Wednesday, August 29, 2012

It's true.

Summer is really over.

I know because my son has started school.

I know because traffic jams are now the rule rather than the exception.

I know because I am tired all. the. time, regardless of how much sleep I get.

My fall schedule isn't *that* different from my summer schedule. I'm not taking any classes, and I do have leeway in terms of when I arrive at and leave work. But it's just not the same. Traffic has picked up, my commute has slowed, I have teaching and grading to do (which is fine; I enjoy working with my students, but it adds another element of responsibility/obligation), and campus is buzzing with people, noise, energy. Mentally, I feel more... closed in. Not as free. And I'm exhausted.

I want my lazy, carefree summer back. It was too short. Way, way too short. That whole thing about time going faster as you get older? It's totally true, and it totally freaks me out.

*  *  *

Tomorrow, workout double-header: Run early in the morning with my running group, and then Xtend Barre in the evening after school. Whew.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Group run! and pakora

My running group reconvened this morning for our first workout in at least six weeks. It was so good to be out there with my speedy girls again. With them, I can forget (or at least shove aside) any feelings of tiredness and laziness. They also make it easier to run in lovely 99.99% humidity, which was certainly the case today. They push me - maybe not intentionally, but they do. I want to keep up with them, and as a result, I've become a faster and more efficient runner.

*  *  *
The other night I decided to try making the vegan, gluten-free veggie pakora that my friend in Washington introduced me to. Granted, she didn't actually give me a recipe, so I improvised based on memory and a very limited knowledge of Indian cuisine.

First I cut up cauliflower, carrots, sweet potato, red potatoes, zucchini, and onion.

In a separate bowl, I mashed up a can of chickpeas; added cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt, pepper, a little dill, and a tbsp or so of hot sauce; dumped in some garbanzo bean-based GF flour (I had Bob's Red Mill on hand, but I think pretty much any fine flour would work); and added water until the mixture had the consistency of gloopy mud. 

Remember making mudpies? The mixture should feel/look sort of like that. Maybe a tad bit more watery. But it should definitely be a thick-ish batter, because otherwise your fried veggies will look sad and naked (I know because I ruined the first batch with a watery batter).

I poured canola oil into a small saucepan so that it was ~2 inches deep and heated it on medium-high. When the oil was hot, I carefully plopped the batter-covered veggies into the pan and let them sizzle away for ~5-10 minutes, until each piece was goldeny-brown.

Using a slatted spoon, I placed each piece onto a brown paper bag to soak up excess oil. That part isn't pretty.

(I'm not a food photographer, in case you couldn't tell.)

I served the pakora over brown rice to give the faint illusion of healthiness:

The cauliflower, potatoes, and carrots worked really well in this recipe. The zucchini - not so much. Next time, I think I'll add eggplant to the mix.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Personal history of depression

These are thoughts after having read Going Public with Depression. It's a worthwhile article, as are the readings listed at the end of it.

"It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it's a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.” - J.K. Rowling

The first time I experienced full-blown depression, I was 12 years old. I didn't know it was depression; I thought every preteen who'd just moved to a different state and started at a new school must feel that empty and catatonic. I figured it was part of the territory.

Problem was, it didn't go away. The events of my 6th through 8th grade years range from being nonexistent to fuzzy in my memory, but I can still remember the relentless hopelessness. Even now, I prefer to cast that feeling a peripheral glance; looking at it straight on is still like accidentally stepping into an open manhole.

I slept a lot after school, and when I wasn't sleeping, I was still exhausted. I cried, not that it did much in the way of dissipating my despair. I walked in the rain without an umbrella and didn't care about my wet clothes. I mesmerized and numbed myself by staring at chipped paint in the wall, knots in the wood of my closet door, and patterns in the linoleum of my bedroom floor. I ate and ate and gained weight. I threw things: Books. Clothes. Glass bowls. Whatever was handy. Using stress and work as welcome distractions, I focused on homework, youth group, art, and orchestra practice.  I threatened to kill myself, multiple times, though I couldn't figure out a foolproof way to do it. And I wrote. I saved all of those journals. They're now in a box in the upstairs closet. Sometimes I think about looking at them but, again, it's simply too difficult.

I hated the feeling, and I hated myself for not being able to get rid of it. I hated that no-one was helping me and that I didn't know how to ask for help. I hated myself for not being able to deal with it on my own, which I thought was the only way. I thought it was my problem, my responsibility, alone.

I grew up. I met my husband. We got married. We moved, and moved, and moved again. My life felt okay as long as we kept forging on. I was irritable a lot.  When things got bad, I'd comfort myself by selecting songs to play at my funeral. It always made me feel better somehow, and then life would swing upwards again.

Fast forward to pregnancy. I cried every day, usually in the afternoon. Every morning I'd wake up, hopeful that today will be different, and by 2 p.m. I was curled up on the bed. Sobbing. Hopeless. Losing myself. Not knowing why I was so sad.

