Saturday, August 30, 2014

Half-Assed Veganism - A New Label

There are lots of labels in this world. Some complimentary. Some not so much.  As many of you know, this year I drastically changed my eating habits and it seems I don't fit into any of the usual chowing down groups.

Therefore, I formally declare myself a Half-Assed Vegan, a description I used for the first time in a blog post in early June.

There, I've said it. And I stand tall (well, as tall as 5' 1/2" can stand) with my head held high under that banner.
My name is Sue Ann Jaffarian and I am a Half-Assed Vegan!
You mean you're a vegan?

No, I eat seafood.

That means you're a pescatarian.

Not exactly. I eat eggs.

But isn't that a lacto-ovo-vegetarian?

No. Lacto-ovo vegetarians don't eat seafood but do eat dairy and eggs. I don't eat dairy due to a recently discovered food allergy.

So here is my criteria for being a Half-Assed Vegan. Some of you may fall into this category. If so, please be my guest to proudly bear the moniker:

About 80-90% of my diet is vegan. I cook almost entirely vegan at home.  Once in a while when out I will eat a smidgen of meat or have a small burger or a turkey sandwich, but that's really about it and it's not very often. The one thing I do my best to avoid totally is dairy.

Changing how I eat this year has had many benefits:

1) my eczema is pretty much gone (the dairy issue);
2) my constant indigestion and acid reflux is pretty much gone;
3) I'm losing weight without counting points, calories or carbs (but I do watch portion sizes on things like rice, bread and pasta);
4) I feel better overall
5) I've rediscovered my love for cooking!

Yes, me, the Queen of Fast Food is now cooking again! I used to love to cook, but somewhere along the way got bored with it and resorted to fast food and dining out for many meals. Now I eat at home most of the time. I pack healthy lunches and snacks for work. I scour the web for fabulous new recipes, which I trade with my friend Lori, who is a vegan. I'm even coming up with my own concoctions. My fridge, which used to be pretty empty, is now stocked with fruits, veggies, whole grain breads and lovely leftovers. It's a beautiful sight to behold.

Last weekend I made a zucchini au gratin dish using homemade vegan "parmesan cheese" and a tofu parmesan (like veal or chicken parmesan, but with tofu). Both were delicious.  This week I also  whipped up a roasted red pepper sauce for pasta and a vegan corn chowder.  All of these dishes (except for the tofu dish) are from a fabulous blog called Minimalist Baker.  It's da bomb. Run by a husband and wife, they are taking vegetarianism and veganism to new fun heights.

Some other sites I have found fun and useful are:

Vegan Dad (how could you not love a guy who makes vegan twinkies!)
Oh She Glows
Vegetarian Times
Eating Well

Basically, if you have a favorite dish, you can vegan-ize or make it vegetarian by simply searching the web for it by putting "vegan" in front of the food's name. Warning: not all transitions work and I've tried some that won't be made again in my kitchen, but many are super good if you don't expect it to taste exactly the same as your beloved favorite. There are some, like the tofu parmesan, that I actually like more. And the vegan parmesan cheese on the Minimalist Baker website will make you a true believer. I like it better than real parmesan cheese!

The only downside to all this is eating out. Not so much in Los Angeles, where I live and where most restaurants offer many vegetarian and vegan options, but when I travel it can be a real challenge. I was recently on a trip to Massachusetts. Most restaurants in the area where I was staying offered vegetarian options but those dishes were usually drowning in cheese or sauces of some sort or another. For most meals out I ate seafood, which was also a challenge because much of it was cooked in butter sauces or fried. I went primarily with the fried seafood, which was hardly a punishment since I love it so much, but was happy to get home and dry out from all that grease.

One thing I've really noticed since becoming a Half-Assed Vegan is how much of our food is covered in cheese or processed cheese products. Now don't get me wrong. I adore cheese! I seriously miss cheese! But now that I don't eat it and have to hunt down foods without it, I've really opened my eyes to how much of it the American public consumes.  No wonder we have such serious health issues in this country.

I've become quite adept at saying "no cheese" or "no butter" when ordering out.  I'm not shy at all about asking ahead of time how veggies are prepared and insisting that they be steamed and served without butter or sauces or cheese.  Even most meatless salads in restaurants come laden with cheese.

