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Category Archives: August Break

August Break 31 – August was…

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Oh God look at this lemon verbena; it’s a hot mess.

It got way overgrown over August – the heat sending it spinning out of control, sprawling everywhere all shaggy and droopy.  Only just a month and a half ago this was about one-fifth the size, purchased at the side of the road somewhere upstate; but sitting in my bedroom window all summer made it grow completely wild.

And the latter end of August really kind of got out of control too; or at least I got lax. I let some of the entries in this slip, I made stupid mistakes at work, I did a lot of coming home from work and collapsing.  The heat was a big part of it – it’s hard to try to motivate yourself to exercise control when it’s actually a tropical climate during the day, when you’re not expecting it – but it can’t have been all about that.

I tend to wait way too long to prune my herbs, mostly because I always feel like I should have something in mind to do with the cuttings. I should be baking or cooking something, making something out of them.  But I can’t cook fast enough to use the backog I get mired in. But not exercising some kind of control just makes it look all sprawly and weird like this, and it’s also not that great or the plant.

I grew a lot this month too.  Doing the August Break got me writing in this blog way more, and that was a needed kick in the pants.  But coming home and collapsing for the last few days let that effort start fizzling, and I need to take some kind of control back and keep that end of things growing.

I’m finally about to head to Yosemite tomorrow (the same trip I packed for a couple weeks ago) and am looking forward to a solid week alone – doing exactly what I want, waking up when I choose, and for much of the week, seeing absolutely no other person.  I’ll have my computer and camera with me, and will try to keep up with blogging – to keep the momentum going, think about what new growth and new branches I want to keep growing, and think if there’s anything I need to cut away.

August Break (Catchup) 30 – Evening Light

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Okay, this is cheating because I’m interpreting “evening light” as “the bar up the street from me lit up for the evening.” But it lets me tell a story about why I swear allegiance to this place.

Not that I’m that much of a barfly, honestly.  I think the most “regular” I ever got was once a week, when I was recovering from a broken foot and I marked off the weeks until I was healed by hobbling there for a glass of wine during Happy Hour.  (I also broke my foot in here, but that was my fault – all I will say is, if you’re ever at a party and someone starts a kick line to the song  Come On Eileendon’t join in.)

But it’s only one block up the street from me, and has good food and a lively staff, and the owners known me and it is thus good for spontaneous jaunts out of the house and brunches.

And also for nasty shocks.

…So, like most people, I have an ex-boyfriend who is kind of “the one who got away”. We actually met in this neighborhood – at another bar nearby, which has since closed – and we were well and truly head over heels for each other. Most of the time.  But after nearly a year – for reasons only he will ever know for sure – he cut things off with me. Soon afterward he met someone else and moved out of state with her.

I tried to stay friends on Facebook with him, and it took me a few years to catch on to the fact that this probably wasn’t great for me. But after a couple years I was pretty much over him, so I thought it was okay and I could handle it.  It still came as a shock, though, when I got home from work after an utterly lousy day, got online to lose myself in mindless websurfing, and saw my ex’s Facebook status that he was in New York City – so he could get married, that day, in a courthouse in Queens.

I read that status a couple times, turned my computer off and grabbed my wallet and proceeded immediately to Putnam’s.

The bar was about half-full at that point, and I got a seat on one of the empty stools.  When the smiling bartender asked what I wanted, I told her everything, and then asked “what would you recommend for someone in my condition?”  She clucked in sympathy and made me a Manhattan, in a big glass.

I’m not much of a whiskey drinker, so I was sipping it slowly – slowly enough that the bar filled up more, and I was still there when a man came in after getting off work himself and taking the seat next to me.  We got to chatting – I threw myself into the chat more so than usual, trying to get my mind off things – and he was witty enough that I started having a good time. Good enough, in fact, that when I finished my drink and he’d finished his cider, we each ordered another round – another cider for him, and a cranberry juice and vodka for me.  We didn’t trade numbers after, though, and two drinks were enough for each of us.  But I was still happy that I’d cheered myself up, and that I wasn’t home pouting over my ex. Quietly proud of myself, I turned to the bartender and asked for my bill.

The bartender hesitated. “Okay, here’s the thing,” she said. “Your Manhattan was on the house, and I’m gonna make this guy pay for your second drink (you cool with that, dude? Good) because in my opinion, no one who got the news you got today should have to pay for their drinks.  So…you’re set.”

