Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Zigeunerweisen - ode to date night

Parent's night out at Fort Jackson is the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month. And ever since I found out about it, I do my best to make sure I'm at the CDC bright and early to sign up for a night of super-cheap (and reliable!) babysitting for five hours while the honey and I go out.

This week, however, the plans changed; and I admit, I didn't take it so well.
A friend had offered to keep Cam for the night, which meant we could go out sans curfew. The honey accepted said offer and started making plans of his own. It turns out, his plans involved going to a club. Um, what? 

I imagined going to some sweat-filled nightclub full of 20-somethings (and younger than 20-somethings with fake IDs) spilling cheap drinks while dancing to the latest garbage as it blares through the speakers (seriously, have you heard the music these days? ugh!).  Two things about me: I don't like noise and 2) once I've decided I don't like something, there's a very slim chance of changing my mind.

So. Date night. I bought a pair of shoes to make what I assumed would be an inevitable disaster more palatable. 

About an hour before we left, I googled the club. And it wasn't a "club" at all really. It was more of a restaurant/lounge situation. Ok, I'm feeling better. Except for # 2 listed above, of course.

Anyway, I reluctantly showered. Dressed. Untwisted hair (which could have lasted another week!). Camouflaged eye bags. Minimized skin flaws. Perfumed. And off we went.

I will skip the part where we got lost. I will gloss over us googling the address in the museum parking lot only to learn we were off on the address by about um, 30 or so blocks. And I will barely mention the fact that once we got to the club (30 minutes after my normal bed time, no less!) it was closed. Seems there was some sort of controversy brewing over a fire investigation, which I assume had something to do with it. So, there we are. All dressed up with nowhere to go, getting sleepier by the moment, and knowing that, like Cinderella, I only had until midnight. Except, whereas Cinderella's carriage turned into a pumpkin, I turned an overworked working mother with bags under her eyes the size of storage trunks.

So in an effort to salvage the evening, we decide to go to a tried and true jazz spot, the Blue Martini. When we got there, something was going on. The bouncer?host? was apologetic at the $8 cover he had to charge us. He seemed even more apologetic that he had to put "tacky" orange bands on our wrists. I wasn't sure what was going on, but it didn't seem like our scene. Meaning: the majority of the patrons seemed to be older than 60. An entire section was occupied by a group of gray-haired guys wearing sweater vests. I think I even saw one wearing one of those blazers with the patches on the elbow. "Professors" was the word that came to mind. Turns out, I was right.

We'd walked into a Dez Cordas concert, a double bassist/guitarist duo. The bassist was -- wait for it -- a professor at the University of South Carolina. I didn't know what they were playing, the blog title, Zigeunerweisen is one of the selections they played, but I liked it. Much of what they played sounded like something from the soundtrack from Martin Scorcese film. You know, that crescendo of strings that happens right before the part you imagine to be the climax, when in fact, the climax is nowhere in sight?

And the guys, well they were funny. In that geeky, Steve Carell-in-40-year-old Virgin type of way.

The talent was amazing. As a journalist I (rarely) use a tape recorder and later transcribe the interview. These guys did the same thing, except with music. As in, listened to a song, then wrote the notes in order to play it on their instruments. Amazing.

When they played a series of tangoes, I felt like I was in a little Argentinian club. When the little old lady next to me asked: "Do you tango?" I wished I could have said yes.

Was it the evening I'd thought it would be? No. But I enjoyed it; and in the end, I came out of it feeling just a little bit more cultured; a little bit more refined.

And then we got in the car and listened to Ludacris.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Just one of 'dem days

Yesterday was "one of those days." And a mere hour into today, it seemed
as though it would be another bad one.

Wednesday is the newspaper's production day; it's the day we take all
our articles, photos, whatever and send them off for the printer for
publishing. The deadline is final. We MUST have a paper 
on Thursday so
not sending it 
on Wednesday is not an option.

Well, yesterday, the day care called around 10 a.m. to let  me know that
I needed to pick up my son. My husband was unavailable until 3 p.m. and
I couldn't reach my friend on the phone to see if I could drop him off.
So he came to work with me.

