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Independence regained

July 15, 2014

One of the reasons I moved to the DC area after completing my service was that there was plentiful public transportation, which led me to believe that I would not need a car here.

I was wrong.

Sure, the Metro goes all over the District and out (fairly far) to the suburbs. The bus goes to many places. I live in downtown Silver Spring, which means I am two blocks from the Metro and close to many bus stops. In theory, I have no problems navigating the area. 

Except when I need or want to do something outside of the immediate area – then it gets tricky. Or want to go somewhere that entails transport and carrying heavy items. Or when you don’t work in the District. Or when you want to go to say, a winery for the day, or to Pennsylvania, or a host of other places.

There is so much to see and do in this area that I want to get out and explore. I want to go to Harper’s Ferry. I want to visit my friend in Philadelphia.I want to go to wineries. I want to be able to go to Target or Trader Joe’s without begging a ride, or not worry about a bus schedule if I have to work on a weekend. 

I previously had lived in states and cities that pretty much required a car, except when I was overseas, and I admit that it spoiled me to have one. I moved here with every intention of not having a car (to have one here is exceedingly expensive). But the fact of the matter is, I missed my independence – that ultimate American quality of wanting to go where I want when I want. It is a selfish quality in a sense – I want, I want, I want. But I was, quite frankly, exhausted with the amount of time riding on or waiting for public transport takes. Weekends in the District, with all of the track work, are hell. Waiting twenty minutes for the next metro or bus after a certain time of day – also not so fun.

So I finally said the hell with it and got a car.

I got a car that I had wanted for a few years, and which I had been researching – a Prius. And I admit that I love it. I loved it from the moment I sat in the driver’s seat to test drive it. And I will give myself major points for getting a nicer model than I anticipated for the price I wanted to pay (even though it is more than I have ever paid for a car in my life!). I will admit that I do not “need” this car for my every day commute, but man is it nice to have. And last weekend, I took it out for its first foray onto the highway, by going to VA, and on a dirt road in VA to see a couple of those wineries.

I feel like I have my independence back. Certainly I have gained some more time in my day, which means I am making other changes to get myself back to a positive place. I hate to admit that I am now bought back into the American “car culture” but the fact of the matter is, I am.

At least it gets great gas mileage. 

The Joy of Cooking

June 29, 2014

It has been quite a while since my last post – more than a year, in fact. Much has happened in that year, including my losing a bit of myself in a position in which I was unhappy. I am not going to go into details or name names, but suffice it to say that the more a toxic environment got to me, the unhappier I became, which influenced those around me. I lost myself again, but learned some really valuable lessons in the process. I stayed because I thought I needed to put in some time to be taken more seriously when looking for something else. I stayed because I was looking but not with a great deal of earnest; I knew things were not going well but was hoping I could stick it out for a while because my professional background includes some shorter term experiences.

In the process, I lost my appetite – literally. I stopped caring about food, stopped caring about eating, I stopped writing in my blog because I did not think that people wanted to read about the negativity I was experiencing and processing. I stopped doing a lot of things I enjoyed because I was focused on getting through each day, and each week. I tried to remember that I needed to focus on life outside of work, to not allow my identity to once again become tied up in what I do. I lost a lot – of my appetite, of my motivation, of myself.

About two and a half months ago, I realized that it was time to start looking for something else. My supervisors were not subtle about how they changed in their behavior toward me – I figured it was time to start sending out emails to people. About four and a half weeks ago, I realized that I needed to kick up my search, so I reached out to people and had an interview. That same Friday, I was laid off. 

While I was angry about what had happened, I was also very relieved – I mean, I knew the day was coming; I just wanted to leave on my terms (as we all do). I was not able to do so and so I was angry about the things that had happened to me during my tenure there. At the same time there was that sense of relief; I was able to once again be the person I know I am without the toxic influence. My roommate commented on the fact that I was, within a week of my layoff, happier than she had seen me in months.

What does this have to do with cooking? Well, in the past month, I’ve been rediscovering it. I started cooking when I was seven years old – my mom was working three jobs and my siblings and I were the proverbial latch-key kids, taking care of the house and cooking for ourselves. So basically, I’ve been cooking for a long time. But when I am unhappy, I am completely unmotivated to do much of anything, least of all cook and eat. My time to recover in this past month has provided me the opportunity to remember how much I enjoy cooking – especially when it is for other people. 

