Tom and I took a trip to dirty jerz to visit the Pine Barrens today. He’s been talking about going since he read in the paper that the General Store in Chatsworth was up for sale, which led him to the book “The Pine Barrens” by John McPhee. It wasn’t the most exciting trip we’ve ever taken, but it was a nice day to spend outside and with each other.
The first stop was Batsto Village, which is still recovering from Hurricane Irene. It was a nice walk and very well maintained, but I wasn’t particularly compelled by anything I saw there, except the mansion that we didn’t get to go in. It looked like it had lots of hidden nooks and out of the way rooms, as well as a strangely steeple-like tower which I think must have been great fun for any children who lived there.
It then took us about two hours and a stop at the still up for sale General Store in Chatsworth for directions to find the pygmy pine forest. We took a short stroll through it, and pointed and laughed at the trees, and marveled that we were able to see for miles as we towered above the stunted forest. On the way back to the car, I found a small, particularly compelling pine cone on the path which I brought home as a memento, which will go nicely with the shell I retrieved from the river at Susquehanna State Park.
Lastly, we headed up to one of the fire towers in Wharton State Forest, which I thought was what Tom was most looking forward to. It turns out he’s even more scared of heights than I am. I attempted to show him what a pussy he was for only making it to the second platform by heading up to the fifth platform as if it was nothing. I was totally fine until I looked down to see where he was and realized how high up I was. It took me about ten minutes to actually muster up the nerve to walk back down, but I still count myself as being at least thirty feet less of a pussy than Tom.
I got a book at the General Store called “Ghost Towns and Other Quirky Places in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.” I think it will reveal some new destinations if we ever decide to return. I was hoping for weird and bizarre, but I think I’ll have to settle for interesting and abandoned. Which reminds me that I’ve still been meaning to get that “Weird Pennsylvania” book.
Sorry if this post is too link heavy for your taste. I linked so much because I want people who are interested to easily learn more about the Pine Barrens. Before Tom told me otherwise, I had always realized that there were large pine forests in New Jersey that we would drive through on the way to the shore, but I never gave them a second thought until now. Maybe I underestimate everyone in thinking that they are like me.
I haven’t been single for a few years now. I’m probably looking back through rose colored glasses, but I have a fondness for the single life. I miss the time I had to myself, and my privacy. I’ve always needed time to be alone and in my head. But, beyond that, I miss the excited anticipation of not knowing what was ahead of me. I think everyone’s favorite kind of romance is the one that hasn’t yet played out.
I bring it up because I feel I’m at a similar point in my professional life, but maybe have not yet realized it. I thought at this point I’d be well into my established career, but I’m still doing the same old cost bookkeeping at the same place that I swore I would never stay at for more than a year. I failed the CPA exam miserably, and if I don’t pass a part before the end of the year, then I’m going to have to take more night classes to sit for it again. I’ve been at a standstill trying to ignore the crossroads in front of me since I got my exam results, but the end of the year is coming, and I need to figure out where I’m going.
The CPA path is a daunting one. I think I can do it, but the motivation isn’t there for me, and without that, there’s not much hope. I could stay at my current dead end job and use it to try and support my other interests, but that’s not working out so well for me right now, as my credit card balance can attest to. I can head lazily off into the accounting direction, finding a different, somewhat better job in an accounting department somewhere. Or, maybe I can try something completely different. I don’t know, and it makes me queasy to think about.
I have let this put me in a funk for too long. I’ve been neglecting and putting off everything. It’s time to figure it out and move on. Ugh. Fuck.
I’ve been dwelling the last few months on my past. More than usual, which I don’t think is very productive for me in any way. I’m going to indulge it, anyways, because when I want to do something, I blow off or explain away the reasons why I shouldn’t do it.
I think I was a strange kid. For one thing, I had a very strong moral code, though I wouldn’t have characterized it as such then. I think I got it from my reading and from Disney movies. I wore what I perceived to be gender neutral clothing – jeans and plain t-shirts. Persuading my mother to buy this clothing and allow me to wear it was a battle. I felt strongly that caring for one’s appearance, even in the slightest, was vain and degrading. I was embarrassed for people who did. This was another source of contention between me and my mother, who was and is a very well put together lady. I think now that I must have been confused by the contradictions that modern standards of beauty set before us. We go to great lengths to beautify ourselves in such a way as to fool everyone around us into believing that our modifications are in fact simply part of our natural beauty. Real, raw beauty gives those of us who have it a better starting point. Raw beauty alone, however, has a far more limited mileage than we realize, unless we take steps to build on it.
