When You Cook the Awesome (At Least to Me)

Some days you cook the awesome. Some days you don’t.

That’s the paleo alternate reality with oompa and loompa.

However, one of my last meals was the awesome (at least to me).

Bill Murray You are Awesome

If you’re interested in trying out your own paleo alternate reality I suggest checking out Nom Nom Paleo. Michelle Tam has an extensive recipe index on her site. In addition she has a primo cookbook.

Nom Nom Paleo

So far, and I emphasize “so far”, we’ve found Michelle’s recipes the yummiest and easiest in our paleo alternate reality.

But on to the recipe, you say.

How does this meal sound? Skillet fried pork chops smothered in chopped bacon bits and onion and apple slices?

Yumtacular (at least to me).

The verdict from oompa and loompa?

Good, not great. The pork chops themselves were not a hit, but the sauce, oh the sauce. If you look at the recipe you will see that the sauce calls for drippings from bacon bits, bone both or chicken stock, fish sauce, and arrowroot powder.

But that’s not all. Oh no, that’s not all.

Into the sauce you throw the seared pork chops and onion and apple sauces. The concoction then simmers for half an hour.

At the end, when you taste the gravy, unseen Angels will weep on your shoulders at their inability to be part of your personal heaven.

Our only revision is to try chicken instead of pork. I loved the pork and pork fat. Munched it up. But the pork was not as popular with the rest of the crew.

What’s your biggest cooking success?

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A Paleo Alternate Reality: The Struggles with Oompa and Loompa

oompa

Ever had this conversation with your toddlers?

“What do you want for dinner tonight?” says me.

“Meat,” say oompa and loompa.

OK. Sounds good to me.

I take out the fresh grass fed sirloin, marinate it in grass fed ghee and Himalayan pink salt, grill it on low until it’s tender and juicy. I set the table with toddler friendly plates and have on the side garlic seasoned, mashed garden grown potatoes.

Food ready, I call the kids to the table.

Oompa the older sees the food and says, “I want pasta.”

Loompa the younger echoes, “Pasta!”

“No,” I say, “meat. You asked for meat.”

Oompa says,  “No. I want pasta and sprinkle cheese.”

Loompa chants, “Pasta! Pasta!”

And with each chant of pasta the inner paleo in me withers. I think that’s why part of my mind is in an alternate reality.

mayan

Personally, I struggle with feeding my kids what I consider healthy food and keeping my sanity. The two struggles are often intertwined. I mean, kids test our sanity, right? That’s their job in life.

In the past three years I’ve become hyper-aware of what is in the food I am eating. Through excessive research I’ve found that a diet abundant in healthy fats (grass fed butter, pasture raised animals, oils high in saturated fat) and protein from pasture raised animals, but low in carbohydrates and devoid of refined sugars is the best diet for me. Excessive carbohydrates, even so-called healthy grains, are a non-starter. Instead, when I do eat carbohydrates I gravitate towards sweet potatoes and rice.

The results? I haven’t been in this great of shape since I was twenty-two and training for Air Force ROTC boot camp.

I follow the paleo diet in a loose fashion in that I eat dairy and grains from time to time. The big changes to my diet have been the virtual elimination of refined sugars and a daily carbohydrate intake under 75 grams a day.

What is the paleo diet? Robb Wolf explains it best.

The Paleo diet is the healthiest way you can eat because it is the ONLY nutritional approach that works with your genetics to help you stay lean, strong and energetic! Research in biology, biochemistry, ophthalmology, dermatology and many other disciplines indicate it is our modern diet, full of refined foods, trans fats and sugar, that is at the root of degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and infertility. – Robb Wolf

I follow more of a paleo template. Every person is different. Therefore what works for me won’t necessarily work for you (or oompa and loompa).

If you are interested in reading more about the paleo diet outside of Robb Wolf check out nutritionist, Chris Kresser’s site, fitness author, Marc Sisson, and the Weston A. Price Foundation.

What does my paleo approach have to do with oompa and loompa, you might ask?

