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.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Bowlful of Pears

Bowl of Pears

I went a little crazy at the grocery store on Friday night.  First, I found the bin of organic pears.  They were absolutely adorable, tiny little things, and before I could even fetch a plastic bag for them, my hands were in the bin, picking out the best ones.

About five seconds later, I saw multi-pound bags of pears.  Now, I’m often suspicious of fruit sold in big bags like that because while a bag may be a bargain, the quality might suffer.  But these pears looked great—no weird soft spots, worm holes, or evidence of abuse.  So I took home a big bag of pears, and now I will be eating them for the next month.

Or maybe not.  I could make a pear crumble, or a pear tart, or roasted pears.  I could put them in salad, a la Matt, or tuck them into muffins.  But honestly?  I’ll probably eat most of them raw, cut into slices, maybe with some cheese on the side.  No matter how much fancy or mind-blowing food I eat, I always come back to the feeling that simple is best.  Or maybe it’s just that simple is home base, and anything else is a pleasant bonus.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Three for Thursday

File this one under “everyday life,” dear readers: here are three random but good things on this gorgeous Thursday.

1)  I am crazy about Pier One.  It is, I think, the only store for which I have a store credit card, and I find that wandering through all the pretty things is one of my favorite no-work stress-busters.  This week I’m especially excited because I finally found a tree for my necklaces.  Every time I walk past it in my bedroom, I get a little buzz of pleasure.

New Jewelry Tree

I’m also crazy about the fake polaroid border that I can apply to my photos.  Cheesy?  Perhaps.  But it’s harmless fun, so hopefully you’ll forgive me.

2)  I’ve been struggling at work lately.  I’m working on a new project, which includes designing a new assay, and frankly, it’s been wiping me out.  But yesterday and today, I have felt like maybe, just maybe, I’m starting to get the hang of it.  I will take these small moments of victory wherever I can find them!

3)  I’m getting pretty excited for Thanksgiving.  For me, Thanksgiving is always a two-for-one holiday because my birthday falls right around the same time.  I love the idea of a holiday devoted to gratitude and the autumn harvest.  This year, some friends and I are organizing a Thanksgiving meal for all the orphans who won’t be spending the holiday with family.  I think our meal will be a (mostly) gluten-free affair, so I’m busy plotting vegetarian, gluten-free options.  Right now, I’m thinking a smoky pumpkin quiche (made with a savory almond flour crust) and pumpkin cheesecake bars.  If we need a salad, I might bring one of those as well—I love a good salad.

What’s making you happy today?