I had a lot of raw beauty as a teenager. I was adamant that I would not build on it, and often preferred to obscure it. Low self esteem probably played a part in it, but it was also this unwritten manifesto that influenced me. I felt superior to my female peers, more worthy of respect. I, I thought, was not a silly girl that would just accept the status quo. The status quo was ridiculous, illogical, and sexist, and I could not accept it, or defend it.
My Xanax is kicking in, and I can’t focus enough to really elaborate any longer or bring this post to a satisfying end. I have quite a different view on beauty and appearance now. I still recognize its faults, and do my best to rage against them in my own, mostly ineffective ways. I wish that someone had understood me way back when. I wish it was my mom. I can’t resent her for it, though. I wasn’t an easy child to understand.
A couple months ago, after eating at Q’Doba or whatever, I began to desire a spicy pinto bean recipe that I could make at home. Some Google searching led me to this recipe :
It sounded delicious, but I’ve just never gotten along with dry beans in the kitchen. Or tofu. Which, as a vegetarian, makes me feel like a hack. Nonetheless, I decided to use canned beans instead, and drastically reduced the amount of cooking liquid.
I was unhappy with the end result. Perhaps it was because of the canned versus dry beans, but my tongue told me that it was the vegetable broth. The small amount I had used to cook the onions before adding in the beans completely overtook the strong flavors of the onions, garlic, and pepper. The end result was unpleasant.
I wasn’t quite ready to give up on the recipe, though. Tonight, I remade the dish with some major modifications.
Instead of using water and broth, I sauteed the yellow onion, green onions, poblano chili, garlic, cumin, and pepper flakes in some olive oil for a few minutes in hopes of retaining more of the flavors of the ingredients. I rinsed off the contents of two cans of pinto beans in a colander to clean them off, and then added them to the pan, reducing the heat and cooking them all together for another few minutes. Two cans of beans is about half of what the recipe originally calls for in dry beans. I decided to use less beans because sauteeing changed the consistency, and also because I wanted plenty of onions to go with the beans. Then, I just added the pepper, cilantro, and lime juice as the original recipe instructed.
Here’s a crappy cell phone picture of the end result in an attractive plastic container :
The end result was, for me, a significant improvement. Not only could I still taste the onion and garlic, but there was a very pleasant, satisfying spiciness to the beans that I had been looking for. I think this may be a recipe I’ll add to my regular repertoire, which is in dire need of expansion. Maybe I’ll try a different kind of oil next time. I’m also not completely sold on the cilantro, especially considering how difficult and expensive it can be to obtain fresh cilantro in grocery stores around here. And, yes, I’ve tried to grow a porch herb garden. It got scorched to hell within a week, but that’s a topic for a different post.
NEXT DAY LUNCH UPDATE :
I had the spicy pinto beans I made last night for lunch today. While the modifications were, for me, a step in the right direction, there’s a flavor missing from the mix that it needs to push it from sort of good to great. Allow me to preface my thoughts by saying that I’m not a terribly experienced cook or foodie, so my knowledge base is fairly limited.
I dislike salt, and for that reason, I omitted the salt the recipe called for, which may have been part of it. Then I wondered if I needed a more flavorful onion. The beans were hearty and a bit sweet, but I need more of the hearty / sweet flavor that I’m having trouble identifying. Maybe it’s tangy that I’m looking for? I’ve never used tomato paste, but I wondered if that might help. Maybe a more flavorful sautee medium?
Anyway, I’ll keep thinking about it and keep experimenting. Also, note to myself, chili flakes can be omitted next time. The poblano pepper has more than enough heat for my taste.
I am told that I acted like a jerk to my mom yesterday while the family was out to lunch for Father’s Day. No one said anything while I was there, but my boyfriend made a comment on it when we left the pizza place. His was a brief comment, and there was no room for further discussion as we had driven separately and I was heading immediately up to my dad’s house to spend some time with him.
It had to do with an old clarinet. It was the clarinet that my mom’s estranged father, my mom, and I learned to play on. Here’s the issue : it’s a shitty instrument. It was poorly made and difficult to play. After three years, I moved onto a better model of clarinet, and then I got a professional model clarinet once I got to college and majored in music performance and education.
