Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Zombie among Us

What a week! Last week is nought but a hazy vision of a memory to me, as I spent most of the week thoroughly doped up on pain medication. My neck had decided to act up again, so I had constant neck pain mixed with occasional spasms in my neck, which in turn caused a few migraines. Despite the heavy dosage of prescription pain meds, I still got my papers written on time and made it to my classes, though I was unable to make any substantial contributions to the discussions - instead I sat there staring blindly into space, attempting to pay attention. One professor told me to just go home, but I reminded him that my GPA is far more important to me than my health or physical comfort. For the record, that GPA happens to be the highest of my entire life, despite this being the most intense, difficult coursework that I have ever undertaken. Yes folks, Stephanie is carrying a glistening, beaming 4.0!!

Amidst all the "fun" of the past several days, I had the additional issue of internet troubles, which is akin to a death sentence for a grad student. With no way to communicate with my revision partner for the week, I had no way of knowing his suggestions for my article until class rolled around. Fortunately, the only issue he found was a footnote that had somehow wandered into the middle of a sentence rather than at the end, where it belonged. During a perusal of my paper, I happened across that same disobedient little footnote and put it in its proper place, so despite the potential hindrance, everything turned out all right. The article is now with my final revision partner and will be on its way back to me tomorrow, at which time I will likely make one or two minute alterations, and then this opus of my semester's research will be completely finished and ready to be handed in on Monday of next week. I already earned the highest grade in the class for my rough draft (this came as a very pleasant shock to me), so I am confidently expecting a high A on the final draft.

One class is now finished, aside from one remaining book review and a horrendous final paper that the prof has not yet assigned. I live my days in terror! Of course, my classmates and I cherish a fragile dream that the prof will become overwhelmed by his workload (the semester is almost over and final grades are due in just over a week, plus he really does have a lot on his plate) and will mercifully choose not to assign this monstrosity after all. I doubt this dream will come true.

I cannot believe that my first semester back in grad school is almost over. I feel like I have learned a massive amount in this short space of time, which is a complete reversal from my experience during my semester at UNCW. That program was undergrad level compared to this one! Liberty is not perfect (no university is), but it does have a fantastic history grad program (even if we do sometimes feel like the illegitimate child of the grad school - a situation which seems to be the case at most schools). I'm really looking forward to my two summer intensives, even if I am a bit nuts for taking two at once. And next semester, though full of hard work, is also looking like it promises to be terrific. The only sad part is that my two favorite professors are not teaching any grad classes next semester. I've heard great things about one of the profs I'll be taking, though, and I already know that the other two are excellent instructors, so I'm sure that even without my favorite profs, I'll still have a great time.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Stephanie's Plumbing Lesson

Last week, my nearly constant vomiting from that whatever-it-is bug that I picked up resulted in a clogged toilet, which I was clearly in no condition to deal with.  Schoolwork and other distractions soon chased the matter from my mind.  Then this morning, to my consternation, my other toilet got clogged as well.  Thus, I was left in the unappealing situation of having two clogged toilets and no plunger.  What was a single girl to do?

Obviously, there was no way that I was going to call a plumber, or anything drastic like that.  I have never actually used a plunger, and thus was rather reluctant to buy one and try to figure the thing out.  Instead, I looked online for some credible solutions.  I struck gold!

Apparently, if you pour a bunch of Dawn dishsoap into the toilet, let it set, and then pour a pot of boiling water down the toilet, it actually gets the clog out.  It took a few pots of boiling water to do it, but now both toilets are in excellent working order, and smell rather nice as well.

Since I have a low workload this week, I opted to do some needed housekeeping and random household tasks today after dealing with the toilet issue.  One task in particular that I have been meaning to do is to clean out Jasper's toy box.  He has literally loved some of his toys to death, so I wanted to weed out those that were in poor condition and dispose of them.  Jasper did not appreciate my efforts in the least.  He followed me anxiously to the kitchen when I had selected the toys that would be thrown out, and watched in horror as I threw them into the trash.  For the next half hour, he sat in front of the cabinet where I keep the wastebasket, mournfully staring at it and whimpering pitiably.  I remained firm, and eventually he gave up on trying to "rescue" those toys.  The matter was not entirely over for him, however.

