Monday, April 26, 2010

META Blog: Reflections on life in a blogcentric society

Here's to an atypical blog post this week.

I pose the following open-ended questions to my readers: What should be the function of a personal blog? How personal is too personal? Is it dishonest, as a blogger, to provide only the most superficial of windows into one's daily life?

I bring this up because of a recent complaint that my blog is disingenuously full of positive things, even when the truth is that the past few months have been a pretty trying time, emotionally, for me...and that (this, in a moment of projected psychoanalysis on the part of my critic, who shall remain anonymous) my blog has caused me to unnaturally stress myself out with a need to prove that I'm living life to the fullest.

So. I'd like to address that here, because I think it was a valid comment, and it's a fascinating opportunity to explore the psychology of blogging. First of all: regardless of what I'm trying or not trying to prove to my readers, the primary function of my blog, for my own purposes, is...stress relief! When life gets crazy and out of control and feels too much like I'm moving numbly through the daily grind, getting to meditate aloud in my blog on the positive adventures in my life gives me a sense of calm, happy clarity amidst the storm. It allows the joy of an all-day hike in the mountains to continue bringing me joy long after the hike itself is over. It gives me tangible evidence from the past few months that despite working way too much, I am still human!

Sure, there are plenty of more "personal" topics I'd love to write about in public space...but everything must be weighed against a sense of protection for the emotional privacy of those close to me, as well as gauging the appropriateness of revealing anything, given the completely open nature of the internet. I may have grown up in a generation of fearless, internet-savvy kids with a false sense of privacy about blogging (who was around to read my old Xanga?), but I no longer pretend that I can ignore the notion of an audience.

I write pretty much every one of my blog posts with, at the very minimum, the following POTENTIAL readers in mind: my parents, my grandmother, students I tutor, my own past teachers and professors, current work supervisors/managers/bosses (who've been known to peruse my blog using airport wi-fi on their way to Hawaii...hi Michael!), potential future employers, babysitting charges from my past, random strangers, close friends, acquaintances, OutdoorsNW readers, exes, people who may or may not have given me a t-shirt in high school with the phrase "Life is full of rainbows!" to make a statement about my sometimes obnoxious tendency to be overly optimistic in all situations...

GoogleAnalytics tells me that I have readers in Italy, Ecuador, Switzerland, Luxembourg, China (hi Daniel!), Australia, and the United Arab Emirates, among other places. I have the most readers in Washington state, followed by New York, followed by Ohio...It's strange to think that I don't even know who reads each entry; it literally could be anybody.

Frankly, anything written with an audience in mind is not going to be a 100% objective, honest account - not the way my personal journal is (and who can say if that, even, is "objective"? I'm aware that I frequently go back and read old journal entries, so perhaps even my own private journal is written for the audience of my future self...hmm.) It's part of the aggravating nature of social networking sites, blogs's personal information, written for someone else's consumption. Even the statement "I don't care what people think of me", so ubiquitous in Facebook profile About Me sections, is inherently false - if you truly didn't care, you wouldn't need to assert so.

But enough rambling. Here's the bottom line: I don't want this blog to feel "disingenuous" to its readers. If it does, it does a disservice to life and the nature of experience altogether. Life *is* messy, and I acknowledge that. I don't claim, at all, that my blog reflects an accurate and balanced account of my life. If you're interested in the messier parts, there's this old-fashioned thing called talking that I'd be happy to do with you! But for the big, wide world?

Rainbows it is :)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lake Serene, Baseball, and Missing Kitty Shenanigans

Can rainbows redeem my lack of blog entries in a couple weeks?

At Camba's recommendation, Alan and I hiked to the scenic Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene yesterday. It was a gorgeous day for it, and in keeping with my promise to myself to rein in my schedule, I had a whole day off to enjoy the outing. Good thing, too, as it being the last day of ski season at Stevens Pass made Highway 2 an absolute mess to get back on in the evening. Alan and I wound up stopping in the tiny town of Gold Bar for post-hike burgers to try and wait out the traffic jam heading back west - an effort that helped mildly, but which we supplemented with GPS navigation to make our way back on winding, county roads rather than sitting in standstill traffic on Highway 2. (Appropriately, Cake's "Long Line of Cars" came on my stereo's IPod shuffle during all this.) Overall, the drive back was more or less a trial effort in our plans for summer of 2011 to drive Alan's 1968 Chevelle from Ohio to Seattle, avoid interstates and chain restaurants, taking scenic state roads instead and exploring Mom-and-Pop places the whole way.

Bridal Veil Falls.

But back to the hike itself. We had a phenomenal time on the mountain - gorgeous, sunny weather that greeted us at the trailhead with spring warmth, but rewarded us with cooler breezes in the denser, shadier forests toward the top.

The route we hiked, about 8 miles roundtrip, traversed everything from scenic valley overlooks off the sides of sloping mountains to dense old-growth forest, from picturesque, cascading waterfalls to deep, slippery snowfields.