And that is one of the reasons I have nicknamed this place “the best bar in the world”.

August Break 24 and 29 – Three Favorite Mugs

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Okay, see, I don’t really have a single favorite mug. After ten years in theater, my only “favorite” requirement for a mug is that “it’s the one that is currently holding my coffee give it here NOW”.

But I do have three with some interesting backstories –

  • In the early 2000’s I worked on a play that had a bit of a rough go of things. The reviews were less than stellar, there was a temporary threat that we’d have our pay withheld, and there were personality conflicts. When I had rough shows, I’d try to make my own fun. There was one scene that was a triptych of three separate situations happening simultaneously, with the action jumping back and forth between them – a seduction scene, a woman interviewing her abusive mother on her deathbed, and a talk radio host reluctantly interviewing a woman whose hobby was making stuffed toy zebras and ponies. The director referred to it as “the triptych scene,” but I won the cast over by continuously referring to the scene as “Sex, Death, and Zebras”.

    Another thing I did to cheer up was to adopt some of the dishware we’d used during a breakfast scene elsewhere in the play.  The woman purchasing our props was a matronly volunteer who was really pleased with her choices, and made a point of showing them to me when she got them – a square plate in a rust color, “which I got because it was so different, you know!” and a mug with a cheerful little house painted on the side, alongside two trees that reminded me of cypresses.  I nodded, knowing full well that when the play folded that the director would offer the props to whoever wanted them, and deciding that I was going to claim them before anyone else did.  The plate broke a long time ago, but I still have the mug.

  • In 2000 I drove cross-country, staying in Moab, Utah at one point on the trip. I got up early the next morning, planning on an early breakfast at a local coffee shop followed by a bit of exploring Arches National Park. A little cafe named Eklecticafe was a couple blocks from the hotel, so I ventured there.

    I think there was a jug band on the porch when I got there, and I lingered a moment listening. And then I got inside and found big comfy chairs, fresh-baked pastries, a wall full of ceramic work for sale, and a tip jar jokingly labelled “Julie’s Therapy Fund”.  The barista warmly greeted everyone who stopped in, chatting extensively with all of the locals, and my muffin and latte were really fresh; and the ceramics were all locally-designed and beautifully decorated with patterns inspired by the petroglyphs on some of the rock faces near Moab.  When I ultimately went to purchase one, the barista praised my choice, noting that “mugs with some heft to them are the best, you know?”

    I ended up getting to Arches park about two hours later than I planned.

  • For about 16 years I had a tuxedo cat named Zach, and for a while people would buy me tuxedo-cat themed things.  This mug came from a roommate, and was one of the last tuxedo-cat gifts I got before Zach died at the distinguished age of 18.  I don’t use this much – it’s huge, so it’s more suited to lattes or mugs of soup than the morning brew – but every so often, I get to missing the little putz and I dig it out.

August Break “I Am” Epilogue

I am also late.  Yes, I know.

I came home from work yesterday and basically did a faceplant directly onto the couch, and today I am similarly low-energy.  I’m chalking it up to my having been on overdrive all last week, and I beg all of your leave to catch up over the next few days. I may combine some of the posts and prompts into one.

But they will come.  Sorry, y’all.

August Break 28 – I Am…

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Sometime yesterday, I dragged a carryon bag out of my closet and started packing a few things for an upcoming weeklong trip to Yosemite National Park.  I plan on doing a fair bit of hiking, so I then went to an outdoors shop for a couple extra pairs of hiking socks, and this morning I packed in earnest; making sure I had enough socks and underwear, decanting my shower gel and lotion into TSA-approved bottles, paring the wardrobe down to a few pieces so I could mix-and-match for outfits and travel light, making sure that my tickets would be easily-reached in an outside pocket of my suitcase. I’ve even set out what I’ll wear on the plane, so I can dress quickly when I wake at an ungodly early hour that morning to make my flight.  The clothes I’ve chosen are now sitting on top of my suitcase, which has been tucked into a corner of my room, waiting.

The trip to Yosemite isn’t for another two weeks.

