Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Face of Planned Parenthood

With the unprecedented social media blitz raining down on Planned Parenthood as we enter the latest way-too-long election cycle, I figured it was time to pipe up. It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me that the hashtag #istandwithplannedparenthood would be one that I support. But for anyone who found their way to this blog via our Pare Down Facebook page, or a recipe on Pinterest, and who now wants nothing to do with Pare Down, I invite you to give this a read.

First, a little about me. I am a mother of two wonderful boys who were planned (kind of, they showed up more on their schedule than mine, but you get the gist) and wanted. My husband and I welcomed them into a home that was well stocked with clothes, diapers, a grip of baby gear, and hugs and kisses to spare. I loved setting up the nursery, and then adapting it to welcome a second son, almost as much as I loved the babies themselves. Almost. But come on, this was cute!

How lucky were we? Our boys were healthy. We had the means to support them. We had the emotional maturity to take care of them (insert booger joke here). I am grateful that I never had to face the choice of what to do in the case of an unwanted or unsafe pregnancy. But if I had, I would again feel grateful to live in a country where this very painful, very personal decision would have been both safe and legal. Because let's be straight on this one topic, when abortions were illegal they still happened. Rich women traveled to obtain them safely, and poor women resorted to more dangerous measures, but abortions were still being performed. There is a great short documentary from 1992 called When Abortion Was Illegal that is currently streaming on YouTube. Let those women tell you themselves how illegal abortion affected their lives, because unlike me they lived through it.

Again, I support safe and legal abortions. You don't have to. I don't have the ability (or desire) to change an anti-abortionist's stance on the issue any more than they could change mine. But that's a moot point, because abortion is legal. Signed, stamped, out-of-the-alleys-since-1973 legal. People can protest all they want, it's their American right, but like it or leave it abortion is here to stay.

What we do stand to lose is universal access to Planned Parenthood, that often vilified baby-hating abortion factory. This is where I take issue.

While I have never had an abortion, I have certainly taken advantage of Planned Parenthood. When you wonder what kind of woman would go there, the answer is me. I used to go there. A lot. For five years, while I was fresh out of college and struggling with an acting career, Planned Parenthood was my main source of health care.

When I lived in Chicago, Planned Parenthood provided yearly pap exams and discounted birth control. (Not that I was having sex. Are you kidding? My parents read this blog.) Even better, when I was living in Los Angeles and among that city's throng of nearly homeless acting hopefuls, my healthcare at Planned Parenthood was free. Yes, you read that correctly. At a time when I couldn't afford a latte, I could still see a doctor for any number of lady problems, and good ol' generic people problems, without having to cough up a dime. Granted I had to get buzzed in through a bullet-proof glass entryway to get there, but once inside it was just your average doctors office with crappy old magazines and daytime TV in the lobby.

It's odd that no one is talking about the other services that Planned Parenthood provides. Sure, a standard pelvic exam won't rile voters the same way that an inflammatory video does, but it's just as big a part of the story. Statistically, it accounts for the majority of the story. My own husband grew up being taught that the only service PP provided was that of abortion. This is untrue. Let it be known: For many of the nation's poor, and for those not-so-poor who may not have great reproductive coverage through their standard insurance, Planned Parenthood is a gateway to receiving quality, affordable healthcare. That's it. By threatening to steal their funding and forcing a number of their doors to close, we are denying many of this nation's men and women their right to receive basic exams, prescriptions, and yearly checkups.

So thank you, Planned Parenthood, for all that you provided me in the years when I would have had to go without ever seeing a doctor. Thank you for enabling me to take control of my body and make well-informed reproductive choices. I am so grateful for the care, and happy to report that my planned journey to parenthood has been a success.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Restaurant Style Tacos

I love a good Taco Tuesday. When Gabe and I lived in Los Angeles we had the best taco joint in our adjoining strip mall, and the Tacos de los Gringos had us pegged. Crunchy shell, perfectly spiced and dripping ground beef, cheddar cheese. Mmmmmm. Honky tacos are heaven.

That being said, homemade tacos, even with my beloved America's Test Kitchen recipe, just didn't cut it. That McCormick-style seasoning mix and some browned ground beef never tasted like the real thing.

Enter Google. Why had I never looked up "Mexican restaurant style taco meat" before?! I tried a few recipes, then did what any self-respecting cook does and morphed them all to make my own.

The results are ridiculous. I no longer have to leave my kitchen for a $2 Taco Night special to get my fix. Add in some homemade refried beans (try these) and easy-as-pie homemade corn tortillas (whoops, not this time), and your tacos will blow your mind. They key is boiling the meat. Sounds a little yuck, but try it once and you'll never go back.

Drink pairing: Gabe will go classic with a Negro Modelo, while I tend to hit up a nice farm Saison. Or a Mike's if I'm feeling down home.

Music pairing: New Jason Isbell, "Something More Than Free." I may be going out on a limb, but I think that kid has talent.

Restaurant-style Ground Beef Tacos

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 90 minutes

2 lbs. organic grass fed and finished hamburger
1 yellow onion, diced 
2 rounded tsp minced garlic
1 TB chile in adobo (puree the whole can and then freeze the rest in 1 TB portions)
1 rounded tsp pepper
1 rounded tsp Mexican Oregano
1 TB salt 
1/2  rounded tsp Cumin
1/2  rounded tsp dried cilantro
4 C water

Place ground beef, onions, and garlic in a large sauce pan or stock pot. Cover with water. Add spices and then mash the mixture with a wooden spoon until the beef is broken up and the spices are mixed in. 

