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Hey, Wait……

I had a bit of an epiphany this morning.

A lot of the white supremacist groups claim that they are simply “expressing pride in being white”.  However – have you ever noticed that they can’t seem to do that without insulting others in the process?

August Break Day 1 – Morning

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I think I started last August with a version of this picture as well – the lemon verbena on my bedroom windowsill, which is one of the first things I see when I wake up.

A year ago I had just gotten back from my second trip to Paris, and had romantic notions of using more herbs in cooking.  The French cookbooks I already had spoke of using lemon verbena in baking a lot, and I already knew I liked the scent; a sort of fresh, herbaceous lemon.  I picked this plant up last June while on a camping trip with a friend, when we’d stopped at a roadside stand for grillable vegetables. I saw it in a little cluster of 4-inch herb pots they were selling, and snapped it up.

Actually, let’s look back at how it looked a year ago today:

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Yeah.  It grows fast.  And what I didn’t know at the time is that all those baking recipes only use a couple leaves at a time, so I would be stuck making regular pruning and harvesting forays and trying to cope with the excess.  I’ve made sugar syrup, I’m going to try pesto and jelly this season; I tried candying the leaves once, but that really, really didn’t go well.

….Know any recipes with lemon verbena, actually?

August Break 2017

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I’ve only come upon a couple of blog challenges that I’ve wanted to do; this one I did last year was especially fun.

The blogger Susannah Conway started it as a “break” from trying to write blog posts every day; she decided she was just going to take pictures instead.  And people jumped on that like whoa.  Fast forward a few years – and I didn’t even know who Susannah Conway was, but this “August Break” thing sounded interesting and there I was.  The idea is simply that you take a picture every day and that’s it.

I actually did a lot more photography as a hobby some years back and have been wanting to get back into it; this would be the perfect excuse (along with my finally biting the bullet and signing up for Instagram).

I’m In The Money

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So I grew up in New England, and we tend not to talk about money all that much.  Especially if we’re having money difficulty; we go all stoic and stiff-upper-lip and try to “make do and mend”, resorting to repairing things that break instead of buying new or waiting for sales or reverse-engineering our own solutions.  Or just going without.  This is the kind of approach that can be carried too far, of course – there have been times that I have been almost pathologically afraid to spend money on myself.  Also, all the frugality in the world isn’t going to help you if you’re just plain not making enough money to begin with.

That latter state was my lot for the past couple years.  But – the new job has fixed that, and then some.  And it’s taken a couple weeks to sink in, but….I’m starting to get into it.

Now, I’m not going totally bugnuts, buying up entire racks of shoes or renting a yacht to go to Martha’s Vineyard just for lunch or anything like that. I’ve maybe spent more than I should on books, but the bulk of the money I got from my first paycheck went either to paying down some debt, starting a nest egg, or finally getting some long-needed house stuff. (Hellooooooooo, replacement window blinds! Welcome, stash of bulbs! Hi there, no-longer-threadbare pillowcases!)

When it comes to things I’ve been buying sheerly for pleasure, they’ve actually been comparatively modest: a couple yards of fabric to go towards a quilt I’ve been working on (yes, I’m making an actual quilt), a couple pounds of candle wax to round out the candlemaking stash Niki gave me (rather than buying the actual pre-made candles, which was getting costly), or a couple of utterly gorgeous French cookbooks (I make no excuse because I don’t need one dammit).  Or going to the occasional movie.  Or just going out for ice cream or dinner or lunch.

Or actually paying people back.  The thing that saddened me most about being so cash-poor for so long is that my friends have had to cover me more times than not – never anything big, just a couple extra bucks here, an extra five there, whenever we went out.  Or even the convenience move – if a group of us were gathering for a movie run, it would always be someone else who’d say “I’ll pick up the tickets and y’all can just owe me.”  It would always be someone else saying “what the hell, I can put dinner on my card and y’all can just owe me the cash.”  We usually settled up, I told myself, but it would always be someone else making that initial convenience step.

Tonight I am seeing a movie with a few friends; we were planning our attack this morning, and in the middle of the discussion I popped over to the movie theater site and just got our three tickets without even thinking.  “I got our tickets,” I emailed back, “so we can all just meet there.”