Fast forward to two days after my son was born. I should have asked for help. I didn't. The midwife asked me how I was doing, emotionally. My son's pediatrician asked me how I was doing, emotionally. They told me about postpartum depression, how common it is, how treatable. But in my head I was thinking, "If I tell them the truth, they'll take my baby away. They'll see what I already know: I was not meant to be a mother." I was convinced of this. So I lied and said I was fine.

My son was small at birth to begin with, but because we couldn't get the breastfeeding thing down, he lost more than a full pound in his first week. We had to put him in preemie clothes. I still can't look at photos from that time: he was practically emaciated. The doctor told me I needed to supplement with formula. We did, and he gained a pound in two days. I felt like a failure anyway. I thought about leaving. My husband did a lot of the parenting those first two years. I did what I could, but mainly I concentrated on not drowning.

Then my son turned two, and started to talk and walk and display his personality, and things got better. I forced myself to control my emotions in front of him. But I was still angry a lot, and I swung wildly from sad to mad to happy to peaceful on a daily basis. So I found a therapist in an online directory and emailed him. I still vividly remember the reply in his voicemail message: "It sounds like you're stuck. I think I can help."

Fast forward to several months after I started graduate school. I loved school. I loved what I was doing. My son was healthy. Through therapy, I was developing an understanding of myself and coping skills. Yet I found myself self-harming. Killing myself was on my mind a lot. I didn't understand how I could look so normal, successful, and composed to everyone around me, and even to parts of myself, and yet have these horrible thoughts.

Finally, I started seeing a psychiatrist and taking anti-depressant medication. I was skeptical. I was terrified that nothing would work. But miraculously, within a few weeks, it did work. My life opened up. Nothing was different, and yet everything was different, and I knew that I couldn't have gotten to that point on my own.

If I had to place a bet, I'd bet a lot of money that I've not heard the last of Depression. I know from experience that even with the strong mental defenses I've built through a combination of exercise, therapy, meds, a great family, kind friends, and rewarding work, I am not immune. And yes, that scares me.

What I do know now is that I have support, and an action plan. I can tell my husband how I feel, and he will give me space or comfort, whatever I need. I can tell my psychiatrist, and she will tell me what my medical options are. I can tell my therapist, and he will see me - even at the last minute - and listen in the kind, nonjudgmental way that he does. He will remind me that the feeling won't last forever.

If all that fails, if I am still not safe, I know these people will do for me what I might not be able to do for myself and get me to a place where I can focus 100 percent on recuperating. It's not something I want to do, ever, but I've learned that there's no shame in being hospitalized for depression any more than there's shame for being hospitalized for a heart attack.

I don't focus on being "cured." I focus on managing these experiences, and preparing myself for when those experiences are particularly overwhelming. I am trying to let go on the good days and just bask in them.

One thing my therapist keeps reminding me of is that I am not alone. Other people experience this. A lot of other people. "But we don't talk about it. People hide it. No-one knows," I reply. "That's true," he'll say.

Why don't we talk about it? Is it because of the stigma attached? Maybe, though I truly think that's changing. Is it because other people might use that knowledge as a weapon? Perhaps. For me, though, I don't talk about it because I don't really have the words to explain what it's like. Depression is a lot like love in that words fail to describe its depth and nuances. It's as if we need something more than words to convey the experience. We use words to build bridges to one another. And because words fail me when I am depressed, I feel alone.

Looking back at 12-year-old me, I don't know how I survived that depression. I really don't. No episode since then has been as bad, maybe because that was the first time and I wasn't used to it, maybe because at no other time have I had so little support. I might feel like I don't have support, but in reality I do, and so long as the rational part of my brain can speak up long enough to shout "HELP," I know I have a way forward.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Five

1. There was a big accident on the highway this afternoon (I don't think anyone was seriously hurt, but the cars were in a really bad location near the median). I sat in traffic for about an hour, ate the cashews that my husband had purchased for this type of situation (so that I'm not hangry when I finally get home), listened to music, and tried to convince myself that my commute counts as "me time."

2. Family night: We went out to dinner at Whole Foods. There are few, if any, eateries near my home that gladly accommodate gluten free, vegan diets. But Whole Foods does. My husband filled up at the buffet, my son selected grapes, cheese, and a mini cupcake, and I had some sort of rice/bean patty concoction (which was okay - not fantastic, but healthy at any rate).

While there, I discovered that Whole Foods has a wine bar. In the store! Who knew? And unlike most other places around here on Friday evenings, there were seats available. I'm taking note of this: it's going to be a part of our next date night.

3. I spent a really really long time picking out a dessert for myself and finally selected Udi's gluten-free Snickerdoodle cookies. Got home, ripped open the package... and realized that they contain butter and eggs. Aaaargh. So I settled for one of these instead:

They're a little crunchier than most bars, but I like that - I really can't stand anything that even remotely resembles the texture of a Power Bar. I need some snap, some resistance. My favorite bars are Zing Bars. I haven't been able to find them around here.

