I had the best conversation with my friend Heather today. She’s the director at two non-profit organizations, and is incredibly accomplished. Both of the positions have come to her within the last year and half, so she’s had a busy time! I picked her up to go to lunch, and we were in the car, talking about our respective jobs. “Remember a year ago when you were kind of overwhelmed, and everything was new and scary?” I asked her.
“Now I can do my job with my eyes closed. Crazy how you can get accustomed to anything.” She said. “It’s all about learning to change.”
“Learning to change. Who knew?” I said.
Isn’t it comforting that people are so adaptable? I’d never thought about learning to change. I think I’m a still a bit shell shocked by this year (this will be the last whiny post I PROMISE), but my initial instinct is to think: change is something that happens to people – we’re the victims! But I’m beginning to change my mind. I read a piece of advice recently that really struck me:
The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
Energy is going to be expended anyway, and it might as well be directed constructively. Spending energy trying to stop things from changing is as useless as trying to prevent the sun from setting. The best part of it is: what can feel so alarming is often be the best thing for us. Shifting change from something that is acted upon you to something that you are acting on is empowering.
I think back, and the changes – moves, jobs, loves, fights, friends, the whole ball of wax – I’m grateful (now) for every one one of them.
I saw this quote the other day on Pinterest, and thought it was so funny that I had to make it into a little banner for myself.
Anyone recall me saying that I was bored earlier this year? Remind me never to do that again. An interesting life is not always a great thing. In fact, I read once that “May you live in interesting times” was a terrible Chinese curse, although I never heard it once during the entire time I lived in China. It’s been a weird fall for everyone – but I’m so jittery about jinxing myself or any friends or family that I’m not going to get into details. It’s a personal blog, sure, but – I just don’t want to relive it. I’ll just say that people who were sick are feeling better, my job still changes all the time, but I’m learning lots, I love my new little house, and that things are … progressing. For which I am grateful.
Cooking: I’ve discovered the key to healthy home meals. It involves delegating the salad making to my sister. Chere makes great salads. I loathe making salads. They’re so darn… leafy. And heaven forbid there should be any wilted leaves that stick wetly to your hands. *shudder* I’d rather kill a spider. So if I fob that onerous duty off onto someone else, I can do my other cooking, and it’s all smooth sailing, and I haven’t spent all my energy hating the salad making process. So Monday through Wednesday we have salad + protein (generally chicken or fish) and another veg (lately broccoli, because I thought it was a good idea to buy a giant bag at Costco). Then I make soup – either Asian with lots of fortifying ginger, floating bok choy leaves, and meaty mushrooms, or Megan’s Soup*. Megan was an old roommate and current friend of mine who brought said soup to me when I was dying once, and it was singlehandedly responsible for resurrecting me. Friday is free for all, and Saturday is either designated “eat out” day or “Costco rotisserie chicken” day. Sunday? Anything can happen on Sunday. Don’t ask me about Sunday.
Listening and Reading: What am I not listening to? What I am not reading? Would be better questions. If you want music, allow me to point you in the direction of David Ramirez and this lovely song:
In podcasts, The Friday Night News Quiz is back after being on hiatus, and I find Sandi Toksvig so funny and intelligent. For audio books, I loved discovering Stephen Fry’s reading of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” I’ve heard there’s a version of the Harry Potter books also read by him, and you’d better believe I’ll be finding a way to get my paws on them.
I get so sad when books end that I will choose my next book based on something related to what I’ve just consumed. Ideally it’s the same author, and I can just read in a happy loop through their entire bibliography. Terry Pratchett is my favorite for this – particularly the audio books. I can listen to them on a constant loop for – no joke – months. It helps that he’s written over 20 books. This month I started with good old Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve been reading him ever since that fateful day that I found his complete Sherlock Holmes in a bookstore in Hong Kong. I couldn’t have been older than 11, and I’ve read everything he’s ever written at least 10 times. Once done with that, I needed more! There are shelves of Sherlock Holmes derivatives, and I’m superbly picky. Laurie R. King has done it well – although her first effort, “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” was her best. There have been others that I’ve tried, but none that I liked well enough to mention here. Ever hopeful – I gave a newish author a shot. Lyndsay Faye’s “Dust and Shadows” puts Sherlock Holmes on the Jack the Ripper case – and wasn’t bad at all. She captured Watson’s tone of voice surprisingly well, which made up for other inconsistencies. I don’t know that I’d recommend it to someone who wasn’t interested in Victorian murder cases, but I enjoyed it well enough. Then, having discovered a new author, I read Faye’s other two books, “The Gods of Gotham” and “Seven for a Secret” both about a young policeman at the birth of the NYPD. They were… ok. But they succeeded hugely in getting me interested in the history of New York City. So on the reading list are:
Beautifying: I’m super poor lately, so I haven’t been buying makeup. Why am I poor? Probably because I’ve bought too much makeup in the past. But I did trade in 500 of my Sephora beauty points for a little Stila quad of products – which included a tiny mascara, an eyeliner in the color Stingray (awesome name), a lipgloss, and a highlighter/skin luminizer. My favorite thing from it was the eyeliner – it smudges to just the right extent – not enough to give me eye boogers or sad clown eyes, but just enough to look a bit like a smokey eye. Happy days! Also – just a note – Stila’s Stay All Day felt tip liner is really fantastic. I’m perfectly happy with Wet’n Wild and Maybelline’s waterproof liquid liners, but if I were feeling fancy I’d go with Stila. It’s lovely.
