Tuesday, February 28, 2012

That damn scale.

 So this blog was originally intended to showcase my latest (and Kath Eats Real Food blog-inspired, I ain't no culinary plagiarist!) healthy meals. I put together a yogurt lunch  that included fat free Fage Greek Yogurt, all natural blackberry jam (at only 10 calories a tbsp!), a chopped up banana, unsweetened coconut flakes, and organic EnviroKidz cocoa brown rice puff cereal (they look just like Cocoa Crispies and they taste like them too! which takes me back to my Thailand days when Cocoa Crispies were one of two American cereals sold in my town-the other was Corn Flakes, and I ate both of these cereals at least twice, usually four times, a day). I think there may have also been some buckwheat groats (or something like that, I got them from the self serve bins at Ellwood Thompson to make my granola balls-tehe-and I don't remember exactly what they were-they taste like cardboard but add a nice crunch!)

It was delicious and super filling.

My other healthy creation was oatmeal topped with canned pumpkin (not sweetened), a hefty spoon full of ground flax (looks like saw dust but is pretty much flavorless-but it does pack a wallop of healthy goodness), more shredded coconut, and banana all mashed up. Again, delicious and very filling.

So that was what this blog was supposed to be about, my latest healthy eats after a week of healthy eats. I posted before how I felt unhealthy and had slipped a little bit, and how I really wanted to kick start healthier eating. I've done that, been very careful about what I've eaten and about calories. And over the last week I've increased my work outs. I still work out five times a week but now at a minimum of fifty minutes (either a 5 mile run or fifty minutes on a machine at the gym).

I have busted my butt, and I felt great. I felt healthy and strong. And then after a 55 min, sweat drenched elliptical work out at Gold's Gym today I went to the locker room to grab my stuff and saw it, that devious, malicious, malevolent machine.

The scale. I understand why gyms have scales. But I both hate and crave its presence. Sometimes I can go in and out of that locker room and pretend it doesn't exist. I don't even look at it. But other times I can't help myself. I jump on. And for the last year I've been pretty darn happy with the number. Since the beginning of 2010, I've lost between 10-15 pounds (I don't know exactly because I didn't know what my exact starting weight was). It didn't happen with a diet or with a crazy resolution. It happened because I was unemployed and depressed and so I started to run to feel better. And then I ran more. And without going carb less, I began to lose weight.

The more I ran, the more weight I lost. And it all came easily then. I started to make better choices about food to reflect how much better I felt about my body. Weight came off. I got compliments (which I always deflected, all "me? no!", but secretly craved like an addict craves their next high). I went down in clothes sizes. It wasn't a dramatic weight loss, but for the first time since I was 11 probably, it allowed me this rare and beautiful thing-a healthy relationship with my body.

I've never had an eating disorder. Let me make that clear. But I also would not say that my relationship with my body has been healthy. Let's just call it dysfunctional. It fluctuated. When I tried on a size of jeans and it was too small or I was around really skinny people, it fluctuated to a decidedly unhealthy relationship. I fixated on food and weight and I went carb free and fat free and every kind of free there was. I never really changed my life. I just tried quick fixes and desperately hoped they would magically work and turn me into a size 2. 

Of course I understand the irony that when I finally did lose weight, it was because I was doing something that was not at all intentionally a weight loss program. Running was for my sanity. It was for those sweet, sweet endorphins. Because I was unemployed and just back from the incredible, beautiful thing that was Thailand and I needed something, anything to lift me out of my own black mood. 

I'm ashamed to admit how good it felt to lose that weight. How indecently excited I was every time I saw that scale number go down. I finally made it to that size 2 (and in certain stores 0! thank you Ann Taylor Loft). And I finally felt at peace with my body. I didn't think about food so much. That's the best gift that weight loss gave me, more than the number on the scale or the dress size; it was the freedom to not obsess, so darn much, about weight, to not unfavorably compare myself to every person I saw, all the time. Of course there were moments when these things surfaced, because I understand that this dysfunctional relationship between me and my body is forever. I'm never going to have one of those infuriatingly healthy and normal approaches to food and weight that some people have.

And so end of story right? Happily ever after? Well I thought so. Until a few weeks ago I saw that number creep up ever so slightly (and I mean slightly, 2 pounds, which for some people, not a big deal, but for others, and I suspect many, many, far too many women, is a huge deal), I felt the stirrings of this cold, clammy fear.

So I re-committed myself to healthy eating, to more exercise, nothing dramatic, just that little tip I thought I needed to get that number to go back down. And then today after my workout,  when that evil scale cast its spell on me and dragged me towards it, after this week of change and five mile runs and hour long workouts at the gym, the number hadn't gone down.

It had gone up. Still only very slightly, a pound and a half. But it had gone up.

