Some kind of way

I consider myself an adventurous and open-minded person. My travels have taken me from Bolivia to Honduras and from Spain to Wales. I lived in Costa Rica for six months and spent a month-and-a-half volunteering at a nonprofit in Guatemala.

While there were times during these experiences that I thought "what the fuck am I thinking" (like when I found myself with no money, sleeping on a fruit barge floating through Lake Nicaragua, or when I was forced to find my way through a random, dusty town in Peru after protesters blocked the streets and threw rocks at my bus). But, I never had any real worries about my decisions.

This time it's different. I am leaving on Monday for a four-week trip to Israel and Jordan. I realized just how different this experience is going to be when I looked at photos from the Ammarin Bedouin Camp near Petra, Jordan that I plan to spend four nights at. Something about seeing the men, dressed in full Muslim-style, desert regalia, sitting on colorful mats under a tent in the middle of the desert made me feel some kind of way--maybe a pang of fear?

Whatever I felt made me come face-to-face with the fact that despite my open mind and free spirit, I am not above fearing people who are different than me and places that are unfamiliar.

When I traveled around Latin America, I had just spent six months living in Costa Rica, where I had been once before. I spoke fluent Spanish and had Hispanic friends.

I now realize how little I know about Muslim people. I have a friend in Philly who studies the Qur'an, and I have a couple of Muslim co-workers, but other than that I have no experience with people of this faith. I am not afraid of Muslims like so many people in the U.S. seem to be. What I am afraid of is my own ignorance. The fact that I felt any kind of hesitation about my upcoming trip made me feel horrible. My biggest fear is to become a brain-washed, over-consuming, intolerant "typical American."

It takes active work to keep an open mind and a free spirit. I vow that my exploration and desire to understand more about Islamic culture will not end when I return home at the end of March.


Another recipe

Here's a list of ingredients for my favorite salad:

Chicken & Blue Cheese Salad

Romaine lettuce
Grilled Chicken (I season mine with salt, pepper, garlic powder and fresh rosemary before cooking--you can also use fried chicken of you'd prefer)
Raisins or dried apricots
Red onions
Crumbled walnuts
Any basic vinaigrette with crumbled blue cheese (or do what I do and use Anne Marie's Blue Cheese Vinaigrette, which is usually found in the produce section of the grocery store)


Some of my favorite recipes

I promised Rinny, author of Wine Please!, some of my favorite recipes. Instead of e-mailing these gems to her, I have decided to spread the love. (Maybe Lora at Jake's Kitchen will publish my recipes as guest posts :) Below are some of my favorite, go-to recipes.

Beets with goat cheese and fresh chopped mint
Mara’s Shrimp Alfredo
Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican rice and beans)
Tuna and Rice
Beef and Rutabaga Stew

Beets with goat cheese and fresh chopped mint
Wash beets thoroughly and cut them into half-inch disks.

Place beets in a baking dish and drizzle with small amount of olive oil.

Roast beets, covered, for about 30 minutes, until fork-tender.

Put beets on a plate, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and spread goat cheese on each (I like using a strong-flavored goat cheese for this recipe)

Sprinkle with fresh chopped mint, to taste.

Mara’s Shrimp Alfredo
Shrimp, peeled and de-veined
Olive oil
Garlic, three cloves crushed
Red onion, chopped (about half a small-sized onion)
Orange (or lemon)
Dry white wine (or Sherry)
Heavy cream
Parmesan cheese, fresh grated
Fresh basil
Salt & Pepper

Put a few tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat.

Once the pan is nice and hot, add garlic, onions and shrimp.

Cook, constantly stirring until onion and garlic browns slightly.

Throw in a splash of white wine to deglaze pan.

Cook until shrimp are almost cooked, and deglaze the pan again with a squeeze of juice from the orange.

Let get hot again and add cream to pan.

Stir in cheese until sauce is thick, but not gooey.

Top with fresh basil and salt and pepper to taste.

Gallo Pinto
This is the staple food in Costa Rica. It’s name means “Speckled Chicken,” though the recipe doesn’t necessarily include chicken or any other meat. I often make mine meatless and eat it with a fried egg on top for breakfast, as well as use as a side dish for either lunch or dinner. The Salsa Lizano is what gives this dish its authentic sabor tico, but you can substitute for any vegetable-based mild sauce.

Red Onions, finely chopped, about 3-4 tablespoons
Celery, finely chopped, 2 stalks
Green and/or red bell pepper, about 3 tablespoons
Garlic, finely chopped, 1 or 2 cloves
Black beans, small can
2.5 cups cooked white rice
Olive oil
Lizano (or another vegetable salsa)
Scrambled eggs or chopped-up, left over chicken or steak

1. Put a few tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan (cast iron works well for this), and put over medium-high heat.

2. When hot, add first four ingredients—sauté a few minutes, until soft.

3. Add white rice, cook about 4-5 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or so.

4. Add can of beans and reduce heat to low.

5. Pour in Lizano or other vegetable salsa to taste.

6. Add handfuls of fresh cilantro leaves and salt and pepper.

7. Stir in meat, if desired.

Tuna and Rice
Also a rice dish I learned to make in Costa Rica, tuna and rice is quick, cheap and tasty. It’s best to use can tuna from the Hispanic section of your grocery store; try one or a combination of Goya or Sirenita’s atún con maíz (tuna with corn), atún con vegetales (tuna with vegetables) and atún con jalapeños (tuna with jalapeños).