I suggested that my niece could disassemble it and reassemble it as a summer camp project. My mother was dismayed by this suggestion, and let it be known that she would like my young niece could learn to play on it. I quickly interjected that it wasn’t fit to play. I then suggested that my niece could instead use my intermediate model instead if she wanted to play clarinet. The conversation ended with my mom demanding that I return the old clarinet to her, assuming that since I had stated that it was a crappy instrument with no extrinsic value that I didn’t care about it and would trash it. I think this caused me to get even more defensive and snappish.
A good portion of decluttering for me has been the process of letting go my usually misplaced sentimental attachment to objects. That doesn’t mean, however, that I have given up, or ever will give up everything that is not useful to me. The clarinet is a family heirloom.
I love going to antique stores and flea markets. I find the objects there fascinating. But, I really just don’t “get” antiquing. I don’t understand paying a lot of money for an obsolete or unusable antique just for the sake of having it. For me, there’s a component of pleasure in owning certain items, but pleasure of ownership usually isn’t enough for me to buy something. There must be utility. I understand the importance of preserving historic / older items that can help us understand more about the past, but beyond that, the mindset of antiquers is a difficult one for me to understand.
In that sense, I’m of two mindsets that blend in the middle, and because of that this controversial family clarinet will probably remain in my possession until I’m shipped off to a home or dead. But, I’m not going to romanticize the reality of the object. Yes, it would be a cool family legacy to have every generation learn to play music on the same instrument, but it’s just not feasible. I’ve seen kids bring in old family instruments like my clarinet to music classes to learn to play, but they were in such terrible shape that the kids were basically doomed to fail and give up before they ever really got a chance to learn.
What bothered me the most, however, was that I was a jerk about it, and that’s what I’ve really been dwelling on. I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not a nice person, and I’m ok with that. That may be an overstatement. I’m not mean, but when people think about me, the first things they think probably aren’t going to be “She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met” or “What a sweetheart.” I’m glad for that, because that’s just too much pressure to live up to.
I know there are social courtesies in place to check and balance general assholery, but I realized yesterday that sometimes, being an asshole is the truest to myself that I can be, and in that sense, I don’t regret it. But, here’s the thing : you have to be justified. You can’t be an asshole to someone without having a good reason to be an asshole. So, that’s what yesterday’s interaction comes down to : Did I have a good reason to be an asshole? And, I think the answer is…not quite.
My pride seems to have a life of it’s own and won’t let me come to rest at regret. I keep mentally rehashing the conversation and trying to justify my behavior. In the end, the situation just comes to settle in that grey area. Do I let it go or do I apologize? Letting it go would be easier, and I honestly don’t know if I can make a sincere apology. And half-assed apologies are the worst.
I way overthought this. I know. It’s a habit of the highly emotional and anxious mind.
I tend to go through phases in my life. I may go for a couple months during which I’m motivated to really keep our apartment tidy and organized, and then I’ll experience another couple months where, while I still want a tidy and organized apartment, I just can’t be bothered to do anything about it. I also have phases when it comes to cooking and food. Cooking yourself good, healthy meals takes time and thought. Sometimes I’m motivated to do it, and sometimes I’ll stop at Burger King for a veggie burger on the way home from work three nights in a row.
Currently, I’m in the phase where I’m taking the time and thought to prepare myself healthy meals. This particular phase, however, feels different than previous ones. Lately, I’ve been taking a lot of pleasure in the time I spend in the kitchen. I see this as an excellent development that may help extend my good food phases, and even potentially eliminate my bad ones.
I’ve been creating a mental list of factors that have made me enjoy cooking more lately. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
- decent equipment
- a clean kitchen
- a well stocked recipe file
I had my yearly Lexapro / Xanax med check up with my family doctor yesterday. Overall, the results and conclusions were positive. I am, however, due for a blood work check up.
When I first went to my doctor for anxiety, he put me on medication, but also had me get some bloodwork done to ensure that there wasn’t an underlying physical condition causing my anxiety. My bad cholesterol was a little high, but otherwise, my blood was in good shape. This round of blood work is more of a precautionary check up, but I am definitely nervous.
