Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Spring Cleaning Part 1: The Mess

This series of posts is not for the faint of heart.  You will be shocked.  Neat freaks and germophobes beware.  We may be the messiest couple on the planet.  They should make a TLC reality show about our apartment.  Don't say I didn't warn you.  

Mudhole?  Slimy?  My home this is! (skip to 1:50)


When my boyfriend and I first started dating, he thought it would be fun to tell each other all of the things that the other person might hate about us -- to get it out on the table right away.  First on his list: "I'm really messy and decoratorally challenged (and I make up words)."  That turned out not to be a point of conflict at all because I'm equally messy (and also frequently make up words)!  While we are both responsible adults who go to work every day, pay bills on time, cook for ourselves, avoid spending money frivolously, and so on, neither one of us is a "type A" personality.  We seem to have trouble cleaning up after ourselves right away, so by the end of the week, the mess can be somewhat overwhelming.  On the other hand, we are both homebodies who would rather make a nice dinner and watch TV than go out to a bar.  But the more time I spend at home, the more I wish it would look like a home (rather than looking like someone's junk-filled basement).  Last week, we helped one of our neighbors carry some shelves up to her apartment and I marveled at her pretty curtains, painted walls and plush rug, saying, "Oh wow, I didn't realize these apartments could actually look nice."  There are even several studies that link messy, cluttered environments to increased stress and belly fat.  Well, I've had enough!  This calls for a major "spring cleaning"

One of our biggest problems is that we have too much stuff and not enough places to put it all.  We are both avid readers and we both like to collect things, but all of our shelves are full, so stuff just kind of accumulates on every surface around the apartment.
Here, we have a side table in the living room full of books, important papers (including a parking ticket!), magazine pages I want to save, and a random toy gun I bought for him at the dollar store on the boardwalk last summer.  In the middle is our dining room/office/junk room which is full of all the stuff we don't know where to put anywhere else: cat stuff, an ironing board, music recording equipment, his old couch (standing on its side), and a desk that has become a big "deal with it later" pile.  Better view of the desk on the far right.  There's a computer under there somewhere.
My plan for dealing with this clutter is to first sort through it all; I may find that if it's actually somewhat organized, then we might have space for more of it than I thought.  Next would be to throw away anything we don't need or to put it in a box in one of the closets.  Which brings me to our next biggest problem...

OUR CLOSETS ARE THE WORST
This is our bedroom closet (left) and office/dining room closet (right).  The boyfriend has been using these as places to throw things he doesn't want to see since before I moved in and I've been afraid to open them the whole time I've lived here.  Both are filled halfway to the ceiling with dirty clothes and/or junk.  I don't want to touch anything in the office closet because some of it might be important, but I'm inclined to just throw away everything in the bedroom closet.  Most of it has been in there for a year and he doesn't even know these clothes exist anymore.  Anything that looks too nice to throw away, I might have to wash two or three times to get the musty smell off of them.  Once this closet has been cleaned and aired out, I might finally have a place to put my clothes.  In case you couldn't tell where I was going with this, our third biggest problem is that when I moved in, I brought a lot of clothes with me.  I have been sharing some of his dresser drawers, shoving clothes onto small shelves that I think were intended as a cupboard, or living out of laundry baskets.  I finally bought myself a dresser yesterday, but that was only enough space for one of the three baskets full of clothes in our bedroom right now.  Cleaning out this closet will take care of a lot of clutter, so it's a major priority.

Once the apartment is clean, then I can focus on the aesthetic side of our apartment.  We have a lot of fun things to display: oddities, masks, autographed photos, collectible toys, artwork, etc.  I think the place would feel more like a home if these things were hung up on the wall or given a designated shelf so that we can see them all the time.  We also have a lot of souvenirs we've brought home from our various adventures.  Making these things visible around our home -- instead of shoved into a corner or tossed on a desk -- would be a constant reminder of the fun experiences we've had.

Monday, April 29, 2013

To Old Friends with New Lives

This weekend was rather eventful considering that my ideal weekend plans usually involve being at home.  On Friday night, I saw The Place Beyond the Pines, which I knew almost nothing about.

It ended up being a very dark but beautifully made film.  There were a lot of layers to it and the subject of the story kept shifting, which was interesting.  The cinematography was also very artful and all of the acting was great.  It's not exactly a fun movie, but it's the best movie I've seen since Oscar season and I highly recommend it, even if you're just going so that you can see Ryan Gosling shirtless, covered in tattoos, and holding a baby.

On Saturday, the boyfriend and I went to the Chiller Theatre Toy, Model, and Film Expo in Parsippany.  We are both big fans of horror movies and there's always a lot of cool collectible items at these things.  Boyfriend is a weathered convention veteran, but this was my first time.  It was a little bit corny at times... a lot of aging wrestlers and Playboy models were mixed in with the other low-level celebrities, but we did get to meet some actors to whom we had some sentimental attachment.  For some inexplicable reason, Danny Tamberelli of early 90's Nickelodeon fame was there and it was sort of a life-changing moment for me.  OK so that may be an exaggeration, but it was really exciting to meet someone in person who had such a huge influence on my childhood.  I also met Edward Herrmann, who played Richard Gilmore on the "Gilmore Girls."
my fledgling autograph collection
The boyfriend met Karen Allen (from Raiders of the Lost Ark) and he wouldn't stop talking about it for the rest of the weekend.

The main event, however, was an informal reunion with my college friends in the city.  I hadn't seen some of them since they graduated in 2007 and while it was a bit of a time-warp at first, the most striking thing was how not awkward it felt to be around them again.  All of our lives had changed a lot since we had last all been together, but the more we talked, the more I realized how many important memories involve this group of women: a random trip to the Bahamas, my first few tattoos, ex-boyfriends both good and bad, a number of mistakes we've learned from, etc.  For that reason, we'll never be completely out of each other's lives, no matter how much distance either time or geography puts between us.  We have all had our moments of conflict with one another, but as I get older I learn how to better appreciate the differences between people and the value of letting people grow and change, even if it means growing apart.  There was a time during my last year at that college when I thought maybe I wasn't like the rest of my friends and I let that separate me from them.  Now I see that none of us are really all that similar -- we all have completely different interests and personalities -- and I regret having pulled away from them that year because it turns out that having differences means being able to learn from each other's different experiences of life.  So, while we may not be as close as we were before, I do really appreciate having them in my life.  Some of my most formative years (those of an unsteady early adulthood) would not have been the same without them.  I'm happy that I got to reconnect with them this weekend and hope to do it again soon.
[Here is where I would have posted a picture of us together, but it turns out that I didn't take any pictures in college that are appropriate for public viewing.]

