Saturday, February 25, 2012

I am woman, hear me roar.

I really like Tina Fey - I think she's done tremendous things for women in comedy. And I love her view on body image, because I feel that it's so spot on regarding women in our culture. With all this talk about women's birth control and a recent article by Katie Bolick in the Atlantic that I had a hard time reading, I've been thinking a lot about body image, dating, and settling down.

I've struggled with my own body image for my entire conscious life, and I have never been satisfied. The earliest memories I have of this are of the fourth grade when school kids start to get mean. I have always had a little stomach pooch, and one day some of the girls in my class informed me that I looked pregnant. As a little kid who didn't know how to distance my emotions from cruel words like that, I started to dislike the way I looked and realized that looks mattered. I remember struggling trying to be cool in junior high by wearing make up - and failing (side note: never wear purple eyeshadow as eyeliner). In high school, I tried to limit the amount of food I ate to be skinner - but I got grumpy and couldn't handle always being hungry. I tried to exercise, but failed this too since I didn't realize my asthma limited my athletic endeavors. I dreamed of being able to wear heels, a slinky skirt and some sexy top to amaze my friends and snag a guy - and as most high schoolers, hated myself for what I actually was. 

But then came college, and college was a different world - it didn't seem to matter. I wore my hair down and lived in a t-shirt and jeans. I found a guy to date, and things seemed alright. But the relationship and my confidence didn't last, and with tremendous stress, becoming 21, and not taking care of myself as a senior - I gained a bit of weight. I hated myself for it, thought I was unable to attract a guy because of it, and the only way out seemed to do a lot of cardio. Years went by like this, until - magically - I seemed to drop some weight at the beginning of graduate school. My confidence built up again, and I managed to go on a date or two. But, once again with stress and life, this too didn't last. 

Coming to Iowa, many of my habits have radically changed. I don't eat out much at all. I get a healthy amount of sleep every night. I walk most places. I eat less (I think this is due to sleeping more and paying better attention to what I do eat). I eat more vegetables. And most of all, I drink a lot less - maybe one drink, once a week. And I've lost a lot of weight, and I feel amazing. I can look at myself in the mirror at any point in time, and I really like what I see. 

The point, however, is not that I've lost weight and that I like this about myself. It's what I do with this. And for me, the most important takeaway is how much I've related the size of my body with my ability to attract a guy. Did you notice that in my narrative? And now that I find myself at my optimal confidence building size, I am still quite single. I now have more confidence to move forward and date (helpful now that I'm in a rural town, right?), but I've really begun to separate my ability to attract guys from my weight. My emotional health was reflected in my body image - and I've spent several years severely emotionally unhealthy. With my 'Life Changing' time spent truly discovering myself, I now understand so much more about myself, what I want and what life means to me. In fact, I can't imagine anyone attempting to date me successfully before I began my self-discovery and personal-growth ventures. Emotional health is vastly important to health and well being in life and relationships, I've found.

I don't speak of my reasons behind this emotional health and well-being much, but take it as this - I started to see a counselor in 2010 to deal with a lot of heavy emotions I didn't understand. One thing led to another, and I've found myself a completely different person in so many wonderful ways. The journey has been difficult and it's very much far from over, but a small part of this journey has helped me realize that my body isn't everything. I like to be the weight I am right now, and it helps boost my confidence and support the emotional change I'm experiencing. But it's really about me, and learning to love myself, that really matters.

I wrote this poem last night to reflect the 'Life Changing' of 2010 - and hopefully, it makes sense to you.

"Forward flung, life came full force
and crashing, downward, landed
Upon a life I do not know, and never really asked for
But light was life, and life was lit, and I could see what really made it
And pain, I saw, inside me hid, and shut those doors I needed
But pain, it hurts, to feel the surge
of years of bottled anger
and pain, with sadness soon to follow, of things - a past, unmended."

HOLY SHIT, you just read some Christy Poetry. Consider yourself lucky. I have never been comfortable enough to share my 'poetry' with other people. This poem may not be very good or in its final state, but regardless - very few have read what I have wrote, and never before would I be okay bearing my soul like this. Maybe I was inspired by the Poetry Slam I attended last night? Or maybe, with all this other introspection, I have nothing else to lose? It does not matter - I must continue to go forth now and conquer because I feel unstoppable

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Adventuring along the Mississippi River.

Towards the end of last week, a sudden and powerful urge to go out and explore came over me. I expected to stay close to town and go on a nice hike, but Tor suggested some other options and my adventure seeking self was ecstatic. The plan was formed to seek out the Mines of Spain just outside of Dubuque (a two hour drive away). Because of the driving distance, we decided to make a day of it by stopping off in Guttenberg, exploring Dubuque, and going to the Mississippi River museum. We also managed to fit Wisconsin in.