Well, I’d like my children to eat the best diet possible. I’m open to any diet for my children as long as it’s devoid of refined sugar and processed food. Even grains, but a grain centered diet takes effort and preparation. You should neutralize the anti-nutrients in grains by soaking and sprouting them. Then they can be used for cooking.

Do you think I am at a point in my life where I can hand make pasta from sprouted grains?

But my children love boxed pasta. I can’t soak boxed pasta. By then the grains are beyond help. It’s like trying to reanimate a desiccated corpse.

One could argue that, as a paleo parent, I shouldn’t have pasta around, but here’s the rub. Pasta is easy. Certain foods that give me a small internal cringe are easy. I’m looking at you, cheerios.

When you have three kids easy and fast are essential. That’s why I try to win small battles now.

So, instead of simple whole grain pasta we have Einkorn pasta.

If you aren’t familiar with einkorn wheat you should read this article on the Tropical Traditions site. The short of it is that the dwarf wheat we eat today is about as far removed from the native wheat of the wild as we are from chimpanzees. The dwarf wheat has been found to produce a higher insulin response, and it has a higher amount of gluten protein .

So, instead of plain butter, we eat grass fed Kerrygold butter.

Instead of vegetable oil we use rendered pork fat from local, pasture raised pigs.

Instead of flour we use nut flours.

Small victories.

Compared to the standard American diet I feel that my children eat quite well, but I would like to do more, feel even better about what they are eating. I read many paleo parenting websites, Paleo Parents, The Paleo Mama, Nom, Nom Paleo, to name a few, and honestly I don’t know how they have time to prepare all of the wonderful meals they detail on their blogs and in their cookbooks–yes, cookbooks! (Eat Like a Dinosaur being a favorite).

They have idyllic breakfasts, wonderful lunches in cute containers, and dinners that have more in common with a Norman Rockwell painting than with reality.

In my world half the time my wife and I are lucky to get something on the table that isn’t take out or take ‘n bake pizza.

We’ve gotten better, but there just isn’t time to be as good with the food as I’d like us to be. The food I feed my kids is important, and is a work in progress, but I’ve come to the realization that there are other parts of life on which I should focus.

Is it better to spend the time I have after work playing with my kids or spending an inordinate amount of time on a meal I found on a paleo website? The answer is obvious, but coming to grips with the answer was difficult for me.

Care to share your experiences feeding your children?

I Finished the First Draft of My Novel

Yes, I finished the first draft of my novel. I had some wine to celebrate the first milestone. Much  more work to be done, I know. Probably more wine, too.

The beginning

The beginning

A full year ago during a family vacation to La Push, Washington I began writing my novel in earnest. While watching waves crash onto a log-strewn dreary shore I wrote those first words in a composition notebook bought in Forks, not knowing how long the story would take to write.

Turns out the writing would take me close to a year.

In Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, he says that you should take no more than three months to write a novel. If you write, on average, 1000-2000 words a day, then yes you could finish a decent chunk of a novel in three months, but for some reason I could not average 1000-2000 words a day. In my (up to an) hour a day of writing I averaged 200-500 words per day.

On Writing

On Writing

I didn’t really start clicking with the word count until late October 2012 when I put myself on a schedule. I began to wake up around 4 am and then wrote as much as I could–after my first cup of tea or coffee, of course.

Yes, sometimes I wanted this much

Yes, sometimes I wanted this much

Still, even then my word count varied. After being a father and husband and holding a full time job, sometimes there was not enough energy in the day to hit my word count quota.

But I persevered. At times I wondered if the story would ever end. At times I didn’t see how the story could possibly end. And then, two months ago I saw the end, and ever since then I have been pushing and pushing until my hand ached to get to that ending.

I can now look back and see how the story and characters evolved.

I know it’s odd to say, but the main character, Aedinn Finn, grew on me. He was an amorphous blob to me when he woke up in the Tower in those first pages. At first he was an innocent in the world, still stuck in the memories of his previous life, but by the end of the novel, well, you’ll have to see. Let’s just say that reality slapped him around.

