Wednesday, April 19, 2017

being seen

I once began a blog entry by saying “I breathe in the pauses, and I live in the flurry of activity from moment to moment.”

I just went back to look for it. It was in April of 2011, which was startling to me. It is burned into my mind, somehow, that pretentious, awkwardly-turned phrase, and so I had thought that I had written it far more recently than that. I have hated it ceaselessly since writing it, but I have not had the audacity to wipe it from the slate.

There’s something to the spirit of the sentiment, though. There’s something to the idea that life is happening just a little too fast and I notice it only when I manage to surface for air.

It has been a long, long time since I last felt the urge to arrange words together in long, winding lines. On good days, they flow easily and smoothly, and on worse days, they twist up in each other and stop me in my tracks until I walk away, leaving half-finished thoughts strewn across the page.

When I come back, I often wonder about the partial entry: what I meant it to be, what it is… the piling up of documents, some many pages long and some only a few sentences, but all compiled where I can easily get at them and wonder about myself.

Last night, I baked cookies. I did it with Kate’s company on Kitchen Couch, the stopwatch on her phone metering the whisk and rest, whisk and rest, whisk and rest. The smell of brown butter and homemade vanilla extract, the quiet whirring of the oven preheating, pressing chocolate chips into smooth domes of dough to yield picture-perfect cookies.

They came out of the oven fragrant and dense, skin crackling in a way that made me wonder if their insides were desiccated and hard, but I trusted - transferred them to the cooling rack one by one, checking their golden-brown undersides as I went.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the gym for my weekly session with the trainer they’d matched me with all the way back in January.

I can remember our first meeting viscerally: my first impression of her was that she was very short. This is surprising to me, right now, in this moment, as I consider it: I don’t think of her as short anymore. She is merely who she is. She is a whole person whose height is wholly irrelevant. But she was short, and she had a curly blonde ponytail and an easy smile. She rocked back and forth over her heels, testing the shift of her weight before sinking into a squat.

She always does it. I always watch for it.

She possessed the kind of enthusiasm you can’t fake. She sat down and wrote all over the back of a piece of paper. She asked me what brought me to the gym, and I ducked my head in shame and told her I’d run out of excuses, that we had a subsidy at work and that I just wanted to be functional. She told me all about how she was pregnant and had pregnancy-brain, how the baby would be terribly smart because she just couldn’t remember anything at all.

I was scared of her. I remember it well. I was intimidated by her and the wall of self-confidence that she projected in my direction. I wanted to follow her instructions. I didn’t want to let her down.

It paid off. I am leaner and stronger. I have more confidence. I am happier. First heal the mind (2016: restoration), then heal the body. Healing the body heals the mind, and around and around we go.

Several weeks later, she called off our session. We met again on Monday. I asked if everything was okay and she said, “well, no - I lost the baby,” and her voice was quieter than usual, and even though she dialed up the wattage on her but-everything-is-okay smile, everything wasn’t okay. But this is the method by which she processes. She throws herself fully into her work.

She might be afraid to feel.

I understand it. I’ve been afraid to feel before.

Maybe a month ago, I ran into her in the locker room as I was changing. She always has a smile and a compliment for me. She understands how to connect with people; she understands how to make people feel seen and loved, whether she does it consciously or unconsciously. We discussed progress and personal training, and she expressed her frustration that many clients just want “to hold hands and lift weights.”

I laughed and said, “isn’t that what we do? hold hands and lift weights?”

She laughed, too. She likes when I laugh, her own mirrored laugh never far behind. She understands the significance of making someone else laugh.

I told her that I was glad I’d gone for it, though, that it was clearly worth it.

She told me she was proud of my progress. And then she said, “and you got a friend out of it, too!” and, caught in the tractor beam of her smile, I thought, you know, maybe it is okay to accept that. Maybe it is okay to stop holding her at arm’s length because I pay her to hang out with me and accept that maybe there could be a genuine friendship there.

So a couple of weeks ago, I got to my session and when we met there, I looked into her face and the fire was missing, much as she tried to throw sparks for both of our benefits.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I’m leaving him,” she said.

And it was good, because he was no good. And even if he was good, he was not good for her. She needs something different. I am not sure what it is, but she needs something different. Something specific.

