shoes.  And I know myself, how I don't ever just sit down, and thought I'd like to be comfortable during labor.  And I was right on the not sitting down part anyway.  I didn't sit or lie down once, until they made me at the very end.  No position was comfortable, to say the least, but the best ones were sitting on the toilet, squatting up and down, and grabbing onto any handle-like object and leaning or squatting.  Good lord, that was the craziest most painful thing I have ever done in my life.  It certainly trumps surfing, breaking my leg, nearly getting arrested, or any other crazy things I've experienced.  All the books, stories, and information that talks about birth as this romantic notion I can understand in the abstract, but in concrete, real-life, I think it is hell.  I still feel all queasy with nausea and teary-eyed thinking about how bad it hurt, and how I felt like my sanity was super close to teetering off the deep end several times throughout.

My doula and my sister both commented on how focused I was, and how well I did, but I was moaning and groaning and screaming because I couldn't help it.  I kept thinking how I ought to be able to go to some happy yoga place in my mind to trick it away from the pain, but instead, what I focused on.  They say every mom finds her way to get through it.  Then, at the end, the reward is this baby.  But I was just glad it was over!  I didn't really think of it that way at all, until after the suctioning, stitching, cleaning, etc. were complete and I could get a chance to focus on life outside labor again.  It was a totally tunnel-vision type of experience, but not religious whatsoever.  Before labor began, I was really sad that Jackei couldn't be with me.  Now, after it's over, I'm really glad he wasn't here.  Nobody should have to see somebody they love go through that crap!  I'm really amazed my sister actually wanted to help me, and was really, really glad she was there.  I'm also really glad I hired a doula.  The two of them made a great team, and I could NOT have done it by myself.  The nurses and everyone in the hospital taking care of me were great, too, because they all supported my plan to go "au natural" but if I ever do it again, a) I must be crazy, and b) I'll take a Tylenol or something!

Anyway, it seems when i write anything significant, it's always about pain.  Well, it seems I entered my time of pain in life, and hopefully am kind of on the way out.  I know motherhood is a totally different kind of path, and it has actually been great so far, but lots of special pains involved with it.  It took me awhile to bond with my son, but not too awfully long, and he's terribly cute so it wasn't really that hard :)  It's just that nothing, absolutely nothing, prepares you for the long road of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and motherhood.  Not all the books and manuals in the world, the well-meaning advice from friends of family, your own imagination, nothing.  I am looking forward to what this new beginning will bring, but am really, really glad the last part is finished.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

past due date, still waiting for godot

It's been nearly two weeks since we moved into our new house on Willow Oak Road, and it really feels like home.  My sister and I were both pretty nervous about moving, because we thought it just seemed so far away from many of the places we frequent:  doctors offices, YMCA, splash parks, shops, etc. but it's manageable, and it's really peaceful to live near the lake.

We've been working non-stop at a steady pace; unpacking, hanging, cleaning, cooking, while our dad has been doing things like putting doors on, fixing doorknobs, changing light fixtures, etc.  The house had not been kept up all that well, and it just seemed easier to us to get as much taken care of as possible before the new addition to our family arrives, either Jannat or Jasmir.

I've not been able to cycle or swim, or use the elliptical everyday like I had become accustomed to before the move, and that's starting to really bug me.  I have been plenty busy, and take a walk everyday as well as my yoga routine, but really looking forward to some activity again.  Come on baby!  It's really weird to think that in a matter of mere moments, I just won't be pregnant anymore.  Oh, and then there will magically be another human appearing.  I don't know how I'm going to feel about it, only time will tell.

Walking takes twice as long now, with this enormous pressure in my lower back.  I catch glimpses of myself in the mirror and do a double-take, as no human should have to protrude that much from one area of the body- it's very odd. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

is it time?

The last few weeks have been kind of tumultuous.  At least three days of each week are spent in various doctors' offices or laboratories, as I have my various ailments tended to, while I run errands and go swim at the YMCA in between and after appointments.  These errands have consisted mostly of hunting for low-priced furniture and home furnishings for my room.

When I left the States in July 2009, I got rid of my meager collection of belongings, including a bicycle, lots of framed artwork, cheap furniture, and kitchen gadgets.  I procured the biggest/baddest of the kitchen stuff while I journeyed to Oklahoma, but I'm pretty much starting from scratch.