“Oh, great! Thanks!”

And the feeling I get simply because I am able to do that – and may even be able to cover them for a car to get them home after – is a feeling that I have been missing for a long time.

State Of The Kim

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I’ve hinted at it, I’ve been all cryptic, finally I can come clean – My last day at my current job is Tuesday, and my first day at a new job is the following Monday.

Now, I like my current company itself.  I also like the people I work with.  The problem is, what I’m doing (human resources data processing) is something I didn’t have any experience in before starting, and am ultimately not that great at.  I wasn’t even supposed to be in that role as long as I was – I was supposed to keep watching for executive assistant roles and apply for them, so I could move into that instead.  And for two years I did exactly that.  However – that plan was kind of like the Underpants Gnomes on South Park: everyone overlooked the necessity of the middle step between my applying for a job and my moving into it, namely that I would have to be accepted into said job.  And that’s the bit that never happened.  I finally started looking outside my current company, and got accepted into a new place within about three or four months.

(Quick note – I don’t think I’ve mentioned the name of the place where I work.  I will not do so, nor will I mention the name of the new place; I don’t want there to be any perceived problem with anything I ever have, do, or will say on this blog.  I will say only that the current company is an NGO and the new company is a small development and housing non-profit startup.)

So that’s why I can’t do much traveling this summer; it isn’t that fair to be starting a new job in mid-June, and then take off for a week at the beach only one month later.  I also won’t have built up enough time off until September or so.  I have since learned that I’m being brought along to the company team meeting in upstate New York during my second week there (and this is the first time I’ve ever been considered worthy of inclusion at a team meeting, so I’m not entirely convinced this is really my life just yet), but any funtime travel is going to have to wait a while.  I knew that would probably be the case when I started my job hunt, however, so I have resigned myself to that.

But – the new job comes with something of a considerable improvement in pay over what I’m making now.  And it’s a very new startup in a shared-work space, so everyone’s walking around in jeans and polo shirts and khakis and t-shirts, so I can dress way more casually than I’ve had to.  And – and this is something I’m unnaturally excited about – I can walk to work.  It is a half-hour on foot from my apartment to the office, and even if I took a bus it would only save me five minutes.  So I have every intention of walking to and from work – I could leave home later, get home earlier, and take little exploratory detours or run errands on the way home (there is a major food mart opening up just a couple blocks off my route, and a Wegman’s will also open up a couple blocks in the other direction within two years).  And that’s also one hour of walking each day, five days a week.  So by the time I finally do go on some kind of trip, I will be richer, better rested, and in better shape, and I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna call that a win.

In the meantime: I have gone into a full-on DIY Home Decorating Mode.  I’ve tried making a couple of candles and I’ve stumbled upon several crafting sites that show you how to make erzatz Moroccan-style colored glass lanterns out of plain glass jars and paint.  That, plus the shibori-dying class I’ve signed up for, has sent me galloping into a plan to give my bedroom a slight “boho chic” makeover (which, really, is mainly going to translate into creating a few candle arrangements here and there, changing a couple lamps and then dumping a gabillion cushions on the bed).

And I’ll be getting back to the movies soon, of course; I’ve just been trying to get through the last couple weeks at the old job.  I’m doing a major cleanout of the file room as my Last Act And Legacy; it’s something I’ve desperately wanted to do for a year and a half (ever since we discovered one day that there was about a two year period when people didn’t actually file things in there, so much as “shove them into corners”), and that’s been a lot of lifting and toting and shoving and sorting and arranging, interspersed with cursing and grumbling.  At least four times now I’ve discovered a whole new pile of un-filed files, and opined to my coworkers that “I really feel like someone needs to die for doing this.”  Wishing others death is tiring work.

Feeding Others

On my 25th Birthday, one of my best friends – who lives outside New York – came for an overnight visit. We planned to take a walk through Chinatown and buy up whatever unusual and fascinating food things we could find, and then come back to my apartment and cook it all; I’d put the word out to my other friends that “if you turn up in the afternoon, you will get fed”.  My then-roommate somehow forgot the date and invited his table-top gaming club over for a game that same afternoon, but when they offered to leave I told them “no, you can stay and help us eat all this!”  Ultimately, we had 20 people crammed into my tiny living room, perched on folding chairs and huddled onto the sofa, and one person even had to sit on a step stool because we ran out of anything else.  But I will never forget the sight of all 20 of us, all engaged in the same lively, cross-the-room conversation, plates balanced on all our laps and eating homemade shrimp shumai and mung bean noodles and stir-fried chicken with peppers.