I'm planning to do some major cleaning in the apartment this week.  We have a friend's cat staying with us and she's not getting along with our cat at all, so that's a bit of a challenge.  Any tips for getting cats to cohabitate peacefully?  Both of them are typically very sweet kitties, but the visiting cat is acting uncharacteristically aggressive because she's insecure about not being in her usual environment.  Either way, be ready for some embarrassing pictures of our slimy mudhole and hopefully some impressive transformations into near-cleanliness.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fun Stuff

Something else that isn't worth buying from the store anymore: almond butter (or peanut butter or cashew butter or whatever butter you like)!  It takes some time -- about 20 minutes -- but it is so easy.  I threw about 2 or 3 cups of raw sprouted almonds into my food processor and turned it on.  And then let it keep going and going and going and going.  I was so sure that it wouldn't work the first time I tried it because for the first ten minutes, it just looks like ground-up almonds.  Then the ground-up almonds start coming together a little bit, but then they crumble up again, and then come together again.  Finally, I walked out of the room for a minute and I came back to find perfect, creamy deliciousness.  You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl every once in a while, but that's it.  I added a pinch of salt and a few squeezes of honey to my last batch, but it's not necessary (and supposedly adding liquid makes it go bad more quickly).  Some tips:  If you soak your almonds first, make sure they are completely dry again before you start processing them.  Also, I've read that roasted almonds turn into almond butter much faster than raw almonds.  The almonds do get quite warm while processing because the machine is grinding away for so long, but I don't think it ever got hot enough to cook out the nutrients from the raw almonds, so that's a call you'll have to make based on your own preferences.
from crumbly paste to liquid gold
Hey!  Yesterday's post was really long and boring.  How about some fun stuff to make up for it?

Stuff to Read:
Stuff to Watch:
  • Yesterday, I watched "Hungry for Change," a documentary about how the processed food that we buy from the grocery store is flat-out killing us.  I could have done without the dramatized segments (they have actors play office workers who change their lifestyle habits and eventually become happier), and I took the segment on juicing with a grain of salt (the people recommending it were not doctors but rather nutritionists and laypeople), but for the most part it's a good overview of why we need to stop eating crap.
  • I also started watching the Netflix series "Hemlock Grove."  I gave it three episodes to suck me in and it failed miserably.  I had such high hopes because everyone was saying how great "House of Cards" is and I'm in the market for a horror-themed TV show.  Unfortunately, the writing and acting are both terrible.  The only thing it has going for it is that the whole season is available at once, so if you start caring about the "mystery," you can watch the next episode right away to find out what's happening.  However, if any of you got further along in the series and something really cool happens, let me know and I might pick it back up again.

Stuff to Look at
You guys, I haven't been clothes shopping in SO long.  Not really, anyway.  In the past three months, I bought some new athletic gear to run in and I bought some new flip flops from Old Navy, but that's about it.  I think I am learning to be more sensible with my money, but I'm also not the size I'd like to be, so I'm reluctant to invest in clothes that (hopefully) will be too big for me in a few months.  But every once in a while, it just feels good to have a new outfit.  I'm having a sort-of-reunion with some college friends this weekend and Lord & Taylor is having a big sale next week (although really, when are they not having a sale?) so I'm starting to get the shopping itch.

Whoever decided that maxi dresses were back in style, I'd like to kiss that person right on the mouth.  Yeah yeah short dresses are cute and all, but I'm a grown-ass woman and I ain't got time to worry about the wind blowing my skirt all over the place. Or whether or not I've shaved my legs recently.  Thank you, long skirts.
Something like this would look just as good at the park with the kids as it would on a date.

On the other hand, I dig the flamenco-inspired hem and Tim-Burton-esque stripes (with neon yellow accent at the neckline) on this dress, even if it's less versatile.
Yeah, I'm bad at wearing color.

I did just buy this tunic (literally 30 seconds ago), but I have a feeling the grim print cancels out the pretty color.  But as you know, I like bones.
Well now this has devolved into me shopping online rather than writing this post, so perhaps I'd better skedaddle.  You've made it halfway through another work week!  The end.   

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

That Time I Wrote Everything I Know About Food (and it was tl;dr)

Food doesn't have to be so complicated, but sometimes it is.
My obsession with food is borderline insane, but there are some benefits to it.  There are a lot of days when I feel like I spend the majority of my time thinking about food (meal-planning, grocery shopping, cooking, eating, looking up recipes, reading restaurant reviews, or just plain old daydreaming).  I would like to share my food/fitness journey someday, but that's another story for another time.  For now, I'm going to try to synthesize all of the food knowledge I've picked up from many years of research and experience.  There is a lot of confusing, sometimes conflicting, information about food out there these days, so hopefully I will be able to clear some things up and explain my eating habits (or at least my ideal eating habits).  I may end up making this a series of posts because there is actually so much that I think I'm going to lose readers halfway through.  As I've said a number of times, my typical "diet" is generally healthy, although I have days (or sometimes handfuls of days in a row) when I won't follow any of my usual rules.  Still, about 90% of the food I eat is: all natural, unprocessed, whole grain, mostly organic, and local/seasonal/small farm-sourced as much as possible. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that it's light.  In order to avoid unnecessary chemicals, I never use the light/fat free/diet version of anything.  That means real sugar/syrup/honey, full-fat butter and oils, full-carb grain products, etc.  I also have to seriously work on my portion control.  So that's why, despite how "healthy" I may eat, I am still overweight.  But I am a certified food snob.  It's one thing that I am extremely passionate about and I promise that I know how to eat right, even if I don't always do it.  I've separated this post into categories so that if you want to skip ahead to something, you can.  Maybe you don't care what I have to say about meat, but you're confused about sweeteners, for example.  This one's a doozy.  Good luck!