I'm staying with my parents, so I don't have an entire house to furnish, just a room for me, my new coming baby, and fiancee.  Many items were generously given to me by friends in Oklahoma, but I needed shelving and drawers, and a bed.  I managed to get all these things, and have almost finished sanding and painting the bookshelves, and am still working on stripping the paint and old stain from a really pretty wooden chest of drawers i found at Habitat Restore, but man...I did not anticipate the time it would take to refinish this piece.  I'm running out of time, because we are moving to a new house on Sunday (this is Friday night, just shy of midnight), I may or may not be getting ready to go into labor, and I have been pretty stressed about the living situation.  Not only does my youngest brother still live at home with my parents, but also my sister and almost 3 year old nephew.  I don't have my own vehicle, and so I'm sharing with my family.  I have a lot of appointments, which places a burden on them, but mostly on my sister because my parents are always at work.  She doesn't work, but she has this pressing need to take my nephew to many places rather than stay home and find things to do.  So, being mobile, but in a limited capacity, has been somewhat of a strain.  They say you can never go home again.  Well, "they" are pretty smart because it proves to be a huge burden sometimes, although I try to remind myself of the alternative:  living in a small grocery shop in a rural South African village, 2.5 hours away from a decent hospital and obstetrician, with no car to get there. 

So, as I've tried my best to live within these parameters, I've also been in pretty debilitating pain.  I did something to my back/SI joint on the left side, and for almost 2 weeks, could barely walk, sleep, or really do much that involved movement.  While attending sessions with an amazing chiropractor, physical therapist and massage therapist, I was shopping for furniture, swimming, and still doing my yoga- cooking, trying to clean up after people at our house, interact with them, and battle my mood swings/pregnancy hormones with no support from any nearby friends, I think it's time.

Maybe I'm finally succumbing to the stress of it all, or maybe I am in early labor?  Only time will tell, I'll keep you posted.  BTW it's Eastern Standard Time, 11:58pm, Friday, 19 August 2011.  My sister, Esther, who lives in Colorado, just gave birth to her first baby yesterday evening, little baby Rueben (sandwich).  My mom flew out this afternoon to go spend a week helping her take care of herself and her new addition.  Best wishes to them, and best rest and relaxation for me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

more about the baby

This post is ranty.  This is your disclaimer.  This will allow me to segue into my first point...

I guess I didn't realize how much pent up energy or anger or frustration or whatever i had lurking in my heart of darkness after serving in the peace corps.  Spending two years living without things at different times:  pride, privacy, dignity, choice, attractiveness, peers, friends, intellectual stimulation, communication, transportation, comfort, etc., really took it's toll.  Combine that with some physical pain and restriction from my injury, separation from my fiancee, moving back in with my parents-sister-and-nephew, and the growing of a fetus, you've got yourself one big tornado of stress whirling your way.  I've never been so volitile and stupid (pregnancy fog), and both of those things are increasingly frustrating.

Because of my injury and abrupt termination of peace corps service, i did not have the benefit of attending any workshops the organzation provides volunteers about transitioning into "normal life" again.  I see now that would have been really helpful.  My sister tells me I talk to everyone like they're old and stupid.  (Well, they're probably one or the other right?! Heh heh, sorry...)  She says I hurt her feelings all the time because I say things too bluntly.  I find myself being increasingly less compassionate and tolerant.  How much of this is post peace corps and how much is the pregnancy and stress?  I don't know, but I think I need to create a cave.  I used to have one, it was called my own house.  And when I had roommates, I used my art studio for this retreat.  Perhaps I ought to get busy finding something similar before i alienate myself from everyone I know, eh?

Another odd discovery about pregnancy is that I'm beginning to see little parts poking from my belly.  Possibly elbows and knees, or maybe little fists?  Thanks, little one, for punching and kicking.  That means you're still alive! Who needs a machine that goes, "ping!"?  It's weird for me to feel around to try and tell which position it's in because it kind of freaks me out.  Some people just cannot accept my clinical fascination over an emotional response, but I'm not really surprised.  These same people rely on their emotions far too much for my fancy in other situations, so it only makes sense.  No matter though, because it is my pregnancy and I'll enjoy it or be freaked out by it if I want.

