Friday, December 9, 2011

Maybe I should have stayed in bed

With icicles clinging to my eyelashes, wind seeking out and creeping through the few tiny gaps in my five layers of clothing like some hellish winter weasel squeezing through a hole in a fence, and my hands burning worse than when I get impatient for squash fresh from the oven to cool, I questioned why I even got out of bed this morning. Why the hell would a person who sits under an electric blanket set to high and swaddles herself in sweatshirts and pj pants fuzzy enough to render baby pandas green with envy venture into the great outdoors of Minnesota on a sixteen degree December morning to walk her dog?
As I risked life and limb (well, fingertips at least) taking off a glove to tie a poop bag shut (dog ownership: it's a glamorous life), I had to remind myself that I know the exact reason I get out of bed in the morning, even if some days "getting up" looks more like "extracting my sorry, exhausted, unmotivated ass from the covers at a sloth-like pace of a few centimeters a minute." I may sometimes lose sight of life's everyday joys and my ultimate goals, but God always sneaks in little reminders. As I fumbled my glove back on, I saw a man loading his little old black lab, outfitted in a striped pink sweater, into the car after their early-morning walk in the park. He gently wiped the dirt and ice from each of her paws with a towel, taking great care not to miss a spot or to overextend her creaky, arthritic joints. Just as he would his own human child, he scooped her up in his arms like an overgrown and abnormally hairy infant (this text changed from "big black baby" after I reread it and my brain's filter sounded the "holy crap that is unintentionally but still glaringly racist" alarm) and gently placed her in the passenger's seat. Before closing the door, he lovingly adjusted her colorful little sweater.
That, my friends, is why I get out of bed in the morning.
That is why I endure the cold every day to take Sport for a walk when good sense would dictate holing up under the covers until Spring; why I left home and came 1,500 miles to Minnesota; why I have spent more hours in the anatomy lab than in my house over the past few months. Love like that is why I chose (and continue to choose, each and every day) animal ownership, veterinary medicine, and all the wonderful, challenging, heartbreaking, and heartwarming experiences that entails.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

More life lessons from vet school: genital tract removal and the true nature of strength

You do some weird and borderline occult activities in vet school (and, even more disturbing than the activities themselves, grow to consider them perfectly quotidian). Just this week, I've cut a pony in half (not in the way of "watch in amazement, ladies and gentlemen, as I saw my lovely assistant in half, wave a sheet over her with a grand flourish, and reveal her whole once again!", more like "Move the colon to the left or the saw's going to fling preserved horse shit  all over!"), spent half an hour trying to remove a set of testicles and penis in a single unit (now there's a life skill), extracted teeth (don't worry, the patients didn't feel a thing ... mostly because their heads were no longer attached to their bodies), and discussed phosphorylation and cholesterol carriers over Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps the strangest off all is that I thoroughly enjoyed every reeking, grotesque, macabre, and downright absurd moment.
Just as absurd, yet infinitely less disturbing to those not initiated into the secret joys of the anatomy laboratory, is skyping with one's dogs. I tried video chat for the first time today. I saw my parents face-to-face (well, monitor to monitor) for the first time in months; it made me smile. I saw my dogs for the first time in just as long; Jason looked right at me and wagged his tail at my voice; it made me cry, damn near broke my heart. I could see him, he could hear me, but I couldn't reach out and touch him, and he couldn't understand why.
Over the past few months, as the hole left by my family's absence has gradually widened from a crack in the sidewalk to what at times is a gaping abyss of loneliness, I resolved to stay strong, not to break down, not to take measures to relieve the emotional pangs by begging Mom to come visit or getting a dog of my own. I thought that satisfying my heart's cravings would be weak, that holding out until it became absolutely unbearable was a mark of mental fortitude and strength of character. I used to play this game with physical hunger, seeing how long I could go, feeling like I had beaten some sort of game with every hour that ticked by that I withstood my body's demands. I would say to myself, "It's only a few more hours until the next meal. You'd be weak and pathetic not to survive until then." This time, it wasn't counting down until dinner, but until December, until I would fly home and reunite with everyone, clear-headed and dry-eyed, and impress them all with how stoic I'd been. I've learned that denying one's needs and desires is not strength; it proves only how stubborn you are, not how strong. True strength is admitting when you're hurting, when you need help (help meaning Mom and Dad, more often than not), and not being afraid to let people see you cry. I'm happy to report that I am now secure and confident enough to recognize that needs are not weaknesses, that oftentimes bellies should  be filled before the clock strikes exactly noon, and that sometimes the need for a family member cannot wait until the day of a flight back home. But I couldn't bring my family to me or me to them - what now? Make a new addition to the family. Sport has been occupying my couch, bed, and kitchen floor for two weeks now; he'll be occupying my heart for quite a few years to come.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Jumping the shark

All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players. So what's playing at the St. Paul Theater today? A drama? Comedy? Murder mystery (more common at the Minneapolis Revue, from what I hear)? Lately, my personal storyline has stalled in the equivalent of a long-running sitcom's mid-season rut. My days and weeks are laid out in orderly fashion, each one resembling the last. The challenges of the past months (the season premiere, if you will) seem not so daunting any more. The tide of anxiety and self-doubt is making its exit. However, waiting in the wings to enter stage right lurks a new player, a member of the supporting cast beginning to break into the forefront of the action: loneliness.
Undoubtedly, St. Paul is now my home, and as Dorothy asserted, there's no place like it. However, there's no people like family and no substitute for a much-needed hug every now and again. I may not be homesick, but I am most definitely people-sick (not to mean that I'm sick of people, though that may often be the case, but for people).
As the star of this drama (or maybe director, at moments when I feel a bit more in control of my own destiny), I feel obligated to, like the real stars do, thank those people, my supporting cast, without whom my role in this adventure of a new life and vet school would never have happened. They're the ones who flesh out my story lines when I as a writer can't come up with decent material (it's amazing how entertaining one's parents become when they take up hobbies to alleviate the empty nest syndrome), who toil away behind the scenes to make sure everything is held together, who pray and call and send cards and give love from half a world away. Thank you and God bless you to everyone who helps me keep it together when my hold on my responsibilities, work load, and sanity is tenuous and I feel as if this grand production in which I star is about to "jump the shark."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sink or swim? More like drown or doggie paddle.

Sensing that I was plagued by feelings of incompetence, inadequacy, and unprepardeness and believing myself totally unqualified and incapable of doing my job at the lab, my supervisor attempted to reassure me that everything would be fine, even after the fiasco that was my first solo shift. She said, "You know more than you think you do." Fortunately for me (and for the patients whose blood I analyzed), this actually proved true. I would go to sit at the microscope, petrified, as everything I once knew about how a lymphocyte differs from a monocyte fled my panicked brain. However, as I scanned the slides, I knew exactly what I was looking at. The clicks from the counting machine ticked off like rounds from a machine gun: seg seg mono lymph seg seg nRBC and Ooh! toxic neutrophil! Since that disastrous first night, my confidence has grown. I still question my results all the time, but in a productive way, rather than in an oh-my-God-I-inevitably-fail-at-life-in-every-manner way.
The danger in taking solace in the "knowing more than you think you do" adage comes when you start thinking you know more than you do. But how to tell into which category a situation falls? Perhaps the only way to find out is to dive in and see what happens. But what about when the water is teeming with flesh-eating piranha and infested with toxic fungi? When the stakes are high, as they almost always will be as a veterinarian, I historically err on the side of caution (not so much caution as intense self-doubt and reliance on help from others). I'm quickly discovering that this approach won't be feasible much longer; as a real live doctor, I'll essentially be pushed off a cliff into that treacherous water and will either be devoured by swarms of carnivorous little fish or doggie paddle and flounder about, keeping my head just above water, long enough to reach the shore alive. The biggest part of my mind (because it gets the most exercise) tells me that I'm not up to the challenges that await me in the latter years of vet school and in practice beyond, that I'm incapable of thinking on the fly, being solely responsible for preserving the life of living creatures, and working longer, harder, and smarter than I've ever had to before. The little portion of gray matter I reserve for optimism has to chime in and say, "Look what you did to get to this point. Look what you've done since that you've arrived. Weren't you thinking the same thing about the obstacles you've already conquered?"
In the past year, I've worked harder than I wanted to (and thought I was capable of), ventured miles outside my comfort zone (1500, from New Hampshire to Minnesota, to be precise), suffered through uncomfortable situations (some even more unpleasant than my currently 61 degree house), slept less than any human being should (I sleep so poorly and am so utterly exhausted at this point that when I wake up in the wee hours of the morning, I just start sobbing for the loss of sleep I know I'll never find again), and forced myself to exchange old habits (slovenliness, laziness, self-doubt, passiveness, and self-centeredness) for ones that will be requisite in tackling the myriad of daunting tasks that await me in the coming years.
I know more than I think I do. But is it enough? As I venture further into my chosen career path, most of what I encounter will be unknown, and I will be expected to not only face it, but understand it alone. I know more than I think I do, but can I do more than I know? I guess the only way to find out is to press on, to forge ahead, to find the strength, motivation, and sleep (the most doubtful of all) to keep swimming for the shore, even when challenges, doubts, and fears gnaw at my willpower like millions of tiny, needle-sharp piranha teeth sinking into my toes (oh wait, that's just the kittens going through a foot-biting phase).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Scatterbrained and wanting to scatter my brains on the pavement