4. I'm still loving the Xtend Barre class, and it is still kicking my butt. I love that. It's really, really hard - to the point where my legs shake and I'm on the verge of collapsing (but in a good way). The classes are normally pretty expensive ($20 each!) but I paid for 16 of them on the cheap through Groupon and Living Social deals. I've already used 6 of the classes. My flexibility and balance have moderately improved, and I think my core muscles are getting stronger. I'm thinking about signing up for unlimited classes once my coupon runs out, but that requires a 6-month contract, $150 per month. Yeesh. For us, that's steep. Maybe I'll see if the owner would be willing to cut me some sort of additional deal...

5. Running plans for the weekend: 4-5 miles tomorrow, 3-4 miles Sunday. On Tuesday, my running group is finally re-convening after several weeks off. I'm looking forward to that. These girls push me in a way that I do not push myself. I've missed running with them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A new era for our little family

My little boy starts Kindergarten tomorrow. I know he's ready. I'm pretty sure we're ready, too. But there's definitely a weight to this occasion. He'll need to exercise more independence. He'll have to make more decisions on his own. He'll have to follow other adults' directions/rules, some of which his laid back parents think are kind of silly (not that we'd admit that to him).

It's all good. I don't own my child. I'm responsible for his well being, and I'd do anything for him to keep him safe and secure, but he has a right to his own experiences.

It's not that I'm particularly sad, though there is a sense of, "Wow. I thought we'd never get here, and yet here we are." It's just that I recognize we're turning a page. We're making a transition, and life will change, evolve, if only in subtle ways.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Favorite books of the summer

I'm surprised by how much I've read this summer. Don't get me wrong - I LOVE to read, but I'm an awfully picky reader and it's hard for me to find books that I can't put down. Plus, I don't usually have a lot of extra time, so if I'm not into a book, if it's something that I'm only halfhearted about, I usually don't finish it. I hit the jackpot this year, though.

My favorites of summer 2012:

Inspiring biographies:

1. Finding Ultra by Rich Roll: I read the entire thing in nearly one sitting. It was well-written, informative, and inspiring. There's an element of "regular-guy-discovers-the-superhero-within" here that I found irresistable. If you are into running (of ANY distance or speed), and/or if you're interested in veganism, you'll probably enjoy this.

2. Eat and Run by Scott Jurek: Similar in content to Finding Ultra (emphasis on running and veganism), but the writing is a little choppier and less descriptive. Plus, although the title proclaims that Jurek had an "unlikely journey to ultramarathon greatness," given his talent, I'm not sure how unlikely it really was. Nevertheless, it's an interesting biography of how Jurek became one of the world's best ultrarunners. It also offers vegan recipes. And Jurek is clearly a very sincere, hard-working person.

3. Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson: Stephanie Nielson, author of the blog "NieNie Dialogues," writes about life before and after a horrific plane crash in which both she and her husband were terribly burned. The book is well-written and - something I particularly appreciated - honest. Nielson expresses a strong faith and resiliency, but she doesn't sugarcoat the hardships associated with recovering from a traumatic accident.

Also, unlike some other books I've read that are authored by bloggers, this one is not simply a collection of recycled blog content. It's a cohesive, thoughtful, fresh synthesis of events that Nielson has touched upon on her blog but didn't explore in this much detail.

4. Driving with Dead People by Monica Holloway: I LOVED this memoir. It was so well written, so engaging, so truthful. It was also incredibly disturbing because it's about an adult coming to terms with child abuse. How Holloway coped with that, how she survived and dealt with brutal betrayal and trauma, is inspiring.

Psychological thrillers:

5. Gone Girl, Sharp Objects, and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn: I read Gone Girl and found it compelling. The approach to the storyline was different from anything else I'd seen, though I wasn't as surprised by the ending as I hoped I might be. Still, I took to Flynn's writing (once I find a voice I like, I tend to read all of that author's work before turning to something new), and followed up with Sharp Objects. That ended up being my favorite of the three. Dark Places was also good, though I wasn't as into it as I was the other two.

Slightly frivolous chick-lit stories that are perfect for long flights:

6. Can I Get an Amen? by Sarah Healy: Sort-of Christian woman is abandoned by her husband, moves back in with her ultra-Christian parents, and tries to navigate a new life. I was skeptical about this one, but what impressed me about it was the way that the author manages to speak to both Christians and non-Christians without alienating anyone. It's modern, non-preachy, and it doesn't stereotype. (Side note: I am not a Christian and the thought of going to church gives me the hives. But I thought the author did an amazing job of reaching out to people regardless of their beliefs.)

7. Where We Belong by Emily Giffin: Total chick-lit, but if you've read any of her other novels, this one is comforting in its familiar tone and topics. It's about two people who, having been separated for 18 years, meet again - and the repercussions/outcomes of that reunion.