I am deeply ashamed to admit how upset this made me. I admit it here, because 1) writing always helps me process and 2) I know that there are so many women out there who understand exactly that feeling.

It sucks right? It's this tiny bit of data, a three digit number, meaningless in any other connotation, but put it on a scale and it can dominate our lives. We are smart and intelligent and strong, and we can be brought to our knees by a digital read out. We can feel the same, wear the same size clothing, eat well and work out, and then one number can hit us like a wrecking ball, destructive and chaotic.

I walked out of the gym, sat in my car, and burst into tears. And I understand how ludicrous that is, trust me. I've worked so hard and eat right and work out, and by society's standards (non-Hollywood), I'm thin (and trust me, it was a huge deal the first time I could even think that word in relation to myself, because it's something I didn't think about myself, or even close to it, for a decade of my life). This shouldn't upset me. Fluid fluctuations could be the culprit. My family history of under-active metabolisms and thyroids could be to blame (oh how relieved I would be if this were my issue, I even made an appointment to get my thyroid checked, which is necessary because all of my female, immediate family members have under-active thyroids, but still, I know this is a little desperate and reaching).

There are so many explanations, so many rational ways of looking at that number. But that's the thing about scales-they make us irrational. They chain us (or a lot of us) to their results with iron clad fear. I realized something today. It reminded me of a saying I've heard athletes say. Winning is great. But for an athlete, the motivation to win is never as strong as the motivation not to lose. Because losing hurts more than winning feels good.

And that's true for weight loss too. And our bodies in general. We our capable of self esteem, of feeling good about ourselves, of fitting into that pair of pants and doing a little happy dance. And it feels great. But ultimately, it has nowhere near the power of the opposite reaction-of how we feel on the other side of the spectrum. Women lose weight because they want to feel good, yes. But I think the stronger motivation is because we don't want to feel bad, to feel fat or less-than.

And that's just so wrong. The opposite of how it should be. I understand nutrition so much better now after being in nursing school. I am so in awe of the human body, of how brilliant and beautiful and brave it is, every second of our lives. 

But all of that can go out the window because of a little number. One little number can turn so much fury and shame toward that same beautiful, brave body.

I'm working on it. I will be working on it my whole life. I am blessed that there is a limit to how dysfunctional my relationship with body is. It has never been dysfunctional enough to drive me to stop eating or to get rid of whatever I did eat. And I am so thankful for that, because I can't imagine how deeply those people hurt.

But it's not perfect. I think, for today's purposes, the moral to the story is this:

Unless you are in the category of people who have a frolicking through meadows relationship with your body and weight, then AVOID that scale.

Scales are just machines, but we silly humans turn them into weapons of unimaginable cruelty, weapons that we direct squarely at ourselves. The best solution is to give them a wide berth and keep on walking. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My day.

Holy crap y'all. My day today was so productive it blows all other days out of the water. It could take all the other days in a week and bench press them. And then eat them. On a sandwich.

It started at 7:30am (which for me is EARLY on a Sunday). It included the following:

-Wrote, filed, and invoiced two Richmond.com articles

-Sent a ton of emails for the April issue of Belle off through the interweb

-Watched an hour documentary off the Cherokee Uniforms website then wrote an essay about said documentary to apply for a nursing scholarship due March 1 (I've kind of procrastinated this one)

-Ate an awesome lunch of oatmeal made on the stove (with a banana whipped in while cooking), topped with a spoon-full of peanut butter and two dark chocolate chips which melted perfectly in the hot oatmeal. Sounds decadent but this actually came in under 350 calories (as you can see it's really not a giant portion). But it kept me full and happy until dinner at 7.

-Went to Kroger, CVS, and Ellwood Thompson (I have to make two trips because Ellwood Thompson is way too pricey for all my shopping and they don't carry my beloved English muffins)

-Cleaned out my refrigerator, sopped up the massive leak under my sink (which I now know happens every time I turn on the garbage disposal)

-Dusted, vacuumed and swiffered my apartment until it was spotless

-Did yoga for the first time in ages and foam rolled for the first time in ages. And man did my body need that foam roller. The first time I ever did it in my physical therapist's office, it felt like I was rolling over massive bruises. As my PT told me it hurt so badly because of the built up scar tissue and adhesions between my muscle and fascia. The more I rolled, the less it hurt. After a while it became a good barometer for how my muscles were doing, because certain spots would hurt every once in a while, after a long run or if I was feeling particularly tight. Anyway, I digress. Today it felt like one big bruise. Sorry muscles. I promise to take better care of you.

