Monday, November 29, 2010

Epic Proportions

Note: I totally forgot that I set this to post today, which happens to be a day when I only spent two hours at work and then retreated, sick, to my bed at home. It goes without saying that I did not go to the gym today.

I have gotten entirely out of control. 

In the last year, I have gained about 30 pounds. I excused the gain at first, citing things like a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy, the holidays with the in-laws (where eating was the only thing I could do to keep myself from screaming at times), and then separation and divorce. But the divorce was finalized almost five months ago, and I've continued to gain since then. It's gone from understandable to unacceptable.

I'm not going to give you numbers because honestly, it's just too embarrassing. It should suffice to say that not one of my friends would say that I'm being unreasonable about wanting to lose weight. I also want to do it for some very good reasons. For one thing, I just don't feel as good physically. I get tired more easily. I have more aches and pains, especially in my back, hips, and knees. According to my doctor, my blood pressure is fine, but I doubt that could continue much longer the way I'm going.

The gain is taking an emotional toll as well. I refuse to go out and buy new clothes, so I'm left with little to wear. Looking in the mirror is a depressing proposition, as I'm unhappy with what I see. I've grown more self-conscious, knowing that if I can see it others can too. I just feel... gross. 

It's not like I don't know how to fix this problem. I lost 30 pounds before my wedding by watching what I ate and going to the gym two or three times a week. At the time, it felt like a perfectly sustainable lifestyle. I slacked off after the wedding and gained some of it back, and then the crisis came and I went off the wagon entirely. Over the last few months I've lacked the motivation to do anything about it, but I have the desire at this moment and I'm going to harness it before it disappears.

Today, I'm going to start writing down what I eat and I'm going to go to the gym at lunch, even if it's just for 20 minutes.

I didn't write this post because I thought any of you would be particularly interested in it. I wrote it because I need some accountability. I need to put out there that I'm going to do something about this situation so that I feel compelled to follow through, even if it's just a little bit at a time.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to Me

I've written before about how grateful I am for what so many people - friends, acquaintances, and even virtual strangers - have done for me over the last year. They supported me in many ways, big and small, and made what could have been an extremely painful and trying time only moderately painful and trying. But I've found that as I move further away from the immediate crisis of separation and divorce and spend increasing amounts of time alone (read: not distracted by the overwhelming support of my friends and loved ones), I am prone to forgetting all the little things I like about my new life. So, this year's Thanksgiving post is a reminder to myself of some of the many good things, big and small, I have to be grateful for.

1. I can wake up early on a Saturday morning, fix my breakfast and cup of tea, and listen to my NPR shows at whatever volume I like, and for as long as I like, all without worrying that I'm making too much noise and might wake someone up. 

2. If a friend drops by unexpectedly, I don't have to worry that any of the occupants of my house might not be wearing pants. Except Juliette, and she's excused.

Her cuteness exempts her from wearing pants. Oh, and the fact that she's a cat, too.
3. I have only myself to blame - and only myself to answer to - for dirty dishes in the sink, laundry piling up in the bedroom, and an unmopped kitchen floor.

4. Despite its discomfort, I have all the solitude I need to explore who I am and who I want to be.

5. When I need snuggles from my Juliette, I don't have to share her with anyone else.

6. I can finally repaint that spare bedroom a normal color and get rid of that hideous Gumball Red (and yes, that's the actual paint name).

The Too Red Room.
7. I no longer have to fly somewhere at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

8. On evenings when I don't want to cook, I can decide to have peanut butter and jelly for dinner without an ounce of guilt.

