Every breath you take,
Every move you make,
Every bond you break,
Every step you take,
I’ll be watching you.
The eternal stalker/orbiting anthem.
One of the things I like best about taking photographs more and more deliberately is that when I know I like something, I KNOW that I like it. The above is one that I adore even though its imperfections have been noted. Too busy, too much going on, too messy. I think it’s great, it makes me happy every time I look at it. It’s my new desktop background. The bright red glasses looking out, the city in reflection, the mirrors inside showing the parking lot outside, the outline of the tree and clouds, the little spot of wood-orange on the left edge. Love it all.
The NCAA Midwest games are playing up the hill and in a few hours, Jeff and I will join some people from power cycling in the lower bowl to watch my two favorite teams play their 2nd rounds: Michigan State and whoever is playing against Michigan.
Go Green, Go White.
Afterwards, I’m going to make up the base dough for Pecan Sticky Buns, let it rise before/during Saturday Night Live, and then fill it, roll it up and slice it into rounds before letting it rise in the pan overnight in the refrigerator. Knowing that I only have to stir up the Orange Glaze Sauce and pop it in the oven tomorrow morning will feel like a gift. Fresh coffee, homemade sticky buns, good books, bed head and jammies. Not many Sundays have a better start, I think.
Sometimes the nicest experiences come from the least expected corners of your world.
Back when we were eating out, Jeff and I would go to Fong’s (the space was once home to a Chinese restaurant) on Friday nights with the neighbors and a rotating bunch of regulars for happy hour – huge, cheap slices of the best pizza in town and a free drink to wash it down. Now the pizza was great and the drinks generous but the best part was the employees — especially the bar staff. Our list of favorites there would be pretty much all inclusive, but one of them for both of would be a young woman named Sari (pronounced like Mary but with a S). She’s quick-witted and sweet, smart and funny, beautiful and she puts up with no shit. To say that Jeff misses seeing her regularly is an understatement. I’ve always been a bit more stand-offish with the staff, that’s just how I am, but of all the people at Fong’s she’s the one I miss the most. We’ve talked books and music and travel and annoying customers. I think she’s pretty damn interesting and she doesn’t think it’s weird that I always brought a book with me to a bar.
Ok, back on task.
Last weekend, Jeff saw on Facebook (an evil network that I reject) that Sari was doing a reading as part of a multi-person event called Stories to Tell My Daughter. We hadn’t seen Sari in far too long so we decided to buy tickets and go see what it was all about tonight. Five women of different ages, upbringing, backgrounds and experiences recounted parts of their lives with openness and candor. The stories had some amusing moments but weren’t easy to hear. They were no doubt an important part of the healing journey for many of the speakers. There was a recurring theme of women learning to trust themselves, learning to value themselves, and learning to care for themselves even after some truly horrific experiences.
Afterwards, during the Q&A, one of the women noted that we give even the very littlest of girls a babydoll but little boys usually get toy trucks. I don’t remember her exact words, but they were close to this: ‘In doing so, we teach little girls that it’s their responsibility to focus on taking care of someone else almost from day one, while little boys learn to just drive up, over and the hell away from the shit they break.’
Afterwards, I edited a few in minor ways. (Baby steps.) Two turned out well, I think. Farfalle pasta with puttanesca sauce, asiago bread for dinner. All in all, good day. Look at these skies.
Two important notes:
1: Happy happy happy birthday to the woman I love better than a sister, Eileen Cook. If you’re a fan of YA and good writing, you owe it to yourself to read her latest, You Owe Me a Murder, released just days ago.
2: If you’re looking for something interesting, the movie Jeff saw today was Birds of Passage. I knew it would be too violent for me, but Jeff thought it was an interesting story and was well-told. Kudos to Lennart for yet another fine film recommendation.
PS – Jeff and I have been married for ages. No worries. We’re solid.
So for several days now I’ve had some truly stellar headaches from the vacillating atmospheric pressure that comes with large weather changes on the Prairie (and throughout the Midwest). It’s up, it’s down, it’s quiet, it’s thunderstorms. In short, it’s full-on mercurial. Good times.
