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    Monday
    Sep242012

    On Metamorphosis

    After a 20 mile bike ride on the Great Allegheny Passage - overlooking the Youghiogheny River. Progress is being able to ride 1 mile let along 20 since having surgery.

    I am sure that the caterpillar can relate. The path to becoming something new is long, a bit messy, and often times a complex process of intertwined efforts.

    Somewhere, beneath all of these soft layers that bounce and jiggle, is a person that I am hoping to meet. We really aren't very different. We are both beautiful and intelligent and wildly funny human beings. This other woman has a bit more confidence, though. And much less need for self-deprecating humor. Mostly, she doesn't worry about what everyone else thinks when they see her because she is no longer hiding behind her wit and her intelligence, she no longer lives on the offensive in fear of rejection or judgment. She just is. She is the sigh of relief I will let out when I've metamorphed out of this pudgy body and into one that is stronger, more powerful, healthy, and happy.

    I downloaded a Couch 2 5k application to my iphone. Not so much because I have a desire to complete a 5k, but more because I was getting bored of 40 minutes on any given cardio machine without some sort of goal or purpose. Also, it's time to get over my fear of running. I am TERRIFIED of running. In my body, it is uncomfortable - my breasts heave painfully with each step, my legs quiver precariously beneath me, my lungs threaten to collapse, and my stomach sends mayday signals to my brain that I just may vomit any second. It's my body's way of shouting "NO! STOP! Stop this right this minute before I quit". All that over 30 seconds of running. The program guides you through alternating sessions of 30 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking, a warm up and cool down period. I was waiting for the endorphins everyone talks about but I only felt them for a fleeting minute or two if at all. I managed to power through the discomfort by channeling my absolute loathing for the body I currently inhabit. Somewhere around the halfway point I even forgot about the other gym members that could very well be snickering about my jiggly bits behind my ample rump. Even though Week 1 Day 1 of the program only lasts for 40 minutes, I wanted to jump for joy when I finished. "Take that, treadmill and chubby thighs!" Then I remembered I still had another half hour of strength training to complete. So I pulled myself together and kept going. Change is intentional - something to be thought about every day, to be lived deliberately. One foot in front of the other, choice upon choice, thousands of beads of sweat until I wriggle out of this chrysalis.

    Mile marker 72. We did a round-trip from 72 to 82 and back.

     

     

    Monday
    Jul232012

    A Manifesto on Consumption

    Where has this summer gone!? Already it is mid-July and there are commercials for school supplies. If I were a school-aged child, I might feel highly anxious about that fact. There you are, barely into the swing of things in terms of summer revelry, and some CEO somewhere, wants you to stock up on #2 pencils for September! It also brings to mind just how disposable we think everything is in our country. What's wrong with the #2 pencils from last year? Does everyone supposedly run out of everything come June? If you spend enough time in my house, you are bound to find notebooks that I bought and intended for some class in college (or maybe even high scholl) that were never even cracked open. New is over-rated.

    Material things in general are over-rated. Having grown up as a child who never wanted for anything I had to learn some hard lessons about the difference between want and need, that that credit cards are really a very stupid, unhelpful invention, that amassing a treasure trove of "stuff" will never mend a broken heart, and that making with your own two hands is quite rewarding.

    As an adult, I feel anxious about all of the stuff that I have consumed in my brief 27 years on the planet. Think of the things I must have thrown out! I continue to buy things but I try to do it with a level of consciousness that we don't readily employ in America. I think about all that I learned in my Anthropology courses about use-value and exchange-value and my relationship to the thing I am buying. I look to purchase locally and to support small, independent businesses. I like used-book shops and Etsy and my co-op. I enjoy DIY projects and materials I can get from the Philadelphia Salvage Company. I find myself getting easily annoyed when I notice that my mother has bought as jar of jam from the grocery store when I have over a dozen jars of homemade jam ready for use in our basement pantry.

    Having been unhappy with my weight all of my life, I realized several years ago that I often shopped as a way to gloss over my negative feelings. Sometimes the shopping involved food that I would eat to further bury feelings of shame, dissatisfaction, and general loathing. When my father died, I did the same thing. It is amazing how those little pleasure centers in the brain light up when you carry home something brand new and lovely - the more expensive, the better. Things, no matter how many I had, just never filled whatever void I needed plug. They just accumulated around me making me feel broke and trapped. At the present, I have become really adept at realizing if I am about to pull out my bank card due to need or want the same way I can now realize if I am physically hungry or merely craving something particular because I upset about my day. It has taken me years and much practice to be able to identify these nuances in my mood.