What about you? Do you have any favorite books you've read recently?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Common courtesy, or lack thereof

An open letter to companies and institutions who solicit applications (for employment, fellowships, scholarships, etc.) yet never bother to respond to them:

To whom it may concern:

I noticed that you failed to offer any sort of response to the application that I submitted two months ago, though when I contacted you, you curtly assured me you'd received it. I would like to point out the following:

  • Responding to email is actually not that hard. You click "reply" and type a few words. Might I suggest: "Thank you for your interest in this scholarship/job/unpaid-internship-slash-free-labor. We have decided to go in a different direction, but we appreciate the time you put into your application. We wish you all the best."
  • Do you know how long it just took me to type those three sentences? Forty-seven seconds.
  • I understand that you likely received numerous applications. There are several high-tech ways to approach this challenge. One is to learn a function widely known as "copy and paste." This function allows you to place the same sentence (see above) into multiple emails without having to type it again and again. Now all you have to do is modify the "Dear So-and-So" and the email address, and voila! 
  • Perhaps that sounds too hard, or maybe you are too important to send individual replies to each application. No matter. There's a solution for that, too. Simply place the email addresses of all recipients in the little box labeled "bcc" (if you don't know what that means, try the Google). Avoid personal greetings altogether. Go for the blatantly canned rejection. Then type your response (see suggestion above) and press the little button that says "send." At this point, everyone who was included in the reply will receive the message, but they won't see the names of anyone else who received it. I know, it's like magic! It WILL take three minutes of your precious time, though. If that's too much for you, try...
  • ...having your administrative assistant do the dirty work for you. If you are really that important, so important that you can't be bothered to contact your applicants, you will work with someone who actually knows what he/she is doing.
  • If you're responsible for deciding who gets the scholarship/job/internship and you aren't aware of the techniques described in the previous three bullet points, then might I suggest you pass on your job to someone with some life skills.
  • Keep in mind that people put a lot of time into their applications, especially now when the chances of actually getting the carrot are so slim. That's time these people could be spending with their families, with their children, researching other opportunities, etc. These individuals will understand that they might not receive an offer. Nevertheless, they do deserve some sort of response. You know... because they're human. They deserve respect, too.
  • Karma's a bitch. Just FYI.
Stationary Runner

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Plié, run, dinner, dessert

Yesterday: 1 hour barre class, four mile run

Today: 1 hour barre class (I think she was trying to kill us - which I LOVED), three mile run at park followed by chasing after my scooter-riding son.

Working out this much makes me really tired, but in a good way. I had just enough energy this weekend to focus on family, eating, sleeping, writing, and watching television, which means that my brain didn't have enough juice to chase its own tail.

Dinner tonight: Hodge-podge of roasted veg (zucchini, tomatoes, sweet potato, regular potatoes, portobello mushrooms, and garlic) + kale (Trader Joe's frozen) + chickpeas marinated in lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and pepper

Sidenote: This? From Trader Joe's? Is great. Just pop out a few cubes of garlic, add them to the pan with a little oil, voila. No need to chop garlic if you're short on time.

Planned dessert: Frozen grapes and blueberries. Like candy, but with more phytochemicals.

Confession: My husband, completely against my wishes of course, purchased more chocolate crack cereal. So there is a slight possibility that I may somehow try to work it into dessert. And breakfast tomorrow. And my mid-morning snack...

Planned evening activities: Eating said dessert, drinking a glass of wine, and indulging in an episode of Breaking Bad, which is quickly becoming an obsession for me and my husband.

Tomorrow: I need to be on the road by 6:45 a.m. I have little to complain about in my life other than this commute.

I truly hope this week is a good one for you.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Exhaustion, and week in review

I am just plain tuckered out! I decided to run last night, do a fitness class this morning, and then run again right after the class. Now I want to sleep the afternoon away (which... with a five-year-old? Is a total pipe dream) and eat.

*   *   *
Things about last week that stand out:
Things I'm looking forward to:
  • Date night with my husband
  • My two closest friends from school finally returning from their looooong summer field seasons in exotic areas of the world (Iceland and New Zealand) 
  • Another relatively relaxing, work-free day tomorrow
Things I'm grateful for:
  • My sweet, smart, energetic, creative, affectionate little boy 
  • My laid-back husband, who doesn't always understand me but unconditionally accepts me
  • The best, most supportive, most energetic dissertation advisor ever - we butt heads sometimes, but I can't imagine a better mentor
  • Time for relaxation
  • Amazing opportunities - school, travel, free public education for my child, good health, employment
  • The capacity, freedom, and opportunity to make changes, and people who are willing to help me as I strive to do so
I like this: "Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world." - John Milton

What about you? What are you grateful for?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The first day

Today was my son's first day of Kindergarten - well, half-day orientation, but close enough. It was the first time he met other children in his class and spent appreciable time with his teachers.

The whole operation went as smoothly as it possibly could have. Dropped him off; no tears (he seemed a little anxious until the tall, pretty blonde teacher asked him about his Transformers backpack... She won him over in seconds.) Picked him up; all smiles. Unprompted, he even told me about part of his day: he colored in an apple picture and cut it out, and he ate lunch in the cafeteria. Given that he's always been reluctant to tell us about activities at his preschool, I took this as a sign that he's excited about his new experience.