She needs to know herself, and I think she might be afraid to, whether or not she realizes it.

I can relate. I’ve been afraid to look into the mirror, afraid of what I might recognize there.

The session was no less productive for me than usual, but she was defeated. Tired and confused.

“What do you think?” she asked me, after several rinse-lather-repeats of quiet followed by a burst of her thoughts / rationalizations / retellings.

I completed a few more reps. “What do I think about what? Any of it?”

“Why do you think he’s doing this?”

I didn’t want to tell her that I didn’t know much about him except what little window she’d given me, and despite her relentlessly positive spin on him, he’d never seemed like a particularly decent person. I didn’t want to tell her that I thought she was better off without him - not in the face of her apparently unshakable faith in having found her soulmate.

But I do.

This past week, he packed her things up and left them by the door, stranding her without a place to stay and then taking it back, over and over again. “You need to be independent,” he told her, after helping to strip her of her independence, “and then we can talk.”

And then they collide again and again, over and over.

I want to tell her to harness the strength she shows me every time we meet and refuse to hear him out anymore. I want to tell her to walk away without turning back, but I don’t know how to enable her to do it.

I tell her that she is magnetic and strong and that it makes me so angry to watch him try to put out her light instead of letting her share it with him.

I watch the way she achieves ‘touches’ with everyone around her, casual contact that makes people feel seen, and I wonder if he is insecure, jealous that he can’t have that to himself. Maybe he doesn’t understand that she is a different sort of person than he is, that she is unselfishly sending love out, desperately hoping to receive love back.

The last time we had barre class, as I was putting my shoes back on to go upstairs and continue my workout, she came and sat down on the floor opposite me and the story spilled out past her lips, and she looked into my face and she wanted to be seen. I sometimes (unkindly) joke that she loves an audience, but what she really seems to be searching for is support and love that isn’t conditional.

After her story, we stood and walked out and up, and that was the first time she ever hugged me. “Thank you for listening,” she said, and it struck me. It had never occurred to me to state thanks so simply for someone lending an ear, but she says it, over and over. “Thank you for listening.”

In that moment, I had seen her.

So this past week, he packed her things up and put them by the door and told her to move out, to find a place and get on her own two feet (after repeatedly knocking her off of them) and then they could talk.

I told her I thought she probably should never talk to him again.

I told her to let me know if she needed anything.

I told her I’d make her cookies, because I didn’t know what else to offer.

She responded to it.

Last night, she came over, brought her seven year old son on spring break. I introduced her to my roommates and she turned her smile at them and shook their hands, shimmied out of her trainer shirt and into an oversized sweater, and there she was, a human being like the rest of us.

I experienced the surreality of feeding chocolate chip cookies to my personal trainer, sitting with her on one side and her son on the other side, across from both of my roommates, all together at the table playing Uno with some convoluted rules. I began to think about how it felt like being able to love, to be able to feed someone, even if just with cookies.

And I felt peaceful, then, having her sitting safely at the table in our apartment and knowing that she would be okay, at least for that night.

I did hide my protein powder, though. She doesn’t approve of whey.

Monday, January 4, 2016

anxiety, depression, graduate school, and the new year

When I was a senior in high school, my graduating class voted me Most Likely to Succeed.

This is one of many things I've been thinking of lately.

They didn't vote me in as Tallest, and probably should have. I know I was taller than the girl who won, but if it had come down to the measuring tape, it's not impossible that there might have been a girl who edged me out.

No, they voted me Most Likely to Succeed. I posed with our future valedictorian out in the courtyard where some students sometimes ate lunch, on and around a statue that no one really understood. I can't remember if I'd known they were going to take my picture that day, but the shot itself suggests that either I didn't know or it slipped my mind, because there I am in a pair of tatty jeans and a huge orange hooded sweatshirt that says - if I recall correctly, and I've still got it here with me in Boston - "I LOVE SUNSET BEACH." Or maybe it's "SUNSET BEACH: I LOVE IT."

Most Likely to Succeed.