    It is really only now, in the last few months since my surgery, as I am steadily losing weight, that I have begun to feel emotionally lighter. Being able to shed the weight consistently has made me feel accomplished and that success really is in store for me. I also don't have to continue to purchase clothing because I am needed larger and larger sizes. I can now fit into things that I already owned with great triumph. {Can I just make a note here about how expensive "plus-sized" clothing can be?! There is no bargain hunting at thrift or consignment shops, Marshall's or TJ Maxx or Target if you exceed a size 12-18. If I want to look decent or find something for a special event, I have to consider Nordstrom or Talbots where a shirt can easily cost $60 to say nothing of the cost of a bra for someone who is not 34 B!} I am starting to notice that I don't feel the need to buy myself great numbers of accessories to feel beautiful as there is a new beauty that is emerging from within myself.

    I opened two savings accounts so that I could use money that I might have typically spent for emergencies or long-term goals. I created a rewards list for major weight-loss milestones. I treat myself to pedicures and allow myself one dessert {Real dessert. Not sugar-free, fat-free, but something within a reasonable portion size that my brain will recognize as delicious} per week. With the extra money and a smaller waist size I have been able to consider things like being able to afford getting on a plane in October to visit my cousin in Wisconsin - here's to life without a seat-belt extender! - having the energy to go hiking with my friend in the Laurel Highlands and the possibility of moving to my own space before I am 40. Life is looking a bit more exciting.

    I have also been contemplating what I want for the rest of my life. You know, those years down the road from now that are hard to fathom but are coming nonetheless. Do I want to continue living near a major metropolis that makes me feel as if I must always keep up with "The Joneses"? Do I want to continue to work a high-stress job because of the money it pays me? What values do I want in a life partner? I don't want to be merely the half of the marriage that stays home and raises the kids. Sometimes I feel that it is difficult to have a happy medium, like to you have to eschew everything and commit to being "off the grid" or throw your hands up and surrender to being a suburban yuppie. I am learning that I will pay for certain things like...

    • memberships to museums
    • tickets to concerts/plays/theater
    • plane tickets to travel and visit friends/family
    • a CSA share to support local agriculture, good
    • healthy food in general at home or in a restaurant
    • graduate school
    • donations to charities close to my heart
    • purchases from stores and individuals that support local enconomies

    I do not want to spend money on...

    • trends
    • fads
    • anything made for the masses by the likes of Tiffany, etc
    • Barnes and Noble
    • a new car before mine is 10 years old
    • Starbucks
    • an iphone 5 or any other gadget Apple feels I need RIGHT NOW
    • anything sold to women under the pretense that it will make me prettier/sexier/more desireable
    • impulsive clothes purchases
    • another headband or another bottle of nail polish (if you know me, this will make sense)

    In the back of my mind is a tiny, fuzzy picture of how I want to live. It involves an older house and maybe some parcel of land with chickens and a large garden. The house is filled with things that I've made. It's not far from a city so that I can get my fix of busy streets from time to time. There are children - three or four. I am a nurse practitioner and take care of people just how I want to - seeing them throughout there lives. There is a man and he doesn't wear a suit to work, he doesn't take business trips, he likes to cook and can use bleach appropriately when it comes to laundry, he builds things for me and participates equally in the care of those three or four children. There is a supportive community that we belong to where we trade resources and meet at the local farmer's market. We visit friends and family regularly. We go camping. We are happy.

    I'm waiting for the picture to come into focus and for those other people to populate the landscape. It's going to take a while but I think I am finally doing what I need to do to make it a reality.

     

    Monday
    Jul022012

    Five Years

    At the end of May, I attended my 5th college reunion in NYC.

    Barnard College was a place of incredible growth for me. I fell in love with Manhattan. It was where I developed into an independent individual, learned to navigate a subway system, discovered Anthropology, and came to terms with the fact that I didn't actually want to be a doctor even though it had been a childhood dream.

    I never thought of myself as the type of person to attend renunions, but Barnard throws one heck of a party and it seemed too good to pass up. Barnard has been home to so many amazing women throughout the decades that our reunions seem more like an exclusive A-list event than a staid gathering of old college friends. There are lectures and performances to attend, cocktails on the lawn, fine dining and dancing in the quad, tours of the city we once considered our beloved home, and plenty of photo opportunities.

     

     

    Cocktails on Lehman Lawn

     

    Milbank Hall

    Barnard has been parterning with The Moth for several years now to give alumnae a chance to showcase stories about their experiences at the college. As an avid Moth listener, I submitted a story for review and was thrilled to have it chosen to be part of the event about the Mentors, Monsters, and Muses who shaped our time in college. It was such a privilege to work with one of the producers of the Moth and to learn how to really hone and craft a good, live story. I am so grateful for the opportunity that Barnard gave me to share my story, to overcome a bit of stage fright, and to fulfill a dream I've had of participating in a storytelling event.

