Monthly Archives: June 2013

Guys and … dolls?

doll

So, men (or boys) can be “guys”. But what can women be? I need a cool, de rigueur female equivalent for “guys” for an article in a lifestyle magazine. Here are my options so far.

  • Gals. Never in my life have I heard someone actually say this word, unless they’re doing it ironically and/or are from the American south.
  • Ladies. This is a hugely problematic one. I’m sure you all understand why I can’t use it, but I’ll try to explain it – I was recently in a situation where an editor said, “Well, we can’t use it because how do we know if our readers are all ladies?”. So – the word “ladies” connotes a set of ideals that women need to ascribe to in order to be worthy of respect and admiration. It is not the equivalent of “gentleman”. Men don’t have to be “gentlemanly” to be liked or respected, but women come under a lot of (often very subtle) pressure to be ladylike. The word “lady” implies vulnerability, being soft-spoken and polite, inoffensive; it brings to mind things like correct comportment, tidy hair and not eating with your fingers – all things which are ascribed to women as a way to make them weaker, less threatening and just, well, less. I don’t want to buy into this set of ideals and don’t want to perpetuate a word which I think is, albeit in a very small way, quite damaging to feminism. Also, “ladies” just makes me think of savoury tarts and doilies, none of which I want to convey in my trendy, hip lifestyle article (though I’m sure by using the words “trendy” and “hip” I have exposed my untrendy unhipness).
  • Dudettes. No, because the 80s.
  • Females. This is not a police report or anthropological study, so no.
  • Girls. I do not want to infantilise my reader, even if it’s something women do to themselves (why it’s a common thing to refer to your friends as young/insubstantial/vulnerable creatures, I’ll never understand). Men might do it too – “C’mon, boys!” (man to TV screen while rugby is on) – but “boys” has the connotations of fun, rough and tumble wildness, while “girls” brings to mind a group of people who need to be coddled and protected.
  • Chicks. Is it just me, or is this very 90s? I’m also not convinced it does anything to remove the connotations of women being vulnerable.
  • Women. Sounds too formal and too statistic-y and news-report-y (yes, these are the official magazine-y terms).

Right.

So, basically, I’m screwed.

Grains of joy

It's love.

It’s love.

Aren’t grains just the best? They’re so versatile and so healthy (I’m thinking specifically of the low-GI energy you get from the wholewheat ones) that it’s no wonder they’re supposed to make up just over a quarter of our diets (according to the FDA).

But people are terrified of grains these days. Grains are considered morally reprehensible. They’re like zombies – scary and repulsive at the same time. Or tartrazine – something we all consumed in the past without knowing how bad it was for us.

So although I wanted this post to be all about grains and the delicious, I feel I can’t go ahead without prefacing it with my thoughts on diets that demonise grains.

<rant> Proponents of low-carb diets like the sports scientist Tim Noakes tell us that the worst thing we can do for our bodies is put evil carbs in them – and that includes pretty much all vegetables except leaves, all fruit except tomato and avocado, and even whole grains.

I know people who have completely cut out carbohydrates from their diets, and, yes, they’ve lost weight. But that’s mostly because of losing water (especially initially) and the fact that they’re cutting down on calories. It’s basic maths – eat less, you’ll lose weight.

And don’t just take my word for it – check out this study in the New England Journal of Medicine and this one in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – both found that people on any calorie-restricted diet lost weight – no matter whether they were cutting out carbohydrates, protein or fat.

The thing about carb-free diets, that encourage snacking on things like gammon instead of an apple, and having coconut butter whisked with grains of coffee for breakfast, is that your calorie intake is further restricted because of how ill they make you feel. After a few days or weeks, the food you’re eating is so unappetising that you don’t feel like eating at all.

So you’re basically starving yourself – and it’s common sense that starving your body is just not sustainable. If you want to live a normal life, you will be putting things like peas, sweet potatoes and oats in your mouth at some point in the future, never mind bread and pasta. And if you don’t eat any carbohydrates ever again – well, I wish you luck. There’s hardly any evidence of what this kind of diet does to one’s body in the long term.

Never mind the fact that cutting down on vegetables and fruits is the last thing that most of us need in terms of vitamins and nutrients.