The next thing I knew, Jasper began collecting his favorite toys, one at a time, from the toy box and hiding them in various locations throughout the apartment.  Apparently he is now gravely concerned for the safety of his remaining toys, and is determined to keep me from finding them.  An hour later, the toy box is now half empty and the "toy guardian" is fast asleep on the couch, worn out from his self-appointed mission to protect his toys from his evil owner.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Coffee and Smoke Alarms

In short, I forgot to drink my coffee and it got cold.  I put it in a small saucepan on the stove to reheat, then got distracted.  The next thing I knew I was getting scared out of my wits by my smoke alarm!  Apparently, the coffee reached a full boil and spilled onto the burner.

On the bright side:
1.  I know my smoke alarm is in good working order.
2.  My apartment smells like a coffee shop.
3.  I have learned that Jasper has good instincts in the case of a fire.  He immediately began barking, whimpering, and frantically trying to get out the door.

1.  My pulse is still racing and my ears are ringing.
2.  I get to clean the stove once it cools down.
3.  Jasper, though calmed down now, is definitely displeased.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hard at Work or Hardly Working?

It's difficult to believe that this first semester of grad school is almost over.  Two of my classes only meet two more times, while the third meets either two or three more times (the prof still hasn't decided).  I only have one major paper left to write!  The big one that I've spent all semester working on is nearly perfect now (according to my professor) - in fact, my rough draft received the highest grade in the class!  I just want to add a few more things to it so that it can pass my standards as well as my professor's.

In my European military history class tonight, our very dear professor announced that he is canceling the last two book reviews, so now I only have to read the remaining two books, not write about them.  Book reviews have gotten to be easy for me (I mean, sheesh, they're only three pages long - I can churn one out in under an hour in a pinch now), but it's still nice to no longer have to do them for that class.

In another class, however, I am growing ever more concerned.  I like the professor personally (he's brilliant), but I am frustrated that I have no idea how I'm doing in the class. Plus, I keep feeling like I'm somehow not grasping the full point of the books. I just don't seem to like them as much as he does.

Since my work is nearly done in two of my three classes, I am suddenly aware of a strange phenomena that will be occurring in my life this week:  free time.  I actually have the time this week to read for fun, rollerblade, sleep for a full eight hours, cook something complicated . . . wow, the possibilities seem endless!  Knowing me, I'll probably just use it to get ahead on my reading and research for one of my summer classes.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mommy-Doggie Date!

My fever dropped to 100 yesterday, I was finally able to keep down solid food, and it was a glorious sunny day outside.  So, Jasper and I went out on a "Mommy-doggie date"!

We first went to Petsmart to pick up food for my boy, since he stubbornly refused to eat the cheaper brand that I attempted to make him try.  In fact, he went on a stubborn three-day hunger strike over the new food.  Jasper greatly enjoyed walking around the store, particularly the toy aisle, where he carefully examined every single toy.  He found and fixated on a small rubber tire with a rope attached, which he promptly grabbed and carried around, refusing to let me take it away.  When I finally got the toy, Jasper started crying loudly while desperately trying to get it back.  We walked into the next aisle with him still whimpering.  I went back and checked the price tag, finding to my surprise that the toy was actually on clearance.  Apparently, my boy is a bargain-hunter!  Since it was so cheap (just over a dollar), and since I have had to throw out a few more of Jasper's older toys, I gave in and let him have it.  I also picked him up a fifty cent doggie candy bar, which is roughly the size of a Nestle Crunch bar.  Jasper gained a bit of attention from other customer's as he proudly toted his new toy out of the store, his jaunty little tail wagging merrily.  He then cuddled up with the toy once he got back into the car.

Next, we went to Chik-fil-a to pick up lunch: a chicken wrap for me and four chicken nuggets for Jasper, with water for both of us.  We took our lunch to the park, where we had a very enjoyable picnic.  Jasper has only had chicken nuggets once before, so he was a little unsure about them at first, but he quickly decided that they were delicious.  After lunch, we spent a good half hour playing with Jasper's frisbee.  It was rather comical, since the breeze kept flipping the frisbee over Jasper's head when he would retrieve it.  This frustrated him a bit, so he felt the need to growl at the frisbee and pounce on it each time that happened.  Before long, we had a small audience, who all agreed that Jasper was just about the cutest thing ever.  Though normally shy, Jasper basked in the attention, even condescending to let a few people pet him.

After the park, we headed home, where Jasper took a long nap, then spent the rest of the night playing with his new toy.  He discovered that he could grab hold of the rope and whip the tire around his head while growling ferociously.  Then, delighted with this game, he stepped it up a bit by doing all this while running from room to room, occasionally leaping onto various pieces of furniture.  When he tired of this, he found enjoyment in beating my leg with the tire, which actually hurt a bit!  I discouraged this new game, so he went back into games one and two.  After a few straight hours of such stimulating play, Jasper slept VERY soundly when bedtime rolled around.