Guttenberg is a quaint river town an hour away from Decorah. There's a lock and dam system there, and plenty of cute little shops and eateries along the water. We stopped at the Clayton Ridge Meat Market and ate at their cafe called the Picket Fence. One of my favorite things about the Midwest so far is the pricing on food - a sandwich and side cost $4.99. It was a good sandwich and the best beans I've ever had. The cafe was super midwestern kitsch, which I love, and I posed with the little piggie placemat. I enjoyed you BBQ'd, little piggie. Delish.

After Guttenberg, we headed into Dubuque. Dubuque is the 8th largest city in Iowa, and an important river town on the border of Wisconsin and Illinois. Dubuque itself was weird. All of the storefronts and buildings downtown had this really neat old-time type architecture with red-brick buildings and stylized structures. But, every other corner had a bar and there were a ton of pro-life billboards. It had this weird feeling to it - you wanted to like it, but I couldn't ever imagine living there and I definitely didn't leave my car doors unlocked as I do in Decorah.

In any case, we stopped at the Mississippi River Museum, which was totally worth the $15 admission. I learned about the barge system for grain transport, about how they reversed the flow of the Chicago river, and that the Colorado river has been pretty much destroyed by dams. I also saw paddle fish, which are ridiculously awesome looking.

Afterwards we went to the Mines of Spain, which is a nature area along the Mississippi just outside of Dubuque. There's a huge bluff there that was quarried down the middle to create the horseshoe canyon. The canyon was pretty epic to hike through, and even better to climb on the top of. The flip side, however, is knowing the massive environmental shift created by completely tearing out the middle of this large limestone bluff. Of all the places I've explored, Iowa has been the most changed by humans in every sense of the word. It's trippy - this nature area was gorgeous, but would exist in a different way if Mr. Dubuque didn't come in and tear shit up. Regardless, the surrounding area has been restored to oak woodlands and prairie, and it was really nice to hike through.

We also messed around a lot on the frozen edge of the Mississippi. Tor and Steffen were very determined to catch and ride an ice drift along the river. I'm glad they failed though - I would have had to join them out of fear of being abandoned along the river, and had we all been on some random ice chunk in the middle of the Mississippi, questions arise like ... how to get off of it.

After the sun set and we made our way back to the car, we lucked out and got a table at L.May in downtown Dubuque. This was a very fancy place which our hiking boots and dirty jeans clearly clashed with, but I had earrings on so it was okay. We got a fig chutney and goat cheese appetizer, and then three different fancy pizzas to split up and share. It was really good.

We thought about exploring downtown Dubuque, but it was dead and I, in my weak-ass Californian sensibilities, was really cold. So we decided to drive over the Mississippi bridge into Wisconsin so I could say I've been there, and Tor wanted to take us to this grotto in Dickyville. First, the town is called Dickyville. What good could come out of Dickyville? And second, a grotto doesn't sound very exciting. Just a shrine of sorts. Oh man, this grotto was nothing short of AWESOME. Father Matthias Wernerus created the grotto from 1925 to 1930, themed on the ideas of love of God and love of Country. According to the pamphlet, "it is a creation in stone, mortar, and bright colored objects - collected materials from all over the world." And by objects, this is very much the case - rocks, stones, gems, porcelain, everything. Everything, arranged in all sorts of designs and patterns and on everything. It was amazing. There's the main grotto with the Virgin Mary, and then a whole structure behind it with all sorts of saints and sayings. Behind that, you have a whole park full of different structures - and a whole section about America and important historical happenings. It was ridiculously awesome. My words and pictures do it no justice.

All in all, I had a fantastic day. I like the Mississippi - and having lived with little rivers around, this is the biggest river I've seen. Everyone knows about the Mississippi, you grow up knowing it exists no matter where you live in the United States. The same cannot be said about Sacramento's American River. So meeting the Mississippi was really exciting. And adventuring with Tor and Steffen was a lot of fun - I ended the day feeling supremely happy.

Find more pictures here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My perfect Sunday.

I love Sunday.

Today was a near perfect Sunday, but I know what a perfect Sunday is, and I've been doing my best to have them every Sunday. Or Saturday - though the feeling is a little different. Saturdays are more for adventure and doing things. Sundays are relaxing, getting things together, preparing for the week ahead.

Latest knitting project - Rock Island Shawl.
My perfect Sunday starts with sleeping in, then a slow morning with breakfast and fresh coffee. Maybe a long walk with Bailey, or adventures where she can run around off leash. Then some baking or cooking lunches for the week. Playing my music. If I need to, maybe cleaning the house. And of course, relaxing with a book or knitting while listening to NPR. All the things a Sunday can have.

Why do these things work for perfect Sundays?