Why organic?  Is it really necessary?
"Organic" is a USDA certification for foods that are produced without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, or without hormones and antibiotics in the case of livestock, but which still meet the USDA's regulations for cleanliness (this means that there may be a lot of small farms that don't use pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals, but for whatever reason can't get a USDA "organic" certification).  The term "organic" tells you nothing about how big the farm is, how the animals are treated otherwise, or how "healthy" the food is (in other words, switching to all organic foods does not make you automatically lose weight).  HOWEVER, it's obviously better for you not to fill your body with all of those chemicals than it is to regularly eat things that have had toxic sludge sprayed all over them.  Organic farming is also less harmful to the environment, although you kind of have to weigh that against the carbon output of transporting organic meat and produce if it comes from far away.  If it's too expensive for you to buy all-organic (as it is for me sometimes), the foods that are most important are any that you would eat without removing a peel or shell or which have a very thin peel/shell (grapes, berries, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.)  I buy as much organic produce as possible when I can afford it, although I'm often standing in the store trying to decide between organic produce from Mexico or local produce that isn't organic.  It's a foodie dilemma that I struggle with later in this post.

The Chicken and the Egg

This is one of the most confusing and disappointing categories because companies so often use marketing strategies to fool consumers into thinking that their chickens are wandering around in a field on some mom-and-pop farm somewhere.  "Cage free" just means that the chickens are not in cages... they very well may still be stuffed together in a tiny space, standing around in their own filth.  "Free range" may mean that they are stuffed together in a slightly larger space, standing around in a few extra square feet of their own filth.  On the other hand, it may mean that they really are wandering around on that idealized farm.  It all depends on the company.  Now, I should probably mention that I have no ethical qualms about killing animals for food or forcing them to lay eggs for me to eats.  I do, however, insist on eating chickens that have plenty of space and fresh air and are completely hormone and antibiotic free, and I have the same standards for my eggs.  It's cleaner, it's better for you, and (in my educated but unscientific opinion) it tastes better.  Finding such chickens and eggs, therefore, requires some careful searching.  The New Jersey grocery store chain Kings Supermarket offers Pete and Gerry's eggs (also available at Whole Foods), which are currently the only ones that I trust.  You can tell the difference between these eggs and your standard Eggland's Best just by cracking one open... a properly farmed egg yolk will be almost orange rather than yellow and you will find the occasional icky egg that either has blood or a chicken fetus in it.  I'm OK with that because it lets me know that my eggs are from real animals that are allowed to live accordingly, but if you're squeamish, I won't judge you.  Kings also used to carry whole chickens that were labeled with a specific family farm which you could look up and learn more about, but I haven't seen those in a while.  For now, I settle for chicken that has the organic/free range label, but I am always looking for more source information.  I have recently decided to make meat a very minimal part of my diet for that reason.
now that's a proper yolk!  (the paler yellow ones are local duck eggs which I overcooked.)

Beef
I'll reiterate that I don't mind eating animals as long as they've been raised correctly, so if you feel differently, you can just skip all of the meat stuff.  My goal is to find the healthiest and best tasting animals, not to support animal rights (although it is convenient that the most humanely raised animals seem to taste the best).  First of all, cows are not supposed to eat corn.  I could explain why so much of our beef is corn-fed, but that's a Pandora's boxful for another post.  The bottom line is that CORN is the reason why beef is bad for you.  Grass fed beef has about as much fat and cholesterol as a chicken breast and it actually has some good fats in it too!  Whole Foods has good grass-fed beef options, Trader Joe's sells grass-fed ground beef, and Kings just started offering a selection of grass-fed beef products.  I also suggest becoming friendly with a butcher.  A good butcher will be able to tell you everything you need to know about where your meat came from.  Of course, this kind of meat is way more expensive and other sourcing information is just as difficult to come by as with chickens.  Again, I've decided to make meat a "sometimes food" (thanks, Elmo) for special occasions because it's just way too hard to tell with the meat that I can find in most grocery stores.

Seafood
Large, deep-water fish (tuna, swordfish, etc.) are high in mercury and just can't be sustainably produced, whether they're line-caught or farmed.  Furthermore, the world's increasing tuna addiction is severely depleting the population.  As much as it pains me, this means that I've decided to just simply stop eating tuna.  I also never eat farmed salmon.  It's not sustainable to farm large fish and believe it or not, salmon farmers are training the fish to eat all kinds of things that they have no business eating (like corn and even candy).  On the other hand, several small fish can be sustainably farmed (trout and mussels, for example) and are actually a good idea because it will preserve the populations of wild-caught fish that can't be farmed.  Farm-raised shrimp is not sustainable and often of questionable cleanliness (in terms of chemicals used to raise them).  As usual, it's best to buy whatever has been caught closest to where you live.  In New Jersey, this means lots of excellent crab and scallops (sorry, Iowa).  Still, "frozen" does not mean "not fresh" as most seafood is immediately flash-frozen on the boat anyway, so unless you know for sure that something was caught (or raised) in your region of the country within a day or two, frozen is actually a fine option.

Dairy
It probably goes without saying by now that I only drank organic milk and never ate processed cheese or yogurt.  We seem to be living in a Greek yogurt bubble right now, since every single dairy company (and even a cereal!) is obligated to make its own "Greek" variety.  Real Greek yogurt is thick and creamy because almost all of its liquid has been strained out.  Because of its density and purity, it's higher in calcium and protein than other styles of yogurt.  Unfortunately, many of the "Greek" yogurts sitting on the shelves of your local grocery store are not Greek yogurt at all but are full of chemical stabilizers and texturizers, and whatever else, to give it that "Greek" thickness.  Look at the ingredients list.  It should say nothing other than "live active cultures" and maaaybe some whole fruit or honey or maple syrup.  Avoid yogurts that have artificial sweeteners or colors.  Yoplait still uses a lot of high fructose corn syrup, although they've made efforts to stop.
That being said, almost all humans have some kind of sensitivity to dairy.  As all former vegans or vegan-curious people know, we are the only animal that continues to drink milk throughout our lives and the only animal that drinks another animal's milk.  Even if you're not completely intolerant to dairy, you are probably living with a certain level of digestive discomfort after eating dairy products, but have grown so accustomed to it that you barely notice anymore.  I'm definitely guilty of having a very dairy-heavy diet, but I'm trying to cleanse my system and eating dairy is counter-productive.  Yet another food group on the "special occasions only" list.

Soy
So, since I'm neither eating meat nor dairy, you must think I eat a lot of soy products.  Nope -- they're on the "very rarely, in certain cases" list.  Soy has been known to raise estrogen levels, which can occasionally cause ovarian cysts, but more importantly (to me), most soy in the U.S. is produced from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).  I only eat soy that is organic and non-GMO, but even then I only eat it in certain items that can't be replicated without soy.