Today I remembered the doggie candy bar, which I had forgotten to give Jasper yesterday.  He was a bit unsure of what to do with it at first, regarding it curiously while sniffing it carefully.  He growled at it as well, then apparently grew satisfied when it did nothing in return.  Since then, he has spent the past half hour traveling around the apartment, hiding and re-hiding the candy bar.  Each time that he notices me looking, he has to find a new spot for his treasure.  Apparently, I am not to be trusted.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Great Time for a Stomach Bug

Actually, I'm not even being sarcastic. If ever there were an excellent time to get sick, this is it. I have all my work for next week done already, except for some paper revisions, which I'll do after my partner gets my paper back to me tomorrow. For once, I have a "considerate" illness! I feel lousy, but at least it isn't interfering with a blessed thing. I can lay here on my couch, moaning and whimpering, and know that there is nothing that needs my attention.

On the negative side, I was planning to go to the Tax Day Tea Party tonight. Unfortunately, since I have fever, chills, and vomiting, I am thinking that staying in is a much better idea. I got the apartment cleaned earlier in the week, so I have a hygienic place in which to convalesce.

Jasper is being very sympathetic. He has not left my side since yesterday evening, when the fever and vomiting first kicked in. He brought me his favorite toy to comfort me and even offered me two of his bones. And, when I partially missed the basin earlier this morning, he kindly cleaned up the bulk of it for me while I was in the kitchen getting cleaning supplies. He was also very obliging when I then, in turn, cleaned HIM up, brushed his teeth (with doggie toothpaste, not human), and fed him a breath mint (which he seemed to like). Later, he took a nap with me on the couch.

Which reminds me, it's time for a third blanket and a second nap.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Delicious Naan Pizza

At least I call it that, for lack of a better term.

Naan is a marvelous flatbread that I have recently become enamored with. It has excellent flavor and is versatile as well as healthy. Lately, my new favorite lunch has been what I like to call "naan pizza". It is fast, easy, and almost sensuously delicious.

To make it, I first preheat my oven to 350 degrees. Then I cram spinach, minced garlic, sweet onion, and feta into my electric chopper and pulverize it. I grease a cookie sheet, then place one naan (they come in packs of two - one is about the size of a large flour tortilla) on it. Using a paper towel, I brush on some olive oil to the top of my naan, then slice it into small pieces with a pizza cutter. I leave the pieces touching. Next, I coat the naan with my spinach mixture, then apply some of my favorite herb mixture from its grinder (it's a blend of herbs used in Italian olive oil dipping sauce for bread - you can find it or similar grinders in many stores). Finally, I add just a light dusting of shredded parmesan and romano cheese. I bake it for twelve minutes, during which time it makes my entire apartment smell heavenly (and makes my stomach almost frantic to consume it). The first bite is like a Mediterranean banquet in my mouth.


Tonight we had the unexpected "treat" of getting to watch a thesis defense during the first hour of our classtime. Consider me officially terrified about what is to come! I could not believe the depths of historiographical knowledge they expected the poor girl to have - in addition, of course, to the vast knowledge of her subject and every subject remotely close to her subject. For example, her topic was about a group of Puritans who became Quakers in the space of seventy years. One prof asked her a question about fifteenth century Spanish mysticism! I am so glad that that particular prof, whom I hold in the highest regard, will not be on my thesis committee! Of course, I'll have one prof who's even more thorough and difficult than him, so I guess I really have no room for celebration.

Oy. I knew thesis defense would be a scary matter, but I had no idea just how intense it would be. Having witnessed tonight, I am now thinking that I would like about ten years to prepare for my own defense! I'll say one thing: I have definitely decided to go with as obscure of a topic as I can - that way the profs won't be able to ask me as many questions! (I hope . . . though I have a strong feeling that they'll still find a way.)

I think I officially reached the epoch of geekdom tonight. I emailed a prof with my suggested topic for my research paper . . . for the summer class that doesn't even start for another month. Oh, and I have already started the research, because I know he'll approve the topic. Yup, no social life here!