Many, many years ago I was watching a medical drama on TV, which name escapes me now. I still remember this one scene which I found very funny at the time, not realizing how relevant it would one day be to me:

A doctor tells his patient he must give up a lot of his favorite foods.
Patient: "But, Doc, what's life without cheese?"
Doctor:  "Longer."

It's not so funny to me now.

Just so you don't go away thinking my new lifestyle is totally boring and not any fun, I'll leave you with this:

Oreos are vegan.

Oh, yeah, they are. And they are used in a lot of vegan dessert recipes.

Then again, it makes you wonder about that cream filling, doesn't it?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Wicked Pull Of Home

My reality is that I'm not that far from retirement. I'm not talking about retirement from writing but from my career as a paralegal.

When I first started writing I actually believed, like many other fledgling writers, that I'd make enough money to support myself and could leave the day job behind and write full time. [Insert wild cackling laughter here.]  Not so. While I do make money from my books, it's not even close to enough to pay my rent and other expenses, not to mention individual health care coverage.

I turn 62 in a few months. Even if I did make enough money from my writing to pay my personal expenses, I'm so close to retirement that to leave my job (which I like very much, by the way) behind now and head into early retirement would be a big financial mistake. But that doesn't keep me from planning for it.

For the past few years I've been looking at places where I might want to retire.  I don't want to stay in Los Angeles. I'm tired of the traffic, noise and crowds, and it is WAY TOO EXPENSIVE. I've known for quite some time that when I retire I will pack my stuff up and move.

But where?  That has been the big question.  I've looked at several places in Southern California and a few out of state places, but it wasn't until the past month or so that I realized where I want to be. 

I want to go home.

By home, I mean the East Coast, specifically New England, more specifically Massachusetts, where I was born.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all about the winters.  But I like winter for the most part. What I never liked about it when I did live there was driving in it day in and day out to go to work.  But if I'm not working, I won't be forced out onto icy roads.  I can sit in my nice warm place in my Snuggie, point out the window at the falling snow, and say, "Pretty."

And I want to be near my family. I really miss them and my trip East a few weeks ago really underscored that in my heart. I want to see the generations grow up. I want to spend the holidays with them. Each year that passes, I want it more.

What can I say? You can take the girl out of New England but you can't take New England out of the girl.

This past week I've moved from the maybe one day stage of Retirement into the planning stage. Over the next few years I'm going to be cleaning out all the crap I don't need, and tightening the belt a bit more in preparation. I'm a sexagenarian with a new mission. I've even contacted a realtor in Massachusetts to discuss options.

Yeah, it's that real.

My Odelia Grey books are contracted for 3 more books with those contracts ending close to my retirement. I have plans for new things and might even extend the Odelia series in a new format. And the Granny books are chugging along nicely.  Even with publishing being chaotic, I'm hoping that my writing income will continue and will supplement my retirement income.  At least that's the plan.

OMG! I just realized that if I'm moving back to Massachusetts I'll have to become a Boston Red Sox fan. There's just no way around that. It's a requirement. And I don't even like baseball. If they find that out, will they deny me residence?

Aside from the baseball thing,
it's going to be WICKED AWESOME.
I just know it!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bullets and Burgers for Your Little Princess

The simpler days.
This morning, before I even had coffee in hand or had fed my cats, I learned of this tragic story on Facebook: A 9 year old girl shot and killed a shooting instructor with an Uzi.

Huh? Clearly the dust bunnies of sleep were clouding my senses.

I read the story again. Then checked it out on the Internet knowing that sometimes stuff on Facebook cannot be relied upon for accuracy.

Nope. It was true according to several dependable news sources.  Here's CNN's account so you can check it for yourself:

In a nutshell, a little girl on vacation with her parents was learning how to fire an automatic gun at a shooting range not far from Las Vegas. The shoot range is called Bullets and Burgers. (I didn't make that name up although it does sound right out of a novel.) The instructor was teaching her how to properly stand and fire and after a couple of single shots gave her the green light to set it to full automatic.  It was the last thing he ever did.

Apparently, on full auto the gun recoiled in the child's hands and bullets struck the instructor in the head, killing him.

First of all, let me say that while I am not a gun enthusiast, I do believe that stable and screened citizens should have the right to own registered firearms. And I fully believe that if you do own a gun you should be fully trained on how to use it, store it, and care for it.  I do not believe in these fools who make political statements by carrying automatic rifles into public places.