Cooking is a way of showing love – you can’t cook without putting work and emotion into it. It is certainly a way that I show that I care about people. When you are more focused on surviving emotionally on a day-to-day basis, there is little emotion left for doing anything for anyone else (or, for that matter, for being there for other people when they need you. I’ve not been so good at that either for quite some time). Cooking helps me connect – to myself and to others. It provides me an opportunity to exercise a bit of creativity, to try new things in a safe environment, to show people what I am not always so good at telling them. 

So I’ve been reconnecting a lot, and cooking a lot. This afternoon, I cooked a number of things over four hours’ time, and did not even notice the time going by. In the past three weeks, I’ve rediscovered a lot about myself. Cooking is one aspect – watch out for others!

Still here

May 21, 2013

I recently realized that is has been quite a while since I last wrote in my blog. It is not because nothing is going on; it is because a great deal was going on with work. I also got my own apartment and managed to socialize a few times (but mostly worked. I have some long days. Welcome back, my friend says).

I’m still trying to figure out this whole work-life balance thing, and with a position like I am working in, at times, such a thing sometimes simply does not exist. We have very, very busy times, where I get home and all I want to do is go to sleep, never mind trying to find time to go to the grocery store, do laundry, etc. (Laundry is becoming a challenge now with my new apartment, because I no longer have laundry facilities IN my apartment. On the other hand, I am not hand-washing my clothing). I also have been trying to avoid certain foods which I love (and now no longer have to avoid entirely, but use caution when eating. My body is still mad, it seems).

Still, it is not that I have not thought about my blog. Merely wondered whether it still has a purpose, this place for me to put down my thoughts, now in a less consistent fashion. My experiences are no longer quite as interesting: I am not traveling (for now…I will when I have savings and vacation time), and although my life still does veer into the absurd, I am often not able to sit down at the computer (now more and more my work computer, for a number of reasons) to write down what I am experiencing, nor do I know whether people are interested in reading anymore. Do people want to hear about the rather mundane, or about how I am adjusting, the things that come to mind?

Yet here I am, still writing. I am nearly five months back in the U.S. In some ways, my Peace Corps experience seems to far away; other days I am reminded of how recently I returned. Like the day a new friend took me to Bed Bath and Beyond and to Target. We took our time going through the stores, as I always do now. I don’t rush when I am not at work; when I am at work, I rush as little as possible. I have reclaimed my time and am still trying to live in the moment as much as possible. She later told me that she did not remember the last time she went to the store and did not rush through. I remain committed to living in the moment as much as possible, of enjoying the area in which I live (when I can) and simple pleasures like having my own apartment again – for which I am paying the rent, I am putting up my artwork and photos, I am purchasing (and putting together) furnishings. It is a good feeling, to have this kind of “ownership” of my space again, rather than constantly feeling like a guest or intruder of someone else’s.

It is also still somewhat unreal, and can be overwhelming, when I step into certain stores, whether they be grocery or clothing. I tried entering a Macy’s and quickly exited – it was just too much. I make my way slowly through the grocery store, every time, because there are so many products (most of which I ignore). I still don’t cook a great deal: the only thing I have used my stove for is to make a frozen pizza (An oven! For the first time in three years!) and turkey bacon. I still have boxes in my living and dining rooms, which leaves me feeling as if I am still unsettled, and at times I wonder when I will move again or get to leave town on some sort of trip. I sigh when I see photos that friends post on Facebook from their travels or from where they live – I miss being overseas. As much as I missed the U.S. and like living here again, part of me still wants to be somewhere else.

I wonder if that aspect will ever leave me, or be satisfied by the occasional trip I plan to take when I have vacation time. Will I end up living a standard life, now that I am back in corporate America, or will I find a way to keep it more interesting? How long will I last where I am, since I am so used to change, and will I be able to get involved in things that help me feel as if I have more meaning than just going to work every day? Of course, these things are all too overwhelming to tackle at once. I am trying to take things one step at a time, and wait until I get used to something before adding more challenges to the mix. So I remind myself to stay in the moment and take each day as it comes, and perhaps at some point I will be ready to address some of my other questions.

In the meantime, I’m still here, and may as well keep writing (when I have something to say).

A body’s rebellion

April 26, 2013

I don’t think I know one person who served as a volunteer who got away without having any “intestinal” issues of any kind during her or his service. Now, before you go thinking you know what I mean, it could be anything from the obvious to the less obvious – turns out there are a whole host of things that can go wrong in that area of our body, especially with the shocks, changes, viruses, and bacteria to which we expose ourselves during service.