Nuts and seeds
You're probably asking, "But Jessica, if you don't eat meat or dairy OR soy, how do you get any protein?"  The answer is nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains (which I discuss below).  In order to get the highest nutritional value out of your nuts and seeds, buy them raw.  I also have made the switch to all organic nuts because certain big-name nut brands (especially Blue Diamond) are some of the worst offenders for using chemical fertilizers and pesticides and Blue Diamond has had all kinds of labor problems (they are not union-friendly).  For this same reason, I make my own almond milk and nut butters.  It's common knowledge that almonds are high in nutrients, but there's been a lot of buzz lately about how to unlock the nutrients that almonds offer.  I haven't found a good scientific source yet -- so far it's all been health websites -- but the main point is that you're only digesting a small fraction of the nutrients in almonds unless you soak them overnight first.  Some say that it's because the almonds' skin has an enzyme that makes the nutrients hard to digest (and that soaking will remove this enzyme), while other sources say that the almonds hold onto their nutrients until they have reached the final stage of growth (and that soaking them replicates the moisture levels at which they usually reach this stage).  I'm still skeptical of this new rule until I hear from a doctor or plant biologist, but in the meantime I'm either soaking my almonds or buying "sprouted" almonds which have already reached their highest nutritional stage.  You have to soak almonds for textural reasons before turning them into almond milk or almond butter anyway, so it's not such a crazy hassle for me.  I've also recently started using hemp seeds as a natural protein source in my smoothies.  Ditch the crazy powders at the gym!  Hemp seeds have 11 grams of protein for every ounce!  They also have as many calories as peanut butter, but you get a bang for your calorie buck.

Sweeteners
Needless to say, I avoid all artificial sweeteners, no matter what color packet they come in.  I don't know how I feel about Stevia yet... the bottom line is that we just don't know how all of these calorie-free sweeteners will affect us after decades because it takes a while for the impact to start showing up.  Despite what the commercials from the corn-growers association may claim, your body does not treat all sugars alike.  Sugars are made up of either sucrose, glucose, fructose, or some combination of the three.  Fructose has the lowest glycemic index, but it has also been most closely linked with diabetes and the accumulation of belly fat (which is most likely to cause heart disease).  So yes, high fructose corn syrup is indeed "bad" for you.  Surprisingly, agave has also turned up on the "bad" foods list because it is mostly fructose.  Regular cane sugar is all sucrose, but it also is the most processed of the natural sweeteners and it has practically no nutritional value.  If you're going for high-nutrients rather than low-calorie, then maple syrup and honey are great options.  Some new natural sweeteners that you can find on store shelves are coconut sugar and date sugar, which have the same number of calories as cane sugar and can be used interchangeably in recipes, but coconut and date sugar are higher in nutrients and are less processed.  My main goal is nutrition, so on the occasions that I add sweetener to something, it's honey, coconut sugar, or maple syrup for "sometimes" treats.

Grains and the gluten problem
Grains need to be whole because all of the vitamins, protein, and fiber are found in the brown husks around rice, wheat, etc.  White bread and white rice are empty calories; everyone knows this by now.  Sure, a lot of white pasta brands and white flour add vitamins and minerals back into the products, but wouldn't you rather just eat the grains as they are, with naturally-occurring nutrients intact?  As far as I know, I am not sensitive to gluten, but wheat is one of the foods that I am avoiding while I detox for a few weeks.  Gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye.  Spelt and bulgur are also not gluten-free.  My head started spinning in the Whole Foods bread aisle, so for now I just have to thank my lucky stars that I don't have celiac disease (and for those of you who do, my heart truly goes out to you).  Because of this, I'm not really eating bread.  If nothing else, it is a good idea to try some gluten-free grains and grain products from time to time because doctors recommend a variety of fiber and protein sources rather than just eating the same one or two all the time.  Just as a good exercise regimen is constantly varied in order to continue seeing positive results, you need to switch up what you eat on a regular basis in order to get the most nutrients.

What about eating local?
This is the issue that breaks my heart most often.  If I'm being really ethically honest with myself, I would have to live in southern California in order to eat the way I really want to eat.  I can't see myself living without tomatoes and avocados year-round, but in order to find an organic tomato in winter -- or an organic avocado ever -- I have to buy produce that has been shipped across the country (or most of the time from Latin America).  The problem with long-distance foods is that a) it's really bad for the environment and b) fresh produce is a clock ticking away the time since it was picked, losing nutritional kick with every passing hour.  Even when I can find local produce from small, family-run farms (which I like even better than the big, organic farms out in California because I'll always prefer to support small, local businesses), it's impossible for me to know whether or not they used pesticides and chemical fertilizers unless I can speak to the farmers myself.  I practically have an anxiety attack upon every trip to the grocery store until the Farmer's Market opens in June.  OK, that last statement was an exaggeration, but I do feel very conflicted about whether it's more important (to me) to buy a non-organic cucumber from New Jersey or an organic cucumber from Mexico.  The choice is even harder when it comes to things like asparagus that I know in my heart should be organic because they have no peel to protect them, but often come from all the way down in Peru whether they're organic or not... but I love asparagus, so what's a girl to do?  One project I'm going to try to tackle this summer is canning what I can get from the Farmer's Market so I can eat local (mostly organic) produce throughout the year.  There are certain foods that I will only buy from independent New Jersey farms -- corn because it's another GMO crop and blueberries because hey, we have the best blueberries.  New Jersey is also one of the largest producers of eggplant.  Why buy them from Florida or wherever when I can get them here?

OH MY GOD YOU MADE IT TO THE END!  Even if you just scrolled through, I'm still surprised you got to the bottom of this post.  Congratulations.  I don't actually expect anyone to sit and read this whole thing, but I'm glad I wrote all of this down so that people (including me) can refer back to it later.  I know all of this is overwhelming (for those of you who didn't already know this stuff) and for most people it's just not an affordable way to live.  I don't follow all of these rules all of the time, but I think it is realistic to do most of these things most of the time and your body (and tastebuds) will thank you for it later.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Collaging

Even when I was in my writing drought, I stayed creative by making collages.  This hobby started as a way to use up old magazines and fill up space in my journals, but eventually my collages started getting big and complex enough to hang on the wall.  I wasn't sure if this really counted as making artwork because none of the images are my own, but there is a real artistic process to collaging.  I have to choose which images to use, how much of them, whether to cut them neatly or tear them out with jagged edges, where to place them or how to arrange them on the page/board, whether to be more abstract or to try creating a scene, etc.  My earliest collages were very simple and were pretty much your basic cut-and-paste of random things I thought looked cool at the time, but as I practiced it more and more, I started placing the images with more purpose and trying to link them with a certain theme or to create a cohesive aesthetic feeling on the space provided.  I'll share with you some of the collages that I like the most, some from journals and some that hang on the wall in my room.  I highly recommend trying this yourself, if you don't already do it.  It can be really relaxing because it's somewhat technical and repetitive.  If I'm going to hang a collage on the wall, I use thick cardboard or canvas board as the vehicle and I place the images using Mod Podge and a small sponge brush.  Some of the themes I've designed collages around include time, money, technology, food, celebrity, gender/sexuality, nature, or feelings like comfort/discomfort and energy/lethargy.








