Sunday, December 30, 2012

Happy to be Here

Snowman Ornament

Christmas Tree


Hello!  I didn’t mean to disappear last week, but such is life around the winter holidays.  Before leaving for Michigan on Friday, December 21st, my boss and I (finally, finally) resubmitted our grant, and I’m optimistic about our chances for landing some funding, assuming this whole fiscal cliff business gets worked out in time.  Immediately after submitting the grant, I had to wrap things up at work, go home, pack, and leave the next day for the holidays with my family.

What’s that saying about how the more things change, the more they stay the same?  I’ve had a good holiday up here, in the cold and the snow.  My family is well.  We are celebrating my sister’s engagement to her now fiancée, Scott.  We are also grappling with the first holidays after my brother’s death.  While my brother Scott was not a fan of Christmas, the passage of time is often marked by family holidays and birthdays.  We remember him, even as the time we shared with him in life slips away from the present time.

It’s also been an incredibly busy week, which is why I disappeared with nary a word to all of you!  Being with my family is a total immersion experience—I stand in awe of those of you who are able to blog during the holidays.  I am clearly unable to reach such heights of greatness.  (I’m catching up on all your blogs, too—it’s nice to have a little collection of posts to read!  I have missed you.)  But today I’m having a quiet day with my sister Theresa and her Scott.  While they putter around her house, I’m looking at Christmas photos and writing this blog post.  We had a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs, fruit, and pumpkin chocolate chip muffins.  Later today we will probably head out for a wintry walk in Maybury State Park and maybe hit up Ann Taylor Loft’s 50% off holiday sale.  I’m still in my pajamas, looking something like this:

Silliness with Lydia

Aren’t I lovely?  Yes indeedy.  Hee hee!  (My six-year-old niece took that photo—she brings out the silliness in everyone!)

Anyway, happiest of holidays and a fantastic new year to you!  I am excited to do my year-end post and new year’s resolutions (I see Chrissy has already posted hers!).  I’ve also been working on another post in my freedom series, but that one is more personal, and with blogging, it can be tricky to figure out what is okay to share.  Until then, be well!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

2012’s Lessons

Butterflies in Christmas Lights

Float on, friends. 

* Speak your truth.

* Get clear about your intentions.

* Sometimes silence is the appropriate response.

* Feel your feelings.

* You are stronger than you think.

* Remember the shared goals.  Don’t let pride become more important than the bigger picture.

* If you let it, love can triumph.

* Love wears many costumes, speaks through many people, will not abandon you in your time of need.

* Do not abandon your physical needs.  Get enough sleep.  Drink water.  Breathe.  You will get through this.

Happiest of holidays to you, friends.  I’ll be back here again, sooner or later.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Through the Lens: 2012’s Photos, July to December

It’s a little odd to reflect on the second half of 2012 because frankly, it’s not pleasant.  It’s when everything fell apart: I received two grant rejections, Matt and I broke up, and my brother died.  There’s just no getting around the fact that 2012 has been a terrible year for me.  But there is beauty in melancholy, and even a sad year has its happier moments.  Here are my favorite photos from the past six months.

Coolest Toy Ever

July: I flew up to Michigan to visit my family, and I was so happy to spend many hours with my niece and nephew.  Here they are investigating my lab timer.  I love how fascinated they both look!

Wobbly Shotglass

August: I am such a nerd.  I bought these cute shotglasses with different adjectives; wobbly is how I felt after a long run one Sunday morning.  Wobbly is also how I felt during the second half of 2012—much of my energy was spent trying to regain my balance in the aftermath of personal and professional failure.

Standing in New Dress

September: I like this photo for several reasons.  One is that I bought my niece and me coordinating dresses (hers is purple with colored stripes), and it makes me laugh to think of us wearing the same dress.  Oh, the perks of being petite!  The second is that I took this photo on a quiet Sunday, and I remember feeling calm, peaceful, and well-rested.  That combination of feelings became so rare this year.  Finally, I have great legs.  (Check out my calves!)  For whatever reason, I made it to adulthood feeling pretty good about my body, and I’m grateful for all the ways in which my body has literally carried me through life.  I feel like we’re partners, a team.

Fountain at Detroit Metro

October: I flew home to be with my family after my brother Scott killed himself.  I was exhausted, sick, grief-stricken, and surrounded by so much love in the weeks after his death.  It was a surreal experience, and this photo of the fountain at Detroit Metro airport is one of the few photos I took during that time.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

November: I spent much of November revising a grant for a December submission.  This Pumpkin Spice Latte was one of many treats that fueled hours and hours and hours of grant work.

Red Bird in Profile

December:  You see him (or her), right?  That little red bird, looking downward.  Perhaps she is bowing or contemplating the earth beneath her.  I love that I managed to catch this little bird with my camera, this little reminder that beauty is everywhere.  You just have to keep your eyes open.

And that, dear friends, is the way I want to feel about this year.  There is joy and beauty, even in the dark moments.  Melancholy is its own splendor, a connection to the sad, the fragile, the vulnerable.  2012 was the year when two of the strongest men I know showed me their cards, and in those moments I knew: I am just as strong and capable as they are.  

What a crazy year it’s been.  Thank you for joining me, for being here, and for all the love.  You are the best.  Really, truly.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Through the Lens: 2012’s Photos, January to June

Last week, Raquelita had a wonderful round-up of her favorite photos from 2012 (or at least January to June).  I am a shameless copycat (meow!), thus I present to you the best of 2012, part one.  I won’t pretend that my photos are particularly impressive from an artistic standpoint, but these six photos are all beautiful, poignant, or funny to me.  They were taken with my little Olympus camera.  Half were taken while I was out and about; the other half were taken at home.  Given my lifestyle, that sounds just about right.

Holy Moly

January: I caught this gorgeous, gorgeous sunset on my way to catch the bus.  I walk or ride my bike past this clock tower every day on my way to and from work.  I like the idea that the first photo is an everyday site made spectacular by the extraordinary light and clouds.

Candlelit Dinner

February: We had a ridiculous amount of rain this winter, and one night the storm knocked out the power at home.  I ate dinner by candlelight, and I love how the light plays off the glasses here.

Blue on Blue

March: I took this photo at one of the many fountains on campus.  I like the many shades of blue here.

Stripes are in This Year

April: This bird cracked me up!  He and I were hanging out in a parking lot when he started acting a little aggressively toward me.  I consider myself a behaviorist, so I love watching animals “in the wild.”  (Also, I like this bird’s stripes.  He’s very fashionable this year.  Maybe he was just trying to show me his stripes?)

Two Moscato Spritzers

May: My sister Theresa came to visit me in Texas, and we had a very busy, very emotional weekend together.  I think our relationship this year has experienced some growing pains because of the changes in our lives: my romance ended, she got engaged, and our brother Scott died.  I value the depth of love that we are creating, but navigating the transitions is not easy.  What is easy, however, is drinking these delicious moscato spritzers.  I think this photo is so pretty!

Flies Like Lemon Too

June: This photo makes me laugh every time I see it!  My postdoc work is focused on fly mating behavior, and look!  Here they are, congregating on my lemon wedge.  The male is on the left, and it looks like he’s about to approach the female.  I can’t believe I managed to capture this one with my camera—flies are not usually this patient.

Stay tuned for part two!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Freeze-Dried Food Recipe: Zucchini Raisin Cookies

Today we have a guest post from the lovely Empress of Drac, Agnes Embile Jimenez.  Agnes asked me if she could write a guest post for Life, Love, and Food, and because I am the curious type, I said sure!  If you are interested in writing a guest post for this blog, feel free to e-mail me at lifeloveandfood [at] gmail [dot] com.  I’ll probably say yes, but if it’s a science-related post, you’d better be up to the task.  I take my science seriously around here.