I feel like I used to have more categories to these reports. That’s all for today, guys. Next time I’ll tell you about Thanksgiving, and maybe, I don’t know… do a Christmas giveaway. That’s what bloggers do, right?
*Megan’s Soup is technically a Cooking Light magazine recipe, but I think of it as more of a formula than anything else. It goes like this: aromatic protein + aromatics (onion and garlic, and spices of choice) + canned beans + 2 cans of tomatoes + liquid + spinach. So, in your soup pot of choice, brown either bacon or sausage. Drain off most of the oil and add chopped onions, and carrots. Once softened a little, add some garlic if you want, and if you want it a little smokier, a teaspoon or two of smoked paprika. Add 1 can of beans (your choice), and 2 14 oz cans of chopped stewed tomatoes, and if you’ve got stock, that too – otherwise water will do fine. Simmer for 10 ish minutes, salt and pepper to taste. It’s delicious ladled over large fistfuls of fresh spinach and a gob of goat cheese. If you don’t have fresh spinach, dump frozen in with the stock and simmer for an extra 5 minutes. You. Can’t. Go. Wrong.
PS. For tomato averse – this works fine with just stock and no tomatoes, but if such is the case, I recommend upping whatever spices you add in, and using white beans to make sort of a great white bean/spinach/sausage zuppa toscana deal.
This year has shaped up to be one of the rougher ones I’ve had, which isn’t saying a whole lot, because it seems to be going much rougher for a lot of people I know. I’ve never given the number 13 much credence as an omen of bad luck, but I’m beginning to rethink this.
It was all kicked off by the death of my grandmother, and that remains the most painful of all the happenings by far. Two months ago, on a nice Saturday, my grandmother, who was an an exceptionally healthy 82 year old, laid down on the couch after eating some strawberries. No one knows if she was feeling faint or just needed a rest, but she never got up again. In as far as deaths go, one can’t ask for anything better for a loved one. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss her like crazy. I lived with her for the later portion of my teens and before going to college, and we shared a love of gardening and reading. She was the most generous woman I’ve ever met, and absolutely my role model in life.
Shortly after coming back from the memorial service in Colorado (the funeral was in California) I received a phone call from my landlord, who was going through his own set of trials, and had decided that it was necessary for him to sell the house I was living in. Right away. When I’d moved in, he’d informed me that he and his wife really wanted to retire in this house, and that it was their favorite neighborhood. He even asked if I was sure if a year lease was all I was interested in. Eight months later, I was now looking for a new place to live.
The same week that I moved into the new house I found (hallelujah), my work went through (and is still going through) some massive changes. The CEO was replaced, and things are still in flux. I’ve worked at my company for 10 years, and I’ve seen a lot of changes, but this is the biggest one yet, and I have no idea what this means for my future.
Also this week, my best friend ended up in the ER, and found out that she has a tumor the size of a cantaloupe in her uterus, and she needs to have surgery immediately.
Those are the big bullet points. The smaller footnotes are things like: replacing my transmission, long road trips, sleepless nights, creative blocks, the stress of moving when you’re single, dramatic freelance clients, money that seems to disappear as fast as I can earn it, and dealing with one neurotic sister, and two neurotic cats.
Talk to anyone around you, and these are just the things of life – the twists and turns, the highs and the lows. I haven’t been squashed by an earthquake, or drowned in a flash flood. But telling someone it could be worse is no source of comfort, particularly when it keeps getting worse. Be grateful. I am grateful, believe me. I really am.
Tell me of the glories of Autumn, of the gilded, waning days of crisp and chill.
I’m about to move again – the process has already begun – all the packing and moving and cleaning and finding of lone earrings and IKEA screws under things. I’m less overwrought about moving this time, although I have to own up to a few days of intense anxiety right after I was informed that my landlord wanted to sell the house. My lease doesn’t end for another four months, so I wasn’t expecting this, and it’s been a bloody pain in the tuches – particularly having to have the house open for potential buyers. But I’ve found a perfectly nice little house a mere block away, and it’ll all be just fine. Darn fine.