-Made these little oatmeal balls off of my new favorite blog, Kath Eats Real Food. It's written by an RD who actually lives in Cville, and I'm obsessed. I always am more inspired to cook things when I read about them on people's personal blogs rather than simply in a health magazine. When there's a story behind it, plus awesome photographs, it's just more fun you know? I'll copy and paste the recipe straight from the blog. It is as follows.

Ingredients (21 balls)
    • 1.75 cups rolled oats
    • 1 cup brown rice puff cereal
    • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
    • 1/4 cup buckwheat groats (or any other seeds/nuts)
    • 1/4 cup chia seeds
    • 1/4 cup coconut
    • 2 tbsp ground flax
    • 1/2 cup brown rice syrup
    • 1/3 cup sunflower butter (or any drippy PB – don’t use a very dry, clumpy one)
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • Mix dry.
    • Mix wet.
    • Microwave wet for 26 seconds.
    • Stir wet into dry.
    • Wet hands and roll into balls.
    • Freeze
    • Lick bowl!
     So I made them pretty much exactly like above, only without the chia seeds (couldn't find them) and with EnviroKidz Organic Koala Crisp Cereal (because I couldn't find plain brown rice cereal, I'm sure they have it at Whole Foods because half of whole foods consists entirely of brown rice products, but it's too far away). But the cereal is low calorie and is chocolate flavored. So I think it's a win win situation. 

    The sticky balls (tehe), turned out like so:

    Delicious and almost disgustingly healthy. In fact they should not taste this good they are so healthy. But I'm super excited to be able to take them to school with me to have as healthy snacks. I never pack enough snacks with me, and then I get hungry and my only options are whatever is in the vending machine. So this is much better and better for me. I individually wrapped them and put them in the freezer and they're so darn cute all snuggled up together I had to take another picture.

    -I was going to make kale chips but I ran out of time so that will have to happen tomorrow. I also made a healthy dinner (also inspired by Kath Eats Real Food) of eggplant pizzas. I chopped an eggplant into discs, drizzled them with EVOO, salt, and pepper and baked them at 400 for 20 minutes. Then I flipped them over, covered them with Trader Joe's pizza sauce, feta and shredded, light mozzarella cheese (real mozzarella would be better, but it doesn't keep well and I always end up throwing half of it out, which makes me sad, because good cheese does not deserve to go in a trash can). I sliced up some roma tomatoes and put those on as well, then put them back in the oven and baked for another 10 minutes until everything was all gooey and melty. As a finishing touch I added a sprig of fresh basil to each "pizza."And that turned out like so:

    So let's face it. Eggplant pizzas are never going to be the same as gooey, greasy pizza pizza. But they're delicious in their own right (I like to think of them more as mini eggplant parmesans without as much cheese), and the healthiest pizza you can eat (especially if you go light on the cheese, which I did). 

    So that was my Sunday, 7:30am-10pm. I have desperately needed a catch-up day like this, and my sanity needed a day like this (I tend to reach unhealthy levels of stress when things pile up). So now I'm going to watch the end of the Oscars and do a little light Pathopharmacology studying, maybe with a mug of hot cocoa to satisfy my sweet tooth (I also had gotten into the bad habit of giant bowls of cereal after dinner-which are delicious, but I'm trying to keep post dinner snacks below 150 calories). And then I'm going to sleep. Very well.


    I am going to NYC with the boyfriend for three nights during my spring break (which is 11 days away, not that I'm counting). I am beyond excited, because it has been at least five years since I was last there. Plus then I was under 21 and only really interested in shopping (I bought pink Uggs, and yes this is my proudest moment). Speaking of shopping, I had to do a little for NYC. I mean I can't just go to New York wearing any old thing. I don't want people to think I'm a yokel. So I did a little bit and got two perfect NYC dresses. We're going to two shows (Chicago and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), and meeting up with my best friend and her husband another night (that sentence just made me feel really old). So clearly that's three nights in need of three new dresses. Right? Anyone? Do I sound like a shopping addict, maybe just a little bit?

    But anyways, I restrained myself (for the moment), and got two. I also saved $50 by asking if Ann Taylor Loft had a student discount (which they do, 15%, and HOW DID I NOT KNOW THAT UNTIL NOW?!), and opening up a store card. The best part-after going through the whole thing the very nice sales attendant found out I already had one (whoops!), but still gave me the 20% off that new card members get. So my dresses cost $50 less than they would have, simply by the virtue of being shady and thrifty. Here they are:

    Oh, how I love an excuse to shop.

