Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fox and Friends

Before you all jump on me for being one of those people who bang down the door of the gum at the ass crack of dawn, let me preface by saying I'm not normally at the gum by 7:00. I was, however, there today, but unfortunately I was not there fast enough to monopolize the TV, which is how I cam to spend half an hour watching Fox news.

At one juncture, I actually had to put my hands on my cheeks in Home Alone-esque shock and do the look around to see if anyone else was catching this. Unfortunately, it was just me, my utter disgust, and the guy who chose the channel.

When we tuned in, Fox was discussing a news story about a drunk girl at a mall who was abducted. There is camera footage, but you can't see the abductor. Apparently this is the fourth abduction in five years to occur in this area and the news woman suggested that one way to assure that you don't get abducted as a woman is to monitor your drinking.

Um, come again?

So, let me get this straight: ultimately it was the victim's fault because she was inebriated and if she had been sober none if this would have happened. Right. That's how we solve the problem of violence against women.

And speaking of violence against women, Fox then had the gaul to suggest that the reason the Ray Rice case is getting so much coverage is because crusaders against the inherent machismo in the NFL want to bring the demise of the franchise.

What with the who now? As a non-watcher, non-enjoyer of football and someone who doesn't particularly like the culture it perpetuates, let me be the first to say that I don't want football to go away. What we bleeding heart liberals would like to see is a shift in the culture. The reality is that these NFL stars ate multimillionaire role models, often for minority youth, and the message that has been iterated over and over is that these players are above the law because sport and entertainment trumps ethics. And that's not an okay message to send to anybody. Period.

And THEN they grabbed their harpoon and did a segment called "Food Police" in which they attacked Michelle Obama's policing of school lumches. Now, in theory, and this us going to shock you,  I agree with Fox. Your health is your own business and what Michelle Obama is doing in this campaign I'd try to "cure obesity," which is 1) not a disease and thusly not in not in need of a cure and 2) poor science. But as I've stated again and again, hypocrisy is ugly. Fox is notorious for harping on how much money fat people cost society (and if you want myriad research to prove that this is a fallacy, I'd be happy to send it to you) as well as propagating their own "cures" for obesity. Furthermore, although I fully disprove of Michelle Obama's agenda for cutting calories in school and the "Let's Move" campaign, it is a fact that many students don't have access to healthy food or really actual food and that schools really ought to take responsibility for feeding their students nutritive things. I don't think this means we need to cut our kiddos' calories, though. I think it means we need to acknowledge as a nation that neither French fries nor ketchup are vegetables, that hot dogs are not a viable healthy option, and that iceberg lettuce does not equal "salad." You can cut hundreds of calories and still eat crappy pseudo-food.

The moral: Don't watch Fox news.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Awesome Day

Cherry Garcia, soaking in some love.
This week, I've been volunteering at Dakin Animal Shelter's Animal Adventures camp. This week's group is comprised of 24 kids between six and twelve years old, and everyday they welcome guest speakers and their animals. The Forest Park Zoo came with a porcupine and a hedgehog, a woman named Rae came with a Ball Python, a blue-tongued skink, and a sugar glider. And today, a man named Paul came with his amazing pit bull terriers, Cherry Garcia and Madison.

Paul rescued Madison, now 10, at 6 weeks old while he was still living in South Carolina. Cherry came into his life in a different way. Cherry is a Vicktory dog. He was one of the 50+ dogs rescued from former quarterback Michael Vick's Virginia property, "Bad Newz Kennels," an underground dog-fighting establishment.

When Vick's dogs were rescued, Cherry was probably about 2 years old and likely had been there since he was a puppy. His name derived not from the delicious ice cream, but from the huge welt around his eye that reminded workers of a cherry and gave them a way to identify him from the myriad other frightened, unsocialized pit bulls.

Vicktory Dogs are landmark cases because, prior to this, it was believed that the dogs - pit bulls in particular - could not be rehabilitated after being "taught" to be aggressive and were thusly rescued, used in trials, and subsequently euthanized. Not so with the Vicktory Dogs. An organization called Best Friends took them in - after nearly a one and a half year trial - and spent the next year rehabilitating them, and only one of the dogs was deemed too aggressive for rehabilitation.

Paul explained that, initially, Cherry, who now eagerly greets people, sits in their laps, and stretches calmly in a room of 24 eager children, was petrified of people, having known only hurt. His back and face were covered in acid burns, which makes it difficult to believe that he was one of the lucky ones. According to court statements, dogs who didn't perform well were tortured or executed in cruel ways. Those who lived or did perform well were encouraged in aggression by various heinous methods and sometimes steroids. According to Vick and his three convicted associates, this was "fun" and all asserted the opinion that dogs were property and defended Vick's right to do with them what he pleased.  Vick served 18 months in prison and was then hired onto the Philadelphia Eagles as a quarterback with a starting salary of $1.6 million in 2009 and resigned as the starting quarterback a year later with nearly a five time increase in pay.

The majority of the Vicktory Dogs have stories similar to Cherry's: they've been adopted into homes that came with federal stipulations, and are changing people's minds about fighting dogs, pit bulls in particular.

It's a common misconception that pit bulls are naturally aggressive. While aggression can be a bred trait, Paul explained that over 90% of dogs bred for fighting are deemed "unfit"because they are inclined to be docile, loving, and loyal to people and to other dogs.

As Cherry walked around them room, he plopped himself on anyone who wanted his attention and on some kids who didn't even ask for it. Laid back and relaxed, it's almost impossible to believe that this dog spent the beginning of his life being "trained" to fight. We can all learn a lot from Cherry about trust and forgiveness. He still bears some scars of his days at Bad Newz Kennels, including what Paul believes are whip marks down his back. We don't know if Cherry remembers that part of his life, but we do know that he's managed to move on in a big way.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Haters Gonna Hate?

I've been cooking with my farm share stuff (blog on what I made later) and contemplating a Facebook conversation that occurred earlier today. My dilemma is that I'm torn between being amused and throw-a-chair angry that I had this conversation with someone who considers herself an adult, and I decided that this is worth talking about because the fact that this stuff is allowed to happen shows how far we still have to go. Disclaimer: Body-shaming language and general bigotry abound and I'm likely to get explicit.

A mutual friend of myself and my mother's posted a this link about supporting positive body image for men. The first comment, made by a young woman I'll just call Janet simply read, "Gross." 

My beautiful, wonderful mother who I'm so proud of right now, responded, "Too bad that people can't be accepted for who they are regardless of size and shape. These real guys are not photoshopped, shaved and oiled. They are, however, not gross...they are human and as such likely have feelings. We all need to get past what advertising media has sold us as being the standard because it is UNATTAINABLE. Just saying."