With anatomy and biochemistry exams looming in the not-nearly-distant-enough future, I of course was struck by an irresistable urge to divert my attention from memorizing nerve plexuses and examining embalmed canines to the more enjoyable task of providing my adoring public (all three of you) with a blog update. Unfortunately, the formalin fumes from the lab have left me with few brain cells and the many hours of studying (two counts as plural) have destroyed the capacity of those few brave survivors to piece together a coherent series of thoughts. Therefore, this entry is as disjointed as the limbs we removed from our cadavers the very first week of lab, but infinitely less icky and I hope at least slightly more enjoyable.

Days always end better when you kick them off with a smile. Things that made my mornings this week:
A man riding a unicycle, not in a "practicing for the circus" or "obscure hobby that makes his nephews giggle" way, but in a "serious cardio training, full bike-shorts and racing gear" way.
A woman jogging hard and fast with her dog ... her dachshund, that is.
An upward kitten face as I attempted a downward dog (yoga with kittens present - don't try it at home).

We made it to October 21 without getting below freezing here in St. Paul ... outside, at least. My house is another story, seeing as I have Ebeneezer Scrooge for a roommate. The following is a dramatic reenactment portrayed by trained actors:

"Sir, may we throw another log on the fire please?"
"NO! And just for asking, I'm canceling Christmas!"

As a future veterinarian, I will have to be resourceful and creative in problem-solving, so I figured I would put my ingenuity to the test. How could I keep warm without getting the cold shoulder from the miser in charge of the thermostat? I devised a few clever solutions:

After showering and blowdrying my hair, blowdry the rest of me.
Roasted vegetables every night. The bigger the veggie the better. A 10 lb squash takes an hour to bake at 400 degrees, raising the temperature of the house from the level of Satan's bedroom in the seventh circle of hell to that of the women's restroom in purgatory.
Kitten pile!!!

Seeing as I have little time remaining and even less brain power, I should probably devote both to my studies ... or to perusing pictures of lolcats online (I can at least pretend to know which ganglion is receiving nervous input that allows them to make funny faces, right? That counts as productive. I can hear you judging me through the computer, and yes, I am a horrible slacker, as indicated by the length of this final parenthetical insertion, at the end of which I will be forced to return to actual work, which is why this sentence has continued this long and may go on for quite some time; it all depends how creative I can get with punctuation, a particular specialty of mine). But alas, the clock has barked ten (why would a vet student have a clock that strikes? a barking dog clock is much more fun), and my procrastination and this entry, much like my days as a sane and functional member of society, must come to an end.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

You might be a vet student and wisdom from Billy Joel

You might be a vet student if ...

You give directions with anatomical terminology ("My house is just caudal to the little grocery store and medial to the blue house on the corner.")
The 3 o'clock hungries hit in the middle of anatomy lab and the thought of food still seems appealing.
The smell of formalin clings to you like a fine Parisian perfume.
You start rationing clean underwear because you know you won't have time for laundry until exams are over.
Your keyboard is encrusted with various food residues from joint dinner-study sessions.
Home is nothing but a place with a mattress where you spend a couple hours a night (and maybe occasionally find the time to shower).

On a more serious note, my first night working in the lab at the veterinary hospital was last night. Basically, everything that could have gone wrong did, but I was anticipating disaster. What I did not foresee was my hands shaking and my knees going weak as I tried to distinguish good red blood cell clumping from bad clumping. Anyone with animal pathology experience knows that's no simple task when the blood in question belongs to a horse, whose blood normally clumps. No big deal, right? Except for the fact that this test determines which blood donor is compatible with the patient. If an incompatible donor is used, the patient's body will attack the blood, and it will essentially coagulate in its veins, resulting in almost certain misery and death. No pressure, Megan. I stared into the scope, looking at each of the thousands of tiny cells on the slide, thinking, "I can't do this. Who the hell expects me to make a judgment call that could kill an animal?" I paused for a second, realizing that I do, and so will the owners of every patient I treat for the rest of my life. This would not be an isolated incident - this was just a foretaste of more to come. I chose this profession, this pressure, this responsibility.
What an idiot.
I got through the test and the rest of the night (and several more disasters) without crying. In the morning, I felt great. I woke up feeling confident and proud that I pushed myself through what seemed like an impossible task (and very glad that I hadn't gotten called in for any stat samples in the middle of the night). Then I opened my e-mail: I had been called in, but apparently didn't pick up. Another tech had to cover for my pathetic ass. Frantically, I checked my phone for missed calls and voicemails. Nothing. I thought back over the entire night, how the anxiety that I would miss a call had plagued my brain and chased away all hope of any rest or sound sleep. Almost every hour, I had turned over and checked my phone - no missed calls, full reception, volume on high - in anticipation of having to leap from slumber and go to work. But nothing came.
So I sobbed for a while, felt like a failure, panicked at what other people would think of the new girl who royally screwed everything on just her first night. Sleep-deprived (from 6 exams in 10 days and 1 more to take online this weekend), emotionally wrought, disappointed in myself, befuddled as to what had happened, and all at once overwhelmed by all the feelings that had been pushed aside in favor of the trapezius muscles, embryonic coelom formation, mucous-secreting epithelial cells, and clumpy horse blood, I broke down and wanted nothing more than my Mom and Dad. I tried to sleep, without much luck, crying into my pillow as six kittens licked my salty face and chewed at my toes.
My ipod's shuffle function must have known just what I needed, because it played the one song that seems to pop up at these moments which is surprisingly inspirational and so true to life: Billy's Joel's "You're Only Human." Listen to the lyrics, and you'll see what I mean. Bright sunshine, a call about people interested in adopting some of the kittens, a trip to the farmer's market, and another 20 pounds of gorgeous squash later, and I felt better. Don't forget your second wind, wait in your corner until that breeze blows in ...
My e-mail held another welcome sight - an explanation for the telephone mishap. They had the correct number, my cell phone had full reception, and they got through just fine ... to my parents' house in New Hampshire. Don't ask me how or why they got that number. In retrospect, it might be a good thing someone else had to cover for me. I don't think I would have had the mental capacity to make any more judgment calls last night (or early this morning). So, as much as I hate to admit it, the old cliche may hold true after all: it all works out in the end (unless more unpleasant surprises await me - like finding out on Monday that I was wrong in my results).
Since this is one of those "serious, self-discovery" posts, I should probably wrap up with a significant and poignant observation about what this experience taught me, like a high school reflection paper. Here's what I learned: in my mini (truth be told, it was major) breakdown this morning, I kept thinking about how I could get out of this job, plead incompetence and inability to free myself from the stress and anxiety and responsibility. Then I realized I didn't really want that. As a vet, I'm going to have stress, anxiety, and responsibility, and I'm not going to shirk any of that. I decided to embrace it, to learn from it, and never to forget my second wind.