And now for the cookies!

* * * 

It is always important to be prepared when emergency strikes.  A person should amass a supply of food that stays fresh for a long time.  There are many places that sell foods with a long shelf life.  Most often people purchase freeze-dried or dehydrated foods to stock pantry shelves.  These items take up little space and tend to stack nicely.  On the downside, many people do not know how to use these foods in everyday meal preparation, especially when it comes to dessert.  Here is a tasty treat that is easy to prepare from stored ingredients: cookies! 

Before beginning the recipe, it is necessary to reconstitute the dehydrated ingredients.  To rehydrate food, it is important to take into consideration how much water will be necessary.  Dehydrated food normally doubles in size when reintroduced to water.  Many dehydrated products come with instructions that should be followed to obtain best results.  It can take a few hours for food to become rehydrated.  There are many benefits to using dehydrated ingredients in recipes. Since they have a long shelf life, they can remain untouched for years without worries about spoilage.  Also, dehydration is a process that retains most vitamins and minerals.  They are also safer than canned foods because there is no risk of botulism.  In the end, no one will ever be able to taste the difference between dehydrated and fresh ingredients.

Zucchini Raisin Cookies

1/2 cup Crisco*

3/4 cup honey

1 Tbsp. vanilla

1 egg

1 cup flour

1/8 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. salt

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)

1/2 cup freeze-dried shredded zucchini, rehydrated (or 1 cup fresh shredded zucchini)

1/2 cup freeze-dried raisins, rehydrated (or 1 cup fresh raisins)

To begin the cookies when all of the ingredients are ready, the oven should be preheated to 350 degrees and the cookie sheets are greased. Crisco, vanilla, and honey are creamed together in a large bowl.  An egg is beaten and added to the mixture until well combined.  In a separate bowl, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt are combined.  They are slowly added into the honey mix.  The rolled oats, nuts, zucchini, and raisins are added.  Cookies are dropped by teaspoon onto the cookie sheets and flattened with a fork.  They are baked for approximately 10 minutes until brown, and then cooled on wire racks.  The resulting cookies are a nutritious and delicious dessert treat.

* Agnes recommends Crisco for crispiest results but says that butter could be used as well.  Rosiecat only uses Crisco for seasoning her cast-iron skillet, so she’d lean toward using butter, preferably from cows that got to eat grass in a pasture.

About our guest author:  Agnes Jimenez is a professional blogger and writer.  She writes for many online establishments and supports those that offer alternative lifestyles to consumers.  She is a frugal living and self-sufficiency advocate and also a self-proclaimed foodie.  She recommends for those budget-conscious home cooks who want to get big savings in shopping for freeze-dried foods.  You may follow Food Insurance on Twitter.

Friday, December 14, 2012


I don’t normally comment much on the news because honestly (and please don’t hate me for this) I don’t pay much attention to it.  With my tendency toward depression, I just can’t handle the news every day.  I sort of let it filter through to me from friends, colleagues, Facebook, and blogs.  But tonight, I’m feeling very heavy-hearted about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  Seriously, again?  I don’t normally quote myself, but I shared the following on Facebook a few hours ago:

“At the risk of overgeneralizing, I think bell hooks got it right: mass shootings are the product of a patriarchal culture that demands boys stop expressing their feelings openly and honestly. Boys become men who are so full of rage that the only way way they know to find some relief from the pressure (now internalized) is violence. Violence is EVERYWHERE: from our rape culture to our homophobia to our industrialized agriculture to our mass shootings. All of this makes me deeply sad and so frustrated. It's not about guns, people. It's about violence as a way of enforcing our cultural values. Jeff Wilson got it right: we need a new set of values, starting with compassion.”

Jeff Wilson is a professor friend of mine who had posted a sentiment similar to mine.  For some of us who aren’t religious, our belief in the need for tolerance and compassion—for self, for others, for strangers, for our enemies—can come close to religious belief.

My eyes tend to glaze over when people start discussing gun control immediately following a mass shooting.  I believe we aren’t going deep enough when we talk about guns.  We need to get to the heart of what drives a person to such desperation, such frustration that deadly violence is the answer.  I believe that a key insight into these mass shootings is the fact that to my knowledge, they are almost always carried out by males.  That seems highly significant to me.  What is it about our culture that is toxic to boys?  Some shootings (perhaps many!) are the result of mental illness, but even mental illness can be a product of environment.  Until we strike at the root of patriarchal culture, I’m afraid we are destined for more tragedy and grief.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How to Think

Hello, good morning, how are you?  To go along with our recent discussion about freedom, I thought I’d share this wonderful quote from David Foster Wallace, who, I think, knew a thing or two about freedom.

“Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that [this] cliché…is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.  It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from your experience.  Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.” 

(David Foster Wallace, This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life.  Speech delivered at Kenyon College’s commencement ceremony, 2005.  (I found the quote in a little book called All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly.))

It’s powerful stuff: become a shepherd of your own thoughts, knowing that ultimately, you are the most powerful influence on your experience of the world.  I started writing this series about freedom because I was annoyed at a TED talk and wanted to understand why my feathers were all ruffled, but the more I write and think about the topic, the more I want to keep writing about it.  So if it’s okay with you, I think I’ve got at least another pair of blog posts to write, including honesty in relationships and a spiritual practice as a way to find freedom.

Have a beautiful day, dear readers.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Freedoms I Lack

Continuing on our theme of freedom and what it means on a personal level, I present Part Three of the series.  You can find Part One here and Part Two right here.

The Leaves Hang Down

I don’t like to waste a lot of time thinking about how my life would be better if…[I had a boyfriend/I owned some sparkly shoes/I weren’t such an introvert/insert additional wishes here].  What’s the point of cultivating discontent in one’s heart?  Life is happening right here, right now, whether or not you are wearing sparkly shoes!  I think cultivating gratitude is an art and a science: it’s a mindset, a spiritual practice, and the wisdom of taking a walk around your neighborhood and admiring the way the light filters through the tiny leaves.

That being said, perhaps there is also some wisdom in knowing what you’d really love to have or do if you had the freedom.  It gives you something to dream about, perhaps something to work toward.  Here are two of my wishes:

* Enough time off to do some foreign travel.  I’ve said before that I choose to spend my vacations with my family in Michigan, and that’s true.  But I am really looking forward to the first chance I get to visit Italy…or Germany.  Or Syria.  Seriously!  I love Middle Eastern food, and this post made Syria sound amazing.  Some day…

* The privilege of working at home one day a week.  Oh, how I love working at home!  It is so peaceful, and I always get a ton of work done.  My labtime work usually involves a lot of running around and experimental work.  In contrast, when I work at home, I’m analyzing data, making a presentation, reading, or writing.  It’s a really nice change of pace when I can spend most of the day doing deskbound activities.

Are there any items on your “If I had the freedom” list?

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Vegetable Directory

Vegetable Directory

It turns out that in my current, grown-up state, my one true love is vegetables.  Seriously!  They taste good and make me feel good, which are the exact characteristics I’m looking for in a man as well.  Side story: I once had a crazy, crazy crush on this Brazilian guy (which I’ve written about before).  Oh my god, he was so beautiful and everyone thought so, especially the gay guys who used to hit on him in the locker room at the gym.  One time when the Brazilian and I were talking about food, I told him I was a vegetarian, and he responded, “I like vegetables.”  Which is, I think, the best response I’ve ever heard.  It made me laugh—it’s really the perfect thing for a non-vegetarian to say.  I later told Matt this story (truth be told, the Brazilian brought us together), and he said, “I like vegetables.”  Matt knows a good line when he hears one.