Janus Riberin, Aedinn’s mentor, surprised me. When I first envisioned him he was powerful, respected, and disciplined. He had little patience for Finn’s questions and feelings, but by the end of the novel Janus was showing a different side. He was still a curmudgeon, but a curmudgeon cracked by the same reality that had slapped around Finn. Still, Janus is not sorry for what he did.

Because I had written their histories I knew the fauns and faeries better than the men. Harguf the Elder and Pynnin had survived the Battle at Iardin and their stories were the first ones I wrote years and years ago. The role they played in the first novel was not quite what I had in mind when I started out.

In fact the novel as a whole did not follow what I had loosely (vaguely) envisioned many years ago. Instead the novel became the story of Aedinn Finn’s journey to reclaim his sanity and identity against the backdrop of a fantastical world losing itself due to the return of an ancient disease and the accidental attention of a once imprisoned God.

Let the editing begin…in a month. Wish me luck.

As it stands now the novel is the length of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince. By edit’s end I’d like it to be length of the first Twilight novel, which means I need to shave off about 15,000 words.

 

The End, July 10, 2013

The End, July 10, 2013

 

Finding the Time: Full Time Writing in a Full Time Life

A couple of days ago The Huffington Post put up an article on the daily rituals of famous authors such as Joseph Heller, William Faulkner and Maya Angelou.

William Faulkner, 1954

William Faulkner, 1954 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Faulkner worked as a nightshift supervisor at a university power plant. Wrote in the afternoon. Took cat naps when he needed them.

Joseph Heller wrote for 2-3 hours a night for eight years to finish Catch-22. By day he worked in the advertising departments of Time and McCall’s.

Maya Angelou checks herself into a spartan motel or hotel with a bible, a deck of cards, a dictionary, and a bottle of sherry and writes from 7 am until 12-2 pm. 

I won’t pull out his memoir to be sure I have this right, but Stephen King spoke about how early on he and his wife lived in a trailer and he would type out his novels while bouncing their baby on his knee.

I don’t pretend to be in their league, but reading about how legendary authors lived their lives made me think about how I fit writing into my life. I have a full time position at the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks here in southern California, but I am also a full time dad, especially on the weekends. Full time job. Full time family. How does writing, which should be considered a job, fit in?

At first I didn’t even try to fit writing into my life. I always intended to write a novel, but once I had kids I put the idea on the back burner and told myself I would come back to it when the kids were older. And then, in the summer of 2012 I asked myself, “Why are you waiting?”

I mean, I do have leisure time. I’ve spent HOURS playing video games like Lord of the Rings Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Skyrim…Oblivion. I love role playing games. I love the story. But always in the back of my mind there was a voice asking, “What are you doing? You have a world in your head. Play in that one.”

Well, last summer I decided to start writing. Seriously. Oh, before last summer I had written about the lore of The Nyre Lands. Had written about Aedinn Finn. Janus Riberin. I’d even written the prologue to the story. But all of that writing was intermittent. Sporadic.

Last summer we went on vacation to La Push, Washington, where Alefiya and I were married in 2008. At La Push I started writing in a journal while listening to the waves crash onto the beach. Very peaceful. I wrote early in the morning or when Conor needed a nap. After we returned from our trip, I started writing 4-7 days a week, but we were no longer on vacation. Writing daily became a challenge, so I had to figure out how to fit writing into my life.

How’d I do it?

Organization. Scheduling. Obviously, but I’ve never been good at organizing my life. I waste time with the best of them. Procrastinate like a pro. But I realized that if I wanted to write, be a writer, I had to write every day. The best time in our house to do anything where you need quiet is in the morning. Again, I was never a morning person, but morning was the only time I could count on having the peace and quiet I needed for writing. So, I started waking up a 4 am. At first it was tough, but over time waking up that early became a habit. Since then I’ve conditioned my body to wake up at 4 am EVERY DAY. Nowadays I am often up before my alarm goes off.

Here’s my schedule: 

4am: Up and in the shower
4:30: Bulletproof coffee made and I’m at the computer
4:30-5: Manage social media empire
5-6: Write
6:30-4: At work
4-7pm: At home with kids
7-8pm: Hang out with Alefiya
8pm-9pm: In bed, reading

During lunch at work I write a few hundred words. Sometimes I write in the evening if Alefiya and I have decided to do separate activities, but I try to be in bed by 8pm, which doesn’t leave much time in the evening to write.