Tomorrow is going to be a day of work (in other words, just like any other day). I got most of my weekly housecleaning done today, but I need to finish a bit tomorrow. Also, I will be working on additional research for my big research paper, doing a few revisions to the paper, and grading another student's paper (then meeting with her to explain my critique). Fortunately, this time I was lucky and got the paper of someone who is an excellent writer (so I've heard - and I believe it based on her classroom performance). I will also be attempting to finish yet another book that I need to review. Fun, fun! No, I actually wasn't being sarcastic.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Another Day, Another A

Well, I can stop worrying. I just got back my last massive paper tonight, with a nice big 95% written at the top. This means my 4.0 is still solid - in fact, the only way not to get an A now in that particular class would be to suddenly stop doing my work. What a relief!

One of my professors invited those of us interested in pursuing a doctorate to stick around after class for a mini lecture on what we should be doing to prepare. It was, needless to say, a bit daunting. I'm still not 100% certain that I want to keep going beyond my MA, but I definitely am giving the option strong consideration. Golly, it sure will be a heck of a lot of work if I do it, though! And the preparations are no easy matter either. My CV needs a lot of fodder if I'm going to fatten it up sufficiently to be able to get funding.

So far, I'm looking into the possibility of George Mason, as I have heard excellent things about their program. I'll be doing some serious research into schools over the next few weeks, as I need to figure out a list of places to apply in order to start tailoring myself to their requirements. Even if I do decide not to go, there's no harm in preparing, and if I do go, I have to start getting ready now. It's nice having options again.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Eggs "Stepha-dict"

This is one of my favorite breakfasts, which I, in fact, ate today. I love pretty much anything involving eggs, particularly Eggs Benedict. Unfortunately, hollandaise sauce (which is essential for Eggs Benedict) is horribly rife with saturated fat. Even with my new plan of eating larger, fattier breakfasts, I just can't justify senseless overindulgence. At the same time, I hate to have to give up something that is truly delicious. So, a few months ago, I created a variation on Eggs Benedict which is much healthier and is quite easy to make. It is now one of my favorite meals! Here's the recipe:

Eggs "Stepha-dict"
4 eggs
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon lime juice
3/4 cup fat free cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons fat free milk
Two slices of turkey bacon, each cut in half
1 english muffin, cut into two halves OR two crumpets (Duffy makes good fat-free crumpets; you can find them at Kroger in the refrigerated section)

1. Fill a pot about half full with water (you want about 4-5 cups worth of water) and stir in the apple cider vinegar. Heat it on the stove at medium heat (number 6 on the dial works best for me).
2. Crack 2 of the eggs into two separate bowls. When the water reaches a low boil (not hot enough to produce big bubbles), gently pour each egg in, taking care that they remain separate. Set a timer for 6 minutes. If you like your eggs firmer, you can give them longer; if you like your eggs runnier, give them about 4 minutes instead of 6.
3. While the eggs poach, put the turkey bacon on to cook at medium heat.
4. For the sauce, take the yolks from the remaining 2 eggs and mix them over medium heat (number 5 on the dial is best) in a small saucepan with the lime juice, milk, butter, and cayenne pepper. Once the butter melts, add the cheese. Stir thoroughly. When the cheese is fully melted and integrated with the other ingredients, the sauce is ready.
5. When the timer for the poached eggs has about one minute left, put the english muffin halves or the crumpets into the toaster to lightly toast. I have found that crumpets taste the best in this recipe. If you use an english muffin, be sure to get the whole wheat variety with extra fiber.
6. As soon as the english muffin halves or crumpets are done toasting, place them on your plate. Stick two pieces of turkey bacon on top of each one, then place one poached egg on top of each. Spoon the sauce over top of this.
7. Bon appetite!

This recipe makes one large breakfast for one, or you could add a nice side dish like fruit and yogurt and have breakfast for two. It is very filling and makes a great "comfort food" on cold mornings. Eggs are one of the healthiest foods in the world to eat, and high-protein breakfasts like this one have repeatedly been proven to be the best choices for students (or anyone who needs to be able to concentrate during the day). Don't let the cayenne pepper scare you off - it does not make the dish spicy at all. The cayenne just adds a very slight nip to the flavor (the heat from it is absorbed by the cheese and milk). Don't throw out the egg whites from the two eggs that you only use the yolks from - save them and use them for an omelette later.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Demon-Spider Chronicles

It has been a nerve-wracking, sleepless few days. And tonight, it all culminated into one pulse-pounding, prayer-filled showdown between good (me) and the spider (evil). I am relieved to report that good does indeed triumph over evil.

