Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year! Or, my new year of happy. :)

This post is, in part, inspired by my friend Kmbris' Facebook question to everybody -- "What do you 'let go of and allow to transform' and what defined your year"

The sun will set tonight on the final day of 2010. And I'm so glad it's going to be done. I can't help thinking about everything that happened in this whirlwind year and how much I've grown. Every year brings growth, but this year seemed to bring more than most.

Flashback exactly one year. I was in a relationship I didn't know was dying, just a couple short months away from hitting the lowest point in my life. I was miserable, stuck in a grad school program I knew wasn't for me, waiting until I could actually pull the trigger and transfer to a teaching program. I was easily fifteen pounds heavier. I felt helpless and out of control, and desperately wanted to regain my sense of direction. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom in order to dig yourself out and try again. I hit rock bottom this year. And I learned that, like the strawberry plant I thought I'd killed a couple summers ago, I'm pretty resilient. It took a bad breakup I didn't see coming and a long period of healing, but I'm ending 2010 on a triumphant note.

Literally, I went from rock bottom to climbing mountains. I switched careers, and am on track to become a middle school teacher. I threw myself into outdoor activities, and became a hike leader for the Mountaineers. I made some amazing friends, and strengthened some existing friendships. I got Felix Hernandez' autograph at Spring Training. I learned that I can do anything -- I just have to put my mind to it. I crossed the Olympics on a 5-day backpacking trip. I summitted all 6988 of Buckhorn Peak. I swam with sea turtles and sting rays in Maui. I also learned (through a different breakup) that breakups don't necessarily have to be horrible, awful affairs filled with crying, pints of ice cream, and hurt feelings. Just because a romantic relationship ends doesn't mean the friendship has to end too. Sometimes, two people can just look at each other and say "maybe we'll make better friends," and it works.

I'm ending 2010 happy and healthy, surrounded by my wonderful friends and family. I get outdoors every chance I get. And while I know that 2011 is going to bring its ups and downs, I'm declaring it my new year of happy. For me, it's really going to be a Happy New Year -- emphasis on the happy part. So, with that, here are my new year's resolutions -- the things I'm going to try to do to stay happy.

1. Keep the butt (otherwise known as stay in shape). All of my outdoor adventures in 2010 brought me a great surprise -- a butt! While I have been blessed with hips and height, I've never had much of a butt. According to my dear, departed, great-aunt Ruth, whose hand slipped one Thanksgiving while she was giving me a goodbye hug, "you don't have much of a butt there, do you kiddo?" I'm not as blessed as JLo -- I have one of those body types where I actually have to work to get one. Now I have one. And I'd like to keep it. This means I need to stay in shape in 2011.

2. Read one fun book a month. I love to read novels and narrative non-fiction, but all the reading I do in graduate school makes reading for fun seem like a chore. I never read novels anymore, and I'd like to. So, I'll read one fun book a month -- on the bus, before sleep, while on planes, etc.

3. Continue to have adventures. My friend Hillary said I had an "Anna-appropriate adventure" with a birthday snowshoe last Monday. I already have a few adventures in the works with my scrambling class, a planned trip to Europe, and an ambitious summer backpacking trip where we will cross the Olympics the long way (south to north). I want to have a few more.

4. Summit something awesome/interesting/challenging. Like a volcano. My eventual goal is to summit Mt. Rainier, but I don't think that's going to happen in 2011. This year, I aim for something a bit more accessible like Mt. Adams or Mt. St. Helens. We'll see which one my climber friends drag me up.

5. Remember that grad school isn't the end-all, be-all of my existence. I will take time for me. I will not feel guilty for going snowshoeing on a gorgeous blue-sky day instead of doing my homework. I will not feel guilty for taking time to hang out with friends. I will not be a hermit -- I won't allow myself to be one.

So, that's it. 2011, you will be my new year of happy. And that's all there is to it.

Love to all of you on this Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On 29

"Eek!" That's my first thought when I think about turning 29 on Monday. My second is -- "quick! I must do everything left on that "before I turn 30, I will do these things" list I made when I was 25!" And then I start thinking about where I am now, and where I thought I'd be at this point.