This morning, my boss tells me that someone who'd called during all of
yesterday's madness was upset that she was having to call so many
different numbers. She called me first, but I couldn't help her. In her
words, actually, "She called and a woman answered the phone and all I
could hear was a baby screaming in the background."


I try hard not to let my personal life effect my work life. When I was
pregnant, I worked up until the day I went into labor. I walked, I stood
in the heat, I laid down on the ground to get photos, even when my belly
got in the way. I agreed to take the minimum 6 weeks off from work; four
weeks after the baby was born, I was back to work, at least part-time. I
carried the baby on my hip in a sling as I took photos and conducted
interviews. So, having someone call on a rare day when the baby had to
be here for most of the day and having said person hear him in the
background and comment on it was disturbing, to say the least.

My supervisors have been incredibly supportive through all of the
appointments, missed 
work hours and bring-the-baby-to-work days. But, it
makes me look unprofessional, I know; and I just can't shake the feeling
that I'm now one of those people who is failing miserably at being a
working mom. I know that tomorrow, or the next day, or Monday (at the
latest), I will be over this and will have moved on to the next thing
that has me all stressed out.

But right now, today, I feel like I'm on a derailed train and I'm trying
my hardest to figure out how to get it back on track.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Family days bring more than traffic

My first week at Fort Jackson, I received some advice: Limit on-post driving on Thursdays and Fridays — Family Day and graduation.

At the time, I didn’t know what Family Day was. But, for me, it soon became nothing more than a traffic hassle. Everywhere I went, from the PX to the Shoppette, it was packed. Quick errands took longer than usual. And forget about grabbing a burger or taco on Family Day; I’d either bring my lunch or eat off-post. But several weeks ago, a last-minute errand took me away from my ordinary routine, and into the PX, on a Thursday.  
I’m almost always in a rush, but that day, I took my time looking for shoes for my son.

As I walked through the PX, I saw the usual throngs of family members, but this time, I saw something more.

I saw Soldiers, after nine weeks of wearing combat boots, trying on high heels. I saw dads being reunited with children — children who were at that age at which two weeks could mean the difference between having a crawling baby and a toddler. I could imagine that these children were much different than when dad left for Fort Jackson more than two months ago. I saw brothers shopping with sisters, moms hugging sons. And for the first time, I saw beyond my own selfishness.

Many of these brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, wives and girlfriends were experiencing military life for the first time. They had never before seen a military installation, let alone been to one. For those of us who live here, the pause of traffic as a battalion of Soldiers marches across the road is commonplace.

But for these visitors, who I see snapping photos of said Soldiers with their cameras and cell phones, it is something new and amazing. They are seeing through fresh eyes what we have come to know from our own Soldiers — the discipline, the strength and the courage.

I often peruse the Public Affairs Facebook page and am astounded at how many family members and significant others of our Soldiers in training reach out to each other. They thirst for information about their loved ones. They passionately follow, as much as they can, each week of their loved one’s training. And they also become friends with each other, even if only online. So, as I looked around at these family members interact their Soldiers, I thought about the numerous posts I read each day. The posts in which a mother’s baby boy is leaving the nest for the first time. The newlywed who will be reunited with his or her spouse at graduation.

These loved ones have poured their hearts out on our page as they fretted over receiving letters, mailing care packages and missing phone calls.

I won’t say that I will never again complain about traffic on Thursday and Friday, but I will be more patient. Because now I know something about these family members that I didn’t before: To me, Family Day was an inconvenience; to them, it was everything.

First published in the Fort Jackson Leader at www.jackson.army.mil. Link to the original is here.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Nappily ever after

I got that "good" hair.

You know -- That wash 'n go type of hair. That "I didn't really need to put a perm in my head, anyway" hair. That "you know I got Indian on my daddy's side" type of hair. The type of hair that makes it acceptable for me to go unstraightened while nappy-wannabes are forced to remain slaves to the chemical straightener/hot comb/flat iron for the rest of their lives.

Let "them" tell it.

