Loneliness when Never Alone

I’ve clung to company lately – my carpool buddy C, my co-workers, even the many students I work with, and of course Husband. I cling to nearby friends and acquaintances, always trying to squeeze one more coffee date or meet-up in even when I’m exhausted and unhappy. I have long operated under the assumption that people even me out, make me less crazy, and make me happy. In large part, they do make me happy: I’m definitely extroverted and I started a whole blog about how the wonderful people in my life gave me recipes.

I’ve noticed, though, that when I don’t take time for myself, a measured version of time for myself that has room for reflection, I stay lonely and hungry for companionship. When I do take time for myself, and really relax without just zoning out with television, I often come to a place where I actually look forward to seeing other people, rather than needing them to come and fill my worried and anxious mind.

This evening, I could have stayed with a social gathering with Husband, who was enjoying himself a lot, but I was so tired and stressed and just done that I excused myself – I honestly did need to go home and pack for an upcoming trip. But more than that, I needed to cook a wholesome meal, make a cup of chamomile tea, take a hot bath, and listen to an episode of Gastropod podcast about the history of chocolate while I tidied the house and filled my suitcase. I also needed to write this blog post.

I’m realizing that just like there is high quality and low quality olive oil, there is high quality and low quality companionship. This doesn’t refer to the quality of the companions; it refers to the motives and mindsets that bring the two people together. I spend lots of high quality time with Husband, but too often he gets time with me that is low quality too because I think I’d prefer to be accompanied than to take a break and experience aloneness. I am never perfect, but I do know that after a restful night like this one, I am less of a jerk and more likely to be the wife and friend that I want to be for those I care about.

Making “Breakfast Food” Your Own

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I love breakfast food – I mean, pancakes? Waffles? Bacon? All the fanciest and tastiest of breakfast foods are wonderful to me. When it comes to everyday, average breakfasts, though, I’m pretty weak: I’ll enjoy a bagel and cream cheese, or a big glass of fruit smoothie, but I have a hard time working up an appetite at 6AM and whatever I do manage doesn’t hold me till lunch.

When I learned on the Gastropod podcast that breakfast food is somewhat a modern invention, I felt pretty liberated; if in the past, most people just ate whatever they had lying around as leftovers for breakfast, I would do the same! Today I had leftover quinoa salad, filled with tomatoes and spinach and walnuts and feta, for breakfast, and it was wonderful: hit the spot and also was so full of protein that I didn’t get hungry!

It’s time to take breakfast to be another meal; one where, yes, we sometimes eat french toast because it is so delicious, but where most of the time we eat healthy veggies and proteins we need to get through our day, just like other meals! It is very comforting to realize that I’m not crazy for feeling a sugar-crash many mornings when I start off with a sweet-tooth breakfast. This is fine for a lazy Saturday morning, when I might actually enjoy a blissed-out morning reading and feeling calm, but at work, I want all systems go, and that means protein and nutrients aplenty. Quinoa, to the rescue!

I Don’t Call It Dieting, I Just Call It Attention, So Should YOU!

Interesting Thoughts!

Wilted Wisdom

I started counting calories again today.

Even the phrase ‘counting calories’ tends to elicit an extreme response from the general public, especially people who are not particularly health-conscious (no pressure, no judgement, just saying.) I remember in college I was sitting with a friend explaining how my old Wingstop order (ten piece boneless combo half Louisiana dry-rub and half Atomic with bleu cheese dressing and a root beer, mind you) had over 2,000 calories, which is more calories than one needs in an entire day.

The friend in question did say “Oh, wow…” but when I mentioned how I was counting my calories to actually understand in real time what I was consuming, she just shook her head and said, “You don’t have to do that.”

I understand the reaction of my friend. When you hear “counting calories” it tends to sound threatening and rather extreme because there are very…

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Daydreaming about Gardens (repost)

The weather has turned cold and the leaves have turned crunchy and I’m thinking, as the last of my tomato vines shiver out in their boxes, about next year.

I think that daydreaming about the garden next year may be a substantial part of how I get through the winter, now that I’ve seen gardening for a season and know what I like about it. Some thoughts that are with me now include:

  • How to be smart about space? I have a whole box now that really gets only enough light to be a patch for greens, and a strawberry bed that sustains tomatoes beautifully, if crazily. Our potato barrel yielded some potatoes and would probably yield more, with better drainage and fewer potatoes crowding around. I want to add another box, if Husband will agree, and add small, thin window boxes on our front porch for herbs, to take advantage of all the sun we get up there. He also wants to put in some blueberry bushes up there, where we already get a ton of bees.
  • How to grow in a timely way? I need to make sure I start mostly greens early next year, not all my seeds at once, and then start my summer peppers and tomatoes at last frost. I want to grow greens early and late, not just early this time, and I would like to choose a spot for some winter squash plants and some sugar snap peas so that my Fall harvest can be a little new and not just more of the spring crops. Mid-summer was a grand bounty this year, but I want to make sure I focus on the book-end seasons in 2017.
  • What new plants to grow, and what to give up? I wish my strawberries were more bountiful, but they were a small harvest this year. I want to keep potatoes, tomatoes, butternut squash, carrots, and green peppers… I want a more robust planting of cilantro, dill, basil, and chives this coming year, and add some oregano, which we eat by the handful anyway. While we planted onions and they sprouted, they didn’t grow, so I’d love to find a place in the yard where they thrive. Now that I list it all… we really grew many of the things I wanted to grow. It feels good, actually, to know that I mostly want to boost production, not change it.