However, on the positive front, most of us end up eating rather “organically” during service, if for no other reason than we simply don’t have access to the range of processed and packaged foods that exist in places like the U.S. Most volunteers lose weight, get more exercise, and generally feel good. But there always seem to be consequences.

I never anticipated what those consequences would be, because I was happy to be back and to be able to eat a green salad with any kind of lettuce, during the winter. To be able to get fruit during the off-season. I was enjoying my return, eating different types of foods (Indian! Mexican! Chinese! Thai!), and for a while, things were normal, so to speak. I don’t eat as much as I used to, but that is more due to age than anything else I think.

So imagine my surprise when over the past few months, I have had more and more problems with my digestive system. I tried various common sense or diet type remedies, but nothing drastic. My problems did not get better. My body is rebelling.

I finally broke down and made an appointment with a Gastroenterologist. After I told her my laundry list of symptoms, she gave me the following directions:

  • Make an appointment with another doctor to rule out one potential cause
  • Go have blood drawn and certain tests will be run
  • Return to the office for a Lactulose test
  • Go on a low FODMAP diet

It all sounds easy enough until you realize that the Lactulose test is two and a half hours long, where you have to be present in the office and blow into a breathalyzer-type machine. I asked whether the office has WiFi, because, after all, that would make it easier to deal with. I was told that they “sometimes” have WiFi. Well, said I, I hope next Wednesday is one of the “sometimes” so I can work while I am there (and not have to take a sick day).

Even less exciting is when I realized exactly what is involved in a low FODMAP diet. Exactly what is a FODMAP, you ask? Well, turns out, there is a lot of information about this on the Internet (where else?), and from legit sources.

FODMAPs are found in the foods we eat. FODMAPs is an acronym for

Oligosaccharides (eg. Fructans and Galactans)
Disaccharides (eg. Lactose)Monosaccharides (eg. excess Fructose)
Polyols (eg. Sorbitol, Mannitol, Maltitol, Xylitol and Isomalt)

Clear as mud? Yeah, I know. I recognized a few words – mostly the artificial sweeteners that have become so popular in recent years, and other sugar-related words (those that end in -ose). Where are FODMAPS found, you may ask.

A few examples of food sources for each of the FODMAPs are listed below. The list is not complete (but it is enough to give you an idea).

  • Excess Fructose: Honey, Apples, Mango, Pear, Watermelon, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup Solids
  • Fructans: Artichokes (Globe), Artichokes(Jerusalem), Asparagus, Beetroot, Chicory, Dandelion leaves, Garlic (in large amounts), Leek, Onion (brown, white, Spanish, onion powder), Raddicio lettuce, Spring Onion (white part), Wheat (in large amounts), Rye (in large amounts), Inulin, Fructo-oligosaccharides.
  • Lactose: Milk, ice cream, custard, dairy desserts, condensed and evaporated milk, milk powder, yogurt, margarine, soft unripened cheeses (eg. ricotta, cottage, cream, marscarpone).
  • Galacto-Oligosaccharides (GOS): Legume beans (eg. baked beans, kidney beans, bortolotti beans), Lentils, Chickpeas
  • Polyols: Apples, Apricots, Avocado, Cherries, Longon, Lychee, Nectarines, Pears , Plums, Prunes, Mushrooms, Sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol, and Isomalt

That’s a lot of things that I eat. For example, I will usually have cereal with milk for breakfast. Sometime during the day I have yogurt. I like to bring vegetables with hummus (chickpea spread) for lunch. See where I am going? Here is another (stand-alone) resource about this type of diet. I showed it to a young woman I work with yesterday and she said “oh wait, there it is – fun is on that list”.

Luckily for me, alcohol is not, so I can still have a glass or two of wine. I mean, I found one of the lists with CHOCOLATE on it. Come on, you’re killing me here!

I know, I know, I shouldn’t complain. I’m not trying to complain. It just kind of throws you to have to go to the store (Whole Foods, no less) and search for gluten-free everything (this is not news to people who are gluten intolerant, but at least they now have options – a good number of them!), lactose-free yogurt, to read the label of every single thing I want to buy, and to look on the list when buying veggies to find out whether I can eat it. What is somewhat frustrating is that depending on the source, the lists of allowed and not allowed foods can contradict each other. For example, one list says green beans is okay, the other says no. One says corn is okay, the other says no.

