Tales from the Tail-End

It has been a while since I have visited this space. August brought the end of one job, the Philly 10k, the start of a new job, and a pretty jarring depressive episode that put me off running for near to a month.

I skipped two races that I had previously registered for (The Great Pumpkin Run & The Yards 5000 Yard Dash) out of a mix of sheer anxious terror and this feeling of hopelessness; or maybe it was more this overwhelming sense of stale ennui where I felt unable to muster the energy to tackle basic life tasks let alone running 3+ miles. It is a feeling that is difficult to describe – how does a typically chipper, effervescent, extrovert find themselves without taste for food, eschewing all social events, sleeping at 7pm in the evening,  and crying over “60 Minutes” 9/11 tributes? It’s as if someone removed my batteries and I came to a grinding halt mid-stride.

I had been trialing something new over the summer: life without antidepressants. I know many athletes, yogis, runners who struggle with anxiety and depression who are able to successfully manage their mood with frequent exercise and a nutritious, varied diet. I had lost near to 50lbs and felt that I had shed some sort of heavy layer that kept me from being the physically outgoing person I had always imagined. I felt that I had good friends and a solid community of support. It seemed like a good time to remove the proverbial “net”. Surely, the endorphins pumped out by running or Bikram yoga would keep me flying just as high. The descent was slow and almost imperceptible – some increased irritability that I noticed when stuck in traffic or in exasperating moments with family, tears that manifested during the moving swell of a movie soundtrack, fatigue after a particularly busy day. Signs so minute that they were very easy to attribute to external forces.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Philly Love Notes

Last month, I wrote a post for Philly Love Notes – a local blog that posts “love notes” from anyone who is passionate enough to proclaim their enthusiasm for some beloved aspect of Philadelphia. The notes run the gamut from architecture to restaurants/coffee shops/diners to boutiques to neighborhoods/parks/trees and more. The blog is a lens through which to see Philadelphia in a new light –  it implores you to view the city through another individual’s eyes or to contemplate something that you may have never paid mind to before. Philly Love Notes serves as a reminder that we do live in a pretty awesome, ever-changing metropolis that is as diverse as the people who inhabit the landscape.

My note is an ode to my favorite yarn shop – Loop – in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood and can be read on the blog.

Soup Season

I love soup.

If for nothing else, I love fall and winter because they are soup seasons. There is something very comforting about sipping warm broth on a blustery evening. My neighbors are also big fans of soup and we gather every Sunday during Advent (the month-long season of preparation before Christmas) for a soup night where we enjoy the company of friends and family, give thanks for the many blessings we have, and look forward to the coming new year. Each Sunday brings a new group of soups and we eat bowl after bowl of long-time favorites and new variations. I look forward to this tradition every year. Maybe more so than Christmas itself.

Growing up, my mother made a lot of meals in big pots. I am especially fond of her bright orange Le Creuset dutch oven that I can only now just lift. A lot of good, family meals have come out of the piece of crockery – meaty, melt-in-your-mouth pot roasts with a menagerie of root vegetables and burgundy broth that was sometimes served with creamy mashed potatoes or over egg noodles, pork roasts with apples and tart apricot glaze drippings, and hearty stews with deep brown gravy that creeps up the flesh of crusty bread as you clean your bowl. The other big pot is a silver stock pot that was used to wilt collards and kale for traditional southern “greens”. Sometimes the remains of a chicken or ham hocks or turkey legs would find their way in for stock. We would ladle out thick, green split pea soup or maybe a variation on a corn chowder or possibly something bursting with beans of all shapes and sizes.

Soup is easily my favorite meal. You can make a soup as complicated or as simple as you like given your time frame and list of ingredients. With the marvel of modern technology, we can now add a few cans of this or that and be done in an hour’s time. If you have a crock pot, cooking time can be drastically reduced as well.
Soup is also a very easy way to hide a multitude of sins as you don’t have to worry about getting every detail just right – you can adjust your flavor and your ingredients as you go along. Not to mention that it is such an easy way to incorporate those foods that are tremendously good for you but not palatable in their raw form. I will easily eat my weight in kale if it is in soup.

