family in NC

As if it wasn’t fun enough getting a whole week up in VA with my mom and sister, then I got them down here with me in NC! Mom to visit, Malindi to STAY!

We began with a festive meal at Top of the Hill, where the views of Chapel Hill are splendid (we ate outside on the patio that overlooks Franklin Street). We decided to embrace the South and order fried pickles to share :D They were grand.

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Then we spent the next few days alternating tedious activities and super fun activities. See if you can guess which was which!

  • waiting for Malindi to get a driver’s license
  • waiting for Malindi to get interviewed for a job (which she got! yay!)
  • waiting for Malindi to register her car
  • waiting for Malindi to get fingerprinted for the new job
  • raiding Target for furniture and hooks and so on
  • hauling furniture and hooks and so on to Malindi’s new apartment
  • unloading things in Malindi’s new apartment
  • assembling furniture in Malindi’s new apartment

(JK those were the tedious things. I bet you got that!)

Then there was… going to Goat House cat refuge and playing in A PILE OF KITTENS! The Kitten Cabana is pretty out of control this time of year. When I took this picture I was slacking.

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They like attention. This one was BEST FRIENDS with Malindi!
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I spent a lot of time in one corner, because there was a kitten with tummy troubles who’d been placed in quarantine but she was all miserably, “PEEEEEEEET MEEEEEEEE!” so I had to tend to her. Then there was a kitten huddled in the corner looking miserable and sniffly, so I went and told the staff there that there was a sick kitten. And then I discovered that they didn’t speak English so we had a fun back and forth in Spanish and miming and so on where they conveyed to me I should put him in one of the quarantine cages with two of the other kittens, and I picked him up and he gave me such a nice cuddle, and then I put him in the other cage and he looked relieved and happy to be with his friends and away from all the stimulation of the mob of kittens out on the floor. Little love.

We also ate a lot of great meals at all my faves including

  • Brunch at Guglhupf
  • Sandwiches at Sandwhich
  • Sushi at Sushi Nikko
  • Lucha Tigre (actually at that point I had a weird stomach bug so Malindi and mom did that without me)
  • Monuts Donuts (again, mom and Malindi went without me, which is both a tragic and ultimately better-for-my-health fact. Though my mother is insane and ordered a salad at Monuts. Though she did say it was delicious.)
  • My favorite tea house which I’m actually starting to get scared to tell people about because it’ll get crowded and ruined
  • Brunch at Elmos
  • (Local) meaty dinner at Venable (Malindi was settled in her new apartment and my mom was staying for one more night at my place so we did that without Malindi)

With this trip I think I can officially say I have shared all my current favorite places with mom and/or Malindi. Yay food :D

And I also did a little cooking, and on Friday night I hosted a party with so many of my friends! I wanted everyone to meet my mom and welcome my sister to town. I was tickled pink when I invited some of Steve’s buddies and they actually came. We played Celebrity and ate good food and talked and laughed.

Once we’d zoomed through the frenetic activity of the week, we got to enjoy a weekend at the beach!

We stopped at the most beautiful rest stop in the history of rest stops:

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Seriously, there was a plaque that this rest stop had won North Carolina rest stop awards. (Though none of them first place, so somewhere there is a rest stop even nicer than this!)

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Then it was time to hang out with my friend, the ocean.

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Someone told me this summer to enjoy the beach, not the ocean. So I did. Long walks and selfie taking.

Gah it was so great to have the whole family together!

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We met my cousin in Wilmington and swapped amusing stories with her five year old daughter (<3<3). The view where we had dinner was RAWTHER nice.

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Then a pit stop back at my place and my mom went back on her way :,( But my sister is here to stay! More fun things, I’m sure, to come!

fun at home

After my NC staycation, I headed back to my family home. We had MANY THINGS TO CELEBRATE!

  • My sister’s imminent move and job prospects (she has subsequently been offered and accepted an Americorps position, yay!)
  • My mothers new job (!!!)
  • Me surviving my internship and thus completing my first year of grad school!

It was REAL NICE being able to recharge. The last few weeks of the internship had been a little cray… due to problems of an interpersonal nature that it’s pointless and nonconstructive for me to rehash on the Internet. I’m all about being constructive these days.

So, I was really happy with the constructive activities I did with my time!

I hung out with family members.

I worked on my South Africa self-created curriculum (though truthfully a lot of the books were so depressing it’s been hard for me to keep going).

I worked out.

I hung out with my old high school friends, and we talked about their BABIES! And hung out with little Owen :D

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I watched the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy with my sister.

I got my awesome cat baked.

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A highlight was all going out for a dinner to celebrate the aforementioned good things (particularly since mom finished her last day at work! After working, a conservative estimate, 70 hours over the week).

