Monday, August 26, 2013

Breaking the Bubble

Leaving Albuquerque

Paul and I passed the six-month point this month.  Romantic soul that he is, he wrote me a note and made me a beautiful present that I’ll show you soon (it’s for the kitchen!).  Pragmatic soul that I am, when he knocked on the door for a surprise visit, I was cooking in my underwear and thought it was the Mormons paying me a visit.  Apparently I lack his sense of romance, or maybe I’ve had so many boyfriends who break up with me at six months that I’m kinda spooked by it.  I didn’t do anything romantic for him, but I did invite him to join me for dinner and it was suprisingly good: spaghetti in a sauce made of butternut squash soup and sautéed onions, topped with chopped soysage and fresh basil.  Tasty!

Paul and I are living in such a sweet spot right now.  We’ve been together long enough that we’re comfortable with each other, but it’s still very new and happy and full of promise.  A few weeks ago, we had an amusing conversation with our friends Amber and Jeremy in which we aired some secrets.  We talked about annoying habits (mine), unconventional bodies (his), and the topic of today’s post, my inability to create a façade of perfection.

I’ve been a perfectionist ever since I was a child, when, after reading about an anorexic’s quest for perfection, I decided that I too should be perfect at everything I do.  It was a terrible decision.  I never went down the eating disorder path (and I’m eternally grateful that I did not), but perfectionism seemed like the right thing to do.  I grew up in a family culture where failure was not acceptable, where mistakes and missteps were blown way out of proportion.  Perfectionism was the solution to these fears, and it followed me into adulthood, long after I moved out of my parents’ house.

And I know it’s not just me who feels like she needs to be perfect.  It’s a very common belief among women that our role in life is to be perfect while we do all the things.  I suppose in a way I’m just a terrible cliché in that regard, but I think each story is unique and beautiful for its own sake.  We should tell our stories!  You never know whose life you might touch.

Paul and I started dating in February of this year.  By the time we had our third date, I’d been handed the news that I was going to lose my job (fucking NIH!), and I had no idea what was going to happen next.  But it was clear to me that Paul, so funny and sweet and wonderful, wanted to stick around.  And I wanted to get to know him and enjoy our budding romance.

Before we went out for that third date, I cried as I told him the news.  He handed me a hankie and listened.  Then we put that behind us for the evening and went out for drinks and dinner.  My job loss put me in a mild depression for the next two months or so.  Looking back, I think the humiliation of losing a job—and knowing that it wasn’t the sort of thing I could hide from someone I’m dating—created the space for me to let down my guard.  I was already so fragile, so vulnerable from the job stress and disappointment that I just didn’t have the willpower to fake perfection.  My imperfect nature was staring back at me every day for the last months of my first postdoc position.  Rather than trying to compensate in other areas of my life, I let it all hang out.  This meant that Paul saw my strengths and talents, but he also saw my flaws because I didn’t try to hide them.  He saw that my apartment is not perfectly neat and clean all the time.  He saw that sometimes I’m so tired that I wear pajamas on our date night at home.  He saw my anger and frustration over academic science and its labor issues.  Sometimes I yelled; other times I was irrational.  Paul let me have my moments, but he also called me out when I was being unfair.  Our relationship gave me a safe haven during my transition.  I will always be grateful he chose to stay during that time. 

And together we learned that we are a great team.  Paul is happy to do the grocery shopping for our date night, and if I ask him nicely, he’ll help me clean up after dinner.  I tend to be the brains behind our menu, but he’s pretty happy to eat anything I cook (Paul is easy that way).  Our dinner arrangements sound like such a small thing, but since we cook at home every week, our teamwork has its own routine.  I think dinner is a mighty fine thing on which to build a relationship. 

Perfectionism is such a heavy weight to carry.  I can distinctly remember the feeling I had after our first date: it was lightness.  I felt a lightness in my heart that I had not felt in a long time.  I know Paul so much better now than I did after that first date six months ago, but that feeling of lightness has remained.  Truly, his companionship is everyday joy to me.  I feel incredibly lucky that we found each other. 