A few months ago I worried about him going to Kindergarten: he's so shy sometimes... Would he be okay? Would he be able to stand up for himself if someone picked on him? Would his learning be totally test-oriented? Would the kids get enough science, art, and playtime? Would someone hurt him, and if someone DID hurt him, would he tell me? I really worked myself into quite a frenzy and was well on my way to becoming the poster mother for Helicopter Parenting.

In late April all of those concerns veritably disappeared when we went to the school to pre-register him. He fell in love immediately: with the library stocked with computers, books, and comfy seats; with the music room filled with drums, xylophones, guitars, and other instruments; with the bright, colorful Kindergarten classrooms; with the computer lab.

I fell in love with the school, too, mainly because it reminded me so much of my own public elementary school: not at all fancy, very diverse in terms of student population, down to earth, warm. If I have one academic-related wish for my son right now, it's that he enjoys this part of his educational journey as much as I did. For me, school was a source of comfort and consistency, a place where I couldn't wait to be every day because I knew I'd be doing and learning new things. Every morning was like Christmas. My teachers played a critical, vital part in shaping not only my knowledge base, but my sense of self-worth and self-confidence. Even now, I can still remember the names of each one of my K-6 teachers, and I think of all of them fondly because they were so kind to me. They made me feel like I could do anything.

With my son starting grade school, I am reminded that it is perfectly okay for a village - not just the parents - to help raise a child. In my own life, I don't know where I would be now without that village. My son's childhood is different than mine, but nevertheless, I want him to develop bonds with people - adults and kids - other than us. No one person can be everything for someone else, not even a parent for her child.

ETA: 3-mile run followed immediately by 1-hour "ballet class" = I can't bend my arms. Or legs.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Five things (cherries, Kindergarten, television shows about drugs, etc.)

  • I am in love with fresh summer cherries. Rainier cherries are my favorite but really, any decently-priced ones will do.
  • Also I am in love with the show Breaking Bad (four or five complete seasons on streaming Netflix). It's about two guys who make crystal meth, and it's a lot funnier and more riveting than it sounds.
  • I'm going back for more Xtend Barre tomorrow. I'm not as sore as I thought I'd be, and I feel really good about myself even though I can't actually see any results yet, of course. My goal is to do that followed by a 45-minute run. I was supposed to do the run today but lack of self-discipline kicked in. So I'll double up tomorrow.
  • My son has his half-day Kindergarten orientation tomorrow! AAAAAAAHHHH! I feel like we (me, husband, son) are all very unprepared, and none of us seems to believe it's actually happening, but here goes...
  • I sound more upbeat here than I actually feel. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Xtend Barre: I'm not going to be able to move tomorrow

This evening I went to my first fitness class in... I don't know. Five years? Six? More? Fitness classes aren't usually my thing.

I've realized for a while now, however, that a) when it comes to running, my body has a lot of muscle memory, meaning that even when I do longer or faster runs, I don't get as much out of it (physically, I mean) as I used to and b) I need to do something that will improve my strength, flexibility, and muscle tone.

You know those runners with the 12-pack abs and sculptured arms?

That is not me. I look like someone who runs a few miles and then sneaks off to the donut shop to refuel with a box of Munchkins (I don't, but if they were gluten free, it would be tempting).

So anyway, Groupon recently had a deal for this combo ballet/pilates/torture workout called Xtend Barre. It sounds very pretty and when you look at the Xtend Barre website, it also looks very pretty. I pictured myself pointing my toes, doing some plies, and maybe jete-ing across the studio (very unrealistic; see post from a few days ago), my muscles gently rippling beneath my skin.

Reality check: This workout was hard. About halfway through, I was sweating buckets and my legs were shaking so badly that I thought I might collapse into a soggy heap next to the barre and then puke on the floor. This particular fitness class would be excellent preparation for boot camp.

At the same time, I really enjoyed it and could immediately tell that I'd gotten something out of it. I haven't worked my muscles this way in ages.

I have five more discounted classes thanks to my Groupon code, and I'm looking forward to them... sort of. I'll schedule my next session just as soon as I can walk again.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chickpea patties with roasted veggies

Five years ago, I cooked fairly often but didn't necessarily relish it. Trying to time each component of the meal, limit the amount of mess I made, wash the dishes as I went along (something my husband strongly believes in, probably because it means he doesn't have to spend as much time at the sink after dinner), make adjustments based on the availability of ingredients (or lack thereof)... It was kind of stressful. Also, I was perfectionistic. Every meal had to be a masterpiece. I'm no Julia Child, and with my attitude, I was doomed to culinary misery.