2015 was a year of failure - or at least that was the way it seemed to me. I was beaten down by our move and subsequent scramble for anything that would help us graduate, so far from our home institution. In many ways, it seems like 2014 should have been the Year of Last Straws rather than 2015, but I still had something left in the tank.

Not much, though. It's hard to retain reserves to run on when you move in the middle of your graduate degree, find your advisor credited on everyone's acknowledgements slides, and realize that he's been advising students that aren't his at the expense of his own.

Then we floated around blindly, having footed the bill to move to Boston after he made his pleas to us ("I want to do whatever I can to convince you to come with me" almost immediately turned into "I understand, now, why other advisors left their graduate students", which seems to be the advisor's paraphrase of "Now I know why tigers eat their young" and, I assure you, made our blood run cold on that sunny day in front of Starbucks).

We didn't have projects or we couldn't work on them, lacking the funding to make the necessary progress. We were relegated to work on other people's projects. Ben found computational work that he loved while he was working for other people in order to stay paid. I was making molecules around a hit for a target that was someone else's project. Where could I have gone? Even had I gotten excited about something, I probably couldn't have worked on it in any official capacity because of intellectual property conflicts between my home institution and my current half-home here.

We lost time to this move: how do you quantify lost time? I don't know, but I know we lost it. I know that some of us - maybe most of us - found ways to keep on keepin' on.

I didn't.

This added fuel to the fire growing inside me, convincing me that I was worthless, that I was unmotivated, that I didn't deserve to be a graduate student, that I was an utter failure. It burned me out.

The thing is, I knew what I wanted when I started out. I knew what I needed. I articulated it. I was reassured that it would happen. So when it didn't, can you blame me for slowly losing steam? There's some blame, surely, for my avoidant behavior, for my lack of self-motivation, but it's all tied up in everything else. I can't see any way this would have worked out well for me.

At first when I started giving up, I told myself I didn't care. I was still getting paid. I tried to tell myself it was a game, this waiting for him to notice that I wasn't making progress, that I was so clearly struggling. When he didn't notice over longer and longer periods of time, I began the slow realization that I would never be fired. I would have to quit or graduate.

I gave a poster on mostly old results, almost all of which I'd presented at past group meetings. He stopped by my poster, nodded, told me it was good. I wanted to scream it then: there's nothing new here. There's no real progress. The only good data is questionable. How can you not see it?

I didn't make any progress on that project from June to the present day. Sure, I set up a few experiments and ran them, and then I looked dispiritedly at the data and despaired. Why didn't I get help?

What help would he have been? We'd been trying to get him to weigh in on it for ages.

I learned my way around the mass spec, thinking maybe this was my ticket. I still think that maybe it's my ticket.

In late August or early September, I was getting coffee with Clark and we were walking back to the building when I heard myself saying "I think I'm having a nervous breakdown."

He said, "Oh. Do you want to walk?"

That was the beginning of admitting to myself, out loud, how unhappy I was. Over the next few months, my resolve rose and fell several times. I talked to Steph about mental health resources. I dreaded going home for Thanksgiving because it meant I had to come back, and coming back after time away was so very difficult.

The three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas were the hardest three weeks of my life to date. I cried at my desk regularly. I left for hours in the middle of the day to walk by the Charles River. I admitted to some of my coworkers that I was very seriously considering leaving the program. They, to their credit, were calm and supportive. They seemed sad but not surprised, offering quiet suggestions for how I might still find my way through.

It was well-meaning, but I have been here for long enough that I know that things are not going to change. A tiger cannot change his stripes. I cannot expect change where there has been none and where there is no potential for it. I no longer have any interest in driving a project forward entirely of my own volition.

Hyperbole and a Half wrote a pair of well-known posts about depression a few years ago. It was startling to come back to them and see myself so clearly in them. The self-loathing, the negative self-talk, the eventual deadening of feeling. Things that I used to enjoy held no interest for me. I couldn't read, I couldn't watch more than about 15 minutes of television without being distracted, I couldn't color in coloring books, I didn't want to play video games or cook, I didn't want to see movies, I definitely didn't want to leave the house. I didn't even want to leave my bed. Many times, the best I could do was to get myself up and to my desk, and that was all I had the energy to do.

My fish were dead.

