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Archive for April, 2011

it's summertime!

This is the time of year when things start to change.

One day, there’s frost on the ground, ice in the streams, and dirty piles of snow melting at the edge of the parking lots. The next day, it’s seventy degrees and the sun is shining and, more miraculously, the dead trees that line the streets suddenly start to look like something out of the lorax.

This is the time of year when things start to change. Remember being in school? This is what the air smelled like in the afternoons in the weeks before summer vacation started. It is the smell of Fun Day, and final exams, and those neon ice pops that squirted out of their plastic casings.

When we become adults, the world tells us to suppress the instinct for change as best we can and soldier on as if the year were not dynamic, and cyclical. Fortunately, Anna and I are doing no such thing. Anna is moving with the IPI office to a new, shinier and substantially hipper space. There will be no more racing to catch the train, and no more reverse-commute into the suburbs. It’s an exciting time.

As for me, I’m about to embark on a more long-distance venture. In two weeks I will be departing Somerville for a week in Rome – and if all goes as planned, I don’t expect to return until August. But never fear! I’ll be tracking my emotional calendar from abroad, and filling you in whenever I find myself within internet access.

How are you embracing your desire for change this year?

Weather: Sunny and warm.

Moods:
Hannah: 8 out of 10 on the ‘can’t get out of bed’ to ‘jumping to joy’ scale. I just ate a really great ice cream cone. With sprinkles.
Anna: 8 out of 10.

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Oberlin College Campus

My college campus - three weeks a year.*

I remember as a kid visiting the Harvard University campus with my aunt, a div-school alum. We would walk past students sprawled out on patches of grass, books splayed out around them. This must be what college is like, I thought. Green grass, sunshine, and really good books.

The truth is that most of college was nothing like that at all. Most of college, as I remember it, was late nights in the basement of the library and an oppressive cloud that hung over campus, making everything monotone and miserable. College in Ohio was great for many reasons, but for most of the year, weather wasn’t one of them.

The only exception was the last three weeks of the spring semester. Unlike Massachusetts, where the spring arrives slowly and hesitantly, in Ohio the warm weather comes all at once. One day it’s forty degrees and raining. The next day, it’s seventy degrees and sunny, there are flowers on the trees, and the smell of summer is in the air. On Friday afternoon in spring, student DJs would set up on the lawn and the student union would bring out coolers full of beer. It was good enough to erase all memories of winters past and convince you to return the following year.

Today is the first really warm day of the year: the sun is out, and the temperature is somewhere in the seventies. Generally I prefer the cooler New England springs to their Ohioan counterparts, and I don’t really miss being a student. But on days like this, I always feel nostalgic for my college years. I find myself filled with a sudden desire to abandon my responsibilities, find a good book, and lie out in the sun.

Weather: Technically, only 66 degrees.

Moods:
Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the ‘can’t get out of bed’ to ‘jumping for joy’ scale. loving the warm weather.
Anna:  6. She’s happy about the sun. Less happy about the amount of work she has to do.

*Photo credit to ideastream.org, from an article about marketing.

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Green soup? It must be spring!**

Today is the fourth full day of Passover and I am happy to say that I am not weak with hunger yet. At the wonderful Tuesday-night seder that I went to this year, my former roommate reminisced about how last year I was totally grouchy and impossible to get along with for an entire week. I think she’s forgiven me by now.

This year I’ve protected myself from such severe moodiness mostly by bending the rules of passover considerably. Once you cut out leavened bread (pasta, rice, cookies) and legumes (peanuts, beans, soy) from my vegetarian diet, there’s hardly anything substantial left. After years of starvation I’ve decided that, given that the ancient Egyptians were able to supplement their diet with lamb, I feel comfortable eating the occasional lentil. And I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in the bible about peanut butter.

My current interpretation of the laws of passover is simple: no bread, and no corn. I like this definition because in practical terms, it means I have to cut out all the processed and pre-made foods from my diet. Bread is my most common pre-packaged indulgence, and corn (corn oil and corn syrup) is basically ubiquitous. Keeping kosher means I have to go back to basics, and prepare my meals myself.

I don’t fast for passover because I want to be hungry. (I save that for Yom Kippur). I fast for Passover because it’s a way of bringing a new kind of awareness to my life. The Emotional Calendar says that awareness is one of the keys to maintaining emotional stability, but it’s easy to forget about when you’re caught up in major life changes or a heavy work load. I like passover because it imposes awareness and brings me back in touch with myself. That’s a lesson I try to hold on to all year.

I also like Passover because it makes me get creative about my meals. Last Wednesday I took the evening off to try out a new soup that I found in my Moosewood cookbook. It’s super easy, it’s delicious, it’s healthy, and it’s kosher for passover. Doesn’t get much better than that.

My slightly modified version is below. I’m writing it from memory, so you’ll have to forgive me if I miss a vital ingredient or essential step. One thing to keep in mind: it’s better if you let it rest at least an hour before serving. Even better if you make it a day in advance.