Anyway, this week my fridge is bursting with fresh produce, so I made myself a vegetable directory.  I’m such a dork that I can’t hide how excited I am.  Brussels sprouts! kale! yams!  For most of these goodies, I can build a meal around that item.  My meal planning these days has become rather formulaic:

vegetable + protein + carb = dinner

If the vegetable in question is really starchy (like yams), then I count it as my carb and try to add a second vegetable if I can.  My protein options are usually beans or lentils, eggs, cheese or yogurt, or some soysages.  Carbs tend to be bread or rice, though I acknowledge that there are plenty of carbs in the food I’m counting as vegetables or proteins.  I feel like carbs tend to round out the meal and give me some additional calories, which I need.  I like the formula because it’s very easy to build dinner without a recipe and using whatever I have on hand.

So that’s how meal planning works at Chez Rose-Anne!  How do you keep yourself organized and well-fed?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Autumn’s Jewels

My First Pomegranate

On Thursday evening, I bought my first pomegranate.  That night, I learned what all the fuss is about.

Don’t get me wrong: I’d eaten pomegranate seeds before.  They are delicious: sweet, tangy, fresh, and crunchy.  To my palate, they are utterly unique.  But I’d never done the work of excavating my own pomegranate seeds from the fruit, and it turns out that being a fruit archaeologist is utterly delightful work.  It’s messy, too: before I was finished, I’d sprayed both the wall and myself with droplets of dark red juice.  You’d think that I would be smart enough to put on an apron, but nah—I’ll just wear a white t-shirt instead and cover that with juice.

I know others have shared ways to more easily extract the seeds from that webwork of membranes.  I tried gently using a hammer to knock the seeds loose, but that didn’t work.  In the end, my fingers were the best tools (aren’t they usually?), and I let myself sink into the slow task of de-seeding the pomegranate.  At the end, I had a bowl filled with fresh pomegranate seeds and a new feeling of wonder.  Also, I had more than a few pomegranate seeds in my belly—I’m an eat-while-you-work kinda person.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Everyday Freedoms

I’m still over here, contemplating freedom and what it means to me.  Consider this Part Two of another rambling set of posts.  (Part One is right here!)

As all of my regular readers know, I’m a postdoc in biology, and I am lucky enough to have discovered a project that I love and that my advisor has been willing to support.  As far as postdocs go, I am living the dream.  It’s still work, which means it still requires a lot of time, effort, patience, and persistence, but still—I am living the dream.  Now, science postdocs are famous for complaining about how poorly paid they are, and I am here to refute that claim, at least in my case.  How much money a person needs depends on a lot of factors, including where she lives, how many dependents she has, and how much debt she’s carrying.

Money is one of my biggest anxieties, and yet, I live quite comfortably on my postdoc salary.  This month, as I was thinking about Christmas and gifts and whatnot, I realized that I want for nothing.  There is nothing lacking in my life for want of money.  I don’t have a car, but to be honest, I don’t really want a car right now.  I’d like to buy some new glasses, but I’m content to wait until January to make that happen.  I might buy some “grown-up” furniture for my bedroom (which is currently sporting a look I like to call “dorm-room chic”), but I’m happy to roll that into 2013’s big budget items.  For me, budgeting has become such a way of life that it doesn’t feel like deprivation—it’s just me being the planning geek that I am.  And right now, I’m way over budget for travel (damn you, holiday plane tickets!), but I’ll make up for that with contributions over the next few months.  After December, I am not planning to take any big trips until October 2013, so that’s plenty of time to reimburse myself for what is always a spendy time of year.

I’ve been out of graduate school for more than three years now, but to be honest, I have maintained a similar budget to my grad school budget.  Staying (more or less) on that budget has allowed me to save a lot of money, which gives me a certain sense of confidence about an uncertain future.  And that, I think, is a wonderful freedom of the mind.  Who knows what I’ll do next?  I might try my hand at teaching, or science editing, or more writing.  I might find a groovy company doing something really cool and decide to work for them!  In the meantime, I find myself relaxing a bit about money (though I do worry sometimes, like when I have to buy plane tickets for December travel).  It’s nice to feel like I don’t have to pinch pennies any more.  It’s nice to go to Target and feel like I can buy whatever I want.  Like this pretty polka-dotted shirt dress.

Friday Morning Prim and Proper

(The shoes, however, are from Kohl’s.)

It’s that everyday freedom that probably adds the most pleasure to my life.  I worry, of course, that my grant might not get funded, that I’ll be back on the job market sooner than I would have liked.  In the meantime, I’ve grown somewhat lazy about policing my spending.  I toss a bottle of wine into my shopping basket.  I meet with friends for our weekly wine date.  I indulge in a new dress from Target or I comb the racks at Plato’s Closet, just for fun.  Because clothes are fun, and buying secondhand is almost like getting something for free.  I buy big bags of yams and cuties at the grocery store because orange foods make me happy.  I buy a new cookbook because I can’t resist adding just one more to my shelves.

I worried a lot about money in graduate school because I was young, anxious, and naïve.  I wanted my freedom from Mom and Dad, but the cost of that freedom was being financially responsible for myself.  Now, I am grateful for the discipline that was inspired by my grad school anxiety.  Because now I know what my budget can look like during a frugal time, and I know what it looks like when I spend as I please.  And perhaps as much as being able to buy a new dress, guilt-free, at Target is a kind of freedom, I think knowledge is the very best kind of freedom.  Knowledge will set you free.

PS  Interesting in hearing more about my perspective on money?  Check out this post: Survival Strategies, Part Two: On Wallet.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What Does Freedom Mean to Me?

I listened to a TED talk last week, and it made me really angry.  Which is a strange and funny thing, because who gets angry at TED talks?  TED talks are amazing, inspirational, and motivating.  They can make you laugh, make you cry, and make you think.  I’m still reveling in the joy that is Gabrielle Bernstein’s TED talk.  When she said, “Those who are certain of the outcome can afford to wait, and wait without anxiety,” I just wanted to weep with happiness.  YES!  That is the power of a TED talk.

Adam Baker’s TED talk, however, was a different story.  Rather than feeling lifted up and ready to fly, I felt weirdly deflated.  The title of his talk, Sell Your Crap.  Pay Off Your Debt.  Do What You Love, sounded like I should find it riveting.  Who doesn’t love stories about people chasing their dreams?!  His talk was broken up into three parts: 1) birth of daughter, 2) talk with wife about chasing dreams, selling crap, and backpacking for a year through Australia, and 3) rant about American consumerism.  Throughout the talk, he asks the audience, “What does freedom mean to you?”

I tried to ask myself that question.  What does freedom mean me?  To be honest, I’m not sure it’s a question that makes much sense during this season of my life.  I’m finishing a year that has, one could argue, offered me a lot of freedom.  I could have quit my job with good reason.  Matt set me “free” when he broke up with me.  It could have been the perfect time to embrace the upheaval and move to Italy, or Seattle, or anywhere but here.  But I didn’t want that kind of freedom, the kind that untethers you from your life.  Instead, I wanted my life, passionately.  I wanted my work and my man.  So I don’t even know how to think about that question about freedom, when what I wanted were the activities and people to which I had committed.

The part of Mr. Baker’s talk that really annoyed me was #3, his rant about American consumerism.  It’s not that I think he’s wrong.  Yes, Americans work too hard, we have too much debt, and we use consumerism as medicine to soothe our stressed-out minds.  Yes, of course we would be healthier and happier if we got a grip on our spending.  I completely agree.  Mr. Baker goes on to say that we should identify with ourselves and other people based on experiences, not stuff.  And while I agree with that in principle, my truth is a little different.  With regard to debt and work, I’m in a good place.  I have no debt (thanks, Mom and Dad, for paying for my college education!).  I have a job that I enjoy and a career that I am building.  Scientifically, it’s a very exciting time for me as I nurture my project into maturity.