Friday, September 23, 2011

1000 Delicious Ways to Die

Believe it or not, I am still alive, but just barely. Vet school has tried its hardest to remedy that situation, but without success. In the past three weeks, I've poked and prodded annoyed horses, stuck my hand in an angry cow's mouth, been stepped on by an animal weighing more than half a ton, been exposed to what are most assuredly non-OSHA approved levels of formalin and noxious fumes from over 30 dead animals in a single room for hours on end, and been chronically deprived of sleep. How is it that I overcame all those challenges intact, yet almost met my demise at the hands (or stem, as it may be) of a squash? Not even once, but twice!
While dirt cheap, easy to cook, nutritious, and far too delicious for its own good, squash, I posit, poses serious hazards to one's personal safety. While cutting into an acorn squash several days ago, the stem popped off, sending the vicious teeth of the saw (yes, I was using a jigsaw to cut open vegetables. I probably should have seen this coming) into an innocent bystander (ie: my finger). For such a tiny cut, I felt like a total pansy for being in so much pain for a good 24 hours (the pain has stopped now, but it's still bleeding here and there). Come to think of it, I should have felt ridiculous for using woodcutting tools on produce, but in my defense, those buggers are hard to get into and I was really hungry at the time. As I was slicing my cadaver in anatomy lab (with more appropriate tools), my hand cramped up, and all I could think of was, "Oh God, when was my last tetanus shot? I'm going to die because of squash!"
In all honesty, if I had to choose a way to go, death by squash doesn't sound too bad. As long as I got to eat it first, it would totally be worth it. How does that old poem go? "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country, but delicious to die for one's dinner." (That last part may or may not be a personal addendum.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A surprisingly expected and unexpectedly surprising week

I always expect that people will surprise me, which  makes it sort of a self non-fulfilling prophecy because an anticipated surprise is no surprise at all. This week has seen far more than its fair share of surprises. Take today, for instance. This afternoon, I peered out the window to see what jerk was blaring tasteless rap as he drove by (purposefully slowly just to piss me off, I think). What did I see but a '99 Chrysler minivan rolling down the street, rusty body pulsating and rattling with every beat of its souped-up subwoofer. Later, walking out of church, I couldn't help but chuckle at the tackiest hat I've ever seen: a black trucker hat with red and orange flames emblazoned all over it ... worn by an 87-year-old woman with a walker.
As I speak (well, type), six little surprises are running across the keyboard, thwarting my efforts. When I applied with a local rescue to foster a cat (a being the operative article), I was waiting for some elderly feline citizen to grace my couch with its presence for a few months. Surprise! I got an entire litter of kittens. Like a box of kids' cereal, these little guys had a prize inside: coccidia. For those not in the veterinary field, that basically means that my life at home for the next week to twelve days will be defined by two unique sensory experiences: diarrhea and bleach.
My life at veterinary school so far can also be characterized by poo (which I fear will remain a theme not only for the next few weeks but for the foreseeable future in my chosen career path); the first few weeks are cows, horses, and everything that comes out (and gets all over) them.3333333333333333333333`-==========09999999999
I almost deleted that last line, but Marjoram worked so hard on it. She let out a very proud purr as she tiptoed across the keyboard.
With all the surprises this past week, the only source from whom I did not anticipate the unexpected (which is the definition of unexpected, come to think of it) was myself. Prepared for exotic experiences and unforseen circumstances with my foster babies and school, I55555tr (Marjoram again) I didn't even consider how I would have to change to meet these novel challenges. I've never even owned a cat before, now I have six. And, as of 3 am this morning, those six are spewing bodily fluids out both ends. What to do? I've been in school before, but never in a course of study that requires 6776(kind of getting annoying, but still cute enough to leave in) the kind of intense study, dedication, commitment, and lifestyle changes that vet school demands. How would I handle it? Had I stopped to think, I probably would have concluded that I would fail miserably and should capitulate now. I should give in to the urges that overwhelm me in my quiet moments: pack up my things, hop on a plane, and retreat back from this intimidating (yet thrilling, fascinating, and promising) new world to my familiar home, family, and dogs (for whom cats, even six impossibly adorable little ones, are a poor substitute).
Thank God I didn't stop and think. I just did. With every challenge presented to me, I put my head down, put my nose to the grindstone, and got the job done. =-e-----[[[[ (Coriander this time, now gnawing on the corner of my laptop) Sometimes I got it wrong (no matter how I jerry-rigged the many kitty enclosures I constructed, the little buggers managed to escape, and no matter what I did, Bessie the cow just would not let me examine her mouth adequately), but sometimes I got it right. Overwhelmed by responsibilities - studying, going to class early and staying late, confining, caring for, and cleaning up after kittens - I could have just shut down and conceded defeat, abandoning my commitments like I've done so many times in the past. (Marjoram managed to traverse the keyboard without stepping on a single key - she's an evil acrobatic genius, I tell you) And yet, I didn't. Something is different now. It seems like a neon sign suddenly lit up over my head that said "Adult" with a giant fluorescent arrow pointing straight at me. I got it right when I didn't let go of that damned cow's head and wrestled with her until I won. I got it right when I sprung out of bed every hour from 3 am onward this morning to check on the kittens as they horked up their kibbles 'n' bits, when I sat with them for hours auscultating hearts, assessing hydration status, taking heart and respiration rates, and cleaning noxious bodily fluids from my bathroom floor. I know I got it right when I chose this life for myself because in every such instance, the consistent (and sole coherent) thought in my head is, Damn I love this.
Looking back on this week, I've surprised myself with my diligence in keeping commitments, so unlike how I have historically. A few months ago, I never would have gotten up at 5 am every morning so that I would have time to sit with kittens, clean up, and get tho class early, especially after staying up until 1 am every morning putting the house in good order, re-duct taping the kitty prison after numerous jailbreaks, and over-studying for an anatomy quiz. So what's changed? What made that adult sign appear? In the pre-dawn gloaming, I sat in my pjs, bleary-eyed and groggy, on a bathroom floor spattered with kitty litter and diarrhea residue, my stethoscope around my neck, taking the pulses of some very sick kittens, another neon sign flickered to life. Three shining iridescent letters lit up the dim pre-dawn room, the ones that mean more to me than any others in the world and that now define who I am, what I do, and why I do it: VET.
The spiels they gave at orientation - that we're members of the profession now, part of the veterinary community - were true. I've run myself ragged upholding my commitments this past week because my actions bear new significance. It may be another four years before I get the next significant three letters (DVM), but moments like this morning have made it abundantly clear that I have accepted the responsibilities, privileges, frustrations, joys, and pains in the ass (stop chewing on my power cord!!! no, don't claw the couch, dammit! Gah! that was my toe!) of a veterinarian. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~################5666666\\ (Speaking of pains in the ass)
I love the role I've chosen, so it should have come as no surprise that I will do whatever it takes, no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable or out of my comfort zone, to live up to it and be worthy of those three magical letters that have already begun to set the course of not only my future, but of each and every exhausting, smelly, squishy, pre-dawn, and post-midnight moment.
A real-time image of this blog entry

