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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.

 

 

A Moment

And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’ –Kurt Vonnegut

It’s Thanksgiving evening now. I was home here in New York City – every other year, my brother and cousins and some aunts and uncles all spend the holiday with their in-laws, so my parents and one aunt and I say “to hell with it” and have our Thanksgiving at a restaurant on the weekend. This leaves me free to spend Thanksgiving Day proper at home, wearing nothing but jammies and eating exactly what I want. A made a lentil-pumpkin curry stew, and I made us each dishes of baked sliced sweet potatoes, simmering in a glaze of butter, sugar, and the juice of some fresh cranberries. I also cheated and got a turkey tenderloin that had been packaged with its own marinade – and most likely had been swimming in it for a couple days – and roasted that alongside.

Yesterday at work was thick with office politics, the tension of three peoples’ strong wills being amplified by extra uncertainty; I work for an NGO that resettles refugees, and we have all been swinging between heartache and anger since the election. We also have been floored by a Texas judge’s move to overrule the expansion of overtime – an expansion we started preparing for months ago, and now may have to stop all our work in its tracks. Sometime at 2 pm yesterday my boss sent out word to “leave whenever the Lord places it on your heart”, but the last-minute scurrying to wrap up all essential tasks for the week took me another two hours, so it was nearly my usual time to go home anyway.

Elsewhere my friends are sharing their Thanksgivings up and down on Facebook. Three families I know have new babies celebrating their first Thanksgivings – one wee one is brand new, only about three days old. One friend shared portions of the three-page speech his seven-year-old is writing. Another friend is celebrating her first 5-K run, completed this morning. Others are on a ski holiday. My friend Colin is working over the holiday, running the lights for a stage show on board a cruise ship – but still found a chance to post a photo of his “Thanksgiving meal” of baklava and a capuccino on a balcony in Santorini.

I played a little too fast and loose with money the past couple weeks. I’m not poor – I have enough to make rent, feed myself, and take care of expenses if I am careful – but if I’m not careful, I definitely find myself broke. I’ve been in this state before, though, plenty of times -I fall into the trap of taking cabs home from work, or buying my lunch instead of brown-bagging it, and then the money I budget for myself to cover two weeks lasts only one. I was hoping to see Moana this weekend at some point, but money is tight right now to the point that I may need to wait another week.  It’s my own fault, but not being able to simply see a movie when I want is frustrating beyond belief.

A turned the stew into a thick soup that we’ll be eating for leftovers. There was also leftover turkey, which I’ll be turning into a bunch of other dishes myself. There are also tons of sweet potatoes, potatoes, and carrots in my fridge, and I have three days to turn them into dishes too – things I can bring to work or have waiting for dinner when I get home, simplifying the evening. A enlisted me for help cleaning the fridge out a little today, and I saw some bits and pieces of other food I can use, things that can be turned into pasta bakes and casseroles and tucked into omlettes to further eat. At this moment, though, I’m full.

We still don’t quite know what’s going to happen next year. Regardless what you think of the outcome of the presidential election, it’s inescapable that it’s prompted a lot of anger on both sides. It’s anger that people are not going to be able to just let go – people have been pushed far past their breaking points. The first mis-step of the new administration and some people may snap. The impact of that snap may be small and local – or it may be national. But there will be an impact. The only question is how big it’s going to be.

Maybe it will just be small.  Maybe I’ll be wrong after all.

A is streaming something in her room – either a movie, or an episode of West Wing, which she’s been working through. I have just finished a small chocolate caramel lava cake, something from a mix that I discovered in the back of my pantry (and am not entirely sure how I got). The peppermint tea I just had to settle my stomach a bit is warm in my belly. We got the boiler fixed last night – it was acting up – and the house is comfortably warm against the BQE outside.  I’ll get to sleep in tomorrow and then two more days after, and I’m well fed. There’s a candle making a soft light in the kitchen and a special documentary about Shakespeare on the radio. For the rest of the night, I don’t really have anything to worry about, or even do, except just be.

Yesterday was chaotic, tomorrow is uncertain. Tonight, there is good.

 

Now What

It feels like my country broke up with me.

