Holocaust Remembrance Day

A day late, but no less important.

It’s absolutely shocking to me that far, far too many know nothing about the Holocaust.

May we never allow something like this to happen again. And, may we continue to honour the memory of those who needlessly and senselessly suffered such horrors by fighting injustice and racism whenever and wherever it faces us.

To learn more or share resources on the Holocaust, please visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum‘s website.

2018

I will not miss this year. At. All.

It’s proved challenging. It’s tested my limits. And, it’s frayed my nerves. It’s brought successes and bitter disappointments, sometimes simultaneously. It’s brought the pain of loss and grief. And it’s been emotionally and physically exhausting.

But, this year also brought love. Kindness. Patience. Support. And laughter, so much laughter, at times through tears.

This year, 2018, is once again not defined by things, but by the people in my life. I am enormously grateful, humbled and honoured to have so, so many amazing people in my life.

Naturally, there is that one person who stands out, namely, that constant known to me as ‘Sweetie’ or “Twewtie’, and to many as The Cuban. As we move into our 14th (holy shit, time flies!) year together, I am still amazed by how much more meaningful each day is through the simple act of sharing time and space with this most incredible human. As much as I love many of you, I am not afraid nor ashamed to say there is no one on this planet I’d rather spend time with.

But so many others in our life, those both near and far, those at once virtually and physically near and dear, have provided both strength and hope, kindness and solidarity, silliness and seriousness when we most needed and least expected it. And we are grateful beyond measure. You’ve cheered our successes, shared our outrage at injustices and aimed to make this world just a little bit better, and we love you for it.

As the clock ticks towards another day and another year, we thank you for sharing your lives with us in 2018. And we wish you boundless happiness and joy, love and laughter, and endless hope and prosperity in whatever way you measure it in the coming year. May 2019 exceed your expectations and dreams. And may we cross one another’s paths as often as possible in the near future.

Happy New Year!

Vintage 8 in Torremolinos, Spain

Spain is lovely, with plentiful sunshine even on the rare ‘cloudy’ day. Clouds in Helsinki provide an alternate reality and entirely different notion of just what a cloudy day looks like I suppose. But, one thing we didn’t really think much about when we booked this holiday was food or the cuisine. One comment I heard several times before leaving was that Spain is not kind to vegetarians, and finding anything beyond chorizo, serrano and manchego would be a challenge.

Challenge accepted.

[As an aside, but related to this tale of gastronomic bliss, sometime in September this year during a sleepless night, I made the mistake of watching a documentary The Cuban found, entitled Dominion. I haven’t been able to eat meat since and my diet now borders on veganism. I’ll spare you the details of the documentary. But unless I know definitively that the pig, chicken, cow or fish I’m about to ingest enjoyed a happy life and was slaughtered in a way which wasn’t delightfully and gleefully cruel, I ain’t touching it.]

Anyway…thus far and two weeks into our sorjourn to the sun, we’ve been rather underwhelmed by the food. Aside from a lovely Italian bistro down the block from our home away from home, the food we’ve had can be best described as ‘meh’.

All that changed yesterday. And, we have Vintage 8 to thank for the dining delights, an experience we plan to repeat several times before we depart back to the land of darkness.

We found Vintage 8 after searching for solid restaurants in the area, thinking it’d be a nice place to meet up with old friends. Since its situated at the end of the route for our daily evening strolls here on holiday, we decided we’d try it yesterday rather than hit up our favourite Irish pub for a pint of Guinness before dinner. Typing out that comparison seems like such an insult both to the restaurant and the chef, because the only thing the two options have in common is that they lie rather closely to one another by happenstance. But, that’s part of Vintage 8’s charm. It sits on a block of utterly incongruent choices — Burger King and a Chinese-Thai place both provide alternative options to this gastronomic gem. But, the reviews. Just about every review of Vintage 8 sang its praises. And, a few of those reviews came from vegetarians, which intrigued me.

We arrived early by Spanish dinner-time standards (probably around 18.45). And, we were the only folks there other than the chef, who performed dual functions until later in the meal, taking care of our every need as well as cooking up some insanely delicious treats.

The menu itself is a delight, with whimsicial, playful names featuring giants like John Lennon, Ella Fitzgerald and Paul McCartney in various dish descriptions, along with flavours I’d never imagined but wanted to try. Nothing looked uninteresting.

I opted for the tasting menu, which the chef was incredibly and kindly willing to adapt to my annoyingly vegetarian food habits at the moment. The Cuban, rather bravely, also decided on the tasting menu (his first ever!), opting to try both fish dishes rather than the lamb or chicken which typically closes out the four-course meal. Here’s the truly crazy part to both of us: the four courses we each were about to savour cost an astoundingly cheap €19.90 each, and included a beverage (red wine for me and water for The Cuban). This culinary adventure also included a starter and dessert, both of which were just as delicious on their own as they were a part of this culinary journey of Morrocan and Mediterranean fusion food. Oh, yes, we will be back, my new best friend.