    Friday, February 24, 2012


    I am not going to lie. I am so stoked to see My Landmark Theater etiquette article  get so many comments (and the fact that it's been the number 1 most read article on Richmond.com the last couple of days doesn't hurt my writerly ego either). I think it touched a nerve with people like me who a) are guilt-ridden rule followers (damn you Catholic conscience!) and b) people who believe very deeply in the importance of manners, who believe in old-fashioned behavior in public places, things like holding doors open and getting up to let people past. I know those people are out there. In fact I think the majority of people in this city are in that vein, and I think they're the ones who are responding most vociferously to my post, because we aren't just annoyed by rude behavior, we're hurt and affronted by it. It bothers us deeply, because we were raised to believe acting inconsiderate is wrong, and it's hard to understand why anything thinks it's right.

    My favorite part about writing for an online forum is the feedback. Whether good or bad, I love being able to engage with readers. You can't do that with print (well I suppose you can, it's just delayed by a few weeks and shows up in the comments page), and it's just a really great facet of online journalism.

    One other theater related thing. I saw August: Osage County last week at Barksdale's Theatre Gym. And let me make a quick preface. Go see this show. It is incredibly well acted, beautifully staged (the set is a textbook example of how to make the most out of small spaces). It is thought provoking, and Tracy Lett's writing is just unbelievably strong. It feels old fashioned in the sense that the script has the power of the old playwrights, Williams and Miller, writers who crafted this distinctly American vernacular of theater, language that is raw and forceful but still gorgeous enough that you want to curl up inside of it.

    So go see it. Please. But here's my quibble. It may be that I'm feeling particularly sensitive toward women's issues right now, betrayed by my legislators and my state, who came very close to passing a bill that would have mandated an invasive, medical, intra-vaginal procedure without medical reason or the need for consent (sidebar: this should offend any human being, but as a health care professional in the making it is abhorrent, it goes against everything modern medicine stands for, where patient consent is not simply necessary, it is the one, unmovable, fixed benchmark we have).

    Maybe it's that little alarm bell that goes off with the voice of my college Women in Shakespeare professor, who urged us to stand up for the women in our stories, to fight for their voices. Maybe my take is just way off from the Pulitzer Prize committee who awarded Mr. Letts that honor.

    But I have a problem with the portrayal women in August: Osage County. I understand that female characters are characters, and that as characters they have the right to be mean and ugly and cruel. I understand that women in real life can be mean and ugly and cruel. But nearly all of the women in this play, at one point or the other, are one, if not all, of these things. And the other women are often small and shallow and foolish. The women drive their husbands to drink or suicide or affairs. The women pair up with completely unsuitable partners, because they don't want to be, horror, middle aged and single. Barbara, one of the leads, is such a strong woman, and for most of the play she seemed like the moral compass, the one who was made of steel. But then she ends up crying, asking her adulterous husband if he'll ever come back to her, as if she were the one in the wrong. And in that moment he is the sympathetic one. He's the one with the choice, the power of keeping the relationship going. And I just hated that. I know affairs are complicated, it's not simply one wrong person and one right. And many women might do just that, beg their cheating husbands to come back to them. But this character has been so strong up until that point, so moral, and it bothered me tremendously to see her reduced to that.

    In contrast, many of the men in this play are sympathetic and decent. They are funny and polite. They try to stop fights and soften blows, while the women around them shriek and rant and go off the deep end. And yes there is one absolute creep of a male character in this play, but Letts has the female character stay with him even after he has tried to force himself on her fourteen year old niece. Which, I'm sorry, but no. Just no. I don't buy that. I don't buy that any woman, no matter how desperate or scared, would stay with a man if there's even the possibility of that. I'm a woman, with a niece, and it's just bullshit. It's not creating a flawed character. It's a flaw in character creation.

    It's frustrating for me, because I love so much of the characterization of the women in this play. They are the strongest characters absolutely, in terms of how developed they are. I don't think Letts is intentionally sexist. I think it's just a very talented man, writing women, and getting aspects of it wrong because of a fundamentally flawed but deeply ingrained view of women in American society, which is in a nutshell the history of famous American plays and literature.

    Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way. Maybe you could have the opposite opinion. And like I said before, you need to go to this play and form your own opinion because it's so worth seeing. The sexism I found here isn't obvious or outright or probably even intentional. Instead it's the subtle, insidious kind that permeates so much of our world, still, even in 2012, the kind that lives inside people (men and women), without them even knowing it.

    We've come so far, but we're not there yet. The only way to get there is to question and challenge and ask yourself if things are fair, if women are given a real and honest voice, whether in life or in a play.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    Salmon burgers with spicy mayo and cooked kale.

    So day two of healthier eating! And I have to say I am thoroughly enjoying cooking every night. It's especially satisfying after a cheerful two days at school learning about hypertension and heart disease. So tonight's heart friendly dinner:

    Salmon burgers:
       -Confession, I bought Trader Joe's frozen salmon patties, which are probably not as healthy as making them fresh, but have you ever made fresh salmon burgers? That shit is hard. You have to buy fillets and cook them and then dice them and then put them back together again with eggs and bread crumbs and other sticky stuff. So I thought these were an acceptable alternative.

