There are many reasons I say I can’t cook and they are all called Brussels sprouts

Up until I was planning the move to NZ, I was super gung-ho about living a life of adventure and long-term travel. I was going to NZ and then Oz and then who knows – Thailand? Columbia? Vietnam? It was all up for grabs. Who wants to settle down and stay put and do horrid things like have traditions and friends who can come over when you’re sick and bring you soup?

Me, it turns out. I want that. I want all of that and a house I can decorate and a dog. God, I want a dog. I want a big fluffy duvet and cute plates and dinner parties. I want to cook good food and have a well-stocked pantry and to be able to make more than scones and chocolate chip cookies.

In short, I got old.

To cement the fact that I am apparently turning into an NPR-listening, house-decorating, cheese-making homebody, my favourite thing about Wellington is the farmer’s market. It’s down by the harbour, so I get to walk along the water, and there’s food trucks and farmers and butchers. It’s heaven, basically. Not only is it heaven, it’s cheap heaven. Vegetables that would cost $40-50 at the grocery store are $12-15, so I try to pick up a few things that I haven’t cooked before and see what I can do with them. I got tamarillos last week. This week I got Brussels sprouts.

I blame my friend Donovan for my obsession with Brussels sprouts. I went to visit him in March to help set up his trapeze rig (yes, my life IS awesome, thank you for noticing) and he forced them on me the same way he forces me to do things like learn to drive stick shift or try the flying trapeze. He tells me it’ll be good for me/fun/delicious and then he mocks me until I try it. It’s surprisingly effective. Anyways, he roasted a pan of them and fried up some bacon and hello, new favourite vegetable.

But then I got lazy and didn’t cook them. Ever. So when I saw them at the farmer’s market this weekend, I thought, “Why not?” I’ve been inspired by Queen Nigella, long may she reign, and thought I could totally tackle the world’s most finicky vegetable. So I looked up recipes and found this awesome recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts and grapes.

Looks good, doesn’t it?

So I did a little mental math, preheated the oven, tossed the Brussels sprouts and grapes with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar for no other reason than because I’m adore it, and popped them in the oven.

Spoiler alert: I’m apparently really bad at math.

Fail fail fail fail fail
This is what failure looks like

See those grapes? No, not the ones that look like grapes. The other ones. The weird, flat black ovals at the top of Mount Godawful. Those grapes are so hard you can’t even crunch them under your shoe. The ones that look like grapes I added at the end, in the vain hope that I could still eat this charcoal mess. I tried! I really did. But the insides of the Brussels sprouts were as mushy as the outsides were burned and I just gave up and made poached eggs.

Tell me I’m not the only one to fail so badly at this vegetable. Please?

Anybody?

Bueller?

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If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is

We’ve all seen it a million times, the advice passed along by Kurt Vonnegut in A Man Without A Country“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”

The thing about this advice that I find so helpful, though, is that you don’t really have to be happy for it to work. Or at least, you don’t have to realise you’re happy.

I have had a shitty, shitty week. It was one of those weeks that’s death by a thousand paper cuts. I got stew on my new shoes. I bought the wrong chocolate. I kept forgetting about my tea until after it was cold. The temperature was too warm for a jacket but too cold for a hoodie. Nothing was exactly right or terribly wrong. Everything was mostly fine, but just wrong enough to be noticed.

But yesterday the sun came out  and if there is one thing I refuse to be, it’s cranky on the first beautiful day of spring. I put my boots on and I took myself for a stroll. I went to the Botanic Gardens and looked out over the city and wandered through the planetarium and let myself think about how crazy the universe is. I did a little shopping. I bought good bread. I talked to one of my best friends.

I still felt a little off.

So this morning I got up and read for a while, had a cup of tea, and went to the market. The market is one of my favourite things about Wellington. It’s a huge farmer’s market with a bunch of food trucks that sets up right behind Te Papa every Sunday. Fruit and veggies are insanely cheap (I can get a week’s worth for under US$10), there is good coffee, music, and street performers. And today there was sun and just enough wind to make me grateful I’d worn a hat.