Thursday, April 18, 2013

It's All Good

As I mentioned in Monday's post, I received a very generous Barnes and Noble gift card for my birthday.  I was casually browsing some of the book tables toward the front of the store when this caught my eye:
bizarre (for me) but irresistible impulse buy
I started flipping through it -- mostly so I could make fun of it later -- but then I started feeling like I wanted to make some of the recipes in the book.  I generally don't bother buying cook books because you can find recipes for almost everything online.  Let's be honest, most of the time people buy cook books for the pictures.  The difference with this book is that there were a lot of recipes I would not have thought of myself, and a lot of accompanying information that I found really useful.

OK, so we all know that Gwyneth Paltrow is on some kind of crazy diet and I will never forgive her for traveling around Spain with Mario Batali while refusing to eat meat and various other staples of Spanish cuisine.  WHO DOES THAT!?  Like, do a separate food travel show called, "A Macrobiotic Diet on the Road" or something.  Don't hang out with Mario Batali and then turn down the world-famous Spanish ham he hands you.  That's like going to Italy and saying, "Oh, I don't eat pasta."  SCREW YOU!  Sorry... I'll stop ranting now.  I also used to scoff at her blog/website when she first started it because it just seemed ridiculous (I mean, the idea that anyone would take life advice from someone who names her kid "Apple").  I tell you all of this so that you realize the internal conflict that went into my buying this book.  I would never have considered it if I had been spending my own money.

Except that now I kind of love it.
The thing that really got me is in her introduction when she explains the strict diet that her doctor recommended she be on for health reasons.  At first, she didn't think it would be possible to maintain it forever, but then she thought: "Could it become my baseline?  The way I would eat most days, with the occasional cheat day?  Could I lean toward it more?  I decided I could."  I agree with this mentality and appreciate the realistic attitude she takes about eating healthfully.  I also really appreciate that not once in the book does she attempt to be "low calorie" or "low fat."  It's not about that.  It's about eating whole foods that are packed with nutrients and then avoiding or eliminating foods that simply do nothing for you.  If I put aside the list of things she doesn't eat, our philosophy on food is essentially the same.  I was also inspired by her tips on making almond milk at home, her anchovy-lemon salad dressing recipe, her creative uses for quinoa and millet, and the way she makes roasting a whole fish in a salt crust sound easy.  There were very few recipes that I felt I would have come up with on my own and I feel like I learned a lot from the item-by-item nutritional explanation of everything in her kitchen and pantry.
She does have some issues with gender that bother me a little bit.  She describes omelettes and meat dishes as "man" dishes, or "what to make in the morning if your boyfriend is a body builder."  Um, hello, first of all, why can't my boyfriend make his own breakfast?  And second of all, I'm the closest one to a "body builder" between the two of us.  Furthermore, what's with the assumption that her readers will have a boyfriend?

But other than that, I'm on board with her eating habits.  I'm probably not going to follow her "elimination diet," which basically gets rid of any food that has been known to cause allergies/intolerances/sensitivities.  I spent more than an hour in Whole Foods reading every label before I just conceded that it wasn't absolutely necessary for me to find a bread that is simultaneously sugar-free, corn-free, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, AND organic.  I probably don't need to throw out my tomatoes because they're nightshades or the unopened jar of peanut butter in my cabinet just because some people are allergic to peanuts.  Some of the restrictions in this diet are just impossible with my budget and schedule.  But I go back to her opening remarks: I can lean toward it.  

I have used her recipes for certain things that don't photograph well, like the almond milk and salad dressing that I mentioned above.  So here are some things that I cooked sans recipe, but with her eating habits in mind:
brown rice penne with basil-walnut pesto and baby kale (all organic)
spanish tortilla with potato, carmelized onion, shiitake, and kale
(free range eggs from heirloom chickens and organic produce)
In truth, I wasn't supposed to use white potatoes, but I was on tortilla-making autopilot at the time.  I'll try sweet potato in the next one.  Everything else I've made has been a smoothie or a salad, which just aren't worth taking pictures of sometimes.  Because all of these foods are full of protein, fiber, and a ton of vitamins, I have been eating less and still feeling completely satisfied and energized.  I got into a food rut while I was on vacation and now I'm excited about cooking and eating again.  If nothing else, the book was worth it for that reason.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Starting Over

I don't feel very well equipped to make a substantial statement on what happened in Boston this week.  I have a lot of friends who are from/have moved to Boston, many of whom were at the marathon that day, and I'm really lucky that none of them were harmed in any way.  Without turning this into a political statement, I do hope that the people of Boston will continue to go out, run, enjoy the city -- and it looks like they will.  For those of you who are not from the east coast, all of these cities are deeply connected.  A very ambitious train traveler could be in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. all in the same day if he/she really wanted to.  So there's a unique sense of solidarity between us whenever something like this happens.  There.  That's all I really wanted to say.

I screwed up.  If everything had gone according to plan, I would have been finished with my "30 Days of Workouts" by now.  But I let myself skip one day, then another... then I was basically just working out a couple of times a week (and one week, not at all), completely ignoring the challenge I initially set for myself.  A week of vacation bookended between a holiday and my birthday was a recipe for failure and I wasn't really sure how to post about it because I hate disappointing people (including myself).  I haven't gained any weight, but that's not the point.  The point is that in a month and a half, I will be running 3 miles (plus a little extra) through the woods, climbing over things and crawling under things, trying to escape a simulated zombie plague, whether I'm ready for it or not. So I'd better just keep on training and not get lazy about it.  

This is the last workout I did with my trainer:
Note my comment to myself!