My friend Ned asked me about this over lunch yesterday, during one of our annual catch-up sessions. One of the lovely things about continuing to live in the same city as my parents is that I don't have to travel anywhere for Christmas. Just a 20 minute drive, and I'm home. I get to catch up once a year with a few friends of mine who only make the long trek to Seattle for the holidays. Anyway, long digression aside, Ned asked me yesterday how I feel about turning 29.

Part of me wonders where all the time went. How did the last few years in particular go by so fast? Time plodded along at this wonderfully lazy pace, and then all of a sudden I was out of college and trying to find my sense of direction. I think I've spent most of my twenties trying to find that direction -- trying to find something to grasp onto to point me down my path. I've taken quite a few wrong turns, but I think I've finally found it. Becoming a middle school teacher feels like coming home, and I think that's how I know I've found my direction.

When I got out of college, my dad insisted that I have a plan and stick to it. My initial plan was to go to grad school in sociology, get my PhD, and become a college professor. Since I wanted to teach at a liberal arts college, I would have likely ended up in a small town in the middle of nowhere. I became miserable on the PhD track. I can't explain it -- I just didn't feel like me. I felt myself turning into a heartless narcissistic person. So, long story short, had I stuck with that plan, I would have been a narcissist living in a tiny town somewhere, lonely, sad, and unable to change her situation. While I love my dad dearly and inherited his linear engineer's brain (sometimes I call phone conversations with my dad "speaking engineer"), I couldn't stick to that plan.

Should I have changed my path earlier? The little voice that told me to teach middle school was practically shouting before I finally listened to it. Well, yes, but then I wouldn't have fallen in love with a country that no longer exists. I wouldn't have learned Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian. I wouldn't have danced in the rainstorm that broke the European heatwave in 2006. I wouldn't have experienced my first mosh pit at the Beastie Boys concert in Novi Sad. I wouldn't have taken my family to the Balkans. I wouldn't have sat in a rural village in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco and talked about religion with my host sister in the language only she and I understood. And I can't imagine a version of me who hadn't done all these things. I can't imagine a version of me who doesn't recognize (and start speaking in) Serbian when she hears it in the grocery store.

Plans can and do change. Sometimes I wonder what happens to the versions of me that made opposite choices to what I've done. Would I still be on the verge of challenging myself to learn the skills to climb Mt. Rainier? Am I living in a foreign country? Most importantly, am I happy? Right now, at this moment in my life, I am truly happy. I've been spun around like a top, and I followed my heart -- the best compass I have. I've found this quiet joy, this sense of doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. And I don't know how many people in this world find that. I'd like to hope that I didn't just get lucky, and that my friends and family will get to experience this feeling at some point in their lives.

29 is approaching rapidly, and I hope the last year of my twenties is a good one. I've got some exciting travel plans, and I'll start student teaching towards the end of it. I'm going to begin learning the skills I'll need to climb Mt. Rainier. I'm surrounded by laughter and the love of my amazing family and friends. That "eek!" about turning 29 is turning into "yay!" I've accomplished over half of the big things I wanted to do between 25 and 30, and I think I can cross a few more off that list. :)

It's nearly Christmas, and tonight I will be at my aunt and uncle's house, enjoying the company of my relatives. May this Christmas also find you and yours happy, healthy, well, and loved. Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Sretan Božić i Cpeтaн Бoжић cви мojих пpиjaтeљa.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cover Crops are Awesome!

Happy Longest Night of the Year Everybody!
Wow that makes me feel a little depressed. Where I live, the sun goes down at 4 PM this time of year and when it is actually up in the sky, people attempt to soak up as many rays as they can. We barely get eight hours of daylight -- not enough to really grow anything substantial. True, our long summer days make up for these dark winter ones, but it's still hard. I have a tough time motivating myself to get moving when my alarm goes off and it's still dark.