Cover the pan and let mixture boil at a medium heat for 25 minutes. 

Once the beef is cooked through, remove the lid and cook for another hour or so until the liquid has cooked down. Spoon off excess fat. 

Serve. Eat too much. Proceed to eat some more.

Friday, March 20, 2015

10 Reasons Not To Get Chickens

This is not going to be a popular post. I know that. But I'm writing it anyway.

First off, I love my full-grown chickens. They are fun to watch, they give us an ample supply of ridiculously delicious eggs, and their daily banter adds a nice level of legitimacy to what we are trying to do here. And I don't mind cleaning out their coop...that much...but maybe that's because we're coming off of a winter of deep bedding and "cleaning" consists of a quick turn with the rake and a new layer of straw.

But on the whole, chickens are bit gross. They are like small, feathered toddlers with no care for where they poop, or if they eat said poop, or the fact that no matter what someone else has to clean up all of the poop. They don't play nicely and are known to draw blood. Sometimes they yell just for the fun of it. "Egg song" is a euphemism for a sound akin to a goat learning to yodel. And when you have to go somewhere and are running late, one of them is always hiding somewhere on the property refusing to join her sisters in the safety of the fenced run.

Again, I like chickens. I HAVE chickens. We have 12 in the coop and 6 in a brood box in the basement. But for all of the "OMG! Baby chicks in hats!!!" posts on Facebook, and the adorable fluffy butts posing in teacups on my Instagram feed, someone has to tell the whole truth about chickens, and it's not all lavender coop spray and gourmet omelets.

Top 10 Reasons NOT To Get Backyard Chickens

1. Baby chicks are only cute for 3 days. Then they lose their feathers and hit that awkward teenage phase that does not discriminate between species. We call them "punk rock chickens" at this stage, but my mom cut to the chase when she asked when they stop being ugly.

2. It takes between 6 and 12 weeks, on average, for a chicken to fully feather and be able to live in an outdoor coop. Our coop is insulated but not heated, and we got the babies early this year, so we have a minimum of 8 weeks with 6 chicks in the laundry room. Despite daily doses of fresh bedding and a full clean-out every 3 days, our laundry room reeks. Chicken shit smells terrible. I wish this article was scratch-n-sniff. 

3. When raising chicks indoors, prepare for a layer of yellow dust to cover everything in the immediate vicinity. If air can touch it, so too can this nuclear fallout of sawdust and (of course) poop particles. Our laundry room doubles as a storage room, and everything has to be cleaned and disinfected when the girls move out.

4. Baby chicks poop in their food. And their water. And your hand. Food (wasted) and water (now brown sludge) need to be changed multiple times a day. When you see a cute picture of a baby chick on someone's living room floor, or their kitchen table, you need to know that right after the picture was taken there was a person desperately googling "how to get chicken poop stains out of carpet." Dummies. 

5. Chickens aren't really pets. If you name your chickens and turn them into pets, take a few minutes to think about what becomes of them when they stop laying eggs. A chicken typically peaks in egg production at two years and then drops off. Backyard chickens who get a break in the winter (read: no artificial light in the coop to prolong laying) can lay strongly into their 5th year, but can live 8 years. So then what? Will you keep an ever-growing flock of geriatric chickens who don't produce? Will you harvest and eat the chickens? Will you really be able to sit down to the table and serve a bowl of chicken noodle soup starring the meat formerly known as Goldie?

6. Once chickens are outside, you still have to clean up their poop. Chicken poop is "hot" and needs to be aged before you add it to your garden. We built a $6 PALLET COMPOST BIN to house all of our poop and used pine/straw bedding before we mix it into the garden in the spring. Quick note -- the girls love digging through this mess of yuck when they are let out to wander, so the current bin is not even close to being as clean as it was in the "look what we built!" post. Thank goodness we hid this mess in the trees.

7. Chickens can only be left on their own for a few days, and that is if you have adequate, predator-proof space, a coop that doesn't require you to open and close the door, and a way to disperse clean food and water while you're gone. Or neighbors who don't mind helping out in exchange for eggs. It's not a deal-breaker, but it does add another level of planning to the family vacations.

8. Chickens will ruin your yard, if you have one. They will peck the ground bare. We have a 200 square foot run, and the prairie grass was gone, never to return, within a week. The 5-acre property holds up much better to the voracious attacks of a dozen hungry hens, but I will say that they have eaten more than their fair share of decorative plants and flowers and I'm pretty sure they gobbled up $100 in wildflower seed that I scattered in the fall. Bitches. 

9. Some chickens are cleaner layers than others. Again, the multi-colored pictures of glossy eggs that people love to post on social media have been rinsed of mud, straw, small feathers, and our ever-present pal, poop. A chicken only has one exit hole, and sometimes she'll multitask. 

10. If you are able to free-range your chickens, which I fully recommend, you may lose a bird to a hawk, or a loose dog, or a fox. So far we've been lucky and we only let the girls out for a few hours a day when it's full light, but I know it's a risk. Less risky, but more probable, is the appearance of chicken poop, that ever-present through line of raising poultry, all along your driveway, in the yard, and (inevitably) on the bottom of your shoe and tracked throughout your home. Good thing I've already googled how to get chicken poop out of carpet.


Still want chickens? Then congratulations! You made it through the shit list (ha) and are ready for the reality of backyard chickens. If you're now questioning the endeavor and want to go back to a time of ignorance, skip the real baby chicks and bliss out HERE.

Either way, happy chickening.