I've ALREADY been battling my mom and sister about baby stuff.  I am just not a stuff person, and I never will be.  And neither is my child, at least, not yet. No matter how many times you ask me, or bring stuff home, or try to convince me, I do not need stuff.  And neither do you.  You have been convinced by clever marketing to think you need stuff.  If you need a reminder of your disgusting dependence on physical items to fulfill your needs, I recommend viewing the film, "Fight Club." Reading the book is alternately recommended.  I actually find it comical that they cannot comprehend how a baby can survive without a jumping gymnasium, playmat with junk hanging down from it, whirling singing toys, and the like.  Perhaps in the same way they have done so for millions of years before the arrival of Fisher Price?  Just fine, or in fact, maybe even more successfully, because this means another human will have to be involved in the baby's exercise and playtime as opposed to the baby being left to exercise in some equipment while no one else is around.  It's not that I don't understand how a lot of these things can make life easier for a person, or how much joy they receive from their things.  I just happen to favor old fashioned people over things and would rather have less than more. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Not quite used to modern conveniences, and hand-washing of dishes

I've said this several times since returning to the USA from RSA, but I'll say it again:   I still get tripped out about the washing machine, electric clothes dryer, and the dishwasher.  So much of my time in rural South Africa was spent cleaning.  I do not have an OCD, nor would I classify myself as a "clean freak," but I do like to keep my living quarters tidy and sanitary. When I say, so much of my time was spent cleaning, I don't mean because I wanted my house spotless, but because of the water issue.

Water is scarce in many parts of the world, particularly in the Kalahari desert, where I lived from September 2009-November 2010, and from January 2011-May 2011.  Just procuring and treating drinking water consumed a large quantity of time.  Factor in water for bathing, cleaning and washing, and you have a lot of your day consumed by the generic term, "cleaning."  For one person, each time I washed clothes, I probably used 40 litres of water.  For cleaning my dishes each day, I probably used 2-3.  Bathing can be estimated at 5 litres per bath.  Laundry day started early in the summer months, because hauling water is quite the chore and you wanted to get that out of the way before it became too hot.  Then you also wanted to wash before the heat of the day set in, because it's definitely a workout to hand wash clothes in buckets and pails.  Then drying was easy, because you just used your pegs (clothes pins) and hung them out on the line, and in the dry Kalahari, would be dry in a matter of 2 hours or less in summertime. During winter, you wait until the sun comes out so you don't freeze your ass and fingers off before plunging them into the water, and sometimes you heat the water first.  This also takes time.

Lest I belabor the point and render it completely useless, doing laundry in the USA consists of piling your dirties into a box, pouring soap on top, turning a dial and pushing a button.  Then you walk away.  Well, possibly loading coins or tokens at a laundromat.  ??????  No traipsing down to the village tap, lugging litres of water back to your house, swishing said water with super strong washing powder, and getting your daily arm workout?  I'm still finding the whole process to be very convenient, indulgent and wasteful, all at the same time.

I haven't had the same issue with dishwashing, however, because I never used a dishwasher in the USA.  I spent most of my adult life living in places that did not have a dishwashing machine.  I was happy being the dishwasher. I would (and still do) fill a large bowl or basin with hot water, add some liquid dish soap, get my dirty dishes, and start scrubbing.  Once they are sufficiently cleaned, I turn on the tap and rinse.  Pretty simple task, I believe children often perform this same task around the world, and perform well.  You wouldn't know it though, according to some people, who always ask me, "why don't you just use the dishwasher?"  I'll tell you why.  I find it preposterous that, in order to load dishes into a machine which is supposed to clean and rinse dishes, that they must be washed first in the sink.  I refuse to use such an inefficient machine. Machines, especially ones which use valuable energy, ought to make it worth their energy consumption by performing a task that is so difficult for me to do, or so disgusting, that I choose not to do it myself.  But, when I can outperform the machine, why waste the time and money?  I just don't get it.

As wasteful as it might be, I am very thankful for the automated washing machine at this point in my life, because in a few months, I will be using it all the time.  Babies make a lot of waste, it's easy to catch the waste in cloth, then you must wash it and dry it before it can be used all over again.  So let's hope all my years of conserving everything, including water, can make up for my future of mechanized cleaning.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Keeping in touch with South Africa

While in service, some fellow PCVs and I always mused about why volunteers who left their posts in South Africa would still keep in touch with us remaining volunteers.  The general consensus is that they weren't really satisfied with life in the States, and still partially longed to be back in South Africa.  Those who were ready to leave the country and get back to life in the developed world found what they were looking for, and rarely, if ever, kept in touch with anyone who remained.

Now that I find myself "one of those" who has left the country, whether I like it or not, I am in the new category.

I always think it is neat when the friends I made kept in touch with me, whether they were PCVs, co-workers, high school pals, or something else.  So many times I received the, "oh, I meant to send you a letter but it's still on my desk" kind of response.   Sorry, but good intentions are only that, and they don't really count.  Actions are what matter most.  Receiving a piece of mail, e-mail update or facebook post from someone was especially welcomed while I was in service. 