I also cut my 5K time down by a couple of minutes, but still on a flat, paved track.  I might start meeting with my trainer twice a week to make sure that I get my non-running workouts in.  I need to be accountable to somebody, or I lose motivation.  My plan between now and the day of the 5K is to do weight training three days a week, run three days a week, and rest one day.  That gives me a little more flexibility, so I don't feel like I have to start all over from the beginning if I miss one day for whatever reason, but will still get me ready to race at the beginning of June.

I've been engaging in a little retail therapy this week.  My most important purchase was this blender:
It's not a Vitamix, but it's a giant leap from the $20 blender I bought for my apartment in Iowa (which I ended up throwing away before I moved).  It's only been out of the box for 36 hours, but I've already given it plenty of use.  Once the weather gets warm, I like having a smoothie for breakfast instead of oatmeal or eggs.  I might experiment with protein sources in a later post.  I'm trying to avoid both dairy and soy for a few weeks (which I'll write about tomorrow), so right now I'm mostly using peanut butter or almonds.  I have to research various protein powders to see if any of them will fit into an all-natural, organic diet that doesn't rely on dairy or soy.  Maybe hemp seed?  Also, if you guys aren't using frozen bananas in your smoothies, you're just not doing it right.  It gives blended drinks that thick, creamy, ice cream texture without watering them down the way crushed ice would.

Using the new blender, I made my own almond milk this morning, so I'm definitely never buying it from the store ever again.  I love almond milk in my cereal and coffee/tea/smoothies, but I have yet to find a brand that is not full of chemicals (to prevent separation and add texture, preservatives, etc.) so I am really excited that making it at home worked out so well.  I would link to the "recipe" I used, but it's too simple to even warrant a recipe.  Get some raw almonds.  Soak them in water overnight.  Put them in a blender with a lot of water if you want it thinner, or a little water if you want it thicker (I did about 2 cups of each).  Blend.  Pour through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth into your container of choice.  Congratulations, you've made almond milk.  I added vanilla extract and a little bit of coconut sugar to mine for flavor.  All of the recipes I've read say that you can save the almond meal that's leftover and dry it out to use as a gluten-free flour.  I might try that!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Grilling season

Before I begin, I'd just like to commend my local Barnes and Noble Starbucks for their taste in TV shows and sense of humor.  In case you didn't watch a lot of Nick at Nite as a kid (or grow up in the 50's), here's one of the most famous scenes from the classic show "I Love Lucy."


Now you'll get the reference at the coffee shop (unfortunately, I'm sure most people did not):


It's my second favorite time of year!  All winter long, I dream of grilling various meats, vegetables, pizzas, etc.  It was almost kind of nice out yesterday afternoon, so S and I went to my parents' house to have a late lunch/early dinner... but mainly, to use their grill.  I had to work over the weekend, so this was my one fun activity.  I made fajitas, drank some beer, spent quality time with my parents, and got a little bit of relaxation in before starting work again.

One leftover winter holiday beer

fajita options: mushroom, shrimp, or skirt steak

ready to serve

steak with onions, peppers, and queso blanco
shrimp with onions and home-made guacamole
Corn tortillas for me, flour tortillas for the gringos.

My boss gave me a $100 gift card to Barnes and Noble for my birthday, which was incredibly generous.  Obviously they know me pretty well because I spent it all (and then some) in one day.  Now I have so many more books to read!
my haul
The Gwyneth Paltrow book... I'll explain later.
This week will be all about self-improvement.  The apartment is a disaster area, my workout routine is off track from where I wanted it to be, my eating has been out of control, and I feel a little overwhelmed.  Of course, all of these things are connected to one another.  If I ate better, I would exercise better, and that would make me feel better.  So that's the theme of the week: getting back into good habits so I can get back into a good mood.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hot Links

So yesterday's post was a little bit heavy and maybe a tad bleak.  How about some fun links and commodity fetishism to get us through the last bit of the week on a lighter note?

Underground New York Public Library is one of the coolest photo-based sites I've seen recently.  Each post is a picture of someone reading a real book on the NYC subway.  Looks like New Yorkers have some good taste in books!  Also, someone I graduated High School with is on the front page!  ha.

My friend at Only Living Girl in New York pointed me in the direction of Thug Kitchen, which is both hilarious and informative.  I'm actually going to make one of his recipes this weekend.  Here are some of my favorite posts on the site:


If you haven't already been reading My Friends Are Married, then you should be.

Taste Spotting is like the original pinterest, but for food porn.  It picks the best food photos from all of the blogs out there and puts them on one site so you can search for recipes or just make yourself hungry.

We all know that Buzzfeed is good for a laugh, but this gif-filled post comparing life in your Early Twenties and Late Twenties will hit pretty close to home.

While we're on the subject, is it bad that I relate to everything in this song about being 32 and I'm not even 30 yet?  It's a parody of Taylor Swift's inane "22."

My new favorite radio quiz show, "Ask Me Another," had a segment this past Saturday called "Grain, World Currency, or Pokemon?"  The host gives you a word and the players have to guess whether it's a (duh) grain, world currency, or Pokemon character.  I loved playing along.  How many will you guess correctly?

If you're starting to feel some Spring-induced wanderlust and need to fantasize about traveling the world, here's the New York Times' list of "46 Places to Go in 2013."  I'm personally drooling over the Adirondacks, which is nice because that's totally doable.

Happy National Grilled Cheese Month!  My friend Tony (from Cedar Tavern) posted this slideshow of America's Best Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and I'm starting to think I picked the wrong time to avoid carbs and dairy.
I mean... how does one even eat this?

Is anyone else excited that drawstring pants are coming back?
I'm not sure my tree-trunk legs would be able to pull them off, but a silk pair in a nice print would be both chic and comfortable this summer.

My first thoughts on T by Alexander Wang were, "yeah right, why would anyone pay that much for a shirt?" but now I'm actually kind of considering investing in one.  They just look so comfortable and like they would fit perfectly and last forever, just getting better with age (this image doesn't do them justice-- you have to see them from the front).  Plus, I look so good in this color...

I've loved House of Waris' jewelry since Waris Ahluwalia (you may recognize him from Wes Anderson films) first started his accessories line, but now that he's collaborating with Illesteva on these classic sunglasses, I really want a pair.

