Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chestnuts roasting over open fire...

I woke up early. Well, that's not entirely true. It felt early. Not too early, just early in a you-didn't-miss-the-day sense. My sheets felt extra soft. I knew exactly what to do.

I crawled out of bed, padded down the stairs, and removed a paper bag from the refrigerator. I read the side of it carefully, then opened the knife drawer. "Hmm," I said audibly to no one in particular. I selected a few knives and took them to the kitchen table, where I dumped out the contents of the paper bag on a plate. I began scoring. The contents? Raw chestnuts, purchased yesterday from the farmers' market.

I giggled as I hummed "Chestnuts roasting over open... heating element?" I preheated my oven to 375ºF (That's 190ºC). The only place I've ever eaten chestnuts - open fire or not - was in Spain. Castañas. Even there, it struck me as ironic that in order to fully experience an American Christmas song, I had to be in another country. Around this time of the year in Spain, street vendors set up on well-trafficked corners. They roast the chestnuts over open fire and the chestnuts are very ashy. You go up to the vendors and ask for how ever much you want to pay. I always got a euro's worth. With blackened hands, the vendors scoops hot nuts into a paper cone. You trade your moneda for a cone and are on your merry way, eating your castañas and throwing the shells on the street.

After 15 minutes cooking in a cast iron pan in my preheated oven, my chestnuts are not covered in ash. I hope to make soup with them. Like a good Spanish wife, I go about my tasks of preparing for the day's meals before I even have breakfast. (As an aside, I could never be a good Spanish wife. I am not tidy enough.) I peel the meats out of the shells before they cool. It makes my fingers raw. I have about eight more to peel as I write this. Back to work!

Friday, November 18, 2011

My first swear word

I held the word in my mouth.
The past few days, drained by a sinus infection and by sinuses that wouldn't drain, I had held several choice words in my mouth.
I've never sworn, you see. When I say that, I mean there are a number of words in English that have never actually crossed my lips. Ever. One time, in sixth grade, I sat with a classmate in my mom's car. "You don't swear, do you Ellen?" she said in a contemptuous way that was synonymous with calling me a goody-goody. Sensing an opportunity to become cooler, I lied "Sure I do," trying to sound worldly and nonchalant.
"Let's hear it."
Oops. I honestly don't remember what word I chose that day. It was either one about a dog or the one I carefully held in my mouth now.
Not a particularly shocking word, I had even sung this word in hymns. It would not merit even a PG-13 rating. But that's not what I'm thinking about. I'm feeling that word on my tongue, measuring it next to my emotions, the situation at hand.
My doctor's office called today to tell me that I tested moderately positive for the antibodies against wheat gluten. The word washes up in my mouth, like acid reflux that turns into vomit. I let my mind wander and wonder if I should spew my word, my first curse word at age 24.
I swallow the word-acid and it burns down my throat as my thoughts bounce.
Bounce #1: "You're just missing some enzyme, some mineral," my mom says. "It could be because you don't eat meat." I consider this, but I am not sure how it is possible after all the research I have done in order to prevent it. She continues, "Your body was used to eating bland food and now you eat so... different and wild. Maybe you need to go back to the bland."
Bounce #2: "If you have the antibody, you might have an increased risk of colon cancer, especially with your family history," my doctor explains. I sit, smiling and nodding as if she is lecturing me on the life cycle of a salmon, or something else that doesn't have the potential to change my life.
Bounce #3: A quote from Ann Voskamp: "Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don't numb themselves to really living... mourning and dancing are but movements in his unfinished symphony of beauty." and "In everything, give thanks"
The ball stops bouncing and simply rolls now. I think, "I wish I didn't know this. Two days ago, I was perfectly happy with my self-diagnoses of a gluten and dairy sensitivity. Now, that's sort of justified, but seems scarier, more looming, more official. And the colon cancer thing? The fact that gluten could perhaps damage my intestines, depending on what the heck "moderately positive" means."
I continue, "This is like opening freaking Pandora's Box!" I realize I am being dramatic, but I am learning to accept my emotions without judgment. So I ride it out. Just as I am hypothesizing what kind of medicines this GI doctor will likely overprescribe me, I remember that I have a choice in the matter.
The realization that I have a choice snaps me out of my melodrama, long enough to realize how semi-ridiculous and yet not so ridiculous my train of thoughts has become.
I step back, survey the landscape. I inhale slowly and let out my first curse word, "Damn."
I say it quietly, although no one is in the house. I am instantly filled with a sense of warmth. It felt good, like putting on sweats and sitting with legs wide after a day of crossing my legs in a pencil skirt.
That feeling passes and the reasons and snapshots that provoked this word come swirling back around. I say the word again, a bit firmer. "Damn."
I contemplate a third time, but it feels unnecessary, like having both a heated mattress pad and a heated blanket.
Unsure of where all of this leads me, I cannot process my emotions. I surf Facebook, numbing out until Caleb arrives for the evening. I tell him about what's happening, but lightheartedly as I have neither the words or the will to dive into it more deeply. He makes me laugh so hard. I feel joy, real joy. After he leaves, I continue distracting myself by eating chocolate sorbet. It feels good, but then it is over and I am left holding the same emotions and pieces of four hours ago. So I brush my teeth, crawl into bed, and write until I understand.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

the year of not buying new clothes

A year is a trendy thing.