I'm even okay with parents teaching or having someone teach their child how to shoot a rifle. After all, many children grow up in areas where hunting is part of their culture and they learn the proper way to handle a gun at an early age.  According to the story, children 8 and up can shoot at this range with parental approval and supervision.

But a fucking UZI!  At nine years old! Is this child being shipped off to fight in the Israeli army? Are international drug cartels threatening her neighborhood and she's its only hope? Was Disneyland closed?

Proudly recording their little girl's summer fun, the parents got it all on video. That's some spectacular home movie footage! I guarantee no one will be yawning or shooting spit balls during that day's show 'n tell. She'll be a hit in her local elementary school, especially after all the horror of school shootings. Everyone will want to be her emergency buddy, even the teacher. She might even earn a badge if she's in Girl Scouts. She can sell cookies at gun point.

Really, parents?!  A fucking UZI!  I know we want our girls to be strong and fearless and confident, but a FUCKING UZI?!

I can't say FUCKING UZI enough this morning. Really, I can't.

There is so much tragedy here on so many levels:

1) An innocent man lost his life;
2) An innocent child took a life and will have to live with that for the rest of her life;
3) Some parents need a serious reality check, maybe even a lobotomy, and these parents should start saving now for all the therapy that child is going to need. And, yes, in this case, it is the parents' fault.

I know that stun guns come in pink. I wonder if  Uzi's also have a pretty in pink line. Maybe there's a special edition with princess stickers or the Hello Kitty logo. They could call it Hello, Killy.

I'm going to get another cup of coffee now... I need to turn my attention back to the murder mystery I'm writing, which seems like child's play after this. 

Yes, that pun was intended.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Just Say Thank You And Move Along

Last night I had an opportunity to pay it forward. This is a simple principle and one I like to exercise as often as possible since so many people have been generous to me over the years in lots of different ways.

Sometimes paying it forward involves doing someone a simple kindness or a good turn, sometimes it involves something financial. The whole idea is to continue the cycle of being kind to one another, spreading decency like a virus. 

Think of Ebola with a super hero cape instead of skull and crossbones.

So last night after work I'm at Ralphs doing some grocery shopping. As usual that time of day, the store was packed and the check out lines long. There was an elderly lady in front of me at the cashier. She was in a dither because she couldn't find her wallet. The cashier was very patient and pleasant and asked if she could put the woman's grocery items aside and help the other customers in line, which the woman agreed to while she continued her hunt. When the cashier started checking me out, I told the her to add the other woman's groceries to my bill and I paid for both.

Before you think I'm being super noble, trust me, together our groceries totaled less than $45.00.

Anyway, our groceries were bagged and when they handed the woman her bag, she was confused. The checker told her I'd paid for them. The woman made a slight stink, saying I couldn't do that. I told her it was my pleasure and that we all found ourselves without our wallets from time to time.

Good deed done and over. Right? Wrong.

By the time I loaded my two bags into the trunk of my car, got inside and buckled up, the woman had hunted me down. Wedging herself and her cart between my car and the next she continued to insist that I could not pay for her groceries. This went on for a long time, even though I insisted several times that it was no big deal and that I needed to get home, and also pointed out that the people in the car next to mine were trying to pull out and couldn't with her in the way. The woman barely moved, the vehicle slowly maneuvered out, and she continued to block the now empty and valuable parking spot, which I think in LA is a crime punishable by jail time.

Eventually we exchanged information since the woman was determined to do me a kindness in return and it was obvious she wasn't going to let me go with just a simple thank you.  Satisfied, she left. A man and woman immediately pulled their vehicle into the parking spot next to me. The man, who was driving, ranted and raved at me through the passenger side open window, saying how rude and inconsiderate I was to block a parking spot. Seriously, he was red in the face with rage and I thought he was going to have a stroke.

So here's the moral to the story...

I'm sure you're thinking I'm going to say no good deed goes unpunished, but no, I'm not going to be that negative and sarcastic.  After all, I was only embarrassed and no one died.

No, the moral to this story is ...

Continue to pay it forward, in spite of crazy people screaming about parking.

And ...

If someone does you a good deed, do not embarrass your benefactor by making a scene. Say a heartfelt thank you and move along, determined to do the same for someone else when the opportunity arises.