    So anyways the salmon patties don't really have a recipe since I bought them pre-made, but I served them on 100% whole wheat English muffins with mixed greens and sliced tomato and my special spicy mayo (1 tbsp mayo, 1 tsp Sri Racha, and soy sauce to taste-mixed together until it's bright pink and delicious).

    They were awesome. But my favorite part of this meal was the kale. I bought a bag of fresh kale and prepared it like so:

    -Heated about 2tbsp EVOO in a large pot. Once the oil was hot but not too hot, I added diced onions, garlic and shallots. Cooked those until they were all nice and sweaty and aromatic (sorry for not having technical terms, but I'm sleepy, probably about 5 minutes on low heat, just be careful not to burn the garlic/shallot/onion mixture or it will taste disgusting and no one will eat anything you cook ever again). Added 1 cup of chicken broth (veg. broth would also do). Added bag of kale. Turned heat up to medium. Covered and cooked about 10 min (really also to taste, but I waited until the kale was pretty good and wilted). Then I added salt and pepper to taste along with a hefty dose of red wine vinegar (if you want specifics about 3-4 tbsp probably). And then on a whim I saw a half of a lemon in the fridge and tossed the juice of that in as well (which, not to toot my own horn, but added the perfect hint of citrus, worked really nicely with the acid from the vinegar).

    I honestly could have eaten a whole meal of just the kale. I've gotten really into cooked greens lately. I think it's unavoidable as a Southerner, but they really are so freaking good. And one of the healthiest things you can put in your body. So win win.

    Happy healthy eating :)

    Monday, February 20, 2012

    Super Shrimp Salad of Deliciousness.

    I have been eating far too well the last few weeks. And by well I do not mean well in the wellness sense. I mean chocolate brioche bread pudding with salted caramel. This is a thing I actually ate. I have also eaten multiple crab cake sandwiches with multiple servings of sweet potato fries. Now let me clarify something. This is not a "I just started a diet" post. I do not believe in diets at all actually, if by diet you mean eating in a certain way for a certain amount of time to some extreme point (either not eating enough, or eating only cottage cheese and bacon) in order to rapidly lose weight. 

    It ain't gonna work. Believe me I've tried. More than a few times. But I do believe in eating right. My normal philosophy is to make good choices 90% of the time and then splurge once or twice a week on that Mexican dinner or burger or Eggs Benedict.

    However because of life being all busy and hectic, my ratio has tipped more to eating right 70% of the time and splurging the other 30. Okay fine, closer to 50/50. I may have bought a package of Cadbury Cream Eggs.

    So anyways I'm getting back on track. And I thought a fun way to do that would be to post pictures of my healthy dinners. I love to cook/prepare foods and I also haven't done that enough lately. So tonight I had...(imagine a drum roll):

    The World's Greatest Salad. What went in it:

         -Mixed baby greens lettuce
         -A handful of chopped Trader Joe's Feta cheese
         -Marinated artichoke hearts (courtesy of the Whole Foods deli bar)
         -Spiced shrimp (courtesy of the Whole Foods fish counter)
         -Kalamata olives (I am tentatively starting to like these, which is big for me, because I hate all other     
          olives with a fiery passion)
         -A handful of chopped mint leaves
        -Chopped roma tomatoes
    I topped it all of with my Martha's lemon vinagrette (sorry, I reflexively feel the need to call her my Martha, because she has come through for me time and time again when it comes to knock it out of the park basics); which I made like this:
         -Combine 1 tsp Dijon mustard (I used Spicy Brown) with 2 tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice + 1 tsp finely  
         grated lemon zest + salt and pepper to taste. Slowly add 6 tbsp of EVOO (secret, I used 2, tasted the 
         recipe and thought it was fine, definitely lemony but I thought it was perfect and did not need the   
         extra 4 tbsp, it's a personal choice)

    I added a slide of a whole wheat baguette, plus one glass of Pinot Grigio. And voila-the perfect healthy dinner (and if you say one word about Pinot Grigio not being "healthy" I will slap you in the mouth, because no one puts Pinot in the corner, or something like that). And for dessert (because I am physically dependent on something sweet after dinner) I had a 60 calorie, sugar free chocolate pudding cup.

    Not as satisfying as a Cadbury Cream Egg. But I have my 10% for that.

    Coming tomorrow: salmon burgers with cooked kale! I know. The suspense is unreal. 

    Saturday, February 18, 2012

    Lion King Review

    Lion King review is up! I would blog about it, but I think the review pretty much covers my feelings about the show. I do have one request. The Lion King is the big show in Richmond and will be until March 11, but don't forget about local theater. It may not have the budget of The Lion King, but I guarantee some of the local theaters match and exceed it in imagination and creativity.