All the time, I am told by women (unsolicited, I must add) that they wish they could go natural. That if they had hair like mine, they would be able to. That, despite the frizzy (and uncurly) fro they usually see on me with their own eyes, I must have "good" hair. Or, "better" hair than theirs. The other day, as I swapped beauty products with a natural hair I just met (Oyin Handmade and Qhemet Biologics are my to-die-for staples) she looked at my expanding second-day twist out and said, "You must have some good hair under there!"

Uh, what?

The phrase "good hair" is one of the few (OK, too-numerous-to-count) things that really gets my goat. To me, my texture is "nappy." The word doesn't offend me, it just describes my hair. I could get all technical about how it is kinky, curly, coily, but to me, it all just rings a bit hollow -- like I'm trying to hard not to accept my hair for what it really is -- nappy.

When I went natural nearly three years ago, it wasn't because of some life-altering decision or life-affirming realization. I didn't have the eye-opening realization that the caustic chemicals I let my kitchen beautician put in my hair every 4-6 weeks was doing more harm than good. I didn't secretly covet another sista's beautiful fro. I didn't make a lifestyle change that had me re-evaluate all of the unnatural things I was putting in my body, to include, yes, my hair.

I was just cheap. And I figured that if I was shelling out $100 for hair, 130 euros for a hairstyle and unknown amounts of gas (and time) wasted on the 60 kilometer trip to the hairdresser, there was no way I'd give another hairdresser $50-$60 every other month on hair hidden beneath two packs of human hair yaki. And when I took that final weave out eight months later, my 2-inch Fantasia cut had become an afro. And I liked it.

My entire relaxed life had been an emotional rollercoaster. I've pouted when my home-done relaxer didn't turn out as sleek and straight as a friend's; I've cried in the bathroom when a beauty school 'do made me look like an 18-year-old dressed as Patti Labelle ("On my own" Patti, circa 1986); I've washed out hairstyles just minutes after leaving the beauty shop. In short, I had hair drama. That is, until I went natural.

I realized that my natural hair embodied me more than any other style could. It is bold,big and in your face without me doing anything extra to it. It's "me."

I don't try to define my non-existent "curls." I just let her (my fro, of course) be herself. Sometimes, when I tell people that I often sport a wash n' wear style, they are incredulous. Perhaps they think that by wash 'n go, I mean that my glorious naps suddenly look like Tracee Ellis Ross' hair. It doesn't -- but I love it anyway.

So, for those women who, despite having had chemically straightened hair since they were 4/5/6 years old (and couldn't possibly remember what it looked like, and who used Blue Magic grease, which is totally NOT good for your hair), think they don't have the type of texture that would allow them to go natural, I challenge you.

Now that I'm natural, have hair that expresses me, but doesn't define me. The type of hair that allows me to get in the pool with my son and not worry about my hair "going back." The type of hair that switches from twists, to twist out, to fro (and sometimes, all in one day) with ease. The type of hair that makes me feel that I am fabulous, even when I'm wearing sneakers. The type of hair that allows water and a headband to salvage the worst bad hair days.

And once you find that type of freedom, you'll have "good" hair, too.

ETA: Since someone thought I was flipping the bird in my last photo (which I wasn't!) I swapped. Happy now? :)

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Crystal Clear: Mom, son have hair-raising experience

Since I stopped straightening my hair three years ago, I have been known by my hair. Those who don't know me through my husband or son know me as "the lady with the big hair" or "the lady with the afro." And, until a few weeks ago, my son was following in my footsteps.

His hair was a mixture of several textures, with a thick Mohawk-like patch of curly hair on top. He was born with a lot of hair, and over the past year, it had only gotten longer; well, more accurately, bigger. Much like my hair, it refused to be tamed. It was as if his hair had its own identity, and I liked it that way. His hair made pick-up time at the day care easy, too. If his usual providers were gone for the day, he was easy to identify.

"He's the kid with the crazy hair," I'd say.

But that was then.