But, as I said, I know people who have been on these diets, and (albeit fewer) people who have been on them for a while. They swear by them. As Ben Goldacre says, though, anecdotes do not equal evidence, so I shall remain sceptical until enough randomised controlled trials have been done over the long term to prove that low-carb/no-carb diets are so good for you that people who have been on them for years and years are healthier than people who have not. </rant>

Now we’ve got that out the way, I can talk some grain-loving. There’s absolutely no doubt that wholegrains trump white/processed grains (“on the basis of health only” my long-suffering, white-bread-loving, undoubtedly-healthier-thanks-to-me husband would say), and I’ve more or less eradicated the latter out of our home completely (barring the odd weekend-morning croissant from the neighbourhood French bakery) by making changes like:

  • Using barley instead of arborio rice for risottos (this recipe from Bon Appetit magazine was the first one I tried)
  • Using stoneground wholewheat instead of cake/white flour to make bechamel sauce – it tastes identical, honestly
  • Eating rolled oats instead of instant oats for breakfast
  • Choosing brown rice cakes (Vital does a nice range of seasoned ones if you want added flavour) instead of pretzels (my vice)
  • Serving brown rice with lentil dhal or bean chilli instead of poppadums/naan or nachos respectively (plus, a legume+a grain = a complete protein, so this change is doubly healthy – and as a family that hardly eats any meat, we eat a lot of legumes)

None of these changes made even a ripple on the surface of my grocery bill or the yum factor of our food. There are loads of other no-brainer substitutions, like replacing normal bread with rye bread and normal pasta with wholewheat, which I do when I’m making a hearty pasta sauce. Wholewheat pasta is much too robust to have with a thin, tomato-based sauce, I find, so I’d rather buy imported durum wheat pasta for those suppers.

But back to the drool-worthy dish that got me thinking about grains today: a recipe for rice pudding. Nigel Slater‘s, to be exact. He uses arborio rice, mascarpone and blueberries to make his dessert risotto, and even though I’ve never had rice pudding in my life, nor a desire to make it, I can’t wait to try this one. I love the idea of using arborio rice, which I’ve started thinking of as a treat, in a lovely summery pud like this. Join me in fantasising over the picture and the recipe.

 

 

Not book club material

book

There’s one major reason I could never belong to a book club (other than the geographical one – in my rural neighbourhood there are a lot of yogis, grey-haired surfers and various factions of horse-riders, but book clubs are thin on the ground). The reason is that I’m a snob.

I know I’m supposed to be ashamed of this. Thinking that things are objectively good or bad is enough to earn you a side-eye nowadays. The prevailing, accepted attitude for everything from wine (“snobs might turn their noses up at this vanilla-infused chardonnay/coffee-infused pinotage, but I think it is delicious!”) to TV (“shows on Discovery TLC might be really trashy, but I just can’t stop watching them!”) to food (“I’d much rather read this blog by this ordinary non-professional about how to cook than read a recipe book by an actual chef”) is that whatever your opinion is, is right. Everything should be accessible to everyone. There’s no such thing as “bad taste”, and experts are out. And when this attitude is applied to books, I just can’t.

It’s not that I only read highbrow literary fiction – I’ve never even read a single Tolstoy. And that’s not a brag – it’s something I’m really ashamed of, but not so ashamed that I’ll neglect the new Kate Atkinson in favour of Anna Karenina (that’s one, right?). I actually love lighthearted contemporary fiction (hold the vampires and elves). My Kindle’s got everything from NW by Zadie Smith on it to, honestly, The Rise and Fall of a Yummy Mummy by Polly Williams (not a bad way to spend R70, actually) – so I’m not a snob in the sense that I don’t like “trashy” fiction.

But here’s where the snobbery comes in – I am of the opinion that you can’t truly appreciate anything if you don’t know what to look for. And you certainly can’t engage in a meaningful discussion about a work of art, or fiction, or anything, if you don’t have any background knowledge of what makes that art work “good”. I mean, I can point at a pair of shoes and say, “wow, those are pretty!” (that’s probably more enthusiasm than I have ever expressed about shoes, to be fair), but I wouldn’t meet with a group of women for an hour every month to talk about how or why this or that pair of shoes is pretty, because I just don’t know anything about what goes into designing and making a pair of shoes.