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Still here

It's 9:22 and here I am waiting for my now stand-by dinner of roasted eggplant and heirloom tomatoes to cook. What better way to pass the time than to break my blogging fast (well, besides doing something productive)? Here's a quick recap of the past two weeks:
I saw lions and tigers and bears.
I ate stinky cheese at a very hoity toity restaurant.
I went to the Minnesota State Fair. I still don't get what all the fuss is about. I must still be a New Englander at heart and not yet fully integrated with my new home.
I rolled on the floor laughing (the best way to deflate an air mattress, the rolling that is. The laughter is an unintended side effect).
I went to camp with my new classmates, all 100 of them (four other Megans among them). Best soundbite from the two day excursion: I milked his trunk. No context is needed nor will any be provided. What happens at camp stays at camp (unless it's a venereal disease).
I bought a windows laptop just so I wouldn't have to infect my beautiful mac (risking personal safety in the process - you never know about people on craigslist).
I ate eggplant and corn almost every single day.
Speaking of eggplant, my supper is calling. My usual in-depth reflection and deep insights about the nature of life and the human spirit will follow in the next few days. I know you'll be waiting with baited breath, hitting the refresh button on your browser like the snooze on a particularly vicious Monday morning.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Joy, for no reason whatsoever

I have come to the conclusion that Saturday mornings are best begun by rising with the sun and setting out to the farmer's market at 6:30 am while the choice produce is still there and the cute guy at the corn stand is feeling flirty. Even on only a few hours of sleep, this weekly ritual kindles a spark in my spirit and lights a fire under my feet, and by the time I shove my 17 pounds of veggies in the fridge (careful not to abut it to the resident dog's diet of raw meat and chicken livers in yogurt containers and giant cellophane tubes), I'm itching for a good run.
Feeling elated for no reason at all (which is the best reason to be in such a state) and with perfectly cool early morning weather, I smiled the entire way around Como Lake. I smiled at almost every person I passed, even though it came out more like a grimace during the last half mile and my face was a curious shade of purple resembling the heirloom tomatoes I bought earlier. And you know what? People smiled back. Which made me smile more. Then people started to avert their eyes because I looked somewhat manic, especially as I struggled resist the urge to throw my arms out to the side and spin in circles for the sheer joy of it.
Today is wonderful. Today is beautiful. Today is full of joy for no reason whatsoever. Or it could be that my eggplant French toast is looking like it will succeed against all odds, but let's go with the former; it sounds more inspirational.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The perks of being an obscure parker

My friend Andrew once deemed me an "obscure parker" after I chose an out-of-the-way parking spot in the lot of a Chinese restaurant. A dirth of parking skills accompanies my absence of navigational sense, so I naturally (and often by necessity) choose spaces far away from other vehicles and foot traffic (so fewer people will witness my car being as crooked as a Congressman). Since I couldn't parallel park or even back into a space if the life of my first-born was at stake (the plot of Nicholas Cage's next movie, by the way), I often find myself driving further and further away from my destination in search of a suitable and safe haven for my vehicle.
Most people will circle their target location like vultures around carrion, waiting and watching for a space as close as possible. Why? So they don't have to walk another few hundred feet? I'll let you in on a secret: the unexpected things you discover walking from obscure parking spots are often better than the destination.
Today being my twenty-second birthday, I decided to finally do some touristy St. Paul sight-seeing. Going to the Como Zoo and Conservatory during school break, when summer camps and family day trips are in full swing, was a poor life decision. However, the lack of a single parking space within almost a mile proved to be the most providential happening of the day. After chancing to discover a remote and thoroughly obscure little parking lot (belonging to the streetcar museum, of all places), I ambled through almost a mile of wide, empty green fields (the soccer camp kids had yet to arrive at that point), and along paths shaded by trees with graceful arching branches and lined by park benches, soaking in the sights and the sun. Under a stone bridge overpass, I found a message that seemed to be from the world to me.
Since I know you don't want to hear about the incredible felafel and hummus (if you're in St. Paul, Black Sea is a must for good Turkish food), salted caramel ice cream from Izzy's, or peanut butter pie I made with stale chickpeas and a barely solid banana, I'll leave you with scenes from my more photogenic birthday endeavors.

Ok, so this wasn't from today. A view of St. Paul from the steps of the cathedral

The conservatory

Yes, you may use this as your new desktop image

This puffin was giving me major side-eye.

A 300 year old tree? It must be enormous!

Under 2 feet tall. Well, that's disappointing. I don't feel so bad about what I've accomplished in 22 years now.

Ferns displayed like hunting trophies. They even kind of looked like moose.

Another sight on my walk back to my car

And yet one more benefit of obscure parking

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Imminent Disaster

A big, life-altering mistake is in my future. It must be. It has to be. With all the important big-girl decisions I'm making and options presented to me and more to come in the following months, the odds are in favor of at least one catastrophe. With this ominous storm cloud of foreboding looming above my head, every choice I encounter, every minute fork in the road of daily life, begs the question: is this it? Is this the disaster that has grown tired of waiting to happen? As a result, my waffling over even the most trifling matters (I have been known to stand in the salad dressing aisle of the supermarket for well over twenty minutes at a time, picking up and putting back the same bottle more times than the kid in the cereal aisle is told by his mother to take the Lucky Charms out of the cart and NO you cannot get another bag of cookies) has escalated to unbearable levels. I'm so waffle-y that I might as well bathe in maple syrup (a tasty, yet rather messy proposition) or open a breakfast joint (or maybe just squeeze myself in a hot iron).

Utterly paralyzed by my inability to settle on a final verdict on anything and everything these days, I'm left wondering: is whatever dire or not-so-dire consequence that may arise from a wrong choice as deleterious to my wellbeing as the anxiety of trying to prevent it? Maybe I should just let go, trust my instincts, and listen to the quiet little voice inside of me. Problem is, these days even my inner voice seems to change its mind from one moment to the next. So the question remains: is this a crisis of identity, not knowing how exactly I want to shape my life and myself by the choices I make (or refuse to make for fear of a wrong turn leading down a back alley to a dumpster full of doom) or a crisis of confidence, an inability to trust myself, that I know what I should do and what I want and what is ultimately best?

In other news, my existential crisis has lead to a flourishing of culinary creativity. It seems vegetables and seasonings are the only mediums with which I feel free to let my instincts take over work these days, rather than with blood and serum, patient numbers and test codes, life choices and salad dressing selections.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Vegetable Matters

The Food Network has announced the newest addition to its fall lineup, a sitcom about a mixed family whose members (anthropomorphic foodstuffs) seem to have no common ground and opposite tastes, but who, when the heat is on, come together in quirky, unlikely harmony. Working title: Vegetable Matters.

The pilot episode would be something like last night's dinner, wherein a pantry full of a diversity of vegetables tiptoeing across the line of fitness for human consumption was the only food left at the end of the week. The central conflict: chuck the half-moldy ears of corn, soft potatoes, age-spotted cauliflower, shriveled squash, and the dregs of a carton of vegetable broth and order pizza from the rather dubious-looking shack down the road or find some way to make these disparate characters sort out their flavor profile differences and cooperate in order to happily cohabitate (in my stomach). Plot development would proceed as follows with my recipe brainstorming: well, I could make - no, that would never work. Instead, I might - no, it's too old and would taste terrible. Possibly ... no, I don't have any of other ingredients I need. The resolution: soup. The sad state of the vegetables and completely clashing possibilities of their favor profiles left me with only one option, and that was to chop it all up, put it in a pot, boil the crap out of it, and hope for the best. The plot twist: using roasted and pureed cauliflower as a thickening agent (I honestly almost laughed in utter amazement and disbelief when this worked). In the end, the members of this family stew came together and resolved their differences, much to my tummy's delight (it won't be so delighted in a few weeks when I'm still eating the leftovers; there was literally over five pounds of this soup, which is now housed in several quart-sized yogurt containers in the freezer).