As my readers know, a few days ago I found a brown recluse spider in my bedroom. Now, before I go any further, I need to give you all an accurate picture of my feelings regarding spiders:

I have a very definite case of arachnophobia. Believe me, I do not use this term lightly. When I was a little nine or ten year old at summer camp, I got bitten by a wolf spider and was sick for a few days. Since my preteen years, I have had a powerful, recurring nightmare in which I am running through a wooded area and get trapped in an enormous spider web. I struggle desperately as either one HUGE spider or hundreds of small ones come towards me, fangs bared. I wake up in a cold sweat and it takes a long time to calm down. Now I'm no coward - remember, I'm the same girl who moved to Korea for a year and went to Manilla all by myself right during another round of kidnappings of white women. I can face a snake and not flinch - I've even handled them many times. I went parasailing once and loved it. I am a logical, adventurous, educated person. Yet when it comes to spiders, I feel like I'm trapped inside that nightmare again. I know that I'm bigger than them, I know that I can easily overpower them, and yes, I know that as a Christian I should fear nothing. Guess what - all that knowledge flies out the window the second I see a spider. As far as I'm concerned, they are King Kong and I'm the defenseless Fay Wray.

Now with little spiders, I am okay. The fear hits me, but I can overcome it and stomp them pretty quickly. Big spiders are another matter altogether. They mesmerize me at first, leaving me too frightened to be able to move. Once I can move, I find it almost impossible to kill them. I am petrified that they will move towards me, jump at me, or do any number of the devious and heinous things that spiders do. Nothing that has that many eyes and legs can be trusted. My limbs shake, my mouth goes dry, and I fight an inner battle just to be able to form a coherent thought. Yeah, I'd definitely call that a pretty bad case of arachnophobia. I even have trouble seeing spiders in movies or looking at pictures of them. Just the sight makes me feel imaginary spiders crawling all over me.

Do you see now why a brown recluse has been such a big deal? A few minutes after spotting Demon-spider for the first time, I had him trapped under a plastic container, and managed to stick a cotton ball filled with nail polish remover in with him. I had high hopes that the fumes would kill him. To ensure that he couldn't squeeze out, I put heavy items on top of the container (I figured that this would also cut his fresh air supply and hasten death even quicker). I let a day pass, unable to check any sooner (I started involuntarily shaking every time that I walked past the container). Finally, two nights ago, I decided that it was time to check my foe. I peered in and saw that he was near one of the edges. I put on long gloves, then lifted the container just slightly and placed the edge on top of Demon-spider. I pressed down, hard. Crunch. To play it safe, I pressed down a second time. Crunch. Convinced that the evil eight-legged monster from Hades was now very much deceased, I boldly lifted up the container . . . and he wiggled at me. I slammed the container back down.

I ran into the kitchen and grabbed my trusty can of Lysol disinfectant spray. From experience, I know that it is very successful at killing insects. With my gloves pulled as far up my arms as they could go, I summoned my courage, lifted the container, and sprayed. Demon-spider sprang to life and bolted straight toward me. I screamed and slammed the container back down, then piled twice as many heavy things on it. A considerable time later, I again summoned up some courage and, shakingly, slid two cotton squares in with him, one covered in nail polish remover and one covered in rubbing alcohol. I weighted down the container again and left my enemy there until today.

Tonight, I knew that I had to finally end this epic battle. I can't let my life be run by a spider, no matter how diabolical he is. I pulled on gloves and heavy shoes. Then, I laid very sticky tape sticky-side-up on one side of the container, just in case Demon-spider tried to bolt in that direction. By this point, my arms and legs were shaking worse than jello jigglers, my mouth had lost the ability to create saliva, and my breath was coming in shallow, laborious gasps. I said a quick, frantic prayer, then peered into the container. Demon-spider was nowhere in sight.

At this point, I almost gave in to outright hysteria. The thought of that beast on the loose in my apartment was enough to make me consider living out of my car for a few days. Then I realized that I was prematurely panicking. Demon-spider could be hiding under the cotton squares, waiting to do horrendous things to me at the first opportunity. Yes, in my arachnophobic mind I DO credit spiders with that level of tactical planning capability. I said another prayer, then slowly lifted the container, my heart now lodged somewhere near where my tonsils used to be. Demon-spider remained hidden.