Maybe I am still in a "transition period" or something, but I still feel quite connected to my fellow PCV friends in South Africa, and like to keep in touch; both PCV friends, and South African ones.  I enjoy reading blog posts, Facebook updates, occasional country news, and e-mails from my Country Director and other officers in the field.  Does that mean I am not fulfilled in my current life in the US of A?  Not in the least.  I am busy making birth plans, researching moving companies and expenses, planning trips to visit friends and family, spending quality time with my nephew and keeping up with household chores and exercise.  It's given me a new perspective, to be on the "other side of the fence."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

pregnancy updates...III or IV?

So I arrived safely in the states last Monday, May something or other.  2011.  Staying in NC with my family, getting settled, making birth plans, and hopefully going to visit family I haven't seen in about 2 years.

A big year for me!  Number one, I will be turning 30.  The big 3-0.  My fellow volunteer friend Casandra will enjoy her 30th in South Africa really soon, and I wonder what she will do to celebrate.  Hopefully something fun.  I will most likely be giving birth, or will have just done so. I imagine my celebrating will be different than all adult birthdays come before, much milder and less alcoholic in nature as I don't want to poison the little one.  But more excitingly, number two, the little one!

I found out I was pregnant on Dec 23, so that means for all of 2011, I have been preparing for the arrival of my first child.  Most of this time has been in South Africa with daddy, but as lovely as that was, it's really great to spend the last trimester in the States.  Here, I am a 20 minute drive away from several hospitals, doctors offices of many varieties, 2 hours from the nearest birthing center, with nearby Lamaze and other supportive classes.  In SA, the nearest hospital any local recommended was 250k (about 2 hours driving time in a private car or 3 hour taxi ride away) from us, and we didn't have a car.  Classes for expecting new parents were only available in a dream, and books only in Afrikaans (a language I don't speak) from the local library. 

Even though I wasn't excited about leaving SA and my fiancee, now that I'm here, I see that was the best decision, for many reasons.  My mom and sister, especially, are really supportive; both emotionally and financially.  I can find a doula (birthing coach and support person), choose a hospital (my pregnancy is considered high-risk because of the blood clots, therefore I do not qualify for home birth or birthing center, unfortunately), and I joined my local La Leche League for breastfeeding support.  I am planning to take Lamaze classes, or some other type of natural pain-management programme because I'd love to have a drug-free birth.  I also plan to sign up for as many other parenting or health classes as I can.  Knowledge is power!  None of this was available in SA, and with the time drawing more near, it seems really important to take care of business rather than just leaving it all to chance.

I'm about 6 months along, and in the last few days, the thing has been moving like crazy.  It's really quite strange, but comforting to know that it's still alive.  In the last 3 weeks or so, I've really started getting bigger, and feeling that weight in my lower back.  I can still sleep or lay on my stomach, but sort of augmented by a leg out, or weight shifted more to one side.  I'm eating several small meals or snacks throughout the day, and not having heartburn or much digestive trouble as a result. 

Every woman has a different experience regarding pregnancy, both emotionally and physically.  I find it really interesting that my younger sister, who is due one week before me with her first child, is very "lovey dovey" and seemingly emotionally attached to her little one, and the idea of being a mother.  She talks to her unborn baby, stares at it, posts photos, and seems to anticipate each new change as if it were the greatest thing since sliced bread (if you consider sliced bread to be all that great to begin with.)  I, on the other hand, feel much more scientific about the experience.  I have done a bit of research, am glad the organs are of normal size, want to breastfeed because it's healthy, and feel more of a detached interest than she.  I never really felt "maternal" or that I necessarily wanted to be a mom like some ladies I know.  I hate shopping, and an excess of things, so I haven't and won't go pick out matching baby stuff, or decorate with baby ducks or pastel colors or any of that stuff I imagine my sister doing.  She wants my mom there for her delivery and aftercare of the baby, and I am glad my mom will be occupied elsewhere.  She's emotional and I imagine my delivery going much more smoothly without people freaking out in the background. 