9. I can play the same album loudly and on repeat for hours at a time and no one will complain, or even comment on it.

10. I don't have to feel guilty for resenting my husband anymore.

There are other things about this new life that I'm grateful for as well, but these are the first ones that come to mind. So tomorrow, as I binge on turkey and mashed potatoes and all sorts of other deliciousness, I will also pause to celebrate that I can do it all on my own terms, for better or for worse.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

30 for 30

Austin's beloved local independent book store, Book People, recently celebrated 40 years in business. As part of the lead-up to this anniversary, their marketing director published a list of the 40 books that made the biggest impression on her life. She chose 15 from her childhood, and 25 from her adult life. I found her list really fascinating and it made me recall some books I hadn't thought of in years. In honor of my own recent 30th birthday, here is my list of 30 books that have made an impression on my life so far. The books on the list aren't necessarily the greatest works ever, but they are ones that made an impression on me.

1. The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

This is the book I remember most vividly from my elementary school years. As a child, I was obsessed with all things Ancient Egypt. The main character in this book creates a game based on Ancient Egypt, and I absolutely loved reading about a girl just as nerdy as me.
2. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
3. The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories by Carolyn Keene
4. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
5. The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin
6. The Sweet Valley High series by Francine Pascal
7. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
8. Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
9. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
10. Dances with Wolves by Michael Blake

I actually read this in fifth grade. We had to read a work of historical fiction for a book report. I chose Dances with Wolves. I still can't imagine what possessed me to choose this at 12 years old - probably that it felt very grown-up. This was apparently a theme in my childhood.
11. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie 
12. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

My absolute favorite novel of all time.
13. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
14. Kings of Infinite Space by James Hynes

The story is outlandish and there's a little too much deus ex machina in the last act, but the author's spot-on depiction of the working life of Texas state employees cannot be beat. Also, I don't think I'm spoiling too much when I tell you that it has zombies. Zombies!! 'Nuff said.
15. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
16. The Half-Jewish Book by Daniel Klein and Freke Vuijst

I remember stumbling across this book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble as a teenager. It was another one that made me think, "Hey! There are lots of people like me out there!"
17. Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
18. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
19. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky

After hearing the author on an episode of Radiolab (my favorite radio show/podcast *ever*), I checked out this book. It totally changed the way I think about the mind-body connection and how harmful stress can be to my physical health.
20. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
21. Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
22. The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
23. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
24. Zorro by Isabel Allende
25. The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld

My favorite cookbook ever. The halibut in a carrot-cilantro broth is to. die. for.
26. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
27. Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel García Márquez
28. Different Seasons by Stephen King (especially the "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" novella)
29. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
30. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

At the end of third grade, my teacher ordered dozens of books, let each student choose one as a gift, and then signed it for us. Mixed in that pile was Wuthering Heights. Being the thickest book with the fewest pictures, I chose it because it seemed the most adult. It was. I started it ten different times over the ensuing years and never got past the first page. I decided I hated Wuthering Heights. I didn't actually read it until senior year of high school, when it was required for my English class. I got through it that time. And you know what? I still didn't like it much.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Best 30th Birthday Ever, Part 9: The Big Day

My 30th birthday party was on Saturday, and I can honestly say that I had an absolute blast. Many of my closest friends were there, including the people who've helped me through the turmoil of the last year. It was wonderful.

First, the most important part: the cakes. Yes, plural. I had three of them (plus s'mores). Why three? Because it was my birthday, and I wanted three. What more reason do you need?

From left to right, we have a carrot cake (with raisins, of course) from Allison of Not-a-Fortune fame, a hot cocoa cake (with homemade marshmallows, even!) from my coworker Wendy over at I Love Baby Quilts!, and lemon pound cake with lemon sour cream glaze (which was absolutely to die for) made by my bestie, Katherine, who sometimes blogs over at Adventures with Spider Monkeys
And this doesn't even start to get into all the deliciousness others brought: dips, chips, cheeses, and wine, wine, wine! And, of course, chocolate - because my friends know me too, too well.

I have to give Allison credit for one of the best moments of the night. She, her date, and Single Blonde brought a piñata! Because, as Allison's date said, what's a party without a piñata? He had an excellent point. Check this girl out!