A friend of mine passed along a recipe for kale, sausage, and cannelloni (or cannellini) bean soup that she and her family had given high marks. My version of this idiot-proof dish is below. I was skeptical about the addition of lemon juice but found that it added a bright flavor that contrasts well with the smokiness of the sausage and more bitter flavor of the kale. This recipe could be easily made vegetarian or vegan if you substituted vegetable or mushroom brother and left out the sausage. In the future, I may add more vegetables and beans to boost the antioxidant value of this meal.

Other tweaks I made:

  • I did not use sundried tomatoes packed in oil as I didn’t want to add extra fat/calories. I found that my local Whole Foods sells sundried tomatoes in a resealable pouch that I can just keep on hand in the fridge.
  • Crushed or diced tomatoes could be used to avoid the mess of chopping whole tomatoes.
  • I used the “juice” from both the tomatoes and the beans.
  • I added a few extra leaves of kale and used regular curly leaf as I could not find lacinto. Wash well! Kale often has little tiny pests that look like gray or white fuzz.
  • I used 4 links of italian-style turkey sausage. I cooked it first then cut it into pieces.

The recipe says that it serves 4, but unless your family includes 4 giants it will easily feed you several times over. I placed a few portions in the freezer for later this winter. As a single lady, I do not shy away from recipes that make many portions as I love being able to pull things out of my freezer that are already made!

Kale, Sausage, and Cannelloni Soup

* 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

* 3 to 4 sausage links

* 2 cloves of garlic, minced

* 2 cans of cannelloni beans

* 1 can of whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped

* 40 ounces of low sodium chicken broth

* 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes, julienned, packed in oil and patted dry before using

* 1 bunch (6 to 8 leaves) of lacinto kale, stems removed and coarsely chopped

* juice of 2 lemons

* 3 Tbsp grated parmesean cheese with more for serving

* 1 tsp salt, more to taste

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat and cook sausages through. { I wanted my sausage completely cooked before being added to the soup } Add garlic and sundried tomatoes and cook for one minute. In a large pot, add chicken broth, beans, tomatoes, lemon juice, kale, 3 Tbsp cheese, sausage/garlic/sundried tomatoes from skillet, and salt. Simmer on low, uncovered for 30 minutes.

To serve: Ladle into bowls, top with more cheese and serve with crusty bread.

Badger Pride

This past weekend, I flew to Madison, Wisconsin to visit my cousin A.

A is the youngest of the cousins on my mom’s side of the family. I remember getting a call from my mom (who was present at her birth) on the day she was born. Despite being 8 years older and living on opposite coasts, she has come to be more like a sister to me. A reminds me to not take life so seriously sometimes, to treasure my friendships, to smile widely and laugh often, and to love with all my heart. I truly relish the fleeting time that we get to spend with one another.

Our family was pretty surprised (and proud!) when this southern CA girl decided to make Madison her home for college. My college experience was very intimate with only 2,300 students on the Barnard campus and I’ve been eager to see what life is like in Madison. The University of Wisconsin at Madison is home to the Badgers – the school’s immensely popular and successful football team. October seemed like a good time of year to see A, catch a heated game between UW and Minnesota, and try cheese curds (FYI – cheese curds are tasty little morsels when fried but will feel like lead pellets in your gut later).

Airplane goodies? Check!

Having your red gear is a MUST

Bascom Hall after a trek up Bascom Hill. It was quite the climb

Babcock Hall is where a lot of agricultural research takes place. More importantly, they also make ice cream here.

Lake Mendota on a cloudy morning

Displaying one’s Badger pride is very important. Note that those are W’s not M’s.

Camp Randall – aka where the football stadium resides

Kickoff

A sea of red in the student section

All smiles after UW won 38-13

On Metamorphosis

Bike ride on the Great Allegheny Passage in Ohiopyle State Park. August 2012.

I am sure that the caterpillar can relate. The path to becoming something new is long, a bit messy, and often times a complex process of intertwined efforts.