    Friday, February 17, 2012

    Malawi Bound.

    Children in Malawi

    Over the last two years I've gone back and forth a few dozen (or hundred dozen) times about going on a volunteer trip to Africa. I was definitely going last summer, until I wasn't. Classes, money, scheduling-it all got in the way. And then I was definitely going this summer. Until I wasn't. 

    And now, improbably, wonderfully, I am going. I've confirmed my place on a Habitat for Humanity trip to Malawi. I've sent in my deposit. I am booked and set for May 25. 

    In my latest and last fit of "should I, shouldn't I", I googled my favorite Tennyson poem (excuse me while I go gag at how pretentious that sounds, I swear I'm not even a poetry person, but this poem speaks to the depths of my soul, Mr. Tennyson and I, we are sympatico, soul twins, at least in regards to the meaning of these words). This is what it says, and this is not the first time I've posted it on my blog. 

    I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
    Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
    Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
    That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
    Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
    Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;
    For always roaming with a hungry heart
    Much have I seen and known; cities of men
    And manners, climates, councils, governments,
    Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
    And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
    Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
    I am a part of all that I have met;
    Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
    Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
    For ever and for ever when I move.
    How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
    To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
    As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
    Were all too little, and of one to me
    Little remains: but every hour is saved
    From that eternal silence, something more,
    A bringer of new things; and vile it were
    For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
    And this grey spirit yearning in desire
    To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
    Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
    I am a part of all that I have met. As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life were all too little.

    I kept reading those words, and suddenly the million reasons I had not go go (money, the need to get a job in May, money, money) meant nothing to me. Travel, without question, has been the great, enduring, freaking love of my life. If you come to my apartment, you will see that my walls are covered with travel pictures. And I want to emphasize that this isn't to show off. This isn't because they're pretty.

    It's because my soul aches for these experiences. My soul is at peace when I'm surrounded by the memories of these places. I love that phrase in the Ulysses poem, that "I am a part of all that I have met." You would think it's the other way around. That the places you go become a part of you. But it's not like that. I feel like I've left little pieces of myself all over the globe. And that sounds sad and like it would make you feel less whole. But it's just the opposite. Every where I go, every new country I visit, every time I leave a part of my heart behind, I feel more grounded, more connected to this whole, big, crazy, beautiful world. My heart beats and I can hear it echo in Thailand, in Italy, in India, in France, in Haiti. Every new place I go adds resonance to my soul. It becomes louder, stronger, more deeply tied to the earth. 

    And it's been almost two years since I've traveled, and I miss it ferociously. Because I adore every aspect of traveling, good and bad, exhausting and smelly. The other big reason I finally just say yes to this trip happened when I was looking up flights to Malawi. I saw that the trip itself would take over a day, that there would be layovers in strange countries like Ethiopia, that individual flights would stretch over 13 hours.

    And I couldn't think of anything I wanted more. To be completely honest I can't think of times I've felt more acutely, to the edge of my skin alive than when I'm red eyed and greasy haired in some Godforsaken airport bathroom, on an endless layover in the middle of the night, between two endless flights, when I don't know what time zone I'm in or barely what country I'm in, when I'm sleep deprived and smell like some particularly pungent mix of airport fast food and airplane coffee. That's just it for me. Bottle that and I will buy it for all the money I have. Not everyone would think so highly of those experiences. For some people that might be the definition of hell. But for me, for me it's just everything.

    And there was one more big, possibly the biggest, reason why I finally said yes. I mentioned on my last blog that a girl I knew from my Haiti trip, went missing on Mt. Rainier more than a month ago. I've thought a lot about Haiti these last few weeks, because whenever I think about Michelle I think of Haiti. I've thought about how profoundly important Haiti was for me. It was my first volunteer trip, the first time I traveled that wasn't just for me. I made a promise to myself after Thailand that from that point when I traveled I would try to do it in a volunteer capacity. Because I had been so stinking lucky. It was ridiculous really, how lucky I had been to go to the places I had been to. It was time to give back, time to use traveling to help people, because traveling had given me so much already. 

    And Haiti was the first extension of that promise. It's such a cliche to say that a trip to disaster rocked, poverty stricken nation changes your life, but it just did. For a solid week I lived every second with purpose, every second feeling like I was doing my best (not always succeeding) to help people. I had purpose. And when I went home, I didn't want to go back to not feeling that way. I didn't want to go back to floating, to applying for writing and editing jobs and feeling sorry for myself when I didn't get them. So I decided to go into nursing, because I knew that nursing would give me that purpose for the rest of my life, the sense that what I was doing meant something, could help people. 