Follow steps 1 and 2 from the “Gallo Pinto” recipe, then dump two cans of tuna (no need to drain if using recommended types) and heat a couple of minutes.

Reduce heat and follow steps 5 and 6 from the “Gallo Pinto” recipe.

Beef and Rutabaga Stew (made in the crock pot)
2 lbs beef chuck, cubed
2 rutabagas, peeled and cubed
4 parsnips, peeled and cut into one-inch disks
1 small yellow onion, chopped

Create a rub for meat by combining salt, pepper, mustard powder, thyme and sage (I prefer to use fresh herbs)

Sprinkle mixture on cubed meat and brown in a very hot pan-just a minute on each side.

Toss meat in crock-pot with parsnips and rutabagas.

In the pan the meat was browned in, add a splash of oil and sauté onions until brown (about 5 min.)

Add sautéed onions, to crock-pot and toss in a bay leaf or two.

Cover mixture with beef stock or water.

Cook on low for 8 - 10 hours.


The Big VD

On Valentine's Day people everywhere celebrate with dinner, drinks, cards, gifts and, most importantly, SEX. Despite the romanticized images of sex that we are bombarded with daily, sex is not pretty. Between the leg cramps, dripping sweat, tangled legs and and accidental head banging, it can be messy and just plain awkward. And this is just human sex, in the animal kingdom "sex" takes many forms, from mystifying to downright freaky.

Take praying mantis for example. During sex the female bites the male's head off, causing a pulsation to course through his body, which apparently leads to a wild, thrashing good time for the lady mantis. To bad for him.

Leopard slugs have the most slimy, disgusting sex I've ever seen--it's beautiful really. They slither onto a branch and entwine together for an hour in a gooey mess, then dive off and hang on a thread of their own slime. In mid-air, both release their male organs from their heads and wrap them around each other and inject each other with sperm. When they're finished, they fall to the ground and go their separate ways.

The barnacle has the largest penis-to-body-size ratio in the animal kingdom. Apparently, sessile creatures, such as barnacles, must have long, "wandering" organs to reach their shelled-lady friends' private goods.

Green spoon worms have sexual dimorphism, meaning the female is larger than the male. In fact in this species, the female is large enough in comparison to the male that she actually inhales him to reproduce. Once inhaled, the male goes to her special chamber called the androecium, or "small man room," where he spends the rest of his life fertilizing passing eggs.

Male flatworms engage in a dual, penis-fighting until one is stabbed and becomes the "bitch." Like prison.

If I had more time, I would totally draw inappropriate diagrams to illustrate this post. But I don't, so I'll end my biological sex lesson here.

Happy VD!


Reason to celebrate

Tomorrow is Jack's 30th birthday, and we have a lot to celebrate. Just last week, Jack started his career as an elementary school teacher. He is teaching 3'rd grade math at a school in north east Baltimore. It's still a title-1 school, but its a much more pleasant place than the school where he did his residency. Since he's started at the new place, I haven't heard any stories of little girls with gashes on their faces from their mother's diamond ring or of 12 foster children living in the backseat of a car.

I am really proud of Jack for how far he's come. When we first started dating, Jack was working as a customer service rep at Discover Card and thinking about taking classes at a community college. Now, five (or six, who's counting) years later, he holds a degree in psychology and has what I would consider to be a very important job.

The Baltimore City Public School system needs more teachers like Jack. He sees hope in these kids that so many have written off. Yet he knows that he can't help them all. He is both optimistic and realistic. I know he will be great.

Selling Out

All my life, I have preached about the importance of "being true" and "doing what you love." I always said, "money doesn't matter."

Now I find myself at a crossroads.

Last week I interviewed for a new position in my office, and there's a pretty good chance that I got it. (Assuming my fear that talking it up before it's official will make it not happen isn't true.) The new position--Web Content Manager--would fetch a larger salary than my measly writer-editor status. But more money comes with more responsibility and greater demands. I would definitely have to put off graduate school for at least another year, as my nice Monday - Friday, 8 - 4:30 schedule will turn into sporadic, long hours.

The new position also begs the question: Where is my career going? Just last month, I was certain that the path to take involved getting a master's degree in environmental science and becoming a science writer or doing PR for a research institute. Now, I find myself wondering if I should embrace the move into the technology sector, get certified in various computer programming languages and make lots and lots of money. Selling out.

Money isn't everything, but it's certainly nice to have. Grad school will set me back about $100,000 and a degree in environmental science will do little to bolster my pay. While the idea of working on a tranquil nature reserve or for an international conservation group makes me drool, economically it doesn't make sense. I can spend $100,000 on a graduate degree and probably never earn more than $65,000 a year, or I can spend a few thousand dollars on computer certs and be making something close to that immediately.

For every choice, something is gained and something is forgone. Am I willing to give up my dreams and sell my soul to the almighty dollar? I might be. And that is scary.


So much to write; so little time.

Life is moving so quickly I can barely hold on.

I have so much to write about, so many feelings to sort out. I just haven't been able to find the time.

This weekend, I plan to finally put on paper the words that run through my mind and the thoughts that keep me up at night. If you're reading this weekend, expect an emotional roller-coaster ride.



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