Two days ago I finally dug deep and asked for help getting a photo reworked and – during the simple edits it needed – the completely rational and utterly terrifying comment was made that I really should just download the Lightroom software so I could do these myself. I knew this. I knew learning it wasn’t beyond me. I knew I wasn’t comfortable taking this on at the moment, but I also knew that if I waited until I was ready that I’d never do it.
Update 48 hrs later: I’m not ready. I’m not going to be ready. I just need to do it. So I got the software loaded yesterday morning and actively avoided it pretty much the rest of the day. I couldn’t even touch my computer, despite encouragement and a bit of gentle text-based prodding. Sometimes it’s so nice not having to look someone in the eye when you’re acting like a coward.
Today I dove in and the brain injury deficits and side effects have been on hours-long demonstration. Whenever I want a reminder of where I was cognitively and where I am now, I just try to learn something completely new. Plat du jour: Tears, anger, frustration, despair, rocketing self-doubt and a side of plummeting self-worth. Garnished with the knowledge that this isn’t hard to master! Mmmm, delicious. I popped a few unnecessary errands into the day’s mix to help keep some perspective but I gotta admit that I’m beyond fried as of 6:40 pm. Time to stop until tomorrow.
As an added bonus, my Massage Therapy session yesterday has my left side looking and feeling like I’ve been hit by a car. Seriously, I’ve been hit by a car before. The similarities in my skin are impressive. I always think, “Oh a massage, that’ll be so soothing.” Afterwards I remember that the name also includes the word therapy, so I really should expect discomfort and pain too.
Tonight Jeff was kind enough to volunteer to feed us and wrangled up some hamburgers. They were just what I needed. Simple, tasty, and not made by me. Let’s all hope for calmer internal skies tomorrow.
In case of unexpected turbulence, please keep your seatbelt buckled the entire post.
Now that Jeff and I are well into our 3rd month of exclusive home cooking, it’s finally feels like the norm to cook all our meals at home, to make our coffee and tea at home, to have all our social time and drinks at home or in a friend’s house. I can’t say I really miss the restaurant meals, bar drinks or cafe coffees, although I know that Jeff has his moments still.
I miss being able to go see a friend’s new home the minute he moves into it. I miss being able to go hug and help distract a friend who, despite her best efforts and hard work, didn’t get into the acting/improv program of her dreams. I miss being able to go sit with a small popcorn, try to keep up with the subtitles, and watch as a friend brings yet another wonderful film to his community. I miss being able to go comfort a friend experiencing the miserable treatment that cancer requires, even though we haven’t seen each other in years and I didn’t know for the longest time that she even had cancer. Once you know, you know, and all I want to do is go clean her bathrooms, wipe out every one of her kitchen cupboards, fold her laundry, and make her a month of dinners. I too have my moments still.
The biscuits and gravy I discussed in the previous post were a.ma.z.ing. I know you were wondering. There was a bit of a food coma afterwards, but it was totally worth it. They were that good. After breakfast, I casually mentioned that the biscuits would probably be really good with honey, knowing that that’s one of Jeff’s favorite things, which meant that his eyes started sparkling and he immediately grabbed the honey pot and the container of leftover biscuits. I was correct; they’re great with honey. Like sunshine breaking through a fluffy cloud. Okay, maybe not. But they were quite delicious. We didn’t need to eat anything else for the next six hours. Now that’s a good brunch in my book. Jeff especially enjoyed watching a British Premier League game at the same time too. Normally we have a hard & fast ‘No TV during meals,’ but bah sometimes it’s ok to bend for the ones we love.
Our lunch plans subsequently became supper plans but then our lunch –> dinner guests were late, then later, then latest, and ultimately non-existent. After an hour, we finished cooking the meal and ate by ourselves, after an hour and a half, I washed up the dishes and scrubbed down the kitchen, after two hours I took the food out of the warmer, and at two and a half hours (with yet more ‘probably just a quarter-of-an-hour more’ texts) we just shook our heads and got ourselves ready for the next week. Sometimes life is like that.
The pasta with tomatoes and blue cheese wasn’t really to my liking but Jeff ate two servings and gleefully filled a few containers to take to work with him. I preferred the side dishes: glazed heirloom carrots, roasted Brussels sprouts, and especially the cabbage, onions and bread casserole. Sounds gross, was great. We’ll eat well for days from just the leftovers.