My 47th Birthday was yesterday, and I sought to recreate that birthday a little. I have a bunch of friends I know from all different contexts, and have wanted to introduce them to each other to see what would happen. It’s also the weekend before Mardi Gras, so I put the word out that anyone showing up at my place that afternoon would be fed, and then I got up at about 6 in the morning and started cooking. I went Cajun rather than Chinese this time – jambalaya, corn maque choux, two kinds of red beans and rice, a huge pot of gumbo. By the time the first guest showed up, I’d made the choice to abandon the shrimp etouffe, literally because there was no more room on the buffet table.

I even mail-ordered a King Cake from Gambino’s Bakery in New Orleans, and found a silly bejewelled pair of sunglasses to give to the person who got the baby in the cake.

My friends are the sort to also ask to bring things, but knowing how much food I was making I tried to steer them into simple things, like a spare bottle of soda or a bag of chips. But – rather than getting a single bottle of Sprite, they mail-ordered things – one friend found a web site offering local Louisiana things, and shipped me half a cases’ worth of stuff, including Abita root beer and Bananas Foster soda, and another couple brought a sampler case of different flavor Zapps’ Chips.  Sue couldn’t make it herself (our lives are both a little different than they were when we were 25), but earlier in the week she’d sent me a delightfully silly gift – a five-pound Hershey bar.

I actually wasn’t completely finished cooking by the time the first guests showed up, so I threw them in the living room with the chips and a bowl of peanuts I’d seasoned with a spice blend I’d picked up at a great little shop in New Orleans. I popped out of the kitchen to make basic introductions for people who hadn’t yet met (“So, Jonathan I know from kayaking, and Ian and Gabby I know through a play I did in 2005 – and there’s E, we were on a pub quiz team in the 90s and she just got a job with the library…”) and then just stood back.

And just as I hoped, there was lots of boisterous talk around the room. Jonathan and Gabby compared notes on kayak clubs. Niki asked E for book recommendations. After an hour Ian begged us to keep him away from the peanuts because he’d just eaten half a pounds’ worth.  Colin learned several of the guests hadn’t ever been to New Orleans and made travel recommendations. We passed around shared bottles of the fig soda, but were less brave about the bananas foster soda.  Niki got the King Cake baby. Everyone left well-fed, but there was still an enormous amount of uneaten food, which E blessedly helped me pack away into the fridge before she took off.

I took a closer look at the damage this morning after sleeping late. There’s still an awful lot of the gumbo, which E had thoughtfully doled into smaller ziploc baggies so they could be frozen. It’s a basic greens gumbo, which I can easily add leftover chicken or sausage too; the okra and tomatoes will also work there.  There’s easily enough jambalaya and red beans to see me through two weeks of brown-bag lunches, and the little bags of Zapps’ are perfect for snacks as well.  I did as many of the dishes that my drying rack can hold, and then made a breakfast of shrimp grits before tucking the rest of the shrimp into the freezer too.

I’ve also spent the morning browsing for recipes that use a lot of milk chocolate – I’ll definitely eat some of that huge Hershey bar, but probably not fast enough, and will definitely need to get through some of it by baking.  After only an hour of looking, though, I was already starting to get the idea that maybe another party would be just the thing – only make it all sweets, lots of cupcakes and tarts and cookies and puddings and…and more people in the house, more of the laughter and talking.

When you feed people, I discovered, you also feed yourself.

Deep Breath and Begin

I don’t really make resolutions. I’ve accepted that if I want to make a big change in myself, I need to wait until the desire and pressure has built up to a point where I am about to bust; picking an arbitary date and declaring “I’m going to start here” never has enough motivation behind it, and I fail. Much easier to wait and act whenever the moment rises.

Still, there are a couple things that are coming to me at this moment; a couple big ways where I have seen I could be taking much better care of myself and my life overall.

