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For the past fifteen months, I've been working on the memoir that I've been calling my "second book," though the term seems increasingly absurd as time passes and the mass of text on my hard drive seems to be shaped less like a book and more like the rejected notes of a non-matriculated college student dabbling in three degrees. As a creative person, I have been creative about the definition of "working on." I've collected scores of books and articles on topics as wide-ranging as lactose intolerance, Ireland's Great Famine, phantom limbs, the Atkins Diet, food hoarding among squirrels and ants, Indian blood quantum, the effects of Seventeen magazine upon body image in teen girls, and the thrifty phenotype hypothesis, to name a few. I've organized my research in Scrivener. I've arranged books on shelves in my apartment. I've thought about my project endlessly and written too many synopses and outlines.

All of this material dwarfs the material I've actually drafted for the book. I have loads of lame excuses: I'm busy teaching; I'm focused on getting the first book out into the world; I can't get a handle on where to start; I'm too busy to waste time failing. When I embarked upon the project, I had a clear sense of its aims and scope. I could describe it and craft a lean grant proposal; now, when people ask me what it's about, my elevator pitch has devolved from a brief stop in "maybe food, and desire, and war, and famine?" to "I really couldn't tell you but I found thirty journal articles on hoarding today."
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Upon leaving my apartment this afternoon, I saw this index card perched atop the call box outside the front door. The question seems to be posed in the spirit of the New Year and the new focus it can bring. If I asked your friends what you loved, would they know the truth?

I don't know who left the card, but I considered the question as I headed out to meet my writing groupmates Catherine Slaton and Claire Jackson for our weekly James Franco Day meeting. As far as the "what" of my love is concerned (as opposed to the "who"), writing is the bloody, beating heart, and yes, index card, my friends know the truth about the intensity of my love for this work, the way it hits the pain and pleasure receptors like my massage therapist's hand so deep in my shoulder I think she might snap my arm off.
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On Friday, I took the day off work. It was my annual "personal holiday," a day the University of Washington allows me to use as I please. "What are you celebrating for your personal holiday?" my boyfriend Steve asked me. We had just watched This Is the End, a movie starring James Franco and his friends. "James Franco, of course," I said. I'm not a particularly big Franco fan—I just haven't seen most of his movies and missed his General Hospital run—but I loved Freaks and Geeks, recently watched James Franco's "important" performance (that's self-described) as Alien in Spring Breakers and then saw his performance as the James Franco who sleeps with noise cancelling headphones and an eye mask while the apocalypse happens outside his home in This Is the End. I had seen the Comedy Central Roast filled with references to Franco's off-kilter pursuit of art anywhere and everywhere. So, sure, my personal holiday would be a celebration of the life and work of James Franco.

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Yes, that's me, on Halloween 2008. As a Native woman, I'm not proud of my night in costume. As Halloween approached, I began to see links to pieces encouraging readers to think carefully before choosing a Tribal Trouble or Reservation Royalty costume. I thought, as I do from time to time, especially around Halloween, of a mistake I made five years ago, one I hoped nobody remembered: I dressed up as a "Naughty Native" to make some sort of subversive point, but the point was lost.

The more uncomfortable a memory makes me feel, and the more I want to forget it, the more certain I become that it may be rich subject matter for an essay. I wrote about it, and the essay appeared at Salon.
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I recently sat down with Rauan Klassnik of HTMLGIANT for an interview as part of the Seattle Author Spotlight Series. We talked about good memoir, bad memoir, Indian identity, Pennsylvania's Coal Region, and why I'm not too young to write a memoir. Also, there is a picture of me from college, wearing a hamburger costume. Read on...

If you're in the Seattle area, please come out to one of my upcoming readings:
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I've recently grown to love Drunk History. There's nothing like the narration of a filter-free lush on the brink of a blackout to underscore the absurdity of Our Nation's History, the kind that becomes fables in our young heads as soon as we're old enough to memorize facts from textbooks. Drunk History is a Comedy Central series that presents drunken storytellers—comedians and other personalities—recounting historic events, with which historical reenactments are paired.