What other veggies or fruits would you recommend adding? I need fresh produce to daydream about as the days get short and cold and I spend most of my time indoors.

Preparing the Ground

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We have talked and talked about how we’re going to make our garden bigger this year; even with all the missteps last year, we still yielded a lot of pounds of food and this year promises to be just as exciting. Yesterday was an unseasonably warm day, making it perfect for digging out some old grasses and bushes along our back fence line and preparing the ground for a new raised bed garden box.

We first had to root out as many of the persistent roots and grasses that we could find, and then we laid out large amounts of garden fabric and staked it down. The hope is that, even with this crazy warm weather we’re having, going ahead with this process will help keep the weeds down when we put the boxes in on top. It’s going to be long, perhaps 12 feet, and about 2 feet deep, so there’s going to be a ton of space for plants. It’s the most full-sun  box we have, so it’s going to get our squash plants, our tomatoes and peppers, as well as newcomer cucumbers.

I sometimes see metaphors for life in the gardening process, and one of the biggest ones is this idea of preparing the ground – our minds cannot change on a dime, and when we want better habits or stronger muscles or anything new, we have to start getting ourselves ready ahead of time. It’s not just the training for the race, but the recognition of what foods make us feel crummy when we run and which ones make us feel energized. Preparing the ground isn’t always possible; I’d say last year we pretty much leaped before we looked, but when life gives you the opportunity to really get ready for a new change, it’s wise not to bury your head and pretend the change isn’t coming. Things go so much better with prepared soil.

A Note About WordAds and ads on blogs (repost)

This is a repost, but I think it is still important; I still have ads, but still make almost nothing off of them, and I still think people have the right to like, dislike, block, or avoid ads on blogs to their hearts’ content.

I wanted to address a blogging issue that might come up for some of you – the possibility that ads will show up in a blog. The way that WordPress.com works, with my membership here, means that I cannot control whether ads show up. If you’ve seen ads on my blog for the past 10 months, it was beyond my choice.

Just recently, however, I was offered a small share of that revenue generated by ads, through the WordAds program. I don’t anticipate making much money because this blog still has a small readership, but I would ask something: when you are reading personal blogs that have ads, especially food blogs that are nicer than mine and have better photos and recipe cards and all of that, please don’t turn your ad-blocker on. This isn’t about me or my blog; it’s about the community of food bloggers.

It’s been an issue I’ve been reading about, and it seems that nearly 40% of ads gets blocked by ad blockers – obviously, I understand people not wanting to see ads, but they also often get to read many interesting things on the internet for free, things that would be less useful if no one was paid to write them. My blog is not among these: I write for fun, and I haven’t invested a lot of money into cameras and hosting and other costs of blogging. But for professional bloggers, watching those ads (or at least ignoring them without blocking them!) seems like a kind way to show your appreciation for the site, and that you want them to be able to continue doing it.

My thoughts on this subject are still developing, but you know already if you read this blog that I’m always thinking about how we form communities, usually around food and family and friends and recipes. I want to be the kind of blog reader that I would want reading my own blog, and I think that might mean (gulp) not running my ad blocker. Have you all seen other models of running a blog that allow us to support those whose work we appreciate, maybe without having to view ads? I hope that is the direction that blogs are headed, but I really don’t know; I just know that I want others to be able to turn their successful blogs into long-term, large-scale work for themselves and their readerships.

All that being said, if you notice something that isn’t functioning because of ads, or if you see an ad that offends you, let me know here in the comments – I want to make sure WordAds is working for my readers, as far as ads in a blog ever can work for readers.

What homemade blankets mean as gifts (repost)

There is an author, Tamora Pierce, who created a young adults book series all about magic. One of the ways magic worked was that a character could weave the magic into a blanket or a quilt or a shawl, giving powers to whoever had it. It made for very imaginative writing.

I tend to think that a little bit of that magic exists in the real world with handmade gifts – I don’t make fancy blankets when I crochet, but they do require me to think through colors and styles, and keep the final product looking clean and tidy. When I was working on this blanket these past few weeks, I was thinking of M, and her new daughter G who is receiving it. G is so tiny and sleepy all the time at 6 weeks old, but M has taken to motherhood like she was born to it; the perfect mix of attentive and calm. I was thinking about how G will grow up in the same town as me, and maybe I’ll babysit her, or at least see her at the free concerts downtown each summer. All those thoughts for the future, and all my memories of M from the past, were on my mind as I made stitches.