You might recall that I’ve been living in a state of uncertainty, jobwise, for a year and a half.  The reason behind this is that my project does not have its own funding—my boss has been supporting me and my project using other money, and we’ve been working together to secure new funding (which is what all this grant-writing business is about).  A year and a half ago, I took a calculated risk and decided to stay in this job.  I made the decision based on two things: 1) science-wise, I felt confident that I was onto something, that I was on the cusp of discovering something new and cool and 2) I liked my life in Texas.  It turns out I was right: I had found something new and project-worthy.  But it was the rest of my life that gave me the fortitude to stick with a difficult work situation: my comfortable apartment, my friends, my family, Matt, my running/biking/yoga.  It was my other commitments that sustained me during a hard summer.  In November of last year, I had to make that decision again when my boss told me we needed to secure external funding for my project: do I stick with this thing I’ve started, or do I leave for something that feels safer?  I chose to stick with it because again, I felt like I was onto something.  I decided that I’m going to run with this project as far as I can.  Is that freedom?  Likewise, I feel bound by loyalty and love to Matt.  The conventional advice is that after a break-up, you should avoid contact with that person in order to let yourself heal.  I admit, there is a certain wisdom to that advice.  But Matt and I never had a conventional relationship, and my healing seems to have more to do with shifting my perspective than it does with whether or not he and I communicate.  Matt is a part of me, because being with him has changed me.  I could no more cut off my own arm and expect to feel whole than I could cut him out of my life and expect to feel healthy.  With Matt, I have to accept the blossom and the wilt.

Freedom to me is the choice between commitment and walking away.  I chose to stay.

PS  I started writing this post with an end in mind, but I have taken the writer’s path in a different direction.  Next up: another kind of freedom, this time one that is much more mundane yet still meaningful.  Happy Monday, all!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I’m Ready to be a Grandma

Childhood was hard for me, and now I know why: it’s because I’m an old person at heart.  I always have been.  I’m not sure many adjectives that describe young people have ever described me: I’m more cozy than sexy, more quiet than exciting, more homebodied than adventurous, more hot chocolate than shots of tequila.  It’s just not in my nature to command people’s attention with my smashing good looks, my wild behavior, or my shocking decisions.
Instead, I’m like a grandma trapped in a young person’s body.  I found this terrific post at Yes and Yes and decided to steal it for myself.  The comments made me laugh and laugh; you should check it out!  Here are some of the ways I’m ready to be a grandma:
* I love going to bed early.  If I can be in bed by 10 PM—heavenly!  And on nights that I stay up way past my bedtime, I feel sad that I missed my chance to go to bed early.
* I would rather be in my kitchen, baking cookies, than out drinking.
* I am more excited about having a comfortable, beautiful home than I am about traveling the world.
* I’m already hard of hearing.  What did you say?  Speak up!
* I’m also extremely nearsighted.  Where are you?  Come closer, I can’t see you.
* I like old-fashioned means of communication.  I send people cards on their birthdays and prefer phone calls to texting.  I see e-mail as a form of letter-writing and enjoy including greetings and closings.
* I think in most situations, people should try really hard to be kind.  I’m sort of offended by people who think that kindness is overrated.
* I’m always eating high-fiber breakfasts.
* I was a bit scandalized by some dude who was wearing a t-shirt that said, “I love boobies.”  Yeah, I bet you do.  The feminist in me wanted to fight back by wearing a t-shirt that objectified male anatomy, but then I thought, Nah.  That is not a fight you win by fighting fire with fire.
And then there are all of my grandma-like sartorial choices:
* I’ve started wearing an apron!  We can thank my mom for this one.  Here I am, last night, in my “women in science rule!” apron.
Saturday Night Apron-Clad 
Also, check out the wild-eyed paleontologist.  This is kinda what I look like every day at work, except I’m not holding a bone.
Crazy Scientistas
* I prefer flats to heels.
* I like soft materials, all the better in which to hug and be hugged!
* I prefer cardigans to blazers, though I must say that my green “blazer” made of sweatshirt material is really, really great.  So soft!
* As the undergrads wear shorter and shorter things, my skirts keep getting longer.  Soon I might feel scandalized if you can see my knees!  (Actually, it’s not really about modesty so much as I’m enjoying the look and feel of longer skirts and dresses.)
That seems like a pretty good list to me.  How about you?  Do you feel younger or older than your real age?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Unsolicited Advice

The best rebellion

A few words of wisdom from a person who never got a tattoo, shaved her head, dated a bad boy, announced she was majoring in art, dropped out of school, or did anything remotely rebellious.  But I think there lives inside each of us a kernel of rebellion, and this is what I did with mine: I followed my mind and heart.

Focus on what you love, and trust the process.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thursday Up/Down, Finally


Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens, Galveston, TX.  (2011)

I have missed writing the occasional Thursday Up/Down post, so this week I’m bringing it back!  Of course, today is Friday, so I’m a day late.  But I jotted down the inspiration for today’s post yesterday (with a few add-ins today), so we can say this post was hatched on a Thursday.  Yesterday was a really nice day.

On the Up side of things we have:

* Crisp fall weather and a glorious morning bike ride.  (Well, one crisp fall morning.  This morning we were back to balmy November weather.)

* My grant-writing is going well.  This one has been pretty exhausting, but my fingers are crossed that the hardest revisions/rewrites are behind me.

* Speaking of grant-writing, I spent a delightful hour at the wine bar, drinking a very interesting Merlot and editing my grant.  And friends, let me tell you: my grant sounded awesome.  This is the protocol I will now follow every time I need to edit for content.

* After an hour of editing, friends joined me and we had an evening of wine and gourmet food-truck food.  Delicious!

* Oranges are coming into season.  I bought a big bag of cuties and have been eating them all week.

* Buying presents for other people.  When it comes to gifts, I’m equal opportunity: I like to give and receive.  The holiday season is always a time of brainstorming for gift ideas and enjoying the generosity.

*Gabrielle Bernstein’s TED talk.  This talk was fabulous and exactly what I needed to hear this week.  You all know that 2012 has been a hard year for me—I won’t reiterate that here.  Listening to Gabrielle talk about letting go and forgiveness made me realize that it’s time to begin letting go of 2012.  I have spent much of the year dwelling in the past and worrying about the future, and I’m ready to let all that go.  Out with the sadness, in with the joy!

* And finally, I have nothing for the Down side of things!  Happy weekend, all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

so u want 2 txt me?

I hate texting.

There, I said it.  Let me say it again, for good measure: I HATE TEXTING!

My friends everywhere are probably booing and hissing at this, unless I’ve already told them about my intense dislike for texting.  Perhaps you are also booing and hissing?  I know, I know: I’m probably in the minority here.  But let me explain.

I see texting as extremely functional but lacking in civility or politeness.  Or at least that seems to be the case with the texts that I receive.  Texting is useful for quick bites of information: “Be there in 10 minutes.”  “Brunch at 11?”  “What’s your address?”  Texting can be efficient, and I recognize its utility.  But what texting fails to do for me is to foster a sense of connection.  Here’s why.

* People rarely use greetings in a text.  I wish they would say hello.  Instead, it’s usually straight to business, which speaks to my point above about quick bites of info.

* People whom I barely know assume texting is okay.  IT IS NOT OKAY.  If I’ve called you once, do not be so sure that I’ve stored you in my address book and thus know if it’s you who has texted me.  When I get a text from an unfamiliar number that says, “At HEB.  Need anything?” I assume it was sent to the wrong number.  Because who texts me from the grocery store?  Nobody, that’s who.