Yes! Yes! Exactly! And even if Janet does find those non-photoshopped men sexually undesirable, that's her prerogative. There's not law that says we all have to like the same thing. Except, oh, wait, there's not a law, but there are myriad constantly reinforced stereotypes that actively SELL us - yes, we pay money for this - an ideal of what we should and shouldn't find attractive. 

In response to my mother's very astute and spot on comment, Janet wrote, "GROSS!!! And calm down there Suzy Q, it'll be okay."

Let's be super clear: My mother was addressing pressing social issues faced by fat Americans. These social issues include the fact that larger people are discriminated against when job hunting, fat people generally receive inadequate healthcare, and that fat shaming is common, pervasive, and often compliantly accepted. Janet made it sound like my mother was getting bent out of shape about a bad hair day or something. And on a petty note, nobody calls my mother Suzy Q except Sarah Brown. 

My mother then calmly laid her case to rest by more or less saying "Let's agree to disagree," and then rather snidely referred to her as "Janet-poo." Her decision was fine. We are not obliged to argue. 

Janet, however, was not finished. She continued (and I'm copying this verbatim): "Stopping being negative they have plus size models too :-) don't be jelly. Being healthy and taking care of your body and being fit is a lifestyle, anyone can do this. Eating like crap and being lazy won't help you achieve that lifestyle obviously. In my opinion I find it rather Unappealing to see an overweight gentleman in underwear. Saying a health fit body is unachievable is weak Sue-poo! I can appreciate the fact that the human body will fluctuate in size and shape however I find a fit body to be more easy on the eyes when promoting underwear."

Again, let's be super clear: Janet here is assuming that we can identify someone's health based on their size, which we certainly cannot, and then doing a little bit of a hypocritical flip-flop by saying that it's okay for people to be different sizes, but only certain ones are allowed to promote underwear.

Janet then - and here's where I got really worked up - suggested that, "Perhaps maybe you should see these models as motivation for a healthier lifestyle." Once again, Janet is conflating health and size, which are not the same thing, and furthermore, she is very flippantly treating an issue that affects a large number of people. 

Now, I'm a fan of debate in general, but human respect and civil rights are not open for debate in my humble opinion, and, to echo Reagan Chastain, "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness do not start when we weigh what someone else thinks we should weigh." So, I took a sarcastic route (in hindsight not my best choice) and wrote this: "OMG, like, that's what I'm totally going to do. I'm, like, totally going to plaster my room with photos of photoshopped women and take Alli and eat Nutrisystem so I can be 'more easy on the eyes.' High five!"

And then this happened:

Janet: "Look bitch, I don't sound like that. Just because the slime behind your toilet is prettier than you doesn't mean you need to treat me like a ditzy girl. Stereotyping me because I live in California is weak. Obviously you don't give two shits about your appearance because you resemble a thunder thigh mini mouse. Eating healthy and exercising doesn't mean taking pills and eating weight loss meals. After looking at your gross face the very thought of seeing you in person summons vomit to the recesses of my mouth. High five!"

One more time, let's be super clear: This isn't about my health, her vague future health threats, or anything else. This is purely about wanting to hate me and wanting me to hate me over the fact that I mocked the way she was flippantly addressing A CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUE. Perhaps Janet thinks her value lies in being thin and the fact that I don't value being thin is a threat to her self-esteem. 

And, honestly, what the hell is a thunder thigh mini mouse? Has her level of repulsion for me superseded any actual living large animals? What about elephants? Whales? Hippos? 

So, I asked her, "What the hell is a thunder thigh mini mouse? First of all, I had no idea you lived in California." I didn't. I promise. "I was mocking the persistent jargon perpetuated through your 'everybody knows' ideals and stereotypes of beauty. Second of all, I'm very pleased to evoke such an evocative response from someone who doesn't even KNOW me or anything ABOUT me. You're going to look at a picture of me and assume that you know things about me and believe they're true no matter what, and that's fine. I can't make you change. But if you're going to demand that I treat YOU with respect, then I'm going to demand that back from you because hypocrisy is ugly. And, while we're at it, I don't appreciate the name calling. I didn't call you names, make fun of the way you look, or in fact, mention anything about you, except pointing out in a sarcastic valley girl way that your beliefs are incredibly narrow minded."

And, as proof that there is no arguing with these people, Janet responded, "I literally only read the first sentence and you are a thunder thigh mini mouse."


Face palm.

Thanks for the clarification. It makes it so much clearer when you repeat exactly what you just said.

But really, there's no arguing. And, for me, logic and evidence based practices aside, this is about treating people with basic human respect. I will own up to being very snarky in my initial comment, and I'm a little bit sorry that my snarkiness offended Janet so greatly, but her comments were 100% unwarranted.

I am at a place in my life where I am growing more and more okay with who I am on a daily basis, but for those of you who may deal with these kinds of people - either intentionally or not - and aren't sure how to deal with them and move on, it helps me to bear the following in mind: History is on my side.

Once upon a time everybody knew that the sun revolved around the earth.

Once upon a time everybody knew that phrenology proved racial stereotypes.

One upon a time everybody knew that Lysol was a safe effective way to douche.

Once upon a time everybody knew that if a woman enjoyed sex, she was crazy and needed surgery.

Prejudice, stigma, bullying, and oppression are heaped on fat people every day, so much so that just getting out of bed and daring to go outside can be perceived as a revolutionary act. Every day, more or more fat people do this and refuse to be held back by fat shaming bigots who stick their fingers in their ears like a petulant child, refusing to listen to logic or reason and insist on "helping" fat people by warning them about vague future health threats or trying to bully us thin. One last time, let's be clear, I'll know when you're actually helping me because I will feel helped.

My size is not a marker of health. My body is not up for public debate. My rights do not come last because I do not fit the contemporary cultural standard of beauty.




My Fatkini

I did it. I actually did it. I bought a fatkini. And I LOVE it.

Year after year of trying to cover up my  body in "flaw hiding" swim skirts,  tankinis, shirts, long, unswimmable shirts, you name it, finally led me to the decision to purchase a fatkini from Forever21.
Is my body swimsuit ready? Arms? Check. Legs? Check. Torso? Check. Things that go in the top? Check.  Things that go in the bottom?  Check. Neck and head? Check and check. Turns out I'm not just swimsuit ready, I'm over prepared. Not everyone has both arms and legs, you know. But I do hope that all individuals partaking in swimming or swimming - related activities do have a head.
Anyway,  I bought the tomato red fatkini (not Forever21's term, by the way) for under $20. Total. For both pieces. Yes, they were on sale, but even at full price the set comes around $25. The price is just unheard of! Especially in the realm of plus size swimsuits where a one-piece can set you back $80 easily.  The suit itself comes in several color choices, and the shape is modeled after retro pin-up suits from the 1950s. Let me tell you,  my stomach is very much looking forward to the sun.
It does feel unusually subversive,  though, to wear out. When the message perpetuated is that only people of certain sizes are permitted both to have other people and themselves like the way they look in swimwear, being fat in a bikini in public is seditious and takes a surprising amount of many-tiered confidence: the confidence to be fat in public; the confidence to tune out negative comments;  the confidence to know that your body looks damn good because it's your body and nobody can take that away from you.