In some ways, I feel like breaking the leg and living abroad in a rural village have both prepared me pretty well for this new journey.  Both were really painful experiences at times, both have taught me that you don't earn anything without working hard, and that you need other people's help to survive.  But most importantly, the lesson to take away from those times is to not sweat the small stuff.  The big hurdles need your energy, and just enjoy the rest of it.  So, I shall try.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Notes on pregnancy, 2

People have been asking what are my food cravings. I don't feel especially strong feelings for any food or drinks, so i have been saying,"none." I've been thinking about it, and obviously my diet has changed. On closer examination, i have been much more inclined to dairy, namely milk, yoghurt, and eggs. I do occasionally eat cream and cheese. Additionally, i have eaten biscuits almost every day the last two months. In South Africa, biscuits are what we in the states call cookies. However, here, many varieties are less sweet and rich than in the states. For example, the ones i usually eat are like un-iced animal crackers, sometimes with a cream filling or sometimes ginger flavored. Not like ginger snaps, though. Just less sweet. Surmising, i am eating more fat and carbs. I also tend to choose fish, beans or nuts for my protein instead of meat. Easier to digest?

I read on facebook today that my rpcv friends chose a name for their soon coming baby, i think a zulu name. We chose our names today, too. Just like the gender, this will remain a surprise until after the birth. It's funny how we haven't been actively thinking about it, and i never had any picked out, but how easy it was to decide. We are pretty good at forging our two different cultures together and making shared decisions, most of the time.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Notes on pregnancy

I thought it would be nice to keep track of some things during my pregnancy, if for no other reason than to be able to share them with the little one someday.

One thing that stands out, now that winter is approaching in RSA, is that i am not very cold. Normally, i am the most frozen of all popsicles. I stayed warm last year by running, keeping busy, wearing everything i owned, and drinking wine. This year, i am wearing flip flops. That little thing generates energy by growing, i guess, enough to keep me warm. It's nice.

Another positive observation is how my life's priorities have changed. Before, i was trying to figure out what i should be doing, where should i be going, what to eat, drink, etc.; always thinking about life in the singular and personal. Now the questions are, where will we live, how will we do it, what is best for us? It is much more fulfilling planning for a family rather than just myself. Maybe it's just having a new challenge ahead of me that is refreshing? The previous health issues were getting really annoying. I have made peace with my healing condition and that i may not be able to run again for awhile. Time to focus on somebody else for a change.

Some of the less pleasant issues are gas and constipation. I will not go into detail, but these are common enough symptoms i don't feel alarmed. I eat fiber cereal daily and drink plenty of water. Mostly, this helps. Luckily, i have not experienced morning sickness or anything sinister.

During the first four months, i had a pretty voracious appetite. I also got pretty tired. Now, i can eat only small amounts in intervals. I just feel full. I remember a few years ago when my sister was pregnant, we went to a fancy steak place with a friend. She ordered filet mignon and ate like three bites; i was beside myself! Now i totally get it. You can't help feeling full or crazy or sad or whatever, it's just the way it is. It's funny that humans usually aren't truly able to understand unless it happens to us. Well, luckily for me, she isn't the kind to hold grudges (like me) and is excited for me to have my experiences.

My doctor told me last visit that i looked particularly nice, that some women do that during pregnancy. He is a nice old man who races bicycles with his wife, and i imagine could have been at home as a country doctor 100 years ago. I like his compliment, as well as the daily ones i get from my sweetie. Overall, it's thus far been a positive experience.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


The funny thing about procreation is that just about anybody can do it. It doesn't require any special qualifications, certificates or training. Humans have been good at reproducing since our inception, way back when. It seems in developed societies, a trend, as of late, has been to use various methods of birth control to postpone procreation until later in life, when the parents are well-established. One problem with waiting until the host is older is infertility.

Apparently, the prime time for fertility in females is 18-24 years of age (Longevity magazine, April 2011). In the States, this is usually the time when young people are attending university, living away from their parents for the first time and enjoying freedom. In South Africa, this is also common for white people. However, whites are a small minority in this country, maybe comprising 10% of the population, and between the blacks there are the class divisions to consider. I can speak for the society with which i am well aware, and that is the impoverished village life.

As soon as girls are able to bear children, they do. A large reason for this is culture: children are much desired in African society, seen as precious gifts from God. Secondly, virginity means little to nothing in most Southern African tribes. It does not affect a woman's prospect to marry, or have a boyfriend, if she has children by another man. Another reason is the systemic lack of education that effects impoverished societies worldwide. Family planning, birth control and the topic of sex are not frankly discussed in village homes. The national curriculum does a pretty good job of incorporating HIV/AIDS education, and the body parts stuff, but i do not know how the issue of pregnancy is addressed. In my time working in the schools, it was never discussed. My schools were primary, grades 1-7, and i guess it is not so common for girls this young to become pregnant.