When I visited M to deliver the present, she made a big deal out of it, even though as you can see, it’s pretty small and simple. She insisted that I take a big bag of basil, oregano, and jalapenos because she had more than she could use in her garden. We chatted about school and work and just the very existence of the blanket brought us a little closer. The same thing happens when you bring over food to a pair of new parents, or when you find a way to craft something for a birthday that leads to a lovely story. It’s intangible, but there’s a little magic in it.

Cutting Off Anxiety at the Roots (repost)

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This book I’ve been reading, Daring Greatly, talks about two different kinds of stress responses: in one case, people try to manage their circumstances such that all the stress is organized, prioritized, and handled. The other group of people try to seek root causes and remove the problems that cause the stress. The example Brené Brown gives is people who save time at the end of every night and beginning of every day to handle all their unread emails, versus people who make it clear that they may take a while to read emails and delete all unnecessary ones without responses.

I must admit that in everything from cooking to home care to work to gardening, my habit is to try to minimize impact, not eliminate stress from the roots. Something I’ve always felt under my actions was a belief that I should be able to deal with all the things that get thrown at me, and changing the rules of the game (i.e. asking people to email less!) would mean some kind of failure. But I’ve seen how less-stressed people are, and how their lives look more like a celebration than like a failure.

It makes me think that some of the things I need to do in the coming year should have to do with root causes: rather than constantly making time to scramble and cook in the evening, finding a way to enjoy the nights of take-out and also budget weekend time for meal prep. I want to plan our garden ahead of time but also modulate my expectations – we are lucky and our garden is for fun, not for sustenance, so there’s no reason to let it cause me stress. Even little things, like the ways Husband talks about keeping the house neater and more tidy, I need to put in perspective: even he tells me how when he talks about changing our house care, he’s talking about himself doing more, not about me doing more. It’s a good thing to be reminded that some stress is caused by our unrealistic expectations of ourselves, not by externally imposed strain. Now, to remember this next time something doesn’t go my way… It’s always a process!

Will the Real Olive Oil Please Stand Up?

img_5152I grew up eating a lot of food cooked in butter, toast covered in butter – it was the oil of my childhood in the South! But in the past few years, especially living in Madrid, I became an olive oil person. I like it for cooking, I like it on toast, I like it for everything.

So as I was reading the book Real Food, Fake Food, I was surprised to find that many of the olive oils are actually a mix of fresh olive oil (the yummy stuff) and a refined, low-flavor, super-stable version of olive oil. Sure, the book calls that fake, but if you read between the intense accusations, it still shakes out that the labeling in this industry is deceptive. This doesn’t mean that every bottle is mislabeled, but Extra Virgin Olive Oils from California, it turns out, actually have a more consistently high quality than some brands from Italy, according to tests!

It made me wonder if I had good “taste” in olive oil; so I bought a bottle of California Olive Ranch, and grabbed my most recent bottle of EEVO, and tasted them. I liked them both – but the California one was really flavorful! It makes me think I could happily use whatever olive oil for cooking but might want to keep the delicious California kind with me for toast and other kinds of direct use.

Do you have a favorite brand of EEVO? I’m only now opening my eyes to the idea that they can taste different!

Making Garden Plans: Reading Homegrown Harvest

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I’ve been reading a new book! This gardening book, as opposed to a lot of others I’ve looked at, seems geared to be a reference guide for a home gardener, not something to be read cover-to-cover. Using the seasonal sections and the guidelines for each kind of plant, kind of gardening space, and kind of climate, you can isolate small pockets of advice on your particular goals and start planning!

For instance, my area of the country is right at the edge of USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and 6, so I look for the advice that the book offers to mid-temperate and cold-winter areas, often splitting the difference since I’m so close to being in cold-winter but not quite. I know I want tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, strawberries, squash, basil, cilantro, and a mess of other things in my garden, so I look for those foods or the families in which they are grown (herbs, rather than basil and cilantro specifically) and get advice on when to plant, how to plant, how hardily they will grow, cautions about thinning them out or hardening them off in the new warm days of May and June, etc. It’s making planning much easier, because when I tried to “plan” last year, I just got overwhelmed by the individual needs of each kind of plant.

This way, I’m creating some week-by-week checklists, which will make my time commitment to gardening much less haphazard but also will hopefully yield better crops! Reading about them now, I am lucky that as many of my plants survived last year as they did; I didn’t follow almost any of the guidelines! What’s nice is that I can take what I learned from experience and the advice given here to make less work for myself but hopefully yield better results, with more delicious fruits and veggies for the rest of the year. I recommend this book!