I don’t mean that in any glib way, either.  Everything has that unreal, everything-is-different-now feeling you get after a major breakup, when you’re going about your day, brushing your teeth or drinking fruit punch or cream-cheesing up your bagel or lobbing paper clips in the trash can at work, and suddenly reality shifts as it hits you that “I’m never going to eat bagels or drink fruit punch with them again”.   The very air feels different right now.

My friend C from Ireland emailed me after the election, and I nearly burst into tears at work when I saw the first line of her email – “this is the first time I’ve wanted to cry at the results of an election.”  My friend Sue made me laugh, though; she texted me at about 1 in the morning, when it was likely Trump was going to win, to say – and this is a direct quote – “WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF FUCKING MCFUCKITY FUCKING FUCKING FUCK GOD DAMNIT FUCKING FUCK”.  A bit later she described the situation as “motherfucking asswhistling shitfest”. (I have to admit I really haven’t been able to come up with any better words myself.)  Sue and I spoke more today, and she says her daughter told her that her entire fifth grade class is talking about collectively moving to Canada.

I’ve been…withdrawn. I’ve developed the bad habit over the years of going turtle when I’ve had a bad shock, sort of withdrawing into my house and not talking to people and hiding. It’s a protective thing, but it’s also sort of iced over my soul some.  I joked to someone recently – ironically – that maybe I needed a breakup of some kind, because in my case I may need my heart to be broken back open.

And well, I got that, alright. I’ve been walking around for the past two days with that same constant soul-ache, a stab coming afresh whenever I saw someone sniffling at work, or when I saw the faces of Obama’s staff watching his meeting with Trump, or whenever I saw the words “President-elect Trump”.  Or especially when I read any of the huge surge of reports of anti-Muslim or anti-Mexican or anti-immigrant or anti-Jew or anti-Asian or anti-gay or anti-basically-anything-other-than-white violence today.

I work for an organization that, as part of its mission, resettles refugees in the United States.  And we all were wrecked that first morning, walking around numb, occasionally stepping out to cry.  Our CEO called us all together for a group staff meeting that afternoon to rally the troops a bit, but I took greater comfort in something he said first – that if we were feeling upset or angry or betrayed or devastated right now, it was important to honor that reaction – because that meant that we had high ideals and moral standards for this country, and we cared deeply about them. If we didn’t care, this wouldn’t hurt so much.

And the good news, he added, is that we can still live by those ideals even if others don’t share them.  The Constitution is still the rule of law in this country, and things like murder and obstruction of speech are still against the law.  They may not be fairly applied in all cases, but those tools at least exist.  You still have a law to turn to that says that “actually yeah, it’s okay for this person to speak their mind.”

And even if you aren’t brave enough to speak to a wider platform, or take national action…you also have the ability to reach out to your smaller community and improve things there. Smile at the woman with the hijab behind the checkout counter who’s making your coffee.  Crack a joke about the local baseball team with the guy in the wheelchair that’s next to you on the subway. Step in when you see a bunch of kids taunting another kid by calling him a “fag”, or when you see a guy down the bar hovering over an uneasy-looking woman.

And we shouldn’t forget about joy either. Tonight, I boxed up a bunch of autumn leaves to send to a friend who was born in New England, but now lives in San Francisco, and recently said he missed autumn. And next I’m wrapping my father’s birthday gift to send through to him, and I’ve even started planning a Christmas party.

And we need to take care of ourselves as well.  Eat when you need to, sleep when you need to, step outside into nature or watch cat videos or play Civilization for nine straight hours (just ONE! MORE! TURN!) or read poetry if you need a break. Yesterday, on one of the two occasions I had to step into one of my boss’ offices for a freakout, I told him the story about how my cat’s persistent demands for food were what helped pull me out of my post-9/11 funk; it reminded me that he was alive and depended on me to take care of him, and that also meant I had to be well enough to care for him.  “My cat reminded me to be sure I ate today,” I remarked to my boss, shaking the bag of potato chips I was snacking on as we spoke.