Curried Zucchini Soup

olive oil
2 cups diced onions (1.5 onions)
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
3 cloves garlic
3 tsp curry powder
2.5 cups water
5 cups zucchini (5 small supermarket zucchini)
2 cups potatoes (2-3 medium sized)
1 cup plain yogurt
1.5 tsp salt + pepper to taste
fresh cilantro to taste, chopped.
1. Dice the onions and saute them in olive oil over medium-low heat in the bottom of a soup pot until translucent. About 10 minutes.
2. While the onions are cooking, slice the zucchini in half and then chop into semi-circles. Also chop the potatoes. Set aside.
3. If necessary, peel and chop the garlic (or you can put it through a garlic press).
4. When the onions are done,  add the ginger, garlic, and curry powder. Cook for another minute.
5. Add the water, zucchini, and potatoes. Cover and let simmer until soft. I forget how long this takes – 20 minutes? Add salt and pepper.
6.  Remove from heat and add the yogurt and cilantro. Allow to cool until it won’t hurt you anymore.
7. Blend in batches in the blender until it’s a consistency that you like.
8. Refrigerate. This soup gets better after sitting for at least an hour. I made it a day in advance. You can eat it cold or hot, with a dollop of yogurt in the middle, and matzah on the side.

Weather:
57 degrees and sunny now, but ridiculously cold last night.

Moods:
Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. I’m happy for the weekend.
Anna: 7 out of 10.

**I don’t know who to give photo credit to but I got it on a diabetes website. I should really get my own camera.

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I was planning on writing a post about how hectic the month of April always is for me. Sadly, life has been so busy between travel, holidays, and work projects that I haven’t had time to pen anything. My sad lack of blogging should come to an end in May, but until then please bear with me (and Hannah) as we navigate exceptionally busy months.

And happy Passover to those celebrating!

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Me as a teenager

Me as a teenager, probably attempting a physics problem.

When I was a teenager I was completely obsessed with the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which was published by MTV press and featured its own early ’90s mix-tape. As a matter of fact, I was so obsessed that in the early days of Napster, before it occurred to me that what I was doing might be illegal, I went ahead and made my own version of Charlie’s mix-cd.

All of the songs on that mix-cd hold a special place in my heart, a place they share with angst-ridden poems about open windows and dustbins and heartbreak, things I understood much better then than I do now. One song in particular has always been able to lift my spirits. It’s U2’s MLK, and it goes:

Sleep, sleep tonight, and let your dreams be realized
If the thundercloud passes rain, so let it rain, rain on him.

Of course, in my teenage mind I changed that line to “rain on me,” and during The Summer of the Perks of being a Wallflower Mix CD I would listen to that song every time it rained. To this day, warm, rainy weather like the kind we’re having right now reminds me of lazy teenage summers in my hometown, listening to U2 on my discman and walking in the rain. And it reminds me of the vague hopes that accompanied being in high school, when my dreams were far too ephemeral to ever be realized.

Or if U2’s not for you, you can always listen to Bob Dylan instead.

[we’ve come  a long way since Napster. you’ll have to follow the link to hear the song.]

Weather:
60 degrees and misty.

Moods:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Excited to go running in the rain later.
Anna: In Utah! Where it’s 45 degrees with a chance of snow later in the day. [Edit: Anna says she’s a 7 – beautiful mountain views.]

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Migration

I know it’s April and I’m supposed to be looking forward towards sunnier times. But for the last month all I’ve been thinking about is cold. I wake up, I poke my head out of the covers and I think I am so tired of being cold.

I bike to work and no matter what super-nice gear I wear, I arrive freezing. My hands burn. My toes are numb. There is a chilling sensation in the very core of my body that can take hours to thaw out.  I am so tired of being cold.

It’s partially my fault. I put my down jacket away last month and swore not to take it out again until next year. Then it snowed. But I have stubbornly insisted on wearing my spring jackets and lighter sweaters, determined not to let New England’s endless winter win out.

Did I mention that New England’s winter is endless? Even if I was still wearing my down jacket and my wool hat, I’d be unhappy. The temperature may jump up to the forties at mid-day but it is still damned cold outside. “You know,” Anna said, “The main thing I’ve learned so far from tracking my emotional calendar is that winter is horrible.”

The emotional calendar has lots of recommendations for what to do once you’ve learned you hate winter. You can wear nicer clothing. Drink hot chocolate. Watch movies that take place in the desert. Go skiing. Find ways to reframe winter in a more positive light.

That’s all well and good but I think there are more productive ways to handle bad weather. I think it’s time to take a hint from the birds and start travelling south. Maybe to the Carolinas. Georgia. Texas. New Mexico. South America. The Caribbean.

How far would you go to escape the cold?

Weather: 48 degrees and cloudy

Moods:
Hannah: 5 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Tired.
Anna:  7.5 out of 10. It’s friday, it’s sunny, things are starting to bloom.

**Image credit to the New York Audubon.

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Ever since Daylight Saving Time in March, my energy has skyrocketed, refusing to cave under the snow and rain. Either that or I’ve magically stumbled across the perfect combination of sleep and coffee intake. Given the timing, I’m inclined to think it’s DST- and not caffeine-induced.

The extra hour of sunlight renewed my spirits, optimism, and energy. Life seems brighter, especially as I look ahead at my spring/summer calendar and start planning sandy weekends away.

Even during the winter I have plenty of energy. I don’t get home until 9:30pm many nights, get up the next morning, and do it all again—without turning into a zombie. But in the spring and summer, I’m far less likely to get frustrated by T transfers and long walks home, and less likely to shudder at the thought of a completely booked week.

Then there are my Energizer bunny friends. They possess unflagging energy year-round, energy that puts my schedule to shame. They sit on six committees, run marathons, compete in triathalons, work 12-hour days, and still maintain robust social lives. They even fit in yoga.

The difference between winter and spring, or Daylight Saving Time and the dark months preceding it, is that I’m far likelier to (attempt to) match pace with those Energizer bunny friends when it’s sunny. Which leads to my next mission: before next winter, find out what their perfect sleep/caffeine combinations are and start experimenting!

Weather: Gray skies with off-and-on rain.

Moods:

Anna – 6 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.

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