Of course, this is all theoretical because I don't have that kind of money right now.  But a girl can dream, can't she?  This week has been a little crazy.  First, my boyfriend's car battery just...broke, then I had a flat tire, THEN a million winged ants started pouring into our bedroom through the window and floorboards (thank god they weren't actually termites as I originally thought), and on top of that it's tax deadline week and we're trying to get my boyfriend an expedited passport.  Both cars got fixed, the bugs and bedroom were cleaned up (thanks, S!), my taxes have been filed, and I think the passport will be taken care of today.  To be fair, the week seems to fly by pretty quickly when there's a new crisis every day to keep me busy.  Considering the last three days, I figured it was time for some happy, wishful thinking and easy reading.  I hope your week has been better than mine!  If not, hopefully this post can cheer you up a little.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Boomerang Kid

When I told my mom that I wanted to quit graduate school, I expected there to be some huge, dramatic argument.  I come from an academic family.  Both of my parents have graduate degrees from top universities, my mom is a professor, and my younger sister had just started a PhD program in genetics.  I was surprised to find that it was no big deal.  Her reaction was essentially that I'm an adult and can make my own decisions.  She wanted to make sure that I wasn't just running away from criticism and tried to remind me that there are benefits to a life in academia, but otherwise, she would respect my choice either way.  As soon as I let myself think of leaving as a real possibility, I felt like I could breathe again.  But now what?

I completed my thesis and earned my M.A., but I went to Iowa for a doctorate.  Finally finishing gave me a weird sense that I had failed, even though I succeeded by most people's standards.  Now I'm a part-time nanny trying to apply to teaching jobs -- or any job -- and only able to "leave the nest" because I'm fortunate enough to have a boyfriend who is willing to split rent by income percentage and parents who are willing to help cover some of my bills.  Aside from the technicality that I am not actually living in my parents' house, I am part of the "boomerang generation" that left home only to make our way back, suspended in a state of semi-adolescence.  I spent the entire winter applying to several teaching jobs a day (many of which required a B.A., not even an M.A. or certification) and only received one phone interview.  Now it looks like the best I can manage is substitute teaching at a couple of schools in the Fall and maybe some unpaid creative opportunities.  This is something that people do when they are fresh out of college and trying to start a career, but now I'm getting closer to 30 years old and my peers who didn't go to graduate school have been establishing themselves at "real" jobs and living independently for the years that I spent in classrooms.  I am more fortunate than most; at least I have no student loans to pay off.

I don't say all of this to whine.  This is a real issue that my generation is facing -- just watch one episode of "Girls" and you'll know that adulthood barely starts in your twenties anymore.  Article after article (and one hilarious youtube video) has been doubting the value of graduate education in today's job market.  Some people are even questioning whether an undergraduate education is really necessary compared to four years of work experience (see also: this article), although the statistics still show that job loss is higher among those who only hold a High School degree.  For some people, academia is the best option.  Several members of my cohort back in Iowa will get through the 7 to 9 years that it takes to complete a PhD in History and they'll end up with tenure-track jobs and love what they do for the rest of their lives.  For most of us, however, the odds are not great.  Believe me that the thought has crossed my mind that the problem is me -- not the economy or the education system.  Still, enough of us are having the same problem, or the "boomerang generation" and reevaluation of higher education wouldn't be such a hot topic.  I feel like we're another Generation X.  (Maybe that's why grunge is back in fashion?)

I don't really have a solution to offer or even a nice, neat conclusion to wrap up all of these issues.  This was a difficult post to write and there were still so many thoughts I couldn't articulate (why I left grad school in the first place, the fact that I'm still a lot happier now than I was last year, or education and wage disparities along race and gender lines, for example) or this would have gone from blog post to dissertation.  I know it didn't include any pictures and wasn't fun to read (so maybe most of you didn't read it), but I think it's important for writers -- bloggers, even -- to be honest about the challenges in life, not just the fun stuff.  Despite the fact that I do consider myself incredibly fortunate and privileged compared to the majority of the world, I am living in a small apartment in a modest town, going to work every day and trying to save money and to improve myself, like most people.  And like most people, I feel frustrated a lot of the time, like no one's giving me the opportunity to reach my full potential.  At least through writing and working on my health I can regain a sense of self-worth.  Being creative is one satisfying constant that I need to have in my life.  What are yours?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Masquerade

How many items does it take to make a collection?  I've heard that the magic number is three, so I'll go with that one.

Before I started my oddities collection, I started buying masks from various places that I had been.  It's a little slow-going because I don't get to travel more than once a year (usually) and my standards for the masks are pretty high.  They have to be somewhat "authentic" -- they have to have some kind of special meaning for the place I'm visiting -- and they have to be hand-crafted (no plastic tourist reproductions).

The first mask I bought was at a workshop on the outskirts of Chichicastenango, Guatemala.  The workshop was owned by a Mayan shaman who was a third-generation maskmaker.  The shop owner took us on a tour of his workplace, which functioned as a small museum, and told us the story of masks in Guatemala.  The Maya did not actually use masks in their rituals until after the Spanish invasion.  Then, they began to use masks as a way to trick or confuse the Spaniards or to represent different aspects of the story of their "conquest"/occupation.  Now, when they use masks, the masks do not actually go over the face but instead are worn on top of the head.  This mask is kind of a mask within a mask (note the jaguar on top of the human face) and is meant to be decorative rather than something that would be used in a performance.  I felt so connected with this place and this experience that I was excited to find something similar the next time I traveled.

I purchased this mask in Venice, Italy from a small workshop near the touristy Rialto district -- so small and dim that you might even miss it among the bright souvenir shops overflowing from this area of the city.  It is in the style of a traditional Venetian Carnevale mask and unlike the plastic versions you can buy all over the city, this one is hand made from plaster, paint, and gold leaf.  An added bonus is that this particular maskmaker designed and made the masks for Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.  I was already buying the mask, but after hearing that tidbit, I had him sign the back of it as well.

So, speaking of Carnival masks...
This is my favorite of the three.  I purchased this mask at a costume workshop in Oruro, Bolivia (the Rio/New Orleans of Bolivia in terms of Carnival parade locations though actually it is an austere mining town the rest of the year) after witnessing that year's Carnival.  While Carnival in Brazil is all about the Samba, Bolivia's parades involve a number of different regional dances that are all tied to various points in Bolivia's history -- from memorializing pre-Inca societies to satirizing the wealthy (often European) industrial class.  This mask is worn during a dance called the Diablada that represents the "devil" (only a loose translation) who controls the underground mines on which Bolivia's economy was based for hundreds of years.  While Oruro hosts a huge Carnival parade every year featuring all of Bolivia's dances, this dance is the real "headliner" of the event and its origins are in Oruro (say otherwise and you will not make any Bolivian friends).  This mask is actually what the female dancers wear because the men's masks are so enormous that I wouldn't have been able to get it back to the States, although I did get one tattooed on my calf!  The mask is made of hand-painted metal (can you imagine wearing that while dancing for 6 hours?!) and the shop makes the costumes for people who dance in the parades.

