Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 Resolutions

After some tweaking on my resolutions, here are the 13 goals I am setting for 2013...

1. Send 13 packages or cards. 
thank you to my cousin Lisa for this idea! 
2. Run 400 miles. 
This is ambitious, considering no one in our neighborhood shovels a side walk, making winter running virtually impossible. However, I believe I can average 7.69 miles per week...maybe?
3. Read 5 biographies/autobiographies
I just borrowed a bunch of great books from "cousin" Nick, and reading about other people's lifes is something I don't often do. Kurt Cobain, Desmond Tutu, Elanor Roosevelt, and more and more. 
Its an untapped genre for me; I'm excited for this one!
4. Read 5 contemporary books written in 2012 or '13
Some great authors came out with books recently, from Zadie Smith to Anne Lamott. After a year of reading a bunch of classics, I would love a reason to curl up with some contemporaries.
5. Cook 13 new recipes.
How many cookbooks do I have and yet I cycle through our dozen or so recipes all the time. I'd like to  broaden my horizons a bit in this area.
6. Give up ranch dressing.
I pretty much took the most unhealthy thing I eat with the most frequency and I'm cutting it out (it was a close race with dark chocolate and craft beer.) So I'll see ya next year Ranch!
*note: after reading this list to Neil he said this was by far the toughest one for me... not running 400 miles... ranch abstention. I believe that indicates a bit of a problem.
7. Eat 5 ethnic cuisines I've never tried before.
I've been growing in my love of unique food while at the same time, really appreciating the stories of first generation americans. I would love to experience some authentic foods from all over the world while staying local. If you know any good restaurants in Pittsburgh, please let me know!
8. Write two books.
For years I wrote a book each year for Neil... 2012 really got away from me and I would love to make a push to keep this (very time consuming) tradition going.
9. Do 50 hours of yoga.
This can be at home or in a class. I love time relaxing and focusing and now that I'm feeling better - not needing yoga daily, I don't want the practice to slip away
10. Read a news article every day.
I realized I check facebook more than CNN and after watching a whole season of "Newsroom" in two sittings, I feel a renewed desire to stay informed
11. Run in at least 5 official races 
This will make the 400 miles I run way more exciting. This week I'm signing up for a relay team for the Pittsburgh Marathon, which is a really exciting start!
12. Make 5 homemade gifts. 
I love giving presents that took time and thought and care. This will inspire me to get those creative juices flowing.
13. Learn to Knit. 
I can crochet but I've always want to learn to knit. I believe it will go a long way in helping me achieve #12. Holler if you want a pot holder!

So that's the list. In a few more hours I'll wake up, go for a run, read some news, and relish a new year.
Hope you have fun tonight and I hope you find some great things to aim for in the next 365!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

and the Best Christmas Movie is...

We completed our Bracket Club Series voting just in time for Christmas (sadly I didn't update until now)... however the truly good ones you can watch all year right?

Our Final Four were "Elf", "Christmas Vacation", "Home Alone" and "Its A Wonderful Life"

After a passionate discussion, we ended up with "Its A Wonderful Life" as the overall victor.

Here's a bunch of little known facts about our winner. And of course a video to honor the second place film... (which I think should have won, but whatever, its over. I'm over it. Attaboy, Clarence, I guess.)

Here is a link to the field of 64 Christmas Movies or Specials, and how things played out.

Guess what, In February our tournament is "Break Up Songs"! So I'll ask you for some input - What are the top 10 best break-up songs? (any answer is taken into account for seeding) 

Now I don't want all of you just saying the obvious winner, I want some variety!

For inspiration, you can check out a great episode on This American Life about break-ups.

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Resolution Recap

As we approach the new year I figured it would be a good time to feel guilty about  review my 12 New Years Resolutions for 1012.

They're listed again below, along with my report... (spoiler alert, it's a good thing I picked 12 cause when I didn't nearly do them all, I could still hang my hat on a few)

 12 Goals for 2012
1. Eat in 12 New Restaurants in Pittsburgh
2. Learn how to fix a bike
3. Continue blogging through this year. 
4. Learn to cook with 12 new fruits or vegetables
5. Run a 5K in under a 9 minute mile. 
6. Watch 12 movies I've never seen from the AFI Top 100 Films list
7. Read 12 books I've never read from the BBC Top 100 Novels list. 
8. Learn how to make beer. 
9. Volunteer with 12 different events. 
10. Don't purchase any new clothing. 
11. Don't purchase any new books
12. Save $___ (a specific but secret amount)

1. yes. New Restaurants we went to this year: E2, Sausalido, Park Brugge, Ibiza, Mercurio's, Le Brew House, Industry, Conflict Kitchen, Pig and Chicken, Biddle Escape, Bites and Brews, and NOLA.
*Even though Biddle Escape is more of a coffee shop, I'm counting it. We loved just about all of them, but our favorites were Industry and NOLA. The only one we won't be going back to is Pig and Chicken.

a private party at the excellent Sausalido

2. no. I don't want to use a brain abnormality and subsequent brain surgery as a crutch for these resolutions, but riding a bike was something that gave me great head pains and it was off the table during my months of recovery - thus I did not try to learn how to fix a bike. Maybe next year I'll have a fresh interest in the sport.