I hope he sticks around.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Wine Notebook: Dry Comal Creek French Colombard 2011 Demi-Sweet

Dry Comal Creek 2011

Hey, friends!  Today I’m launching the Wine Notebook feature, which will be a semi-regular series of posts to bookmark wines that are worth remembering.  I claim no expertise in wine beyond my own consumption and conversations, but I do enjoy it very much.  My favorite wine person once told me that blogging about wine is a way of building “off-shore memory,” and I’ve always liked that as a metaphor.  Blogging is a great way of keeping notes on life.

Our very first wine of the series is a “French Colombard.”  Full disclosure: I have no idea what that means.  According to Wikipedia, “Colombard (also known as French Colombard in North America) is a white French wine grape variety that is the offspring of Gouais blanc and Chenin blanc.”  More interestingly, “[i]n France, it was traditionally grown in the Charentes and Gascony for distilling into Cognac and Armagnac respectively.”

(Yum, I love Cognac.)

True to its label, this white wine was on the sweeter side.  More sugary than a Sauvignon Blanc but less so than a Muscat, this bottle was delicious with the spicy Indian food Paul and I ate for dinner.  It was refreshing, but I recall it also lingered on the palate a bit longer than some of the dry white wines.  The label claims this wine is a “Texas Style” wine; indeed, the wine is made in New Braunfels, Texas, but I think the grapes may be grown elsewhere.  Modern hippie that I am, I like to buy local if I can, and this is a Texas wine I’d buy again.  We found it at our local Spec’s for about $18, I believe.


featuring Texas-Style Wines

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pondering the Evolutionary Psychology of Thoughtful Consumerism

 After finishing Saved a few weeks ago, I started thinking about how and why we acquire material goods.  You might recall my little post on reverent materialism; it was that idea that really got me thinking about what’s going on in our brains when we think about stuff and the acquisition of it.  As a biologist, I’m always intrigued by the deepest underpinnings of behavior: genes and their interactions with the environment.  Our species has spent most its time in conditions where we didn’t have a lot of stuff, and the stuff we did have was crafted by hand using tools that were also made by hand.  Our Paleolithic ancestors wore clothes and made art.  They gathered food, eventually using baskets and other vessels.  They hunted with simple weapons.  Everything they did was by hand, and I imagine they treasured the few possessions they had.  Why wouldn’t they?  If you’d spent hours making a basket or a simple piece of clothing, you’d want to take good care of it too.

On the other hand, food would have been eaten when it was fresh.  Without preservation techniques, I imagine that food would have been enjoyed quickly after acquiring it.  Similarly, other goods may have been used right away, like firewood.  My list of one-time-use consumables is short here, but the point is that there were one-time use things.

The overall model to emerge here is that things were either made by hand and treasured forever or they were used once and consumed completely.  What we don’t have are items that are made, used a few times, and thrown away.  Which brings me to my next point: maybe the idea of throwaway goods doesn’t make sense in the context of our evolutionary relationship with consumerism.  Do our brains really know what to do with $1 flip-flops and $3 camisoles from Old Navy?  They don’t fit easily into the ancient models that we inherited from our ancestors.  Poorly made goods are just confusing, unless they are part of the one-time-use model.

Over and over again, I have read stories from people who are relieved to simplify their lives.  The stuff they choose to keep is the stuff they love and use.  I suspect that the joy of less is not just that less stuff is easier to manage.  I think it might be tapping into a conceptual framework with which our brains are innately more comfortable: stuff is either part of the “forever” category or it’s meant to be consumed completely.  Doesn’t it make sense that most goods outside of the food category really should last a long, long time?  Maybe not forever, but certainly longer than a season.

I’m not an anthropologist; I’m just musing out loud here.  What do you think?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2013: Shifting Ambitions (goals and whatnot)

Baking Together{My ambition in life is baking cookies and being an auntie.} 

{Please note the adorable matching aprons.}

August is perhaps not the most inspiring month, but I’ve been thinking that now is as good a time as any to review my 2013 goals and make adjustments.  It’s been a topsy-turvy year for me, and I’m in a very happy place.  I left one job and started a new one.  I met a great guy and decided he’s a keeper.  I traveled to Louisiana, Michigan, and Ohio.  Paul and I went on an amazing road trip to New Mexico and Colorado, and we still liked each other at the end of the trip.  And now I’m settling back into a regular routine of work and cooking and learning and having fun.  Oh, and running, because I am still planning to run the Detroit Marathon in October.

Because this year was so turbulent for me, several of my goals were neglected.  Now I’m ready to revisit them and decide if I still want to pursue them.  In order from my original post, here are my 2013 goals and a brief summary of how things are going. 