For nearly as long as I can remember, the idea of going somewhere new has always thrilled me. Even when I was very, very young. One afternoon when I was about three, the teachers at my preschool read us all a book called Henry the Explorer, the tale of a little boy who sets out to “explore” new terrain in his neighborhood after reading about pioneers. Armed with a flashlight, a series of toy flags – so he can “claim” the things he finds – and a peanut butter sandwich, he and his Scottish terrier wander through the farm near his house, a forest, and even venture into a cave, where he narrowly escapes from something that might possibly be a bear before returning home safely (albeit late to dinner).  Afterward, the teachers helped us kids all make our own little flags, and then set up a plastic crawl tunnel in one of the playrooms so we could all pretend to be crawling through a cave, just like Henry. But either the teachers were short-staffed that day, or there were just too many of us kids, because at one point I “explored” my way clear out of the tunnel, across the room to the door, and out into the hallway.

I don’t even think I was expecting to get out there, but I only hesitated a second before realizing that now I could really explore, and I set out to see what lay behind a doorway at the end of the hallway just past the bathrooms – something I was always curious about.  I managed to get halfway up the stairs to the church offices one flight above us before a secretary from the church caught me and brought me back. The teachers gently explained to me that this was only meant to be pretend exploring, and I had to stay in the playroom.  And so I rejoined the line of kids waiting for another turn through the crawl tunnel. I distinctly remember thinking during my second crawl through the tunnel that compared to real exploring, what we were doing was actually pretty boring.

My adult life, unfortunately, has not given me much chance for exploring. I did what I could during my 20s, but then a career in theater during my 30s kept me tied to home, where I always had one rehearsal or another to go to. And the budget of a theater professional also didn’t allow for much anyway, even when I did have the time.

One of the many turning points that lead me to retire from theater came in 2007, when my family were all discussing our various vacation plans – my parents were excitedly planning a trip to Rome, while my brother and sister in law were headed for the Cook Islands. Meanwhile, the only vacation I was taking was a long weekend in Chicago. Not to disparage Chicago, or that trip itself – I had a great time. But I suddenly felt the way I did as a child when I’d gotten that glimpse of that huge world outside, and then had someone or something pull me back to a much smaller and more confined space, and had someone tell me “no, this is as far as you can go.”

I think realizing that I felt that way is what made me start to fall out of love with theater – a love affair that had been going on for almost 30 years by that point, had made me sacrifice four years of time and a huge amount of money in student debt, and had given me the most professional success I’ve had in my life. I felt I belonged in theater – I still do – but I realized that there was an older, deeper place where I belonged, and an older and deeper self I had to get back to.

I am a traveler.

August Break 26 – Orange (Turning Towards Fall)

Okay: those of you trying to follow the August Break entries, no, I haven’t dropped it – I just had a few days of chaos at the day job, trying to hold down the fort while two of my co-workers were off on vacation. For the past three days I’ve been staying over an hour late at work each day and working at about twice the speed.  I contented myself by making a sign declaring our part of the office “Fort Wadsworth” and making a “please take a number for service” notice out of scrap paper and post-its.

Fortunately my boss thought it was cute.

But the fast pace has sort of bled over into the weekend, and I’ve made myself a roster of errands today – a lot of naggy little things that I’ve been meaning to do for a while but have been putting off. None of them difficult, just boring and un-fun – dropping my bike off at a repair shop, picking up garbage bags, simple mending of clothes.

I’ll also be doing a lot of food and pantry work.  We’re at the point in the late summer when everyone is sort of over the thrill of “yay fresh veggies” and the sheer abundance has us all a little blase; this is the fourth or fifth week in a row that we’ve had fresh sweet corn in my CSA, the second time I’ve gotten dill, and the fourth time I’ve gotten cilantro. I liked getting the heirloom tomatoes, but then got home and saw that I still had about a half a pound from last week that I need to do something with.  And my windowsill herbs are looking very overgrown.  So I’ve already warned A that I’ll be doing a lot of kitchen work tonight – turning the excess tomatoes into sauce, trimming all the house herbs, and making up a bunch of different pestos, most of which will be going into the freezer for later in the fall and winter when we’d all kill for fresh green produce.  It’s a very late-summer, early-fall mindset; preserving the harvest, squirrelling it away for later.

I even had a dream last night that suggested I was probably ready for this phase; we were in the early stages of a zombie attack, and it had somehow fallen to me to shelter some friends and their kids. And while we were barricading the doors and arming ourselves, I remarked that my freezer was well-stocked so we wouldn’t starve.  I suggested a dinner of pumpkin soup, something I could easily make from the frozen pumpkin I knew was in there – but when I opened my dream freezer, I couldn’t find it. And for the rest of this dream, I was digging through the freezer, less worried about the threat of invading zombie hordes than I was about “where the hell did I put the damn pumpkin” – to the point that I even woke up with the fear that I’d lost it somehow.  Honestly, the only thing that stopped me from leaping out of bed and looking in my real freezer was remembering that oh, wait, I was looking for a mason jar in the dream freezer, and the pumpkin in my real freezer was in plastic baggies.