In tonight's dinner, the role of Urkel was played by some lovely little eggplants that caught my wandering eye at the farmer's market. They were the sole reason for this dish and the undeniable star, just as we all know that Urkel was the only reason anyone watched Family Matters. Awkward to work with and comical in appearance, I could well imagine my long, skinny, curved Italian eggplants in miniature pairs of suspenders and thick-rimmed glasses. What I could not imagine was what to do with them. In my encyclopedia of bookmarked recipes (more like a graveyard these days, where countless I'll-try-this-later's go to die), I stumbled upon the seed of what would grow into my very eclectic supper: linguine with creamy roasted eggplant sauce. A quick look at the ingredients told me I was missing everything except eggplant and garlic. No matter, because everything is possible with a fridge full of veggies (fresh from the farmer's market today). What did I end up with after some creative finagling and substitutions of which Better Homes and Gardens would never approve? Summer squash ribbons with caramelized sweet onion in a roasted eggplant garlic cream sauce. Oh, and it was Asian-flavored. Don't quite know how that happened. As I sat devouring my concoction (which was quite uniquely delicious, with a marked emphasis on unique), I wondered what significance I could attach to this or how I could relate it to my current life experiences to present it to you. Then I realized that it was just a bowl of squash noodles, nothing more, nothing less. Delicious, nutritious, but no significance.

So there you have it, an account of my supper instead of an update on my new life's progress or reflections on personal identity. Because let's face it, life isn't a sitcom (even if my food is), and not every day ends with a group hug, collective "aww" from a studio audience, and a life lesson. Most of the time, it's just filled with vegetable matter.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Leftovers and life lessons

People today exhibit an unfortunate tendency (due, in large part, to Lifetime movies and poorly-written fiction) to find life lessons in experiences that really teach us nothing, or worse, the wrong things. Even I find myself stretching my creative limits to find ways to attach significance to daily events. Not every story has a moral. Today's dinner was one such story.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you bland, unappealing leftover cauliflower (Greek-style tomato braised scented with cinnamon, in theory at least), make ... hummus? That's right; this plate of food so perplexed me as to what could possibly be done to transform it that I employed the only method that can be applied in nearly any problematic foods: pulverize the hell out of it with the food processor, whisper a quick prayer, and see what happens. Had my evening been broadcast on the Hallmark network, with the role of Megan played by Lindsay Lohan (it's the only work she can get these days) and the cauliflower by Robert Pattinson (because they have about the same amount of personality), the poignant summarizing voice-over at the end would have gone something like this: "I realized that, with a little creativity and a lot of perseverance, if I truly believe in my abilities, I can fix anything. I started out with nothing - a giant bowlful of mostly tasteless cauliflower. I followed my instincts without second guessing myself and, after trying the food processor, then cottage cheese, then oregano, and finally chickpeas, I accomplished something wonderful: cauliflower hummus. I believed in myself and everything turned out better than I could have hoped for! That's how you should approach all difficulties in life: with a mind open to all possibilities and confidence that your instincts will guide you to success."
Now, if we took this little life lesson to heart, we'd not only be incredibly puerile and naive, but royally screwed. Your gut instincts to throw this-and-that at a problem in the blind hope that it may turn out may not be so risky when vegetables are all that's at stake, but I'm not willing to risk anything more significant than what would otherwise be fodder for the compost heap; I've learned too many other life lessons from times this approach has failed spectacularly (cashew-cheese sauce, I'm lookin' at you). The danger of the Disney movie moral-of-the-story approach to learning little life lessons from  inspirational experiences is that the outcome most often is a fluke. The vast majority of the time, believing in oneself uncritically and acting on instinct instead of careful thought yields catastrophic (and occasionally hilarious) results. Never forget that most tales, if true, are cautionary rather than uplifting.
So whence should our life lessons come? Consider more serious situations, where more complex variables and more important outcomes ride on your choices. For example, if I did not utterly lack a single modicum of self-confidence and continually deride all my efforts, I would not compulsively second-guess myself and triple-check every letter and number of every reagent and patient sample upon which I lay my incapable hand at work. Just today, believing in myself and having warm fuzzy feelings would have meant a serious malfunction in an analyzer that cost more than Maria Shriver's alimony payments (you know she's going for the jugular in the settlement) and a test being run on the wrong animal (which, knowing my luck, would have mixed up the results from a healthy young puppy and a geriatric cat who was hit by a truck hauling leaky barrels of toxic waste, causing the shocked owners to put poor, sweet baby Sprinkles out of her misery before she started suffering as badly as her blood results showed she would soon be and Crusty the cat going home to die in agony, but not before biting several technicians and his owner - because he's a bastard like that). Luckily for Sprinkles, I always assume I've made a hideous error that will cause the world to come crashing down on my incompetent head, so I catch them when it's only sprinkling doom instead of raining down. So, what did I learn today? Which experience will stick with me and guide my future decisions? I ask you, which seems more realistic? The lesson for today surely is to doubt the quality of your work, constantly berate yourself for your mistakes, and compulsively check to ensure you don't make any more. Because let's face it, tonight was an anomaly; 99 times out of 100, cauliflower hummus just will not end well.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

In a funk

For once, I have nothing witty, sarcastic, insightful, or even vaguely amusing to say. Two weeks worth of 7 am shifts, unbearable humidity, and severe stomach cramps have left me not so much hot and bothered (which is actually quite a fun state to be in, no?) so much as sweaty and mal a l'aise. Thank heaven for mid-week days off once in a while (and late afternoon naps).
In an attempt take my mind off the heat, perhaps I should reflect on the coolness of the past two weeks. The last time I started a new job (over four years ago, really?!), I was timid, nervous, and withdrawn. Ah, how times have changed.  Practicing my newfound technique of self-deceit and false confidence, I approached my new position as student lab tech with gusto, smiling and chatting and pretending not to be overwhelmed. I thought working in the lab at the veterinary medical center would be dry and cold, as opposed to working in the front of the hospital where you get slobbery, hairy, and hot (and love every minute of it). I thought I would hate it. Thank God I thought wrong (it does happen, on rare occasion). Though one or two of my coworkers may be a little chilly (maybe it's just the air conditioning), everyone's personalities are starting to reveal themselves the longer I'm there. It's quite a cast of characters - I may or may not have cast a sitcom in my mind. Repetitive to no end, the work follows a regular routine of preparing and running samples over and over again. As a creature of habit, happy to wallow in monotony like a beetle in a dung heap, I find myself quite content and suited to lab work. In two weeks, I've learned more about blood than I did that time I watched the Miracle of Life video at the Museum of Science (the horror. THE HORROR). Sometimes they even let me play with cerebrospinal fluid! You know you've chosen the right area of study (a little late to be unsure of wanting to be a vet now, though, isn't it?) when, after sitting through over three hours of online lectures about red blood cell anomalies, find yourself wanting to get some popcorn and settle in for the next episode. So I started the summer in the familiar milieu of the front of the house, so to speak, the business end of an animal hospital - messy, hectic, full of new people, pets, and peril (I'm looking at you, cats who need to be handled with hawk gloves) - and am finishing it behind the scenes - cool, ordered, sterile (until someone splatters the vial of monkey urine and we have to summon the hazmat team), and routine. To my pleasant surprise, I still feel right at home. Maybe I am cut out to be a doctor after all (did I mention my stethoscope came in the mail yesterday?) ...

What kind of ass leads with "I have nothing to say" then proceeds to run their mouth (or keyboard, as it may be) for that long? About a subject no one but their mom and aunts (yes, I see you all out there) care about? As an apology, let me leave you with some pictures from the past few days - my adventures in St. Paul.
Some ugly food (I could blame it on the terrible lighting in the kitchen, but this one was truly hideous - quinoa quiche with summer squash crust - sounds much more appealing than it appears)
Scenes from the St. Paul farmer's market - huge and completely local

$7.75 buys two heads of lettuce, cauliflower, a gigantic bunch of basil, two bunches of beets (red and golden), a honey-stick, and a yellow zucchini bigger than a body-builder's forearm (the picture really doesn't do it justice)

My ferocious guard dog - striking fear into the heart of no one

... except a pair of my shoes ("Who, me?")