Just say

Monday, August 18, 2014

My Summer Working Vacation

I just returned from my summer vacation. I used to go on cruises and big trips with lots of running around, but in the past few years I've come to prefer quiet, relaxing vacations that also include book research. That makes it a working vacation, but I don't mind as long as I enjoy it. It's a two-fer I've come to love.

On August 7th I met up with Susan, one of my BFFs, at the airport in Hartford, Connecticut, grabbed a rental car, and drove about an hour to East Brookfield, Massachusetts.  I was born in Haverhill, MA, which is tucked in the northeast corner of the state, but my immediate family relocated many years ago to Brookfield, which is in the south central part near the tourist area of Sturbridge. I love that area and am seriously thinking of relocating there when I retire in about 5 years or so.  You see, I don't mind cold weather and snow as along as I don't have to drive to work in it.
Is this adorable or what?
Anyway, rather than stay with family in a crowded house, I decided to rent a cottage on nearby Lake Laskaway. OMG! I fell in love with the place. It was this small cute cottage with all the amenities of home (washer/dryer, full kitchen, TV with cable, WiFi) and some I don't get in the middle of Los Angeles (lake front, quiet, flower garden). It was priced reasonably and the owners, Pattie and Peter O'Neil, had thought of everything to make their guests comfy. I slept like the dead each and every night and woke up each morning to the peaceful flow of the lake.

Our first full day we drove to the town of Greenfield where we met up with my brother Thom and another of my friends, Stacia.  Both of them live in Vermont and were happy to meet us halfway. My sister-in-law Marlaine came and brought my two youngest great-nieces to see their grandfather. We had a great time catching up over yummy New England fried seafood. After, Susan and I visited Magic Wings, a butterfly conservatory just a few minutes away.  This place was AMAZING and if you find yourself in MA, try to fit it into your schedule. There were butterflies EVERYWHERE and they had lots of birds and even interesting reptiles and insects. The people who work are charming and knowledgeable and very eager to tell you all about the creatures who reside at Magic Wings.

Saturday found us at Old Sturbridge Village, a living museum, which we visited with my niece Lindsay and my eldest great-niece. I had never been there even though I'd been to Sturbridge many times. It was a good place for me to do some of the research for the 6th Granny Apples novel (which Berkley just bought!), as well as a great place for Susan to visit on her first trip to New England. She and I also did a lot of driving around the countryside as I soaked in the ambiance for Emma's trip to the area in the book. Later we gathered with my family for a cookout.

On Sunday a bunch of us gathered at the Spencer Country Inn for brunch to celebrate the Sue Ann Jaffarian Fan Club on Facebook being on the brink of 1,000 members.  Cyn Reilly, her husband Steve, and their son joined us. Cyn started the fan club and administers it along with Lindsay. It was another great time of good food and visiting and lots of laughter. Later Marlaine and Lindsay came back to the cottage to enjoy the lake with us.

The brunch bunch - Cyn is in the middle
Monday Susan and I hung around the cottage and later went to Marlaine's for dinner. Tuesday we hit the road again for me to do some book/area surveillance and made another short trip to Sturbridge to visit some shops. We had lunch at the historical Publick House.  My last night in town Lindsay and her boyfriend Jeff took me to dinner.

My office while on vacation
Most mornings found me armed with a cup of coffee and writing at the picnic table facing the lake. I could do that every day! I even put in some time at the picnic table on an afternoon or two. I don't force myself to write when I go on vacation, but if my muse whispers in my ear, I don't ignore her. I'm happy to say my muse made the trip with me and she and I got a lot of work done, both at the cottage and on the flight home. I was working on the 10th Odelia Grey novel, which is due to its publisher in early October.

Susan and I had PERFECT weather the entire trip and I have the tan/burn marks to prove it. It wasn't even muggy, which is the norm for New England in the summer.  The day we left a big storm blew in and we made our way back to the Hartford airport in pouring rain. Nice timing, Mother Nature, and much appreciated!

Even though I've spent most of my life in Southern California, I can't deny the pull of my New England roots and still call it "home." Like I said, I'm considering retiring near my family when the time comes. I love living in LA, but as I get older the crowds, noise and traffic are really getting on my nerves.  What can I say? I'm an old fart now and this old fart is craving the peace and quiet of country living, preferably by a lake.