Inwardly, I debated whether to peak first or attack first. Attacking sounded the most palatable, so I grabbed the can of Raid that I purchased earlier today, as a special present for Demon-spider, and sprayed the cotton squares, ready to leap out of my skin at the slightest movement. I paused, holding my breath. Nothing stirred. Knowing that it was now or never, I stomped the cotton squares with all the strength that I could summon. When I lifted my foot, one of the cotton squares clung to my shoe, revealing the shriveled spider corpse underneath. Instinct made me leap backward at first, but then my eyes finally convinced the rest of me that Demon-spider was, at long last, very, very dead. I used some cardboard to push him into the container, then carried him over to the toilet, where I dumped him in. I made sure to watch as I flushed, just to be certain that the mangled corpse was really gone at last.

It was a few minutes before my limbs stopped quivering and my breathing finally slowed to normal. A sudden exhaustion came over me and I sank into the welcoming embrace of my couch, at last able to relax in an apartment no longer tainted by the lurking evil of Demon-spider.

Friday, April 9, 2010

New Houseguests

Apparently, I traded in the moth invasion for the spider invasion. Four terrifying spiders (including one brown recluse) in just two days. Siberia begins to look better and better . . .

A Walk in the Park

It was so lovely out today that I simply had to take Jasper to the park. He wriggled with delight the entire way there, eager to indulge in some of his favorite activities: sniffing unfamiliar grass, chasing his frisbee, pushing around his big ball, and collecting sticks. We spent a little while playing with the frisbee and the ball in one of the sports fields, then put the toys back in the car and headed off on a long, enjoyable walk. Our walk, of course, was punctuated with a few rounds of fetch played with a very nice stick that Jasper brought me. Then he happily carried his stick for a while, while I enjoyed the scenery. We walked at least two, maybe three miles along the paths. Then I noticed that it was growing overcast.

"Tut tut, it looks like rain," I remarked to Jasper. Jasper wanted to see what was around the bend in the path, so I indulged him. A few minutes later, I felt a few rain droplets on my arm. Jasper and I turned and headed back to the car, enjoying the few little drops that fell on us . . .

Then the torrential downpour began. As animals around Lynchburg undoubtedly began to assemble in two (except for the clean animals, which assembled in sevens), Jasper and I fought to make our way back to the car. We had taken a rather twisty route, so I was not entirely sure which paths were the right ones to take. Finally, I saw the correct parking lot across a field. Since I was already soaked all the way through, I figured grass couldn't make it any worse.

"Charge!" I called out to Jasper, as we darted across the field, somewhat slowed by the massive water coming from the sky, which kept blurring my contacts. All the way home, poor Jasper and I shivered.

When we arrived home, Jasper knew that a bath was in store, and he was having none of it. My normally obedient dog led me on a merry chase throughout the apartment, with me diving periodically onto the floor in an attempt to grab him. I'm sure he thought this was the best game ever. Finally, frustrated and irritable at the delay in getting clean and dry, I managed to grab him by the leg and haul him into the bathroom. An hour later, both the dog and I were squeaky clean, dry, and enjoying a well-earned dinner.

Next time we go to the park, we'll check the weather report first.

Dietary Alterations

I have a confession to make: I love to eat. Too much. I am one of those people for whom food is a comfort, something that I take in the place of drugs when I feel overwhelmed, lonely, down, or sometimes even when I'm happy and feel like a reward for doing something well.

It started all the way back in second grade, when the school bullies first seized upon me as the perfect plaything. I got bullied all the way up to high school, and the weight hopped right on board. By tenth grade, I was overweight. There weren't bullies anymore; instead, kids (not all of them; I had a few friends) at my new school mostly preferred to ignore me or maybe snicker a bit behind my back. The result was the same: I kept eating. By now, I had weight depressing me, and that just made me eat more. My new identity was etched in stone: I was the fat girl who never got asked out on dates, and who got through all the hurt with comfort food.

In college, I made some strides to reform. I went for two years where I barely ate anything (another bad choice), and dropped the weight. Then I evened out a bit, then I started going to food for comfort again. By the time I graduated, I wasn't fat, but I certainly still had a very unhealthy relationship with food. Life threw some more curve balls at me, and I eventually wound up in 2010, overweight again. Not obese, but certainly overweight. The difference is, now I eat right.

I am still 100% committed to my Sugar Busters lifestyle, with a few moderations. I have put pretzels, cereal, and occasional popcorn back in life (considering that pretzels are one of my favorite foods, we simply had to be together). I also allow a few other indulgences, such as my favorite pear jam, which has twelve grams of sugar per serving, and the occasional pineapple (they're high on the glycemic index). I have also recently chosen to allow carrots back in, since I am concerned about my eyes. I follow my plan carefully, and only buy foods that are on it. I switched over to coconut oil as my primary cooking oil, after reading reports from numerous sources as to its many health benefits, though I still use olive oil whenever its flavor would better compliment a dish. Despite making all the right choices, however, I still have one major problem: serving sizes. I eat too big of portions. And, thanks to all the coursework from grad school, I just don't have the time or energy to exercise. So, despite all the good I've been doing for three months, the weight is clinging to me like scandals on an actor. I haven't put on any more weight, but I also am not losing.