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Proper motivation

For someone who knows exactly where she's going in life, I have absolutely no sense of direction in any literal sense. With GPS navigation stuck on the windshield, an entire book of maps on the seat next to me, and absolutely not a clue in my frazzled brain, I spent much of the past week traversing the inconveniently-named and utterly baffling streets of St. Paul. I have covered every inch of the city, even though I've only intended to go to a select few destinations. Even walking, with every intersection, I find myself doubting, questioning, turning round and round to see if something, anything looks familiar. The walk from the free parking to the building on the U of M campus where I work is about 3/4 mile through a brick and mortar jungle of buildings indistinguishable from one another and streets that twist and turn like an excited toddler dancing to the Wiggles. Needless to say, I leave plenty of time in my morning commute for finding my way to work. However, I may have bought myself a few more winks of sleep in the morning by discovering a remedy to my navigational woes: proper motivation and false confidence. Yesterday, I was determined to get back to my car (no longer a cave, by the way), as quickly as possible, without a single wrong turn. Knowing this was about as likely a scenario as me not polishing off the last cookie sitting in the break room (it was taunting me!), I puffed out my chest, held my head high, and lied to myself. "You can do it!" Most of the time, this fails as miserably as one would expect, but this day was different. There was purpose in my steps, proper motivation: ice cream. The rapidly melting pint in my bag, quickly liquidizing in the 103 degree Minnesota heat (an unlikely phrase, no?) propelled me onward to my destination with determination. At every intersection, an almost supernatural force guided my steering wheel in the direction of home and a safe haven in the freezer, quashing the panicky "which-way-do-I-go-oh-no-I'm-going-the-wrong-direction-have-I-seen-this-house-before-I-don't-think-so-but-maybe-I-have-crap!-stop-sign" that threatened to spring from my heat-scrambled brain (sizzling in my skull like eggs in a skillet).
Today, I accomplished this feat without the aid of any sweet dairy requiring rescue. My GPS remained in the off position the entire time, yet my brain stayed on and got me to and from work without so much as a second-guess at the oddly laid out intersection with the wooden bear lawn ornament on the corner (he waves at me every morning). Lo and behold, my false confidence had taken hold and become real.
Lest this story become too inspirational and uplifting, let me conclude with two thoughts. The moral of the story is not to believe in oneself, but to lie to oneself and always have a bribe (preferably food) ready when proper motivation is needed. Secondly, the ice cream sucked. There, no one will leave here feeling warm and fuzzy like last time. My work here is done.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Traditiooooooon! (please tell me you've seen Fiddler on the Roof)

When you move out from under your parents' roof, you have to get your own stuff, and there's a lot of it. When you start stocking your home and life from scratch, you realize just how much crap you use over the course of a day, a week, a month: toilet paper, bed linens, furniture, USB cables, salt and pepper shakers, plastic straws, batteries, a screwdriver (which can incidentally be used to jab into your eye when you realize how fast the total bill is piling up). Every time you go to do something routine, you realize you need another odd and/or end for the task that you took for granted before. Want to clip that horrible hangnail on your big toe? Sorry, no toenail clippers; you'll just have to suffer every time you move your foot and your sock catches on that damned little sliver and threatens to rip out the rest of the nail.

Not only am I discovering how to stock my home by getting my own stuff, I am realizing the necessity of getting my own identity. Before, I was an Independent because Mom and Dad were Independents. I bought Angel Soft toilet paper because they always had. I never questioned washing dishes with a cloth instead of a sponge because that's just the way it's always been done. Now I'm free to choose how I want to do things, even as mundane as folding towels in thirds instead of half, what I value, and what I want to be. Or am I?

Even though I am under no obligation to do anything like my parents or continue in their time-honored traditions in even trivial daily tasks, I find myself unnaturally attached to all the little quirks of my family. Now, every time I do something that I now realize (courtesy of my roommate) that not everyone in the world does (only my family, surprise surprise), I feel connected to them, even from 1500 miles away.

Traditions, whether major or trivial, significant or quotidian, link all humans, bridging vast distances in time and space to hold us together on a scale as grand as a species and as intimate as a family. Today I discovered the importance of tradition in not only connecting people but in defining an individual. After not having attended Mass regularly in four years, I had the undeniable urge, an irresistible tugging on the strings of my heart, to go to Church. For the first half of Mass, I thought it was only a desire to deepen my relationship with God, now that He is really the only friend I have available to me in any proximity. However, as I recited the Our Father, my mind's eye saw Mom and Dad in a pew halfway across the country doing the exact same thing, as well as Memere and Pepere, my aunts and uncles, and so many others I care about. My religious identity is no longer just about God, but about my family and our identity, our traditions. My heart steered me towards the nearest church on my very first Sunday alone not just because of religious desire, but also because I knew Mom would be proud, because it's what I was brought up to do, because it's what Thibodeaus have been doing for centuries, and because I honestly want it to be part of who I am. I can't let my parents' actions and preferences define me anymore, but more and more that seems to mean freely choosing them for myself. I am no longer Catholic because my parents are, but because I am, by my own volition.

In one hour on a Sunday morning, I learned things about myself that I had not been able to pin down in almost twenty-two years; this morning, I began in earnest to define my identity as an independent individual, which, ironically, is inexorably tied up in and depends upon the traditions and values instilled in her by others. I can only hope to make my family proud by continuing on in the traditions of love, faith, and our unique brand of insanity that define who we are and the person I am (all too suddenly) becoming.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ugly food (or: My racist dinner)

As an avid food blog enthusiast, I always took for granted the gorgeous pictures and food styling. Not until I tried to photograph my own eats did I realize the skill and finesse required to make food look attractive. Or it could be that my food resembles, to borrow a phrase from my former piano teacher, a dog's breakfast. I never really paid attention to the aesthetics of my meals before starting this blog, but tonight as I looked down at my bowl, deciding how best to capture the essence of my dinner on film, it struck me just how ugly it was. U G L Y, it ain't got no alibi, it's ugly.

This line of thinking begs the question: in the world of home cooking, do looks really matter (the reading voice in my head suddenly morphed into Sarah Jessica Parker. That last sentence sounds like a voiceover of the culinary equivalent of Sex and the City)? Personally, if I've made something for myself, I know exactly what's in it, so my expectations of taste have nothing to do with what I see on the plate. However, if someone else serves me a dish, the only clues to its quality other than aroma are visual, making presentation much more important to the enjoyment of the meal. Add this to the list of reasons I love cooking for one (I do indeed have an ever-growing list because that way I can convince myself it's fun rather than a sad state of affairs that will likely mark the rest of my life as a spinster in a house full of hamsters): if no one else has to eat it, I don't have to make it pretty. This still doesn't displace the current #1: you get to lick the spoon.
I did take pictures of my dinner, but for the sake of my ego and to give this recipe full credit (its looks and my dismal photography skills truly don't do justice to it), I will keep them in my little vault of shame (if I can find any spare room. Perhaps they can squeeze between a second-grade encounter with a draconian lunch lady and my lust for Kiefer Sutherland).

Saint Paul was a sauna today; the air felt as wet as the flash-flooded streets from last night's storm. When I got home from a shopping expedition that took far longer than expected due to a non-functional GPS and lack of any sense of direction on my part, my hot and frustrated self did not feel like cooking anything for dinner at 8:15 at night. Since I'm too cheap to buy anything other than vegetables and basic foodstuffs now that I have to foot my own grocery bill (it's been veggiemess for lunch and dinner every night so far), I had to improvise. I had fresh corn and a can of black beans on hand, as well as a lime (which I bought for $.40 instead of a $.79 lemon). I decided to put on a sombrero and go to Mexico. Problem was that corn and beans do not a meal make, so I pulled out my oldest trick: adding a can of tuna. Voila, Fiesta Tuna. It may be slightly racist, but in my opinion, you can make any meal with vaguely Latino ingredients more exciting and appealing by putting Fiesta in front of it; it makes it sound like the newest special at Applebees (or the Taco Bell value menu if it turns out poorly).