Of course that’s my schedule. When you have a family your life can’t be that structured. You can’t count on having the time to write. Usually the kids sleep until at least 6, but there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen. If Isabella is up before 6, my writing ends then, because quiet time is over. Now it’s kiddo time.

Up until about a month ago I would become frustrated when Isabella woke up early. Dumb, I know. She’d come in to where I was writing, usually when my mind was locked in, seeing the other world, thinking a character’s thoughts, and she’d start talking about her night, the dreams she’d had, and how she now wanted food. At the time all I wanted to do was finish my thought. So, I would become frustrated.

In hindsight, silly. Isabella is 3 years old. She has no concept of the idea that dad is in the middle of something. I’ve now accepted that when Isa wakes up, the writing is done until there is another pause in the action that is life. Plus, there are going to be times when the kids are sick, or Alefiya is sick, or I am sick, or all three. When one of those things happens, writing is damn near impossible. We went through a patch during the winter where at least one of us was sick. I didn’t get much sleep when that happened, and consequently I didn’t write much.

Something else that’s dawned on me is that my kids aren’t going to want my attention forever. There’ll come a day when Isabella will be up and out the door, wanting to hang out with her friends, not needing or wanting anything from me. I need to savor these times.

What most people who pursue dreams have to realize is that the pursuit of that dream has to fit into your life. The pursuit has to fill in those nooks and crannies that life gives you from time to time. Never should you be bored when you pursue your dreams. Maybe if you land that big contract you can do what Thomas Mann did and close the door to your study at 9 am and refuse visitors, phone calls, or messages until noon. No noise allowed. But until then, the art finds its place.

Writing a novel is a marathon, a journey. Over the past year life has happened. In between, in those gaps where one would normally breathe, pause, I’ve been writing. And now I’m on the last leg of the race. Passed the quarter pole. I have something that’s looking like a novel, and along the way I’ve learned a few lessons. The most important is that patience is king. And if you ever read my novel you will see how patience (take a deep breath. Piecemeal), plays a very important role.

Do you want to know what my dream schedule looks like?

4-5am: Manage social media empire
5-9am: Write
9-11am: Nap, shower
11am-bed: Interact with the world

And now, off to work.

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It’s a Second Job, Not a Hobby

Since I put my mind to the task of writing the story that’s inhabited my mind for over ten years, the process has gained momentum, and for me it has become a second job that I squeeze into the moments between the rest of my life.
A.K. Anderson encapsulates almost everything I have to say.

Alicia K. Anderson

The topic for this post came about after talking with some of my writer friends about the work we do after-hours. Many of us are in the same boat, we work all day, then we come home and write.  It also came about because we’re goal-setting at the office for 2013, and I’m not sure what to put in my self-development category.

My long-long term goal is to not have to do SEO anymore professionally. I want to get to a financially stable enough place that I can write full time, and what hit-and-miss market-dependent income I make that way will be supplemental for the household.  My long-term plan is to be a writer.

The only way to make this career shift happen is to work both jobs in tandem for a while, and to take the writing portion as seriously as I could consulting work or other moonlighting gigs I’d…

View original post 171 more words

Being a Stay at Home Dad

Today I depart from writing about my upcoming novel and talk about how I’d like to be a stay at home dad.

If my manager ever reads this, and I doubt he will, perhaps he’d be surprised to hear me say that I prefer to be at home with my children. I work at the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks. The Legendary Skunkworks. Stealth came about here. We are amazing at integrating technology. Even better, I am part of a group within the Skunkworks that identifies and develops cutting edge technology.

The Skunk Works logo as seen on one of Lockhee...

The Skunk Works logo as seen on one of Lockheed Martin’s hangars. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why would I want to leave?

Simple. I miss spending time with my children. When I was writing my PhD thesis I stayed at home from the lab and took care of our daughter during the day while Alefiya worked. Back then, Isabella took one or two long naps a day, during which I wrote my thesis. When Isabella was awake we played together. Hung out. She was just learning to crawl and I created obstacle courses in the living room for her. I built Lego towers that she then tore apart. We had fun together.