    The weekend also included trips to some of my favorite places in Manhattan like Purl SoHo. I discovered Purl during my sophomore year when I was looking for a good yarn shop in the city. Starting at 116th Street, I would ride the 1 to Times Square to then hop on the N train downtown to Prince Street. It was a trek  to their tiny space next to a French bakery on Sullivan Street, but the cozy shop always made me feel at home - warm and safe and deeply happy - surrounded by all those luscious fibers and saturated colors. Since 2004, Purl has since moved to a larger home on Broome Street to combine their yarn and fabric shops into one joyful, colorful space. I make it a goal to visit every year!

     

     

     

     

    Liberty of London Tana Lawn prints in embroidery hoops.

    I can never visit Manhattan without choosing something to see in the theater district. This year, I chose Porgy and Bess knowing that it had received a great many Tony nods. I also couldn't bear to miss vocal powerhouse, Audra McDonald, as Bess. In my life, theater has always been a way for me to lose myself in song and dance and the tragedy or triumph of the human spirit. Live theater is energizing in a way that movies are not, especially when you are in the third row of the orchestra seating! I'm not much of a stargazer, but I did hang around after the show to collect the autographs of the cast members - even Audra. I may still be on Cloud 9!

     

     

    My mom and me with Norm Lewis who played Porgy.

    There was also a trip to The Frick Collection on East 70th Street to marvel at the collection of some of the best known European artists. I am especially fond of anything from the court of King Louis' XVI. Frick also had several of the best works by El Greco - an artist very much overlooked until the 20th century. I got lost in the Roccoco beauty of the Fragonard Room and Boucher murals - all works acquired for Mrs. Frick's private rooms.

    If you are on the East side and you have just been marveling at French masterpieces at The Frick, you must, of course, stop at La Maison Laduree for the finest French macraons. These delicate cookies are a delicious combination of light and flaky meringue with decadently flavorful cream in the middle. The salted caramel and rose are my favorites. At $35 per dozen, though, Laduree macarons are a true luxury.

     

     

    Then, without warning, the weekend is over and it is back to Philadelphia on the train until next year, knowing that time slips by all too quickly and soon I will be back at Barnard for my 10th renunion.

    Sunday
    May202012

    A "Lowe's" Kind of Saturday

    This Saturday was one of the best Saturdays in a long while.

    I woke up entirely too late but, when I did, it was to a room suffused with bright sunshine and a breeze blowing the scent of warm grass and peonies in through my windows. Bali, my tortoiseshell cat was languishing next to me, eyes closed against the light, breathing tiny puffs of air onto my cheek.

    Bali really enjoys lounging in the sink if you're taking a bath

    It was the kind of day you want to bottle so that you can take it out of the closet in the winter to be reminded that, yes! there are better days ahead. I am grateful for such days in the Northeast as we have had great amounts of rain lately and our summers are usually characterized by sleep-inducing heat and humidity.

    I felt bouyant and energized. Strangely, those Lowe's and Home Depot commericals that try to motivate you to get out and re-landscape your yard or build a treehouse make me feel the same way, so I told my mom that it felt like a "Lowe's" kind of day.

    I pulled out two bunches of kale from the latest CSA delivery that I had stashed in the fridge and set to work making kale chips. I completely forgot that I am not quite to the "eating kale chips" part of the post-surgery diet. I had perused several recipes from the Food Network and Smitten Kitchen and others before deciding to combine a few ideas.

    Kale chips are unbelievably easy. Fool-proof even. Here are the guidelines that I followed:

    • Procure kale - wash - dry thoroughly
    • Remove stems and spines (I used a knife for this so as not to end up with lots of stringy bits)
    • Tear kale into large pieces (they really shrink in the oven)
    • Toss with enough oilve oil to coat but do not saturate
    • Toss in a few pinches of salt (I used grey sea salt)
    • Arrange on a cookie sheet
    • Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesean cheese (easy on the salt if you add cheese or you might end up with some very salty snacks)
    • Bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes.

    You want the chips to be good and dry when you remove them from the oven so that they are flaky like dried seaweed. Otherwise, they become a soggy mess when you store them. I stored mine in an airtight container and others in the house have been happily snacking.

    Into the oven they go!

    Feeling confident, I decided that the rhubarb in the fridge wasn't going to become a pie due to my current dietary restrictions. I flipped through my brand new copy of Food in Jars by Philadelphia native Marisa McClellan and set about making her Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam with Earl Grey.

    I love this new preserving book because it focuses on small-batch canning. I do not have a 40-acre farm nor do I need to put up dozens of jars to weather a lean winter on the prairie. I am often frustrated wtih recipes that call for pounds upon pounds of fruit. Marisa's recipes tend to make 4-5 pints which is perfect for a modern gal.