Somewhere, beneath all of these soft layers that bounce and jiggle, is a person that I am hoping to meet. We really aren’t very different. We are both beautiful and intelligent and wildly funny human beings. This other woman has a bit more confidence, though. And much less need for self-deprecating humor. Mostly, she doesn’t worry about what everyone else thinks when they see her because she is no longer hiding behind her wit and her intelligence, she no longer lives on the offensive in fear of rejection or judgment. She just is. She is the sigh of relief I will let out when I’ve metamorphed out of this pudgy body and into one that is stronger, more powerful, healthy, and happy.

I downloaded a Couch 2 5k application to my iphone. Not so much because I have a desire to complete a 5k, but more because I was getting bored of 40 minutes on any given cardio machine without some sort of goal or purpose. Also, it’s time to get over my fear of running. I am TERRIFIED of running. In my body, it is uncomfortable – my breasts heave painfully with each step, my legs quiver precariously beneath me, my lungs threaten to collapse, and my stomach sends mayday signals to my brain that I just may vomit any second. It’s my body’s way of shouting “NO! STOP! Stop this right this minute before I quit”. All that over 30 seconds of running. The program guides you through alternating sessions of 30 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking, a warm up and cool down period. I was waiting for the endorphins everyone talks about but I only felt them for a fleeting minute or two if at all. I managed to power through the discomfort by channeling my absolute loathing for the body I currently inhabit. Somewhere around the halfway point I even forgot about the other gym members that could very well be snickering about my jiggly bits behind my ample rump. Even though Week 1 Day 1 of the program only lasts for 40 minutes, I wanted to jump for joy when I finished. “Take that, treadmill and chubby thighs!” Then I remembered I still had another half hour of strength training to complete. So I pulled myself together and kept going. Change is intentional – something to be thought about every day, to be lived deliberately. One foot in front of the other, choice upon choice, thousands of beads of sweat until I wriggle out of this chrysalis.

Mile marker 72 – we started here, rode to 82, and made the return trip.

 

The Youghiogheny River viewed from the bridge that connects the bike paths. Those yellow things are white water rafts.

The quintessential view of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water” – constructed in the late 1930’s over a waterfall. Another reason for the 5 hour drive west.

 

 

Five Years

At the end of May, I attended my 5th college reunion in NYC.

 

Barnard College was a place of incredible growth for me. I fell in love with Manhattan. It was where I developed into an independent individual, learned to navigate a subway system, discovered Anthropology, and came to terms with the fact that I didn’t actually want to be a doctor even though it had been a childhood dream.

I never thought of myself as the type of person to attend renunions, but Barnard throws one heck of a party and it seemed too good to pass up. Barnard has been home to so many amazing women throughout the decades that our reunions seem more like an exclusive A-list event than a staid gathering of old college friends. There are lectures and performances to attend, cocktails on the lawn, fine dining and dancing in the quad, tours of the city we once considered our beloved home, and plenty of photo opportunities.

Cocktails on Lehman Lawn.

 

Milbank Hall where I spent most of my class days.

 

Barnard has been parterning with The Moth for several years now to give alumnae a chance to showcase stories about their experiences at the college. As an avid Moth listener, I submitted a story for review and was thrilled to have it chosen to be part of the event about the Mentors, Monsters, and Muses who shaped our time in college. It was such a privilege to work with one of the producers of the Moth and to learn how to really hone and craft a good, live story. I am so grateful for the opportunity that Barnard gave me to share my story, to overcome a bit of stage fright, and to fulfill a dream I’ve had of participating in a storytelling event.

The weekend also included trips to some of my favorite places in Manhattan like Purl SoHo. I discovered Purl during my sophomore year when I was looking for a good yarn shop in the city. Starting at 116th Street, I would ride the 1 to Times Square to then hop on the N train downtown to Prince Street. It was a trek  to their tiny space next to a French bakery on Sullivan Street, but the cozy shop always made me feel at home – warm and safe and deeply happy – surrounded by all those luscious fibers and saturated colors. Since 2004, Purl has since moved to a larger home on Broome Street to combine their yarn and fabric shops into one joyful, colorful space. I make it a goal to visit every year!

