Struggling

There is a point where things begin to intersect. The pattern begins to make itself known. In many cases, it’s a repeated pattern. They say that those who don’t read history are doomed to repeat it. If we have such trouble with spotting the patterns in our own life stories, how can we be depended upon to spot patterns that are playing the long game, those that take place over the course of several generations? The simple, true, shitty answer is that we have just as little control over the patterns that sway the world as we do over those that sway our own minuscule existences. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try to spot the turning points, to do our best to persuade others back from the brink. But we should also be gentle with ourselves when we realize patterns are emerging, and begin to come to terms with the fact that we’ve seen this before, we know what’s going to happen next, why, oh why didn’t we try harder when we had the chance to escape the oncoming freight train? These are the thoughts that roll through our brains as we struggle in vain against the ropes that have us tied to already-rumbling tracks.

Here are the issues:

  • A city without affordable rental properties in safe, walkable neighborhoods.
  • A “cheap” apartment that costs roughly 50% of my monthly income.
  • No permanent, full-time jobs available for much more than I’m currently making.
  • A broken bicycle lock.
  • The two men who tried to break into my apartment yesterday.

They looked to be older guys, maybe in their 40’s, but maybe just prematurely aged from living hard. Their faces were gaunt – malnourished? ill? addicts? I don’t know. They would have fit in perfectly with that group of crackheads I ran into last year on the neutral ground of Franklin Avenue, arguing amongst themselves about who had done the most crack. At the time, it sounded like the trolls’ conversation in The Hobbit, completely ridiculous, a worthy anecdote to share over drinks with friends. Now, I can feel the fear bubble up again. I already constantly watch my back, peer around corners, am suspicious of every man I meet, no matter the color or creed, just because I am constantly scared here, and on guard, despite my best efforts to relax and enjoy living in this city everyone keeps telling me is amazing and fun and pretty safe, all things considered.

You might have gathered by now that I was home when the attempted break-in (noted on the police report as “trespassing,” since they didn’t get in) occurred. It was mid-afternoon, and it was my day off, so I was in bed with boyfriend and cats, playing a silly game on my cell phone. I had actually just won an hour of infinite lives, and was settling in to beat this really tough level. It’s a game where all you do is connect dots. It’s for imbeciles, and is literally one of the stupidest things I could waste precious hours of my life on. I should have been writing memoirs, or sewing a costume, or maybe putting together that slow cooker chicken curry recipe I’ve been talking about, but when two men tried to break into my safe space I was in bed, connecting tiny circles on the screen of my mobile device.

It’s funny that I didn’t hear them walking on the balcony/porch that leads to my door. It’s metal, and has a certain sound when the neighbors cross. Maybe they were walking softly? I don’t think so. I don’t think that two guys who decide to break into an apartment at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon are contemplating stealthiness. But who knows what they were thinking. They obviously weren’t, as my funny across-the-street neighbor noted, “rocket surgeons.” Broad daylight, somewhat busy street, a corner where the neighbors are almost always out and keeping some sort of eye on all of the houses in the area. They managed to luck into a time when my other across-the-street neighbor, the elderly gentleman who hangs out on his balcony all day and seems to know just about everyone within a mile radius, was walking another neighbor’s dogs.

I’m saying “luck,” because if I admit that maybe they’d cased the joint before and knew that I’d be gone by 3pm for my night shift, maybe I get home tonight and they’re there waiting for me. I am so scared to go home tonight. I was already scared of that walk home every night, and then I got a bike, and I was scared of how long it took me to get my bike lock to actually lock, with my back to a dark yard, and a tall fence hiding me from street traffic, making it easier to attack me and silence me right there in my own yard. So I stopped biking because of the lock, and then I changed my walking route, and then I started taking Uber home even when I really couldn’t afford it, and now I can’t even be safe when I’m at home, because they’ll still try to break in, like yesterday.

A friend who lives in the neighborhood told me last night that she feels safe because she has a concealed carry license. But I don’t want to carry a gun. First off, because you’re much more likely to get shot with your own gun than you are to successfully ward off your attacker. Secondly, because it’s just not civilized, and it won’t make me feel any safer or happier. I’ll be even more scared. Scared that I have to harm another living thing in order to make myself feel safe, but knowing that even if I hurt that person, I still won’t feel safe. We are all ego, so I can’t pretend to not be full of it. But I can tell you what I already know about myself – I don’t want to hurt anyone else. I don’t want to be hurt, and I’m very scared that I will be hurt, but worse than being caused pain is causing pain to others. Always, without a pause. If I hurt another person, I will suffer greatly for it, for the rest of my life. Whether or not any court of law decides to punish me for my actions. Because it hurts to hurt others. And yes, I know that this doesn’t make sense to those of you who do carry weapons and feel brave because of them. Good for you. Do your thing. I don’t work like that.