The trouble with depression is that it's hard to explain, especially to people who haven't struggled with it. I was living with the constant certainty that I had irreversibly destroyed my entire life with 4 years of unproductive graduate school. I, at 26 years old, had written off my entire life's trajectory. It ruined my birthday; I distinctly remember crying on the day because I didn't think it was fair. I felt trapped, I felt alone, I felt like I couldn't talk to anyone about what I was feeling because I didn't want anyone to urge me to Just-Do-It or to tell me I was obviously so close, why not just keep sticking it out. Admitting that I was struggling was admitting to unacceptable weakness.

It's not part of the culture, not this culture, to admit that you're struggling. Badges of honor here are things like "I worked 90 hours last week" and "I'm not getting enough sleep" and "I hate science" while you feverishly plug ahead, undaunted. I certainly don't have that in me, but I take some comfort in the fact that anyone who is able to get even an inch of distance from it looks at it with well-deserved horror.

Does the system, therefore, self-select? Of course it does, but I'm not sure that the qualities that it selects for are honorable. There's a reason why suicides in graduate school are common. I think that when graduate students are mistreated and they survive despite it, they start to believe that it was what propelled them to greatness and they perpetuate the abuse. I think that the system is broken.

I've been lost in a system that doesn't care one whit about me for probably three years now. And I can't even get a meeting with my advisor to tell him that I am not interested in being part of this machine anymore. It's almost comical.

I realized, one night as I lay listlessly in bed before 8pm, trying not to think about how miserable I was, that this was utterly unsustainable and I had to do something about it. My self-loathing was so intense that when Dad told me that he was proud of me, I had to swallow the lump in my throat, convinced that if he knew what was happening to me, he wouldn't be proud anymore. I had progressed to the point where I had convinced myself that no one would be able to love me anymore if I gave up on this, but I knew that couldn't keep going.

Agony.

Most Likely to Succeed. How ya like me now, classmates?

How do you define success?

I told myself that when I went home for the holidays, I would talk about it. I went to our group lunch - the first time I'd been in the same room as my advisor in probably two months - and could barely eat because I was so terrified that he would meet my eyes across the room and know that I was a failure, would call me out on it in front of everyone.

Of course he didn't.

I made it home and I couldn't get the words to cross my lips. I couldn't admit to what was happening to me until I received an email from my advisor asking for a summary of data on the project (that had made one tiny, fumbling step in the past year), because he was going to think over break about how best to get me to graduation. This was finally enough to break me because it sent me into a panic spiral complete with shortness of breath and cold sweat. I talked to Mom, I made it through Christmas - not without feeling very sad even on that day, which made sense because once it was over, the next big benchmark was returning to work - and then I talked to everyone else. I never responded to the email.

He never did follow up on it, which, I think, tells you everything you need to know, if I hadn't already presented enough evidence here.

The days are short and dark and cold, but my resolve to do something about my situation lets me believe that there might be light around the corner.

2015: The Year of Giving Up.

2016: The Year of Getting Out? The Year of Restoration?

All I can say for certain: The Year that Something is Finally Going to Change.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

thoughts on the weather

It rained this morning.

It is still raining now, but it started early this morning, pattering soft and full against the ground.

I slowly filtered up out of a dream in which I already was very late to work, and I couldn't manage to get everything together, not my lunch, not my keys and wallet, not my umbrella. And as I ran around trying to figure out where my umbrella could have gotten off to, I started to panic about having lost it, because of course it was raining and I needed it.

I woke up and thought "well, at least I haven't lost my umbrella."

But when I got to the shelves by the front door, I had my lunch, my keys and my wallet, but my umbrella was not there, and it was not in my backpack, and I had the horrible realization that I had left my umbrella at work. Because, you see, sometimes it rains in the morning but stops before the time I leave for home, and it has not rained here in a long, long time.

So I considered my options. I could hail an Uber, but rain like this causes terrible surge pricing.

I could walk outside as is, and arrive at work looking like a drowned rat.

I could put on the closest thing I have to a raincoat, which is my winter jacket. But although it was raining, it was not much cooler than it had been yesterday, which was not very cool at all. I shrank at the thought of the warm winter coat.