When it comes to book clubs, the thing I’m most afraid of is the glib understatement. I imagine discussing a great work of fiction with my girl friends – OK, not my real girl friends, because they’re too much like me for even an imaginary book club to be credible, so I’m creating a hypothetical group of girl friends, who are all in, like, finance or something that doesn’t require a BA. Let’s say we’re talking about The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Booker Prize winner, Pulitzer nominee, complex allegory about colonialism in Africa told through the story of a doomed and damaged Southern family, riddled with imagery, infused with energy, heavy with tragedy, but reads like any narrative about a family in an untranslated land). These hypothetical girls dabble in books the way I dabble in shoes – I’m definitely not passionate about shoes, but I wear them and sometimes shop for them, and occasionally notice them on other people. One of the women opens her mouth to declare her opinion on the book, and I can tell she’s going to say something nice about it, and I imagine myself having a “you’re fucking kidding me” moment like I did on the Ponte Fabricio in Rome three years ago.

While driving over this age-old bridge, surrounded by iconic architecture, one of my travelling companions – a very sweet person who, to be fair, had never been on a plane before the trip – said, in a tone of mild surprise, “They’ve got nice buildings here, hey.”

Even though I have zero personal investment in Rome or its “buildings”, I was insulted by how offhand this person had been – which is completely ridiculous. Yes, this sweet, quaint person appreciated the architecture of Rome in their own way – but it didn’t mean I wanted to listen to them talk about their experience. 

So can you imagine me in a book club if one of my hypothetical friends came out with, “Ja, I liked The Poisonwood Bible. It’s quite good.”?

Addendum

Other reasons I think book clubs are silly:

  • They are not about the books at all. They are about “having a girls’ night” and drinking wine. Why do people feel they need the excuse? Why don’t they just meet up with their mates and get tipsy on a weeknight for no reason other than that it’s rad?
  • Even if they were about the books, book clubs emerged when hardcopies of books were expensive as a way to pool resources. Everyone has a Kindle now. So why even meet in person? If you want to talk about books you love, online forums are much more convenient. I’m a bit of a Goodreads troll myself.
  • This is probably my biggest gripe – book clubs are almost exclusively female. Why? They’re like the Tupperware parties of the 20-teens. I avoid forced all-female gatherings at most costs these days because they just make me uncomfortable and they usually involve boring, twee things like tea and cupcakes. At least these “book clubs” usually involve wine, which is something I can definitely get behind.

Things about being an egg donor

eggs 2

Not this kind. Obviously.

1. But why?

I want to help people. I want to use my body to contribute to the world. I want to use the things my body can do, and just does without any help or my control, to give back to people whose bodies can’t do those things.

I’m an organ donor and a regular blood donor, and this just seemed like the natural progression.

I love my little girl so deeply and passionately and singularly that, since she was born, I’ve lived in more or less constant elation (and also fear), and if I can play a role in another person feeling that way, it’s something I feel I have to do.

2. “Aren’t you scared?” (Add “Will it hurt?”, “Wow, you’re brave/mad” and “But what are the side effects?” to this one.)

Not really – I don’t mind being under anaesthetic, I’m not scared of needles, and I don’t mind being poked and prodded, within reason. The egg-retrieval process itself involves injecting yourself with fertility drugs (a very mild/small dose) for 12 days in your abdomen, having three scans to check on the growth of the eggs, and then a half-hour operation that is done while you’re under general anaesthetic. The op uses a little suction thing that is like a thin straw, so there’s no cutting or stitches or anything.

What I am scared of is the effects that the drugs will have on my body. I have had to go on the contraceptive pill, and will stay on it for about 8 weeks, so that the recipient and my cycles can get into sync. Then I have to go off it for a week, and then start injecting. My body is very reliable, generally, so I’m scared that putting it through these hormonal changes will mess it up permanently. My head knows that this won’t happen, but I’m still nervous about it.

The risks are numerous but also extremely unlikely. The Cape Fertility Clinic is a world-class facility, and the doctors who are working with me have done this so many times before and know exactly what to look for. They are also extremely cautious, which helps.