I like to clean my house. I've realized that if it's my house, and my mess, the chores are enjoyable. They're not monumental either because it's just me. And, I like the smell of the cleaning solutions I made - so all around, win. (Yes, I have gone that hippie - but the magical glass cleaner is magical. Trust me. Book here.)

Oatmeal cookies with currents.
I have also developed some sort of baking problem. I like to bake, and I've been baking a lot. I also like to give away what I bake because I'm not that much of a sweets person, and I like to think it makes others happy. The Fanny Farmer Baking book only fuels this desire (I really like this book). And to make matters worse, I'm seriously considering ordering a case of butter from the Co-Op because if you special order things in cases, you get 15% off the normal price ... and I've been using a box of butter every other week or so. It'll keep in my freezer, swearsies. 

This Sunday, Bailey and I went to Phelp's park on the West side of Broadway. It's not very far to walk there, and the park itself is really quite nice. There's a really great overlook of the river and half of Decorah - really beautiful to look at. With swings in the park itself and little gazebos under trees, this park has been deemed a 'Christy Happy Place.' Happy places are important for making a bad day better and chasing away overwhelming feelings. In Davis, my happy place was at the top of the parking structure where you could see all of the campus. That, and the Redwood Grove in the arboretum. Happy places help keep me sane when life tends not to be, and I'm actually rather pleased to have found one in Decorah. I'm sure I'll find more as time goes on. 

Bailey enjoying her post-walk Sunday afternoon.
The more I can make Sundays perfect, the more I won't mind a lonely Sunday. I'm slowly learning to adjust to this, and it helps to have things I like to do. And, it helps to really like living in Decorah - this town is beautiful, walkable, and some sort of happy place in itself. 

Three cheers for perfect Sundays <3. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How could you not like chocolate?

Chocolate cake I made for a friend. 
This conversation always goes the same -

Me: I don't like chocolate.
Person: What? How can you not like chocolate?
Me: I just don't like chocolate.
Person: That's crazy. Even dark chocolate?
Me: I hate dark chocolate. I like milk chocolate sometimes, but not chocolate cake or ice cream.
Person: What?!?
Me: I just don't like chocolate.

The thing is, I do like milk chocolate - sometimes. And yellow cake with chocolate frosting can't be beat. Chocolate milk is good if it's not too chocolately. But I'm not one to go for a mocha, and I'll pass on the chocolate anything - thanks. After getting into this with a few friends this past week, some internet research alerted me to the fact that only 4% of Americans don't like chocolate, and 0% of women... I don't trust these statistics, actually, because last time I checked I'm a woman. But hey, it's the internets - the internets who also hypothesized it's a bacteria imbalance, or suggested you never trust a person who doesn't like chocolate. Furthermore, I found that it's a universal reaction to think of it as some unbelievable problem that shouldn't exist. Can it be true? Have you just never had a good enough cake? Or this kind of ice cream? Are you secretly concerned about calories? Or are you just crazy?

Well no, I just don't like it. And surprisingly, it's quite socially awkward. First, plenty of people (and I'm serious about this!) have told me they were unsure we can be friends. Some question if I'm even human. Then there are the awkward social situations. So many desserts have chocolate in them, and imagine that you were me and you did not want any of them. But, you're invited to a dinner, or it's someone's birthday, and there's a chocolate dessert that's been created with plenty of love and time. What do you do? You don't like the taste of it much, but it's rude to not try it and to not participate in the general consumption and merriment. And you're not being truthful when you tell the maker it's delicious - and that makes me feel so awful. Because sure, if I were like most people, I'd probably absolutely love it. I just don't. Is it better to eat it and lie about how much you like it, or to be rude and say no thanks while looking like a pompous ass?

I don't know if this makes me crazy. I lean towards savory over sweet, but I love baked goods and cake. Cake makes everything better. But chocolate? Meh. I like to think that it means there's more for everyone else who likes chocolate. Can't that be good enough?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The week full of things I really want, but cannot have.

For some reason, this past week decided that it wanted to try it's best to make me feel homesick for California - starting with a loaf of Boudin bread. Our co-founder, Diane Ott Whealy, was in the bay area for her book tour and brought back a loaf of that delicious San Francisco delicacy. I enjoyed my slice beyond what normal bread lovers would because I haven't found sourdough or french bread here that's actually hard on the outside, soft on the inside and deliciously tasty. I never expected bread to make me so very happy.

Later in the week, I hosted a dinner for a friend's birthday, and we got to talking about his book, which had a picture of pineapple guava bushes on the front. For my native Iowa friends this had to be explained, which prompted me to reminiesce about not only having pineapple guava's in Davis but thinking about how delicious they taste and teaching about them as a TA. And then this evolved into thinking about other plants that Californians use for landscaping purposes that also double as food sources, like citrus or strawberry trees. And thinking of strawberry trees reminded me of the beautiful Calfiornia native, toyon ... and I was now officially stuck. Not even the next day, a previous student of mine posted a picture of my favorite flower on facebook, the winter daphne. It has the most amazing smell, completely fills the space around it, and is gorgous to look at as well.