I also have a pair of "African" masks that I received as a gift, but I'm not sure where they came from or what they represent, so I assume they are not authentic or unique and therefore don't really include them in this collection.  I'm not sure where my next mask will come from, but I'm excited to build this collection for the rest of my life and hopefully pass it on to an appreciative grandchild or great-niece/nephew someday.

On a sidenote, this right here is FLIP FLOP WEATHER and I am loving it.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Birthday

Well, I'm another year older.
I'm OK with that.  I don't feel old... I feel as if in ten years I'll look back on my life right now and say, "man was I young and stupid" and I find that comforting.  Every year, I like myself more because I've had more experience and know more about myself and the world as a result.  This year's lesson was that if something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't -- and that when something is right, I'll know.
Because my birthday was a Sunday this year and a certain someone has to get up for work at 5am, my celebratory activities were kind of spread out over the whole weekend.  On Friday, we went into the city to stand in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square with all the tourists to try to get half-price play tickets for that evening.  We scored two tickets to Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which I've wanted to see since it came out in January.  Yes, it's cool that Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce are in it, but I was mostly interested because the play is written by Christopher Durang, who was one of my favorite playwrights in high school.  He has an absurd but not surreal writing style, dark humor but not too heavy.  It was pretty good; not high art or anything.  I hadn't read any reviews before seeing the play, but I think that's what most of them said.  I laughed a lot and David Hyde Pierce was great, though subtlety was not one of the play's best qualities.  I do want to try to go back in the next couple of months so I can see The Testament of Mary or an off-Broadway show called All in the Timing (by another absurdist playwright I used to love).
Before the play, we had late lunch/early dinner at this hole-in-the-wall Turkish place right next to Katz's Deli called Bereket.  I wouldn't have chosen it myself, but my date insisted (and hey, he was paying).  Either I was really starving or this was the BEST Turkish fast food I've ever had.  I highly recommend it.  I also had to get my obligatory Magnolia cupcakes since we were in the city and everyone deserves cake on their birthday (or two days before their birthday).

Bereket kebab restaurant in the LES
stuffed grape leaves, falafel, bean salad, baba ganouj
Magnolia vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with buttercream
long wait outside the theater before seating time

On my actual birthday, the only special thing I did was go out to eat twice and spend a lot of quality time at home.  And that was exactly what I wanted.
using my cat as a pillow, typical

As for the food, I just have to say that If you go to a restaurant that has crab cakes Eggs Benedict on the menu and you don't order it, you are either:
a) kosher/vegetarian/allergic to shellfish, or
b) a fool
or I guess you could be like my friend Adam who has a serious egg phobia (but I count him among the fools for that).

The boyfriend also made a good call with my birthday present.  First of all, I demanded that he not get me anything because I'd rather spend money on experiences than on stuff, but I'm going to have to ease him into that concept.  I guess Amazon put the Star Trek blu-ray set on sale this past week because he got this in at the last minute:
excellent birthday present-buying skills on this one!
It's kind of a big deal because he's a Star Wars boy and doesn't really approve of my Star Trek fandom.  Now, the trick will be making him watch these with me (minus the first one) in anticipation of the new movie coming out!

All of this made for an excellent birthday weekend, but one of the things I looked forward to most was the season premiere of Mad Men last night.  There are a handful of shows that we can all agree are great (Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Modern Family, etc.) but Mad Men is my absolute favorite.  Not only is it written well, engaging, and expertly acted, but I don't think it's exaggeration for me to say that it's also some real art.  Beyond the dramas, romances, and cute (or sometimes powerful) historical references, the show has also been using a lot of interesting story-telling devices, editing, camerawork, and symbolism to get different messages across.  I haven't felt this way about a show since The Sopranos and The Wire.  This season looks like it will be just as good as all of the previous seasons.  I'm excited.  There's a lot more that I could say about it, but I don't want this to turn into a whole post about Mad Men.

Only twelve more weeks until my next vacation!  Working three jobs (one unpaid) until then, plus the extra full-time job of keeping myself healthy.  Aaaaand -- GO!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The End

Yesterday was our last full day at the shore, so we made one last visit to the boardwalk and the bay.

the last time we'll see the boardwalk this empty

vintage magazines at a collectors shop on the boardwalk, a history nerd's dream

vintage issues of Playboy and Penthouse
Boyfriend bought me the October 1959 issue of Playboy featuring Kim Novak.  His reaction: "You mean to tell me there's only one nipple in this entire magazine?"  Yes, porn was classier back then.  The ads make me imagine the real-life "Mad Men" who must have created them.  

lonely bench, empty beach, cloudless sky

one last sunset on the boatless bay

today, kitty suns herself while we get ready to leave
Tomorrow, we're going into the city for some birthday festivities, and then my vacation is over.  My typically healthy eating habits have been rather unhealthy over the past week and my exercise routine has been pretty relaxed, so I might have to be a little more strict about the diet thing when I get back.  I don't necessarily think I've gained weight, I've just been eating a lot more processed food than I normally would and the only home-made meal I've eaten since Easter was some leftover salad.  Wawa food is so delicious though.  Poor Quick Chek will go out of business once Wawa starts moving into North Jersey.  Stay tuned for a lot of pictures of fresh fruits and vegetables in the coming weeks.

I'm sad to leave here not only because it's nice to wake up and not have to go to work, but also because this is probably the last year that we'll have this place available to us.  For about half of his life, my boyfriend has considered this resort town to be his home base, but when his parents eventually retire and move, he and I will have to make our own home base somewhere else for future holidays and summers.  It's one of those unfortunate wormholes into adulthood that everyone experiences at some point.  To help ease the transition, I've promised that we'll come back for a weekend or two sometime between now and summer, and of course we'll be here as much as possible once the summer begins.  So none of these experiences are for the "last" time, but this is probably the last time we'll get to experience them peacefully alone, without the rush of summer tourist crowds.  The sense of an ending does give everything that extra special feeling; we're not taking anything for granted while we're down here.  That is one benefit of being forced to close a chapter of one's life.

OK, enough stalling with sentiment!  It's time to help with the cleaning and packing so we can head back upstate.