Going gluten free forced me to cook on a much more regular basis. I couldn't go out to eat nearly as often as I had in my pre-GF days; when I did, the food was usually disappointing. So cooking at home was almost always cheaper and sometimes more tasty. :-) At first I relied heavily on recipes, but then I realized that when you use fresh ingredients, you don't need to do a whole lot to food to make it taste good. And because I started to see food as fuel, I didn't get as upset if it didn't turn out as I'd hoped. It was still nutritious. Once I took some of the pressure off myself and reduced the complexity of my cooking efforts, the whole act of preparing a meal became a lot more relaxing and enjoyable. And as with most things, practice makes easier (not perfect - perfect is not a goal [or so I lecture myself on a regular basis]).

Tonight I made fried chickpea patties. The recipe is taken from Oh She Glows. I changed two things: I used GF flour instead of regular flour, and I fried the patties instead of baking them. We don't fry very often, and until recently it actually kind of scared me. But fried food... tastes good. And it cooks quickly. So I've gotten a little more comfortable with it.

Per the recipe, I combined red onion, garlic, cumin, coriander, and some salt and pepper (I kind of eyeballed the measurements). In a separate bowl, I mashed up two cans of chickpeas with my hands (not the cans, just the chickpeas... har har) and added the GF flour. My son mixed it all together.

Chickpeas and flour in wooden bowl; onions, garlic, and spices in blue bowl

I divided the mixture into 10 pieces and patted them into little disks:

Then I covered the bottom of a saute pan with canola oil, let it warm up on medium-high heat, and added the patties once the oil was very hot (I deemed it "very hot" when I dropped in a chickpea and saw it sizzle):

Not a pretty picture. Oh well. Does frying ever look pretty?

I fried the patties for ~4 minutes on one side and ~3 minutes on the other. Then I placed them on towels to soak up some of the excess oil.

I served them with roasted brussels sprouts and grape tomatoes (mix sprouts and tomatoes with a generous swizzle of olive oil, add salt and pepper, bake for 30 minutes at ~400 degrees). 

I was really pleased with the flavor and texture combinations: sweet tomatoes, slightly salty Brussels sprouts, patties that were light and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Perfect. Total comfort food. And easy to make.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Weekend in pictures and a documentary recommendation

This was a great, lazy, relaxed weekend. Again, I'm so glad to be home. I'm so glad that I didn't have anything scheduled. And I'm very, very, VERY glad the weather was so beautiful, because it meant I got to spend a lot of time sitting out on my patio without melting.

This weekend I...

Went running: outside on Saturday and on the treadmill today (26 minute higher-intensity workout consisting of 3 minutes of walking, 20 minutes of >5K pace, 3 more minutes of walking)

Ate a lot. My son and I made cookies, as planned:

On Saturday I made a delicious dinner salad with romaine and spinach, mandarin oranges, cucumber, almonds, plums, cherries, tomatoes, carrots, and avocado:

I dug through 3/4 of this evil gluten-free cereal that my husband purchased for me. It's like crack. I can never allow him to purchase it ever, ever again.

Played with my son. We spent some time with Play-doh...

...then decided to ramp up the excitement by going outside with a bunch of different foods to see what ants prefer to eat. According to our very scientific study, they love chocolate chip cookies and American cheese, but aren't all that fond of carrots:

(All those little dark specks on the cookie are ants.)

 We also found this guy while we were experimenting:

Drank wine. Outside. 

Watched two documentaries (I love documentaries): Home and Triage. "Home" was interesting but left me feeling incredibly frustrated/maybe a little outraged at the woman who "starred" in it. "Triage" was painful to watch but important in sending out a reminder that we're all united by the human condition. I highly highly highly recommend it.

"It’s not about creating the perfect future. it is about responding to another human being who is suffering in a very particular way, and responding to them in a very particular way. With the expectation that that is the starting point of what we are as human beings.” - James Orbinski, Triage

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Easy, daydreamy Saturday four-miler

The weather is gorgeous today: high in the low 80s, sunny, low humidity. So I went to my favorite local park and ran the one-mile loop four times:

It's a lovely park, with lots of open green space, lots of trees, and great play areas for children. Sometimes when I'm there, I pretend I'm at a park in Paris. This doesn't make a lot of sense considering that I have never actually been to Paris and have no idea what its parks are like. But still. I imagine that everyone is speaking French and that they are out for a stroll before going to the market to buy bread and cheese. Bonjour, Monsieur et Madame! (That could be wrong. I don't speak French.)

Shady. Cool. Wonderful. Such a relief after this relentless heat. The breeze on my skin felt so good. I could have stayed all day (not running the whole time, of course, but I'd have been happy there with a picnic lunch and a tasty beverage).

My right foot turns out naturally - see above. I walk and run like a duck. Sometimes I imagine that I could have been a ballet dancer: first position would have been so easy for me. Again, like the French park thing, this makes little sense. I have no dancing ability whatsoever, I'm too short and stocky to be a ballet dancer, and my cellulite would be tough to disguise in a leotard. But I pretend anyway.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Crisis averted.