3. yes. Despite a few weeks lost here and there, I feel I've been consistent about blogging. I did this practice even when I hurt and couldn't focus. I did this to help my concussion.... I'm not sure if I'll continue now that the resolution is finished, or how often I'll post. (thankfully it would be because have a newly exciting life to jump into)

4. yes. Cooking with new fruits and vegetables was the easiest one. I exceeded the number half way through the year and then stopped listing, but here's some: okra, rainbow chard, garlic rabe, butternut squash, acorn squash, bok choi, radish, beets, kale, pumpkin, celery root, fennel, rutabaga, and a strange pear/mango hybrid . My favorites being the fennel and the garlic rabe.

fennel made into a pesto with couscous and tomato

5. almost. I ran a 5K doing 9:02.6 minute miles (so close!). Then I started going fully numb and getting black outs when running. I still did races afterwards but couldn't push myself. Then learned of the arnold chiari and the risks and thought, maybe I'll shelve this one until next year.

my fastest race was in May, running 28:06

6. yes. I was the most disappointed with the 12 classic movies. Maybe its because I already watched all the ones that piqued my interest, leaving me with many a western to sit through (not my thing). Here's what I viewed: Annie Hall, Schendler's list, The Searchers, The Graduate, On the Waterfront, Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill a Mockingbird, Chinatown, Easy Rider, Grapes of Wrath, Its a Wonderful Life, and Psycho. My favorites were Annie Hall and The Graduate

7. yes Technically, I read 12 classics this year. However, I found myself veering from that BBC list for a few of them. (I mean how do you really argue that "The Princess Diaries" is more of a classic than "For Whom the Bell Tolls") so here's my adapted list: The Wind in the Willows - Grahame Kenneth, Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett, On the Road - Jack Kerouac, The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood, Sidhartha - Hermann Hesse, Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Wolf, The Road - Cormac McCarthy, The Picture of Dorian Gray -  Ocsar Wilde, Sons and Lovers - D.H. Lawrence, Passage to India - E.M. Forster, For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway, and A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens. The best in that group were The Road, Sidhartha, and Handmaid's Tale.

8. yes. This year I learned how to make beer several times over. Neil brewed (and I observed/helped a bit) a model of "Fat Tire", light citrus ale, an orange ale with light hops, a pumpkin IPA, and a vanilla porter. All of which I adored...but the pumpkin IPA was really tops.

(the process is basically: boil, wait, siphon, wait, sterilize, pour, and cap)

9. not even close. I'm so ashamed to say that I only did 2 of my 12 volunteer aspirations. If you count places to which we donate money, we would be over that number, however I set out to give my time not our money. So this one won't get checked off the list.

10. no. This one I was SO close to doing. I made it to late August when I bought two pieces of clothing (mostly helpful for my recovery)... then I made it another stretch until November when I bought 4 more things (mostly to dress appropriately for occasions when my old clothes didn't fit). I won't beat myself up for this because I didn't anticipate losing weight this year.

11. yes? Um, technically, I didn't purchase any books. But I received 4 books as gifts this year. The idea was that I'd make better use of book sharing and I would utilize the library. Since I read over 40 non-purchased books this year doing what I set out to do, I'm allowing it.

Not buying books was tough (I have a problem with this) so the ones I received really made my day!

12. no. So does it count if you do save the desired amount of money, but then you spend it? Probably not. But again we had unforeseen events. We paid off Neil's car, and brain surgery is also quite costly. At least our thrifty ways put us in a place where we could afford those things and we could also end up with more in our savings at the end of 2012 than we had in 2011. (half victory?)

this leaves me with a grand total of 7/12

I got a lot of value out of these resolutions, even the ones I almost completed but fell a bit short on. I like choosing goal that can focus my time and efforts without feeling like punishment, does that make sense? Anyway, if I look at it that way, I can say it was a good year.

Do you make resolutions? What are yours for 2013?

Any suggestions for my next year - Should I recycle some past ones I didn't complete? I am trying to come up with 13 of them right now and could always use input!

Friday, December 21, 2012

topa-MAXED out

Wednesday of this week was my very first day with no medication (in years!)

Weaning off Topamax has always been a struggle for me. This time it was a bit easier, but I still felt exhausted and not quite right. I'm hoping these following days will allow for me to adjust and rest and find out how I really truly feel.

I'd love to share some of the reasons I"m so tired though (in addition to weaning and such). Cause they are all worthy events...

1. I began the process to begin volunteering!! That means I got a TB test and filled out a bunch of papers. It also means I'll be able to see how I do with a schedule and routine and florescent lighting. I start in the new year, and this is the first step towards working again and I am really really happy with it!!

2. Neil and I had the joy of attending some Pitt Basketball games and I don't get tingling and numbness in my arms when we walk the steps up to our seats! And when I jump up to cheer for an alley-oop, I don't get black out/stabby pains. And when we get to the final minutes, I don't feel like I need to go home. so LETS GO PITT!!

