Oh dear. If I have any readers left at all at this point, they are more loyal than I'd be!

I am no longer Jenna in Rio. That's the main reason it's been so silent over here. We had a whirlwind transfer and accomplished the impossible, namely, moving out of Rio in a month. It was a good thing, an expected thing, and it was absolutely exhausting! Glad the move is out of the way...

Of course, our stuff is still there. I guess there's only so much you can micromanage! Someday, someday it will make it on the boat. Until then, we're kind of camping in our apartment. Four plates, one tiny frying pan, no books, etc...

Any blogging is going on hiatus for a little while longer as we set up home in Texas, as I figure out how to be a suburbanite without losing my soul, and as I discover how to juggle a commitment to writing with the fun of parenting a rambunctious and energetic one year old. I'm also going to transfer my blog home to Wordpress...I should have the new blog up and running sometime this summer. Please add jennapashleysmith.wordpress.com to your blog rolls, but note that I *just* signed up, so it will take me a little time to actually get it beautified.

Until then, happy summer! 

It's February?

Where have my resolutions gone? Oh well, it doesn't matter much. The year never starts until after Carnaval.

Carnaval this year was hot, hot, hot. We stayed home again and were surprised by how quickly the days went by. G went to his first bloco, which happened to be the sertanejo, or Brazilian country music, street party, which was kind of fun and not too crazy. We had high hopes of doing a costume for him, but in the end, it was just too sticky and he went out in a diaper and his baby carrier and lots of sunscreen. We inflated a kiddy pool on the patio, swatted at mosquitoes, gave the boy a haircut and I finished my very important goal of finishing Downton Abbey, season 2. Whew!

Now that the year has officially started, I can get on my goals. Professionally, my 2013 goal is to step up the writing even more. The blog has suffered since G was born, but my other work only saw growth. Last year was amazing: the writing group exceeded all expectations and my productivity (and actual finished pieces) saw marked improvement. I did a poetry reading at the end of the year that made me realize I actually do miss being "on stage" and that poetry doesn't have to be a conversation killer. Over Carnaval, I did a printout and discovered that my poetry output for mid-2011 through 2012 came out to about 42 pages. (And I focused on short stories almost all year!) I've been editing for the past few days, scribbling out words here, removing whole pieces of shoddiness, adding in sections. I'm hoping that I'll have at least five literary-ish poems worth shopping around this year, either in competitions or in journal publication, as well as a series or two that I can start collecting for a future chapbook.

I'm abuzz with ideas but, as always, not much time to play with them. Especially when my little man wants me to play with him. I must have missed the memo...why didn't anyone tell me that the best way to relive your childhood is to just have a kid? I have years of just PLAYING ahead of me...which is awesome enough to cancel out some of the less-than-stellar parts of also being a parent. Like tiredness. Irritation. Unshaven-ness.

Things are awfully lonely here, though. Too much rain or too much sun contributes to a lot of isolation (why can't someone invent a toddler carseat that is portable? Please?) Add in a nap schedule that doesn't really play nice with going out and we're struggling with a bit of downerism. Hopefully, that will abate once the temperatures go back to reasonable levels. Or if kiddo would just learn to walk really, really early. Because then I wouldn't have to carry him EVERYWHERE.

Since we don't go out much, I don't have any interesting stories to tell...I'm sure it will change though, so don't abandon the blog ship just yet. We're in the doldrums at the moment, but I'm sure the winds are about to change...


On Food, Waste and Roasting

Is it really surprising that the world wastes so much food?

I think of our own household, and how with just three mouths to feed, sometimes we get swamped with leftovers that go bad. I don't always try as hard as I ought to use all the bits and ends that our modern recipes and tastes have relegated to the waste bin. I don't like wasting food. It may be a reflection of wealth, but it's not a flattering one.

So I've started to hunt down ways to waste less. One way is by meticulously planning meals, thereby ensuring that food gets used up in time. I've been practicing more pickling, more roasting and jarring in oil of things like red peppers, more soups. This week starts our foray into the world of organic. (Yay, delivery service!) For several years now, I've tried to keep us as in-season as possible. It means cheaper vegetables, better quality and more creativity in the kitchen. Creativity always helps minimize wastefulness.