Fortunately, there is a solution. Three solutions, actually. I'm not really overwintering any crops unless you count the carrots and onions I forgot to pull up at the end of the summer. I'm kinda curious to see what happens to my onions -- it looks like the old onions are breaking down and giving birth to new onions. We'll see. I did plant a cover crop in the fall. It's so nice to look outside and see little green shoots coming out of my garden. Cover crops are great -- they're good for soil health. And who doesn't like little green shoots?

OK -- so solution #1 is overwintering (which I didn't really do). Solution #2 is a cover crop. And solution #3? My roommate's AeroGarden! He's got it set up on top of the refrigerator. It's timed so the lights are on at night -- making it once again look like we're growing pot in our house. It's not as bad as it was when I started my plants in February -- then my entire living room was glowing. But the backyard glows in the dark because of the direction of the light. It's funny. But nice to have green things in the house, too.

It's almost time to select my seeds for next season. I've got seed catalogs stashed all over the place. Can't wait for it to be planting time again.

As for life? It's good. I survived my first quarter of the UW Bothell teaching program! I passed my classes with flying colors, and was actually surprised by my high grade in one class. Wasn't so sure how I was doing, but I guess it wasn't that bad. (My UW Bothell peeps will know which class this was.) I'm enjoying my stay-cation quite a bit, and have been hanging out at home, working on Xmas presents, watching House, reading fun books, and just relaxing. Next quarter will be busy with outdoorsy classes and my own classes. But it will be fun.

I turn 29 in a week. Yikes! I will write a post about that milestone later, but I should go to bed now. Where did all the time go?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Field Guide to the NW Male Action FIgure

Pemco Insurance recently came out with a series of hilarious TV and radio spots profiling common Northwest stereotypical characters. One of my favorites is that of the Northwest Male Action Figure -- basically the guy who is always ready for an adventure, anytime, anywhere. You can check out the commercial here:

Today, while doing avalanche awareness training with The Mountaineers at Snoqualmie Pass, one of the leaders was trying to figure out how the avalanche beacon I'd borrowed from my mountain climber friend Scott worked.

"Does this thing work for normal people?" he asked.

"Not sure. The friend I borrowed it from is a Northwest Male Action Figure."

Everyone in the class started laughing. They knew exactly what kind of person I was talking about.

As a member of the Mountaineers and an outdoors enthusiast, I have many friends who could be described as NW Male Action Figures. So this afternoon, I give you A Field Guide to the NW Male Action Figure.

1. A NW Male Action Figure is a unique individual who enjoys many outdoor activities. Not only does he enjoy these outdoor activities, but he enjoys them to the extreme. He can't just hike up a trail, no. He must run up it. At least twice in a day. And beat his last "endurance hike" time by a few minutes each time.

2. He rock climbs. He tried scrambling once, but found that it was a gateway drug, and that he wanted more. So he invested in a harness, helmet, rope, and all sorts of other assorted gear for this new hobby of his. He loves to climb, and often talks about his climbs at great length, thinking that clearly, all his friends must love to climb too. Even the ones who have expressed their extreme fear of heights.

3. He skis. This is a requirement of the NW Male Action Figure. He doesn't just ski -- he does so in the backcountry almost exclusively.

4. He owns multiple pairs of skis. And snowshoes. And poles. In fact, he owns so much gear that he could outfit a 12-person party on a multi-day trip.

5. He owns more outdoor gadgets than any other person you know. And when you need to borrow an avalanche beacon for a class, you call him first. Because you know he'll have one. Maybe even two.

6. He buys new outdoor gadgets the day they come out. But he never buys these at REI, because REI is the domain of wannabe NW Male Action Figures. (And it's a little overpriced.) No -- he must go to a local store that sells local organic down bags.

7. Preferably local organic down bags where the down comes from geese who lives long, happy lives and were pampered with daily sponge baths, premium goose food, and plucked with the greatest care and sensitivity.

8. Because he owns so much gear, he drives a car with good clearance and a very large trunk. Most likely, said car is a Suburu.

9. He can fit more shit into a Suburu than anyone else you know.

10. His Suburu is always dirt spattered from his latest adventure. It likely also has a few scratches on it. He can tell you exactly where he got the scratches.