In some places in the States, teen pregnancy rates are also high. I believe the rates for teen pregnancy, as well as divorce, are higher in the poorest states. In Oklahoma, for example, many marry young or become pregnant while still attending school. My mother and father both left high school at grade 11 to raise me and get married. I was always sure, though, this was not the life for me. Even though i grew up with very little and many siblings, i knew i would go to college and do something professional. It just wasn't a question of why or how, but where would i go and what would i study.

Throughout the years, i have only very briefly entertained the idea of becoming a mother. Once, when i was 25, there were a few weeks where i was seriously thinking babies. Thankfully, that passed, and shortly thereafter, i began i graduate study programme in library sciences. There were some ladies in my classes who had children, and some had children AND jobs! I never figured out how they managed it all. Who knows, maybe they didn't, but their attempts were admirable. I worked two part-time jobs and after my first semester was over, decided one job was all i could manage.

My sister tried college soon after she left high school, and worked a full time job simultaneously. That lasted one year, i think, before she left school to continue working. Now, she has a two year old son and is trying again to earn a bachelors degree. It is very difficult for her to find enough time to complete the work for two classes, even though she is enrolled in a completely online degree program. I can attest that online classes generally take twice as much time as more traditional face-to-face ones. Nevertheless, my nephew is first priority and school comes secondly in her life.

This brings us to the present, in which i am now pregnant. In about five and a half months, i will take part in the long history of procreation. My mom was so shocked when she found out and said, "wow, everybody thought you would never have kids." As more friends discover the news, i have been flooded with nothing but positive comments and congratulations. The general consensus is that i will be a great parent. Good to know! At first, i was a little freaked out, but generally i'm pretty excited. The father is very supportive and happy, which is the only way i would want to procreate, with someone thoughtful and committed. Some surprises have been how fast my belly is growing and how erratically my mood has fluctuated, but everything else is easy to deal with.

My pregnancy trails on the heels of my broken leg, so instead of trimming down and cross-training, i am beefing up for maximum baby and mom nutrition.

Although i may not be in the ideal position in life to procreate, that is to say, financially stable with employment prospects, with cushy possessions like a house or a car, but i am happy. I am with the right people in the right place and i want for nothing. I feel like i can handle this new change, i am not panicked or worried, and i think that's all that really matters.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Censorship revisited, with a splash of creativity, entitlement and humility

I want to revisit my original assertions about selective censorship within organizations. Maybe what bothers me even more than the inconsistent application of policy and the mismanagement of staff and time is the idea of the organization itself, or rather, adherence and allegiance to a thing which makes rules and governs people. Can it be realistic to expect an organization to function with no rules? Or for members to be allowed to break rules with no repercussion? Should i be able to criticize parts of an organization that has been beneficial to me and still remain loyal, or humble? Maybe my rebellious attitude is a product of growing up in a free society, and the criticism is me taking it for granted. Or maybe i do have a sense of entitlement and expect too much? Can't it also just be my critical, judgemental personality which naturally questions everything and puts trust and allegiance in very little outside myself?

It is difficult to isolate the variable i this case, because my reactions and opinions are a product of so many things: my family, culture, past and current experiences, neurons, all kinds of things. I am reminded of a recent blog post from my friend Becca who talks about the South African culture of ubuntu, which is essentially all about sharing. "People are quietly loaning each other money, bringing food to neighbors, etc. People know when their help is needed, and they bring it. They aren't, like us Americans, trumpeting what they are doing for other people to everyone they know. I think that humility is a part of ubuntu because you do what you do because of the way you are connected to other people. You don't see it as a triumph but as a part of being a person." Part of some big life lessons i learned during my service in the peace corps was how to be more humble. It seems difficult to balance humility with opinion, freedom of speech, entitlement and purpose. If i express my honest (and critical) opinion, does that make me a traitor to my organization? If i see where improvements could be made, is it worth expressing, or does that just give it a more negative reputation? Why am i concerned with allegiance in the first place?

I feel a very strong sense of ubuntu between my fellow volunteers especially, because of the common bonds we have forged resulting from our experiences. We have had to battle "the man" (the organization) together, which makes our friendship stronger, but reinforces negative attitudes toward authority. This authority exists to facilitate our experience, to keep us relatively safe and healthy, and to work with existing structures. Unofficially, at times, it plays less supportive roles. Ideally, we could all work together, organization and members, as one organic, open ubuntu machine. That is a goal of a learning organization. Maybe if we possess a combination of criticism with humility, we can find a good balance.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Censorship of the worst kind

A friend of mine was participating in some organizational training recently, was chosen, in fact, from a large group of applicants, to offer his assistance, expertise and support. After spending a goodly amount of time helping in a multitude of areas, even ones he did not agree or feel qualified to do, he wrote a thoughtful, but critical blog about his experience.