And that is still true. We are all each still alive. And our government will not be able to take care of us as well now, so it is time for each of us to take care of each other now, however we can. We need to start with ourselves, first, making sure we each are doing okay, and then we need to check in on each other – helping each other with finances, advice, or even just hugs and beer. Send each other joy. Defend each other. Advocate for each other. Laugh with each other.  Cry with each other. Speak truth to each other.  Listen to each other’s truth.  Remember what each other said.

We won’t always get it right, and we won’t always be able to do grand gestures. But if we are always thinking of caring for each other, that’s the important part. That is how we will gradually knit together first our families, then our communities, and then knit that into a true society that can be the country that we really were meant to be.

A New Blog!

So, this blog is old enough to now have a baby sister.

I have been thinking more about wanting to get outside more often, explore more, get more into camping or hiking or checking out corners of the city.  But what stopped me was the feeling that I didn’t know what I was doing.  And it hit me finally – I can learn that.

Also, I felt like if I had someone else to watch learning, I wouldn’t feel quite so alone. So – I will BE that person for someone else, I hope.

And thus I am announcing – Outdoors, Woman!  a second blog, devoted to my efforts at turning myself into a hikin’ and campin’ naturalist that I kind of secretly always wanted to be.

I’ll keep this blog too – that’s just going to be about the outdoors stuff, and this will be more for general life.

But go check that out too!

Hunkering

It’s been a quiet week here at Lake Wobegon…

Kidding. But it has been a quiet weekend (during which I have also been listening to Public Radio a lot). My nesting instincts tend to come out stronger when the outside world gets really chaotic, and I hole up, doing domestic tasks and not talking to people for a few days.  I tend to take on cleaning projects as massive endeavors, and usually temporarily make bigger messes as I go – I don’t just tidy the pantry, I take everything out and put it on the counter and analyze it.  I don’t just vacuum, I drag furniture away from walls and get behind them.  It’s a kind of all-or-nothing approach that it feels weird doing when anyone else is around.  But A is out of the country for the next three weeks, and between that and my roller-coaster of a vacation, I’ve been diving in at home.

So far this weekend I have:

* Super-mopped the living room floor. I discovered by accident that Oxi-clean can be used in mop water, to great effect; and based on the amount of yuck that came off the floor I think it was lifting dirt that hadn’t even come into the apartment yet.  My living room floor is visibly a different color now.

* Made three quarts of soup stock out of aging produce in the fridge, and the trimmings of overthrowing herb plants.

* Immediately used one quart of soup stock in a soup that used up yet more produce. (Sweet corn, yellow summer squash, carrots and sweet potatoes; extremely bright yellow and delicious.)

* Made a batch of sausage-and-egg sandwiches which will be stuffed into the freezer for quick breakfasting.

* Stocked up on random paper products, cleaners, and such that we always seem to run out of.

* Stocked up on beverages, which I always seem to forget exist.

* Made an apple-and-pear compote which has also been stuffed into the fridge for quick breakfasting of a different sort.

Today I have three things I’m going to bake, and maybe I’ll mop the rest of the apartment, clean the bathroom and tidy my bedroom more.  Now that the weather has finally started to cool it’s also the perfect opportunity to have a pot of chili going on the stove throughout the afternoon as well.

The thing is – this is all so that as it starts to fade towards dusk, I can stop, take a deep breath, light a candle and read something while listening to something soothing.  The album Astral Weeks, maybe.  I will have beaten back the chaos around me for a while and created a space of deep peace where I can rest a while before leaping back into the world.  And that’s why I do this – not to have the super-clean apartment or the well-stocked fridge, but to create space for breathing.

There’s a sort-of-meme that was circulated a lot in the 80’s called “Grandma’s Wash Day”.  I actually think I saw it in a collection of 70’s feminist poetry, but it has been since attributed to a Kansas grandmother who was giving her new-bride granddaughter instructions for how to do laundry. Most of it is written in a faux-illiterate vocabulary – “warsh” instead of “wash”, “rench” instead of “rinse” – and lays out the labor-intensive steps taken for washday for someone who didn’t have a washing machine – building the fire under the wash tubs, how hard to rub the stains on the washboard, etc.  But the thing that always struck me was the very end – the last step in the task is to “put on a clean dress, brew cup of tea and set on the porch a while and rest and rock and count your blessings”.