11. He sometimes speaks in a confusing lingo of gear and acronyms. He'll go on at length about the pros and cons of metal edges on touring skis for 5 minutes before realizing that the quizzical look on your face means you have no idea what metal edges or touring skis actually are.

12. He's summitted almost every NW volcano. And when you are thinking about attempting to summit a volcano, he gets a wistful look in his eyes and says "I remember when I was young and summitting my first volcano." Even though you're the same age he is.

13. Because he rock climbs and summits NW volcanoes, he is familiar with the use of a wag bag. Not only is he completely comfortable discussing how to shit in the woods, but he has all sorts of stories about shitting while rock climbing -- basically, how to take a shit when one is hundreds of feet in the air.

14. Of all your friends, he's the one with the craziest stories. This makes him the life of the parties he goes to on weekends when the weather is crappy and he doesn't go out and summit something.

15. In the winter, he literally spends every minute of every weekend skiing. He works to ski.

16. He's a great guy, a wonderful friend, and someone you can always count on to be up for hiking/climbing/snowshoeing/favorite outdoor sport of the moment.

Add any more you can think of. :)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Northwest Comfort Food

It's almost time for me to go into hibernation. Finals start a week from today. This week, I have three papers due (two of which are basically done) and a presentation on Thursday. Next week, I'll have a large paper due as well as a take home final. And did I mention that I somehow have to grade 74 essay-length finals in three days? And start my job training for my admissions job? Yeah. It feels like I'm about to enter Hell.

Which is why it's the perfect time for Northwest comfort food. I grew up on a steady diet of seafood. One of my mom's favorite stories she tells is about the time I discovered fried clam strips. I was 4 years old, and I wasn't tall enough to see over the table. But I could sure reach the table! Dad fed me a clam strip, and I reached my little hand up to pat around and see if I could find some more. I found them. So began a lifelong love affair with mollusks and crustaceans -- crabs, clams, oysters, and mussels. You name it, I'll eat it.

Two of my favorite Northwest comfort foods involve mollusks. In the winter time, we often eat cioppino, an Italian-style seafood stew. It's spicy, tomato-y, and warm. Perfect for chilly Seattle winters. Cioppino can be expensive to make, as all that seafood isn't cheap. Most recipes make quite a bit, so it's possible to have a cioppino party where guests each bring some fish or seafood to go in. The second is clam linguine. It's savory, full of tasty clams, and fills you up.

So imagine my wonder at finding a Mark Bittmann recipe that combines the two. Because the stress of finals makes me crave seafood (usually in the form of sushi, but I'll eat anything), I'd picked up some clams at the farmer's market. I decided to make Penne with Tomato-Seafood Sauce, an intriguing recipe I'd found in How to Cook Everything.

It tasted like cioppino. With pasta. The absolute best of my two favorite comfort foods. I made a nice big batch, and will be eating leftovers during the rest of this stressful week.

And tonight's dinner? Grilled cheese sandwiches and French onion soup. More universal comfort foods there. Less of a Northwest flavor.

Maybe I'll make some peach bread, too.

Here's the recipe:
Penne with Tomato-Seafood Sauce
Makes 4 rather generous servings

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small dried hot red chile or hot red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes, seeded (or drained canned -- note, I'll likely add another cup of tomato to the sauce when I make it next time)
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb penne or other cut pasta
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
Any variety of seafood you have on hand (I used clams)

1. Start pasta water. Put oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chiles and garlic and cook when hot, until the garlic turns brown -- about a minute.
2. Remove and discard the chiles and garlic and add the tomatoes. (I couldn't figure out how to remove them, so I just kept them in there. Didn't hurt.) Cook, stirring, until tomatoes begin to liquefy, about 5 minutes; add the rosemary and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook for another 5 minutes, then turn off the heat.
3. Add clams and mussels towards the end of cooking. End with the variety that will cook most quickly. Cover skillet until clams and mussels open. As you add more seafood you will be adding more liquid, so you can sauce more pasta and serve more people.

Bon Appetit!

OK. Back to work.