We determined that this was a Dora the Explorer head attached to a Strawberry Shortcake body. And frankly, that's perfectly fine with me.
I'll spare you the gory details of her demise (and my destruction of my good friend Lisa's umbrella in the process). Ms. Shortcake contained all sorts of goodies, including candy, condoms, mini bottles of booze, and plastic shot glasses. I've been told these are all the ingredients one needs for a successful third decade.

The loot.
I developed a really deep affection for Ms. Shortcake. In fact, her head is still hanging in my yard four days later (yes, really).

What? There was candy in there! (Also, please ignore the fact that you can see my bra in this photo)

Turns out, she also makes an excellent hat that makes me look a little bit like The Flying Nun.
The weather cooperated per my request, so we were able to sit out by the new fire pit and make some s'mores.

The party was truly fabulous. It was everything I wanted it to be, and it was a great way to ring in my third decade.

I spent Monday (my actual birthday) doing even more fabulous (though less inebriated) things. I took myself out to breakfast, then got a 90 minute Swedish massage. I met Allison for wine and cheese at my absolute favorite wine bar in Austin, Apothecary.

And now, I leave you with one of the most exciting moments of the evening: the lighting of the birthday candles. Oh, and the obnoxious, sorta drunk girl in the background? Yeah, that's me.

I hope the next year has fun and exciting surprises of its own, too.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Best 30th Birthday Ever, Part 8: The Unveiling

The back yard isn't quite complete, but it's close enough that I feel like I can finally show it off a little. First, let's recall what we started with.

Brown, blank, boring, and totally not appropriate for hosting a party.

And look at what we have now!

Later in the day, when the sun came out, I managed to get a better shot of the side of the garden closest to the house.

The pots still need to be planted with annuals, but otherwise it's pretty much finished.

I'm actually happiest with the plants. I really tried to mix different textures and heights with different colors and flowers, and I think that once the plants start to fill in in the spring, it'll really come together.

I love the way the Gulf muhly glows in the sun.

As the Japanese barberry grows, its branches will become long and arching and the plant should take on a really cool, almost sculptural form. Until then, I'm enjoying the striking contrast between the almost florescent green edges of the leaves with their dark maroon centers. Click on the photo to enlarge it and see what I mean.

Even though we're approaching mid-November, the Mexican firebush is still putting on a show. It's supposed to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, so hopefully I'll see plenty of those in the spring.

And look at the little baby flowers! I'm hoping they get a chance bloom before the first real cold sets in.

The blackfoot daisy is almost blindingly white in the sun...

...and the prostrate myoporum looks like it's some sort of radioactive alien plant.

I know it sounds like I'm spending an inordinate amount of time patting myself on the back, but I really am proud of myself for getting this done. I took a pretty blank canvas, came up with an idea, and then executed it (with a little help on the manual labor, of course). I'm happy with my 30th birthday present to myself, and I'm glad it's something I'll be able to enjoy with all my friends at my party on Saturday and for a while to come after that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How To Be Alone

Lately I've been struggling with being alone and all the temptations to avoid it. It is, at times, incredibly painful and feels like it will last forever. Frankly, I don't like it one bit, but I'm doing it because I know I should. I haven't been using relationships in a very healthy way lately, and experts tell me that being alone is one way to address that.

The other day, Roger Ebert (yes, *that* Roger Ebert) posted a video on his blog titled, "How To Be Alone." I made a note of it and set it aside, and only got around to watching it earlier this morning. It was moving and instructional at the same time - a rare combination - so I thought I would share it here. I have a feeling I'll be referring back to it often when I need some support or a reminder of all the ways that being alone can be freeing and empowering, rather than just lonely.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Best 30th Birthday Ever, Part 7: The Final Countdown

My 30th birthday is just one week away, and I can't forget about it for long at all. Every couple hours or so I'm stopped dead in my tracks by the thought, "Oh my God, I'm turning 30 next week." This leads to at least three minutes of paralysis, followed by racing thoughts along the lines of, "How can I accomplish everything I planned for myself in the next seven days?" and "If I'd actually been born on time, I'd already be 30. Hell, biologically I probably am 30. Well, I'm thoroughly screwed already then."