3. I was able to play picnic/doctor/fort/camping game with my nephew. I was present and happy and on top of it all - it was morning! I was happy in the morning!!

4. I've gone running - at least one mile - every single day since I was cleared (except for one rainy afternoon). Running today in 30 degree temps, with snow, had its small squirrels or other dogs are crazy enough to be out in that weather, which makes for smooth jogging with Dixon.

5. I got to snuggle a perfect new born boy! Marcus Canaan, you are the most adorably chill baby in the world.

6. We bottled, printed, cut, and labeled our Christmas Porter, "Midnight Mass" It's all ready to go for our cousin's case exchange.

7. We cleaned and readied for tonight's bracket club series: Christmas Movies. We got the home-made bracket board completed and we are ready to rumble!

**note: Dixon was left unattended and he put in an early vote for anything but "Love Actually" (maybe he isn't a rom-com kind of dog).

At least when we say "WHAT did you do?" 
He knows to avoid eye contact and belly slide his way underneath us.

So that's the exhaustive list of my exhaustion. If only I didn't have to rev up again to face a new list of chaos for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Air and Light

As Newtown wades through day after devastating day, I can't think of anything to contribute to the national conversation. Instead, I'll borrow a prayer from my favorite author. Knowing little else to do, I'll pray it over and over while a community lays its dearly departed to rest. 

"There are no words for the broken hearts of people losing people, So I ask God, with me in tow, to respond to them with graciousness and encouragement enough for the day. 

Everyone we love and for whom we pray with such passion will die, which is one real fly in the ointment, so we pray for miracles - please help this friend live, please help this friend die gracefully - and we pray for survivors to somehow come through... 

I try not to finagle God. Some days go better than others, especially during election years. I ask that God's will be done and I mostly sort of mean it. 

In prayer, I see the suffering bathed in light. In God, there is no darkness. I see God's light permeate them, soak into them, guide their feet. I want to tell God what to do: "Look, Pal, this is a catastrophe. You have got to shape up." But it wouldn't work. 

So I pray for people who are hurting, that they be filled with air and light. Air and light heal; they somehow get into those dark musty places, like spiritual antibiotics.

We don't have to figure out how this all works - "Figure it out" is not a good slogan. Its just enough to know it does."  
Anne Lamott, 
from "Help Thanks Wow, the Three Essential Prayers" 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Movies of a Lifetime

I knew this time would come in my healing... I feel good enough to add a bunch of things to my schedule, then exhausted enough to do NOTHING during the in-between times.

I see it as great progress that I can help someone get to a doctor's visit, spend hours in a waiting room, and come home without an increase in head pain. (especially because physician waiting rooms are a concussion nightmare)

I see it as an inevitable side effect that after these full days, all I can do is mentally check out and physically crash.

However, when my pain level is low like this - I honestly can't complain about fatigue.

In fact, with these crashes, I decided to make the best of it. I have taken pressure off of blogging something profound- or blogging anything at all (sorry, friends). I have allowed the dust to remain on shelves (sorry, husband). And I settle in for my favorite guilty pleasure....

A little ways back, I said to Neil "We've been married for a while, is there any secret guilty pleasure you have that you don't want people - even me - to know about." And he (alway wise and cautious) said "um, what do you mean?... you go first."

So I confessed to him that I have a deep love for every single Lifetime and Hallmark Holiday Movie. The cheesier the title the better... if the premise is that you think Santa moved into your apartment building than of course its called "Deck the Halls" (and I want to watch it). If an orphan girl, Hope, needs a  miracle, tadaa "Hope for the Holidays"... and don't even get me started on the ones with dogs or weddings.

Of course Neil followed this confession by quickly stating in disgust "oh no. I have nothing like that."

Right now, I am back from a 3 mile run (in under 35 minutes!) and I'm too exhausted to do anything but watch a perfectly predictable christmas movie. Its been a long week.

Don't leave me hanging. Do you have any secret guilty behavior? Do you ever get sucked into the "Its a Wonderful Lifetime" movie selection?

Plus - I need your help - our next bracket club is about Christmas Movies and Specials! So, what are your Top 10 favorite?  (Or Top 5, if you are having a hard time coming up with some. You can include Movies with a Christmas Backdrop, like Die Hard.) Can you believe we got a list well over the field of 64?!? That's a lot of Christmas

Monday, December 10, 2012

BCS: 90 Sitcoms

With everyone on the edge of their ergonomically correct work chair, I didn't want to wait any longer to post the results of the 90s Sitcom bracket.

These were our rules:
1. We go matchup by matchup until the round is over before moving into the next round
2. Everyone present gets a vote and majority wins
3. For any close calls (win by 2 or less), both sides will get an opportunity to make their case for the reason their choice is a better tv show.
                                                         a. This can be done verbal or through the use of media such as youtube clips (a laptop will be hooked up to the TV for  viewing)
                                  b. Once both sides have had a chance to make their argument we will re-vote
c. There is only one opportunity to revote per matchup
4. In the event of a tie (even after a revote) we will perform a phone a friend  (selected at random) to be the deciding vote, which is final

Some of our Biggest Arguments: Doogie Howser MD vs The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Married With Children vs Saved By The Bell, The Simpsons vs. Full House, Friends vs Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and the "blue collar battle" of Roseanne vs. Home Improvement

The Final Four were a predictable (yet respectable): Friends, Seinfeld, Fresh Prince, and Full House
The Overall Winner was: SEINFELD!!!  