I was curious to see what Drunk History would do with the story of Lewis and Clark's journey in the recent "Nashville" episode, which aired on August 27. As a lecturer of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, I teach classes on literature and film, most recently a class on the representations of Native characters in the Twilight Saga.
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It's warm and humid in Seattle, the tail end of summer, the crazy time for kombucha production. The hotter the weather, the faster the dense blobs of bacteria and yeast eat the sugar and tea in the surrounding liquid. In the summer, the SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) makes kombucha faster than I can drink it, faster than I can replenish the jars with sweet tea.

My kombucha is, in my opinion, just about the best around.  I'm biased, of course, but I have been perfecting my method with every batch.
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For the past several months, I've been a part of the planning committee for an exciting event, “The Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ”: Indigenous Ways of Knowing Cultural Food Practices and Ecological Knowledge Symposium, coming up on May 1-2 at the University of Washington. We've been working hard to bring together the participants and registrants, figure out what to feed two hundred people without breaking the bank or going off-mission (no sandwiches!), and planning seating arrangements for the over-capacity crowd. Huge props to my fellow committee members, Charlotte Coté, Clarita Lefthand-Begay, and Dian Million.

Most of you who read this won't be joining us for the event, but it's important for me to announce that it will be taking place. I know that some readers of this blog are members of the ancestral health community, as some of my posts focus on paleo diet or ancestral health topics. In North America, where many members of the paleo community are located, many indigenous peoples continue to employ traditional dietary and medicinal practices, tailored to environment and the human relationship with it, that have served them for thousands of years. This is detailed, living knowledge.
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Spring is happening in a big way here in Seattle: Oregon grape is blooming everywhere, flower beds are showing their perennial colors, and the deciduous trees are waking up. I spent the winter working hard on my current writing project, a memoir I'm calling Starvation Mode,while working on odds and ends related to my forthcoming memoir, My Body Is a Book of Rules.

During winter quarter, I audited a class through the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, the department for which I'm an adviser and part-time lecturer. The class, "Northwest Native Peoples and the Flora of the Pacific Northwest," was incredible in igniting my research. Here is the full description for this dynamic course, taught by Cynthia Updegrave:


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I was tagged by Peter Mountford, author of A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism and the forthcoming The Dismal Science, to respond to ten questions about what I'm working on. Peter is a Richard Hugo House writer-in-residence and teacher, and my writing has benefited tremendously from his excellent advice and instruction over the past few years. Below, I've tagged two other writers to answer the call and describe their projects.

What is your working title of your book (or story)?
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Update (3/14/13): Thanks very much to commenters Denise, John, and Jeremy (see comments section below) for sharing what they've learned by looking into this issue. In an email from Costco, Denise was told that "The organic ground beef is NOT 100% grass fed and is not labeled as such. The majority of the animals that are utilized for the program are exclusively grass fed but some of the animals are finished on organic grain. This is true and consistent throughout the US." Check out the comments for details.


When I signed up for my Costco membership, I was thrilled to see that my local store carried 100% grass-fed ground beef at a price considerably lower than the co-op at which I usually buy meat. I recently noticed that, in the section where I had normally picked up the packages of grass-fed beef, Costco was now offering "Organic Ground Beef." This beef is USDA Organic, with no added antibiotics or growth hormones, but nowhere on the package does it say anything about grass-fed, so I must assume that the cows are not grass-fed. (*see update below)

I contacted Costco via their website to express my disappointment and ask whether there was any possibility that the 100% grass-fed ground beef might return to stores. I received this reply:

We appreciate you taking the time to email Costco Wholesale.
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I used to eat at restaurants of all kinds, fairly frequently, without much consideration of food quality or agreeability. If I was splurging on a restaurant meal, I'd let loose nutritionally—that was my reasoning. Once I was diagnosed with celiac disease and had to eliminate gluten from my diet, I started eating out less often, and then almost stopped completely when I realized that going out without getting sick was too much of a hassle to be enjoyable.