I french-braided my hair in the bathroom but without facing the mirror, because my mirror-twin is no help when it comes to my spatial awareness. My arms burned. It was warm in the apartment. I longed for last weekend, when the apartment was 67 degrees and dry, instead of 80 degrees and humid.

Winter jacket it was. I left the zipper undone, held it loosely together in front of me, hoping it would have less luck insulating my body with a large vent. It funneled rainwater down to my thighs. My hair and shirt stayed dry. I did not look at passersby with umbrellas. I pitied myself enough to want to avoid the possibility of seeing more in someone else's face.

My rainboots are not very comfortable. They wear little blisters into the bottoms of my heels and then grind away at them. But at least my feet are dry.

I arrived at work to see my pink polka-dotted umbrella peeking cheerily out from beneath my desk.

There is a section of my legs, from thighs to mid-calves, that is completely drenched. I am trying to tell myself that this would have happened with or without the umbrella. I greatly dislike wet jeans.

I greatly dislike rain.

The weather is gray and sullen, and so am I.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

payday

It is the 15th of the month, which means that it is payday and also that the month is halfway over. And at some point I feel like I'm just rolling over and letting the tides of time drag me around. Because, really?

Halfway over?

And speaking of the passage of time, where did 2015 go?

The other day I was looking sadly at my sidebar here on the bloggaroo because I have had material aplenty but no inspiration, and I could have sworn that it was this year, in 2015, that I blogged 500 words 5 times a week in January, but no. It was 2014.

2014 is kind of a black hole in the timescape of my life. I mean. I know what happened in it, but WHAT HAPPENED IN IT?

Apparently my blog can tell me, at least, what happened in January.

Anyway, it being payday and all, I paid my credit card, moved some surplus funds from checking to savings, and then ordered a bunch of vanilla beans.

I am a little baffled by my own methods, here. Usually I wait until the end of the pay period and then reward myself for staying under budget by buying whatever it is I've been dreaming about right before I clear the card and start fresh. For some reason, I decided starting fresh this month would be accompanied by spending some money on vanilla beans. After the clear. Oh well. They were on sale and I feel good about what I paid for them. Now I get to wait happily for the package to be delivered!

I'm very obsessed with both vanilla beans and with French braids this week. It's a weird time in my life. The weather has also confused my stomach, so I am never sure what I want to eat, but I am usually pretty sure that it is nothing that I have available to me.

Between last night and this morning, I ate three huge, perfect peaches that dripped juice down my face, and I regret nothing except that I have no more peaches to eat.

Monday, September 14, 2015

vanilla bean weekend

It rained last week.

I mean that in only the most positive way, because it rained last week and before the rain it was summer and after the rain it was autumn!

I haven't been so good about watering the plants on the back porch lately, and sometimes the basil droops sadly when I go out to check on it. Since getting back from the greatest vacation I have ever known (sun! sand! surf! tan lines that are persisting even several weeks later!), my groove has been a bit, let's say-

thrown off.

Also, something is eating the mint and I just don't have the emotional energy to expend on stressing about it.

This weekend, I sat around the apartment in shorts and loose t-shirts and my fuzzy pink snuggie. Snuggies were a big laughingstock back in the day but AS IT TURNS OUT, snuggies are basically the perfect couchwear when the weather is cold. The sleeves let you keep close all that body heat you've been dutifully pumping out to help stay comfortable.

Laugh all you want. I love my snuggie.

Inspiration, as happens sometimes, struck. I had two vanilla beans living semi-permanently in a mason jar on top of the refrigerator and hadn't been feeling particularly inspired. And the thought occurs: cream soda is the greatest soda!

This is not, of course, strictly or always true, but when it's true, it's true. There's something really special about the flavor of cream soda. Which, naturally, is not actually cream-flavored, but delicately caramel-and-vanilla-flavored, creating a rich, light, creamy texture that bubbles on my tongue.

Now, I know soda is the opposite of health food, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that (1) the sugar is real, if plentiful, and (2) I wasn't adding phosphates.

So I caramelized some white sugar on the stove, scraped and then steeped one of my two remaining vanilla beans, seeds and pod, and came back in an hour.