I may have overreacted a teensy weensy bit yesterday. Today I went to school and talked everything out with my advisor (calmly and professionally, in contrast to my "I AM NOT HAPPY ABOUT THIS" email from yesterday), and he helped me come up with a solution that, while not ideal in that I'm still going to have a heavier workload and busier schedule than I'd planned for, will be tolerable. I hope. I feel a little silly for getting so upset, but then again, I subscribe to the belief that my level of angst is inversely proportional to the true severity of the thing causing the angst. In other words, if I freak out a lot about the perceived problem, it'll end up being okay, but if I don't freak out enough, I'm screwed. My therapist would probably advise against this line of "reasoning."

At any rate, crisis sort of averted.

Today the weather is the nicest it's been in several weeks. Evening temperatures are in the mid-70s instead of the high-90s/low-100s, the sky is blue, the air feels clean thanks to yesterday's rain, and there's a soft breeze. I'm sitting outside and relaxing with this while dinner's cooking:

(Yes. This is a plastic wine glass. It's for camping. Granted, I rarely camp, but whatever.)

For dinner I'm making shake-and-bake veggies: carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, beets, and brussels sprouts, placed in a big plastic container with olive oil and Trader Joe's lemon pepper seasoning, and shaken up until every piece is coated:

(I love Trader Joe's more than any other store, I think.)

Weekend plans:
  • Running - hopefully outside
  • Making these cookies with my son - we love them!
  • Cleaning my house and finally unpacking all my bags
And that's about it so far. Not very exciting, but I'm lazy, so it's fine with me.

What are your weekend plans?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The best-laid plans...

Treadmill workout - 1 hour of intervals at 2% incline:

  • 5 minutes of walking
  • 6 x walking/running intervals: 2 minutes walking, 2 minutes running at ~10K pace; increase speed by .1 each time (total of 24 minutes)
  • 6 x walking/running intervals: 2 minutes walking, 3 minutes running at ~10K pace; increase speed by .1 each time (total of 30 minutes)
  • ~2 minutes walking to cool down

I like intervals on the treadmill because they break up the monotony a bit. Today's workout was challenging - I felt tired and blah, but I was glad I did it anyway.

On a different note, I'm feeling frustrated tonight - at myself and at others. I try to establish limits in terms of letting people know what I can and can't do. I try to set myself up for success in terms of scheduling so that I won't get stressed out. In the past, I haven't been too good about that. I overwork and overbook myself, and the outcome is never good. At least three times this year so far, overdoing it has brought me to a miserable and scary place.

I'm working hard to get better at handling stress, but it is a long road to improvement. Stress is my kryptonite.

I made a huge effort to limit my obligations this fall so that I could focus on just two or three key tasks and keep stress at bay. Today I found out that, through absolutely no choice of my own and due to poor planning on the part of others, I'm getting a lot more on my plate. It's very last minute. Had I known this was going to happen, I would have arranged the fall semester in a much different way. I expressed my concern about it and was basically told that I'm just going to have to deal with it.

I'm worried and kind of scared about what this will mean re: stress. I'm mad because the person who's responsible for overturning my plans knows about all of the mental health stuff but doesn't seem to believe me. He sees me show up every day, get my work done, and do it well, and he assumes that surely everything is fine. He has absolutely no idea. Sometimes I am at my most productive when I am at my lowest: it's like I split into 2+ people, and each person does their own task, and well. It's one of the things I tend to do when my brain goes into red alert mode. It works, but it's exhausting, and it means I'm not in a good place.

I don't want to make excuses. I don't want to shirk my responsibilities. But I want to have some room to set what I feel are necessary limits/boundaries without someone coming in and totally destroying them.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Eggplant and potato pizza-ish

Four things about my life today:

  • First thing: My son starts Kindergarten in a couple of weeks. I'm feeling all "OMG, my baby is growing up so fast!" My husband - the stay-at-home parent - is feeling all "OMG, I will have free time again!!!" Tomorrow begins the easing-in process for the school year. He'll have a screening session to establish a baseline of his current knowledge/skills, and the following week he'll go to school for a half day with his new teacher and classmates. After that, it's 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. The other day he asked me, "How many years will I have to go to school?" And I said, "Well, at least 13, but probably 17. Maybe more, if you want to." He stared at me and told me I must be kidding. I decided to leave it at that. We're going shopping for school supplies after his screening tomorrow. He doesn't care, but I am so excited. Lists like this make me feel gleeful:
  • Second: I had a great therapy session yesterday. I was able to articulate my thoughts and be honest (doesn't always happen), and I left feeling comforted and cared for. Those are the sessions that make the more frustrating/confusing ones worthwhile.
  • Third: This morning I did 35 minutes of running/walking. 10 minutes of walking, then ~25 minutes of alternating between fast walking and 9-10 minute pace. As far as interval training goes, it was pretty easy, but even easy, short interval workouts seem to help me maintain my level of fitness when I don't feel like putting in longer runs (especially in this insane summer heat).
  • Fourth thing: I made gluten-free, vegan pizza tonight. Actually, it's not really pizza. Not technically speaking, anyway. It's more of a pizza-ish concoction consisting of GF bread topped with veggies - in this case, caramelized onions (yes, they make another appearance!), eggplant, mushrooms, potatoes, and tomatoes. I cooked the eggplant, potatoes, and mushrooms with the onions for a while before topping the pizza-ish.
This is my favorite GF vegan pizza crust mix:

The recipe calls for two eggs, but I sub in ground flaxseed. 1 egg = 1 tbsp ground flaxseed + 3 tbsp water. It works really nicely and gives the crust a subtly nutty flavor. I also added freshly-ground pepper and some dried dill.

