Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Last Names

Last week I called up an optometrist's office to make an appointment for Ryan. He would be a new patient (yeah, it only took us two years of having vision coverage to get around to finding an optometrist for him), so the receptionist needed to take down some information from me. She asked me if I should be listed as the emergency contact and then commented, when I gave her my name, that she was surprised I'd taken Ryan's last name and that that's not very common anymore. Um....what am I supposed to say to that? She said it like it was a positive, so am I supposed to take it like a compliment? I could've launched into a whole conversation on the topic, but it didn't seem that on the phone, making an appointment was an appropriate place to do that. So I kinda stumbled through a, "oh, hmm, yeah" and we moved on.

But, since I have the space to have that conversation here, I thought I'd do so. I have very mixed feelings about having taken Ryan's last name as my own. I do not, for one instant, believe that all people who change their name have these feelings, though I have come across some people who do. What I'm writing here are simply my own musings on the topic, as it has related to me. I do find the receptionist's statement odd, because I know many, many people who have taken their spouse's name, mostly women taking the man's name, but occasionally a man taking the woman's name. I also know a few who have both kept their birth names as well as some who have hyphenated their names. But, by and large, I'd say the majority of my friends and acquaintances share a last name.

Before we were married, I didn't give much thought about the whole changing the last name business. Partly because it was what I was used to people doing. Ryan brought it up once as something he thought would feel weird. I shrugged it off, while simultaneously realizing and vocalizing that I was actually somewhat happy to leave my original last name behind. It was associated with certain things that I didn't want to be associated with any longer. I, thankfully, had been given a middle name at birth, and so could choose to completely eliminate the last name and still have a middle name. So, yay, fresh start!, right?

Except that the process of changing my name everywhere was rather annoying, actually. Go here to do the Social Security card, make sure you have the marriage certificate with you, go there to do the driver's license, another trip and more forms to change things with the university. I actually waited on the driver's license so that I could also wait on the passport. You see, they had changed the passport laws just before we were married, no longer allowing a simple addendum to the back of the passport, but requiring the purchase of a whole new passport if a name change was needed. I knew I was hoping to travel with the orchestra that year, so I kept the passport and license in my birth name in order to make life easier (and cheaper). In addition to these annoyances, it felt weird to leave my old name behind. It was a huge part of me, though I hadn't realized it. So much of who I was was wrapped up in the name I had carried with me from birth. Erin Layton had done everything I'd ever done. Erin Phelps didn't really exist. I figured I'd get over that with time.

But I've never really become used to it. I mean, sure, I respond quite easily to my new name if someone calls it out and I never falter when typing it somewhere. But it doesn't really feel like me, if that makes any sense. I'm very detached from my name now, in a way I never was before. And, of course, there are the complicated feelings due to the fact that our last name traditions are rooted in patriarchy and women being seeing as objects; property that passes from ownership of the father to the husband. Not a fan of that at all. I've sometimes thought that maybe I should change my name back, because I kinda wish I'd never changed it in the first place. Except I can't. I've not been Erin Layton for long enough now that, while I don't feel that I'm really Erin Phelps, I also am definitely no longer Erin Layton. I've changed and grown in the past eight years in ways that definitely leave the former me behind, but for some reason they haven't cemented this new name to me. My birth name would now feel just as foreign as my current name does. I'm not even sure why it matters so much to me that I feel a connection with my name; maybe it shouldn't. But I do know that I used to feel that connection and that I no longer do. Perhaps I just need to give this new name another ten, twenty years. But if so, that makes me rather sad that I have to live that long without feeling my name as an integral part of me.

Ryan and I were discussing this one evening, and the complexities that children add to the picture. From our own situation we already knew that having me give up my identity had ended up feeling like a loss of self to a certain extent. It's not particularly fair to automatically expect that from either partner, though it does make things easy when naming the children. If we both kept our birth names then what last name would we give to the kids? Do you give some mom's name and some dad's name? (Last night we jokingly said we should've given any dark-eyed children my name and any light-eyed children Ryan's, which would've left us with a Gareth Phelps and a Malcolm Layton, but that would make name choosing much more difficult (it'd have to sound good with two different last names) and as it's a few weeks before an eye color is solidified for most babies, it would also make the naming process take longer.) Most people give their kids dad's name, though I know some who give them mom's name. But this creates the possibility of one parent feeling separate from the family unit by not sharing the same name as their spouse or children. Probably not a concern for some, but we both felt it might bother us a bit. I also know friends who married and changed their name simply so their children wouldn't feel confused as to why mom or dad had a different name. Then there's hyphenation, which seems great, with both partners taking on the other's last name in addition to their own, but it becomes a nightmare when your kids grow up and marry. Do they choose one of their hyphenated names (causing concern to them that whichever parent's name they don't choose will feel they're being rejected?) to combine with one of their spouse's hyphenated names? You really can't hyphenate again as that quickly becomes ridiculous. Smith-Yarrington-Patel-McNally would be a nightmare to spell out on forms (not to mention for kids learning to write). I think if you decide to go that route you have to be 100% okay with the idea that your kids will pick one name or the other at some point. While this wouldn't bother either of us, I don't think, the hyphenated name thing seemed far too annoying for both us and our kids. I can see why it works great for some, but it just isn't our preference.