    And so the more I've thought about Michelle, and Haiti, the harder it was to say no to Africa. It's hardly a selfless trip. It's been a dream for a long time to go to Africa. But the reason I'm going this way is because it also won't be an entirely selfish trip. It exists somewhere in the middle, between personal interests and a genuine desire to help people. 

    And finally, thinking about Michelle made me realize something else as well. When I first heard what happened to her, I found myself thinking how senseless, how senseless to lose your life on some camping expedition on a mountain, what a waste. But very quickly I realized how wrong that thought is, how that thought is borne of fear, not of truth. 

    What happened to Michelle was a waste only in the sense that she's gone. But she didn't waste her life. She did the opposite. She was living her life. Whenever you go on a trip like the one we did to Haiti, you tend to bond with people no matter how different they are from you, because anyone who will get on a plane and fly to a foreign country where they don't know anyone, shares your particular brand of crazy. It's this great little club we have, all of us who feel more at home in ourselves when we're a million miles away from home, who can understand ourselves better outside of our comfort zone, whose lives just make a little more sense when traveling. 

    I didn't know Michelle well, but I'm guessing that personality took her to Mt. Rainier, to a snowy mountain in a far away state. No, it wasn't senseless what happened to her. A senseless death is having an anvil fall on top of you while you're on your couch watching TV. A senseless death would be getting hit by a car in your driveway. What happened to Michelle had nothing to do with death in fact and so much more to do with life, with living it the way you want, with making what you dream become a reality. 

    That's how I want to live my life. Because it's just too short to do otherwise. Because I know for a fact when I'm old and gray, I won't say, "Gosh, I wish I hadn't gone to Africa so I'd have a couple thousand more dollars to give away in my will." 

    But I would have regretted it immensely if I hadn't gone. That's where regret comes from, the things we don't do or say.

    So I have two requests now, at the end of this very long-whinded blog.

    First of all, whatever you have in your back pocket, that trip to take or choice to make or question to ask or whatever you've been debating about, please just do it. I can tell you without even knowing what it is (unless of course you've been debating about going off the deep end and running through town naked, that maybe don't do), to just do it. 

    Second, I've started a page through Habitat for Humanity to fundraise for my trip. If I raise $0 I will still go. But a little will definitely help this poor, crazy student whose mother would rather her put this money to more practical uses like rent or food. I can tell you after what I saw in Haiti, that sometimes the best way to donate money is to do it like this, where your money helps put people on the ground. Because it's not anonymous that way. Any money I earn will directly help me build a house for someone who desperately needs it. And so any donation I get I will take as not for me so much as for the person who will be living in that house, that person in Africa who seems far away, but who really is much closer than you think.

    Because the world, in the end, is pretty small. You just don't realize it if you never try to see it. 

    http://www.habitat.org/cd/gv/participant/participant.aspx?pid=93627348 (my partipant page with a donation button-completely tax deductible since Habitat is a certified non-profit)

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012

    The last few weeks.

    I've been MIA from this blog for one big reason-my spring semester started and proceeded to kick and scream at me drill sergeant style until I was curled up into a ball, clutching my Drug Book and muttering/weeping about cholinergic agonists.

    And the truth; I miss it terribly. This blog means a great deal to me. Writing this blog is important, both on a personal and creative level. I feel like writing to me is what water is to a shark. I stop doing it, and I suffocate.

    So I'm going to do my best to not stay away so long. No matter how busy and crazy life is, I need to return here, often. There's no way I can touch on everything that has happened the last few weeks, but here are the high/low points.

    -Nursing school this semester, like I said before, has just completely kicked my butt. I still honestly love what I'm learning and find things like fluid and electrolyte balance more fascinating than I probably should (the only thing not fascinating this semester-INFORMATICS-a completely BS class that I could rant about forever, but I'll restrain myself). I love interacting with my patients, especially when they're a little sassy. I got to see a cardiac catheterization which blew my mind. There hasn't been a moment this semester that has made me feel uncertain about this career path. But wow, is it hard. It's unyielding, just this monster in constant need of being fed with exams and projects and reflections (oh the dreaded reflection, my school's BFF), and it has worn me out to within an inch of my life. And it's only week 5. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is called SUMMER BREAK.

    -I am in love with my new apartment. Well let me preface that. I have major issues with the interior of my apartment building (which hasn't been maintained since 1954) and most of my weird, smelly (dirty, stinkin' smokers don't realize that their dirty, stinkin' smoke stinks up not just their individual apartments, but EVERYTHING within a 5 mile radius), LOUD (right now the people downstairs are either playing rock band or just singing at the top of their lungs for no reason on a Tuesday evening). But those things aside, I love my apartment. I love my big windows and my wood floors, and just having my own space. I will post pictures soon, but I have spent far too much time and money getting it exactly how I want it. The best way I can describe it that I've made it my mission to fill it with things that are bright and cozy and that make my heart full (this includes but is not limited to my blanket and pashmina from India, a billion travel pictures, some awesome consignment and antique finds, furniture provided by mom and dad, a billion pictures of friends and family, brightly colored rugs,little happy Buddhas, reminders of Charleston, and just all things happy and lovely and that make me feel like I'm living in a cocoon of delightfulness). It might all clash. It might make no sense to anyone else. But to me it's perfect. I open the door and I smile.