So, uh, funny story: I went to look up the menu of the lovely restaurant where we ate this lovely meal… and discovered they had abruptly and mysteriously closed like a week later. Whatttt?! Guess I’ll have to drudge up from memory a proper description of what we had!

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Smoked tuna dip with squid ink baguette.

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Grilled apricots, mm. They had this stuff that was bacon-y but not bacon (I forget what it was actually made of) and lots of other… things… on it.

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Grilled octopus with a lot of lemon peel on top of what I want to say was cauliflower puree.
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And the special, and the highlight of the meal, SOFTSHELL CRABS WOOHOO! I love softshell crabs and almost never get to eat them. There were three to this order- perfect! One for my mom, one for my sister, and one for me. The crab was served on this INCREDIBLE corn and lima bean succotash that contained a ton of butter and a secret, delicious and tangy ingredient- capers!

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Finally, the most creamy and decadent creamed corn in the land.

Then I got in my car to go back down to NC… but I brought my mom and my sister with me! My mom to visit, my sister to LIVE! YAY!

goals for the new semester

  1. Wear a bra every day. None of this, “Oh, a tank top with a built in bra is fine” nonsense. It’s not, Ileana. It’s not. You are a C cup. Wear a real bra every day (or at least out in public). Seriously, remember how you looked in that picture from the beach. WEAR A BRA.
  2. Don’t skip class. Yes, you can fool yourself into thinking that it doesn’t matter because they record the lectures, but just don’t. You convince yourself you are feeling vaguely sick and then stay home doing nothing productive and eating carbs and wasting your life on the Internet. Just go to class.
  3. Eat two meals mindfully. Actually, this is progress!
    (Changing point of view in this paragraph from second person to first person. Apologies.)
    Readers may recall that in a post earlier this summer I mentioned that I’d realized I’d been eating THREE MEALS A DAY IN FRONT OF A COMPUTER SCREEN bad bad bad! Some at work, some at home decompressing from work. It kind of snuck up on me but it was appalling behavior. Particularly when done by future nutrition/public health professional.
    I vowed I’d eat one meal mindfully each day (mindfully= away from a screen, actually paying attention to how the food tastes and how full/hungry I am) and that went well. Now I’m on two mindfully. Days I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner mindfully are awesome days (like today!) but days I enjoy one meal with an article or even a TV show, I can live with.
    (Changing back to the original point of view. I feel the need to excuse these things despite the fact that I routinely read blogs that do things like use the word “workout”, the noun, to mean “work out”, the verb. Or when trying to use it as a possessive, instead of using the correct form, its, use the incorrect contraction form, it’s. Essentially, reading things on the Internet is making us all dumber.)
  4. Meet the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations for exercise. They are not huge. 150 minutes of moderate cardio or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio each week. Plus two weight bearing exercise occasions.
    Just do something along the lines of what you did today: a slightly complicated and confusing squat sequence from a fitness magazine, 20 minutes inclined treadmill speed walking, 10 minutes stationary bike, treadmill cooldown while doing tricep and bicep curls.
    You feel more mentally alert after exercising. Your skin looks better when you exercise. You make healthier food choices on days you’ve worked out. You have numerous friends who are good workout buddies. Just do it! You’ll be happy!
  5. Have “yes” be the default answer to questions about social gatherings. Say yes unless you can think of a compelling reason not to attend. It’s good to get out of your shell. It’s good to get to know classmates and other new friends. It’s good to remember that other people are nervous, too, and it doesn’t mean that you are socially incompetent because you can’t always singlehandedly sustain a conversation. Just today, you had a conversation with a classmate that felt awkward. You nonetheless fought your natural impulse to flee to the library and kept going. By the end, you ended up feeling like the other person really was enjoying talking to you and not just waiting for the conversation to be over. Then, the other person texted you inviting you to trivia! See?! People are nice and want to hang out with you and you should take those steps!

That’s it. A list of all the goals. 5 is a nice, complete sounding number.

There are no relationship goals on it because I am currently in a relationship with Jamie Fraser.

jamie fraser!

But my roommate and I have to share him, sigh.

She has told me that now instead of asking me if I want to watch Outlander, she will just start singing the theme song.

So far, this semester is pretty good :D

summer class part 2

As I work on this blog post, in the comfort of the living room of my family home, my summer internship seems like a very long time ago, though it ended less than a week ago. Funny. [As I finish writing this while getting my oil changed, it’s been three weeks. Time flies! :D] Anyway, I gave y’all a little taste of some of the things I did in the beginning of the summer and right as the internship began, but I thought I’d give y’all a taste of what an intern in public health nutrition does.