The pattern I’m talking about here is extreme fear that is leading me right back to anxiety, and from there, possibly depression. Though I do have a new kitten in the house, so maybe not. As long as no one breaks in while I’m gone and hurts the cats, which is my second greatest fear since yesterday. Yesterday, when they tried the door handle. That’s what I heard first, before they started throwing themselves against the door, testing to see if the deadbolt was going to give. That’s when the rage bubbled up. Thank goodness for rage, but also damn it. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. On your way to the Dark Side, you forget to collect sufficient evidence.

I leapt out of bed. From the bedroom, I could see them at the kitchen window, faces pressed against the screening, peering in through the partially-open Venetian blinds. My kitchen was wrecked from cooking the night before, and I felt a split second of shame, followed by a little bit of relief. Maybe a filthy kitchen makes you look poorer than you are? Poor housekeeping skills for trashy people? Maybe I’ll cling to that, though it’s not very logical. They saw me, I saw them. I screamed at them: “Get the fuck away from my house!” They didn’t run away. They ambled. They sashayed. They talked shit to me as they were walking away. I forgot to watch which way they walked. I never thought to take photos. I thought about it for a few minutes, then called the cops, with little faith that they’d even come over. But they did, and only 15 minutes later. I was pleasantly surprised.

The cops dusted the door knob for prints, and got a partial palm print. They asked me questions about gender, age, skin color, hair style, clothing, what was said and done. They were kind, but it was clear that nothing was going to happen after this interview. I didn’t expect them to even show up in the first place, so at least they did something, right?

Later last night, I heard my next door neighbor get home, and went over to tell her about the day’s events, just so she’d have a heads up. It turns out that the dread I’d been feeling in my yard at night was well-founded; last weekend, my downstairs neighbor caught a guy hiding in the bushes, just around the time I normally get off from work each night. The cops were called for that, too.

I’m feeling defeated right now. There are no viable options without a more robust and reliable form of income. To move, I need money. To get money, I need a job. There are no jobs in my field. So I take a job in another field, and then I have money, and I move, but I hate what I do since it’s not what I want to do, and because salary rates here are still incredibly low compared to cost of living, I’m still too poor to afford to live somewhere safe or get a car, so I’m still in the same position, except for now I hate my job AND I’m scared to commute and scared inside of my house every night. Awesome combination.

So here’s what I do: I talk to my landlord. I get the bars put back on my windows, get the lock on my steel security door replaced, beg him to get another security camera upstairs, replace my porch bulb with something extra bright, talk to the neighbors and see if everyone would be OK with cutting down the bushes and adding extra yard lighting, and then I carry pepper spray.

And that is where we’re at right now. It isn’t great, but it’s what can be done. I doubt it will help me feel less hopeless, but then I can just be another of the people who falls in line with the erroneous belief that these are the sacrifices we have to make to live in this wonderful city where education has been forgotten and heroin rates are rising and public transportation is completely pointless and AirBnB owners have fucked us all out of affordable rental properties in areas where crackheads won’t peer through our kitchen windows.

This is as far as I’ve gotten in seeing my own pattern. I’m nowhere, and I’m exhausted.

 

Anna’s Camino: Day 8 – Villatuerta

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You’re not gonna like this, but I don’t have many memories of the walk from Puente la Reina to Villatuerta. Part of the reason for that is most likely because I’m writing this so long after the walk (I can’t believe it’s been nine months now, though symbolically, I guess I can, since it’s taken me this long to “birth” these journal entries). However, I also think that part of the reason I’m coming up short with strong memories for the walking portion of the day is that by the time I’d been walking a week, I started to Zen out a little while I was on my feet.

Weird thing is, though, I didn’t recognize it when it was happening. Me, with years of running and Bikram yoga under my belt, and no realization that my mind was heading off somewhere else as soon as I’d tied my laces and fastened my pack. Recently, I found myself reading through Belden C. Lane’s book Backpacking with the Saints, and having an “aha!” moment when I read a section on how the body has its own part in important spiritual work (he calls it “soul craft”). He says:

“One might best think of the soul, then, as the place where the body and the rest of the vibrant world converge. The German Romantic poet Novalis argued that the human soul isn’t inside the body, hidden and encased, like a ‘seed.’ Rather, he said, ‘The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet.’ Soulfulness is our ability to discover a vital connection with the ordinary details of everyday experience – what we share along our outermost edges with others…Whenever I plunge into wilderness, my body and the environment move in and out of each other in an intimate pattern of exchange…Where I ‘end’ and everything else ‘begins’ isn’t always clear…My ‘personal identity’ is stretched to include the aching beauty of an alpine meadow or the raucous cry of loons on the other end of the lake.”

As you can see, I cut the quote down considerably to get to my point, but if you haven’t read this book yet, I urge you to pick it up and enjoy. It’s a somewhat dense read, but an entertaining and rewarding one.