Whenever I try in earnest to measure what I put in anything, the outcome is bleaker than my dating life. However, when I just chuck stuff in a bowl and run with it, I've found that the gastronomical stars will occasionally align. So, without further ado, the "recipe" for tonight's politically incorrect dinner.

Fiesta Tuna (possibly the most hilarious and preposterous sounding thing I've ever made):
1 can tuna
1 plop plain yogurt
Sprinkle of desired Mexican-ish seasonings, salt, and pepper
Goodly squeeze of lime juice (or splort if you're like me and get a squishy lime)
Heavy sprinkling of nutritional yeast (or shredded cheese, but I was too cheap to spring for it at the store)
1 ear corn, cut off cob (or frozen)
1/3 - 1/2 cup black beans
avocado - if you have any on hand, it would probably be delicious
Combine all ingredients, stir, shield your bowl in shame from your roommate's view (she'll never believe something that looks like that could actually be edible), put on some mariachi music for full effect, and enjoy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jesus loves me (more than you)

I am officially an adult now, living on my own. Assuming it would be like every birthday since age twelve, the instant significance of the moment struck me acutely when I watched my parents walk through the automatic glass doors of the airport terminal: I am alone. I am free. I am responsible for so much. I am independent. I am unsure what comes next. I am unattached. I am unprepared. I am excited. I am going to get a ticket if I don't pull out from in front of the doors soon. All these I am's at once, but the most surprising: I am okay.
Okay because, as was the answer (marked correct and given credit about 80% of the time) to all the high school religion course exam questions that escaped my mind: Jesus loves me. He must, because my new life has some pretty cool shit in it, to put it bluntly. Because I have yet to start aching for my (old? former? no longer? still?) home, the wise thing to do is to list why my new home and life is cooler than a Minnesota February. When the homesickness hits (and it will, like a giant cartoon anvil falling from the sky on Wile Coyote's unsuspecting head), I will remind myself of everything that makes me want to be here and nowhere else.
My gas stove - one of my criteria when I chose my housing (priorities, right?)
My own bathroom - the shower stall may be smaller than the cardboard moving cave I had in my car, but it's mine
My (roommate's) dog, Rory - who doesn't love a big mushy Rottweiler sweetiepants? Especially when you're a twenty-something single woman living in a big city
My new mattress - I may not get to spend as many hours in it as I would like in the coming months, but it's still awesome
My roommate - she loves Brussels sprouts. Enough said.
My job - I have one, which is more than a lot of people can say
My future - I'm going to be a doctor. For real.

Chopped in the first round

On my last night at home, I was alone. I was glad to be alone, not because I wanted to cry in private or watch dirty movies or even strip down to a white dress shirt and undies and reenact Risky Business. Nope, a night alone and a fridge and pantry full of food that needs to be used means one thing to me: Chopped night (cue the “aawww yeaaah” sound effect). Doing my finest Ted Allen impression, I open the fridge doors (after a pause to heighten the dramatic tension) and announce the basket ingredients for the appetizer round: cauliflower, cremini mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, and a half-eaten summer squash. You have twenty minutes before Mom gets home and complains about the smell of vegetables cooking: your time starts … now!
After the twenty minutes had passed, I looked down at my plate in horror; none of the ingredients had made it to the plate! In fact, nothing at all had made it on the plate. With every plan I formulated, as I went to retrieve the requisite ingredients, everything I needed was packed away in boxes, irretrievable under fifty pounds of winter sweaters (yes, I need that many; Minnesota is cold, baby!). My first-choice treatment of cauliflower is to coat it with olive oil, toss it with salt, pepper, turmeric, and nutritional yeast, and roast it. Mushrooms I saut̩ in my designated mushroom pan (the best gift my Memere ever gave me!), a large stainless steel calphalon skillet. I toss in chopped garlic, deglaze with white wine vinegar, and try (usually without success) not to eat them all before they arrive at their final destination, be it pizza topping or whatnot. Brussels sprouts go raw into salad or are thrown in the pan with whatever else is cooking to get nice and caramelized and crunchy. But when no one else is home to complain about the smell, I have one of my favorite treats: roasted shredded Brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar and toasted almonds, inspired by Kalyn. Pure vegetable bliss. Summer squash either gets shredded on the mandolin into faux-noodles and serves as the base for what I like to call veggiemess (my go-to meal most nights, consisting of whatever cooks fast and is about to go bad thrown in my enormous saut̩ pan (five quarts! Oh dear, my parentheses addiction is getting out of hand. A parenthetical insertion within a parenthetical insertion Рgrammar Inception!) with half a head of garlic and smoked paprika) or gets the simple, yet most delicious, treatment of slicing and browning in olive oil and topping with sea salt.
That sums up my basic cooking style the past year. Too busy to have time to make recipes most times and too tired to care to follow them the rest of the time, I fell into the habit of just taking literally whatever vegetables I pleased out of the pantry, slicing and dicing, and chucking in whatever seasoning tickled my lazy little fancy that night. Truth be told, I could eat this way for the rest of my life; it’s cheap, easy, completely customizable, and foolproof. You literally cannot mess up veggiemess because the whole point is to end up with a hulking bowl of plant matter that looks utterly unappetizing yet tastes like exactly what you’ve been craving all day. As a bonus, you can eat half a pound of squash, an entire container of mushrooms, half a bag of greens, and most of a head of garlic for usually under 300 calories. That way, if your stomach isn’t about to burst like a big fleshy grape being squeezed, you can have more dessert!
Anyway, after being chopped in the first round for my miserable performance (even when I did manage to produce something, the cauliflower was mushy and tasteless), I decided just to eat the dregs of the quart of Fage 2% that was meant to be a basket ingredient for the dessert course straight out of the carton to dull the sting of failure. If you need a reminder of how I feel about Fage 2%, just look back a few posts. I’ll spare you my poetic tributes and insipid metaphors about dairy clouds this time. As I was shoveling yogurt into my face with abandon and not feeling the least bit as embarrassed as I should have about it, I realized that I had stumbled upon a potential money-making idea. I should pitch to the producers of Chopped a new concept. As I discovered that night, it is far more difficult to cook without the ingredients to which one is accustomed than to cook with new ones. They should take certain staples out of the pantry instead of giving the chefs obscure ingredients, then tell them to make classic dishes that require said elements. I’m going to be rich, I tell you! Unless one of you dirty little sneaks writes to Ted Allen first, that is.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