So, with nothing exactly right or terribly wrong, why not just concentrate on what was good? I took my veggies and my bag and sat down and just listened to the music and enjoyed the sun. I bought gelato and ate it while people rowed through the harbour. I sat and let myself be grateful. There are horrible things happening in the world right now and I’m lucky enough to have sun and food and time.

It wasn’t an instant attitude change and things still feel vaguely unsettled, but for a few minutes I let myself ignore everything in favour of just appreciating this life that is so big and so small all at once. I may just be a speck of stardust in a vast, unending universe, but hey – it means I was once part of a star. That’s pretty damn cool.

A 6% kind of day

So if I had to guess, I would say 94% of the time I am perfectly happy being single. I like setting my own rules, charting my own path, that kind of thing. It’s cool. It definitely beats being with the wrong guy – I know my mom worries sometimes that I’m quick to walk away from things (hi, Mama!), but really it’s just that since I haven’t legally committed to anybody, I can look at the life I’d lead with the guys I date and think, “Mmmmm….better not.”

But on those 6% days? On 6% days, I’m not really totally okay with being single. On 6% days, I just want somebody to come home to who will pour me a glass of wine and listen to my day and then cuddle on the couch with me and watch stupid TV shows.

If you couldn’t tell, today is a 6% day.

It’s not even like anything is wrong. Things are going well. I have a job and I have a roof over my head and I have food in my cupboard and I’m writing. I’m doing the vast amount of emotional work I haven’t realised I needed to do and I’m feeling better about the choices I’m making every day. I see where my life is headed and I’m excited, and (for once) “where my life is headed” is not tied up with “the guy I’m dating wants to be here”. Not dating is an excellent way to make your own choices. Two thumbs up.

But doing all that is exhausting sometimes. New jobs and new living situations and new countries and new everything mean I generally want one familiar thing, and right now that familiar thing is to cuddle with a dude who thinks I’m cool.

That was the hardest part about a long distance relationship for me. That whole “staying faithful” thing was a piece of cake – if I want you, I only want you. Blinders are on, everybody else is invisible, done. But going without being able to hug the person I loved? That was hard.

Because when you’ve had a bad day at work or somebody has called you stupid and told you that you’re lacking integrity (thanks for that, random dude on the phone today), even when it’s dumb, you want to tell somebody. You want to tell them and roll your eyes and know that you’re seen and cared for and that tiny flicker that almost-for-a-second thought maaaaaaaaaaaybe this angry dude isn’t wrong? That shuts up faster. And when you’re having a 6% day and you get a stupid call and you don’t have the budget for a glass of wine and what good is it anyways if it’s just you alone at the bar talking to yet another bartender you don’t know that well? Then it’s no fun. Then it sucks, actually.

And tomorrow will be better and this weekend will be better, but for today? For today I’m going to sit in my room and blast my heater (being warm always makes me happier) and finish my chocolate.

Take that, world.

This bottle of beast is taking me home

A few years ago (okay, okay, 10 years ago) my friend Nicole made me 4 mix CDs of songs to get me through the summer and the start of college. They were pretty typical of that era – Dashboard Confessional, The Starting Line, The Used, etc. – and I listened to them so often that I heard them in my sleep. They got me through what still goes down as the hardest break up I’ve ever been through (sad, but true) and I can still remember the first time I could listen to “Best I Ever Had” without crying. It was a moment.

I’ve been in a weird place musically, probably because I’m in a weird place emotionally. I’m all over the map, listening to blue grass one day, folk rock the next, rap, alt-rock, late 90s girl bands, and, of course, mid-2000s pop-punk. I’m remembering North Carolina, I’m remembering Virginia, I’m remembering Singapore, I’m remembering Thailand, I’m remembering California. The good, the bad…mostly the ugly.