He was supposed to return a few weeks later, after a short hiatus, but was asked not to return and reprimanded by two separate individuals from said organization who read his post. This same organization requests all volunteers who keep a blog to post visibly that the opinions expressed are only those of the individual, and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization. This same organization also recently decided to send a volunteer home because of something posted by a fellow volunteer which put the person in a bad light, breaking a rule.

Last i checked, both blog posts are still available for viewing. But this volunteer who posted negative OPINIONS that he FEELS, was punished by being asked not to return to help with trainings. For how long, i do not know. The other volunteer, the one who ratted out the one who got ousted, was reprimanded in any way? Seemingly not. Censorship of the worst kind; selective and self-serving.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why do Peace Corps volunteers dress like they're homeless?

Why do all Peace Corps volunteers dress like they are homeless? I have been asked this question a few times; most recently by a middle class, white South African. At the time, i chuckled along with her, recognizing the comment to be based on truth, and then the conversation drifted elsewhere.

I suppose i forgot all about it until a few weeks ago, when i arrived once again in country. This time, however, i am not a volunteer and looked forward to wearing clothes that were a little more fashionable, maybe a little jewelry and occasional makeup. Well, it didn't take long for me to remember why i used to dress like i was a step above homeless- i received so much attention, especially from men. So much negative attention, in fact, that after the fourth day of enduring it, i decided then and there that it was back to frumpville for me. Unless i am to be in the company of a man the entire time i am in town, i now wear t-shirts and scrub pants, a headscarf and no makeup. So far, my plan has worked.

Especially when i first arrived at post, just by nature of my position, i attracted a lot of attention. Not all of it was negative, but coming from the States, i was used to privacy. People do not openly stare, make comments, ask questions or leer at you on a regular basis. Here, that is pretty normal, and could be very overwhelming, especially after a stressful week at school, language barriers or breakdowns in communication, donkeys eating your garden, or whatever the case may be.

Although South African society in general does value sharp dressing, those living in villages often cannot support this lifestyle and thus dress in torn, ripped and ill-fitting clothing. Peace Corps volunteers do not live far above this income bracket, either, on the measley stipend. So, dressing like this, some might say homeless, is a nice way to blend in with our neighbors. It also acts as a theft deterrent. Sort of. We are always targets wherever we go, no matter how we dress, what we have or don't have; firstly because we are white, and secondly because we are American. Truly, having white skin in this country means everyone else thinks you are rich. This is probably another reason for the unwanted sexual attention.

I don't flatter myself to think i am just that attractive that men swarm me like bees do a freshly blooming flower. They think i have money. And really, who doesn't want a sugar mama or daddy? Doing my best to stay under the proverbial radar makes my life, volunteer or civilian, so much easier.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Laws of attraction

One job i used to do but forgot about it until now, was writing love notes in english for young men whose first language is not english. This sounds really silly, but in reality, it is fun. The poems are short, things that translate well via sms and that aren't too deep or personal. It gives me a chance to make up simple rhymes, to play with stanzas and rhyme schemes, really simple literary poetic devices.

I like to write about things that inspire me, and mostly those things are found in nature: birdsong, rain, clouds, wind, you get the idea. Teasing with words stimulates the mind, which is the most erogenous zone, in my opinion. I wonder, though, why people aren't swooning over poets like the used to; or did they used to?

Biologically, i understand a woman choosing a strong, muscley mate so her offspring have a good chance of prospering. But how many of us, living in an enlightened society, are swayed that heavily by biology? I believe my choice was influenced somewhat biologically, but intellectually and emotionally, there is a stronger case. In the villages here among the baTswana, mates are often chosen solely for material possessions. If a man can give a lady money, clothes, airtime or food, he is the one. Bengalis hardly ever marry for love; their spouses are chosen by parents and horoscope chart readers. Among my American friends, however, mate selection is a much more complicated affair.

I know people who married young and either divorced or are still hashing it out. I know many single people, many of whom wish they were not. I also know some happy couples. It seems rare, though, for first marriages or serious relationships to be successful. People don't know what they don't want until they find it. For me, this is the interesting part of life, the trial and error, the why not adventures. They teach you a lot about yourself, as well as helping you figure out what kind of person works best with you. I am glad to come from a society that affords individuals this luxury, and even supports it. Otherwise, how would i have inspiration and experience to write my poems? ;-)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Back to africa

Back to africa! Last december, I didn't think this would ever happen. I was convinced that my next visit would be in several years, or only via blog posts and memories. Little did i know i would be headed back before the end of january. It couldn't have happened at a better time. Dead of winter, unemployed and recovering from injury, i need my sunshine and wacky taxis. I need peers, independence, and my sweetheart.