When I was first seeing my doctor for anxiety problems, I was 19 years old. I’m about 5’7″ – 5’8″, and, at the time, weighed less than 140 pounds. Today, I am 27, the same height, and a little under 210 pounds, which appears to be my “plateau” weight. My doctor warned me that SSRIs caused weight gain, and while I don’t regret going on medication for my mental health, it really is a shocking amount.
It bothers me a lot, mostly for superficial reasons. Having been on both sides of the spectrum, people in general treat you a lot nicer if you’re a thin, pretty girl than if you’re an overweight, ok looking girl. I try not to complain about my weight to my friends, but sometimes my frustration comes through. Some friends insist that I’ll always be beautiful, no matter what my weight. Some are barely able to conceal their disgust. One friend even insinuated that I’m too fat to wear a style of bridesmaid dress that I told her I liked for an upcoming wedding that I’m in. (She was wrong, it looked very nice on me. I got independent confirmation.)
The other part of my weight that bothers me, particularly today, is the health consequences. I’m concerned about my heart health and about developing type two diabetes. I’ve been doing better the last few weeks at eating well and getting some physical activity, but I definitely go through phases where I don’t get nearly enough exercise and eat a lot of junk. Also, I love cookies. All the time.
One of my co-workers developed prediabetes about a year ago. I know this because I work the next desk over from her, and she told at least half a dozen people who passed by her desk about it. Her doctor gave her three months to lower her blood sugar through diet and exercise, which she was unable to do. The problem was that she kept focusing on what she wasn’t eating instead of what she was eating. She’s now on medication to try and control her prediabetes.
Granted, she’s 20 years older than me, much less active, and a prohibitively picky eater, but hearing about her experience makes me worry that my weight gain is leading me down the same path. Honestly, I would be ashamed if I received that diagnosis. I don’t mean that to be a blanket for everyone who receives that diagnosis, I just mean for me, personally. I would think that perhaps my friends were right to be disgusted by me, and that I really was just a gross, sloppy fat girl who now leads a sad, depressing life.
That’s a little much, time to pull back. I know that it’s highly unlikely that I’m suffering from prediabetes. I also find fear to be a poor and inconstant motivator. I think that the desire to be healthy is a far better motivator than the fear of being unhealthy. There have been a few different factors that have come together in the past few weeks that have helped me be better when it comes to food and exercise. I hope that they can help me to stay motivated, or to at least keep trying. Trying is something.
If memory serves, one of the reasons that I started this blog was to help with my anxiety as well as to help simplify and organize my life. I wanted to post tonight, and as I thought through what I wanted to say in my head, it all kept coming back to my problems with anxiety, so I thought I’d take a post to share my history on this subject.
My “mental breakdown” (I know there’s some controversy about this term) occurred when I was 19. I had actually dealt with anxiety issues most of my life, but I was fairly good at hiding it, and I honestly never realized that what I was experiencing wasn’t normal.
I was in my sophomore year at college when something in my brain sort of snapped. It was sudden, and there was no build up or warning. One morning, as I was eating cereal in the cafeteria, I decided that I had HIV. I had never done drugs, never had a blood transfusion, didn’t work in the medical field, and had never had sex (shut up), so there was absolutely no rational reason for me to believe this. I just had this almost gut feeling that I had to have it, and that I had been spreading it with impunity to my friends and small children.
I knew how HIV worked, and I knew how it was spread. The remaining rational portion of my brain knew that the rest of my brain had gone off the deep end. What I quickly learned is that rational thought means nothing against this kind of anxiety. It was beyond control. I was able to go to class that day and restrain my panic, but my friends instantly knew that something was wrong. We were coming up on finals week, and I knew that I didn’t have the option of taking time away from my schoolwork to deal with this.
I got worse as the day progressed. I was basically having a panic attack, but it wasn’t subsiding. It actually went on for days, stretching into weeks. When I wasn’t in class, I was laying in bed sobbing. I was completely overwhelmed by fear, guilt, and self loathing. My hands, chest, and face went numb, and I often found myself hyperventilating. I was unable to eat or sleep. There was no respite.
I went to see two psychologists at my college’s mental health center. They both decided that I was stressed out from school work. One tossed around the idea of prescribing me a sedative, but decided against it, as she thought it would interfere with my finals. Through some sort of Herculean effort, I made it to the end of the semester, and even managed to do really well on my finals.