Vanilla beans inspire a sort of reference in me. I bought them from Beanilla and they arrived, oily and plump and oh-so-fragrant. The smell fills the room when I take them out of the packaging or their mason jar home, and it is richer and deeper than any vanilla extract. I can never decide whether I want to try to make my own extract from precious beans, or just use the beans as-is. So far, I've just used them as-is.

I plan to buy more, in bulk, later this week when my paycheck rolls in. Tomorrow. They are running a deal that is pretty phenomenal, less than $1/bean (Madagascar) and free shipping and I think, hey. I can treat myself once in a while. Besides, I'm running out of beans.

I should treat myself to new clothes, but that's not something that's fun for me.

Anyway, the syrup, once cooled, was thick and strong, and I swirled it into seltzer and drank it greedily. Yes. This is something worth doing. I already want to try making another batch, taking the sugar to a deeper, darker amber. I was afraid of burning it, but I erred on the lighter side and ended up with something still delicious (it is my curiosity, not my tastebuds, that remains unsated).

Anyway I think that the rich vanilla flavor that cuts through so sharply is really where the soda is going to continue to shine. This is one thing for which vanilla beans are definitely necessary.

I ... don't really have anything else to say here, so I suppose I'll sign off.

Oh right. I figured out, spur of the moment, how to French braid my own hair a couple of days ago and it is changing my life. I think my hair is going to be less greasy because it will come in less contact with my face and also this is THE ONLY way to style your hair and know you're going to avoid headaches. It is just so perfect.

I feel like the french braid is to hairstyles as the triangle is to bridges.

YEAH.

Only I can't do it while I'm looking in the mirror because my spatial intelligence is not so good, so instead I fly blind every time. Hey man. Still fancier than regular-braid. It does make my arms ache something awful though. I figure I'll get faster the more I do it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

summery things

We had a brief respite from the heat this weekend, windows flung wide-open, the fans still working overtime. I slept with the sheet, the blanket, and the duvet because the nighttime temperature fell to the low 60s. It was glorious.

The temperature swing is brutal, though. I woke up bathed in sweat and threw off a few layers, rolled back over and tried to sink back down into sleep.

We're looking at an absolutely brutal stretch, now, for the next as-long-as-my-weather-app-can-predict. The nighttime temperatures look good, but I have this fear that as we get closer, they will creep up to the mid-70s nightmare where you just can't gain enough traction to cool down the inside of the apartment.

I dunno, man. It might be enough to make me give in and buy an AC window unit.

Last night, Kate and Ben went out for dinner together, and I stayed back, slapping a flank steak into a fajita marinade for dinner tonight - it will have to do with pico de gallo and maybe some smashed avocado, if mine are ripe, rather than classic fajitas - and then eventually hardboiling a couple of eggs. I had a lot of water, a peach, and two hardboiled eggs for dinner last night.

Although I ran the eggs under cool tap water for a minute or so prior to eating them, they still practically blistered my fingers as I peeled them, impatiently. Sprinkled with salt and riding the too-hot-for-my-mouth line, I wolfed them down. I would like to submit hot, freshly hardboiled eggs as perhaps the easiest-to-prepare ultimate comfort food.

Think about it, though. Even macaroni and cheese from a box requires you to boil water, then drain the pasta and cake on the powdered cheese mix. I suppose mashed potatoes from a box are easier, but there's something less homey about them. I think I can appreciate instant mashed potatoes for their general palatability and ease, but they lose their comforting edge when you take the shortcut.

Eggs, you just pop into a pot with water, bring it to a boil, snap off the heat and let them sit for however long you can wait. Or forget about them until later.

Then I ate a peach that I sliced into eight mostly-even slices. It was a little mealy, but the flavor was still there.

Speaking of. We're having some serious fruit fly problems with the trashcan, of all things. Maybe it is actually very common for flies to multiply in great numbers in the kitchen trash, but I don't know what the solution is. When I lifted the bag out this morning, I was pretty revolted by the great fruit fly exodus of July 27, 2015.

I mean, what do I do? Do I waste trash bags and take the trash out more frequently? Do I have to bag up all of my produce waste and take it out separately, like I sometimes do with chicken waste if the can is still pretty empty? We have traps everywhere and they work, but I don't understand why we can't just eradicate them.