The dissertation is going well enough. I’m on track, but my characters need depth. They need emotion. And because of how I’m telling this story, that requires remembering – vividly – what it was like in all of those phases of my life. It’s unpleasant sometimes, to remember what it was like to be awkward and nerdy and bullied and nervous. But it’s also weirdly empowering. I got through all of that, I get to own it. I get to take it and make it work for me. Take that, middle school!

I’m trying not to think of the hard things. I’m good at pushing them out, at ignoring them and trying not to feel them. But this story demands them. My writing (and in my writing, my life) demands them. It is a greedy beast, it wants to feed on everything. It wants to make a seven-course meal on my emotions, with misery as the main course. I can’t starve it, but sometimes I think I won’t survive. It’s my writing or me. We are the same and we are mutually exclusive, and somehow we’re both at the same time. Just try to wrap your mind around that.

But instead of contemplating this, I’m going to dive back into my story and see what happens. Because if it has to happen, it might as well happen quickly and late at night, right before bed, when I can go into my big, empty bed with nobody to snuggle or make me feel better about things.

On second thought, I could have planned this better.

Running myself ragged

Oh man. I have been a busy bee!

After months of slacking off (*cough*focusing on my writing*cough*), I think the corporate side of me kicked in and said, “No, this is unacceptable! Be involved in all the projects! Do all the things!” So I organized a reading, volunteered at an event, volunteered my time to a group I want to know more about, Love. Writing. Adventure. got started in earnest, I’ve been going to Saturday business classes, and I’ve had two friends visit to run the Edinburgh marathon. That’s ignoring all socializing, birthday-ing, vacationing, and general life stuff. It’s been a busy month.

The thing about it, though, is that I’m happy. I mean, really, ridiculously happy. Am I stressed? OF COURSE. But in a productive way. In the way that says, “I have to get this done in the next few hours because then I have to be at x event, and tomorrow I have to do y so there is no way to procrastinate further.” It’s a good kind of stress.

That said, I’m completely exhausted. My head hurts, and all I want to do it stay in bed all day. I think it’s time for some tea, pajamas, and Disney movies. I’ll see you guys when I’m rested up. So, in a year…maybe.

A Plethora of Homes

At some point, I do plan on writing about being a TCK. I really do. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about those cozy little places or the things you keep that make you feel at home.

Nothing says home to me like being a regular somewhere. I’ve had this really exciting life that has left me completely comfortable jetting off anywhere on my own, ready for adventure, but it has also made it so that I am happiest when I have a routine. When I have a place I can go where they know my name, know my order, know what’s going on in my life. Last semester, it was a pub. I was there a few times a week, I knew the staff, they knew my drink, they knew what was going on in my life. I knew them. I knew where their cousins lived and who was quitting and why. This semester, it’s a coffee shop. I’m getting to know the regular cast of characters, I know which barista is a musician, which is an artist, which one is exploring Scientology. They know what I’m working on, they know my handwriting, they know where I’ve lived. There is nothing quite so cozy as being a regular. I have my favourite spot, and once or twice a week I plunk myself down with my laptop and write.

Being a reader and a writer, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that I also find homes in books. There are a few books that I cart around from city to city and country to country because they’re comfortable. Familiar. They are worlds I understand, which is a pretty critical thing to have when you change cities every few years. I know how they work and when I’m overwhelmed, I retreat into them.

The climbing gym often serves as a home for me, too. So do my favourite CDs. Sports are home, and my favourite movies.

Home is a funny thing. I had to write an essay on it this semester and I really struggled with how to define it. Finally, I realize that home isn’t always a physical place, it’s not four walls and a roof. It’s the place where you’ve internalized the rules, where you can just live without the constant work of remembering how things should be. It’s little things like knowing which is the salt shaker and which is pepper, or how to say hello and goodbye. I just happen to need more portable homes than most people do. But I kind of like it this way. Home is anywhere, home is everywhere.

It can be nowhere, too, but I’m not going to think about that right now.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

I like to think that I’m a pretty straightforward person. I’m honest about what I want (to a fault, sometimes), I’m honest about who I care about, I’m honest about who I am. I don’t like to pretend, I don’t like to play games, and I don’t like trying to remember what I’ve said. So I just say what I think. It’s easier that way.