A year is a span of time that seems more substantial than "a passing phase" but less commitment than "forever" or "long term". I wanted to (and did) spend a year in Spain. A year working with first graders and living at home. We make New Year's resolutions, exalting the future as that pedestal on which we shall finally achieve health, wealth, and happiness. People dedicate their lives to something for a year: happiness, living Biblically, cooking certain recipes.

As I was sitting on the couch eating my after school snack, I glanced down at The Happiness Project. After weeks of me dragging it around our house like a three year old's blankie, my roommate was intrigued. She's reading it now (or as she prefers calling it, "sort of skimming the interesting parts." Personally, I think nearly all of the book is interesting, though I almost skipped the money chapter). My mind lazily wondered what my life might be like after dedicating myself to something for twelve months. Would I actually do it? A one year job is a little different than a one year pastime.

"Wait!" a different part of my brain chirped up, like a six year old tugging on her heavy-eyed mother's hand. "You totally have done this. In fact, you're in the midst of it right now!" (as an aside, I am aware I have used two references to children in this post. I don't know what that means except I like kids?)

And it's true. In January, I stopped buying new clothes. Clarification: I stopped buying new clothes. I have frequented thrift stores, clothing swaps, and friends' don't-want piles. I think it's been formative, particularly juxtaposed with my time in Europe.

Before I get to the formation part of the "new clothes fast", I should take a few paragraphs to explain why I stopped buying clothes and how this came about.

Influence #1
Once upon a time, I read the book Blue Like Jazz. In one small part that is not even the point of the book (although I'm not sure there is one point to that book), the author, Don Miller, mentions how his friend Penny gave up buying clothes for a year. I think her fast was obtaining new-to-her clothes, not just store-bought, as her personal attempt to be less consumeristic. In the book, Miller tells about giving her a pair of new gloves sometime in the winter, and that you would have thought the
gloves were the nicest thing she'd ever seen. That story has stuck with me for a long time.

Influence #2
My senior year of college, I attended a Faith and International Development Conference. It sort of blew my mind and was more formative than I could have imagined. I saw white girls with dreadlocks. I wanted dreadlocks. I drank fairly traded tea and stayed with a really dear friend. I laughed. I cried. I encountered stories of poverty, despair, and hope. I wrote lots of things in my fair-trade journal made from an Indian sari. I wondered why Americans take so many freaking resources from the world. The last day, I was so overwhelmed that I could only sit alone outside and watch the melting snow. "What do I do with this?" I whispered to a robin snacking on previously snow-blanketed crab apples. The only other sound was steady drip of icicles melting.
If only getting dreadlocks would bring about world peace.

Influence #3
Dear Spain,
Thanks for a lot of things. A whole lot of self-awareness, a steady glimpse of self-actualization, helping me learn that I love teaching English, my fluency in another language, a boatload of fun memories, and a bigger picture of the world.
No thank you for making me think it's normal to buy things like cellulite cream, laser hair removal, and hyper-stylish clothes every month. This is not normal! Dressing as a means of self-expression = cool. Dressing as a means of self expression that is dictated by what looks "in" = not as cool, but probably somewhat inescapable.

Soooo, these three combined in the context of January, 2011, and I stopped buying new clothes. You know what? It's been good. It's been fine. I am constantly amazed at how much I don't mind. Thrift stores are full of surprises. The amount of clothes I've acquired for free is astounding. Letting go of something gives a lot of space to be provided for.

Heck yes I miss shopping sometimes. Sometimes, I will see someone wearing something really trendy and I will feel a little sad, like my clothes are inferior or something. I've been doing a lot of yoga lately and I occasionally wish I had some fancy yoga clothes. But my clothes are fine. I think it has counterbalanced my eurotrendy. I usually just feel comfortable. I remember that I am more than my outward appearance. I remember that other people are more than the clothes they wear or the shape of their bodies. I value the garments I have because they are not easily replaced. I feel a bit of peace towards my never ending wonderings about sweat shops.

As it is now November, I am in the home stretch. I wonder what next year will bring. This year has felt really long at times. My socks weren't new when I started, and they're a little thin and pretty scratchy. When I feel a little miffed about it, I remind myself that they still work. They don't have holes, they are still warm. I'm not going to shoot for the stores come January 1. That's not my style. Maybe I will buy something to celebrate, but maybe I'll find it at Goodwill.

I idly wonder what the life implications would be of me taking up yoga, service to others, or meditation for a year. I guess I'll see what happens when 2012 rolls around...