Now, I work full time. During the week I am gone the majority of my children’s waking hours and am with them only in the evening. And we all know how toddlers and babies are in the evening. It’s their witching hour. Plus, I lament that I haven’t had the chance to spend the same amount of quality time with Conor as I did with Isabella.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a great job. I realize I am lucky to have a job in our economic environment. At times I am frustrated by the bureaucratic nonsense at Lockheed, but the company is good to me.

What I would like is more of a work-life balance. Alefiya is a very good nurse. Has her MSN. She has loads more career experience. She’s good at what she does. More importantly, she loved her job at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. But, we want to have one parent at home with the kids. We are fortunate that we are able to do that, but we’d like to split the time at home more, but because I am in a field that seems to have no concept of part time, and since health insurance is tied to employment, I am the one that works full time.

Like I said, we’d much rather split the hours. I would work half the week. Alefiya would work the other half of the week. She would like to resume her career as a nurse educator, but unfortunately we live in a world that is not set up to support families.

Research has proven that children with caring, involved dads have higher IQs, more confidence, and do better in school, but as a society we do not look long term. Imagine how much better the world would be if family and friends (community) were the center of life, and not jobs. Now, I’m not saying that I can’t be caring and involved with a full time job, but already I am missing out on preschool activities, field trips and playground time. Just imagine what I will miss in the long term.

I realize that each person needs their own space. Own time. Any parent knows that you will go crazy if you can’t get away from time to time. The job and career can serve as a distraction, but they shouldn’t be the focus, unless a person chooses so, and even then the person should not be rewarded for making that choice.

What I find interesting is that the one job that adds the most value to society, caring for children, is looked down upon in the professional sense. Oh, people will say that staying at home and caring for children is hard work. Noble work, but do we truly value what stay at home parents do? There’s perception. And then there’s reality. Even taking into account the work I did for my PhD and the work I do at Lockheed, I never work harder than when I stay at home and care for my children. The difference is the personal reward. In the spare, quiet moments when you see your child learn, or do something magical, that’s when you realize the enormity of what you are doing. How beautiful they are. That’s when you know all of the hard work is worth it.

Ask yourself this question. Which impresses you more? And be honest with yourself. Don’t tell yourself what you should say.

“I am a research scientist at the Skunkworks.”

“I am a stay at home dad.”

There’s what should impress you and what does.

Would you go to another dimension, another reality, to help if asked?

The Worlds Within started with a simple musing on my part, probably influenced by Harry Potter and Neverwhere. What if someone from another dimension, a parallel universe, came to me and needed help? What if I could never return? Would I go? Would you go?

English: Map of Narnian world as described in ...

English: Map of Narnian world as described in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For me it would depend on my situation. When I first conceived of The Nyre Lands my personal situation was far different, but now if Janus Riberin appeared in my room asking for aid I would politely turn him down, because I have a family. I am happy here in this reality. As you read The Worlds Within, I hope you come to understand and feel what Aedinn Finn goes through as he comes to realize, as his memory returns, the consequences of the choice he made.

You will notice in Harry Potter and Neverwhere that the protagonists are in similarly poor personal situations. Harry’s family is horrible to him. His cousin bullies him. Consequently, Harry has a low opinion of himself. Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere has a bossy girlfriend, whom he seems destined to marry, a miserable job and low self esteem–just like Harry. Would they have willingly gone to the other realities had their situations been different? In Harry’s case, yes, of course, but in Richard Mayhew’s case I daresay he might never have seen Door lying there on the sidewalk. His own personal unhappiness is what opened his eyes to Door while other people stepped past her.

Aedinn Finn might never have seen Janus Riberin sitting in that chair, or perhaps Janus Riberin would never have come to Aedinn had Aedinn’s situation been better, because Finn would not have been open to coming with Janus to The Nyre Lands.

Which brings me to my final point. The Worlds Within would not have entered the mind of the person I am today, because my subconscious would have politely turned down the offer. No thank you, I am happy.