    {I LOVE rhubarb. And as Molly Wizenberg of Orangette and the Spilled Milk Podcast will tell you - it is fun to learn to tame the "wild rhubarb stallion". It's a tart, intimidating vegetable for some. }

    The Rhubarb-Vanilla jam receipe was easy, fairly quick, and an interesting twist on the conventional jam. I do recommend peeling the rhubarb as it is just easier to chop into small pieces that way. The earl grey tea really does add a little something unqiue to the flavor composition of the jam. I topped my greek yogurt this morning with the bit I had left in the pan after filling my jars (I actually got 4 jars just as Marisa denotes in the recipe!). If you attempt this recipe, trust yourself. You're going to want to cook the jam a bit longer than 4 minutes because it will appear to be very drippy when you implement the "sheet test", but take heart! the jam firms up very nicely as it cools in the jars. I wouldn't go much longer than 6 minutes or you might end up with a brick of jam.

    I LOVE this Mauviel copper preserving pan. It has enough surface area to allow the water to evaporate quickly. It's definitely an investment, though.

    As my jars were cooling I attacked two items on my "to do" list that have been bugging me for months. This is primarily because I like to keep my "to do" list prominently displayed as a digital "sticky note" on my iMac where it is often added to and not subtracted from.

    1. Clean out a particular kitchen cabinet that has been home to an ancient ice cream maker, two coffee grinders, and other doo-dads that are useless in 2012. Now I am able to store the pannini press, the electric tea kettle, food processor, coffee machine and other things to free up valuable counter space!
    2. Get rid of any number of the dozens of vases, collected over the years, that are cluttering the shelves of our back porch. Now my mom can see what she has on hand when we bring flowers into the house AND the shelves can be utilized for other storage needs, too!

    It was wodnerful to go to sleep feeling utterly content, productive, and ready to greet another day.

    Friday
    May182012

    A Bit of Earth

    My bountiful plot in last year's community garden.

    Ranunculus are one of my favorite flowers.

    It sounds ridiculous but...gardening saved me.

    I have a fuzzy memory of my mother reading "A Secret Garden" to me as a child. She also took me to see the theater production and the movie. At some point, I read the story again, by myself. I had a quiet fascination with Mary and the way she brought that little piece of land back to life. Somewhere along the way, though, I grew up and tucked Mary in my back pocket with a whole lot of other childhood memories.

    My father died in April of 2009. Just as spring was peeking it's head around a cold winter corner. The day of his funeral was glorious - warm with lots of golden sunshine. We at thai takeout with family on our deck that overlooks a white Dogwood tree whose leaves were crisp and green. Later that spring, I joined my mother on her annual trip to the garden center for the usual annuals - pansies, petunias, marigolds. Besides volunteering to tend her tomato and pepper plants from my grammar school's yearly plant sale, I never expressed much interest in spending my time with a garden. On a whim, I picked out several vegetable seedlings and flowers. It was a slippery slope downhill from there.

     

    My Fuschia plant - the deeply saturated pink and purple makes me almost giddy

    After watching cancer change the shape of our lives for 3 years, I needed to focus my attention elsewhere. I also wanted that spring to feature something more than death. I have since learned that it is quite a good idea to have something to do with your mind and body after a tragedy so that you don't spend every waking moment replaying it in your brain.

    So I gardened. Not successfully at first. There were casualties from weather and my own inexperienced hand. There was one whole summer where I didn't get any tomatoes at all! Bugs ravaged my squash one season and I have never been able to grow great cucumbers. I read dozens of books on gardening and my collection (from Barbara Damrosch to Alice Waters to Barbara Kingsolver) has failed to fit in the confines of my bookshelf. In the years since, I have learned to start things from seed, I joined a community garden, I taught myself new recipes to accommodate the abundance of produce filling the kitchen, I purchased more cubic feet of soil (I garden in containers) than I care to admit, I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and I own an amazing Japanese knife called a Hori Hori which I wield quite impressively when slicing fruit off a vine. I poured a great deal of sweat and even more heart into each growing season.

     

    Containers on the flagstone patio

    That first summer, gardening saved me from falling into perpetual grief. It brought new life. It deepened my sense of wonder for the majesty of nature. It brought food which meant meals savored with those closest to us. What my mother initially thought might be a phase has turned into a passion. A passion for: the earth - whole, organic, clean, seasonal food, cooking/baking/preserving, supporting local agriculture and farmers, picking my own fruit, and teaching others about the simple joys of a garden.

    A garden is whatever you want it to be. For me (and maybe for Mary), it is a magical place where happiness springs from a single seed to bloom before your very eyes.

     

    Teeny Pansies!

    Baby potato plant.

    This anemone popped from last season!