 

 

Liberty of London “Tana Lawn” prints in embroidery hoops

 

 

I can never visit Manhattan without choosing something to see in the theater district. This year, I chose Porgy and Bess knowing that it had received a great many Tony nods. I also couldn’t bear to miss vocal powerhouse, Audra McDonald, as Bess. In my life, theater has always been a way for me to lose myself in song and dance and the tragedy or triumph of the human spirit. Live theater is energizing in a way that movies are not, especially when you are in the third row of the orchestra seating! I’m not much of a stargazer, but I did hang around after the show to collect the autographs of the cast members – even Audra. I may still be on Cloud 9!

Porgy and Bess at the Richard Rodgers Theater

 

The actor who played “Crown”

 

Me and my mom with Norm Lewis who played “Porgy”

There was also a trip to The Frick Collection on East 70th Street to marvel at the collection of some of the best known European artists. I am especially fond of anything from the court of King Louis’ XVI. Frick also had several of the best works by El Greco – an artist very much overlooked until the 20th century. I got lost in the Roccoco beauty of the Fragonard Room and Boucher murals – all works acquired for Mrs. Frick’s private rooms.

If you are on the East side and you have just been marveling at French masterpieces at The Frick, you must, of course, stop at La Maison Laduree for the finest French macraons. These delicate cookies are a delicious combination of light and flaky meringue with decadently flavorful cream in the middle. The salted caramel and rose are my favorites. At $35 per dozen, though, Laduree macarons are a true luxury.

Macaron trees!

 

Pretty pastels

 

Then, without warning, the weekend is over and it is back to Philadelphia on the train until next year, knowing that time slips by all too quickly and soon I will be back at Barnard for my 10th renunion.

A “Lowe’s” Kind of Saturday

This Saturday was one of the best Saturdays in a long while.

I woke up entirely too late but, when I did, it was to a room suffused with bright sunshine and a breeze blowing the scent of warm grass and peonies in through my windows. Bali, my tortoiseshell cat was languishing next to me, eyes closed against the light, breathing tiny puffs of air onto my cheek.

Bali really enjoys lounging in the sink if you’re taking a bath

It was the kind of day you want to bottle so that you can take it out of the closet in the winter to be reminded that, yes! there are better days ahead. I am grateful for such days in the Northeast as we have had great amounts of rain lately and our summers are usually characterized by sleep-inducing heat and humidity.

I felt bouyant and energized. Strangely, those Lowe’s and Home Depot commericals that try to motivate you to get out and re-landscape your yard or build a treehouse make me feel the same way, so I told my mom that it felt like a “Lowe’s” kind of day.

I pulled out two bunches of kale from the latest CSA delivery that I had stashed in the fridge and set to work making kale chips. I completely forgot that I am not quite to the “eating kale chips” part of the post-surgery diet. I had perused several recipes from the Food Network and Smitten Kitchen and others before deciding to combine a few ideas.

Kale chips are unbelievably easy. Fool-proof even. Here are the guidelines that I followed:

  • Procure kale – wash – dry thoroughly
  • Remove stems and spines (I used a knife for this so as not to end up with lots of stringy bits)
  • Tear kale into large pieces (they really shrink in the oven)
  • Toss with enough oilve oil to coat but do not saturate
  • Toss in a few pinches of salt (I used grey sea salt)
  • Arrange on a cookie sheet
  • Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesean cheese (easy on the salt if you add cheese or you might end up with some very salty snacks)
  • Bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes.

You want the chips to be good and dry when you remove them from the oven so that they are flaky like dried seaweed. Otherwise, they become a soggy mess when you store them. I stored mine in an airtight container and others in the house have been happily snacking.

Into the oven they go!

Feeling confident, I decided that the rhubarb in the fridge wasn’t going to become a pie due to my current dietary restrictions. I flipped through my brand new copy of Food in Jars by Philadelphia native Marisa McClellan and set about making her Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam with Earl Grey.

I love this new preserving book because it focuses on small-batch canning. I do not have a 40-acre farm nor do I need to put up dozens of jars to weather a lean winter on the prairie. I am often frustrated wtih recipes that call for pounds upon pounds of fruit. Marisa’s recipes tend to make 4-5 pints which is perfect for a modern gal.