This brings me to the latest dietary change, which I will be posting about just as I do my other life experiences, in the hope of benefitting anyone else looking to make the same changes. Having read some other recent health studies, I am trying something a little different from most diets. A large breakfast with plenty of fat has been proven to be healthier than a low-fat and/or small breakfast. Not only does it keep you fuller; it also helps you eat less during the rest of the day. Studies have shown that the old adage of "eat like a king a breakfast, a queen at lunch, and a pauper at dinner" is actually the best possible way to go. Now, being hypoglycemic, I need to spread out my food a little better; my doctor has harped on me for years to eat five or six meals per day. I really don't have the time for six meals, so I'm going to go for four for a while.

Here's the new plan (which I just implemented this week):

Breakfast is now a large meal consisting of coffee, fat, protein, fiber, dairy, and occasionally fruit. I bought some turkey bacon, which has wonderful flavor and is not nearly as unhealthy as regular bacon (which I have not eaten for years). Today, for example, breakfast consisted of coffee, two slices of turkey bacon, one egg with some fat-free cheese, and some vanilla yogurt (low sugar) with frozen raspberries and All Bran flakes. Yesterday, I had the same egg and bacon, but had a slice of double-fiber toast with butter and pear jam in place of the yogurt. Since I love breakfast food, getting to indulge like this in the morning is enjoyable and practical - yesterday, I stayed full for almost twice as long as I normally would after breakfast.

Lunch is now a medium-sized meal which consists of pretty much whatever I want, so long as the sugar and fat are both low. I had chicken stir-fry yesterday, for example. Lunch will usually involve a meat, most likely chicken, and will always have at least one vegetable. Dairy products will also occasionally be served. I have decided to make another big change and try to convert myself into a seafood-eater. My entire life, I have despised fish, which actually makes me physically sick to my stomach (the smell of strong fish can even give me a migraine). I do eat and enjoy crab and shrimp, however, so those are going to be more common on my table. I also am trying some other things, like scallops (I found some on sale at the grocery store this week, in fact). And, because fish really is so-o healthy, I am going to try to make myself like some of the milder varieties, like tilapia. I really want to like them, since they are healthy and offer a whole new range of recipe experiments, but I have a lifetime of fish-hatred to overcome first. We'll see how this goes - tilapia will be experimented with either Saturday or Sunday.

Dinner will now consist of two small meals. One will be served around six, the other at eight (at which point, the kitchen will be officially closed for the night). Henceforth, dinners #1 and #2 are now vegetarian meals - absolutely no meat (I get to have that at lunch, if I want it). Last night, I made a variation on traditional green bean casserole: I added a little bit of hot sauce (about one teaspoon) to the mushroom soup, just to pep it up a pinch, stirred in pureed sweet onions with the green beans, and topped the mixture with ground almonds and sliced sweet onions instead of the traditional onion rings. The result was delicious. I had two small helpings, with a space of time in between, and allowed myself a little yogurt for dessert, as I still felt legitimately hungry after my second dinner. Tonight, I will be finishing the leftovers. Two or three nights a week, I will be having a protein shake for my first dinner, with a slice of double-fiber toast or a vegetable for the second one. With both lunch and dinner, I will be implementing far more nuts in the place of red meat (I'll still have it on occasion, just not as often).

I am also going to allow occasional snacks, so long as they are healthy. I found several recipes for healthful, 100-calorie snacks, which I will be preparing in advance and then storing in baggies, divided into the appropriate serving sizes. It sounds like I'm eating a lot, but in actuality, I have cut the portion sizes quite a bit. I am going to be eating more in terms of variety with each meal (before, I had just one dish for each meal, very seldom bothering with side dishes), but the portions will be dramatically smaller. I am hoping that the wider variety of dishes with each meal will help encourage me to keep portion sizes down. Since the weather is now heavenly outside (and beyond heavenly - we keep hitting the nineties already), I am also going to make a conscientious effort to get outside with Jasper more often. I want to be sure to take him to the park at least twice a week, and I plan to start rollerblading again in the evenings or mornings. I also want to start taking better advantage of the swimming pool at my apartment complex. I love to go hiking, so I am going to try to go about every other week, accompanied by Jasper, of course.