Now, there are only a few restaurants I trust and love. Blue Moon Burgers tops the list.
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I am working on a new book, a memoir about growing up loving Cap'n Crunch straight from the box and Top Ramen with extra bouillon; about two years of antibiotics that left my gut defenseless against raiding parties of "bad bacteria" that would stake out spots in my villi for a decade; about deciding my gallbladder could just get snipped out because I was in college and over it and couldn't stand the nausea when it stopped functioning; about needing that gallbladder for every fat-containing meal after surgery and dedicating a page in my Martha Stewart scrapbook to how much I missed it; about going vegan because Skinny Bitch told me that veganism was the answer and "Healthy = skinny. Unhealthy = fat" (11) and "Don't be a fat pig anymore" (184) and recommended the daily affirmation, "Every day in every way my ass is getting smaller" (190). The new book will be touch on the South Beach Diet and the Okinawa Diet and Ultrametabolism and paleo and the diets I make up in my notebooks to rationalize my habits. It will be about psych med weight gain and the unfortunate side effects that show up years after the commencement of treatment. It will definitely be about the cruelty, and appropriateness, of celiac disease striking someone who grew up rejecting every food but macaroni. After all that, I will write about where to look for answers.

But first, I had to finish revising my first book. A couple weeks ago, at around one in the morning, after many days of eating pretty much nothing but Costco salted caramels from an endless plastic container and sweet potato chips, I finished revisions on My Body Is a Book of Rules. I had received excellent, substantive comments from three readers and took a crazy week to overhaul the book. I became a sasquatch, hulking around the apartment and scaring my cat at four in the morning while contemplating sleep. I have finished my memoir before, but this time, I really finished it, printed it out, and mailed it to my editor at Red Hen Press for editorial input. I will make changes based on this review, but I call this draft “finished” because for the first time, I would be comfortable publishing it as it stands. I am done with it; it is my personal finishing. I say that every time. Hopefully this will be one of the last times I say it.
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A response to Mark Sisson's August 21 post, Gender Differences in Fat Metabolism


I'm more body-conscious than ever, but less self-conscious, self-assessing, or self-hating than I've been in the past. I've lost about forty pounds in the last year and a half, and I used to be unhappy with my shape, but when I think of myself and my physicality, my looks have little to do with my frustrations anymore. I lost the weight I set out to lose. I look good.

Still, things aren't quite right. Although I am 5'6", I have the long, skinny legs of a great blue heron, so long in proportion to my torso that I must carefully modify my squats to keep from toppling over in the middle of the gym (it happens); my hips are angular and unpadded, no butt to speak of; I keep my fat around the waist, less now, but still present, a cauldron full of so many ingredients: lack of sleep, a mix of stressors, hormonal imbalance, genetics, unknowns, all leading to fat storage. The area often bloats up to an alarming size, a sign of some distress my doctor works to fix, but I am still puffy and internally rebellious.

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In a few weeks—short weeks, very short—I'll be sending an intermediate draft of my memoir manuscript to my publisher, Red Hen Press. After five years of trying to make the pieces of this thing fit together, I think it's finally there. A few trusted readers are taking a look right now, and they'll help me smooth out the edges before sending it off for input from my editor. Through the help of my writing group, I got the memoir from slightly overwhelming in its messiness to a thing I think about with love, a thing that makes me want to go to the bookstore because I can't wait until I see my book there.

For now, though, I have to finish smoothing out the edges. Between teaching the summer intensive quarter and the revision, I don't have time for much else, certainly not cooking. Breakfasts are weird: today, roasted salmon over arugula, just arugula (the kind that comes in the plastic container), maybe some olive oil and vinegar. I used to hate salad, but now I eat it when I'm not even hungry but know I really need to eat. I don't care what's for breakfast as long as it energizes me, doesn't makes me sick, and allows me to go back to my laptop rather than babysitting my food while it cooks. When it's dinnertime, salmon gets dressed up herbs from the garden, one extra step that I have time for in the evening.
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When my pretty turquoise ice cream machine showed up at my door a few weeks ago, I went crazy. Suddenly, concocting ice cream recipes that weren't packed full of agave nectar, unpronounceable ingredients, or irritants I avoid was as easy as opening a couple of cans of coconut milk into a bowl, whisking in the other ingredients, and adding the whole thing to the frozen bowl of the ice cream machine. After half an hour of churning, I'd have ice cream.