The best part, though, is when other people remind me of my looming milestone. My personal favorite thus far occurred today, when my coworker asked me, "How are the waning days of your 20s?" When I thanked her heartily for depressing me even further, she said, "Think of it this way: you're completing your 30th year!" I paused, then asked, "So you're saying I'm actually starting my 31st year?" Thus concluded our working relationship.

I'm not really depressed about turning 30; I'm more dumbstruck by it. It sounds and feels so momentous, and yet because I'm nowhere near where I thought I would be, I don't quite know how to feel about it. I'm not sad, and I'm not mourning my 20s, but I am a little bit lost, it seems. Rather than being angry or frustrated about that, I'm trying to explore it and just let it be.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Buried Treasure

When last we visited my new backyard garden, I discussed the many strange things I've found buried in it. I held back a little - I've got two more surprises to share with you. First we have Exhibit A:

This is a 5 foot long wooden plank. And it was completely buried. In the ground. So either someone dug a trench, stuck it in there, and then covered it up, or it sat lying on the ground for so long that the sands of time literally covered it over. Either way, my opinion of my home's former occupants is falling rapidly.

Next up we have my personal favorite, and the thing that took me the longest to figure out:

Oh, I'm sure it's obvious to you now that I've knocked the dirt off it and placed it at an angle that makes its (presumed) identity more or less obvious. But I spent quite some time wondering if this was a piece of some garden machine, or a torture device, or a... no, no, it's just a bicycle hand brake. Rinsing it off revealed a logo (they don't put logos on torture devices, do they?) and a series of numbers in a circle (for a gear shift?) which reinforce my suspicions.

The sentimental part of me kind of wants to save this and find a way to incorporate it into the garden somehow. It's kinda cool looking, and very representative of the ridiculous things I've dug up along the way. I have a little potting bench on the patio that I could maybe display it on... What do you think?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

So, Wanna Hear a Funny Story...?

After I published this post yesterday, I had one of those moments that can be likened to a lightning strike. The sudden, sit-up-straight, finger-on-your-chin-in-a-thoughtful-kind-of-way moment. The kind that ends with you slowly and quietly saying, "Oh, fuuu....."

It turns out that I do actually have a pie server. It was tucked away in the very back of the Drawer for Everyday Eating and Serving Utensils, which really was the logical place for it because it's a serving utensil, not a cooking utensil, and I had been looking for it in my cooking utensils drawers. So, really, yesterday's post was just one big misunderstanding.

You can see how these would be easily confused, can't you?
Now, I could do the whole Wizard of Oz ending and point out that I had what I needed all along, and had I only clicked my fabulously shod heels together three times and believed in myself (and looked in the correct drawer, goddammit), I could have served myself a pot pie the proper way days ago. 

And while that's all true - I am a complete person as I am and pie servers really don't equal happiness and blahblahblah - there's also a problem with it: it's also total bullshit. If I hadn't had a minor meltdown about the pie server, it would have been about something else. Clearly, I'm not happy with where I'm at in my life, and there is something missing. Now obviously, it's not a pie server (I already have one of those, remember?). It's also probably not something that you can pick up at Crate and Barrel, either, like a strong sense of self, or self-esteem, or the knowledge that even though I'm not where I want to be, I will get there eventually. The point is that as much as I'd like to, I can't wrap this up neatly in a bow and say, "Oh, crisis resolved! I have learned overnight that I am complete and perfect as I am! I had only to throw a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch of Self-Doubt to find my way home!" For better or for worse (and I don't necessarily believe it's for worse), my yellow brick road is a little bit longer and more meandering than that.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pie Servers Do Not Equal Happiness

I had another Lingering Divorce Moment yesterday. Actually, it was more like a Tearful Hysteria Moment, but who am I to argue over semantics?