I don't work for Forever21,  but I am highly recommending this product. Let me be clear, though: no one is under any obligation to wear anything that makes them uncomfortable.  But next time you're shopping for swimsuits, I would suggest a little soul searching regarding the root of that discomfort.  It doesn't make it disappear, but it does make if easier to slowly sweep under the rug, one act of subversion at a time.

Monday, June 30, 2014

It's Really, Really Where I'm Going To

Pashuparti Temple
Kathmandu is an assault on the senses. Smells from the bazaars fill the nose - curry, turmeric, tandoori species - while mud oozes from the loose street stones, squishing beneath shoes and making the narrow streets a slippery obstacle course. Sacred cows, with their long, flirtatious lashes, wander about, undeterred by the numerous card, motorbikes, and tuk tuks that show little regard for pedestrians. Low in the Himalayan Valley, the smog is too thick to revere any of the nature and the rain is too heavy to avoid it.

Kathmandu is a strange convergence of China (Tibet) and India, where the red marks of water blessings adorn the foreheads of most and where dumplings are filled with curried chicken and tandoori seasonings. 

The tourists here tend toward the earthy crunchy, with hemp bags, dreadlocks, and apparently something to find that I'm not convinced is still available in this overcrowded, touristic, once-untouched Mecca for the followers of peace, love, and understanding.

Goats living in the Himalayas
I came to Kathmandu for Krishna. He has a bike shop and a figurine and other things available to purchase that don't bring me any closer to this mysterious, androgynous God. Judging by all the reviews online, I'm one of the only visitors who left unimpressed and unmoved by all that is offered in this Valley. Most of the comments I read feature phrases like "blown away," "purification," and "breathtaking" and I wonder what these people saw, experienced, felt that I couldn't or didn't or wouldn't. And I kick myself for sounding so jaded and unappreciative of what I have been so blessed to have been able to see. On the ground, the touts followed us, selling tours, blankets, prayer bowls, knick-knacks, hashish, knives, tea, anything to make a dollar. A firm, "No, thank you," was rarely an adequate deterrent. For me, the highlight of Kathmandu was the tip of Everest seen from the plane, white rock cutting through the gossamer clouds, 30,000 feet in the air.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Summer Food Challenge

...is on. It's mostly a challenge for me. And anybody else with a Farm Share.

My dad and Stephanie have very generously once again put me on their Farm Share and, as always happens, there seems to be an excess of fresh fruit, veg, and herbs. Here's what I got this week:

•2 pints of strawberries
•1 pint of snap peas
•1 head of broccoli
•1/2 head of green cabbage
•3 zucchinis
•2 cucumbers
•1/3 of a large bag of leafy greens (I chose mostly spinach and a handful of arugula)
•1 head of bok choy
•10 smallish carrots
•generous handful of dill

A significant amount of what I got this week was consumed as is due to my post-China detox. I ate the majority of the strawberries and snap peas, both of the cucumbers, and some of the carrots and dill. Now I have the rest of it.

Here is this week's Summer Food Challenge Menu
If anybody has bok choy ideas, let me know!

Chinese Cabbage Stir Fry
Serves: A lot. Time: <10 minutes

Ingredients
•1/2 head of green cabbage
•3-5 pieces of garlic
•chopped carrots (optional)
•2 tbsp. EVOO
•2 tsp. soy sauce
•3 tsp. vinegar (any kind is fine)
•1-2 tsp. sugar

Directions

Finely chop the garlic and put it and the oil in a medium to large sauce pan over medium-high heat for two to three minutes. Add in chopped cabbage, carrots, liquids, and sugar. Cook until cabbage is slightly wilted.

Zucchini Bread
Serves: 2 loaves. Time: 10 - 15 minute prep., 1 hour to cook, 20 minutes to cool

Ingredients

Freshly baked
zucchini bread

3 cups flour
•1 tsp. salt
•1 tsp. baking soda
•1 tsp. baking powder
•3 eggs
•1 cup oil
•2 1/4 cups sugar
•3 tsp. vanilla
•2 cups grated zucchini (about 2 medium-sized zucchinis)
•1 cup of chopped nuts (I used cashews)

Directions

Grease to 4" x 8" pans. Preheat oven to 325°. Sift flour, salt, baking power, and baking soda together in a bowl. Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat until combined. Stir in zucchini and nuts until fully integrated. Pour batter into prepared pans (about half way full). Bake for 40 - 60 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Allow to cool for 20 minutes.

Leafy Green Nachos
Serves: 2 - 3 Time: >10 minutes
Not yet broiled leafy green nachos

Ingredients
•1/3 - 1/2 bag of tortilla chips
•1/2 - 1 cup grated cheese (depending on cheese level preference)
•chopped tomatoes
•significant amount of leafy greens, chopped
•1 small onion, chopped (optional)
•1 green pepper, chopped (optional)
•1/4 cup sour cream
•generous handful dill

Directions
Spread tortilla chips out evenly on a cookie sheet. Cover with leafy greens, tomato, onion, and pepper. Spread cheese over that. Broil until cheese is melted. While broiling, add dill to sour cream. Stir well. Use as dipping sauce.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Things That Go Bump in the Night

It started with a squeak. You know the kind I'm talking about: unlpleasant; unwelcome.  The high pitched call sounded three times in succession - squeak, squeak, squeak - and I bolted upright as I am inclined to do when such a noise occurs.

My first thought, of course, was that the cats were chasing my arch nemesis: the mouse. So i waited breathless for more squeaks that never came. All I heard were intermittent thus of one of the cats jumping on and off something in the living room. My second thought was that it was from outside. With the windows open, sometimes those bits of nature that I'd rather not encounter sound too close for comfort. My third thought was that I'd I walked into the kitchen,  which is right off the bedroom, and the cats followed me, then I had nothing to worry about.  This, of course,  is always risky. But I gathered my nerves and took the six steps into the kitchen where I blasted the light - because that's safety - and no cats followed me.

I stepped into the hallway to see where they were, still within darting distance of the bedroom, to see Emily perche'd on the credenza and Desmond on the flior, both staring intently at the ceiling,  their heads swaying, swooping almost. I followed their entranced gazes. There in the dim light of the living room was a bat flying around.