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Let me start by saying that my preceptor (preceptor= supervisor of dietetic internship. Has to be an RD) was super cool! She was the WIC director. WIC stands for Women, Infants and Children and is a federal nutrition program that ends up providing food for half (!) of the children born in the US at some point in their early childhood. It provides breastfeeding support for moms as well as infant formula for infants whose mothers choose not to breast feed. It also provides vouchers for healthy food for pregnant and postpartum women and children up to age 5. I spent a lot of time shadowing the WIC nutritionists and seeing what they did all day. Part of the program (unlike some other feeding programs like food stamps) includes nutrition education. I was excited about that, because I really enjoy the exposure I’ve had to patient counseling. However, because such a huuuuge number of people participate in the WIC program, counseling by necessity is brief. Let’s be real- these people have had to haul themselves to the health department (and the town I was in did not have public transportation, boo) and they have had to do it in the middle of the work day (since health departments generally aren’t open on weekends or evenings) and generally they wanted to get their vouchers. The nutritionists did a good job of trying to impart a few key nutrition messages, but the program is definitely more about screening for serious concerns (and making referrals to other health professionals as needed) than counseling people for minor concerns.

WIC recently (in the past year) required that participants only use their vouchers for skim or 1% milk for adults or children over the age of 2. People were upset about it, as many of the families were used to getting 2% or whole milk. The North Carolina nutrition website suggested that WIC departments to do a milk taste test to convince people that they really could drink and enjoy the lower-fat stuff. So, I led a milk taste test in the WIC lobby!

As my professor pointed out when I mentioned this project to her, the evidence is actually rather weak that choosing low fat milk is superior to 2% or whole. After all the years of demonizing saturated fat and telling people to keep sat fat out of their milk, a lot of evidence is showing that the complete package of milk– with its combination of protein and vitamins and minerals and who knows what else — is healthy, regardless of its fat content. You can read a rather dense article about that here.

With that being said, WIC’s national office sets the policies, and it’s what the local WIC offices have to do. So, if peope are getting vouchers for low-fat milk, you gotta get them excited about low fat milk! We don’t want food insecure people throwing away their vouchers and losing a source of calories and nutrients each month.

The way the taste test worked was I gave everyone a blind tasting from cartons labeled “Flavor A” and “Flavor B”, and asked them if they liked them, which one was their favorite, and which one they thought had more fat.

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The surprise was that there was no whole milk offered- the milks were just 1% and 2%. As you can see, in a blind tasting, people like ’em both! And more people actually thought Flavor A (the 1% milk) had more fat than Flavor B (the 2%)- in fact, several people swore up and down that Flavor A was whole milk… Including a few flabbergasted health department employees :) More things that were interesting, in no particular order:

Spanish! The nutritionists were quick to let me start teaching the Spanish prenatal class. Where I’m doing WIC, they do group appointments for prenatal clients. In other words, the pregnant women all come together, get weighed, get counseled together, and get their vouchers at the same time. This is much more efficient. It also hopefully creates a supportive environment for the mamas to get to chat together. I would do the first half of the presentation (about basic nutrition, foods to avoid during pregnancy, exercise, etc.) and then one of the breastfeeding peer counselors would do a long presentation about breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding peer counselors are the coolest! WIC started this program- the idea is that a mom (often a WIC mom) who has successfully breastfed her own kids can help other WIC moms do the same, and get paid for it! I’ve noticed that the relationships people have with their BFPC is very different than with the WIC nutritionist. Our BFPCs go to the hospital a few times a week to check in on their mamas once they’ve delivered. They also go to rooms and tell women about WIC who may not have known they could get its services. Anyway, there was one woman who the IBCLC (certified lactation consultant) at the hospital couldn’t get to pump, but then one of the BFPCs went in and just listened to the mom talk about her fears and anxieties and was a supportive person, and made some progress- by the end the mom sounded more amenable to pumping. Which is great, because especially for preemies, breastmilk is liquid gold!

Another thing that’s great about the BFPCs is that they are fully bilingual in English and Spanish. I have sat in on all-Spanish appointments with them and have picked up an extremely specialized vocabulary about boobies :) When I talk to them it’s usually in Spanglish.

Also, they have all kinds of fun visuals. One I’ll call “Breast stuffed animals”. They’re amazing. They also have little marbles and ping pong balls to show the size of a baby’s tummy. Fun fact: a newborn infant’s stomach can hold a whopping teaspoon of milk.