* Finish: The first-author paper.

Sooo…yeah.  This one imploded on me, despite my best effort.  I ended up leaving that job in May because we didn’t get funding for my project.  On top of that, my results didn’t match up with the hypothesis we were pursuing, so that was the end of my project.  At least for now.

But!  I’m working in a new lab now, and my new boss is fairly certain that if I work hard, I can be an author on a paper from her lab.  My new work goal is to be the best scientist I can be in my new position.  Thoughtful, diligent, productive—these are the qualities I want to embody in my work life.

Verdict: Goal revised to reflect a change in circumstances.

* Finish: 26.2 miles at the Detroit Marathon in October.

Yes, this one is still on!  I may not be a very speedy finisher, but I am optimistic that I will finish the race.  Training in summertime Texas is tricky, but I’m doing a mix of outdoor work-outs (mostly walking) and indoor treadmill work-outs (where I can run as much as I want).

Verdict: Detroit, we’re on.

* Explore: Learn some Italian and practice my Italian cooking.

Hmm.  This one has been completely neglected.  I think I’m going to put the Italian language stuff on hold (too much other stuff to learn this year).  For the cooking, I am going to try one new recipe each month from Vegeterranean, one of my new cookbooks. 

Verdict: Bring on the tomatoes and fresh basil!

* Explore: Vincent van Gogh.

Oh, man.  Another neglected one.  This is embarrassing.  But…travel was more important this year than exploring things that require only a good library.  Vincent will be there next year, but I may not get back to Colorado any time soon.

Verdict:  I had bigger places to explore this year.  I’m shelving this one for now. 

* Sparkle and glitter: Open to interpretation!  “Make more of an effort to do small, special things.”

Yes, finally, a goal I can say I achieved!  I attended two weddings so far this year and got plenty of compliments on my appearance.  My friend Courtney taught me how to use curl-boosting mousse to enhance my hair’s natural waviness.  I have pretty orangey-bronze polish on my toes right now.

Paul and I have two more weddings this year, so there will be more sparkle and glitter.  I’m thinking about buying a new pair of dressy silver shoes for weddings—my old ones died.  I love silver shoes and think they are gorgeous footwear for formal events.

Verdict: Success!

And now, some new goals for the remainder of 2013:

* Get a license, buy a car, become a full-fledged grown-up.

“Say, what?”  I know.  I’m 31 years old, and I don’t drive.  It’s a long story, and I’m not going to get into it now.  But I’ve decided that it’s time for me to start driving.  Paul and I have started doing “refresher” driving sessions, and I’m pleased to report that no mailboxes have been harmed by my driving.  I was terrified when he decided to stand behind his Explorer to help me practice my parallel parking, but he reassured me that he could run away very fast if I got too close.

Our plan, not necessarily in this order, is to get me a license and buy an eco-friendly car.  We’ve taken baby steps toward both of these things; hopefully by the end of the year, we will be the proud co-owners and co-drivers of a lean, green driving machine.

* Pay off 2013’s debt (or at least a good chunk of it).

Right now, I have spent close to $4700 more this year than I have made.  Most of that comes from travel and my accident.  My financial goal this year is to come close to breaking even.  I don’t think I’ll quite break even, because of the planned car purchase, the cat I’m adopting, and the two plane tickets I have yet to purchase, but I want to see how close I can get.  Fortunately, I have a pretty short wish list of things I might purchase, such as the silver shoes I mentioned above.  I don’t really need anything right now.

* Begin learning how to teach biology.

It pains me to admit this.  Even though my career goal is to teach science, preferably in a college setting, I kinda suck at it right now.  Paul didn’t put it in those exact words (he tries to be gentle), but he told me I needed to give him a toehold in order to understand my work.  We had a long discussion about how to use metaphors to make science—or anything, really—understandable to a non-expert.  Afterward, I decided that I am going to teach him some basics in molecular biology—he is going to be my teaching guinea pig.  I think he’s okay with this, especially because he knows that it frustrates me to not be able to share anything about my work with him.  Though we do joke about the fact that I have worms now.  (Not that kind of worms!)