Not knowing what else to do, I did thd only sensible thing and screamed "Oh my god,  oh my god" over and over and ran into the well-lit kitchen. Jake comes storming into the kitchen in a panic convinced that ghete a somebody in the house, grabs me by the shoulsers, and just keeps asking, "What is it? What is it? "

When we finally got on the same page that there was a bat, not an armed robber, in our hiuse, Jake shooed me into the bedroom and then stood in the hallway where he, every once in a while, saud, "Shit. "

I could offer no possible productivity outside the bedroom, and for the first time, I was glad to have a Smartphone.  I looked up what to do (and more importantly,  what NOT to do) and why the bat is in my house. Unfortunately,  now I'm convinced that we have a feisty bay colony living in our collapsed eaves along with the recently decimated mice colony that I'm positive is just laying in wait to return with a vengeance. It's terminator time. And then get someone in to fix the eaves time.

Anyway,  after about an hour,  Jake managed to isolate the bat to the porch where it currently is residing.  Looks like we have a date with animal control this morning.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hellos, Goodbyes

Our lovely 1:1s
On my last day of teaching a student serenaded me. Unsure of the appropriate reaction, I started to dance - awkwardly, but with definite enthusiasm. She had brought me a bag of chili-infused oil earlier, remembering m penchant for Silver Bowl, and, as class was ending, she announced, "I would like to sing you a song. You must know it." I didn't. Adding to the awkwardness was the I deniable fact that it was a love song. Bu I don't think my student really picked up on the nuances about loving me despite the distance. Plus, I had to announce when the song changed keys by shouting, "Key change!" much too emphatically.

Following that, Jake asked me to play and do songs for the last hour of a young group class. We love working with music and often opt to take songs and have the kids up in their own information. We did, "If I Had $1,000,000." Turns out, these students would buy us a bed, a lamp, and pants. (I would buy you some pants.) 

My favorite group class.
In the last five minutes of each group class, Helen forced the kids to go around and say goodbye to us individually. One class only offered a brief, mumbled "bye,"'which was appropriate as they're about as exciting as one small grey rock in an expansive grey rock garden, but most groups were more prolific. One student, Andy, blew us a kiss and said, "I will miss you a lot!" Joanna told me she loved me. Keven told me I was beautiful and that Jake was handsome so therefore he would miss us. The majority of my one to ones lingered after or 3 hour class had finished and admitted they didn't want to leave. Amy advised me to dress in layers because the plane would be cold but the air would be warm. Rachel asked me a lot about Facebook. And, as I mentioned, Diana sang. 

On the plane to Chengdu (where we had a long layover before continuing on to Kathmandu, which was really, really where we're going to), he guy next to me hocked up six loogies over the course of the two and a he hour flight and spit them into the barf bag. So, I feel like my time in China is complete.

On a similar but somewhat separate note, Jake and I made up a version to "The Wheels on the Bus" that's still called "The Wheels on the Bus" but as it pertains to Chinese busses. We promise to perform it for you.

Twincest

"Twincest" was a term I first heard at Smith College where it was used to describe couples who were attracted to each other based on similar physical characteristics. I cod see it there: girls with pixie haircuts holding hands outside of Neilson Library; ultra-femmes with long, silky hair sharing a shake at the Campus Center. But in China, the term took on an even more literal meaning.


A couple in matching monster shirts in Beidaihe.
Predominately in crowded public spaces, but also daily life, couples and friends wear corresponding or identical outfits. We've asked our foreign friends, our students, and some Chinese adults we've met and are entertaining several of their theories regarding this simultaneously awkward and amusing tendency. One Chinese adult told me that she and her friends do this to show everybody else how important they are to each other. Several of my students suggested that it was just so cute. Our Chinese boss' Chinese son hopped on the racism train and suggested that "we can't tell each other apart either."

Whatever the reason, the fact remains that this has been an endless source of entertainment over the past year,
Three friends proving that it takes
 more than trust to make a lasting friendship.
particularly as I'd assumed that, outside the demographic of middle school girls, everybody actively sought not to dress identically in public. 

What people wear ranges from matching or complementary shirts to whole identical outfits down to the shoes, and I'm assuming, he underwear. The outfits (underwear, too) are available for purchase as a set for men and women and for the Chinese nuclear family. As far as I can tell, twinning is considered pretty normal. Until white people do it.

The family outfits on store mannequins. 
Jake and our friend Jess have twin birthdays, so, as a joke and a tribute to where we are, I bought the three of us corresponding shirts; different colors, same handsome monkey. Over the course of about 20 minutes, we had to pose for three pictures (not including our own), one in which we had to pose with a baby.

A couple walking down the street in QHD.
Having our photographs taken isn't new; we're local celebrities and people snap photos of us frequently, some more blatantly than others. But I have to wonder what becomes of these photos. I can only imagine that the one of three white people in matching monkey shirts and a Chinese baby is going to end up in some family photo album with the caption, "White people do the darnedest things."

Sunday, June 1, 2014

IELTS Task 1: Hillary Style

My full time students are all preparing their IELTS test. Part 1 of the IELTS writing test asks them to analyze a graph or two and write about the information presented. Their job is to make comparisons and summarize information. They have model answers to follow, and I'm hoping mine will make it into the next IELTS book. Each answer must be at least 150 words and cannot diverge from the information given in the charts. 


The two graphs depict various actions Meatloaf would do to show someone he loved them. Both charts are remarkably conclusive in regards to Meatloaf's actions.

In the first chart, a bar chart, we can see that there are five different things Meatloaf might do for love. It is notable, however, that only four are actions that he would actually complete. According to the graph, Meatloaf is one hundred percent likely to do any of the following: get the person he loves out of an undefined but horrible town; make everything a little less tedious; build an emerald city using grains of sand; use sacred water to cool the woman he loves down if she overheats. Although he does not specify how he will do any of these things, as aforementioned, the bar graph states that he will definitely do any of those four things. On the other hand, he is not likely at all (0%) to do the unspecified "that."

The data in the pie chart fully supports the information given in the bar graph. Despite not having specific categories, the pie graph alleges that Meatloaf is 100% likely to do "anything" for love, but, once again, 0% to do "that."

In summary, both the bar graph and the pie chart conclude that is highly implausible that Meatloaf will do an undetermined "that" for love whereas it is quite feasible that he will do anything else. 




The bar graph depicts how sexy various articles of clothing, places, and other effects are up to 100%.

It is notable that hats are the sexiest item according to this chart, coming in at just over 90%. Slightly lower than this is Japan, which is a hair shy of 90%. Both hats and Japan are nearly four times more appealing than shirts, which, at around 22%, are the trough of this graph. 

At roughly 72% and 67% respectively, Milan and cats have similar rates of sexiness. So, too, do love and New York, with almost identical statistics that come in about 30% lower than Milan, and represent the median of sexiness according to this graph. For cars, their sexiness is marginally higher than average, and nearly twice as sexy as shirts.