* People use texting to ask me out or even to ask for sex.  I know that the medium is not the message, but seriously: if we barely know each other, texting is not the way to my heart.  Texting is the coward’s way of asking.  I feel really strongly about this issue.  If someone is going to ask me out, I prefer that they do it in real time, either in person or over the phone.  I think that conversations in real time facilitate intimacy and honesty—I like the dance of words and feelings that flutter back and forth in a delicate or racy conversation.  Compared to how rich the exchange can feel in real time, texting just falls flat.

But here I’ll admit that e-mail can also be a great medium for intimate conversations.  I think I still prefer to be asked out in real time, but at least e-mail is conducive to long letters.  And you know me: I’m anything but concise most of the time.  It’s part of my charm, right?  Also, I love romantic letters.

* Most texts are not written in plain English.  They use all these cloying abbreviations, like “u” for “you.”  I hate that.  I probably do it sometimes, but still, I hate it.

* People use texting as a way to avoid having conversations in real time.  I think this relates to my point above about dating, but it also applies to friends.  I think we should ask ourselves why we’re comfortable texting but not making a telephone call.  What’s the relationship you are fostering by texting instead of calling?  If you’re sending these texts to me, the message I’m getting is that you don’t want to talk to me.  In which case, I start to wonder if we’re really friends.

To be fair, and perhaps to end on a more positive note, I’ll say it again: texting has its utility.  My sister-in-law, who has two little kids, has an easier time sending a text than finding the quiet to make a phone call.  I get that.  Texting is very, very useful in loud places or anywhere you simply can’t make a phone call.  And my niece has recently discovered texting with a passion and sends me the most adorable texts with long strings of “xoxoxoxoxo.”  It is too cute.

You should know, if you send me texts and I send you a text back, it is a nod to how much I like you.  I think as a medium of communication, I will never love texting the way I love e-mail, phone calls, or an in-person conversation.  But I tolerate it, and I refuse to answer texts as I see fit.   

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Best Dating Advice You’ll Ever Hear?

From an informal survey (N = 2)*, it seems that I may be in the minority when I say that every guy I’ve dated has been a good person.  My first love A, the sweetly dorky K, and Matt—they all treated me with kindness and respect.  I feel lucky to have had such good experiences with men.  I think it may be true that a lot of women have had too many bad experiences, and that makes me sad.  Now, don’t get me wrong: I have had a few dates with duds, mostly men who creeped me out because they slipped past my creep radar.  But once I’ve labeled a guy “creep,” it’s hard for him to win my favor again.  I just…can’t.

Which brings me to my question: how does a woman find and identify men who are worth dating?  I recently gave up on the on-line dating scene, at least for now.  It just seemed like a waste of time, though I did make a new friend right before I quit.  The reason that on-line dating is unlikely to work for me is that I feel too much pressure to decide, right away, how I feel about someone.  My heart doesn’t work like that, and I just have to accept the truth.  I’m slow to warm up to a new person; I need time to get to know them outside of the context of dating.  Men who are willing to be my friend for a while, men who are willing to engage in some emotional intimacy without the promise of sex—these are the men who will win my trust.  I think trust is essential for physical intimacy.

My secret to dating only good men is to be very, very patient and to be satisfied being alone.  I am far too lazy to date someone for the sake of dating.  My new standard for what counts as a good date is to ask myself, Would I rather be here with this man or at home, reading a book?  When I realized that dating Matt is like dating a library, it all made sense.  I love the library.  I will always be attracted to people who can teach me things.

I’d like to share another quote from Breaking Apart by Wendy Swallow.  This one is about dating, and it’s worth remembering.

  “[Jamie and I have] been best friends since eighth grade, but never a couple, never in love with each other.  I tell him about my worst dates, the dance, then about my list.  I ask if he thinks it’s crazy to have such a list, if he thinks it’s my standards that are making it so hard to find someone I like.

‘I’ve dated so many people I’ve gotten it down to a system by now,’ he says.  ‘There are five questions that seem to matter, and I can tell by how they answer them if I want to go out with them again.  First, do they like their parents?  Second, do they like their job?  Third, have they had their heart broken?  Fourth, do they have friends?  And last, do they believe they will have to work at a relationship?  If they can say yes to all of those, then I’m going to be more interested.’”

What do you think?  I may be biased here, because that’s a test I would pass with flying colors.  Though I do think most people’s relationships with their parents are more complicated than a simple “like” conveys…

* Har har!  I love a good data joke.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Into the Calm

Birthday Outfit

Turtle Lamp

Thanksgiving Cookies

Today I turned 31.

And you know what?  It was just fine.  Even though there is only one peanut butter bar left, which means I’ll have to bake more tomorrow.  This birthday, which I was anticipating with so much dread, turned out to be a sweetly calm day of grant-revising, light shopping, a pasta dinner (with soysage! and leftover pasta made by a friend! and a delightful salad of shaved fennel and orange slices!), and after-dinner coffee with two friends.  There were dozens (dozens!) of Facebook messages, a few phone calls, some groovy birthday gifts, a walk and a bike ride in the sunshine, and dare I say it?  Contentment.  I was content today.

I had been dreading today because I thought it would send me into a mope spiral over how terrible #30 turned out to be.  In case you’ve forgotten, let me recap the last year of my life for you: two grants rejected, the end of a cherished romance, and the death of one brother.  Despite all that, I think I have maintained my sense of self, and at the center of that is hope.  I am not my losses.  I am what remains when those losses have been turned into something more permanent: compassion, knowledge, wisdom, flexibility.  I will not look back on this year fondly, but I will carry inside of me the hard-won prizes from a year that threatened to take everything away from me.  And I mean everything.

Maybe some day I will contradict myself and look back on #30 with something like sweet sadness for all the pain that it brought.  It brought good things, too, but right now I feel too raw to make myself sift through the year for those gems.  I just want to quietly slide into a new year of my life and hope that it will be better than the last.  I keep thinking of that Counting Crows’ song “A Long December” and the opening lines:

A long December and there’s reason to believe

Maybe this year will be better than the last.

Indeed.  Maybe this year will be better than the last.  I have to at least believe it’s a possibility.  Right now, perched on the edge of #31, it is.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pre-Thanksgiving Plotting

Thanksgiving Prep

Making Lists

Like much of America, I’m busy plotting for Thanksgiving.  This week, it’s all about Thursday, the eating and lazing about and merrymaking.  But before that, it’s all about the cooking.

I’m having Thanksgiving lunch with three friends of mine, and I think the number of dishes we’re making outnumbers us by at least 3:1.  For my part, I’m making these peanut butter bars.  They aren’t very Thanksgiving in theme, but they do remind me of my family, whom I will not see for another month.  I’m also making a smoky pumpkin quiche, and here’s where the story gets crazy.  Perfectionist that I am (sometimes), I am consulting three different texts to put together a savory pumpkin quiche.  You might recall I made a quiche two years ago for Thanksgiving, and I think it’s a great vegetarian option.  This year, I’m going to riff on that recipe, but the filling will combine caramelized onions and some savory, Frenchy seasonings with a rich custard made with pumpkin puree.  The pumpkin is inspired by an old Vegetarian Times recipe.  For the crust, I’m using Melissa Clark’s Perfect Pie Crust from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, and all I have to say is, Wow!  That’s a lot of butter for one pie crust.  Ten tablespoons for a single nine-inch pie crust is impressive.

This week, in the spirit of the holiday, I am reminding myself that despite what has been a legitimately terrible year, I still have much for which to be grateful.  Family and friends with whom to share my holidays, a healthy body, a well-nurtured mind, a bike, some running shoes, money in the bank, two blogs, kind readers, a collection of thoughtfully curated kitchen gear, and the inner strength that comes from surviving the year from hell.  I’ve been feeling a lot of sadness in the weeks leading up to this one, with Thanksgiving on Thursday and my 31st birthday on Saturday.  But I think maybe, just maybe, the sadness is starting to give way to something more like a quiet contentment.  It’s been a year of lessons and gifts, as Colleen Patrick-Goudreau might say.  Lessons in love and letting go, gifts of compassion and gentleness.  I won’t say that I’m grateful for 2012 (because it sucked), but I am grateful that I’m here, and so are you.