So, here’s what we had. [I’m rather sad that the pictures here do very little justice to the food, and don’t include each course. Our next visit, I’ll have my proper camera so that I can capture these insanely lovely tasting and beautifully plated dishes. I’ve included some photos, however, just to give you, dear reader, a bit of salivatory satisfaction for now.):

  • Mushroom croquette: I gladly could have eaten a mound of these, but I love mushrooms and all things fried. The Cuban, who is not exactly enamoured by fungal foods of any sorts, loved them as well. And, the beginnings of a happy food face first emerged across the table from me.
  • Vintage 8 Egg: This won the ‘best tapa’ award and it’s clear why. This seems like an egg, but borrowing from The Cuban, it is ‘the best egg I’ve had. In. My. Life.’ Served with deep-fried onions and fresh bread rolls which you dip into this most divine egg. So, so much more than ‘just an egg’.
  • John Lennon’s Pacificism: Goat’s cheese with a tomato and aubergine compote and fresh greens.  A couple sat near us just before we left and were underwhelmed by the goat cheese course. I hope that they ate those words when it arrived. I love cheese of all sorts, which is perhaps my number one reason for not going full-on vegan. This dish blew me away completely; not because of the cheese, but because of everything else happening within the dish. There is this slight crunchiness to the dish that I couldn’t work out, but which delighted my taste buds further. The chef shared his secret with me; and I shall carry that secret to my grave. Suffice it to say the flavours work perfectly. Note that the picture looks like a mound of salad greens. Clever.

[At this point, our dishes diverged, whereby I had two non-menu item courses made ‘just for [me]’, and The Cuban had two fish courses. I must say, his looked incredible as well and judging by both the clean plates and his face, they rocked.

  • ‘Just a veggie burger’ mini-burger. If you know anything about my food preferences, you know I do not do onions. This burger had what I think were carmelised onions and I ate them all. I LOVED them. A little tiny mini-veggie burger entirely for me served with fresh crisps and a little green salad with hearts of palm. Yes, please. Oh, yes.
  • The Cuban had prawns wrapped in filo dough and fried with perhaps the best description of all time, aubergine and ‘black magic fuckery’ tomato  sauces. He was scraping his slate plate.
  • For my final course to this meal-I-never-wanted-to-end, I had a filo pastry base topped with Morrocan spiced vegetables and tgenerous slices of fresh cheese, which resembled an incredible combination of parmesan or manchego (perhaps an aged manchego?). Honestly, this was unreal.
  • The Cuban’s last course was salmon over potatoes, which sounds rather plan but was anything but. In TC’s words, ‘Wow. Just wow’.

As if this wasn’t enough, we still had dessert to conquer. A divine date and almond biscuit topped with a lime sorbet and covered in an avocado-mint sauce. (According to The Cuban, this dish beats my brownies, which, okay, stings but I admit defeat. Because chef is a bloody genius!)

This. Meal. Honestly. We were happily stuffed when we left, but not to the point of feeling sick. The Vintage 8 tasting menu is a steal, and provides so much seriously delicious food that we honestly can’t wait to return. And, when we return, I’m taking the proper camera. And, a healthy appetite. I intend to work my way through whatever chef puts in front of me.

Should you ever find yourself in Torremolinos, Spain, or anywhere near here, go to Vintage 8. You will not regret it.

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On ‘The View from Flyover Country’

The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten AmericaThe View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kendzior

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If we ever hope to move beyond that which divides us, we must collectively rip off those band-aids, acknowledge various problems that plague us as a nation and society, and begin the truly difficult discussions in order to find long-term and permanent solutions to address those problems.

This book helps with that first step: ripping off the band-aids, and highlighting how we did not simply arrive at this particular moment. We should have expected it. And, anyone living in or from a flyover region most likely intuitively knows this. Class. Race. Gender. All of these issues have divided us for much longer than the current political rhetoric of divisiveness. Really, rather than collectively rising up against a system rigged from day one to benefit those already in power at the expense of the rest of us, we fight one another based on characteristic X [insert identity here]. Yet, we all continue to struggle. We all continue to lose our footing or positions. And, we all continue to work harder to move towards attaining that American dream as we navigate the worst sort of nightmare.

Thank you, Sarah Kendzior, for this collection of rather timeless essays and commentaries on the condition of life in flyover America. It’s brutal. It’s real. And, it’s completely necessary.

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On World AIDS Day 2018

Red AIDS ribbons concept tree. Vector illustration layered for easy manipulation and custom colouring.

This World AIDS Day, as with many in the past, I am hopeful. More cautiously optimistic than equally hopeful, however. Thirty years ago, the first World AIDS Day passed, allowing us to collectively raise our voices to raise awareness of HIV. Globally and locally.

This morning, as I scrolled through my news feed, in addition to the traditional AIDS red ribbon tree of life I’ve posted for years on this day, another image gut-punched me, just as it did the first time I saw it and every time since.

The men in white represent the surviving members of the original San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. Eric Luse, 1993. 

This image of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus reminds me why this day isn’t so much a simple celebration of how far we’ve come, but of how vigilant we must remain in our resolve to continue to respond to this most pernicious virus. But, more so, we must resist and overcome the various prejudices and judgements attached to HIV. Far, far too many have died senseless, needless and agonising deaths only because we refused to act to prevent further infections, because we isolated and demonised those living with HIV, and because we refused access to live-saving and life-preserving treatment for those who desperately needed it. 