To sum up, this graph suggests that hats and Japan are by far the most provocative things, while shirts are least appealing. 







The Gao Kao

Don't be confused by the cute rhyming name: the Gao Kao is anything but cute. The Gao Kao is China's grueling university entrance exam, which only 60% of students pass with a high enough score to get into one of China's universities.

It's Gao Kao time again here and, although we don't live near a high school, we've heard stories. First of all, I should explain how the test is regionally scored. There are five municipalities in China - Tianjin, Beijing, Shanghai, Shangdong, and Chongqing - and students in these testing areas need lower scores than students in other areas due to factors like population and economy, which directly relate to student demographic in and financial dependence from China's universities, and, most importantly, on the quota set by an individual university's admissions office that dictates how many students they will accept from any province, with the highest number always allotted to the home province. Smaller cities tend to require higher scores because their populations are fewer and generally the money they send into the government in less. A passing score in Qinhuangdao, for instance, is 600; 100 points higher than needed in the municipalities. With the fixed admissions quota comes a few problems, namely with the uneven distributional of educational resources.

Before you start thinking that this is like the SATs with some regional discrimination, I must assure you, it's not. This test requires 2-3 days and most students spend the entire year preparing for it. I've heard stories that some students even get an IV drip so as not to interrupt their studying and to have enough energy to maintain testing. Students are subject to a thorough security check because the temptation to cheat is so sweet, and it is common to have ambulances and emergency workers on standby.

Beyond this, the Gao Kao, quite frankly, favors rich students. Wealthier students' parents can pay for top schools, tutors, extra classes, and, even to transfer their child to a school in a municipality where the required scores aren't so high. The uber-rich often seek to avoid the Gao Kao entirely by sending their kids abroad for high school where they aren't subject to this all-important test that stymies all creativity and puts all who are in its wake on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Yes, all. Parents worry for their children's futures: a top university is thought to be key to obtaining an elite job. Students must fret and toil over the test. Many teachers' salaries are tied to their students' performances on the Gao Kao and CollegeStat.org estimates that 10% of Chinese teachers quit due to the pressure. To top it off, a student is only permitted to take this test once in any given year.

Top performers receive national recognition and their proverbial 15 minutes of fame, but to what end? Employers care somewhat about what college prospective employees attended but, even in China, there's not a box where you can fill your standardized test score in on a job application.

So, really, what's the point? Beyond this being a sadistic right of passage, I can't see the silver the lining.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Things My Students Say

Disclaimer: My students work really hard and I have the upmost respect for what they're doing. It is not easy to learn another language. But sometimes the hilarity is too much. And so I have to share.

"Suddenly I saw two cars craft together." Imagining two old-fashioned cars scrapbooking? Me too.

"Rabbits don't like eating carrots. They really like eating Cambridge." Raise your hand if you're thinking about the killer bunny from Holy Grail.

"A salesperson must be butter-tonsiled." Sigh. This is why I tell my students to throw away their translators.

"Most people where I live prefer sweet food because it tastes like dating girls." Tell me more...

"Q: Is your name 'popular?' A: No, it's not. My name is Wang." Classic.

"Student: 'The river is so polluted. You can smell it when you walk through it.' 
Me: 'Why are you walking through the river?' 
Student: 'To get to school.'" In my day, we had to walk through the river. Both ways.

"We'll need one meter long of butter and a kilometer long of cheese." Honest truth: This is how my students suggested we make guacamole.

"In Singapore, if it's a bad offense, they hit you in the ass." Well, that about covers it then.

"A boy climbs a tree. His friend tells him don't climb so high it's dangerous. The boy climbs the tree more. He does not pay attention. He fell. This story tells us we should be careful in everything." A Year 1 student's biography of another student.

"I love nature sounds, like dogs barfing." The best part of waking up...

"I want to use my head, but it doesn't work." Yes, this is always a problem.

"They fell in love and the woman got pig nuts." Love hurts.

On the board, I asked my students to write a bad habit they have and then the other students should make suggestions. This is what happened in one case:
My bad habit is that I take my turtle to bed.
You should talk to God and ask for help. 
Where is God?
On the top of the board.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Food Ethics or We Are All Diseased

I teach a unit in Passages 2 (the highest level book before students decide to do full-time study of either IETLS or TOEFL) about animal ethics, which has a very different meaning in China than it does in America. One of the conversations that I bring up centers around food and why, as a species, humans have a generally agreed upon set of meats that we agree are good and meats that we agree are bad, but there is a large spectrum of grey area of meats that are considered okay by some but not by others.

An open-air market in China
China is filled with open-air markets, and what I’m now referring to as “back alley butchers.” On our way to work, up what we call “Smelly Fish Street” for apt reasons, people hawk live (and often dead) fish, crabs, mollusks, and various other forms of seafood, which occasionally break free only to be squashed by a bicyclists. This predominantly centers around an alley whose main purpose is to serve up various meats, fish, spices, fruits, and vegetables. Many western/developed countries have a huge disconnect between their food and where their food comes from, to the point that when I ask a lot of my American students the origin of their food they tell me, “The store.” As if the grocery store was actually a giant farm that produced the food they consume. It’s hard to feel disconnected from your food when you can literally by the whole animal, as is often the case here.

A pretty typical meat stand. Now imagine 50
of them in a row with more variety.
When I ask my Chinese students why certain meat is off limits, many suggest religious reasons. Very true. Many people think cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks are fair game, but cows are off limits to Hindus and pigs to Jews. I then ask for any other reasons they can think of and they normally suggest that endangered species don’t get eaten. I normally say, “Right, we’re not going to eat a panda.” This normally elicits a laugh, because the idea of eating a panda is so bizarre.

This is when I channel my inner Andrew Zimmern (host of Bizarre Foods and creator of the tagline, “If it looks good, eat it”) and start throwing out different things and test the students' response, all the while playing the Switzerland of meat appropriation and pretending not to have an opinion.  I had an interesting conversation with one of my students about one of my least favorite animals:

Me: “Alright, so what about rats?”
Diana: (yells) “That’s disgusting.”
Me: “Why?” (Mind you, my stomach is churning at the very idea of eating a rat.)
Diana: “They’re so ugly!”
Me: “Does your food need to be attractive?”
Diana: “They eat trash.”
Me: “Okay, that’s fair. They eat trash, so you would, in turn, be eating trash. But we’re thinking about city rats. The big, ugly black ones that live in your trash can. What about rats that live out in a swamp and eat only the grass?”
Diana: “That’s still disgusting.”

I then explained to her about the episode of Bizarre Foods I saw in which Andrew Zimmern travelled to Uganda where swamp rat is a staple because they’re 1) clean, 2) plentiful, 3) cheap, 4) good protein. She wasn’t convinced. I’m not either.