    -On a related note, I have a problem. You know how some people are stress eaters? Okay that's a bad example because I'm kind of that too. Although to be fair I'm also a stress exerciser-so it sort of balances out. But I digress. How I've been dealing with stress this semester is by stress shopping, specifically for my aforementioned apartment. It's not great for my bank account. But it's just so fun. I have lost myself again and again on Etsy and more often in Lakeside consignment stores or at the West Broad antiques mall, where I can spend literally hours browsing through all of that wonderfully old stuff. I realize that I'm turning more and more into my mother as I get older. And one of the ways this is manifesting lately is my love of consignment and antiques. And it's just so much more fun to shop at one of those places that at say, Pottery Barn. Because Potter Barn has nice stuff but it's just stuff, you know? At antique or consignment stores, you're not looking at just stuff, you're looking at things that were a part of people's lives, that meant something, that witnessed who knows what kinds of things-new babies brought home, people moving in together, a first apartment. For a sentimental schmuck like me, a Southern one at that who has an almost Pavlovian weepy response to any mention of the past, there's nothing more rewarding than spending a lazy afternoon consignment/antique hunting and/or bringing those items home, giving them a new reincarnation in a new story. I need to stop. I cannot use this as my stress relief for the next two years, because I will become a hoarder. But at least lately it's kept me sane. And I do have my eye out for some fruit crates to use as magazine holders. And an old fashioned wastebasket. And....

    -Richmond theater is nuts right now in terms of new shows opening left and right. If you don't know, it's the start of the Acts of Faith festival, and last year, the festival was responsible for some of the year's most challenging, unique, just all around great theater. Two I've seen so far-Lord of the Flies and Always...Patsy Cline. I loved them both. I thought Debra Wagoner in Patsy Cline was just beautiful. Her voice didn't fill the room, it infused it. It connected every single person in that theater to not just Patsy and her songs, but to everything that's beautiful about music. Lord of the Flies was decidedly darker, with sadly no musical numbers (minus "Kill the pig, spill his blood" chanting), but I still thought it was great. I reviewed it and am too lazy to link, but if you're so inclined look it up on Richmond.com!

    -Lastly, and on a far different note, I found out a couple of weeks ago that Michelle Trojanowski, a girl I went to Haiti was missing on Mt. Rainier. At the time it seemed like the story could end on a happy note. There were rescue missions going on. There was hope. She and three other hikers have been missing now for almost a month. I haven't talked to Michelle since the first couple of weeks back from Haiti when we all exchanged emails a few times to talk about how strange it was to come home. I've kept up with her somewhat on Facebook, seen her statuses, followed updates from her life, updates that I always paid attention to because they reminded me of how I always want to approach life-with joy and passion for both the big and little details. I probably would never have seen Michelle again in person. But still I feel connected to her, like I do with everyone who was on that trip with me, like I always will. It was one week, such a short amount of time, but it was without question one of the most important weeks of my life. When I'm old and gray I know it will still be one of the most important weeks of my life. It changed me. It changed the course of my life. And because of that everyone who was there is important to me, will continue to be important to me. We went through it together. We saw shattering poverty and despair and hunger and senseless destruction together. We saw hope and kindness together. We tried to make sense of it, tried to help in some small way, together.

    Right now it seems impossible that Michelle's story will have a happy ending, no matter how much people hope (and I've been small witness to just how many people have hoped desperately and with their whole hearts for Michelle over the last few weeks, which I'm sure is only the tip of the iceberg to the amount of love there is for this girl out there, who I remember as unflinchingly generous and abundantly kind, even in the hardest of situations). I cannot fathom what her family and friends are going through, what they have gone through. It's just a terrible, sad, ridiculously unfair situation. And I've tried to hold on to hope, to send all of my good thoughts and support the way of her family and friends, and to pray that no matter what, no matter where she is, Michelle is okay.

    So that's been my life the last few weeks, alternately full and silly and stressful and achingly sad. I know I ended on a downer note, but the whole situation has reinforced for me what I have always known but have a hard time remembering-life is short and fragile and unpredictable. We have so little control over it. And it can be stressful and tiring.

    But God aren't we lucky to have it. My life is full. My life is crazy. My life is good.

    And I promise I will do my best spending a little more of it here.
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