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So yeah, I think that by the eighth day of my Camino, I was falling into the soul work I’d sought, but didn’t realize it. I know for a fact that my depression and anxiety had already begun to lift considerably. I was genuinely enjoying walking with my Camino sisters Natalie and Claire, and though it always takes me a while to remember names, I was starting to see more familiar faces each day throughout the day, on rest breaks and at cafes. Most memorable to me that day are two feelings – the physical pain in my legs, and a short dose of panic and emotional anguish when I briefly lost both of my friends near the end of the day, and thought for sure that I wouldn’t find them again.

A short look back through my photos reminds me of a few more little details from the day, though. I remember leaving Puente la Reina in the morning, and sharing in (and being slightly amused by) Claire’s irritation with the group of elderly Israeli orchestra members that had stayed in our room the night before. Besides their funny penchant for bursting into song together, they were a slightly pushy group of guys, something that seemed more a cultural difference than an intended slight, but was still annoying. They’d hogged the bathroom day and night, hung out in their skivvies, and one of the guys snored robustly. Then, as we were walking out of town in the morning, one of them stopped Claire to have her take their photo, but instead of asking her, he’d held the camera out and basically said, “Hey you, stop and take our photo.” In general, not the nicest way to ask a stranger for help. We were all a little put off by the less than great behavior, but I figured, what do we know about how old Israeli guys talk to each other and their loved ones? Maybe something that comes off as curt to us was actually a friendly familiarity to them, who knows.

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If you look closely, you’ll see that some enterprising farmer planted a world map on the hillside!

I remember walking up to a town that I’d read had a thriving arts scene, and not feeling like I had time to stop. I felt rushed, and really out of breath on account of the very steep hill up to and through the main street of the town. I’m not sure if that rushing was coming from an external source or what, but I’d love to go back at some point to see if there are any potters selling unique Camino wares. Later that morning, we walked over a nice portion of Roman roads, including a bridge. I marveled at the cart tracks, and how sturdy the construction still was, and made a note to tell my father every detail on our next phone call.

On this day, we were all at different speeds. Generally, all three of us walked at a pretty similar pace, overall, but played leapfrog throughout the day. Natalie was still recovering from a pre-Camino knee injury, and every now and then that would slow her down, but usually she was the most efficient of us. Claire walked at a very tidy pace, sometimes using her umbrella as a hiking pole, often keeping a keen eye out for impressive old churches with unlocked doors (even better if they had a credencial stamp handy). My pace, like my thoughts, varied wildly. Hills were really difficult, and often resulted in lots of little sitting/water breaks. My calves and shins hurt, and my achilles tendon had been acting up for a year before the walk, so that wasn’t doing me any favors. At times, I’d get really into the rhythm of my hiking poles, and just motor down the trail, almost hypnotized by the repetitive sound. Other times, I’d get caught up in conversation with one of the girls, or meet a new pilgrim and talk for miles. But other times, I’d stop to look at a tree, or a rock, or a pile of rocks, or some graffiti, then another tree, rock, a bird, the sky, etc. Then I’d just get caught up in thinking about that one small thing, and shuffle along the path, knowing that there was somewhere I was supposed to be going, but otherwise not too concerned with all of the “little stuff” (you know, anything off of the physical Camino).

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I got a huge kick out of this albergue sign. Who doesn’t love a flamenco kitty?

This day, Natalie and I were together a bit more often. We left Claire behind at some point, but then when we stopped for a beer and some paella for lunch, she caught up and we sat with each other for a little while. Eventually, Natalie and I were ready to go, but Claire hadn’t finished just yet, so we walked on. But later in the day, we stopped for another coffee when she didn’t, so it turned out that while we were drinking coffees, she passed us on the road, and eventually we got to a town where Claire was already waiting for us at a fountain. Isn’t it great how the Camino allows everyone to pace themselves but still end up with their loved ones?

By the end of the afternoon, I was exhausted. The last towns we passed through were shaped somewhat like American suburban areas, with newer houses on a grid system, and less of the romantic older structures I’d grown to love. It was somewhere in here that I got separated from the girls and started to despair of finding the place we were supposed to bunk for the night. Earlier in the day, we’d made the decision to stop at a place called Casa Magica, mostly because it had great reviews for food, and the guide book said it also offered massage, which we all agreed would be an excellent option. I’m not sure why or how I got so turned around, but for about 15 minutes, I wandered around on the verge of tears, no clue if I was still on the Camino or where to even try to go to get back to the yellow arrows. Luckily, I eventually found a public square near a school, and ran into some German pilgrims who pointed the way for me. A few minutes later, I found Natalie, and Claire arrived a short while later.