The good news is, there is still much I CAN eat. Salads, berries, meat (I don’t eat much of it, but at least I CAN), some grains such as quinoa, millet, and rice. I can eat potatoes. I don’t usually, but I can. So in reality I don’t have to change my eating habits much, but having to cut out things that are a regular part of your diet and that appear in everything.

This will be a process – it is not like I can suddenly add all these things back in (and by that time, I may not want to) because the way the low FODMAP diet goes is that you cut all this stuff out, and then after a certain period of time, reintroduce things one at a time to see how your body tolerates it.

It is just interesting to have this happen at this point in my life. When I asked the doctor if it would be unusual to find out I have an allergy to something, she said “people can develop food allergies at any time”.

Though my body is rebelling on me, I feel lucky that I am employed and have health insurance, so I CAN go to the doctor and find out exactly what is wrong, and I can go to Whole Foods to get foods to match the diet. I’ll get through this and figure out the cause. Who knows, maybe I’ll even end up feeling better and want to stay on the diet.

Road Trip

April 22, 2013

When I moved to this area, one of the things I was excited about was the fact that a number of my friends live nearby, two of whom I have not seen since December 2010, when I visited them at their site in Ukraine. After a number of back-and-forth e-mails, we decided on this past weekend as the weekend I would visit them in Charlottesville, which is about three hours from the DC area.

Of course, getting there required renting a car, and, strangely, I was looking forward to that too – to driving more so than to renting a car.  So on Friday afternoon, I headed down to the airport, waited 1/2 hour in line to get my car, and headed out…into traffic and rain. The GPS on my phone was trying to direct me to a part of one of the highways that was HOV only (who thought THAT was a good idea?) and I ended up talking back at the device, telling her it was not going to happen, and I made my way South.

Luckily, she is smart enough to recalculate a new route based on where I was actually headed, so I circled back up and eventually got on the highway, made it through traffic, drove through some nice countryside, had to stop to buy a car charger adapter for my phone (I had no idea how much power the maps function drains from a phone), and made it to my destination – safely, if not a little late.

It was so nice to see my friends again, and we talked until 2 a.m. that first night. The next morning we headed to Monticello (for those who don’t know, Monticello was Thomas Jefferson’s home). Not only does it have an interesting history, it is well maintained. It would be nice to see it at different times of the year: for example, right now, everything is starting to bloom. In a month or two, everything will be in full bloom, and the gardens will be flourishing. Come fall, a person will be able to see all of the colors of the trees in the hills surrounding the estate. Monticello is still undergoing restoration efforts, as well. It takes a lot longer than I anticipated to see it! By the time we left, we were getting a bit hungry.

Good thing we had plans to stop at a gourmet grocery (which was even mentioned in Southern Living magazine), pick up some food, and head to one of the many wineries in the area. We were going to visit a second (maybe third?) winery when we realized that most of them close for tastings around 5:00. However, Trump Winery does not, and we visited it. The tasting room itself is not as spectacular as the name Trump would imply, but the view from the back was breathtaking.

After we returned to their home, I was pretty exhausted (well, after some long hours at work, the drive, staying up chatting, and being outdoors all day), and fell asleep early. Sunday morning brought brunch and a tour of UVA.

It was nice to get away, to talk to people who understand the past few years of my life and what I am still going through to adjust back to life in the U.S. I’ve been back for three and a half months, and the days are going fast but there are still things I am noticing that are different – about me, about the U.S., about my perspective. Spending that time with my friends, relaxing, being me, felt good. I hope to be able to do it again soon.

Photos from Monticello can be found on Picasa.

Grown up mean girls

April 16, 2013

Anyone who has been to High School knew them. They got a label in the 2004 movie.

Mean girls.

I’ve long said that girls in their teens are the cruelest creatures on the planet. Their hormones are kicking in, they are confused, trying to model who they will be – looking for role models. They are pressured by society to be thin, to be pretty, to be smart (but not TOO smart, or you won’t attract a boy). If you are a teenage girl who does not fit in, woe be to you, because you will find yourself a target of the mean girls.

So what happens when mean girls grow up? Do they grow out of the meanness?

Well, if what we see on television, whether “reality” (Real Housewives franchise, anyone?) or fiction (any soap opera, Grey’s Anatomy), when mean girls grow up, they get meaner.