On Friday, I went out and got close, my camera and I got involved, it and I got right into the mix of things. And the difference in my photographs was remarkable.
The gym’s pool is back open tomorrow and cycling can resume again too now that the security requirements for the national swimming competition are gone. I can’t believe the I’m looking forward to being able to swim again, but the lack of them both in my exercise routine last week was felt both physically and emotionally.
After ramping up the poundage on my weights work with Jeff, I’ve hit the limit to what my body can lift (for the time being) so I decided yesterday to reduce them all a bit to focus again on my form. Once that’s back closer to perfect, I’ll try to slowly add weight a little at a time, so long as my body allows it. When it won’t, then I’ll adjust the reps or number of sets or the time between them. Who knows.
I picked The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind last night and Jeff picked Saving Mr. Banks tonight – both on Netflix. I will admit that I cried big, fat tears at the end of the later. Neither were high art or Oscar worthy, but let’s be honest Emma Thompson can do no wrong.
One final note: This twice a year time change rigamarole is ridiculous, although it is nice each spring to be only 5/6 hrs different to family & friends in UK/Europe for a couple weeks. In the fall it’s nice to be an hour closer to those on the west coast for a few weeks. Overall though, let’s just end this silliness once and for all.
Today brought happy satisfaction regarding the housewarming package I selected, some back and forth texts about cameras (I understand full-frame vs cropped a little better now), some beautiful photography shared with me, a couple satisfying photos taken, and a cozy (double) conversation with a friend about life, work, writing, moving on, and starting over.
After a week and a half of veggie soups (the creamy broccoli being a definite highlight) it was nice to break out the braised chicken skills again – this time with bacon and mushrooms. I can best describe it as chicken stroganoff. Next time I’m going to add egg noodles just to drive the association home. It was heavenly. And as the smoke alarm was removed prior to cooking, it was also a relatively silent preparation. As accompaniment, there was Pinot Grigio, a French Boule loaf, candles, conversation, and after the cleanup was done a viewing of Roma.
Last week I deleted more words from my manuscript than I care to think about, hover-click-gone-bourbon, and I got within only a few feet of some complete strangers while actively wielding a camera. While seemingly unrelated, the latter actually led me to doing the former. How is writing a novel and practicing photography related? Well, in my case, they were both ending up rather dull and emotionally flat because I was trying to keep my distance, trying to stay in my comfort zone, instead of throwing myself full tilt into the action.
Talking with a friend this afternoon, I described my epiphany for both activities this way. When I’m one-on-one with someone or among a small gathering of friends, I’m happy to get right into the mix of things. I laugh and chat and tease and tell stories with ease. But when I’m in a large group of strangers or people with whom I have little in common, I’m going to hang out on the edges of the room and watch, and watch, and smile, and sip my drink, and watch, before slipping out to go find a cat to pet or a book to read. He confirmed seeing this behavior in me. “Yeah, you can get pretty awkward then.”
*Please hold my purse while I pull this filet knife from my back.* Anyways.
I use a Fujifilm x100f. It has a single, fixed, wide-angle (24mm) lens. I adore this camera. It’s light and straight-forward and fits my small hands well. Yet it has been stymying my effort to get interesting shots of people around town because I’ve been insisting on standing at the back of life’s little party. I kept trying to use my camera as if it had a 300mm telephoto (aka – stalker) lens. “You stand (way) over there and do your thing and I’ll stand (way) over here and watch.” The x100f will never behave the way my comfort level wants it to, but it is operating exactly as it was designed to. What had to change was my behavior. When I started to get up close to the people and scenes I was shooting, things started falling into place. Yes, I was tremendously uncomfortable but that’s something I can work at overcoming. Wishing and wanting won’t ever change the way this lens behaves.