This is all Stop and Shop's fault. Ben and Kate use Peapod, which is their delivery service, because they hate going to the grocery store. As a weekly grocery-store-goer myself, this sounds better and better every time I trip over a small child or wait ten minutes for someone who is texting to get out of the way of the milk.

Anyway, a couple of months ago (yes, it's been that long), they ordered a pineapple and ended up with a questionably overripe monster that carried the pests in with it. The produce conundrum is my main complaint with delivery groceries. I like to pick out my fruits and vegetables myself. Since then, we have not been able to get rid of the fruit flies, and there are just a couple of mass fruit fly graves in the kitchen and pantry.

I think I will clean out the red wine trap this evening and refill with fresh wine plus just a dash of dish soap. Then again, the presence of hundreds of dead fruit flies doesn't seem to stop any of the rest of them from diving in to their vinegary demise.

On a happier note, we made ice cream on Saturday. Kate found a recipe for maple bacon crunch ice cream. She is a bit of a maple syrup aficionado, hailing from Vermont, apparently land of the maple syrup festival. I kind of wanted to go to that sometime, but neither of us have cars, so it may never happen. Her parents have supplied her with what I believe is a half-gallon of maple syrup, and it's lasted close to a year now.

Side note: today marks the one-year anniversary of our living in our apartment here. July 27.

Anyway, this recipe was kind of a weird one, I thought. Half as many egg yolks in the custard, a full cup of maple syrup, no other flavoring, just milk and cream, and all of the cream was reserved so the custard was made with just whole milk, sugar, a little salt and some egg yolks. Then stir in the syrup. I strained it afterward, nervous about having scrambled some egg yolks. My fine mesh strainers get a lot of work in the ice cream process.

After it cooled, I stirred in heavy cream and dumped it into the ice cream attachment for Kate's Kitchenaid. It took 10-15 minutes longer to freeze appropriately than I had expected, and that made me nervous, but it got there eventually.

I also made bacon brittle with sugar melted down to caramelized amber, a little butter, some baking soda (? I don't know either, maybe for texture because I suspect it releases carbon dioxide bubbles to help make the sugar brittle instead of hard-as-diamond?), then stirred in the crumbled bacon bits and a generous couple of shakes of cayenne pepper, and poured it out onto a buttered cookie sheet to set.

The brittle is interesting. Ben likes it a lot. Kate thinks it tastes a little like burnt popcorn, but not in a bad way, and I don't think she's too far off. I like it too, for the record, but it's a hard flavor to describe. Ben likes it plain, but I like it the way I swirled it into the ice cream. It adds texture and crunch, smashed up into shards, and the creamy almost-vanilla maple flavor with a dark little peppery crunch...

I don't know how to explain it, but I like it. One little scoop at a time.

Maybe someday we'll try some plain chocolate ice cream. Then again, maybe we won't. I think this is one of the prettier ice creams we've made, in a purely aesthetic sense.

I sat out on the porch last night at dusk, because it was kind of sweltery in the apartment and because I'd forgotten to water the plants in the morning. I sat by them and slowly tipped water into each pot, watching it sink into the soil. They are fragrant now, the mint especially, and thriving. I hope the hot weather will be good for them. I will be vigilant about getting them enough water.

There was a breeze last night, and the sky was blue until it wasn't, the moon a bright constant in the sky. I sat and didn't think. I sat and I was, until the air grew cold enough to prickle my arms with goosebumps. It was quiet except for some small noises from the surrounding apartments with open windows, one playing some Bruno Mars song. It was a moment where I wondered if I'd remember it because it seemed so inconsequential, but kind of heavy at the same time.

When I went back in, Kate and Ben had returned from dinner and were watching something on television, but I didn't join. I took a shower and washed the sweat and grease out of my hair, and eventually I went to sleep.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

it's too hot.

It was 79 degrees at 8:30 this morning. Outside of my apartment. I think the inside maintained at a balmy 82, while every fan we own is desperately trying to circulate the heavy, wet air that blankets everything, thwarting our every attempt at relief.