To view the entire completed bracket go to this link.

Below I've added more stuff - mostly because I'm still hopped up on sugar from eating gushers and drinking spiked capri suns....

In honor of Seinfeld - here are some scenes we love: The Festivus and The Contest. And we can't be all that shocked it won, after this national survey.  I also happen to love this twitter site that presents plausible Seinfeld plot lines if the show were still on air today.

Despite our differences in voting, we found a uniting love in theme songs. They really don't make intros like they used to... in the 90s there was always an awesome song and a montage of exaggerated hijinx. I miss those days.

When Perfect Strangers was on the chopping block and someone said "who even knows the theme song?" About half of us burst out in unison "stand-ing TALL, on the wings or our dreams" And when Living Single made its exit, Sarah who had championed the show,  sang us a slow jam sad version of "In a 90s kind of world... I'm glad I've got my girls". Also I feel it was the theme song that got "Salute Your Shorts" the win over "Hey Dude."

In the end there can only be one winner, which leaves a lot of fallen soldiers and sad voters. But we had fun with clips and fights and Geno's Pizza Rolls. (speaking of clips... here's some classics from Friends, and Simpsons, and Saved By The Bell)

Finally, I give you Carlton, to dance this one out....

Do you have any grievances to air over our voting? (I'm still upset about a first round loss for Pete and Pete) 
Do you have any favorite moments from 90s shows? (sadly I tried to think of some for Full House and came up short - is that blaspheme?)

Friday, December 7, 2012

HAPPY WEEKEND! hope its paradise

"This morning, with her, having coffee"
~Johnny Cash,
when asked for his definition of paradise

My favorite thing about every weekend is staying curled up in bed, drinking coffee.
Now that we have a puppy that sits at the bedside, begging for attention, its much harder to keep up the practice. (no joke, when he wants us he makes the exact noise of Tim the tool man Taylor, huurrha!)
So we've found that paradise is also located curled up in the living room, drinking coffee, watching sports center, petting a dog.

I love when people flirt with Pittsburgh!!
Now the Huffington Post is taking a turn.

In case you felt DMX was missing from your holiday preparations there's this.

Have you experienced GooglePoetics?
its insightful, hilarious, and surprisingly deep.
check it out (if you have a free fifty minutes)
then go to and type in any start you want... it really gives you your own poem!

This video cracks me up!
mess with a frog, it will mess with you back

For any parents contemplating Elf on a Shelf, read this first.
such brilliant parenting!

The autopsy report was just released on Notorious BIG - and the plot thickens.

Maybe if I read this list of bad foods before every holiday party, I could avoid things like the full plate of cookies for dinner that I had last night!

If there's any truth to this article, then you weren't aware of the time you wasted spent looking on this site. And if you happened to be waiting for a bus, your welcome.

Is it me or is this song in every commercial... thus in my head all ever loving day
(although, I must say, I don't hate it)
in fact I'll play it to roll out the weekend.

I hope you have a good one - and you get that paradise in the morning!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bracket Club Series

This past weekend we took something that had been brewing between my cousin Ryan and Neil and I and we subjected it to our friends. Now I'm presenting it to the public...

See with all this down time as of late, we've gotten in the habit of choosing a topic and then discussing at length the "winners" and "losers" with in said topic (best Jay-Z song, best band front man, my career, etc). Soon we began organizing and seeding these things and before we knew it, we had full NCAA-esque brackets to determine an objective winner in subjective categories.

Not to seem like a small recluse group that does internet searches, and makes charts... we emailed our buddies, and before we knew it, a BRACKET CLUB SERIES was formed. We plan to meet almost monthly (or whatever) and kindly discuss (or fight about) any topic we feel like discussing. Really, its just a reason to gather and have fun!

First up was 90s Sitcoms... and even the term "sitcom" was up for debate (must it include a laugh track? can it be a cartoon? etc)

We collected everyone's top 10 votes plus honorable mentions, applied a point system to the votes, and used that point system to seed the bracket. We had the standard field of 64 (yes, there were 64 shows from the 90s that we used!) and we took on the hard work of whittling it down to just one (hey, someone had to do it).

Below, I've separated out each of the four regions, because I feel that's the easiest way to view things.
Also here's a link to the full bracket.

Since I know you're so very into this - I"m kidding (I'm not kidding) I'm going to add a level of suspense and not post the results just yet. Also, I need time to figure out which free online website will let me. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Getting sleep used to be one of my biggest struggles. I would wake up 4-6 times a night, sometimes going right back to sleep, sometimes staying wide awake.