Thinking over this realization later, I understood that I had been doing the same thing with my manuscript. I’ve been holding myself at a distance from my characters, locations, and plot line. I wanted to keep everything neat and tidy, controlled and comfortable. I was flattening them and draining the book of color because I wasn’t close enough to see the characters as full-rounded people who would have lives outside of my plot line. I never gave them the room to be messy, and we’re all messy. We make mistakes, we over-correct, we ignore what we don’t want to see, we misunderstand what we hear, we assume, we let our egos hold us hostage, we aim to punish someone only to feel the sting of our own buckshot as it ricochets off an oil drum we didn’t even notice was there.
By getting in close, I got jostled by elbows passing by. I heard a few snarky comments. I flushed with embarrassment when I got the side-eye. I also got the shot.
Swimming for cardio is a crock. (It’s also a pain in the butt and I don’t like it, but that’s a different issue.) Twelve minutes and I burned a measly 60 calories. Fine, it was only 500 yards (I’m nursing a tender shoulder today) but still. I’m sure I burned more than that just getting into my bathing suit, cap and goggles. Swimming sucks. Yes, it’s a great lung-capacity builder, core strengthener, easy on your joints (except shoulders) blah blah blah. Talk to the hand. Cycling: 60 minutes, 581 calories. Now that’s more like it.
Second item of note:
I might be getting this braised chicken thing down to an art form. Tonight I braised it with red & green bell peppers, onions, and some Pinot Grigio and it was hands-down our favorite combo so far. The sauce perfect, the smells amazing. Yes, the g~d~ smoke alarm went off again as I was browning the chicken but I’m almost used to that by now. I think we’ll make this the next time we have the neighbors over. BYOS style – bring your own skillet – as I can’t fit enough of everything for 7 people in the one that I have. And they’re such easy guests that a request to bring a skillet along won’t phase them in the least.
After the first piece, the peppers & onions, the sauce and the bread, I wasn’t hungry anymore. Sure I would have enjoyed finishing that second one because it just. tasted. soooooo. good, but ~say it with me now~ when we’re not hungry anymore, we stop eating. Better for our bodies, better for the planet. Maybe I’ll have it with some leftover mushroom soup for lunch tomorrow.
I recommend you try making it yourself, it’s pretty easy. Just get everything in order beforehand because the steps move quickly. Plus it gives you an excuse to bring out those adorable, color-banded prep bowls that you love to look at. You have your own adorable, color-banded prep bowls that you love to look at, don’t you??? What, you’re ordering some right this minute? OK, good.
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Yes, seriously. Pre-heat the oven. It matters.
Wash, dry and then rub 6-8 chicken legs/thighs with a goodly amount of kosher salt and fresh, coarse-ground pepper. Like Jeff, you may think of it as an almost obscene amount of salt and pepper, but shhhh there’s no need for talk like that here.
Heat a 12″ oven-safe skillet and 1 T vegetable (high heat) oil over medium-high heat to shimmering. Place the chicken pieces in oil, skin side down for 4 minutes, until well-browned. Cover with a screen or lid to keep it from coating you, your stove, your whole kitchen with grease. That’s just nasty. Flip with tongs and brown 3 minutes more. Remove chicken to a clean plate.
Add 1 onion sliced thin and 1 red & 1 green bell pepper sliced thin, stirring for 4 minutes. Add 2 cloves garlic sliced thin. Stir for 30 seconds. Add 1 Tablespoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon marjoram or oregano, and 1 Tablespoon flour. Stir for 1 minute. It’s going to start smelling amazing right about now.
Pour in 1 cup Pino Griogio (have the rest of the bottle with dinner) and stir for a minute to get any remaining cooked on food loosened off the skillet walls. Add 3 cups low-salt chicken broth (preferably homemade) and 3 plum tomatoes, deseeded and cut into 1/2 inch chunks. Stir and bring to a boil.
Turn off the heat. Place the chicken pieces in the liquid, skin up. Cover and place in the the oven for 20 minutes. Remove cover and cook additional 20 minutes.
I served it in shallow pasta bowls to keep the sauce and peppers from going everywhere.
Sides: we always eat this with fresh bread but egg noodles or rice would be good too. Anything to soak up that rich, pepper-wine sauce. I toyed with the idea of making some oven-roasted new potatoes but Jeff and I weren’t in the mood to get it ready, so it was a one-pot meal only tonight. It was plenty filling.