Cooking and food first. I’ve fallen out of the habit of cooking much for myself – I can throw things together at the last minute, but I’m starting to sneak back into my old theater days habit where “dinner” is a bag of Cheetos and a banana or something, because that’s what’s around the house and I am too exhausted for dinner. Or I’ll go totally the other direction and get a craving for roast chicken or some specific vegetable, and make it for myself – but then I fall prey to the single New Yorker’s curse, where I’ve purchased an entire package of two pounds of beets when I only needed a half pound, and the rest of the package sits in my fridge taking up room and growing slowly mushy.

At some point this weekend, though, the thought hit me that I need to think of my kitchen as a living thing.  It takes in food, and it digests it one way or another – either through my cooking and eating it, or through rot and waste. And then there are all the things that don’t rot, but aren’t getting used and are just taking up space.

So starting this weekend, I’m putting my kitchen, not me, on a diet. I’ll be shopping with a more careful eye on what I already have, how it can be used, and how to use up the leftovers of whatever I make. I’ll be making much more frequent use of my bento and tiffin to take food to work instead of running to the pizza place downstairs. I’ll be much more likely to tuck things in the freezer instead of letting them go bad – and to also rummage in the freezer instead of shopping. I’ll also be making a lot more soup stocks in an effort to use up the herbs that are overrunning my windowsill – and also snagging some of the less-pretty cuttings for things like air fresheners or bath treatments (I made a tea of lemon verbena yesterday, and instead of just tossing the stems, I threw them into a small pot of water and had that simmering on the stove a while; it was quite effective).

Related to that – I’m going to get back into the Calendar Cookery Challenge again. I let that fall after the election, out of sheer depression; but I’ve got to get that going again. Coincidentally, this kind of use-up-what-you-have home cooking kind of fits into the French bistro style, and I’m in a particularly French mood now (a year ago I was in Paris for New Year’s Eve) so I’m going to use Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking for January.  I’ve also splurged (thanks to an Amazon gift card from my brother) on a couple of single-serve Le Creuset dishes to break this in (woot!).

And all of this is going to ultimately be more frugal in the long run – which feeds into the second resolution, to get out of the damn house more often again. I’ve never been that well off – I’ve unfortunately had three separate periods of unemployment, none of them through my own doing, but all still seriously discouraging. After three times of having a job pulled out from under you because of company cutbacks, you find yourself bracing for impact all the time, doubting whether you should go to a coffee shop or buy a book for yourself because “what if I lose my job next week, I’ll need that ten dollars”. My current job is considerably more stable than others I’ve had – but could still pay a bit better, and I end up having to dip into savings much, much more than I’d like.  That’s made me much more likely to stay home and not do much of anything, out of some weird effort to conserve subway fare/lunch  money/laundry money/what have you.

But it’s damn depressing, and it’s started to starve me as a writer. Sheer fatigue is one big reason I haven’t written much in the past several months – but the other is the feeling that I have nothing to say. And the reason I have nothing to say is entirely because I haven’t taken myself out to look at things and meet people and read other things myself. That’s one big reason I’ve started doing the Movie Crash Course, just to give myself art to look at (I’ve got the Netflix account, let’s acutally make it work).  And when it warms up a bit more I’ll be heading back out into the parks and woods around the city, hiking more and exploring more there (thanks to some gear from EMS through another gift card from the parents!).

So. My roommate Sam has been out of town all week, and I used the time to give the fridge a good and critical cleaning. I made my usual New Year’s Day black-eyed peas and greens, but the greens came from the freezer. And the frozen tomato puree next to it got turned into a marinara sauce I can use for dinners this week if I’m falling-down tired, especially when I throw in some of the extra sausage from the package I got for a soup that’s simmering in the crock pot today. That soup and the peas-and-greens will do me well for bag lunches at work this week, and some other soups still in the fridge (squash, borscht, split pea) will all be great first courses for dinners too – and for that, I got a couple cheap packs of chicken breasts and pork chops and a bag of potatoes (there are about fifteen gratin recipes in the Wells cookbook alone).  And there’s a point today at which the soup will need to be set on “simmer” for a full five hours, which will be just enough time to slip out to a matinee at a nearby movie house.

Let’s see how far these good intentions carry me.