I recently went back and read my journal. I only wrote sporadically, usually at times of great difficulty. Even so, Its strange to see my desperate handwriting scrawled across an unlined page. One entry begins "today is 60 days with less than 1 hour sleep" (and it gets worse from there). I wrote that when I was on a particularly bad medication stretch that was clearly messing with me. Incidentally, it was also during the time I got engaged (such a committed guy).

I think I was only able to stay awake alive during those years was because my pain was so acute in the morning all the time. It kept me forcibly alert.

Now that things are changing for me (now that I have times without pain), I get waves of exhaustion unlike anything I've felt before. I read an article once that said you can't play "catch up" on the weekend for lost sleep through the week... that article should come and have a talk with my body, as it seems to be demanding years of back pay.

In the last two weeks, I've gone to bed at a reasonable hour. Then I've managed by some miracle above to sleep through the whole night!! Then I will wake up hours after Neil goes to work. So with weeks of getting 10 to 12 hours a night (a night!), plus sometimes a nap in the day (yep tack on 2 more hrs), I still feel so fatigued.

Once I fit in a bit of exercise and an online post and maayybe the dishes in the sink, I'm spent.

I'm accepting this as just a new phase in my healing. So far its better than any others because the sharp corners have rounded off my pain and I finally have rest.

On the other hand, I've never been more ready to jump back into life with both feet, yet it feels like I'm dragging cement shoes.

I got a wonderful card shortly after my accident that said "Grow Where You're Planted" - this is advice my restless soul has gone back to again and again. It helps me accept that right now I am in need of sleep, which is okay. So if you are looking for me, I'll be planted in my bed.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Taste of Victory

 Yesterday was extra special (if you are from Pittsburgh, you understand why)!

Against all odds, the scrappy Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Not Worth Mentionings by a field goal in the final seconds!!! And a tearful Charlie Batch hugged it out.

Prior to the game we took a bottle of the latest beer that Neil has worked many hours making (its FINALLY ready) and we said if they win, we'll drink it...

(here he is weeks ago, hard at work)

After the game we were thrilled. We put on some Christmas music and pulled out our decorations and began decking the halls. As we did we talked about the victory ("I mean what a guy, that Charlie, to block down field for his running backs!") and the holidays ("Maybe Christmas morning we skip presents and just take Dixon for a long walk.") and life ("Does it get better than this?").

With everything in place, we ceremoniously cracked open the very special brew Neil made for my recovery.

I took one sip of The Zipperhead Ale and was convinced it was the best beer I've ever tasted. Then, dripping with sentimental foolishness I suggested we take a stupid picture of it near our tiny tree.

aren't you blown away?

Dixon was also impressed by this holiday still life extravaganza and he saddled up to the scene just in time to knock over both glasses of that liquid gold. 

I'll answer your questions in the order they appear...
1. Yes, that is a bed sheet being used as a tree skirt.
2. Yes, I also noted that the puddle was deep enough to scoop some back into a glass... but I refrained.
3. No, I couldn't punish the frisky puppy. Not when I put a tree and two drinks on a wobbly stool. And not when he has such a cute guilty face.

The lesson we learned here was simple. On the eve of a Steeler victory, on the cusp of Christmas, the Orbin household doesn't cry over spilled anything. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

chai don't know how to say this...

This week we had our final appointment with my neurosurgeon.

It was our last one because I'm all clear from his point of view - that means everything from the day he cut me open is a-okay! (I still have to wean from my old concussion meds but that's another story)

Nothing about it was bitter-sweet... it was all sweet-sweet.

While we sat in the waiting room that early morning, sipping coffee, Neil and I played the "remember when..." game.

"Remember when we first came here thinking it was just a follow up for a research study, and I told you, 'there's nothing this doctor or this study can say to change my circumstances.'"


"Remember our appointment just three months ago, and how scared we where."


"Remember when we could never find a place to sit because of all the TVs and background noise."

Then we went into the exam room and I got to see Dr Okonkwo again. He gave me the final clearance and he gave me the chance to say thank you.... except how does one say thank you for something like this?

I knew I would be at a loss for words so I baked the office my new favorite Chai Sugar Cookies (props to Annan for the recipe).

Even then - "Here's some cookies. Thanks." hardly expresses the implied... "Dr. O, You took the time to see something that every doctor missed. You believed in a pain that no one else could see. You gave me a future I had long given up as lost. And after four years, when I couldn't even remember what it felt like not to hurt, you eased my pain. So here; I mixed up some butter and flour, because there really is no standard 'you brought my life back from darkness' gift. I hope you like sugar."

Whether he got the fullness of the message or not, we left the office and we left that part of our lives behind. I'm not fully better but I'm moving forward so fast in so many areas. I can see this clearly in many small ways. We stepped into the morning sun and crossed the street to the parking garage. I took a bold risk and opted to ride with Neil on the way out instead of waiting for him at the bottom. We circled around and around to the exit, and for the first time, I didn't feel sick.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November Date Night

Continuing with the monthly date night gifts I gave Neil (here is September and October) - November date was: Take A Cooking Class.