I didn't have coffee this morning. I could have. Ben bought a Kona blend at Trader Joe's this past weekend, apparently struck by a crisis of conscience when he realized

1. he really likes cold brew, and
2. I make all the cold brew that he drinks.

It's a source of some quiet pride to me even though the process is simple. He orders cold brew from Starbucks sometimes on Wednesdays, when we wander down to the farmer's market in Kendall Square and contemplate produce.

So the Kona has been steeping away in the French press in the refrigerator, and it's the best $10-20 price range item I've bought in a long time, in terms of the usage it gets. Hot coffee from it in the winter, cold brew from it in the summer.

Cold brew is nice. I know I've talked about it before, but it's more mellow, less acidic. More suitable for those hot mornings when you wake up and all you want to do is bathe in ice cubes, because you can water it down with coffee or with milk and it doesn't taste heavy. We go through a lot more heavy cream in the winter, but it's just too much in the summer.

The Kona smells nice. I haven't tried it yet. I pressed it last night and poured it off into a ball jar, started a new round so that we'll have plenty come the weekend. This weekend is supposed to hit 88/90 and I'm thinking I might go in to work just so that I don't spend the entire 48 hours lying limply on the futon watching the fans oscillate. Breeze, still, breeze, still.

I mean, I'm still making the cold brew. I just didn't buy this particular set of beans-ground-coarse. But there's no real work to cold brew coffee. I weigh the grounds out, just because we have a food scale. 120g, usually, or thereabouts, then I dump them into the French press and pour in cold water from the pitcher we keep in the fridge. Stir to wet the grounds, let them steep. Stir once more several hours later when the grounds are saturated. Then wait.

Ben broke that pitcher a couple of weekends ago, the pitcher I used to keep orange juice in, sometimes, in my old apartment in New Haven. Water is a much better candidate for it, because it never goes moldy. I'm fairly cyclical about what I like and what I don't. Hot and cold. Inevitably, orange juice would just kind of fall out of favor and then months later I'd pull the pitcher out of the back of the fridge (nothing nice lurks at the back of the fridge) and try not to gag as I disposed of the juice that maybe wasn't very orange anymore. This doesn't happen with water.

Anyway, it's so hot that condensation is a constant these days, and he was lifting it up to take it out of the fridge and it slipped from his fingers and broke, spilling cold water and glass shards across the linoleum. He felt bad about it and ordered us a new one. This one is exactly the same, but it has a red stopper in it. "Cherry red." I picked glass shards out of my toe pads with tweezers all through the following week even though I vacuumed relentlessly. Glass shards and one single deep splinter from the back porch.

We keep our tiny herb garden on the back porch, basil and rosemary and now mint, and they're all growing like weeds except, oddly, for the mint which is supposed to basically be a literal weed. I think it's just not used to its pot yet. The others took some time to cultivate, too, anyway. The leaves smell good when you rub them between your fingers.

Work before noon is a quiet place. I don't know if it's scientists in general or scientists here, but no one seems quite on top of things until after lunch. We wander the hallways, frequent the Keurigs, cradle hot cups in our hands and murmur greetings sotto voce to each other. I'm pretty sure everyone is just doing variations on "morning", but for all I know, we could all be saying things like "I hate your guts" with tired smiles.

Doubt it, though.

My MBTA card is apparently dying. I'm unreasonably (well, I don't think it's unreasonable) irritated that the RFID is giving up one week into the month, because I don't know if I should try to ride this out and then replace the card so I don't have to revisit the MBTA DMV to have the pass transferred, or just give in and make the trip. I mean, I paid $75 for this pass and shouldn't have to sketchily jump turnstiles to get to work.

The hot weather is apparently phenomenal for fruit flies, and I'm fighting a losing battle with them, trying to keep all the fruit in the refrigerators or in closed containers, a couple of ball jars converted to mass graves with apple cider vinegar or red wine as lures. They work well, but even one or two flies is a tremendous annoyance to me. Bugs make me feel itchy and dirty.

I am not enjoying summer. I'm not longing for winter, either, with blankets and shivers. I just want some of that in-between weather. We didn't ever get any real spring weather. You'd think we were far enough north to not have miserable summers, but you would be wrong. I'm just not cut out for this climate.