Why? 

Fight AIDS, not people affected or living with HIV. Fight the damn virus and the cultural, social, political and economic institutions which continue to allow it to spread and allow people to die when, today, they don’t need to. Fight the injustices borne through stigma and fear that allow the virus to flourish.

Do not fight the individuals most affected and least wanted by society.

HIV doesn’t care where you live, what you look like, what you do for a living to simply survive. Nor does it care who or how you love.

Today, and every day, we must collectively remember what inaction and isolation do to those affected when society shuns them and deems them unworthy and undesirable. Every. Single. Day.

So, on this World AIDS Day, here’s to all those affected and living with HIV, and here’s to all those who continue working damn hard and often thanklessly to ensure no one is left behind and that we can all live in a world more just and more equitable. For all. 

And, here’s to those we failed. Your memory lives on and you will not be forgotten. 

On ‘How to Write a Lot’

How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic WritingHow to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul J. Silvia

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A colleague / friend with whom I’ve been working the last year recently mentioned this little gem of a book to me as we discussed some rather disappointing peer reviews she’d received.

Academic writing is hard work, often leaving writers / authors rather dispirited and unmotivated. Finding motivation to write at all remains a constant battle for many of us. And, time and again, I find myself saying to students, colleagues and myself, ‘just schedule time to write and only write if you want to accomplish anything’.

More than anything, that message rings out loud and clear throughout this precious little bit of encouragement by Paul Silvia.

I genuinely love this book. Its tone. Its thinness. Its simplicity. Its language. And, its messages, both primary and supporting. Whether student or mentor, writing an article or book manuscript or proposal, whether just beginning or seeking to finish items on your to-do list, this book offers something for everyone.

In the week since it arrived, I’ve gone from planning to read a chapter at a time to plowing through it as if it is the most exciting suspense novel ever. It’s just that engaging. And, I will be recommending, if not demanding, that all of my students give it a read regardless of where they live within the graduate school landscape.

Thank you, Paul Silvia. I’ll be revisiting my own writing schedule this weekend. And, recommitting to cleaning my desk procrastinating less.

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Vote. Please.

I voted weeks ago.

The process as an overseas American voter was relatively easy and straightforward for me. My biggest concern was that my voter registration information made its way to the Voter Registrar’s office in Connecticut by the deadline, and that I’d receive my ballot with plenty of time to mail it back ensuring its arrival before election day.

My registration arrived. My ballot arrived (via email—a first for me). I printed it off that day and mailed it back in early October. My civic duty was fulfilled.

This process is not new to me, given that I’ve voted via absentee ballot in every election since 2000.  I miss the I voted stickers, naturally. But, each year, I complete and fill in the overseas voter registration forms, mail them off and wait. It’s a pain, but it is necessary. Particularly now.

Please, vote. Far too many individuals do not take the time to exercise their right and civic duty by voting, particularly in mid-term elections. Far too many individuals assume that their one vote doesn’t make any difference at all. Far too many individuals think that politics has absolutely nothing to do with their daily lives.

There was a time in my life when I didn’t think of mid-term elections or my one absentee ballot as all that important. That changed in 2012, when I watched my husband vote in a municipal election in Finland.

Because we are residents in Finland, who have lived here for more than two years, we are granted the right to vote in municipal elections — not national elections since we are not citizens. But, we can exercise our voices on matters related to community-level issues, issues which perhaps affect us more. Those elections coincided with elections in the US, and I found myself researching candidates on both sides of the pond for both of my homes. But, I also watched as my husband took his civic duty incredibly seriously.

It wasn’t until after he voted that I fully understood how meaningful that experience was for him. Immediately after he voted, he said to me, ‘That’s the first time in my life that I’ve voted and known that my vote would be counted and it mattered.’ He was 52 years old at the time.

As a Cuban, who lived at times in the US and Russia, he was never able to take part in elections other than those in his home country. Cuban elections are not exactly ‘elections’. Given this experience, he understands perhaps more than most just how important showing up and exercising that privilege is. And, he understands voting as a mighty powerful privilege granted to few. He has not nor will he miss an opportunity to vote in Finland since being granted that right.

[To give you an idea of how seriously he takes this, during the last municipal election, he again researched candidates and platforms, discussed it at length with me, and then voted, and helped me get to the local polling station before they closed. Those elections coincided with a particularly awful bout of the flu which had me bedridden. As much as I was ready to blow off voting, he all-but offered to carry me to the polling station. I ended up voting about 30 minutes before the polling station closed.]

Voting is a beautiful thing to witness. That democratic process carries immense power, if only we exercise it. It conveys even more meaning and power to those who enjoy it later in life and do not accept it as a given. Voting is precious and can just as easily be taken away. We must exercise that right and we must protect by making informed decisions which matter not just for our own personal selfish reasons, but also for our society as a whole.

Please, vote. Encourage your friends and family and strangers to vote. Take the time to help someone vote if they need assistance finding or getting to their polling station. So, so many individuals wish they had the opportunity, right and privilege so many of us take for granted.

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