I’m only midway through the process as I write this, so I can’t be 100% sure how I will feel while I’m on the fertility treatment, or how I’ll feel after the op – I’ll keep this section of my blog updated as I go through it all. But, for now, I’m pretty comfortable with everything the procedure entails (except for the being-scared bit I mentioned earlier).

3. What happens if the law changes and one day this kid knocks on your door and tells you that he or she is your long-lost child?

Even if the law does change, that kind of sudden contact will never happen, firstly. The agency I’m registered with will be the ones to receive a message that the recipient or child wanted to connect with me (and this is only if the law changes – anonymity is top, top priority at the moment, so even this wouldn’t happen) and we’d take it from there.

From where I stand, I don’t want to meet the child. I don’t want to meet the recipient. As far as I’m concerned, I am not giving anybody a child – I’m giving them the material with which they might (there’s a 60% success rate) create a child after adding a whole lot of other important ingredients – bits of the Dad, lots of pre-natal care, and a tonne of love and support once the hypothetical child is born. I am more than happy to know that my donation helped somebody, and not to ever know who they are.

4. Do you get paid?

Not in South Africa. You get “compensated” a few thousand Rand – mostly for petrol to get to and from the appointments, and for your time. In my opinion, the figure could be doubled or tripled, and it still wouldn’t be enough to make the process a financially viable option. I guess it’s all about economics – for me, messing with my body’s hormones and putting it through quite a taxing process is not worth any amount of money.

OK, maybe if we were talking, like, hundreds of thousands of Rand, it might feel worth it. But anything less than that, and, financially, it’s really not.

5. How does your husband feel about this? 

People really do ask this, and it always leaves me feeling quite bemused – firstly because it wouldn’t affect him at all if he didn’t know I was doing it, and then because I wouldn’t go ahead with something like this if he wasn’t happy with it – so I’m like, well, obviously he’s fine with it because I wouldn’t be going through with it if he wasn’t, but on the other hand, it’s my body and not his so it doesn’t affect him anyway.

Anyway … He supports me and thinks I’m doing a good thing. We had to talk it through a lot before we came to the conclusion that it would be a good thing to do – he is not the kind of person who accepts things at face value. He thinks, he does research, he questions himself and his feelings. So I know that when he does give me his support, he’s not just saying it – he really does think it’s the right thing.

6. What prompted you to apply to be a donor?

I read this blog by chance, and two-time donor Nicki totally inspired me. She was registered with Nurture, and so I went through them too. This agency is a wonderful group of women, and they have supported me at every point of the journey so far.

My baby’s words

lightbulb

“Light!”

At 14 months and three weeks, my child is emerging as a startlingly social and talkative little being. With other kids, she’s always the one in the group who hangs back and watches the others interacting for a while, and is happier playing quietly by herself. But with grown-ups, she’s actually become really outgoing – and since she’s started talking, she’s really become a force to be reckoned with. Full attention must be given to her when she’s having a conversation with you – and that means responding enthusiastically all 14 times she points at the ceiling and says “light!” in the space of two minutes.

I get the impression that other parents count the number of words or phrases their toddlers can say – so, because I’m terrified of being left out, and also because she’s picking up new words so incredibly quickly – here’s the list of things Lil A can identify and name:

– Light, ball, button, eye, nose, mouth, Roger (her beautiful toy St Bernard), dogs, mama, dada, Naume (her nanny, whom she just calls “me”), banana, eating (which she calls “yum yum”), the cat (although, this is only half-true – she actually calls him “meow” – and I PROMISE that’s not our fault; she just took it upon herself to call him that after hearing him actually meow – we’re not those parents who call cows “moo” and dogs “woof”)

Other non-noun words and phrases:

– Hello! (to everybody – from horse riders on the street to people passing in the mall), oh dear! (when things are dropped); gone; boo!; no; ta (when handing over an object – we weren’t responsible for this either and have been trying to get her to say “here you go” rather – which she came out with yesterday, actually)

She’s STILL not walking by herself and so I feel entitled to brag a little about this – 20 words and phrases that she says in the correct context and at her own discretion, not repeated or drilled. Surely she’s brushed with a shade of genius, right? I can find loads of sources telling me that most kids walk by the age of one year, but nothing telling me whether or not the average almost-15-month-old can say 20 things. {UPDATE: three days after posting this, Lil A fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinally started walking!}