I sort of told myself that I was following Michael Pollan's Food Rule #39: "Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself." The idea behind the rule is that if people made all the junk food they ate, and cleaned up all the associated messes, they'd eat junk much less often, certainly not every day.
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When I switched to eating whole foods rather than processed ones, my grocery budget definitely swelled. Although I’ve heard people say that eating paleo doesn’t have to be expensive, I find that the switch from lunches of pancakes and dinners of Hi-chew (click the link, it's deranged, and I can't believe I ate so much of the crap for so long) and second pancakes to grass-fed beef and fresh vegetables brings with it a jump in the grocery bill. I’m not complaining. I think it’s to be expected, and there’s no point in pretending quality food is cheap, especially when we’re eating as much as we need to feel satisfied.

There are plenty of resources out there that discuss eating paleo/whole foods on a budget. Robb Wolf’s Paleo Diet Budget Shopping Guide is a good one. I haven’t been able to take advantage of one of the popular recommendations of buying meat in bulk and freezing it, since I don’t have a chest freezer (yet?). However, I have been able to fully realize the joys of a different bulk buying experience: Costco.
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“You can find extraordinary health in beautifully simple, unprocessed, whole foods.”

Toward the end of the introduction of Diane Sanfilippo’s new book Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle, is the above sentence, an elegant thesis statement of sorts for the book. The sentence is placed before the breakdown of the paleo concept, before the guides to foods and eating, before the everyday-language anatomy and physiology lessons that couple with illustrations to make sense of human systems, before the clarification of the familiar-but-often-hazy term “leaky gut,” before the dozen different thirty-day meal plans for various goals and conditions, before the entire cookbook’s worth of recipes, and before everything else that Sanfilippo has managed to include in this hefty volume, and although it is a simple explanation of the book’s guiding attitude, the chapters that follow clearly demonstrate that the world of paleo is incredibly rich in its simplicity.

Upon taking hold of this book for the first time, readers are sure to notice its unmistakable physical presence. Clocking in at 415 glossy pages, this book is substantial, and a quick flip-through will show it to be a thing of beauty. With photography by Bill Staley and Kelty Luber and Illustrations by Alex Boake, Practical Paleo’s visual appeal sets it apart from many other nutritional texts. The photos accompanying each recipe serve as a reminder that paleo eating means eating well, while the illustrations elucidate complex health topics that even those readers familiar with the paleo diet may have had difficulty fully grasping before Sanfilippo tackled the subjects with charming illustrations and her friendly, gently funny voice: “So, just like your mom picks up stuff lying around the house and puts it in its rightful place, insulin finds nutrients in your bloodstream and tries to put them in their rightful place—your cells.” Her talent for making complex material accessible animates this subject matter, moving it from the abstract—physiology—to the real—our bodies.
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Some time after cleaning up my diet, I realized that even though I've been gluten-free for almost a year and a half, and on the paleo diet for two months, I still wasn't the picture of perfect health. At first, I figured my years of gluten consumption had done a number on my body, and it would take time for my skin to clear and my digestion to perfect itself. But after weeks of taking long walks home from work while listening to podcasts produced by such paleo thinkers as Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser, Diane Sanfilippo and Liz Wolfe, I began to hear more and more about a concept that I suspected might apply to me: cross reactivity between gluten and the proteins in a slew of other foods. The body's autoimmune antibodies react to these foods in a way that's similar to the gluten reaction.

When I learned about this, and the standard autoimmune protocol described by those listed above and others, I was excited to give an elimination diet a try. Such a diet eliminates common gut irritants. I knew it would be far more restrictive than gluten-free, and more restrictive than paleo. I had already ditched the grains, legumes, and dairy, but now I'd also be avoiding nightshades, eggs, coffee, chocolate, nuts, industrial seed oils (corn, cottonseed, soybean, safflower, sunflower, etc.), and alcohol.
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Creating my first fit-for-public-consumption recipe hasn't been easy, and I'm a little nervous to share it. I'm reminded of my first college fiction workshop, when I left the safe realm of poetry and offered up a short story for critique for the first time. My story was lousy. But my classmates dug into the draft, and all the other drafts I gave them, and my writing improved.

As I said in my last post, I've been wanting some new meatloaf recipes, and they weren't going to write themselves. I've had a couple of failures, a couple of successes, and a lot of testing out of Tupperware at lunchtime. I've tried to figure out how to make a really good, really unusual meatloaf that I can eat, and I've worked on writing it up in a way that adheres to recipe conventions. I hope you'll let me know what you think.
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