On the road

George Carlin once said that home is where you keep your stuff. If that’s true, I live in an embarrassingly powder blue Toyota matrix, packed comically full from floormats to ceiling. My father, the designated organizer/packer/putter-of-things-in-boxes-and-overly-full-refrigerators, has strategically stacked cardboard boxes all around so as to confine me to a little corrugated cave in the back seat. In filling these boxes, I realized just how much stuff I had: errata for which I have no use, need, or even particular desire, yet have kept for years in some cases. Initially, I thought the size of my car would limit the amount that I could bring with me, that I would be leaving behind personal treasures and much-needed supplies. As the boxes filled up, I carefully considered each of my possessions, and my desire to be enclosed in a cave for two days instead of an iron maiden with collectibles and keepsakes for spikes outweighed my attachment to it. My mother, upon hearing my announcement that I had finishes packing, was appalled by what I was leaving behind. “You’re not bringing THIS?!” she would ask incredulously, holding up something-or-other. “Noooo,” I would reply, dragging out the word and emphasis a little more each time. “But someone GAVE this to you!” Here is where I had to resist the urge to face-palm and go Niecy Nash on her ass. People give you things all the time, sometimes useful, more often not. You are under no obligation to keep them just for the sake of having that object around. To me, the sentiment attached to them is a lot more meaningful (and doesn’t jab you in the spleen every time Dad takes a sharp right turn).
This move presents a singular and quite valuable opportunity: to start completely new and unencumbered by years of accumulated stuff. I get to choose every single thing that will be in my new life now, a freedom that is exhilarating and makes me keep breaking out in smiles at odd moments (not that my family isn’t used to that; I have far too many inside jokes with myself).
A welcome change from the past few days, these smirks have replaced a furrowed brow and clenched jaw holding back tears. The reality and finality of an empty bedroom and a full car hit me. However, parting with my house and my stuff did not truly constitute parting with my home; here George Carlin was wrong. I may be passing through Ohio, but with my parents in the front seat, I have yet to fully leave home. Part of home did stay back in New Hampshire, though, and it nearly killed me. For days leading up to yesterday, I was dreading the inevitable goodbye to my dogs. Even though I’ll see them in about six months when I return for Christmas, that brings me no comfort because I know they won’t be my dogs anymore. It won’t be my home; I’ll just be a visitor. I won’t try to describe the sentiment because any pet owner either has experienced or can easily imagine why I find my face mysteriously wet whenever Hannah and Jason come to mind. I try not to think that for the foreseeable future I will be dogless, that the moisture on my face will be from tears instead of puppy kisses.
What does dry my tears is knowing that I’m headed (at twenty miles an hour over the speed limit, ahem) towards a place that already feels like home. I don’t feel lost or floating, or even in transition. In two days’ time, I will be living in a house I’ve never laid eyes on, sharing space with a person I’ve never met and to whom I’ve spoken only once, bringing with me nothing but my clothes, a Swarovsky crystal squirrel, and my laptop (okay, so I snuck in all my cooking supplies; they seemed way more vital to my happiness than anything else). Yet somehow, that doesn’t scare me. Me, with all my neuroses and anxiety and need of familiarity! It excites me. Just as I am free to choose my stuff, I am free to make a new home for myself (and I will try to make sure the stuff I fill it with isn’t junk!).

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Lazy Tuesday breakfast ... on Saturday

Well, the English department at Bishop Guertin should be proud; post number three and already I have stayed true to one of my underlying motifs: neglecting my duties. I took great amusement in making and photographing a creative breakfast (just like the real food bloggers, mommy!) on my late-to-rise morning off work Tuesday. With ever bite, I imagined witty commentary on my creation and the scores of comments full of accolades for my culinary genius. When it came time to compose this gastronomic ode, it also came time to go to work, and it feels like I've been there ever since (more on that later - I've neglected this particular duty so long I can smell the fruit pixels going bad in the digital pictures).

With all the buildup, this little bowl seems a bit humble and plain now, but it was so satisfying and delicious a melange of simple and fresh that I am compelled to share it. The bottom layer, the foundation, if you will, was a generous glob of Fage 2% (an aside: in the battle of Greek yogurt, Fage takes the day in the 2% category, but Chobani has surpassed the rest in 0%). To me, a bowl of Fage is like a ready-to-burst cloud (if rain came from cows): soft and thick, smooth and dense, heavy, yet at the same time light enough to float in the air. Resting on this dairy nimbus was a chopped peach, rescued from an imminent trip to the garbage (call me frugal, even cheap, or just downright gross, but I will eat around moldy patches on fruit if I deem it still "good"). Call it God, intelligent design, or nothing but a one in Avogadro's number chance, but the full force of nature went into making certain fruits delicious. I don't care how many years of training a chef has or how many hours or how much thought and technique go into preparing a dish, nothing ever tastes as good as some of the things that just grow on trees or sit in the dirt. Knowing strawberries were in my future, I decided I wanted a little texture and crunch before they came on the scene. I sprinkled on some homemade muesli  (really just a term to make throwing all the oat, nut, grain, and dried fruit leftovers in the cabinet sound impressive) inspired by Alayna's. Briefly, I contemplated layering on some banana soft serve, then my gaze fell upon the already hulking pile of dirty dishes; I decided to spare myself the task of washing the food processor as well. Instead, I dusted the peaches with cinnamon and drizzled on some maple syrup for sweetness. Chopped fresh strawberries ($3.26 a pound organic at Trader Joe's - makes them taste even sweeter!) topped the concoction, followed by another smattering of muesli.

Yes, Virginia, people really do put pictures of their food on the internet for public consumption (at first the pun was unintentional, then I decided to roll with it). I claim no skill whatsoever in composition, lighting, or food design, so feel free to fill your belly with laughter at these photos (ok, ok, I'll stop with the lame figurative language now; even I'm cringing).

My last day ever (?) at work is in three days. The question mark is superfluous; my time at Daniel Webster Animal Hospital really is over, but I can keep from crying by putting it there. To be short (since I was so long-winded about so petty as matter as breakfast, why not be short about a four-year experience that has shaped who I am at my core and changed the course of my life?), it's been a source of challenge, learning, discovery (mostly about myself), frustration, intense sadness, pride, and a quiet and bone-deep sense of happiness like nothing I'd felt previously. When doubts about moving and the endeavor of vet school creep in, I remind myself of this sensation and what it means - this is what you want to do, what you are at your deepest core prepared and designed to do, Megan. When nothing about my impending (6 days from now) future is certain and it all seems overwhelming, these Hallmark card sentiments have kept me calm, sane, and committed . (Look, Mrs, Thistle, I'm weaving in another theme!) As with my shoes, I hate to leave this place behind, but I anticipate more challenges, disappointments, heartbreak, and true joy in a new hospital, in what seems like a whole new life.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Farewell, old friends

When one is preparing to move over a thousand miles away for several years, returning only a few days or a week here and there, there are many goodbyes to be said. Today saw the first of my significant partings. Friends, family, house, pets, job, favorite spots, well-traveled routes to familiar places, those will come over the course of the next twelve days. Today is the sending-off of my first real pair of running shoes. In the past year, these babies have accompanied me from my first feeble and embarrassing attempts at jogging (one quarter-mile at a time) to the eight-minute mile I ran this morning (we won't tell anyone that the next two were about twelve minutes each - hey, it was wicked humid!). At the beginning of last summer, I was newly skinny; now I'm newly healthy. I feel like these shoes helped me get there. Reminiscing about the beginning of our beautiful friendship, I can still see the pristine, almost too-white white mesh, the shiny applique, and the crisp, un-crinkled laces. Now I look down at my feet, at the dull gray and dirty fabric, the creases, the worn spots and feel an aching and sweet pinch of sentimentality, so uncharacteristic for me (but becoming more common as more partings and last-time-evers approach).
In the next room sits a box with new friends in it. Clean and new, bright and unfamiliar. When I retire them a year or so from now, I hope to be able to reflect on them a similar way, how they brought me from healthy to strong.
As Gabriel Garcia Marquez once wrote, I couldn't bring myself to admit that life might end up resembling bad literature so much. As I was rounding the first bend in my usual jogging route, I picked up on the all-too-obvious metaphor of this farewell to my old shoes - comfortable, familiar, custom-formed to me by long wear, and well-loved. Yet when I put a new pair on my feet the other day, I realized they no longer provided the support I needed, that my running abilities had surpassed what they could provide. I felt a pang when I put them back on at the store, having tried on the newer model; I knew that they were no longer what I needed or where my feet belonged. Like my home, my school, and all my routines, these shoes have served me well, and I love them dearly, but I have new goals, new needs, and a new life waiting for me. I plan on running towards it at full speed (in a gorgeous new pair of shoes!).

Neglecting my duties

Well well, what have we here? A new blog floating around in the ether of the internet. As the title of this post suggests, this blog, beginning with this post, will largely be a way for me to avoid doing necessary tasks while still feeling productive. Somewhat less importantly, it will serve as my outlet for stress, emotional outbursts, and desperate cries for help as I eat and study my way through the biggest challenge and adventure of my (until now) remarkably unremarkable life: veterinary school. So, Chomp will be the chronicles of my foibles and finagling as I do the only things I know how (well, at least I pretend to): cooking, eating, and studying.