{I LOVE rhubarb. And as Molly Wizenberg of Orangette and the Spilled Milk Podcast will tell you – it is fun to learn to tame the “wild rhubarb stallion”. It’s a tart, intimidating vegetable for some. }

The Rhubarb-Vanilla jam receipe was easy, fairly quick, and an interesting twist on the conventional jam. I do recommend peeling the rhubarb as it is just easier to chop into small pieces that way. The earl grey tea really does add a little something unqiue to the flavor composition of the jam. I topped my greek yogurt this morning with the bit I had left in the pan after filling my jars (I actually got 4 jars just as Marisa denotes in the recipe!). If you attempt this recipe, trust yourself. You’re going to want to cook the jam a bit longer than 4 minutes because it will appear to be very drippy when you implement the “sheet test”, but take heart! the jam firms up very nicely as it cools in the jars. I wouldn’t go much longer than 6 minutes or you might end up with a brick of jam.

I LOVE this Mauviel copper preserving pan. It has enough surface area to allow the water to evaporate quickly. It’s definitely an investment, though.

As my jars were cooling I attacked two items on my “to do” list that have been bugging me for months. This is primarily because I like to keep my “to do” list prominently displayed as a digital “sticky note” on my iMac where it is often added to and not subtracted from.

  1. Clean out a particular kitchen cabinet that has been home to an ancient ice cream maker, two coffee grinders, and other doo-dads that are useless in 2012. Now I am able to store the pannini press, the electric tea kettle, food processor, coffee machine and other things to free up valuable counter space!
  2. Get rid of any number of the dozens of vases, collected over the years, that are cluttering the shelves of our back porch. Now my mom can see what she has on hand when we bring flowers into the house AND the shelves can be utilized for other storage needs, too!

It was wodnerful to go to sleep feeling utterly content, productive, and ready to greet another day.

A Bit of Earth

 

It sounds ridiculous but…gardening saved me.

I have a fuzzy memory of my mother reading “A Secret Garden” to me as a child. She also took me to see the theater production and the movie. At some point, I read the story again, by myself. I had a quiet fascination with Mary and the way she brought that little piece of land back to life. Somewhere along the way, though, I grew up and tucked Mary in my back pocket with a whole lot of other childhood memories.

My father died in April of 2009. Just as spring was peeking it’s head around a cold winter corner. The day of his funeral was glorious – warm with lots of golden sunshine. We at thai takeout with family on our deck that overlooks a white Dogwood tree whose leaves were crisp and green. Later that spring, I joined my mother on her annual trip to the garden center for the usual annuals – pansies, petunias, marigolds. Besides volunteering to tend her tomato and pepper plants from my grammar school’s yearly plant sale, I never expressed much interest in spending my time with a garden. On a whim, I picked out several vegetable seedlings and flowers. It was a slippery slope downhill from there.

A fuschia plant with it’s pink and purple flowers

 

After watching cancer change the shape of our lives for 3 years, I needed to focus my attention elsewhere. I also wanted that spring to feature something more than death. I have since learned that it is quite a good idea to have something to do with your mind and body after a tragedy so that you don’t spend every waking moment replaying it in your brain.

So I gardened. Not successfully at first. There were casualties from weather and my own inexperienced hand. There was one whole summer where I didn’t get any tomatoes at all! Bugs ravaged my squash one season and I have never been able to grow great cucumbers. I read dozens of books on gardening and my collection (from Barbara Damrosch to Alice Waters to Barbara Kingsolver) has failed to fit in the confines of my bookshelf. In the years since, I have learned to start things from seed, I joined a community garden, I taught myself new recipes to accommodate the abundance of produce filling the kitchen, I purchased more cubic feet of soil (I garden in containers) than I care to admit, I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and I own an amazing Japanese knife called a Hori Hori which I wield quite impressively when slicing fruit off a vine. I poured a great deal of sweat and even more heart into each growing season.

Containers of flowers and vegetables on the patio

 

That first summer, gardening saved me from falling into perpetual grief. It brought new life. It deepened my sense of wonder for the majesty of nature. It brought food which meant meals savored with those closest to us. What my mother initially thought might be a phase has turned into a passion. A passion for: the earth – whole, organic, clean, seasonal food, cooking/baking/preserving, supporting local agriculture and farmers, picking my own fruit, and teaching others about the simple joys of a garden.