After almost two months back in the states, i had time to think, to process and let things come to light. Such as, absence makes the heart grow fonder, the grass is often greener on the other side, hindsight is 20/20, and i need to be productive in tasks that are fulfilling in order to be content. My family has not somehow morphed into these amazingly perfect characters, i have not changed into an amazingly tolerant and forgiving person to those closest to me. My life was never and has not been put on hold, and i cannot escape reality no matter how much i want to sometimes. Were my lessons learned and experiences gained during my time in the peace corps in vain? Can i take nothing away to interact with the people who mean the most to me? Will i let an amazingly negative string of circumstances get the best of me?

Yesterday, i commented to my family how full i was of piss and vinegar, when someone else described themselves as sweet. No one disagreed. Even though we laughed about it, it still made me think that i have A long way to go before i am again proud of my actions and deeds. Maybe this time, africa.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Good eats

My first attempt at enjoying some local North Carolinian cuisine, called barbecue, was rather disappointing.  From the parking lot, the place reminded me of a seedy strip club, or a sad cafe. Old Hickory did not let me down once I sat down to order, either.  The atmosphere was as depressing as most of the diners; that is to say, middle aged, overweight and quiet.  The server was friendly and helpful, but the food was lackluster. The fried food was too greasy and not fully cooked.  The meat was not dry, but it was not very flavorful, either.  A big BLAH.   This event happened shortly after my arrival, where my expectations were not so high, but I was rather excited to be eating "American cuisine" again after 18 months of going without.  Not to say that American cuisine is typically that amazing or healthy, but it is the food I grew up eating, for better or for worse, and I missed it.  I knew that there had to be better barbecue out there, so I knew the search must continue.

Growing up in Oklahoma, which is kind of Southern, kind of Great Plains-ey and kind of something else, there was a lot of barbecue; both the event, which we used to describe cooking outside (interchangeably with the phrase "cookout") and the food that emerged from said events.  As far as I knew, barbecue could describe baloney, beef, chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, pork, sausages, or vegetables.  My mom made "barbecue chicken" in the oven and smothered the meat with "barbecue sauce."  Apparently, in North Carolina, barbecue has a much more serious and specific connotation.

So far, at both restaurants which I have eaten barbecue, the definition of and description of "barbecue" is printed at the front of the menu.  It refers only to the meat, not the method, in which the beast (namely pork shoulder) is smoked slowly with local wood.  The accompanying sauce is vinegar-based, which distinguishes it from other schools of barbecue, such as the Memphis or Kansas City varieties.  Another commonality is that popular side dishes to accompany the meat are hush puppies, slaw, and something called "Brunswick Stew."  I am a fan of hush puppies and vinegar slaw, as these are the usual side dishes at a fish fry, where the local lake catches (in Oklahoma these are usually bass, catfish or crappie) are gutted, filleted, and dredged in a cornmeal batter and deep fried.  My grandma always included diced jalapenos in our hush puppies, so I prefer some heat with mine, whereas the North Carolina varieties seem to be a little sweeter.  Nevertheless, I found a hushpuppy or two an adequate starch for a pile of smoked meat, instead of a large baked potato or gigantic white flour yeast roll, which I was expecting from my Oklahoma eating days.  The cooling, crunchy vinegar slaw was a nice texture variant to the soft meat.  Ah, yes, the meat!

R&R restaurant served up a very tender, subtly smoky barbecued pork shoulder that was chopped, but not to smithereenes.  The two sauces, which the diner adds for herself, were a straight vinegar (at least I think so) and a vinegary sauce that reminded me very much of the Arby-Q, except not as thick.  One could experiment and try the meat as is, with one sauce, or with both.  I found both sauces were good, alternatively, and the meat was good just by itself.  The tea was freshly brewed, and the sides were piping hot.  Apparently the homemade banana pudding is "to die for," but if I am to try dessert it must be on a separate occasion with a cup of coffee, and not after enjoying a small pile of meat.

I don't feel I can begin to rate the barbecue on a scale, because I don't know how high or low the rabbit hole of the cuisine goes.  But, based on what I know of good food, this place earns a 3.5 out of 5.  So far, anyway.