Lunch today is roasted tomatoes and onions on homemade bread, some cheese on the side. Dinner is in the oven, a whole pumpkin I'll fill with a creamy shrimp sauce. It's a Brazilian dish I've been meaning to make for years. The little man will get pumpkin, beef and watercress for HIS dinner. No shellfish for little mouths just yet!

The pumpkin seeds are being roasted, along with my lunch and a bunch of red peppers*, taking advantage of the hot oven. I'll put the seeds, if I don't eat them, into salads or granola. The red peppers will go into oil and be part of our tapas options when I don't feel like cooking. We just had a phenomenal chickpea and roasted red pepper salad that wowed the pants off my husband, and that's saying a LOT, being chickpeas and all.

I know it's *just* food, but I think how we interact with the mundane and the quotidian says a lot about our spirituality. Food shouldn't be an exception. If we care about the world and we care about people, then I believe we have a responsibility to treat food as more than just an energy source. We're no longer living in an age where food is neutral; perhaps those days never existed. The food we eat, and where we get it from, contributes to wars (bananas in Guatemala, for example), slavery (sugar in the past, chocolate, coffee and others still today), oppression (migrant workers, the poor) and diseases (diabetes, obesity, etc) among other evils. It also nourishes, sustains communities economically and is a source of joy. As a Christian, I can't help but notice how food appears in the Bible, as a sacred object, as a source of life, as a means of oppression or of celebration.

So as I wrestle with how much I ought to know about my food, and where it comes from and how it's made, I give thanks for it and for those that got it to me...trying to be celebratory and sacred with it as much as possible. I don't want to live on either end of the spectrum:

WHO CARES IF THEY USE SLAVES?-----------------------------------------------------------------------CAN'T EAT ANYTHING BUT FORAGED WEEDS

...so I'm trying to find a healthy balance.
What about you?

*Oh my goodness, if you haven't already, PLEASE discover roasted vegetables! So so so so wonderful. Even the baby is a fan.

Portrait of a Monster

He cackles, throws his mouth open like a cave
two stalagmites catching the light,
four stalactites jaggering down
from the laughter den.

He grabs for me, those paws
every day more sure
less needing steadying.
He twists and giggles, looks askance,
tells me in no uncertain terms that I am
dada
goo goo
and heheheheh.

Should I be flattered?

My constrictor instincts surge,
I want to squeeze him
and swallow him whole
but the monster
is clever
and wiggles away,
blowing bubbles,
waving to himself
as if there were a procession
and he were king.

Snippets

A friend turned me on to Lou Beach, and of course, besides loving the stories, I thought "what a great way to encourage myself to write when the little man is hogging all my time." 

So plagiarizing his original idea, here's installment number one: 

Momma would sneak goat's milk into the jug, pretend it was store-bought. The speckled hairs floating on the cream betrayed her every time. Frugal, she saw nothin' wrong with free, not even when chocolate syrup couldn't hide the taste of wild onions. 

Ah! Childhood memories. I stole this from a long-ago project. I think I was writing a "Southern Legitimacy Statement" for a submission. I don't believe I ever submitted the piece, but loved having fun with the cliches surrounding the South and country life in general. And of course, my own childhood has a lot to draw from, being oddly idyllic and idiosyncratic. Someday I'll have time to immortalize the best parts of it. Someday.

A little psalm for the week

The little one is napping. I'll try to start off the new year right, not losing these precious cling-free moments to the never-ending list of blog posts and news articles instead of writing. Since today is Sunday, I'll share Slacktivist's Sunday favorite, which happens to coincide nicely with some of what I've been pondering since our trip to the Northern Hemisphere over the holidays.