Moving house is a reckoning in which you are judge and judged, and the outcome for your belongings is either a swift exile (to the trash or Deseret Industries) or an confirmation to your psyche that you are now the type of person who truly needs two mops. I will say that the one upside to moving is that it gives you the chance to re-evaluate everything you own, you’re forced into deep cleaning, and it’s like New Year’s all over again, but productive this time. The fact that the whole process has coincided with fall is just the cherry on top.
Do I sound conflicted? I am.
I’m not conflicted about Fall – the leaves started turning early this year – the 20th of August, or possibly even earlier, but that’s when I was up in the canyon and noticed it. There’s not a single thing about Fall I don’t like – from the colder weather to the shorter days, I don’t mind any of it.*
What I’m most excited about though, is how pretty it’s going to be. And cooking stuff in the crockpot, and the perfume of a long stew.
Do I have any real news? Beyond being just a lazy bum, I think this is why I haven’t posted here for months and months – my life just isn’t that interesting. I’m in my groove, I do my thing, I go to work, I live, I cook occasionally – yada yada yada. Maybe in this “New Year” that’s been forced on me, I’ll make a resolution to change that. While I must still follow the routines and structures of life, perhaps it’s the attention I pay to it that makes it exciting. No one truly has a boring life if they pay attention.
Mood: Hungry, mostly. I know that’s not a mood, but I ate my lunch at 10:30 am and it’s now past 6, and I am definitely munchy. It was Thai food last night, and it was so darn tasty that it just might be Thai food again tonight. Have you tried Pineapple rice? My sister Angel went on her mission to Malaysia/Singapore and ate a lot of pineapple rice, and insisted we order it. Turns out it’s delicious – dark and garlicky and crunchy with vegetables and the occasional pineapple wedge – less pineapple-y than it sounds, in fact, I could use more pineapple in it. Here’s my go to Thai order: pineapple rice, som tum (papaya salad), tom ka gai (a lime leaf infused tangy coconut soup with veggies), and then one wild card. Last night it was cashew chicken, but I think tonight it might be pumpkin curry. Haven’t you heard? It’s Fall.
Listening to: The Slate Culture Gabfest. Stephen Metcalf is a pompous pedant, and Dana Stephens grates on my nerves, but I hold out because I love Julia. Also the New York Times Book Review podcast is fantastic. Also I had a weird day last week where I listened to The Ronette’s “Be My Baby” on repeat for at least an hour. Amazing song.
Reading: I haven’t even read the September fashion magazines yet. It’s been at least three weeks since I picked up a book, but I think it was James Michener’s “Centennial.” I didn’t get far enough into it to say if it’s held up as a literary work, but I remember reading it before college and loving it.
Cooking: When I haven’t been snarfing pineapple rice and other Thai goodies, I’ve been trying out recipes from Well Fed by Melissa Joulwan. Ostensibly a Paleo diet cookbook, I find that it’s really just an exceptionally good cookbook. I need to cook a few more things from it before I can give it a total go ahead, but so far, I’m really pleased. Plus, her blog is really great. I recommend you start with the Bora Bora Fireballs and serve them with Sunshine Sauce (which I could eat by the spoonful).
Beautifying: You guys – I did my hair today for the first time in a month. Used a blowdryer and everything. Does that say it all? I feel like that should say it all.
I might get this for the new house:
*I’m lying – the return of college students in the fall is a kink in my lemonade straw.
For three years I lived in a house with a giant back yard and plenty of gardening space, and the only things I got around to planting were rosemary, sage, and some tomato bushes that were immediately chomped to death by local deer.
I moved in December (down the street, wheeee) and inherited a garden plot that was essentially all set up for me. The ground had been tilled, enriched and even had some plants leftover from the previous year that popped up as pleasant little gifts when the snow melted. As a reluctant gardener, no one has been more surprised than me at my sudden enthusiasm for this mucking around in the dirt. Maybe it’s because I’m visual and needed to have space laid out for me, a sort of paint-by-numbers for gardeners, or maybe it’s just because this year I have a much more boring life – regardless of reason, I have jumped in to the gardening life with vim et vigor. That said, it’s a learning curve, and learning curves are humbling. The fostering of things from the ground, the choices you have to make about where to plant things and whether or not something is a weed – surely I’m not the only one that finds it all kind of a big deal? I’ve taken to tasting things, in spite of my terror that something might be a potato plant, and what if I die of gardening-related poisoning? I’ve read a lot of Agatha Christie.