Here are some other things that come up:

Horse and donkey: Most westerns would scoff at these on their plates. Horse is a riding animal, almost close to a pet, and in general doesn’t belong in western dishes. It’s a pretty common food source in China.

Bug kebabs. 
Bugs: Another western taboo. These are a pretty common food source, particularly in Southeast Asia for the same reason as rats are popular in Uganda. Bugs were pretty much the epicenter of every Task 2 Fear Factor challenge, in which terrified Americans competing for half a million dollars would need to eat a cockroach. News flash: Fear is relative.

Turtle: I brought this up to the same student with whom I had brought up rats and she, again, looked shocked and awed because she loves turtles so much. (I honestly didn’t know that before suggesting it.) Anyway, about a week later, I saw five dead turtles for sale on Smelly Fish Street.

Rabbit: This is a sore subject for some because rabbits are pets. But rabbits are also food for a lot of people all over the world.

Sheep and goat: These animals are not necessarily considered by most as “taboo” but I’ve met a fair amount of people who just think eating sheep or goat is gross for one reason for another. As with many opinions regarding meat, it’s sometimes hard to find an articulate explanation.

All the other parts of the animals: Feet, brains, eyes, tail, privy bits, tongue, whatever. Even though I’m not into piling myself a helping, I admire that civilizations, including China, actually use the majority of the animal they’ve slaughtered.

Dog: This is a polarizing meat, and I tend to save it for the end of the conversation. Many of my students shudder and think it’s disgusting – which is the way I feel because, to me, dogs are loyal friends and companions – but I’ve had a handful who think, or used to think in the case of one, dog is a scrumptious chow (so to speak). And it certainly is sold and consumed here. There are restaurants that specialize in it, and fully intact, shaved dead dogs are sold down the aforementioned alley, a.k.a. Dead Dog Alley.

Much of the western consensus regarding meat has to do with the procurement. But again, this tends to only apply to “non-standard” meat sources. For instance, shark fin, which is appropriated in an exceedingly cruel way, wherein the fishermen drag the shark into their boats, cut off its fins, then throw it back in the water to drown. Our stomachs and bleeding hearts wrench at this, while we wolf down our Big Macs and KFC and Value Time chicken/pork/steak without an iota of thought about where that meat came from. (If you want a non-PETA take on McDonald’s egg procurement, check out this link http://foodrevolution.org/blog/mcdonalds-cruelty/.)

Factory-farmed chicken, which is pretty much every
chicken sold in fast food places and supermarkets
that doesn't specifically tell you it was locally grown
on a cage-free farm.
We get our proverbial panties in a twist because other countries eat different meats that we do, and
somehow we think that, because our diet consists of pork, beef, and poultry, we are somehow superior. But we can't be bothered to delve into the elemental nature of our own food and we continue to propagate fast food chains, have some pretty absurd ideas about what "free range" means, and allow ourselves to buy "value" (read: cheap) meat, like the stuff available at Super Wal-Marts.

So, why is it that some meat is okay and other is shocking? I don’t have an answer, but I think the whole thing is very interesting, particularly as someone who eats very little meat to begin with. For me, my stomach churns every time we walk down Dead Dog Alley (unfortunately the quickest route between our school and King Street, a place we frequent for groceries and restaurants), and not just because of the dog carcasses. The pig’s heads, the huge slabs of ribs, probably from a horse or cow, the full chickens, dangling from the walls by their feet, and the myriad other meats dripping blood along the suppliers’ tables creates a stench that curls my spine. But the reality is still that that is what meat is. It’s not prettily packaged patties that grow in a store. It’s not breaded nuggets we buy at a fast food place. It’s not steak stripped of bones and hair. It’s an animal.


I’m not telling anyone what they should and should not do in the case of meat. I, myself, do partake – I love turkey (D’Angelos, I’m coming for you when I get home), I love squid, I love tuna – and I’m not prepared to give those things up. But, particularly in western countries – America, I’m looking at you – we are in absolute denial about what our meat really is. Part of that, I imagine, is blissful ignorance, but I think it is one of the catalysts for America’s very skewed and – dare I say? – diseased relationship with food. It is exceedingly important, I think, to know the origins of your food, if even for the pretentious reason that knowledge is power and ignoring your foods’ origins is a weird form of self-censorship. And, for the record, no, children, your food doesn’t come from the store.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Special Shops and Meanderings

It's spring here and there are some flowers. As Karen Walker said in an episode of Will and Grace, "Aw, honey, they're almost beautiful."

I've been here ten months now, and I officially have no clothes that fit and very few without rather catastrophic holes. (Donations accepted, thanks.) I am now wearing predominantly an extremely ugly pair of jeans - made uglier by the fact that they're now a size or two too big and baggy in all the wrong places - and yoga pants. I'm rationing the yoga pants, however, because I want them to last. And apparently, I wear clothes harder in China.

So, yeah, right, now all my clothes are too big. Before you all go saying things like, "Oh, how wonderful," a couple of things: 1) Remember who you're talking to; 2) Really think about the next thing I'm going to tell you. I eat 100% more Oreos and KFC and drink at least 75% more soda and alcohol than I do at home. My diet is disgusting. I would say that, because we walk to work, which averages probably about an hour total (to and from work twice) five days a week, I'm getting more movement, but I think the weight loss is mostly psychologically influenced. And, despite it, I'm still too big for pretty much anything in China. I'm a 5XL here.

5XL. I'd have to go to what my students call "a special shop" to find anything that fits. And it's not like there aren't any fat people here. It's just that fat exists in kind of a different way. Actually, I should say that beauty ideology exists in a different way. In America, beauty and health are very much intertwined and we're force-fed this idea that in order to be healthy and desirable our abs must be flat and our thighs mustn't touch, and in order to achieve this we should drink laxatives (SlimFast) and hop onto fad diets and pay billions of dollars to the diet industry all the while being self-deprecating and promising that our future selves will be different, which is it's own special brand of bullshit. BUT we can still walk into almost any store - except, you know, those "super cool" places like Abecrombie and Fitch - and buy plus sizes, or as I like to call them, sizes. In China, beauty and health are mostly separate, but thin is very, very much in, to the point where people who would probably be a size six or eight in America think they're enormous. Especially for women, being waifish with arms that you can wrap hands around is quite sought after. Forget weight lifting. Anyway, consequently (perhaps), the vast majority of stores aren't stocked with larger size clothing.

An anecdote: Around August - so, a while ago - I asked one of my students where I could find leggings. I rather stupidly hadn't brought any, and I thought it would behove me to have a pair or two. Her mother was a shop owner, so my student said she'd ask her mother if there were any "special shops" that sold leggings. She reported back to me that I could "have them tailor made." Fucking leggings. I can buy them for $6.00. Tailor made. Jesus.