Too bad we did NOT have our act together. First we got a dog, then I got a cold, then it was the holidays. Then our dog got a tick and its vet bill adjusted our budgeted "monthly fun" dollars. We just dropped the ball. 

Not to let it all go to waste, we decided (1) we will still take an actual cooking class in the near future. and (2) we will still have a cooking-centric date night in which we make the things that intimidate us.

Item #1 was homemade bread. Right out the gate we went wrong. We did not leave enough time between looking up the recipe and eating dinner for the bread to rise (Note: always read the entire recipe before you begin) So we had to improvise. That's when we discovered Beer Bread - no yeast required (probably because its in the beer? I'm guessing? actually, i have no idea). this stuff is so quick and easy. We used this recipe, we halved it so it only needed about 25-30 min to cook. We also used less sugar and a dark porter beer. It was kind of dense and sweet, so if you're into to that sort of thing than make it happen! like, tonight! We didn't add extras this time but two days later I made it again with 1/4 cup shaved dubliner cheddar and a teaspoon rosemary and it was even better. verdict: modified success

Item #2 was a pumpkin. It seems funny, I've carved into them for jack-o-lanterns my whole life but for cooking I've always gone to the canned version. I don't know why this would be a hurdle. We've made spaghetti squash and other winter squashes a million times, isn't a pumpkin pretty much the same? 
Turns out the answer is yes. yes it is. Just cut into chunks, bake at 350 in a pan with a bit of water for about 45 min, scoop away from the rind, and your done. Its so easy. We pulsed the cooked pumpkin with an immersion blender and added it to this soup recipe. verdict: success

Item #3 was scallops. I've watched enough Top Chef, Chopped, and Hells Kitchen to know that if you cook one of these wrong, you go home. They intimidate me. Neil took charge here. First try through we burned the butter in our pan. Second round we may have been too gun shy on the temp. They're supposed to take 3-4 min on one side and 1 min on the other side (hot enough for a buttery sear on both sides). Ours took a bit longer. However they were not dried out and still very delicious so I can't complain. verdict: success-ish

We topped it all off by uncorking the bottled of champagne that we had saved from before the surgery. The whole dinner was a celebration of making it through to the 3 month mark (and beyond). We realized that during the cooking we had background music playing (!) and I didn't need to sit and take breaks (!!) We toasted to all the great things we have in life, including all the time in the world to adequately plan an actual cooking class that does not involve youTube instructions!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

firsts, again

This week I took my first yoga class since the surgery. I went slowly and took a lot of breaks. I felt the collective of the class move and breath along with me. Myself along with them. It felt fantastic to return to the mat.

I also got to go for my first run. Yesterday morning I had an appointment with my neurosurgeon. He met the running question (and every question) with a perfect answer of "yes. go. have your life back." Yesterday my puppy, my husband, and I went out for a perfect afternoon jog.

Today I'll lace up and head out for seconds. I will delight in actually feeling the slight ache in my legs and how I get out of breath a bit... and how I notice all these things because I don't feel spikes in my head! Don't worry, I will take it slow, I have no choice with Dixon since he stops to smell too many telephone poles. I'm just happy to be back on the road, for the first time, again.

Monday, November 26, 2012

leftovers: dead duck

I hope you are all feeling full and happy this monday morning!
Dixon spent his Thanksgiving abstaining from turkey and indulging in another bird.

 I want to thank my sister for the awesome doggie toy, however the leftovers of duck didn't last very long...


How was your holiday? What was your favorite leftover? Mine was easily my In-law's stuffing. I don't like gravy and they make a grand slam version that doesn't need any - especially when its cold the next day!

Any fun traditions? Aside from our new one of - "find the duck innards" we also have some that I've grown to hold dear. In order to see all our many parts of family, we've had to get creative... we eat a huge chinese food dinner the wednesday before with our mom's sides, and we meet my dad's side for a movie Thanksgiving night. I also adore sipping that after dinner coffee, and the mid-morning cooking while music plays.

I just read an article about the benefits of taking the time to savor your food (thinking about flavor, slowly chewing, etc). How if you truly stop to taste what you eat, you eat much less and you reportedly appreciate life more. I guess talking about Thanksgiving traditions on November 26th is my way of chewing on things a little longer. I also want to give you time away from cyber monday madness!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

well and warm together

This is not how I usually say "Happy Thanksgiving"

However the year has been uniquely difficult,

so I can't help but to lift up Hemingway's words as my sigh of gratitude.

Orbin, (and all my dear reader friends) 
here's to another year of the good things in life.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

every last drop

I used to dislike when people would comment on the weather because, 1. everyone does it and 2. I never cared about weather - I was stuck inside no matter what was happening beyond the windows. (in fact, rain and snow was preferable because it made everyone else recluse along with me... welcome to Grump Land friends! bring on the foul weather!)

Now I get out every day and I feel so much better every day. Now I'm one of those people saying "Did you see the sun today?!" and "I hope you had the chance to step outside for a bit this afternoon, it was delightful!" ugh. sometimes I'm dripping with a sugary sweet happiness that even I can't stand...yet I can't help myself.