* * *

Whew, that was a long post!  It took me many days to complete this; I wrote whenever I could find a few minutes.  It’s a busy month around here, and I’m looking forward to all the good stuff to come.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

This Week I Am…


…being kind to myself as I adjust to a new job and new expectations.  Transitions are always overwhelming for me, so I’m trying not to let my anxiety run the show.

…surviving the Texas heat, which is pretty brutal this week.  100+-degree days?  Sure, why not?  Yay for August.

…looking forward to a weekend trip to Dallas.  Paul has a dance workshop on Sunday, so we are using it as a very good excuse to go see our friends the Minnericks.  If it seems like we’ve been visiting Dallas a lot this year, it’s because we have.  We’ve been able to visit them for at least an overnight every month since May—potluck in May, a visit in June, a pitstop on our way back from Colorado in July.  I always feel so inspired and happy when we spend time with Amber and Jeremy, so even though it’s a teeny-tiny bit stressful to be planning for an out-of-town weekend right now, I’m very much looking forward to seeing them.

…cooking stuffed red bell peppers.  Tis the season for bell peppers!

…eating blueberries, strawberries, and peaches like there’s no tomorrow.

…overwhelmed by my closet, in the best possible way.  Y’all, I have a lot of clothes.  I want to write more about this topic soon.  I’ve got thoughts.

…loving season four of Arrested Development.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll just say that Ben Stiller as Tony Wonder is The Best.

…wishing you a very happy day!  Until next time, my dears.

Monday, August 5, 2013

To be Chosen

After Work on Monday

I had a good day today.

It was my first real day of my new job and my first real day back at work after more than two months off.  I was a little nervous—I still am—about adjusting to a more rigid schedule and the grind of full-time work.  I have to trust that I’ll get used to it again.  I know I’ll miss the lovely freedom of an open schedule, the travel, the fun of making French toast on a Friday morning and lounging around until 1 PM.

But I am surprisingly happy to go back to work.  It’s not about the paycheck, really, though it’s better for my wallet if I am earning money.  Walking to the bus today, I realized it’s about much more than that.  I have missed doing science.  I swear to you, on May 17th, I never thought I’d say that, but after all this time away, it feels good to use that part of my brain again.  I missed my work friends.  I missed having an excuse to dress up every day.  A little part of me even missed the routine and discipline that comes with working.  And maybe I even missed the busier lifestyle that I live when I’m working.  I liked slowing down, but now I hope I’m ready to pick up the pace.

The most satisfying thing about life these days is that I feel very chosen.  Ideally, you choose your life, but my life was not choosing me back.  Preceding this new job, my old job rejected me.  Before Paul and I started dating, Matt broke up with me.  I tried so hard to make it work with my old job and with Matt.  I tried to be patient.  My old life pushed me away, and those rejections broke my heart.  But that old life feels very far away, and my new life feels bright and promising.  For the first time in a long time, I feel like I am choosing my life, and my life is choosing me right back.  It is a lovely feeling.

Maybe, just maybe, the long struggle is over.  At least for a little while.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Quickie Question

Hello Sir

Hello and happy Sunday!

I have a question for you, loyal readers.  Over the last few days, I’ve been trying to update my archival system for this blog.  I’m adding recipes to the recipe index, and I’ve been building an archive page for my posts on thoughtful consumerism.  But I wonder this: are these pages useful for you?  Do you ever peruse them to look for new posts to read or wander back through them to reread old posts?  Or am I building these index pages for my own organizational pleasure?

If there’s anything I can do to make this blog easier to search and read, please let me know.  I’m working mostly off of instinct and cues from other blogs, so if you have specific suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

(As a disclaimer, I do want to mention that any time I spend on organization here is time that I’m not spending writing or editing new posts.  So it’s important for me to know what you like.  I want this blog to be something that you enjoy coming back to again and again, and I know I have a lot of readers out there!  So I encourage you to delurk, say hello, and offer your two cents on this topic.  Please and thank you.)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Six for Saturday

Fresh Blueberries in Colander{It’s fresh blueberry season, y’all!}

Links for Saturday!  Why?  Because it’s hot outside, and I love the internet.  Enjoy!

{ONE} This touching post from Tina on motherhood and forgiveness.

{TWO}  Cats!  Being adorable!

(Oh, man, this one too.)

{THREE}  Advice to honor and protect the sensitive soul.

 {FOUR}  An interesting perspective on recycling clothes.  I think the author did a great job considering some of the potential downsides to this idea.