This past weekend I made a chicken pot pie, in a pie dish and everything. It took 1 1/2 hours of prep time (yes, really), and then another 50 minutes in the oven. So at 8:30 pm, 2 1/2 hours after I started cooking, I was pretty darn hungry. Faced with a meal in a pie dish, I logically searched for a pie server. You know, like this. I couldn't find one anywhere. I looked in the Drawer for Everyday Cooking Utensils. I looked in the Drawer for Less Often Used Cooking Utensils. I even looked in the Drawer for Cooking Utensils I've Never Actually Used along with Miscellaneous Junk, even though I knew I had used the pie server before. I couldn't find it anywhere. So I finally sliced into the pot pie with a knife and scooped out a slice with an offset spatula I usually reserve for icing cakes (curiously stored in the Drawer for Cooking Utensils I've Never Actually Used along with Miscellaneous Junk, when it *clearly* should have been in the Drawer for Less Often Used Cooking Utensils, but that's a whole other issue). 

I sat down and started eating, and then it dawned on me: my ex-husband took the pie server. He brought it with him when we moved in together, and it went with him when he moved out. It was entirely appropriate that he took it. It didn't bother me when it went with him. It didn't even bother me when I sat down to eat my pot pie.

It did, however, bother me Monday morning. Officially two weeks from my 30th birthday, and I was an almost-30-year-old girl without a pie server. Worse, I was an almost-30-year-old girl without a pie server but with an ex-husband. I burst into tears at my desk and cried, silently, off and on for over an hour. While my coworkers went about redecorating our communal area on the other side of my cubicle wall, hanging prints of our best work and discussing the ideal placement of printers vs. refrigerators, I was silently crying at my desk over a pie server.

My boss came by my desk a little while later to follow up on a question I had asked her earlier. She could tell something was wrong and asked if I was okay; I explained about the pie server and promptly burst into tears. "I don't think this is really about the pie server," she said. Well, no, I agreed, but it was about the fact that at almost 30, I wasn't where I wanted to be in my life. She nodded, and then she said something really simple, but really true.

"No, but you're closer. You're not in an unhappy marriage anymore."

I didn't really absorb the meaning behind her statement at the time. I just sort of nodded and agreed, then tried to turn the conversation back to work. I didn't absorb it later in the afternoon, and to be honest, I'm not sure I've really absorbed it now. But I do recognize it to be true. If I were still married to my ex-husband - even if I had that pie server (stored in the appropriate drawer, of course) - I would not be any happier, nor would I be any closer to where I want to be at 30. In fact, I would probably be less happy, and less happy also happens to be further away from where I want to be.

Pie servers do not equal happiness. Pie servers do not equal achievement. Pie servers do not equal success, or love, or stability, or a good life. Pie servers do equal the ability to serve pie more easily, and they should be valued for this (because really, who doesn't love pie?). But I would trade any pie server any day to be just this much closer to where I want to be. And that is something that I should value enough to remind myself of every day.

Monday, November 1, 2010

"And my head told my heart, 'Let love grow...'"

Today marks the beginning of National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo if you enjoy pointless tongue-twisters. The goal is to post something on your blog every day. While I have a couple friends who are participating, I'm a little ambivalent about this for myself - I'm just not convinced that I have something interesting enough to bother posting every day (my friends, on the other hand, never fail to have interesting things to say). So instead, I'm pledging to blog more without letting the quality of my posts decline.

Mumford & Sons is my favorite band of the moment, and it just so happens that they're coming to Austin in two short days. I am totally excited, to say the least. To prepare for the concert, I will be listening to their music non-stop for the next 48 hours or so. Today their song "Winter Winds" felt especially relevant to me, and these lines really struck me:

"And if your strife strikes at your sleep
Remember spring swaps snow for leaves
You'll be happy and wholesome again
When the city clears and sun ascends"

If you're not familiar with Mumford & Sons but you like the contemporary folk rock scene, I highly recommend them. Think of The Avett Brothers, but darker and Britisher. Here's a little sample of "Winter Winds," just to give you a taste of their awesomeness.