The albergue La Casa Magica was everything I’d imagined and more. The place was empty when we first got there, so Natalie and I sat around, waiting for the owner to come back. His entrance was preceded by that of a friendly, humongous black dog named Thor. I was a bit sad to not have more time to hang out with him after we’d checked in, and I recently saw on the albergue’s Facebook page that beautiful Thor crossed the Rainbow Bridge this summer. Rest in peace, big fella.

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The foyer of La Casa Magica. Photo via their website.

As for the house, it was amazing. Nag Champa incense burned constantly in the cool, welcoming public foyer, next to a couple of lovely Art Deco chairs. A nearby lounge included a nice little beer and liquor selection, plus cosy seating, a book exchange, and the omnipresent coffee and snack vending machine. The outdoor patio was also extremely impressive, with room to sit at tables in the sun, or to relax in one of the gaily-colored hammocks strung up under the porch roof. There was also a washing machine – score!

Best of all, for a pretty large house, we seemed to have it mostly to ourselves. There were only about five other pilgrims staying that night, so we three girls got our own room. It was tough climbing up the vintage-tiled stairs to the room, but we were rewarded with what would be one of the nicest sleeping arrangements of my entire trip – a large bedroom with multiple beds, adjoined by two smaller rooms with a single bed, each. I thought of these smaller rooms as “sleeping cubbies.” Natalie took one of the beds in the large bedroom, while Claire and I both took one of the sleeping cubbies. There were thick, warm blankets available, making me feel comforted in exactly the way I needed that afternoon.

When we checked in, there was a pilgrim couple sunning in the back yard, but I don’t recall getting to know them. I took a shower in one of the best bathrooms of any albergue (Rain shower heads and plenty of hot water with great water pressure! Heaven!), then spent the afternoon drinking ales in the lounge, writing in my journal, waiting for the massage therapist to show up. Sadly, though I did get a massage, it was rather underwhelming. I needed some deep tissue action, and he was very light-handed. I was also feeling very chilly that day, a combination of the actual weather, the chill of an old house, and, I realized a few days later, the initial onset of the head cold that was gifted to me by the phlegmy bunkmate in Pamplona.

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Beautiful little crocuses were everywhere along the early days of the Camino.

Dinner that night was nothing short of amazing. It was so beautiful and fancy that I forgot to even get a photo of the meal. The owner of the albergue is a great chef, and after all of the pilgrims had taken their places around the communal dinner table, he fed us a multiple-course vegetarian meal that would have been at home in a fine dining establishment. We had soup, an appetizer of cheese-stuffed peppers, and a jaw-droppingly gorgeous vegetarian paella that had dates (I was really impressed by those dates) in it. I wish I could remember every single detail of the meal, but all I get are flashes of how lovingly the plates were decorated, and the huge paella pan from which he served us. Also, I remember that the desert was my first time trying natillas de leche, and it was crazy delicious.

I wasn’t really up for extended dinner conversation, but we all introduced ourselves around the table, and one couple stands out to me. At the end of the table were a man around my age and woman in her late 20’s who had been walking together for the last few days. They seemed cosy, maybe a little romantic, but there was something in his manner that was off-putting. He talked a little too loud, maybe made a little too much of himself. I made a mental note to avoid him if we passed him again on the trail, and I guess his companion came to the same conclusion. At breakfast the next morning, she asked if she could walk with us for the day. So much for Camino romance!

 

 

 

 

Whole30 Round 1 Results

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July was a pretty busy month for me, emotionally. I made the decision in late June to put 100% of my energy into changing the way I eat, for good, using Whole30 as my template for kicking things off. This isn’t a post about how awesome the Whole30 is, how it works, or what it can do for you. There’s already a ton of information online about the program, including a great website with all the information you need to undertake the challenge for yourselves. I bought the cookbook, as well, but honestly found that the Whole30 website gave me everything I required to make some serious life changes, and all for free.

The program is 30 days long, and I’ve found that the easiest way to explain it to folks is that it’s paleo’s badass older sister. For 30 days, you make a deal with yourself to kick everything out of your diet that could cause inflammation, encourage overeating, or just not be all that good for helping your body work at its top capacity. This includes alcohol, all sweeteners of any kind (yes, even honey and stevia), grains, dairy, corn, soy, and a host of artificial flavors, colors, preservatives – basically, if it comes in a package and the label has more than a couple of ingredients, you probably can’t eat it. In fact, it’s easiest to just avoid processed and packaged food altogether. The program also advises against snacking and replacing “bad” items with “good” versions – you know how you went paleo and quickly figured out how to make those “healthy” paleo pancakes and muffins? Yup, none of that allowed.

I have a long, sordid history of eating my feelings. If I get bored, angry, happy, sad, pensive, (insert emotion here), I will treat myself to food. If I’m with others, I’ll treat myself to a regularly-sized meal. If I’m alone, I’m prone to eating whole pizzas, buckets of wings, two Big Mac meals, whatever it takes to drown out the feelings for a little while. It’s been an issue since I was a child, but I was pretty good at keeping it under wraps for most of my life. I’m just now getting to the point where I’m willing to take ownership, talk with a therapist, and start making active changes to the way I process what’s happening to me in order to eat what I’d like, but in moderation.