At work on Friday, I discovered that the library has the California Rare Fruit Growers Association journal, and two of the older issues had articles about Wolfskill and pomegranates from the National Clonal Germplasm Repository (where I worked while in Davis for a long time). I took them home to read over the weekend. Because I had begun thinking about persimmons, I had a few dried ones that Jenny made me before I left for Iowa. I've tried my best to save them for moments like this.

Even Iowa teased me with things I would like, but cannot have. It was foggy this week, which means there wasn't sunshine, but there was fog because the snow was melting away and so I don't get much snow either. And the conference call with Michelle Obama turned out to be rather disappointing. It was a 25 minute phone call I listened to with canned questions and dialogue mostly repeating what I've already heard. Then, there's a house down the street I walk past everyday that's for sale. My house doesn't really feel comfortable cozy because it's kind of big, so I find myself desiring this cute little house more and more but I know I can't have it, either.

Things weren't all bad - I made several delicious dinners and cakes, played games with friends (I'm really starting to enjoy this!), and learned that Gillian is going to come visit me in March - YAY. I also made it to the gym and found out I've lost a lot of weight since leaving Davis. I've figured out it comes to this: I've stopped drinking almost entirely, maybe only once a week and if then only one drink or so. I sleep more each night, which makes me less hungry during the day. I eat less at meals, and I've been cooking a lot with vegetables and healthy options. And, I don't eat out nearly as much. So I'm going to get myself some jeans that fit and a new haircut - it's about time my exterior matches the change I feel on the inside, and I can feel good about myself. This past year has had so much change, and while I still haven't gotten my tattoo, at least my hair deserves an update, something to make me feel attractive and helps me enjoy this new sort of life.
I don't recognize me either. Shirt says: Iowa 2012: Rock out with your caucus out. YES.
What do you guys think?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

When there's snow outside ... well, everyone still plays.

Last Saturday, I went cross-country skiing with a few work mates in the valley of the Seed Savers Exchange property. Jim, the facilities manager, led the way with a backpack full of water, homemade mutton jerky, and high-calorie bread that he had left over from a snow camping trip he had planned. Yes, people go camping in the snow - reaching their destination by cross-country skiing and carrying everything they need to survive on a sled. Awesome?

I was excited enough about cross country skiing. Lucky for me, the local bicycle shop in town rents shoes, poles and skis for only $10 a day - and (to my amazement) trusted that I would return them. They didn't take my credit card information or even want my name. I swear, sometimes I feel like Decorah is some kind of magical fairy tale land.

I'm skiing! With new snow pants, too! They're poofy. 
A friend told me that you have to do cross-country skiing at least six times to learn to love it, and I completely agree. While I only fell twice, I was rather slow and had great difficulty getting any kind of flow going. Steffen attempted to show me how to go fast by 'jogging', but the concept is hard to do when your toes are strapped into a ski and that's not the normal way one jogs. Regardless of jogging, cross-country skiing is actually quite the workout. Afterwards, I felt as if I had been at the beach all day because not only were my legs sore and feeling like jelly, but the sun was shining on my face and the crisp air dried my lungs out a in a similar way. And of course, I was sore for several days afterwards.

These people are crafty.
On Friday night, I went to a bluegrass concernt - and the dancing was further proof that Decorah is some kind of magical abnormality to the Midwest, similar to how Davis exists out of normalcy. As I was enjoying the music, the dance floor quickly filled with high schoolers - all zooming across the dance floor in legit polka style. Apparently in Decorah, high schoolers take dance classes. It took me a few tries to remember polka and I never learned two-step, but you can't imagine how excited I am that not only do people know how to dance out here, but they really like it - and do it often. The very next night there was another dance, though I was too sore from skiing to attend it. And during the summer, there are dances every month - some contra, some not - but dancing. I get to dance ... all.the.time. YES.

I have also begun to develop a healthy love for bluegrass.

Otherwise, I've begun to get ridiculously domestic in the kitchen. I have friends that are more than happy to eat the things I make and there is a table to leave baked goods on to be eaten at work. This is good because it's so much more fun to cook for more than one. I finally got myself the Fanny Farmer Baking book, and made THE BEST chocolate cake out of it yesterday for Steffen's birthday. I love this baking book - I want to make everything out of it. Earlier in the week, I made smitten kitchen's bittersweet-chocolate and pear cake. Tomorrow night, I'll try her buttermilk roasted chicken. I ... I have never enjoyed cooking this much. I should always have people other than myself to cook for.