Psalm 146




Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
Our vacation was strange and lovely and uncomfortable and relaxing. We struggled with illness, exhaustion, confusion in the face of a culture neither one of us identify with any longer, and confronted with baffling beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. At the same time, we gloried in the love of family and friends, enjoyed contemplating the possibilities of the future, and were spoiled beyond measure (and possibly beyond what our waistlines could handle!). 
There's time to go into all that later. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to comment on this psalm, as it so perfectly captures my bewilderment at the attitudes expressed by many Christians I bumped into in the last few weeks. 
First, joy, rather than despair, should be a marking characteristic of anyone who holds onto the "good news." Otherwise, it's not really good news at all, is it? Secondly, putting our trust in mortals, especially ones in positions of power, is really silly. They're always going to disappoint. Instead, we should put our trust, and model ourselves after, God, who is for everything unpopular on the talk show circuit. God is:
-an advocate for the oppressed
-one who feeds the hungry without asking whether they're worthy of it or not (or begrudging them God's abundance...)
-one who cares about prisoners, not seeing them as irredeemable, and desires to see them free
-one who cares for immigrants, foreigners, and strangers, who stubbornly insists on protecting and providing for the vulnerable
It's quite a political poem, as it should be, because politics are about allegiances and God demands nothing less than our total allegiance. No political party, monarch or platform gets to trump our allegiance to God once we've declared sides. If we give up our trust in mortals, and place in firmly in the One who will reign forever, we'll have the confidence and comfort that will let us sing joyfully in the midst of the worst tumult (or false imprisonment, or zombie apocalypse) that may come. So many people are talking about "prepping" to defend themselves against their neighbors in a coming tragedy, or bemoaning the demise of a "great" nation, or delighting in gossip and disdain rather than praying for their leaders...and all I can think is that these are terribly self-destructive behaviors, as well as being totally contrary to the jubilant spirit we see in the writings of the earliest Christians, who lived in the actual demise of an empire, whose leaders were much more creatively evil than our own, whose neighbors were actively handing them over for torture and death. What did they know that we're missing? Or are we just choosing to ignore it? I don't know about you, but I'd rather choose the vibrancy of an uncertain life with God as my hope than a secure existence under the powers that be (or aspire to be).Why? Because no matter what banner they fly so proudly, they're mortal, and morbid, and ultimately untrustworthy...while God's promises are ones that can actually be fulfilled, bringing good, not harm, to all. 
So that's my sermon for the day. 
Sorry for the long absence. My baby is crawling now, can you believe it? He doesn't like his mother paying more attention to a screen than to him, so you'll have to pardon my erratic posting schedules. Happy 2013!




Juggling


Before the little man was born, I joined up with a group of writers for a critique group that meets a couple of times a month. It's been fantastic for my creative life. I've never been much of a sharer and even less of a finisher. If you opened my hard drive or journals, you'd find absolutely compelling tidbits of stories, scraps of ideas, thoughts and essays. Compelling nibbles. But very little that is actually complete, something that can stand alone. Be published. Be shared.

Thanks to my critique group, that is changing.

Especially now that I'm a mother, I need someone else to keep me accountable to write. I need the deadline of the writer's group hanging over my head. Between G's staccato naps and the ostinato thread of constant pain running through my days, I really need something exterior to motivate me.

As usual, I am scattered and disorganized, which is very much my style. I'm working on several stories with fairytale themes while I procrastinate on the middle grades novel that is languishing in my hard drive. I think I've just finished one story which we'll be reviewing this week and then I might try to send out for some contests or something. Not being good at finishing things, it's hard for me to say when something is definitively done.

Slowly, I am learning to juggle the new responsibilities of motherhood along with the old ones of being a productive human, using my talents before they go all rusty and fallow. I never wanted to be the 1950's housewife, though it's sort of the role I was handed after I married an expat whose salary will probably always trump my own. While I've never felt a push towards the professional, 9-5 routine, I've always worked several jobs, finding creative ways to pay the bills and bring a sense of worth to my life. With the arrival of a small human on our scene, I suddenly found myself without time to do those things that made me feel useful. I do not feel useful washing dishes or spending hours on the phone with the internet company to get them to stop charging us for services we don't have. There's little self-actualization in the mundane tasks that have to get done, especially when they take up all your time. It's a frequent refrain among the expats in Brazil, how much time it takes to do even the simplest task. I'm not sure why. It just does.

It's a juggling act, and I'm really clumsy, so I let the balls drop. A lot. But thankfully my husband and son are pretty flexible, and they don't complain too loudly when the house is clean but dinner is...random. Or when there's a gourmet meal on the table, but I look like the Bride of Chucky and the remnants of a zombie tornado leave a visible trail from kitchen to living room. So when the blog suffers, and you wonder if I'm still alive, I am. I'm just buried in dirty diapers, lying on my stomach playing drool bubbles with G or otherwise engaged in tasks that don't allow me time for typing or pontificating. Someday, I hope to be back to my normal self. It does happen, right?