Though I did hope to lose weight on the Whole30 program, my biggest hope was to give my body a break, time to cut out the cravings so I could hear my emotions more clearly and find ways to soothe myself without food or alcohol. My second biggest desire with this program was to kickstart a health change that will snowball as I get closer to my 35th birthday in November. I’ve got some crazy big birthday plans to hike the Grand Canyon and go horseback riding in Monument Valley, and I didn’t want my weight to get in the way of either of those things (especially didn’t want to end up hurting a horse – what kind of jerk wants to do that?). I’m aiming to be back at college weight AND feeling strong and vital come November. Thanks to this program, I think I’m on track for all of my goals.

The biggest surprise to me on this program was that it really wasn’t that difficult. I didn’t have any strong cravings for junk food until around Day 28, and I was able to easily overcome them. I did have some crazy weird food dreams around halfway through (one dream that I was eating garbage bags full of gooey, delicious chocolate croissants, and another dream that I owned a 24-hour brunch spot and had to taste test all the new dishes).

I did start cooking more, and doing meal prep, and though I’ve kept a pretty simple diet on rotation, I’ve gotten a lot better at the things I make, and am ready to start expanding my repertoire a bit. So far I make a pretty mean batch of slow cooker cabbage rolls, and though I hated the last carnitas recipe I tried, I’m ready to give it another go. I also found out that my “allergy” to garlic, something that had plagued me for years any time I had a drop of the stuff anywhere near my food, has suddenly disappeared. I can only think that I don’t do well with garlic when it’s combined with grains or dairy in my meal. Since I can eat it now (and really like it), I’m learning how to cook with it, finally. Made some simple and delicious baked green beans and garlic the other night, in fact.

Many people report that chronic aches and pains tend to go away during the Whole30, since ditching inflammatory foods gives your body time to heal. I’ve suffered from Achilles tendonitis in my right leg for a couple of years now, and it went away by the second week. I also went off of birth control medication about four months ago, and was just starting to see some acne show up just before I went on the Whole30, which is the biggest issue for me in not being on the pill. I generally get really nasty hormonal acne on my neck, chin, and chest, and the only thing that can make it go away again is taking the pill again, which really sucks since the medication makes me feel terrible, otherwise (but I’m so vain, and I do love my clear skin). I’d just gotten my first painful zit, and was steeling myself for more, but it’s been a month now and my skin looks great. I’m chalking that up to my hormones not dealing well with something I was eating. We’ll figure that out at a later date; for now, I will gladly accept the clear skin.

Many people do a program like this and combine it with exercise for best results. For me, this has always been about making a permanent change in my relationship to food, so I didn’t want to make too many changes at once. I wanted to get this to stick, then eventually work into getting more physical again. So no heavy exercise, just biking and walking to work, like usual.

The end result is that I lost almost 11 pounds and quite a few inches (see below), didn’t drink for a month and didn’t miss it, and was able to start rationalizing my way through any occasion where I’d feel like bingeing on unhealthy food. I took the day off on July 31st to eat pizza and ice cream (definitely not part of the plan, but I’m not going to down myself over it), and started Round 2 on August 1st, with a plan to wrap up on August 30th. I’m not completely sure of what I’ll do after this month is up. Since I’ve been eating very well and feeling good this entire time, and not feeling too put out, I’m guessing I’m going to stay Whole30/paleo 99% of the time, and then have a treat every now and then if I feel like it. I might also do what I did this month, and be really strict for 30 days, have one day to eat whatever I please, then back on the wagon again. We’ll see what feels right when I get there. I’m not gonna get too worked up over it just yet.

Here’s what I lost this month. I’ll keep you up to date once Round 2 is over; hoping that with added exercise, I can do as well as I did on the first round.

Start – July 1st, 2016

  • Weight – 193.6 lbs.
  • Waist – 35″
  • Lower Stomach – 44″
  • Hips – 47″
  • Chest – 39″
  • Arm – 16″
  • Thigh – 29″

End – July 30th, 2016

  • Weight – 182.8 lbs. (Loss = 10.8 lbs.)
  • Waist – 33″ (Loss = 2″)
  • Lower Stomach – 42″ (Loss = 2″)
  • Hips – 44.5″ (Loss = 2.5″)
  • Chest – 35″ (Loss = 4″)
  • Arm – 14.5″ (Loss = 1.5″)
  • Thigh – 27.5″ (Loss = 1.5″)

Total Weight Lost – 10.8 lbs.