The finished product:

I realize it doesn't look all that exciting, but it was quite tasty.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Home again, home again

I am so very, very, very happy to be home again. I love my home so much. It's small, it's not fancy in any way, it's never really clean, but I adore it.

The trip ended on a good note: last night my husband and I went on a date to a delicious Mexican restaurant, and this morning we went running together along a cool, shaded path before we flew home. Time with my in-laws went as well as it possibly could have. I'm glad we went and grateful that I managed to hold it together.

I can't wait to sleep in my own bed. I can't wait to NOT see the inside of the airport for the next five weeks. I value any opportunities to travel, but after four trips in as many months, I'm ready for a break. I'm ready to establish a dull routine.

When we got home tonight I made a meal out of a can of garbanzo beans, a bag of pre-cooked rice, and whatever vegetables hadn't gone bad in the refrigerator while we were away:

Chickpeas and zucchini mixed with olive oil, turmeric, cumin, and coriander, roasted for 30 minutes at 400 degrees in the toaster oven

 Caramelized onion (photo shows mid-caramelization process)

Rice - I am a big fan of this brand when I want to take the easy way out

+ tomatoes and spinach =

easy, healthy dinner + leftovers for tomorrow's lunch:

Yum. I especially love the caramelized onion/roasted chickpea combination.

And now to collapse in a heap, on my own bed.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mini-Vacation (Days 3 and 4): Feeling Off

My emotions are so roller coaster-like, even now that I am on an antidepressant and my moods don't fluctuate as wildly as they used to.

Yesterday and today, I struggled. I felt (feel) irritable, distant, spacey, annoyed at silly things, frustrated, unable to snap out of it... I want to be able to enjoy this getaway, but it's hard to do that when I'm overwhelmed.

I'm pretty sure that what has triggered these feelings is the book I've been reading. I thought maybe it could just be a fun, silly, frivolous, tantalizing thing to read. I should know better. Those topics and the explicit nature in which they are described are too close to home. Way too close. I knew I should put it down and walk away, and I didn't.

It's a lot like the times when I have self-harmed (something that's a bit hard to admit, and something I am working to avoid, but there it is). When I do it, it seems necessary. I think about it compulsively until I do it, and at that point it either feels good or I'm so blank that I feel nothing. At first it doesn't seem like a big deal. It's later - usually days later - that I start feeling like crap. At that point it's like a suffocating weight settles over my mind, and I have to ride it out until one day I wake up and it's no longer there.

So anyway. Reading this book was not a good idea. I'm trying to distract myself, and I'm hoping this panicked, strangling sensation will dissipate soon.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Mini-Vacation, Days 1 and 2

  • Went running with my husband on a well-shaded bike path while my in-laws watched our son. 4.5 miles both days. Difficult. Muggy. Awesome.
  • Lemon italian ice outside at dusk. Delicious.
  • Beach this morning. My son and I made sandcastles while my husband and in-laws swam. It was really hot, but I'm glad we went because my son was so thrilled to see the ocean. One of my favorite things about being a parent is watching him become totally engrossed in something he's doing, in this case making sand towers and then clapping and squealing as they were knocked down by waves.
  • Rum-laced tropical smoothies and delicious salad for dinner.
  • 1/4 of the way into a poorly-written book that I can't put down. Best read while sitting in front of an air conditioner or fan because... whew... My husband asked how this is different from the cheap romance novels they sell at the grocery store and why this book is so popular. I don't know, because I've never read those romance novels, but I will say that I think people are generally fascinated when "fringe activities" are brought into the mainstream. And hey, as it turns out, it looks like a lot of people are sort of into those fringe activities... or at least they want to be...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Petals on wet, blotchy concrete

Ever since freshman poetry, one of my favorite poems is "In a Station at the Metro" by Ezra Pound:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough

Now whenever I see pink petals, I automatically think of that second line.

It rained this evening, unexpectedly, and the rain brought down a hail of blooms from the tree next door. For a couple of minutes, it looked like it was snowing. Pink snow.

*  *  *
I feel better today, which should come as no surprise because I always eventually feel better. But whenever I'm feeling depressed - even if it's for a very short time - there's part of me that is utterly convinced that I will always be stuck in that heavy, dark place. It's like an emotional nausea. I think I'm finally getting to the point where I can tell myself that it's going to get better soon, even if I don't entirely believe it.

Tomorrow my little family is going on a mini-vacation. Nothing fancy, but I'm really looking forward to it. I got my work done today and mentally checked out the second I left the building.