Adding to my theory is the fact that there is a new book out called “Working With Bitches: Identify the Eight Types of Office Mean Girls and Rise Above Workplace Nastiness”. In it, the author, a psychologist, discusses the cattiness, dismissive, snide remarks, and cliques and talking behind people’s backs.

Wait, in an office? This doesn’t end in High School?

It appears not (and I can tell you from personal experience, no, it doesn’t). When did it become acceptable to behave in such a juvenile manner past the age when we reach adulthood? When did it become necessary to cater to these people, who by all rights should not be in a professional environment (maybe they should get their own television show).

Moving beyond these questions, a person must ask the most important one: Why? Where does this behavior come from, anyway?

Well, think about it. I mentioned the television shows earlier – behavior modeling. We idolize people who are mean (and they are usually people with money). We are constantly told all of the things that are wrong with us (we are SHOWN models that are airbrushed to a perfection we will never reach); it takes someone with a pretty strong sense of self to be able to ignore/deal with the constant negative messaging that we encounter. In a word: insecurity. Low self-esteem.

The interesting thing about this is that women get pretty devious when we are feeling bad about ourselves: micro-managing, exclusion, lying, gossiping. (Yes, I know that men do these things too but it is entirely different and I am now addressing women).

I was at an interesting discussion about a month ago, where a group of women were discussing women as leaders in different contexts, and at different times. One of them said something that struck me because I have heard it before and personally don’t find it to be true, yet it still comes back, so there must be something behind it: the statement that women have a desire to be liked.

Since when, and how does being a mean girl bring about positive results?

If insecurity and wanting to be liked are these peoples’ motivations, then why are they being mean instead of nice? (And be careful, when some of them are nice, their motives are not at all)

How do we deal with all of this, anyway? I can’t claim to have an answer because I am still trying to figure it out. Honestly, when I encounter a mean girl, whether in professional or personal life, I would rather not deal with the person at all. Unfortunately, I can’t avoid it, because they are all around me.

Maybe I should read that book…


Who or what is your Pharoah?

March 31, 2013

Last night I attended a community Seder at one of the synagogues in DC. I have been trying to find a “spiritual home” in the area, and I was encouraged to attend this event. Like all Seders, we went through the story of Passover, discussed the items on the Seder plate, and ate a lot. One of the nice things about this Seder is that it included the orange on the Seder plate and had a number of women-focused discussions; women are so often ignored or forgotten, historically, that it was really nice to see the inclusion (well, it is, after all, a Reform synagogue).

Another thing that we did was, at certain times during the Seder, talked among ourselves at the table. When we filled Miriam’s Cup, we talked about a woman who is important to us and why. Another time, during the story, we were encouraged to discuss who is our metaphorical Pharoah.

What did that question mean?

That was also somewhat open to interpretation, but she explained that she meant who is a person in your life, or what is a situation in your life, from whom/which you feel or felt enslaved.

Boy, did I have an answer to that.

I’ve discussed it in my blog before – the times of darkness I have gone through, the periods of my life when I wondered if things were ever going to get better, the hopelessness I felt when they did not. So to me, this Passover, where we celebrate the exodus of the Jews of Egypt, is especially meaningful to me.

Now, you don’t have to believe that it happened exactly as it was written; in fact, you don’t have to believe it happened at all. Let’s say it didn’t happen; isn’t the story of Passover still one that should cause us to stop and think about life, about enslavement (whether literal or metaphorical), about hope for the future? The fact that Passover happens in the Spring, which is traditionally known as a time of renewal of life, is no mistake. The Egypt we leave behind, the suffering we went through there, can be an actual geographical location or a place in our minds.

The metaphor can go further. When we choose to make a change from a situation in our lives that feels oppressing, we are excited, happy, hopeful. Then suddenly something happens, and we feel discontent, as the Jews did when they wandered the desert after escaping Pharoah and his army. Why such discontent? Why do we feel let down after the initial rush that change brings us? Why aren’t we in the “promised land” and without worry?

According to one rabbi, “Like the Israelites, we [too] need to be reformatted through the knowing pains and growing pains which come during the wilderness periods after major departures. This process adds valuable new experience and skills to the resume of our soul. We can recreate ourselves and attain the promised lands of our dreams.”

So that is what life is. Continually recreating ourselves, improving ourselves, and moving forward. The story of Passover is meaningful on so many levels, and if we pay attention, we can all see ourselves in it.




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