Understandably, there were many others out on the trail, but we also had large stretches to ourselves, including a quiet, secluded bench by the side of the still-snow-covered Lake Serene at the top.

In other adventures of late: We went to our first Mariners game on Saturday evening, and watched a decent victory over Detroit. (Sadly, I had to work until 3 p.m. and so missed out on the Sounders' triumph over Kansas City earlier that day.) We walked to the stadium from our apartment in the pouring rain and even soaked as we were by the time we got there, felt lucky to not have to mess with stadium parking.

Although I still maintain that soccer games are approximately 300 times as exciting and exhilarating to watch as baseball games, I nevertheless enjoyed the novelty of what was probably my second professional baseball game ever :)

And, in misadventures of the week...Chloe has been getting herself into all kinds of reckless trouble. Two days ago, we returned home to find that she'd somehow managed to more or less strangled herself with a plastic bag (notably, with a "Keep away from infants and small children" warning label on it...but what of cats?)

And this morning, we slept in and had a conversation a bit like this:
Alan: Hey, did you hear that racket Chloe was making in the kitchen last night?
Me: (Laughs) Yes...she's crazy.
Then it slowly seemed to dawn us both that it was late in the morning and no kitty had come pawing at our faces for breakfast (a daily event that almost always chronologically beats my alarm clock.)
Me: Chloe?
And...nothing. I got up in horror, searching the apartment high and low, before realizing we'd left a tiny window in the bedroom just barely cracked to let in the breeze last night - and sure enough, there were tiny kitty pawprints in the dust on the ledge outside of it. My heart sunk.

I can write about it now with some lightness, but let's be honest - I was a serious wreck this morning, walking dejectedly around the block with Alan, shaking some food in a tupperware bowl and imagining all the miserably, lonely mornings ahead without my beloved kitty cat. Our neighbor across the hall saw us poking around behind the apartment and mentioned that Chloe had jumped up on the ledge of their bedroom window at about 6:30 this morning, scaring the living daylights out of their dog, Lucy. They hadn't seen her since.

After several laps around the block and no hope in sight, Alan and I returned to the apartment. Plodding up the staircase to our back porch, with tears just on the verge of pouring out my ducts...there she was: Chloe, wedged almost completely out of sight, down between the back stairs and the adjacent trellis. There were leaves and twigs all over her face, her claws were out, her body taut and shaking slightly. Not a motion had been made on her part when we'd shaken her food container multiple times within a few yards of her. Our best guess is that Lucy must have barked up a storm this morning and scared Chloe so badly that she'd stayed frozen in hiding there until we found there.

Here I'd been imagining her having all sorts of adventures in the big city, feasting in dumpsters, nuzzling strangers' ankles and trotting off down to Pioneer Square without me...but there she'd been, about eight feet away from our back door, waiting in frozen terror for God knows what. Regardless, I'm relieved to have my kitty back home safe again, doing somersaults all over my lesson books as I attempt to prep my tutoring lessons. I can only hope her kitty shenanigans will mellow back out in the coming weeks...

Postscript: Trees in the Northwest are awesome.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mood Management: Asparagus, Books, and the Caprice of Clouds

Cooking adventures continue!

As a first-time spring Seattleite, I have to say...the weather here this month has been one capricious beast. (See how tutoring SAT vocab is rubbing off on me?) It will go from sunshine to stormy winds to full-on hail to sunshine again, interspersed with 45-second blasts of pouring rain throughout. Mostly, it's just been cool and overcast a lot, but filled with the confusing presence of blooming flowers and spring birds chirping. I don't know what to make of it. The general lack of sunshine, though, the past few weeks might be getting to me a little bit...or it might still just be my crazy hours. I've felt calmer lately in general, though. A little worn down, but mostly content. My foot's starting to show signs of healing, so that's a plus.

I'm working to keep up momentum in initiating positive change in my life, as much as possible...we'll see what direction the next few months take me, but I am simultaneously happy with where I am now and exhilarated by the possibilities for the future.

Some (temporary for now, for however long I need) commitments to myself I've made, as of yesterday:

- Read more. (Currently on my coffee table: Lorrie Moore's "Birds of America", which someone once recommended to me as the absolute best collection of short stories ever written. I can't even remember who gave me the recommendation, but I bought the book years ago and have let it sit on my shelf since. To its credit, I didn't give it away with the 70% of my books that didn't make it out to Seattle with me, just takes a lot to get me to read short stories. I generally find them horribly unsatisfying...I don't like the constant goodbyes with characters I'm just barely starting to get to know. But this collection really is ridiculously good. My writing might even get pushed back into a fiction kick for awhile because of it...
- Keep a more manageable work schedule; No more months without days off.
- Tea instead of coffee, indefinitely.
- No allowing running injuries to keep me from being active. Usually, if I can't run, I just give up on physical activity altogether; the all-or-nothing personality in me is too busy being upset about not being able to run. So I really haven't done much lately - but I went for a long, brutally windy bike ride yesterday, and did an intense Power Hour at the gym this morning, and OI VEY have I missed endorphins!
- No junk food, also indefinitely. This includes chips, cookies, candy, ice cream, French fries, sweet pastries, etc...