I want to be outside, taking in every last drop of this weather before it turns to whipping winds and chattering teeth. I want soak up the leisurely strolls before they turn into quick trips to that one tree while I beg "Dixon, just pee already!"

I want to drag out the walks through the park with my sister and my nephew - with giggles and cheerios, and layers shed with each lap we take.

And I want to steal every possible afternoon of sitting outdoors, feeling the cool breeze and the warm sun. Thinking it's precious because it really might be the last one.

I want to maybe (fingers crossed) possibly get the green light to start jogging again, before these perfect days around reservoir slip away.

At least this year, I feel I'm drinking up every last bit of fall. Its been a gift to experience it, to join the collective of "people that talk about the weather" again. And when I start to grump and whine in the cold days of winter, I can take solace in that as well - as I'm truly working my way back to being a normal person!

Friday, November 16, 2012

my husband, the weenie

Wednesday of this week I felt not so great. I was fatigued and my head hurt and I just wanted to stay in bed.

*note: I did NOT make it to the store so we were bare bones in the dinner department

I love my husband because he made due and he created an excellent dinner out of the remains of our CSA. (an invented recipe of roasted beets and potatoes and corn and other root vegetables)

I love my husband because with out saying a word, he also left one questionable looking food item on the counter for me to discover Thursday morning...

Thanks honey!

Peace Piece

I know my narrative has been predominately about my headache pain, however, the accident had caused many other (albeit lesser) symptoms that I've had to deal with. I want to avoid harsh swearing on this blog, so I'll call these symptoms "highly inconvenient," but if I can step outside myself, they are also fascinating glimpses into how the brain works.

People would marvel at how I could pick up conversations several tables away from me while we were out at a restaurant. This is because I had no filter for background noise. All the foreground and background were at the same level. Clinking silverware, cooks saying orders, that girl with the high pitched laugh... all competing with what's right in front of me. I couldn't block anything out, like in that scene from "What Women Want", and it was all. the. time. 

It was fascinating when I could drop information about another person's conversation with ease. It was terrible because I couldn't follow what the people at my table were telling me. It was interesting that my brain was doing this. It was strange when our date night would end early because a snobby woman two tables over complained the whole meal about wanting a more upscale suite for her honeymoon in Cabo.  Oh poor Neil, just trying to give me a nice meal - he could never foresee when I would interrupt him with alligator tears saying "she just doesn't have any idea how good she has it in life! We could NEVER go to Cabo! Let's get the check." - having no idea whom "she" is because he can block out entitled background socialites like a normal person.

So when people ask me "Are your headaches gone?" that's only part of the story. The answer is "YES! sometimes. maybe forever? I don't know. but sort of YES! which is the most wonderful!"

But there are so many more elements that are coming back into my world that are so very life giving and uplifting. Like when we go for a walk on a Monday and stop into Silkys for an appetizer - just to see how I do with the noise. Then Neil will turn to me part way through and say "how are you doing with this" and I'll say "Oh." like it hadn't occurred to me to be struggling. BECAUSE I"M DOING OKAY! and that is also so very huge. And then once again I have alligator tears in public (poor Neil) and I smile and say "maybe we try staying through dinner." (and we do and I don't ask for the check early)

Piece by piece we are getting our life back. The ways seem so small but to us they are gigantic. When I go to the grocery store (my personal concussion hell), I no longer need to lay down for several hours afterwards. Do you know what that does for my sense of joy and sanity and love of the day?!? Do you have any idea how many colorful words I can remove from my descriptor of the "market district"? Its delightful. Its mundane but its huge.

Years ago I used to love jazz music. After the accident, my brain did a funny thing - it decided to hate Jazz. I could listen to the albums I already knew by heart, but anything new was off limits. This is because of the sporadic nature of jazz - the notes dip and dive, they don't go where you expect. When you listen, your brain has to switch from auto-drive to active mode just to follow along. A healthy brain does this without problems. My brain set off alarms. After even one song, the vice at my temple would tighten and my head would pulse. For years I was rudely alerted anytime I had to think (not just with Jazz, with anything).

Last week my friend Ryan sent me a wonderful email and at the end was a link to a song he thought I'd like called "Peace Piece" by Bill Evans. With hesitation I re-entered the jazz world. 

I used to love Jazz so much because it (generally) has no lyrics, it has no predicted path, and within the breadth of a song it can hold any emotion one wants. I was so sad after the accident when the only thing I could receive from jazz was pain. Now, once again, I can get peace and joy and the dichotomy of having felt heaviness when I am so light.

For years I've talked mostly about my headaches, which oversimplified the fact that my entire life had changed. Now when I tell people that sometimes my headaches are gone, even that miracle is too small an answer - there is a greater abundance. My world has a fullness beyond what I can describe. Maybe like jazz, you can't put it in words.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Poached of Energy

After long weekends, I settle into easy restful weekdays. They include catching up on my favorite podcasts, attempting to give my brain some mid-day shut eye, and listening to calming music.