I'll keep you posted on how this progresses, dear readers. Let's hope this girl can get back into those cute smaller clothes (which currently hang, neglected, in the back of the closet) by mid-summer.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Monster in My Bedroom

Today is a housework day for me. I decided to deep clean the apartment and to finally end my storage woes by investing some of my tax return money in containers short enough to fit under the bed and in a narrow bookcase for my hall. Big Lots was most obliging in carrying exactly what I needed, at about twenty dollars less than I had intended to spend. Victory! I brought my new treasures home and carried them into the bedroom, ready to start assembling that bookcase. First, of course, I needed to move a few work-out clothes that I had piled next to the closet (no, I don't store them there normally - I had set them there while packing to go to MI, but then decided not to bring them and forgot to put them away). I moved the clothes and found . . . the one creature that terrifies me more than anything else in the entire world.

No, not a liberal politician. Something even more ominous and horrifying. Yes, a spider. A brown spider. A very LARGE brown spider.

At first I was mesmerized with fright, unable to move at all. I stared at the enemy on the floor, willing myself to do something, ANYTHING! The spider just sat there, his multiple eyes gazing directly at me, clearly planning out how best to massacre me. Finally, I convinced my legs to move, slowly inching out to the living room, where I grabbed a clear plastic container. I placed it over the monster, figuring at least this way he couldn't do anything dreadful, like jumping at me or hiding, while I figured out what to do next. Recalling an insect-collecting assignment that I had in my sixth grade science class, I filled a cotton ball with nail polish remover and placed it in with the spider, then stacked heavy objects on top of the container, to cut off any fresh air from reaching him. Then I went out to research online whether or not my heinous foe was poisonous.

Now my regular readers all know the kind of luck that I have. So, naturally, you already know that no harmless spider would be involved in an incident with me. No, I rate the poisonous variety, unfortunately. After carefully looking through the thirteen (shudder) species of spiders that call Virginia home, it was pretty obvious which one is in the bedroom. It is a brown recluse. He's identical to the one in the picture - so much so, that I wonder if perhaps he posed for it.

I am now going to spend a great part of the rest of the day praying to God that the monster in my bedroom is either male or infertile - I don't even want to think about that beast leaving eggs somewhere!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Snakes, Cranes, and Automobiles

What a journey it has been . . .

Last week, I drove home to surprise the family by spending Easter with them. It worked out quite well, with me getting to surprise several people and having the chance to enjoy a night out with a friend (not a common occurrence since I went back to grad school). It was wonderful to spend a few days watching TV with Dad and not doing any reading or writing. In fact, it almost felt sinful! Last night, I left my parents' home at 9:00, anticipating a standard drive back to Virginia (how silly of me).

In case you're questioning the late hour of departure, allow me to explain. I have found night driving to be the safest and quickest when tackling the long journey between Michigan and Virginia. There are four reasons for this:

1. At night, no one can get in my blind spot, since I can see their headlights long before they get close to me.
2. There is far less traffic at night. Generally, it's just me and the semis from midnight to about 5 in the morning.
3. At night, the fear of getting drowsy is stronger, thus I stay more alert. The natural wariness of being placed in a potentially more dangerous situation makes me more cautious, thus keeping me safer.
4. There is no sun shining straight into my eyes at night.

So, it seemed like it would be a normal trip. I anticipated drowsiness, so I started out the drive right with a double shot of expresso. That had me bouncing merrily along for a few hours! I also anticipated that Ohio would be the Protestant equivalent of Purgatory (which it always is), so I had a stash of old radio shows on CDs ready to amuse me. Unfortunately, there were just a few things that I failed to predict:

1. The rampant, terrifyingly close lightening that did its best to strike my car all the way through Ohio.
2. The heavy fog all the way through West Virginia, which often left me only able to see a few feet past the front of my car.
3. The significant amount of construction in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia.
4. My TomTom's rampant desire to murder me. First she kept telling me to turn left or right while I was on bridges or near the edge of a cliff, then she sent me on an exceedingly dark and creepy detour through a bad part of Beckley.
5. The enormous snake who made the unfortunate decision to sunbathe in the road in Virginia (my condolences to his widow).
6. Getting carsick all over myself after going around one curve too many in Bedford Country. On the bright side, I now know an excellent combination of cleaning supplies to use for getting vomit out of a car interior.

I think next time, the family should come visit me!
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"