Happy Thanksgiving, my dears.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Kitchen Must-Haves? Part Three

You can find Part One here and Part Two here.

 Busy Making Cake

Onto the final nine items on the list!  I find this part particularly fun because it includes the baking items.  A sweet tooth has to be well-equipped for making homemade goodies.  As usual, items I own are in bold.

17)  Kitchen tongs.  Yes!  Tongs are so useful that once you buy a pair, you won’t know how you lived without them.  I’ve been known to give kitchen tongs as a gift, too—it’s one of those small touches that makes kitchen life easier and more fun.

18)  Cutting-edge peeler.  Hmm.  This one is interesting: a peeler with a ring band that fits in the palm of your hand.  I can see the utility in this one.

19)  Hand-held juice press.  Oh, I think this is so pretty!  I have a countertop juice press—just a simple plastic number—but I really like these hand-held presses.  Is it excessive to own two juice presses?  Because I’m tempted to add this one to my wish list.

20)  Salad spinner.  I really should own one of these.  I have bought one as a present, but my current method for drying greens is kitchen towels, which is tedious and not nearly as fun as a salad spinner.

21)  Old-school hand mixer.  Yes!  Years ago, a friend of mine from grad school kindly donated her old hand mixer to me.  To be honest, I don’t use it that much because I don’t do a lot of fancy baking that involves whipping cream or beating egg whites.  Still, it’s nice to have around on the rare occasions when I do need a mixer besides my forearms.

22)  Stainless steel mixing bowls.  I have just one, a huge one, that you can see in the photo up there.  I think it’s good to have at least one stainless steel bowl for beating egg whites and general mixing purposes.  It also makes a great salad bowl when I’m making a huge salad to feed a crowd.

23)  Kitchen scale.  I wouldn’t mind having a kitchen scale, especially since I’m in love with rachel eats, and since Rachel is English, she’s always using metric units in her recipes.

24)  Silicone baking mat.  Yes, this one is nice to have around.  It’s not essential because parchment paper does the same thing, but I love the look of cookies baking on a Silpat.

25)  Commercial rimmed baking sheets.  Yes!  This is another one that I never realized I couldn’t live without until I owned one.  My kitchen fairy bought me one of these years ago, and I absolutely love cooking and baking with it.  I passed on the love by buying several for my sister-in-law’s kitchen, and I think the sheets get a lot of love over there too.  (Mine are Wearever baking sheets from Target.  This pan from Amazon looks identical to mine, if you are curious.)

PS  I hope you don’t think I posted this series of Kitchen Must-Haves so I could get all link-happy on you.  I am genuinely curious about what gear people consider essential in their kitchens and found it fun to think about my own kitchen in the same light.  I am sort of obsessed with reading people’s lists for pantry staples, kitchen supplies, favorite tools, and whatnot.  You can rest assured that I received exactly zero dollars in compensation for this post!  I do it all for the love…and the cookies.

Speaking of…


It’s almost time for holiday baking: Raspberry Chocolate Thumbprints

Easy-peasy, vegan, and so yummy.

Happy baking!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Kitchen Must-Haves? Part Two

You can find Part One here.

 Making Green Goddess Dressing

Onto the next eight items!  Items I own are bolded, and you can see that I own exactly one item on this part of the list.  I must cook on stones over an open fire or this is more of a foodie wish list than a set of essentials.  What do you think?

9)  Flexible knife block.  This is a neat idea: a knife “box” filled with slender rods rather than fixed cut positions in a block.  As the article suggests, it’s good for mix-and-match knife collections, which certainly describes mine.  But I have a wooden knife block that works for me.

10)  Ceramic chef’s knife.  This one actually frightens me.  Years ago, Matt was given a ceramic knife as a gift, and while washing it, he dropped it and chipped it badly.  Matt is way less klutzy than I am, so I can only imagine what sort of bodily damage I would do to myself with a ceramic knife.  I’ll pass on this one.

11)  High-powered blender.  Think Vitamix here.  While I know there are people out there who would rescue their Vitamix if the house was on fire, I just don’t need a high-powered blender.  My mother gave me her blender, and I still love and use it frequently.  It was a wedding present, and it’s been going strong for 42 years.  Isn’t that awesome?

I think the Vitamix is great for people who make their own nut butters and flours and for people like my brother who make shakes daily using a pound of frozen fruit.  Maybe some day I’ll buy one too, but right now it never even crosses my mind as something I want. 

12)  Food processor.  YES!  I use my food processor frequently, for sauces, pie dough, and cookie dough truffles.

13)  Electric grinder.  This one’s for spices.  I have the old-school tools for grinding spices: mortar and pestle.  I can definitely see the utility of having an electric spice grinder, though.  This one might go on my wish list…

14)  Immersion blender.  Meh.  I can certainly understand the appeal of an immersion blender, but I’m beginning to think I’m a bit averse to more stuff in my kitchen.  Since I already have a traditional, upright blender, I’ve never really felt drawn to buy a second blender.

15)  Zester/grater—more specifically, a Microplane.  Oh, I really want one of these.  This one is definitely going on my wish list for Christmas.  To make matters even more dire, the “fine grate” side of my box grater doesn’t even work any more, so I’ve started “grating” my citrus zest with a knife.  It’s tedious work, but sometimes I find it weirdly pleasurable in that meticulous kind of way.

16)  Mini colander.  Sure, I own a mini colander.  It’s called my hands.  Actually, I can totally see the utility of this one and daydream of visiting Target’s kitchen section to pick out a new colander or two.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Kitchen Must-Haves? Part One

Stuffed Peppers

It’s always better late than never around here, right?  Well, I hope so. Vegetarian Times ran a great feature article in their November 2012 issue about cooks and their tools called “Smart Kitchen Essentials: VT’s 25 Favorite Tools for Cooks.”  I thought it would be fun to take a look at their list and offer my own commentary on whether those items had become essentials in my kitchen.  Care to play along at home?  Feel free to leave comments about what you love when you’re in charge of dinner.

I’m going to break this list into three posts so that I feel like I have plenty of space to chat.  Me, concise?  Only when forced into a page limit by a grant application*.

Items in bold are things that I actually own.

1)  Ceramic baking dish.  I love that beautiful red gratin dish you see up there in the photo.  I feel like I don’t use it enough—I tend to choose soup over casseroles when I do big-batch cooking—but every time I bake something in it, I feel all warm and fuzzy and perfectly domestic.

2)  Bamboo steamer.  I don’t steam things very often, hence I do not own a steamer.  Anyone have a bamboo steamer?  Your thoughts?

3)  Pressure cooker.  I cook things low and slow, hence no pressure cooker.  I can see its utility, though, especially for cooking beans.

4)  Dutch oven.  Oh, yeah.  My Dutch oven (a 5.5-quart round one from Le Creuset) sees almost daily use in my kitchen.  Of all my pots and pans, this is probably the one that gets the most action.

5)  Cast-iron skillet.  Mmm-hmm.  I waited far too long to add a cast-iron skillet to my kitchen gear, but now that I’ve got one, there is no going back.  I use my skillet for browning onions and making frittatas and deep-dish pizza.  Cast iron feels solid and sturdy to me, and I like to believe those characteristics are magically transferred to the cook and those she feeds.