Total Inches Lost – 13.5″

That Voice

It’s been years now since I last heard your voice. It was a nice enough voice. I enjoyed hearing it say kind things, calling me by pet names, cooing while giving the cat belly rubs, stuff like that. It was a perfectly fine voice, and for some time there I believed that it would be a voice I’d wake up to for the rest of my life. But we know differently now, don’t we?

I’m not upset with the way things turned out. I do wish that I’d set you free sooner, so that we could both have moved on with our lives, but it seemed a waste to just give up, and before I knew it, a full-blown algae bloom of dissatisfaction was floating under our bridge. In the end, I called it quits. It was not pleasant for either of us, but it hurt you more, I think, the seemingly abrupt ending. I’m realizing now that we were living around each other, but our lives didn’t really touch. It’s no wonder that you didn’t see it coming. I should have cried out in the open, instead of going to bed early to shield you from what I considered signs of my weakness, my inability to try just a little bit harder.

I’ve heard that you are happy now, and that makes me happy, too. You deserve it. But I wish that your wholeness in some other town, in some other state, would take away the pieces you left with me – especially your voice.

On Saturday mornings, your voice made me feel guilty for not waking up early enough and getting to work on doing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom. On Thursday nights, your voice made me worry that I should be trying harder to force myself to go out to drinks with you and your coworkers on Friday afternoon, even though I was bored to tears when you guys talked work, and though I didn’t have anything in common with them aside from my (unused) master’s degree. Your voice belied a hidden desperation over my lack of appropriately sexy behavior, and dismay at my lack of culinary prowess and less than stellar housekeeping skills. Your voice frequently remarked on my insufficient paychecks, and need to apply myself and make more money, even when I was making more than most people in my profession in our area. It was most likely never your intention, but your voice often made me feel “lesser than.”

And it still does.

The part of me that hates myself wears your voice these days. When I feel fat, or lazy, or worthless, or am worried about paying bills, the voice that expresses disgust is yours. I know that it’s not really you, and when your voice pops up in my head, itching to make me feel lesser than once more, I calmly tell it that it has no place ordering me around.

I look forward to the day when this false guide will take its cue and leave. In the mean time, I remember pet names, and enthusiastic descriptions of food, and patient instructions for doing tasks you thought commonplace. The good voice will have to outweigh the bad for now. Maybe if I’m lucky, one day there will be no reason for any voice to stick around. We’ll see.

 

Whole30 Wild Boar Cabbage Rolls

I’m on Day 9 of the Whole30, and it’s been surprisingly easy (plus cost-effective – I’m saving so much money that I would have spent on pizza and wine). The hardest part for me has been, not completely unexpectedly, cooking more than I typically do. If you’re not familiar with the Whole30 reset, there’s tons of great information on the website. Without going into too much boring detail, it’s basically paleo’s stricter older brother: no alcohol, dairy, grains, soy, legumes, corn, sweeteners other than fruit juice (yes, this includes honey), and some other things that I’m forgetting because I never ate them to begin with. It’s a great way to get out of the habit of eating processed crap all of the time, and it’s been OK so far.

As I said, I’m no chef. I’m barely a cook. In the kitchen of life, I would be better doing salad prep. But making sure not to ingest any bad foods means that you need to have the good foods prepared and waiting for your hangry moments, so recipes were necessary. Last Sunday night, I made a decent batch of cabbage rolls that were not disgusting, and have allowed me to stay on target for the past week. The rest of the time I’m being boring and eating things like eggs, sausages, sauteed veggies, avocados, sweet potatoes – really, really basic food. Anyway, this recipe is being written for me, so I don’t lose it. It’s not the best recipe for cabbage rolls that has ever existed, but it’s done its job, and I think that with time, I can improve upon it. Please feel free to use this as a base recipe for creating your own edible concoction. Let me know what you do in the comments!

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of green cabbage
  • 1 lb. of ground meat (I used wild boar, since that’s the cheapest thing they had at the food co-op)
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1-2 jalapeno
  • 5-10 Baby Bella mushrooms
  • 5-10 baby carrots
  • small can of sliced black olives
  • 1 14-oz can of fire roasted diced tomatoes (make sure there’s no added sugar on the ingredients list)
  • crushed red pepper
  • salt & pepper

Directions:

  1. Boil the cabbage. I’ve read various instructions on how to do this, and I still didn’t do it quite right. The aim is to boil it for long enough for all of the leaves to get soft, so you can gently pull them back and remove them, one by one. I just boiled it, pulled off all of the leaves that I could pull off, then put it back in the water and did it over again, etc. It took three full boils to get the whole thing apart. I’ve heard that you can cut out the core and boil it, and that’s a lot easier. I only have one giant knife, so I wasn’t really open to the idea of trying that technique without adult supervision. Whatever, it worked fine. Peel off the leaves and set them aside.
  2. Open the can of diced tomatoes, dump it in the blender, and add a lot of hot sauce, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. Feel free to experiment. Regular cabbage rolls normally use some sort of flavorful tomato soup-like substance to cover the cabbage rolls while they’re baking or slow-cooking, and a lot of people just use Campbell’s tomato soup. Next time, I’d work on making this mixture a bit thicker, creamier, and more flavorful, but it tasted perfectly fine (and I like my food spicy, so the more peppers, the better).
  3. Dice up the onion, jalapeno, mushrooms, and carrots, and saute everything in olive oil.
  4. Dice up the black olives.
  5. Combine the raw meat with all of the sauteed veggies and diced black olives. I put it all in a big bowl and mixed thoroughly, until the entire mixture was consistent. Add
  6. Scoop out individual portions of the meat/veggie mixture into individual cabbage leaves. You’re going to just have to eyeball this one. Keep in mind how many cabbage leaves you have to fill, and portion out the mixture accordingly. I would estimate that each roll took about two to three heaping tablespoons of the meat mixture, but this isn’t written in stone.
  7. Roll up the cabbage leaves. Try tucking the ends in like you would a burrito, just to keep the mixture in there a little better.
  8. Gently place the rolls in the slow cooker in layers, then top everything with the tomato concoction you put together in the blender.
  9. Cook in the slow cooker on high for 5 hours.
  10. Enjoy! This recipe made me 14 cabbage rolls, so 7 days of lunches.

 

 

 

So Much For Fireworks

The sky was full of smoke. Lighters flickered at the end of the driveway, and adolescents let out a whoop and sprinted off, the universal signal that more explosions were on the way. “We’ll go to couples’ counseling,” I whispered, “this will all work out.” You smiled down at me for a second, then put your arm around my shoulder the way I hated, pulling me into an awkward, possessive hug, the kind that defined me as the little woman, the lesser half. I took a deep breath, an even deeper swig of beer. Your family gathered around me. They were my family then. I loved them as much as I loved fireworks – the bright colors; the cacophony of laughter; the genuine smiles, the kind that dazzle you into a chain reaction. Fire lit the sky. It was too hard to talk, so I just gave up and settled in.

In response to today’s Daily Post prompt, Autonomy

Anna’s Camino: Day 7 – Puente la Reina

The walk from Pamplona to Puente la Reina was one of the most exhausting I’d yet to experience, but the road offered its own rewards that day. I’ve already mentioned my brightest memories from leaving Pamplona in my last Camino blog entry, but there’s one more I’d like to recount, just to keep it fresh. The night before we left, the three of us girls went upstairs to the albergue’s communal kitchen and pooled our resources to have wine and snacks. While we ate and chatted, I filled out 30 postcards to mail back home, and since Claire also had some things to mail, we decided to try to find the post office on the way out of town in the morning. In the morning, we wandered around a little bit as we tried to find the post office, and one of our wrong turns led us to a little square with a statue of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio. I took it as a sign, and as it turned out, it was to be the first of many that day.

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After visiting the post office successfully, we followed the yellow arrows back to the Camino. On our way out of town, we made a brief stop at the Church of San Cernin (click to learn more), a lovely 13th-century church possibly built over an old Roman temple. I was particularly taken with the church’s wooden floors, but still haven’t done the research to find out the reasoning behind the numbers. At the time, I assumed that the numbers coincided with tombs, but perhaps an expert can enlighten me in the comments!

As I recounted in the last entry, we stopped for coffee and a quick trip to the farmicia, then finally headed out of town a little later than planned. From Pamplona, the Camino takes pilgrims through a number of small towns, including Cizur Menur, where Natalie had memories from her earlier Camino of a wonderful hospitalera who was a foot expert. We had tentative plans to try to find the lady, just to say hi, but it didn’t work out. Instead, we kept walking, following the road uphill to the famous Alto de Perdon, “The Mount of Forgiveness.”

As we neared Alto de Perdon, even though we were walking up into the hills again, the landscape sort of stretched out all around us. The city had fallen away, and again it was easy to get lost in the greens and grays of the surrounding landscape. There were windmills everywhere! There had been a little rain to begin with in the morning, but as we climbed uphill, the wind began to whip, and the day started to get a little more gray than before.

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Gorgeous flowers – including my favorites, poppies.

I pulled the hood of my rain jacket tighter around my ears, and kept a close eye on my footing as we climbed up toward the famous metal statue that crowned the highest elevation of the day’s walk. Natalie walked ahead, and Claire was quite some way behind, and for some reason, I decided to just stop and look around. Ever since seeing Francis that morning, I’d had this feeling that I was missing something, but I couldn’t quite figure out what. Then I saw something I’d been looking for for days – my first poppies of the Camino. Ever since starting out, I’d kept an eye out for my favorite flowers, hoping to catch at least a couple of them in bloom, even though it was late in the season. Up until this point, I’d seen tons of crocuses, but not a single gorgeous red bloom. They’ve been important to me ever since visiting Assisi, Francis’ birthplace, and seeing them here, on this day, seemed particularly important.