I went home for winter break and saw another psychologist, who made it clear to me that she felt that I was wasting her time. By this time, weeks of constant panic had taken a toll on my physical health. Though I was thin to begin with, I had lost about 15 pounds. I had pains in my chest. I couldn’t stand up without seeing black spots in my vision. I had white, mucousy globs in my urine.
I finally went to see my family practitioner, who was the only one who realized that I needed help in a bad way. He prescribed me Paxil and set up initial check up visits for every two weeks. My mother had such a stigma against anxiety / depression meds that she initially refused to allow me to take the medication. Luckily, that only lasted about five minutes.
It took a while for the Paxil to really kick in, but I gradually started to get better. Today, I just had another med check up with my family doctor. It’s been eight years and a few med modifications and counseling sessions since I first went to see him about my panic, and today I’m doing well. I now only have to see him once a year, just to make sure that everything’s still working all right. I’ve had flare ups since I went on medication, but the frequency and severity has decreased to the point where I haven’t had an attack for a couple of years.
I’m probably always going to have problems with anxiety. I may be genetically predisposed to it, or maybe it was something I learned as I was growing up. I think it’s probably a combination of the two. I don’t think about it all the time, but it is something I have to consider in my day to day life, and I’ll probably be on medication for many years to come.
Decluttering my home and life, being organized and prepared, and writing about my experiences, both good and bad, are all ways that have helped me to deal with my anxiety. I know that I’m not always on topic with my blog posts, but I do hope that, overall, I can create a blog that reflects this.
I went to my mom’s after work today and baked a cake. It turned out ok. Tasty, but not very pretty.
Luckily, during my afternoon break at work, I took a moment to study my recipes a bit and discovered a difference that I hadn’t noticed when I first compared the Julia Child buttercream recipe to the one accompanying the Martha Stewart recipe. The Martha Stewart recipe creates the syrup for the icing using egg whites and sugar. Julia Child creates the syrup using sugar and water, then calls for it to be whisked in with egg yolks. I’ve made the mistake before of using the wrong part of the egg because I didn’t read the recipe close enough, so I’m very glad I caught it.
The Julia Child recipe was much tastier, but it was quite a bit thinner and difficult to spread, even after whipping in additional butter. Part of the problem could have been that the egg yolk / syrup mixture didn’t form properly while I had it sitting over the pan of simmering water. I don’t believe I got the “ribbon” effect that Child describes. I’ll also try to remember next time to make the icing ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge for a while to see if that might help with the firmness.
The cake portion turned out fantastically, as it did last time. It turns out a beautifully moist cake with the perfect blend of raspberries. I made two tiers and frosted it, then decorated the top with fresh raspberries.
I thought about posting the Julia Child recipe, but I hesitated as it may constitute copyright infringement. The recipe I used was called “Creme au Beurre, au Sucre Cuit (French Butter Cream Made with Sugar Syrup)” from her book “The French Chef Cookbook.”
I don’t know if it’s true, but I often feel like being organized and prepared is still new to my life. Today was a hectic day, but I enjoyed it because I had my shit together and was ready to go. I was able to attack the daunting tasks I faced today with order and precision, and it was totally satisfying. I’m wondering if my motivation for an organized life waxes and wanes depending on whether I feel challenged in my life.
I haven’t been listening to my podcasts lately as much as I usually do. I do a ton of data entry for my job, and podcasts often save my sanity. Anyway, the only podcast I’ve been listening to with any regularity the last couple months is Sklarbro Country. One of the Sklar brothers mentioned the other day that his small daughters loved listening to female rock musicians, which got me thinking about my own niece, who’s eight years old. She’s into Hannah Montana, but do not even mention Justin Bieber around her. She’s also into playing acoustic guitar. I felt a calling to help introduce my niece to a more diverse world of music, and making her a CD featuring a bunch of female musicians might help her make an extra connection with the music. So, after an evening of deliberation, I came up with this mix :
1. The Pipettes “Pull Shapes”
2. M.I.A. “Jimmy”
3. Norah Jones “Sunrise”
4. Lauryn Hill “Everything is Everything”
5. Imogen Heap “Just for Now”
6. Neko Case “This Tornado Loves You”
7. Cat Power “Half of You”
8. Priscilla Ahn “Dream”
9. Brandi Carlile “The Story”
10. Brandi Carlile “Hallelujah”