Our best idea for us was for both partners to give up their birth name and choose a new last name for their nuclear family together. Some people would perhaps find a common ancestral name, others might use the letters from both last names to create a new one, still others might just choose one they liked. Except that we'd be horrible at this because we just aren't good at coming up with names. Ryan also pointed out that this doesn't really solve the problem, as now everyone feels a loss of identity. I pointed out in return that at least this way both partners could understand the feeling of loss, rather than leaving one partner to bear this alone. And, it has the potential to be a bonding moment as well, a choice that would symbolically represent how both parties are leaving their family of origin and beginning a new family together, which could go far to assuage the feelings of loss, as well as foster a fondness and attachment to the name that you chose together.

So, there you go, my thoughts on last names. I'm simultaneously happy that I jettisoned my birth name and sad that I didn't keep it. I think it would've been cool if we'd chosen a new last name together, but I can't imagine either of us going that route back when we got married. While I can't definitively say that I regret or am happy with the choice I made in this regard, I do wish that I'd given it much more thought, as I think doing so would've led me to feel more comfortable with whatever I/we had decided. I think that if/when our kids get to this point in their lives I will definitely encourage them to give it more thought than Ryan and I did.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Some Favorite Recipes

Several weeks ago I was chatting with a friend when she mentioned a conversation she'd had with a mutual friend about how they felt like they were always eating the same meals and realized they only had 20-30 meals in their rotation. I was somewhat aghast as we are lovers of variety in our household and would hate ourselves if we only had 20-30 meals. So I offered to send her links to some of our favorites (we've got more in cookbooks that I still need to copy for her), which ended up being about 30 meals, easily doubling my friend's rotation (assuming they like all of these as well).

I ended up sending the links to another friend, who used them in a presentation (she's a dietician) and to the other friend who'd originally complained of having so few recipes. Because I get great joy out of sharing recipes, I decided I'd post the recipes I shared here as well, in case anyone who reads feels a need for some new ideas.

Fruit salad - excellent for summer, I just grab whatever fruit is looking good at the time, cut it up, toss with some lemon juice and serve with some bread on the side.

Falafel with Avocado spread - vegetarian and another one that Gareth loves. I usually double this for our family.

Arugula Salad w/chicken and apricots - Delicious, though I leave off the apricots since Ryan doesn't like sweet and savory mixed.

Peanut-Broccoli Stir-fry - This is a must for trying tofu, and currently Ryan's favorite.

Mediterranean Orzo - Good vegetarian meal. I left out the olives because I'm not a fan. And probably replaced any eggplant called for with zucchini.

Grilled Chicken and Pesto Farfalle - this one is super tasty and makes a lot, so it's good for when you want leftovers

Quinoa-Potato Croquettes - Ryan and I really like these, but I know some of my siblings are less enthusiastic about them. I probably use more garlic than called for.

Cavatappi w/spinach, beans and feta - A good solid recipe. I really enjoyed it the first few times I made it, but haven't been putting it on the menu as much lately. So, good, but we tired of it relatively quickly. I replace the garbanzo beans with white beans.

Chalupa Dinner Bowl - This is a crockpot meal and makes enough for about three meals, so if I make it I divvy it up and freeze two thirds for later use. I also use soft flour tortillas rather than the bowls (less messy). It's essentially a pork taco filling.

Smoked Gouda Mac'n Cheese - It calls for ham, but I usually leave the ham out, tastes good either way, Gareth loves it.

Vietnamese Seitan baguettes - This is a vegan one and delicious. Though it takes fore-thought (if you make your own seitan, which is easy to make, but takes a couple hours to cook), which I usually don't have, so I haven't made it in forever.

Coconut Chicken Fingers - we serve these over rice rather than with dipping sauces. 

Pasta with Zucchini and Toasted Almonds - Simple and delicious, but one I only do in summer due to the tomatoes.

Black Bean and Corn Tostadas - Nothing amazing, but tastes good and is easy and meatless.

Butternut Squash and Smoky Black Bean Salad - This one entertained Ryan's taste buds. :)

Grilled Veggie and Hummus Wraps - I sub zucchini for the eggplant.

Spaghetti Carbonara w/Leeks and Pancetta - I sub bacon for the pancetta

Potato-Kale Soup - Gareth usually does a good job of eating this one.

Heirloom Tomato and Basil Panzanella - The bread part of this makes a delicious snack as well.

Chicken and Asparagus in White Wine Sauce - So delicious, and quite easy as well.

Basil Chicken in Coconut-Curry Sauce - One of Ryan's favorites

Bistro Chicken and White Wine Bisque - Needs to be doubled (or at least 1.5x)

Scalloped Potatoes - The "make once-a-year so you don't clog your arteries" recipe.

Gareth's favorite is pasta salad: 1 lb rotini pasta, chopped bell pepper, green peas, tomatoes (in summer), and ham (unless I want it meatless), mixed with some ranch dressing and ground black pepper. My brother adds cheese cubes to this.

We also enjoy veggie quesadillas, where I use whatever veggies we have around, maybe chard, zucchini, onion, pepper, and cook those up and then make quesadillas with them, serving with sour cream and salsa and occasionally guacamole. Great way to get some leafy greens and other veggies in.

Cheese and veggie sandwiches - Zucchini, sliced lengthwise; sweet onion slices; sliced bell pepper - grill or cook these. Then grill slices of sourdough bread until lightly toasted. Spread some ranch or other dressing of choice on inside of bread slices (don't overdo this - only a thin spread is needed; if you overdo it they sandwiches go from delicious to disgusting), place sliced mozzarella and veggies between two slices of bread and then cook sandwich in panini press or grill (we use our Foreman grill for this) until cheese is melty.