So, anyway, I am now stuck with my hobo-esque wardrobe, which grows more bedraggled everyday. It's spring, as I said, so I can hopefully start wearing skirts and dresses soon, but I bid adieu to my last functional pair of tights several months ago.

I am very much looking forward to Cumby's-hopping and refilling coffee for $1.09 while buying some new tights and jeans. I will then eat a bagel. Perhaps a turkey grinder. That's the plan.

Oh, also - and on a completely different topic - does anyone know when George R.R. Martin is planning on finishing book 6 of A Song of Ice and Fire. I mean, seriously. Okay, so I've never written an epic series, or anything, but there are things that need to be clarified. So, if somebody runs into him, tell him to get on it.



Friday, April 11, 2014

Big Fat Wonderful Cat

Typical Samson, snuggled up on the bed.
I saw your photo online. I went to meet you in Springfield. You were wary at first. I sat on the floor and tried to play with you, but you didn't care. You sat under a desk. I stayed on the floor and talked with Quinn for a while and asked questions about you to the person whose desk you were under.

Eventually you came out. Still wary, but you rubbed yourself on my back and gave me headbutts on my elbow.

You didn't cry once the whole way home.
The cat family.

For about two days you lived under the bed, nervous about your new surroundings -- somewhat interested in Desmond (who was moreso interested in your special food) and rightfully cautious of Emily whose bark is much worse than her bite. When you came out, you found a place on my pillow and you pretty much only left it to enjoy your place on my couch. Or my chair. Or my lap.

Samson's 16th birthday party.
I'd always wanted to adopt on older cat because it didn't seem fair to me for any animal to spend the rest of their lives in a cage, waiting for permanent love. I honestly didn't think you were going to last so long.

I'm so glad you did.

Here is the truth: I have had some wonderful cats in my life, but you are the best of the best. I don't know who you are -- whose soul inhabited and created your life -- but you are the most unbelievable companion.

Even people who don't really like cats like you. And those people who already liked cats love you. Because you are a cut above.

I don't know why your previous people let you go. I can't imagine why they would have. Who could
Samson and Jake sharing a head-butt moment.
willingly give up that face? Those eyes that look at you with pure love? The dog-like way you follow people around? And the big white paw that reaches up to you, demanding affection? The way your enormous, pillowy belly points upward as you roll around on the floor, your back paws clenched in a comical, endearing way. And the occasional spryness with which you manically chase a toy mouse, a ball, or nothing at all, and then promptly return to a cuddle session.

You have the worst breath ever. But it doesn't matter because a headbutt from you makes everything better.

Pillow time. 
Every time I took you to the vet she told me you were too fat. That always made me laugh. Like I was going to put my 17 year old cat on a diet. One time, she was snipping a matt away, and she accidentally nicked you and you ran into my arms. I thought that was the sweetest thing. I still do.

I'm so sorry I'm here right now instead of by your side, even though I know that you actually love Megan more than you love anyone else in the world. You were a serious consideration for me to stay. I'm so sorry I couldn't.

More than any creature I have ever met, you thrive off love. So know, remember, realize how very loved you are.

Keep my pillow warm and furry and enjoy the kisses of the spring sunshine.
Christmas isn't complete without a family photo.

Eat your Chobani and stay with us, Samson. You may be ready to go, but we're not ready to let you.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

All in a Day

It's finally happened. It took ten and a half months, but the inevitable finally occurred: I got hit by a bike on my way to work.

Let me paint a picture for you. There is a sidewalk. The sidewalk is loaded with parked scooters and bicycles, vendors selling toenail clippers and smelly food, somebody doing open-air welding with construction parts all around, there are cars parked every which way. I cannot walk on the sidewalk. There is a bike path. The bike path is teeming with pedestrians, bikers, people on scooters food vendors, small trucks, and pretty regularly cars that honk incessantly like you're walking on THEIR bike path.

There is a blue truck parked, blocking half the bike path and it's hard to see around it. Because of this, people should make an effort to slow down, be slightly more conscientious.

They don't.

The parked blue truck is longer than I thought it was. I saddle up next to the side of it. An older man on a bike comes at an alarming speed around the truck right in my direction. I shimmy to the right to try to avoid him. He points his bike at me. I continue to shimmy to the right, but a little faster and he does, too, apparently not as concerned as me about the encroaching impact. This is mostly because he's gazing off into the horizon, seemingly unaware that there are too many people trying to squeeze past this truck. I've almost made it to the curb, but I really, really, really want to avoid stepping on the sewer grate, festooned with various pieces of trash, discarded food, and generally weird, wet, smelly things. Just as I try to lunge for the curb, he hits my left leg.

Could he have just kept going straight? Yes. Could he have gone right? Yes. Could he have actually looked up and/or ahead to see that I was right in front of him? Yes. Did he care? Not one iota. In fact, he didn't say A SINGLE THING - not that I would have known if he were apologizing anyway, but the fact that he didn't kind of gives you some idea of the frequency with which this probably happens - and just drove away merrily as I muttered some curse words and brushed the dirt of my black pants.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

White Chick in a Wheelchair

Being in a Chinese hospital is a bit like what I imagine it would be like to be in a free clinic where copious uppers and downers and steroids are distributed. There are swarms of people – twin boys wearing matching shirts with rabbits in heart-shaped glasses; an old woman with sensible but ugly shoes who walks with a cane, a 30-something with a gaudy purple rabbit fur jacket, a young mother with a long torso and proportionately short legs who teeters on 5-inch heels while her toddler grapples for her hand, another toddler with a hot pink baseball hat on sideways whose mother hands her a Smart Phone to keep her entertained. There were just so many people. I imagined that, at home, if I was in a place with the sheer number of individuals at the hospital, at the very least, I would recognize at least ten of them – I would probably know more. But here in this sea of faces, not one was familiar.
I had said, “We can’t walk like this,” meaning double-wide in this people-circus, which Helen thought to mean I couldn’t walk at all, so she got me a wheelchair and parked me in front of the fire extinguisher while she went to get our number, like when you’re waiting at the deli. This was, as it turned out, the last convenient place she parked me.

She drove with reckless abandon otherwise – a bit like Chinese traffic – and saddled me right up to the walls so that I had to pull my bad foot in and hold my knee up by my chest. She hit two people and one person hit us – just sideswiped us because she wasn’t looking where she was going when she was entering a room – and Helen would park me in the middle of a crowded hallway so she could ask questions, very few of which were answered adequately. Hospital staff sent us to an area on the first floor were we were told to go to the fourth floor when they should have sent us to the fifth. On the fifth floor, we were told we couldn’t be served so we would have to go to the ER. The elevators were slow and could barely accommodate a wheelchair and a person. Between flashing their current floor numbers, a two-letter message appeared: “FU.”