I've tried going halfway on that last one, but I'm still making far too many compromises. I've spent six years wishing I were a health nut, and I'm just tired of wishing, instead of being. I quit junk food for a 70-day period my senior year of high school, and it was a good thing for not just my body, but my moods and soul as well. So I'm giving it a try again. So far, so good. My meals yesterday:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with raisins, cranberries, cinnamon and walnuts

Lunch: Rottini pasta with cherry tomatoes, peas and asparagus (CSA-share-food Alert!)

Snacky-poos: Apple, Carrots (CSA-share-food Alert!) with hummus

Dinner: Buckwheat pasta with mizuna (CSA-share-food Alert!), onions and walnuts

The sauce in progress.

Dessert: Vanilla yogurt with slivered almonds, fresh strawberries and agave nectar

Today so far, I had oatmeal again for breakfast, and for lunch, a banana/blueberry/strawberry smoothie and a ridiculously tasty salmon burger on a pita with fresh cucumber (CSA-share-food Alert!), tomato slices and tartar sauce. Yummy. Healthy food is awesome.

Feelin' good...

Music shoutout of the week: James Vincent McMorrow.

Monday, April 5, 2010

From Farm to Yitka's Kitchen

Homemade zucchini bread.

This week, something big is happening: I will have my first day off from work (all jobs considered) in TWENTY-SEVEN DAYS. I didn't actually realize how ridiculous my schedule had gotten until I sat down today to look at my iCal, and realized, holy cow...I've been swamped. I'm working full time at REI, tutoring four students, proctoring the occasional SAT at local high schools, cleaning Vera once a week (in exchange for free training sessions), and doing some writing here and there. Though not much blogging, apparently...

I'm pooped. It's exacerbated by the fact that I'm battling some severe bruising (Metatarsals? Bone bruise? Not quite sure...) on my right foot...I didn't even hurt it while running, but it's kept me sidelined from my passion for three weeks and counting now. Bummer. After writing an article on the Eugene Marathon, I registered for it this spring...but it's less than a month away now, and I'm pretty sure my injury's left me in no place to run it. Needless to say, the lack of running during this rather hectic stretch in my life has left me a little stir-crazy.

Nevertheless, I'm determined as ever to always carve out the requisite relaxation time. There definitely hasn't been enough of it lately, but I *have* done some nice bonus activities here and there. I finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal Vegetable Miracle", about her family's decision to live on a farm and eat only locally grown food for a whole year. It's a wonderful book - funny, enthralling, poetic, inspiring, poignant all - and one that's been on my reading list since Seyeon and I went down to Austin, Texas about a year and a half ago and I saw it on the bookshelf of the delightful folks from with whom we stayed. That week in Austin was one of blissful vacation in the midst of the only time in my life that I've been even busier and more stressed out than I am now, in the middle of my final semester at Oberlin and 5K-race organization effort. The book went on my "Things I Want to Do/Read When I Have a Life Again" List.

So, having finally read it, I felt (as I'm sure most of its readers have/do/will) inspired to get more in touch with the world of local agriculture. It's kind of scary how out of touch the modern, industrial grocery store has made us with the very thing that sustains us in this world, let alone how much less flavorful and nutrient-rich our typical grocery store fare is today than it was years ago. And all the waste that's involved with shipping food halfway around the world just so we can eat strawberries in January...anyway. A great read that definitely reinforced my desire not only to build my food knowledge but also to work on honing my cooking skills. My first step was to sign up for a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) share: a box every other week of fresh, organic produce from a local farm.

My first box!

I did this for awhile with my housemates the summer I lived in Oberlin, but that was back when I was still intimidated by unfamiliar vegetables - so I feel like the CSA was of little use to me back then. But now I'm all about experimenting and learning in the kitchen, so the prospect of a box of new ingredients to explore - or just familiar ones that I don't go out of my way to buy at the grocery store. Like, in the case of this week...zucchini! Hence the tasty loaf at the top of this entry.

Bonus: Chloe gets a boat to play in after I've unloaded all the produce into my fridge.

Other triumphs in the past week:
- Alan bought his own truck, and thus will be able to be home much more often soon!
- I hosted a girls' night/dinner party a couple evenings ago...delightful.
- I bought plane tickets to Cleveland this spring. So excited to see old friends!
- Also finished reading Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." Excellent read.
- I played Wii for the first time at Easter at Gale's house (where I also spent Thanksgiving...hooray for Gale's family's sponsorship of orphan holidays) and failed at pretty much everything except WiiFit Hula which I was a "Calorie Incinerator." Awesome.
- I got my first pieces of non-footwear REI gear: my very own packable, 2-person tent and a cozy sleeping bag.

And Chloe approves.