6)  Knife sharpener.  I feel guilty any time someone brings up the topic of knife sharpeners because my knives need to be sharpened.  I’ve had them for almost five years, and they haven’t received any care to keep them honed and sharpened.  Ugh, one of these days…

7)  Kitchen shears.  Yes, of course.  Kitchen shears are super useful and handy to have around.

8)  Picnic-friendly paring knife.  I have a paring knife, but not one that is cleverly designed to travel to picnics.  When I picnic, I tend to prep everything before leaving the house.  What say you, readers?  Is a picnic-friendly knife useful in your life?

I’ll be back tomorrow with the next eight suggestions.  Until then!

* And just barely then, too.  I feel bad for my editor/advisor.  But he seems to take my verbosity in stride.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

You Know You Think about Food Too Much When…

…you have a dream about a broken bottle of bourbon extract.  Yes, indeed, bourbon extract.  Does such a thing even exist?  (Let me Google that for you: the answer is yes.)

I don’t know how the bottle of bourbon extract broke, but I do remember thinking that I could save the remainder by funneling it into a different bottle.  Also, this dream apparently took place in one of the discount stores in which I spent much of my youth.  (Family Dollar, anyone?)  To make things even more bizarre, Matt made a cameo, and together we decided that there is no point in using bourbon extract when you can just use real bourbon!  I do love a Southern man with opinions about bourbon.

Real bourbon indeed.  Isn’t egg nog season almost upon us?  I think I may need to make a new entry into my teeny-tiny liquor cabinet.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Where are the firecrackers?

Hello.  I must confess, I’m not really myself this week.  I am up to my armpits in grant-writing, trying to wrangle a herd of ideas into a nicely written corral of specific aims by Friday.  The writing is going okay, I think.  I’m not feeling quite as Whee! as I did when I was writing this grant the first time, in the early months of this year.  The revision process has been a lot more work than I was anticipating, and that truth has been hard for me to swallow.  I also feel pulled in about five different directions at any given moment, so finding the discipline to just effing FOCUS has been hard.  I’m kind of a spaz most of the time, though I do have my laserlike moments.

The strategy I’ve been using to force myself to write is the two-hour rule.  Just try to write for two hours.  Two hours!  It’s a pretty nice length of time, I think, long enough for a nap, or to cook a good dinner, or to make love.  Two hours is long enough for my jumpy nerves to calm down and just effing focus.  When I think about trying to get the whole grant written and revised, I want to use those two hours to take a nap.  But when I think about writing for two hours, without expecting to finish anything, somehow I can do it.

And then I have moments like today where I can almost feel that magic hum of a good writing session.  I was writing a brand-new aim, so I had opened up a fresh document in Microsoft Word, and I was doing that thing where I’m alternately holding my head, feeling the despair of no words, and grasping at little eureka moments: “Oh, that’s what I should say here!”  I was walking the tightrope between doom and delight.  But slowly, with the blessing of that two-hour promise I made myself, things started to coalesce.  I was finally able to articulate ideas that I had percolated weeks earlier, and oh hey, look at that—I’m even able to refer to an idea that we’re going to bring up in the next aim of the grant!  Oh, snap!  (But note to self: you need to go back and edit that part.)

Writers have a tendency to be a bit melodramatic about their writing and writing process.  For me, the battle is always showing up.  For everything in my life, the battle is showing up.  I’m not trying to pat myself on the back and call myself brilliant, but I can be certain that if I rise to the writing challenge with enough time, patience, and energy to write, then I know that whatever I have written that day, week, or month is the best I can do.  And I think that should be enough.  We should accept our best for what it is: honest work.  Maybe I’m biased because I’m in science and so much of our work is just keeping the nose to the grindstone (or, as Matt likes to say, getting behind the mule), but I do believe that most of writing is not magic.  It’s discipline.

And yet, I have my magic moments too.  They happen with blogging and with scholarly writing, those shimmering minutes when the writing feels effortless, the ideas are flying, and you are fire.  I love it when something vague crystallizes into a sentence so clearly I can practically hear the clink of wine glasses, toasting me for my brilliance.  I write as much because I have to write—whether I like it or not!—as I do for those moments when it all comes together.  In those moments, I don’t even feel like myself, a unique body-mind package.  Instead, I’m part of the words and the ideas spilling out onto the page.  I am one with the writing.  Laugh if you want—the religious mystics will know what I mean.  The call to write, even if you think your writing sucks and you are the worst writer to ever herd words, is as much a spiritual quest as any divine calling.  To write is to capture the Universe in words and to share it with the rest of us.

This is why, even if I’m frustrated, overwhelmed, or just exhausted by my writing task, I am still grateful for the task itself.  Because I do believe that writing is magic.  Not that my writing in particular is magic, but that the process of writing is something to revere.  It’s sort of unfortunate that even when I feel like I’m flying on the page, there is no shooting star above my head, no fireworks announcing my epiphanies.  It’s just me and my little laptop, click-click-clicking away.  Where are the fireworks, I ask you!  They’re all in my head.

* * *
Yes, I know I promised another installment of my sad story, but like I said, I’m up to my armpits in grant-writing.  I’ve gotta get this deadline behind me, but I promise, I’ll come back to the story of October 7 and the days that followed it.

Friday, November 9, 2012

October 7

I feel obliged to issue a disclaimer here: this post is a very sad and personal one for me.  Some readers may find it disturbing.  I have thought long and hard about whether to share it, and in the end, I think it’s a story that should be told.  It is my story, my family’s story.  It is a story of pain and loss.  It is a story about suicide.  I have chosen to include details in this story because I can’t live in silence any more. 

* * *

On October 7, 2012, in the late afternoon, or maybe the early evening with its fading golden light, my brother Scott hung himself in the garage.  The garage was his sanctuary and workspace, the place where he had spent so many hours fixing cars, smoking cigarettes, watching television, and hanging out.  He was 34 years old.  I had known him my whole life, and without warning, he was gone.  Without warning, my family’s life changed forever.

Am I lying when I say it was without warning?  I might be lying.  There were signs.  But the truth is that it is possible to be shocked by something without being surprised.  That’s what Matt told me, anyway, among other things that I don’t remember.  He was the first person I called after I got the terrible news from my sister, and maybe it seems strange that I would call him, of all people.  Matt knew the sad, complicated story of my relationship with Scott, and I needed to talk to someone who was not family (even though he kinda is family, in the way that friends and loved ones can become a chosen family of sorts).  Matt, my favorite wise man, my melancholy Matt—I don’t remember much of what he said the day after Scott’s death.  I do remember sitting on a wooden bench outside of my work building, crying and blubbering into the phone, beginning to unleash a deluge of tears.  The next day, I made the long trip from Texas to Michigan to be with my family during what would become the most surreal of my visits to the Mitten.

Scott had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2009, I believe.  I remember talking about it with my therapist (and how fortunate that I had a therapist that year!), who kindly photocopied information about bipolar.  As soon as I heard the diagnosis, I knew that it was accurate.  It explained so much.  It explained everything: why Scott had had such a hard time during his childhood and his teenage years—the years when we were living together and my younger brother and I were the victims of Scott’s endless cruelty.  I remember wondering, Why is Scott so mean to me?  It went way beyond brotherly teasing.  It didn’t make sense, the way his need to insult and harass was never satiated.  I was 16 when he finally moved out, and my life was immeasurably better without him around.  Is it disrespectful to say such a thing about your dead brother?  Maybe.  But it’s true.  All I wanted was to be left alone.  It was a tremendous relief when he left.

I was 27 when I learned that Scott had bipolar disorder, and suddenly, there was light and clarity, at least for me.  I realized—or I reasoned—that Scott’s cruelty was not about me.  It was the disorder, beginning to manifest itself.  His brain chemistry was going off the rails, and he was a victim of his own body.  His lashing out may have been the only thing he felt he could do.  If he couldn’t dominate and control his moods, at least he could dominate his younger, weaker siblings.