I usually don't have the energy to cook a full meal for myself and so I find I'll merely reheat leftovers. As this has been my pattern for quite some time, eventually, I found I like some small ways to spice up the food we made over the weekend. Lately, that little kick has been the poached egg. 

Do you poach eggs? I used to be afraid to, but I promise its so very easy! Plus its a healthy. 
- here is a great tutorial, and here is another (but I go more with the method is the first link)
- and here is a ridiculously specific video - I'll never use a thermometer for my eggs, nevertheless this short visual is very helpful. 

I also used to limit the poached egg to a breakfast treat on top of toast. Now I'll put one over chili, rice, pizza, salad, black beans, really anything! 

Here I had a spicy tomato couscous.
It had dried out a bit and plus, I wanted a little boost of protein...

solution: the poached egg.

Is there anything you are intimidated to cook? (I'm still a bit nervous to bake my own bread) 
Is there anything you like to add to leftovers to elevate them a bit? 
Are your weeks getting darker and colder to the point that an egg can be exciting? yes? me too!

Friday, November 9, 2012


I know that November is already in full swing. I have been wearing my hand knit scarf (thank you Sarah!) and my wooly gloves for days now. Still, I would love to share about some of the many things I am looking forward to this month...

Walks with Dixon
Not to worry, you won't get a dog picture in every post.
But this one warms my soul because it captures autumn, and our neighborhood, and our family.

"Brunette Dancing Rave"
On blogger you can see the phases people search to find your site. 
I have to apologize to the multiple (yes multiple) people looking for "Brunette Dancing Rave" that found this post-concussive, surgery recovering, soup eating, nap taking lady insead.
However, I look forward to doing more this month. Maybe something more mild like "Brunette Shuffle Step" and we'll save that other ambitious search result for march or april.

An Ale in My Honor
There was never any doubt that my husband loves me, but he's proving it yet again.
This month we'll bottle a beer he made precisely to my tastes.
Its a pumpkin ale but its not too sweet. It has ginger and cinnamon and all spice. It has only a hit of hops. PLUS a secret ingredient. 
I feel so proud to have a beer that's my beer. He even named it after me - 
The Zipperhead!

Two New Crochet Stitches
Some ask, "what do you do all day?" Lately the answer is "I've take up the ol' crochet hooks."
I've found its engaging enough without causing brain stimulus overload.
I recently learned not one, but TWO new stitches! Dear readers you are either 
(a) thrilled for me or (b) mocking me. 
Those in camp 'a' can call me up and I'll mail you a hat
 (the 'b' people, eh, you get a hat too, I have a bunch of time)

Mountain Biking
Not for me, oh no, wellgeez no!
My dear husband has a light in his eyes when he gets near a bike, talk about bikes, think of bikes. (the kind of light that's part kid at christmas and part Nicholson from Cuckoo's Nest)
This month the last of the warm-enough days will be here and I look forward to him riding about as much a he possibly can.
also, this video of Danny Macaskill is insane!

movie: The Interrupters
We got this documentary in from Netflix and we can't wait to watch it. The Interrupters is about a group of former gang members that travel through inner city Chicago, trying to enact a cease fire among active gangs. It has received great reviews, and maybe I'll even see my old neighborhood.

books: So Many, Too Many! (in a good way) 
After just finishing a great book - "Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern, I'm excited to dive into my next few for November. I was thinking "Hiroshima" by John Hersey and "Someone Knows My Name" by Lawrence Hill, then "Passage to India" by E.M. Forster
And then I'll be about 1/3 of the way through the books that have been lent to me!
I love to read and have LOVED the ones I've gotten so far, but please bring me no more!!

Leek Bread Pudding
I love stuffing so much. Its my favorite side dish of the Thanksgiving meal. So when I tasted this recipe last year for a savory bread pudding, I was quickly won over. I don't know why its taken me so long to make it myself, but I'm finally doing it! 
(maybe I've just been appropriately afraid that once I see how easy it is to have warm bread bake, I won't be able to turn back.)

College Basketball!
I'm sorry for those of you in hockey mourning.
I'm pleased for those of you at the peak of foot ball season happiness.
But I can't hear any of you over sounds of my cries of joy. 

This year the holiday is extra special because the date will be exactly 3 months post surgery.
My "I love you"s to family will be extra sappy.
My stamina as I travel between all 5 or so different family houses will be extra strong.
My cup will be spilled over!
This year for my birthday, I used a gift card to buy a bottle of champagne, and at the time I felt too sick to drink it. We've saved this bottle and I can't think of a better time to uncork than November 22nd.
My cup will be extra extra spilled over!

God Parents
The best for last: Neil and I are beyond honored and overwhelmingly blessed because we've been asked to become God Parents. 
Our darling niece, Mia, has become the tiny life we pledge to pour into, to pray for, to influence, and guide. Although we just met her, we couldn't love her more. 
We can't wait to fulfill this role. 
(It means also we spoil her like crazy, right? Because if that's not in the job description than I'm adding an amendment)

And just for fun: this video cracked me up!
If Mia doesn't pick us as her favorite, we might need to borrow some of these tactics.

 Have a great Weekend!