A garden is whatever you want it to be. For me (and maybe for Mary), it is a magical place where happiness springs from a single seed to bloom before your very eyes.

This anemone popped up from last season!

Post-Op Day 6

Being that I am a nurse, I am a terrible patient.

“What do you mean I can reset my own IV pump?!”

“Do you think you could have the doctor check x,y and z on my morning labs to make sure my kidneys are alright?”

“I’m pretty sure they could discontinue the heart monitor now.”

Yes. That was me.

I was blessed to have an amazing nurse overnight after surgery who withstood me freaking out about my low blood pressure and increase heart rate while in a morphine-induced phase. I’d be surprised if she got to see her other patients.

It’s hard not to micro-manage.

It’s hard to be a patient. I had an inkling of this having been the family member of a patient, but it’s hard to really know anything until you’ve lived the experience.

Truths about being a patient:

…sleeping for more than an few hours at a stretch is impossible.

…narcotic pain medications really do work wonders.

…it is possible for your lips to become so dry from lack of fluid intake than they cave into your mouth as if you forgot to put your dentures in.

…you will want to brush your teeth at least 4 times a day. See above.

…tape residue will remain with you for days. Maybe even weeks. You will find it in hard to reach places in the middle of your back.

…some doctor, without a doubt, will place an IV in a very awkward spot.

…you will, at some point, question your judgement about the decision to have surgery in the first place. Especially, if it is an elective procedure.

…you will definitely want your mom.

Overall, the procedure went smoothly. I remember being in the OR on the very narrow table with people flitting around me to prepare for the case. I could see the robot they use for laparascopic procedures as the scrub-tech prepared a variety of instruments that would soon be poking around my insides. I kept staring at those huge, bright lights that they would use to illuminate my nakedness and flaws in all their flourescent glory. I heard the anesthesiologist tell me she was administering propofol (MJ’s drug of choice) which left a big blank wall in my time-space continuum between sedation and consciousness several hours later when I awake mumbling about how I was going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro once I have shed numerous pounds.

Six days after the procedure, I am sore and a bit cranky about the lack of fruits and vegetables I can consume while on a liquid diet. I really don’t have any regrets at this point about my choice to use a gastric band as tool for weight loss. If anything, I feel relieved – like “I think I can actually do this now!” I have never felt optimistic about my success before because I have so much weight to lose. The mountain was always looming before me in the distance and I could barely make it to base camp.

Bariatric surgery has its supporters and its detractors, but it is by no means a magic bullet or an “easy way out” of a life-long struggle. It does give me hope, though. And hope is a very powerful tool in and of itself. It is the “thing with feathers”.

The 1st of 1000 Miles

I tend to wince when I hear those hackneyed sayings like “The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step” and “Today is the beginning of the rest of your life” or “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”. I’ve sat through many a speech where someone, failing to find the words to communicate what they actually wanted to say, relied on a cliche.

Sometimes, though, those cliches really do seem appropriate. Tomorrow is the day that I start a completely new way of existing on this planet. This change has involved two years of contemplation and research and 10 months of planning, testing, and therapy to completely change the way I think about food. In a sense, it will be the beginning of the rest of my life – the beginning of a life that I am really excited to start living. And while my preparative journey ends, I now have to start putting everything that I have learned into practice. One step at a time.

For the most part, I am a person who has enjoyed change. I like traveling to new places and not knowing a soul. I relish the challenge that comes with learning to adapt to a new school, a new job, a crowded room full of strangers. Sometimes the changes have been frought with sorrow and upheaval – like when my father died – and sometimes, they have felt like a breath of fresh air – starting nursing school. Be they tragic or not, each change I have weathered has led me to a good place where I have been able to derive joy from those who were along for the ride and pleasure at knowing I survived.

Changing my body has been a much harder challenge, though. It seems to have wanted to keep the same doughy shape since I was in grammar school. Even after changing many behaviors, I have still had a great deal of trouble seeing the results I want. Tomorrow, though, I’m going to receive a really fantastic tool to better help me make the change from a doughy frame to something that’s a bit more athletic and capable of doing some serious hiking.

This, below, is Point A. I’m excited about the journey to Point B.