After Scott moved out of my parents’ home and I went away to college, he and I forged an uneasy truce.  Once I had the freedom to be left alone, it was a little easier to be in the same space with him.  And truly, I didn’t wish bad things for him.  It was never my intention that he somehow be “punished” for all that he had done wrong.  Who among us hasn’t made mistakes, said hurtful things, inflicted pain on others?  I knew I was capable of doing terrible things, just as Scott was.  And I knew the gratitude that I felt when people forgave me for my wrongdoings, so in my heart, I think I wanted to extend him the same generosity.  But we never spoke of the bad things that happened when we were growing up—we rested lightly on our truce.  I know that some of the last words I said to him were, “I love you.”  And they were true. 

I uttered those words during my last visit home, in June.  Those long summer days would be the last time that I would see Scott alive.  There had been signs that something was different with Scott.  He seemed unusually slow in his movements, and his mood was low.  He moved through the house like a shadow, silently willing us to ignore him while he poured himself more coffee or made himself a peanut butter and honey sandwich.  He skipped family meals, preferring the solitude of the garage or the darkness of his bedroom.  He ignored our little nephew Devin, who adored Uncle Scott.  I distinctly remember starting to freak out about the possibility of suicide, wondering if he might not wake up from his nap.  I felt powerless.  How do you keep someone alive who doesn’t want to live?

The risk of suicide is perhaps one of the scariest and saddest parts of bipolar disorder.  People with bipolar disorder are 10-20 times more likely to commit suicide, and one out of three of them attempt suicide.  One in three.  I think Scott had the odds stacked against him for a very long time.  He was just dealt a crappy hand in the poker game of life, and what could he do?  What could we do?

That question looms large for those of us in his immediate family.  We all had a different relationship with Scott and thus a different relationship with his disorder.  There’s a lot of regret, a lot of If onlys…there are conversations that I wish I’d been brave enough to have with Scott.  But I’m not a particularly brave person, and I stuck to taking care of myself and not pushing the envelope with him or with my family.  When he died, it was like the floodgates opened and we all started crying and talking and trying to make sense of this person, our Scott, who had been so hard to love and yet so loving in his own way.

This post is getting very long, and I have more to say, so I’ll end here by saying stay tuned for another installment…and thank you for reading.

October 7 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

For Safekeeping

It’s been such an exciting week around here, between the elections and my day job.  I’m feeling so upbeat about the latter these days, which is good because I have a lot of work to do this month on a grant that needs to be resubmitted.  Today I wanted to follow up on a few things from my post earlier this week on voting in Texas.

First, I found my voter registration card!  Unfortunately, I think I was far from being the only person confused about polling places on Tuesday—I met another person in line who had gone to the wrong place to vote, and through the grapevine I heard there was generally a lot of scrambling around as people tried to make it to the polls on time.  For me, this underlines my point on Tuesday: Texas needs to do a better job with informing people about polling places.  Why not include that information on the voter registration cards?  I think that’s what the state of Illinois did, and it was always a helpful reminder so that I knew where to go.  Or Texas could at least remind its voters to verify polling locations by visiting the Secretary of State’s website.

While I was waiting in line for the second time on Tuesday, a friendly stranger recommended as a useful website for all things voting-related in Brazos County.  I wanted to mention it here as a reminder to myself and any other College Station residents who may be confused about where to find information about voting in Brazos County.  I know that politics can be very confusing and frightening if you’re unfamiliar with the protocols, so a good website is worth its metaphorical weight in gold.

In other election news, I loved Kate’s post from Tuesday.  Birds of a feather, man.  In this case, we flock together on the internet, chirping at each other about sustainability and green living, civil liberties and the injustice of war.  Politically, I’m a cross between a Democrat and a Libertarian.  I find Obama to be a reasonable choice for President, though I wish he were more radical on environmental/energy issues.  I am in favor of a government that invests in science and technology.  The history of science tells us that discovery and innovation do not happen without some failures mixed in with the success stories.  Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is lying!  In addition, there is a lot of evidence that the funding source for a particular study can have a huge impact on the results of the study.  That, to me, is one of the main reasons why it is so beneficial to have a non-profit research sector.  (This study, about the efficacy of smoking cessation products, is a great example of funding bias.  You can read the article’s Summary Points to get the gist of the study.)

Goodness, I’ve become so political in my old age.  Thank you for indulging me!  I hope it’s been a good week for you too, dear reader.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Voting Idiot?

I’m going to try to make this quick, because it’s Election Day.  For heaven’s sakes, if you haven’t voted yet, get off your duff and GO!  Assuming you are registered, that is.

I am a voting idiot.  Or I think I might be.  This morning, I tried to vote on campus, at the same location where I voted in 2010, only to be turned away because my voting location is elsewhere in town.  I was pretty pissed about this because apparently, anyone could do early voting on campus, but Election Dating voting has to be done at specific locations.  Why didn’t I know this?!?  Why am I such an idiot?!?

The probable reason that my voting location has changed is the 2010 census.  Okay, fair enough.  But this year, I have experienced several odd things preceding the election.  First, I don’t think I ever received a voter registration card.  Second, with at least one of my on-line attempts to verify my voter registration, my record could not be found.  (I was able to find it using a different site, one that was specific for the state of Texas, I believe.)  It frustrates me, though, that the polling locations were so poorly advertised that when I headed to the polls, I literally had NO IDEA I was in the wrong place.  And to be honest, before today, I would not have known how to find out where I should go to vote.  I don’t generally consider myself an idiot, but I’m feeling pretty idiotic today.

The good news, however, is threefold:

1)  I am indeed registered to vote.  Hurray!

2)  I know where to go today, it’s on my way home, and the polls are open until 7 PM, which makes my workday easier.

3)  Today, Google has a groovy algorithm to show you where to go to vote.  I wish I’d seen it this morning, but eh—better to find it today while the polls are still open:

Find your voting location and hours.

I can verify that Google’s instructions match what I was told this morning by election officials, so fist bumps all around for that!

Happy voting, American readers!  Have you voted yet?

(And next time around, I will be more diligent about finding my polling location.  I prefer to learn things the hard way, of course.  Because I am an idiot.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Better Living Through Shopping

Fresh Raspberries in Wrapsack

“If you hate cooking, don’t do it.  You can certainly eat well enough just by learning how to shop. You can buy food that you don’t need to cook—picnic food, cold food, things to heat up.  Of course, trimmed vegetables and packaged salads are pandering to laziness and inviting extravagance on a ludicrous scale, but be grateful for them.  If they taste good, don’t worry about it.  No one has to be made miserable over cooking.”  Nigella Lawson, How to Eat

I don’t hate cooking, but I do seem to be in the habit of basically “cooking” my Saturday lunch by shopping well in the morning.  Good bread, good cheese, a pear, a vegetable, some homemade cookies, and I am a very happy camper.  Picnic food indeed.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Roving Kitchen Library

Roving Kitchen Library

The month of October really through me threw a loop, and it’s taken me some time to settle back into my kitchen routines.  The other day, I realized that I have unintentionally stashed inspiration in every corner of my apartment.  I have stacks of food and cooking magazines on the coffee table and the desk.  Cookbooks and magazines get left on the kitchen table and even the floor of my study.

Apparently I have a roving kitchen library.  It’s amusing to me, the way that my cooking life wanders around with me.  We’ve all got our own unique brand of clutter, and mine is the kind that tempts me back into the kitchen with new recipes.  It’s an unfortunate fact of my life that I always seem to have more ideas—for food, for blog posts, for travel, for everything—than I have time.  At least I’m never bored!  Tired maybe, but never, ever bored.