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I think if you feel more threatened by the absence of frozen vegetables than you are by possibly getting your brain eaten, you’re a little food-obsessed.

August Break 22 – Square (Meals)

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We talk a lot about food in this house. A makes a living at it – studying the way food and culture have shaped and affected each other throughout history – whereas I just have a voracious appetite, a curious palate, and very little fear or good sense when it comes to trying a recipe. One thing we agree on is how it’s too easy for people to fall into the trap of overthinking meal planning way too much.

I grew up with the four food groups, having that view of nutrition drilled into me; how important it was to have balanced proportions of meat, grains, fruits and vegetables, and dairy – in every meal. Even cold cereal; I remember cereal ads from my childhood crowing that Frosted Flakes or Rice Krispies or whatever were “part of this complete breakfast”, showing a bowl of cereal modestly sitting on a table alongside a plate of bacon and eggs and a big glass of orange juice.

 

But there are a lot of people, and always have been, who bent over backwards to balance every meal exactly.  There must be some kind of meat or protein in every meal.  There must be grains, there must be some kind of dairy product. There must be the exact percentage of whole grain fiber foodstuffs in every meal.

And that’s not even taking into account the notion that the four food groups are now in a food pyramid, and that the pyramid has even changed – and we’re not even getting into vegetarianism, or veganism, or pescetarianism or Atkins or Pritikin diets or low-carb eating or clean eating or paleo eating or any one of a hundred panacea diets out there.  Not that some people don’t need specialized diets, mind you – A is gluten-free out of medical necessity – but an awful lot of people toy around with their diet based on an incomplete understanding of what it’s going to do to them, out of a vague notion that it’d be “healthy”.  These different diets tout all sorts of wonderful things, and many of them do have a grain of truth to them – “clean eating”, for instance, advocates whole, fresh food and shuns overly processed foods, which is advice nearly everyone agrees on. But lots of clean-eating advocates get further caught up in debates about various food additives or nutrients and adds another layer of complexity to it.

I find it makes people anxious about it all. My mother was pretty relaxed about the food pyramid.  She’d round out our lunches and dinners with some kind of vegetables and salad – even when we got takeout pizza, she’d make up a simple dish of steamed summer squash or green beans, or make up a big salad – and sometimes would slice some oranges along with breakfasts, but other than that she left things be. She certainly wasn’t making us bacon and eggs alongside our Cheerios in the morning, and would probably rather have spit tacks first. But she was an excellent cook, and treated vegetables with a light hand, so we rarely shied away from them. The only food fussiness I had as a child was about sauces – I’d ask for light amounts of pasta sauce, only faint amounts of salsa on tacos, and I wouldn’t even have dressing on salad.  I still often don’t. Lots of people found it strange, but I was just enjoying the natural taste of food, and was protecting it from being covered up in a highly-seasoned goo.  Cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, and even iceberg lettuce all have taste, and I liked that taste more than I liked Thousand Island or Ranch or what have you.

And taste has always guided my meal planning, at the end of the day – taste and pleasure. Tonight’s dinner was a spontaneously-thrown-together thing made up of adding One Package Of Sausage Tortellini to Whatever Vegetables Need Using Before They Go Bad – a few leaves of kale, a bell pepper, a generous couple handfuls of grape tomatoes chopped up.  I hadn’t even planned on this to begin with – this was a last-minute meal plan born of a late day at work.

But as I was sauteeing up the vegetables in the skillet, the deep green of the kale played so nicely against the paler green of the peper, and the bright red of the tomatoes.  I added the grape tomatoes last so they’d hold their shape longer, letting them speckle the dish red rather than giving them a chance to melt into sauce. The kale took on a faintly roasted taste, as did the garlic clove I chopped up and added to the pan; those roasted tastes set off the sweet smokiness of the sausage inside the tortellini.  And it all just looked gorgeous too – I didn’t even add my usual sprinkle of grated parmaesan.  And ultimately the last-minute dinner turned out to be a delicious meal. And – nutritionally balanced to boot.

Food is supposed to be something we enjoy. A lot of the fad diets forget to emphasize that part.