One week after his first birthday, he had his first trip to the barbershop. He sat on Dad's lap - my little one looked tiny in the huge chair - and the barber covered his clothes with a cape. The first part of the haircut was easy - the barber shaped the baby's "Mohawk" with scissors. That is where I thought the haircut would end; unfortunately, I was wrong.

Next, came the clippers. For about half an hour, the barber clipped, shaped and cut my baby's hair. To my son's credit, he sat in dad's lap quietly the entire time. But at the end of the haircut, I couldn't help but notice the mounds of hair on the floor. And as the barber swept the hair away, it signaled to me the end of my son's baby-dom.

When I posted photos of the haircut online that night, a friend of mine remarked that she doesn't understand why moms are so reticent to have their sons' hair cut. For me, the reason was two-fold. The big, often wild, hair was one of those things that tied him to me. When I walked into a room with him, it was clear that we were mother and son. But now that his hair is cut more like Dad's, we'd lost that bond.

His hair was also a symbol of his growing up. I know he has to grow up, and I look forward to when he is talking, playing sports and going to school. But as the hair was swept away, I felt like a part of his identity and a part of his childhood innocence was being swept away, as well.

I know that although that part of our bond may now be gone, we still share something that only mothers can share with their sons. And now hair is something that bonds him and my husband - my husband now brushes our son's hair in the same methodical way in which he brushes his own.

I must admit, the haircut has grown on me, and now that it's already just a bit longer, I like it even more.

When some people go to a barber, they come out only a few dollars and a several strands of hair lighter.

But my son's change was more than that; he went in a baby and left a big boy.

Spice up your life!

I don't have the time, nor the inclination, to write a long, drawn out post about what my blog is/will be about, etc. etc. So for now, here is one of my recipe trials.

I found this one in my new favorite magazine besides Essence. And Glamour. And um, yeah, this one comes in after that. Anyway, it's Food Network Magazine. There are like 100 recipes in each issue and there is no way to try to them all, so I feel like I'm wasting my money. But when I get a recipe like this one -- which is really more than 11,000 recipes when you mix and match -- it seems worth it. This month's issue cover photo is a shrimp stir-fry. Last week, I made beef and broccoli, which turned out so-so. Today, I made spicy pork w/ celery, spinach and grape tomatoes served over spaghetti (all I had. I've banned myself from spending money on groceries until next week).

One caveat: I was rushing to do it all this morning (chop up meat, veggies, whisk sauce together and marinate meat) and skipped a step. Namely, instead of marinating the meat in the marinade, I marinated it in the sauce. I actually think this made for more flavorful meat, which was the downfall in my first try at the magazine's stir-fry recipe. Plus, I wasn't too sure how my baby arugula would play out, so I opted for frozen spinach instead. And there was no method as to why I didn't use the whole pack of spinach -- I just needed to save something non-spicy for baby boy's dinner.

Anyway, here it is. And yes -- it really is as delicious as it looks!

1 pound boneless pork chop, sliced into strips
1/2 package frozen spinach, thawed (chopped)
1/2 pack of grape tomatoes, sliced in half
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 scallions, chopped

For the sauce/marinade: Mix 3/4 c. chicken broth, 1 tbsp each soy sauce, dry sherry, 1/2 tsp. sesame oil, 1 tbsp sugar, 2 tsp. asian chili sauce (I used garlic chili sauce) . Make two separate bowls of this. Marinate the meat in one, put the other in the fridge until you're ready to cook everything.

Marinate the meat for at least 1 hour. Drain before cooking.

Heat 1/4 inch oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the pork, cook until almost done. Transfer to a bowl; wipe out the pan.
Heat the pan, then add 2 tbsp oil, 4 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp minced ginger, the scallions and the celery. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, then add the spinach. Cook through, then add the tomatoes. Cook another 2-3 minutes or so. Add the sauce and the pork. Cook until the sauce is thick and everything is cooked, about 3 minutes or so.

Serve alongside rice, noodles or alone. Pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine and enjoy!

Fab femme's tip: Chop all your veggies and meat and marinate the night before cooking for a quick (yet freshly cooked) meal the next day. If you like it extra spicy, add a few sliced jalapenos right before serving.