Ever since seeing Alto de Perdon in the movie The Way, I’d expected it to be a very special and inspiring place, but in reality, the popular site wasn’t everything that I’d expected. Even at the time, it took a distant backseat to the poppies I’d seen just a few minutes earlier, and the rest of my walk that day was so beautiful and weird that afterwards, the hilltop sculpture was just a blip on my mental screen.

Walking downhill was a huge challenge for me that day. The ground was a little slick, but even worse, this portion of the Camino was just loose rocks. My knees were protesting the downhill climb, and I slipped often enough to start to be very nervous about the rocks. Natalie was much faster at this than I, so there ended up being at least a half-mile between us, maybe more. Claire and I passed each other throughout the afternoon, but for a good portion of the rest of the walk, I felt pretty isolated by the landscape. There were other pilgrims, but I don’t remember them. Mostly, I remember relishing the freedom, and singing at the top of my lungs for much of the afternoon.

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I particularly loved this welcoming roadside Madonna.

In Uterga, I caught up with Natalie at a great little albergue called the Albergue Camino del Perdon, where we had a seat, took off our shoes, and shared some food. We had a beautiful bowl of soup, and I ate one of my favorite slices of tortilla along the entire Camino. A sweet, well-loved neighbor dog came over to see if we needed any help clearing our plates.

Eventually, Claire ambled up, and we enjoyed sitting a little while longer. It was getting late, though, and we still had a ways to walk to get to Puente la Reina. The rest of the afternoon passed in a bit of a blur; my legs and feet were really starting to feel the strain of the day, and I got slower and slower as we walked through Muruzabal, then Obanos. At one point, I was right behind the girls, walking a suburban neighborhood. As we walked by house after house, they chatted ahead of me, and I just walked with my thoughts about 10 feet behind.

Suddenly, I heard an insistent whinny come from over a fence, and a beautiful white horse stuck her head out in my path. My companions kept walking on, immersed in their conversation. This gorgeous horse and I spent a good ten minutes communing over the fence, putting our foreheads together, me giving her ear scratches, her giving me little snuffles along my forehead. It was a beautiful little stretch of time, and if I could have visited for longer, I surely would have. But I didn’t know where I was supposed to meet up with the girls, so it was important to hurry on after awhile. It felt like a magical moment, though, and just another sign that Francis was walking beside me that day. Later, I asked the girls why they hadn’t stopped to say hi to the horse. “What horse?” they asked. Weird.

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My sweet horse companion.

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Sidewalk Camino marker. In cities and heavily-populated towns, there would normally be something a little more permanent than a spray-painted yellow arrow, though the arrows were often there, too.

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Political graffiti, though sometimes crass, can play an important role for getting newbies up-to-speed.

By the time we made it to Puente la Reina, it was already late afternoon. Luckily, we were just ahead of the last wave of pilgrims for the day, so there were still some open beds at the municipal albergue. I was so worn out! I barely had the energy to shuffle in the front door, then let Natalie and Claire talk with the hospitalero to see if there was any more room. I didn’t want to sit, in case I couldn’t manage to stand back up again, so I leaned against my pack, against the wall, and half-heartedly struggled to untie my shoes until it was my turn to show my ID and pay the guy. I believe it was five euros for a bed.

The albergue was pretty bare bones, with the same crappy metal bunk beds that they’d had at Zubiri, except that this time, it seemed like the bunk beds had been made for little kids, since there was barely enough room to sit up when you were on the bottom bunk. I didn’t really care, though. I was excited to have a bottom bunk, and once the late pilgrims came in, I was even more excited to just have gotten a bed. A few people were given sleeping mats to crash on the floor. One of the funny things that I remember from that particular albergue is that there was a group of pilgrims from Israel, all old men who played in an orchestra together, and spent the night bantering and telling jokes. They ended up irritating Claire the next day with their insistence that she stop walking and take their picture, but for the time being, they were an entertaining bunch.

After we’d showered, washed clothes, and had everything hanging out to dry (with not much hope in that department, since it had been a humid day, and promised to drizzle overnight), we decided to explore the town a little, and find something to eat. I don’t remember if we found a decent pilgrim meal or not, but I do remember how family-oriented the town was. It was the first of many towns that would impress me with how beloved, well-dressed, and well-behaved the children were, and how the family units all came out to eat and socialize together, mother, father and kids, or grandparents and kids. I didn’t take any pictures of the little ones, since that would be creepy, but I did take a couple of shots of the girls and myself on our way into town.

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Natalie and Claire (of the gorgeous hair), walking through Puente la Reina.

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Sunset in Puente la Reina. This picture marks the day that I first realized that my depression and anxiety were beginning to wane.