People were generally fascinated by me ad gawked at me. Everybody asked where I was from and if I spoke Chinese and were terribly amused when I uttered a few remedial words. When the doctor asked, I asked Helen to explain to him that I could count, introduce myself, ask what something is, and buy beer, which I suppose gives me the functionality of a drunken two year old.

Two doctors touched the top of my foot and asked if it hurt. I explained the ailment to Helen who in turn translated it for the doctors, but, you know, second-hand diagnosis, and, they told me I was probably fine but sent me to get an X-Ray anyway. After I got my slides back, they took a precursory – almost flippant – look at them, decided nothing at all was the matter, which still didn’t explain why I couldn’t walk – and told me not to wrap it, which I didn’t understand because even the flimsy gauze I’d had on it prior was a huge relief. The told me it wouldn’t work, and wouldn’t even issue me a bandage. I tried to reason with them via Helen, which got messy and confusing and just resulted in the doctor shaking his head repeatedly.


As Helen wheeled me out in her own special, manic way, she said, “Okay, we do this way: I will bring you the crunch.” She meant a crutch, and it turned out, she actually meant a three-footed yet still unsteady cane with a built in stool to accommodate the world’s smallest butt, which I guess beats the pillow I had been using to slide myself around the apartment.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Every Girl's Dream

I was trolling Facebook this morning when I stumbled upon this lovely gem of an internet meme:



Click "Like" if you think women have more options than this. I'm not getting into who posted this because I'm not interested in finger pointing (that doesn't solve anything) but all I imagined was that this person - this woman - must get out of bed in the morning and think, "Hm...should I have a bagel or the Slim Fast? I should probably have the Slim Fast so I won't get fat so I can be more attractive to men."

As if women don't have any options outside of worrying about men and their weight. Not to mention how conflated the two ideas are. This meme advocates a very clear patriarchy in which men imagine women dream about falling in love and women claim to dream about staying thin. But why would they need to stay thin if it weren't for being appealing to men? And stop it with this "every girl" thing as if we all share the same values because we have vaginas. And, this is petty, but if I need someone to click "Like" to agree with my opinion, I don't think my perspective is strong or valuable enough to last.

I guess if I had to work within this dichotomy, I would choose to make every girl's dream: "To exist in a mindset free of weight and gender stigmas."

But really, women - astonishingly enough - have the capacity to dream, worry, wonder, and otherwise verb about many things apart from these two societal norms. Here are some potential dreams of some women (feel free to add your own!):

To solve world hunger.
To have a family.
To be millionaires.
To start and run a successful business.
To learn karate.
To bake a three layer cake.
To go sky diving.
To touch her toes.
To run a marathon.
To write a book.
To teach math.
To cure cancer.
To sew a quilt.
To never ever see another meme like this one.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Movement and Me

Lately I've had a prolonged case of the Februaries. The general apathy mixed with a kind of overwhelming funk. I tend to get the Februaries every year, but this year, so far away from everything I love and amassed in an almost constant, chronic phlegmy-cough inducing smog, it's been particularly bad. 

When March comes, I normally like to get out and take a few deep breaths of the hint of spring hanging high in the air. But when I did that here I just coughed on the fumes.
A bit like a caged lion, I've been pacing around the apartment, loathe to go outside and loathe to stay in.  

Today, Jake went to to play basketball with a friend and for a bit I sat around feeling sorry for myself and generally bored. I thought about doing Pilates, but I'd done it for three workouts in a row. I thought about doing Zumba, but every time I do worryingly large chunks of hair fall out. So I sat in front of the computer and sighed.

Finally, I opted to do something I don't normally do: kickboxing. I did two kickboxing workouts, then a light weight/high repetition Tae Bo. I was sweating a lot and chunks of hair were, as expected, lining the floor, but I was feeling really inspired, so I created four new Zumba routines. Two and a half hours later, my muscles were shaking and I smelled like sewer, but I felt fucking awesome.

That was a really roundabout way of saying this: movement rocks. I wasn't a kid who liked movement for several reasons. Firstly, my own preferences; I preferred to do something else than be active. Secondly, I only ever moved with the intention to lose weight from the ages of probably 10 to 20, and the results were minimal. Thirdly, other people. I didn't feel comfortable moving because I got made fun of when I did it. As I've said before: hypocrisy is ugly. You can't tell me I'm unhealthy and then ruthlessly torment me for practicing healthy habits. Make up your damn minds! Anyway, at least in this department, I've decided that those people, to put it crudely, can suck it. They do not have any jurisdiction any longer on my relationship with movement.

I know a lot of you are either going to roll your eyes or want to rip out my throat when I tell you that I actually enjoy working out. Sure, there are days when it's a struggle or a chore, and there are days when the couch is more alluring than my sneakers or my yoga mat, but most days I love the  feel of sweat beading on my forehead, the feeling of my heart pumping blood through my veins, my muscles contracting and pulling, the oddly sweet rush of water that quenches my dry mouth. More than that, I love how relaxed and accomplished I feel afterwards. 

Now, at the end of the day, I firmly believe that your health is your own business and nobody has a right to tell you what you should and should not do with your body except you, but I strongly encourage you to find a movement that you like. I know a lot of you are like me and have had a bad relationship with movement because of other people and because you've only ever worked out because you want to be skinny. If you can get past these things - for me, the first came pretty easily, by joining Curves and an African dance class, but the second required (still requires) a continual reminder that my health and my body size ARE mutually exclusive - your feelings about movement and working out might have a complete overhaul. Especially when you keep on mind that all movement is good movement. We get told quite a bit what movement we should do, and those change about as fast as diet trends. So I say find a movement you love. Find many movements you love. And throw away all your Jillian Michaels workout DVDs (unless you really like being bullied while you workout. In which case, why are you reading his blog?)
I'd also like to share some advice I recently read. In this culture, we're bombarded with misinformed and financially-motivated messages of health and beauty, most of which encourage us to give up things In order to achieve what the proverbial "they" think is the gold standard. No cookies. No cake. No chips. No pizza. No wine. No.. If you believe in reverse psychology (or you've ever dieted) you know that every time you look at that candy bar/bag of chips/whatever it is you want and say to yourself, "I can't have it," you want it more. AND THEN you have it and feel GUILTY,  which probably makes you want more. The advice I read turned that around and suggested that we try adding things. Have another glass of water. Have another piece of fruit. Have another serving of vegetables. Add another 5, 10, 15 minutes movement to our day. 

As I said, ultimately your health is your business and you can do whatever you want to do. As for me, I'm really sore, so I'm going to park it on the couch and rummage through the fridge for something for dinner. You can choose to sit here and read more of blog. You can go out and take a walk. You can dance like a champ to your Paul Simon album. But remember to move for you and not for anybody else.