Being a gardener is something I’ve always felt I should be – in the same way I’ve always been certain (against all evidence ever) that deep down I’m a runner who just hasn’t started yet. I relish the sore muscles and the rough patches on my hands, taking them as badges – identifiers, the way a runner might point to calluses where blisters used to be. I take such satisfaction because the older I get, the more I fear that I will get into the groove of not being things I want to be, whether it’s a gardener/runner/potter/person who can keep a beat/speaks French, etc and so forth and so on. Having taken stock of 2012, and realizing that I hadn’t gotten more interesting in any single way, this year has unexpectedly turned into a year focused on exposing myself to new things, learning new skills and trying to be a more interesting person. Note here that I did not say “better” person. Goals need to be realistic. “Learning” has become my mantra.
Everything I’ve read about learning and the brain (and you’d be surprised at how much I have read) leads me to believe that the great gift and curse of being human is how we learn. Could I be anymore dramatic? In the most reductive way possible, it works roughly like this: you learn something by constant exposure, building a neural bridge of responses and synapses. There are times in your life when it’s easier to build these bridges (or pathways, or grooves) because your whole brain is devoted to growing and learning new things. Toddlers learning to walk, talk, and hold spoons are constantly learning new things, and this continues up through the teenage years and into early adulthood, topping off at about 19 – 21. After that, the brain gets a little lazier, probably figuring that whatever you really need to know to survive, you should have learned by then – and people settle into their grooves, doing things the same way over and over again. This is why languages are harder to learn when you’re older, and why habits can be harder to break or form. In fact, people can become so settled into their grooves that the brain actually loses function – consider dementia and Alzheimer’s - the literal dying off of parts of the brain. Now it used to be that when the brain was damaged, stroke or other injury, and say for example, the patient lost function of part of the body – e.g. the left arm, it was just accepted, and worked around. A patient would be treated with deference, and someone else would do for them what the left side couldn’t. (I’m getting to my point, I swear.) But as time has passed and more research done, it’s become evident that the brain can continue to build new neural pathways – even around injuries. So the new way of dealing with the patient would be the same way a toddler learns to walk – trying over and over and over again – small attempts at first and then building up to things like brushing their hair with the left hand, for example. And thus the brain is capable of change, of learning new things – even against tremendous odds. It would then follow that if the brain can work around traumatic injury, it can also fend off the slower deterioration, by preemptively and constantly building new neural pathways. In other words, don’t get complacent.
And so, as I age, I think about these things. I’m 32, and I realize this is not considered aged by people outside of Provo, Utah, but if I’m preemptively using wrinkle creams – and you know I am – surely I can do the same for my brain. And so my year continues, and the theme (whether or not it started out this way) of learning goes on.
All of this is to say I’ve been digging in the dirt, futzing about with seeds and seedlings, and getting a whole lot dirtier than usual. Imagine how insufferable I’ll be if/when I actually start harvesting things.
Note: I also fixed the lawn mower, but I’m just saying that to brag, because I’ve got to do it somewhere, and if I’m paying for this domain space, I can talk about fixing a lawn mower if I want to.
It used to be that I was a frequent and meticulous nail polish applier. Every three to five days I’d paint my fingertips in some new shade, and I loved it. The whole process was soothing and relaxing – some nice me-time. Because I’m compulsive and obsessive when it comes to anything related to beauty, I amassed a hefty collection of polishes – somewhere between 70 and 90 bottles of nail varnish. Friends would come over and we’d watch movies and paint our nails. I prided myself on giving a better manicure than any salon.
That was then.
Since the beginning of 2013, I haven’t painted my own nails once. Every three weeks, without really meaning to, or making an appointment, I stop in at a little Vietnamese nail salon on Freedom Boulevard (next to Shirley’s Bakery, if you’re curious) and I ask for a gel manicure. 20 minutes later, I come out with perfect, glossy talons – and so far, no regrets.
Sure, there are pros and cons to the gel manicure. In the pro column are that it lasts for two to three weeks, is shiny all the time, and I can do anything from deep cleaning the bathroom to assembling IKEA furniture without worrying about dents, smudges and chips. Also, the dry time is almost nonexistent. In the con column are a few more – it’s not great for your nails, you have to put your hands under a wrinkle inducing UV lamp to dry the polish, there aren’t a ton of color options, and above all, and possibly the most damning – I have to pay someone else to do it.
But every time I look at my boxes (yes, boxes) of nail polish, and contemplate choosing a color and then going through the rigamarole of filing, cuticling (I christen thee, “cuticling” a word!), layering on polish, and waiting for it to dry…. Sigh. I just get tired. And then knowing I’ll have to do it all over again in three to five days….
I just can’t do it.
So for now, I continue the shellacked path to shiny, long lasting gel nails.