But somehow, people get confused about me. They meet me and think I’m a certain way, get talking to me, and find things to validate those assumptions. And then, somewhere along the line, I say something and they do a double take. A triple take.

For example: Once upon a time, I had bright purple hair. I mean, bright purple hair. I have always been a little bit of a punk deep down inside; I love loud, angry music and piercings and tattoos more than my mother would like me to. Guys with tattoos make me stop and stare far longer than is strictly socially acceptable. If I had to draw my dream guy, he’d be tall with tattoos and a labret piercing and maybe an eyebrow piercing, just for good measure.

And so, when I finally quit my corporate job, I got the chance to really embrace that part of myself. The day after I left the office, I sat in my hair stylist’s chair and went from dark brown hair to purple. But I’d forgotten the assumptions new people make about things like purple hair. So it was a bit of a shock to me when, after a month or two of being friends, a guy I knew came back to my flat to have a couple beers and complain about school and noticed my icon of Mary and Jesus.

“Wait, is that really a picture of Jesus?”

“Yeah, it’s my icon.”

“But you don’t like…believe in that whole thing, do you?”

“Yeah. I do.”

He stopped and looked at me. “Huh. You just look like an atheist to me.”

I didn’t realize a person could look like an atheist. I didn’t realize people would draw this conclusion about me. In my head, I was clear. I had purple hair, I like things with skulls on them, I want to be a writer, I go to church every Sunday. All of these things are genuinely me, but the combination is apparently surprising.

It goes the other way, too. I’ve been told that I need to be “corrupted”, whatever that means. At 27 I am very comfortable saying I’ve done my time being wild, I’m quite content to stick with lamb dinners with port and truffles for dessert. But people (guys especially, for whatever reason) think that I’ve been like this my whole life. It wasn’t always ballet and poetry and port, I promise. There was a time when it was cheap vodka, bad beer, and stamps on my hand from seven different clubs in a night. But apparently I give off the “stick up her butt, but she’d be fun to party with if she let her hair down” vibe. My friend calls this “The Librarian Effect” which is accurate, if creepy.

What I’m realizing is that no matter how straightforward I think I am, I don’t actually have a clue who people think I am. I don’t know what assumptions they’re making about me, or what they think I really need. I just know that I like things the way they are, and whatever people think of me, it’s probably not any of my business anyways.

It is actually possible to get sunburned in Scotland

Image

Yesterday was a glorious day.

The sun was out, the air was warm, and my portfolio had been turned in. I am officially in dissertation period, the point at which my life becomes solely about one story. One thought. One project.

Yeah, that’s gonna drive me crazy. I’ve got a few things in the works because otherwise I’ll go bonkers.

But yesterday I ignored all of that and sat out in the sun for a few hours with my friends and no sunscreen. Because I’m a moron. I am naturally super pale, and when you add the long Scottish winter to that mix, it’s not pretty. Not pretty at all. So now my arms are a combination of white, pink, and paaaaaaaaale brown and my skin feels just slightly too tight.

It’s funny how much happier I am in the sun, though. I smile more – a lot more – and the chaos of life seems manageable. I am a tropical girl, raised on sunshine and warmth, and I need days like yesterday. I soaked it up like a camel and I’m ready for the gloomy week to come. Because sunshine in Scotland is like calm in my life – a rare gift, and one to be thankful for.

It’s a cage match between history and chemistry

In one corner sits History. History has been coming here for years, doing battle, waiting for the right time. Time is, in fact, on her side. She has the full knowledge of war and violence within her, her fists carry the weight of every fight that has ever come before.

Chemistry is in the other corner, checking out her bag of tricks. Tiny changes, minor imbalances that throw the world off-kilter, that’s Chemistry’s specialty. Mess up the equation, screw with the ratio, and Chemistry will kill you. Will kill everybody. Chemistry requires endless attention, she must be fed, be watched, or it will all go wrong.