{FIVE}  I struggle to find the right balance between unitasking and multitasking, so this piece really resonated with me.  Louise Hung writes, "The most surprising thing is that I've actually found myself becoming calmer and more efficient. Instead of tasks piling up like so many unfinished lines in Tetris, as was my fear, the tasks are satisfyingly yet steadily being checked off one by one. It's almost rhythmic. I've turned down the volume in my head a bit, and I'm able to actually hear my thoughts.”

{SIX}  An inspiring, expletive-laden blog: The Militant Baker.  One fun post from her archives: I Wear What I Want: Some Messy Hair, Bitches.  Jes is adorable.

Friday, August 2, 2013

After a Long Hiatus, It’s Thursday Up/Down!

After the French Toast{I think Paul liked the French toast this morning…}

{Also, isn’t he handsome?  I just love his smile}

Hey, hey!  It has been a long time since I’ve written a Thursday Up/Down post (November of 2012, in fact!).  And not surprisingly, I’m a day late, but I did start working on this post yesterday.  Does that count?  I think it should.

There’s so much good stuff to report this week, so let’s hop to it. 


* I started my new job this week!  Now that the offer letter has been signed, I can tell you that I’ve taken a research position in a lab in my old department.  Yes, I’m doing a second postdoc, which kind of shocks me, but the offer was too good to refuse.  This time, I’m working with worms, which is new and fun and exciting.  I have the chance to learn all about working with a new animal in a new field of research, and I get to do so without uprooting the rest of my life.  I’m still living in my old apartment, in the same town with my local friends and boyfriend and all the places I’ve come to love here in Texas.  So overall, I’m very happy about the new job.

* Yesterday, Paul and I drove to Houston.  I got to visit with my friend Courtney, while he had a practice session with his dance partner.  Courtney and I drank iced chai lattes at her favorite coffeehouse, lost track of time, ate a quick dinner at Newk’s, and then had to apologize to Paul for being late to meet up with him.

* And then, because I had today off, Paul and I had a lazy, lovely breakfast.  He suggested French toast, so we zipped over to Blue Baker for a day-old loaf of sourdough.  I made the French toast and some blueberry sauce, while he made his very first tofu scramble.  I used my basic French toast recipe but added some lemon zest to the custard, and it was great.  Afterward, we lounged on the floor in a food coma, I took silly pictures (see above), and we started plotting a move to Denver.  Maybe, eventually, we will return to the mountains…

* I enjoyed this post from Holly about fitness journeys and destinations.  When it comes to working out, I tend to be a “do something every day” person, but the something can be different every day.  For me, the day feels incomplete without at least a walk.

But I struggle a bit with training plans and rigid schedules.  I value flexibility—always have, always will.  I try to keep the big picture in mind when it comes to my goals, so I tweak things as I go along, knowing that the important thing is to keep going.  It’s with that in mind that I am still training for the Detroit Marathon, despite a summer of travel, some bad luck, and the joy that is August in Texas.

* I’m reading a fascinating book right now: The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner.  Actually, I’m reading something like six books right now, which is ridiculous, but I love it.  I might write a post to share a few thoughts on my crazy reading life.

* My friend Ammie just went to Alaska, and she has been posting hilarious things on Facebook.  For example, there was this a few days ago:

That thing where you're late to dinner because there are moose in the front yard.

And the first comment:

Give it a rest, moose.

(I promise only to quote stuff from Facebook that is harmless and fun!  Forgive me the violation of privacy for the sake of the moose story.)

* Plums.  They are awesome. 


* So hot.  Welcome to August, y’all.  I’ll try to keep my whining to a minimum this month, but it is 100 degrees outside right now.  Just sayin’.

* Paul convinced me to buy some ground coffee this morning at Blue Baker, and I wish I could drink some now.  But it’s too late in the day for me to have caffeine, so I’m drinking herbal tea instead.

* I have recently discovered how to make a completely delicious vanilla ice cream at home without an ice cream maker.  This does not bode well for my waistline.  On the plus side: homemade ice cream!  Yeehaw!

* * *

Overall, I’m really happy these days.  Happy, well-rested, well-fed, and ready to return to work.  I’m good.

Happy weekend, friends.  I’ve got a boatload of posts in my queue, so I think you’ll be hearing more from me very soon.  Until then, be well. xoxo