A man, stripped to the waist with his heart up for grabs, holds up a sign and walks around the ring. The sign reads, “Fight to the Death”. There will be no second round. It must all be decided now, it must all be decided here.

He locks the cage behind him and a bell rings. History remains in her corner while Chemistry starts off with a literal bang. There is a flash of light and a smell like rotting bananas, and Chemistry is on a roll. She takes a water bottle, shifts it around, and offers it to History, her fingers adding a notation, adding one little atom, turning the liquid into a pale blue poison.

Having seen this trick before, History declines.

In fact, History pays no attention to Chemistry at all. Chemistry jumps around, tweaking Bunsen burners and creating noxious fumes, but History simply puts on a gas mask and continues reading. The audience is feeling faint by now, exhausted from the multicoloured pyrotechnics and breathing unidentified gases not meant for human lungs. Chemistry does not notice.

History looks up from her book and watches for a moment. Chemistry is close to the edge, she is building a bomb in her corner, she is ready to give up and blow everything away. While her back is turned, while Chemistry is focused on her work, History scales the cage, finding a hole where Chemistry’s experiments have weakened the metal, and crawls through.

She ushers the audience out, waking them up and helping them crawl to safety. She pulls at the man’s arm, letting the sign drop from his hands, and helps him stumble out of the arena.

Chemistry is finally finished with her experiment, the countdown is on, it will all go up in flames, everything, she will burn it to the ground. She turns, triumphant, only to see that she is alone in the room, and the Bunsen burner’s flame and the pending explosion will destroy her, only her, and she barely has time to think about what she has lost when  the entire arena is swept away in a final burst of light.

“Happiness Consultants” are a thing that exist

About eight years ago I was sitting in my then-boyfriend’s optometrist’s office waiting for his appointment to be over. I hadn’t brought a book with me and there were no magazines around, so all I had to look at was the slowly yellowing furniture and a wall of tall brown filing cabinets.

The receptionist, either sensing my boredom or seeking to alleviate her own, started chatting with me. We started talking about my boyfriend, about school, about the coming summer. Pretty typical small talk.

“Now, dear,” she said. “Do you mind if I tune into you?”

“I’m sorry?”

“I have this gift. I’m able to speak with the universe and uncover things about people. But I find the universe is more cooperative when the people I’m asking about know what’s going on.”

All I wanted to do was spend a day in the April sunshine, and instead I was in a dingy office being asked if I minded that the receptionist commune with the universe to find out the answers to my unspoken questions.

“Sure, why not?”

“It’ll just take a moment.”

She went quiet and closed her eyes. I sat, uncomfortable in the hard plastic chair, wondering if I was supposed to say something. Lead her a bit, maybe? Let her know what I was curious about?

That’s when the tingle started. It spread from the back of my skull, creeping out in all directions, towards my ears, my forehead, the base of my neck. It swept down my spine and lingered in my shoulders. It ebbed and flowed through my body, and then it stopped.

“Well, that was interesting!” The woman smiled at me. “You’re a writer. How wonderful! You’re going to write about love, about all kinds of love, about love in every way we think about it and many ways we don’t. You need a pen and a journal, I can’t believe you don’t carry them with you! Here, darling, here.” She rifled through her cabinet and gave me a small red notebook and a black pen. The pen had her name and phone number on it with “Happiness Consultant” between the two. I thanked her and put them in my purse where, she was right, I had neither pen nor paper.

As my boyfriend walked out, she stage whispered across the room to me. “Don’t tell my husband I did that, darling. He hates when I tune into people in the office!” I promised that her secret was safe with me, shook her hand, and left, boyfriend in tow.

I wouldn’t have thought much of it (or even remember it, honestly) except that when we were talking about school, I never said what my major was. I barely talked about wanting to be a writer to my closest friends. I hadn’t even mentioned that I was reading anything, let alone that I dream(t) of writing as a career. And yet something about me screamed “writer” to her.

Did she really touch the universe and see into a part of my soul? No idea. But I wouldn’t mind at all if it turns out that she’s right.