On the subject of breastfeeding, I spent some time at a local clinic and saw some booklets they gave to expectant mamas that had BEAUTIFUL pictures of embryos and fetuses and really good information about pregnancy and development. However, it was written by Enfamil which means there was some NONSENSE in it- no, your feeding options are not formula or breastfeeding supplemented with formula. Your options are exclusive breastfeeding (BEST OPTION! FREE AND BEST FOR MAMA AND BABY!) or some amount of formula feeding. Sheesh.

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More on breastfeeding- I shadowed the nutritionist/breastfeeding specialist from the WIC office in in her other capacity as a lactation consultant at the hospital! “Christina” got her IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) and continues to work at the hospital once or twice a month in order to keep her clinical skills fresh (and earn a little extra $- no surprise, the hospital pays better than WIC). She has been AMAZINGLY supportive of all my interests in breastfeeding at WIC and was kind enough to offer me this opportunity. We had a jam-packed day!

Christina had twelve patients (really 24, since they were mother/child dyads) on two different floors. For contexts, each nurse handles just four/eight patients. I accompanied her as she did a wide variety of tasks going from patient to patient. She checked in on a mother of a premature infant to see how her supplemental nutrition system was going. She helped a mother use a pump successfully for the first time (flange size is key!). She helped multiple mamas improve their positioning and the baby’s latching, and helped rouse several extremely sleepy babies to motivate them to feed. She talked to moms about what to expect with engorgement, and how to relieve discomfort (cabbage leaves!) 

It was a very hands-on job. She always asked permission, but she touched several patients’ breasts. It made me realize that when doctors talk about not thinking it’s a big deal to see naked people anymore, it’s really true. For me, a bare breast is now just… a milk holder. It’s now a non-event for me to see a topless woman.

She also gave me a tour of many different areas, including the NICU (which was surprisingly dim, quiet, and peaceful) and the storage room for breastfeeding/bottle feeding supplies (infant formula is hidden like it’s contraband).

All Things in Moderation Part 1: The Dietitian and the Dietitian in Training. For lunch, she got fried chicken and mac and cheese, and I got a piece of pizza. We both got Diet Cokes :D

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Along with having fun hanging out with babies, I also hung out with seniors. I had so much fun sitting in on some congregate meals. If you don’t know what those are: the federal government has an Elderly Nutrition program which you can read about here. The idea is that older folks are more at risk of malnutrition for a variety of reasons (such as lack of money to buy food, physical impairments that make cooking difficult, medications that affect appetite, illnesses that make it difficult to eat, etc.) so there are meals offered in community-based centers. The folks who visit get a chance to eat and also a chance to socialize. Most of the congregate meals also offer some educational/socialization opportunities. I went to a super fun exercise presentation (a chipper recent kinesiology grad led us in stretches using resistance bands) followed by a congregate meal at one senior center. This was the meal.

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It was pretty salty but fairly well rounded.

Throughout the summer I did a fair number of presentations. At one at a senior center, I talked about antioxidants, exercise, and hydration. Then I did a cooking demo (well, “cooking”- I microwaved sweet potatoes and made a toppings bar!) The woman who ran the congregate meals said a lot of people just used their microwave to heat stuff up, so I figured I wouldn’t fight that but would offer some more nutritious options.

Sweet potatoes with broccoli (frozen pre-chopped for ease), shredded cheese (reduced fat), salsa (organic, which is typically lower in sodium), and low fat cottage cheese. A lot of people just put a little bit of everything on their sweet potatoes!

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Also spent some time in the schools (one of the requirements by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is that students get experience with school nutrition). We helped pack up lunches for various summer programs (having food available at schools in the summer is SO IMPORTANT! A lot of families really depend on their kiddos getting a big balanced lunch at school so food insecurity spikes during the summer) Of course Chapel Hill/Carrboro schools have hippie posters everywhere!

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One student for whom we prepared lunch required mechanically altered food (s/he likely had difficulty swallowing). We made a variation on the meal: chopped up chicken nuggets. We started preparing the corn but then the manager at the school cafeteria found out from the RD that corn would be a choking hazard for this student, so instead we made some pears.

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More required stuff: I had to do a Big Important Presentation both for my class grade and to fulfill the Academy of Nutrition and Dietietics requirements. The milk taste test didn’t count, my preceptor couldn’t come to the presentation at the senior center… it was a mess! Finally, I scheduled a presentation at a child care center. Off I went… but not before Siri took me on a long detour into the middle of nowhere! Instead of being 15 minutes early I was 10 minutes late! FUN! Cool thing: this child care center was going to build a garden with a grant from SHAPE-NC (a program funded by Blue Cross Blue Shields that encourages physical activity and healthy eating at child care centers). To help them prepare, I designed a presentation about feeding children (responsive feeding, natural satiety cues, and encouraging children to try vegetables) and incorporating gardening and food-based activities into the curriculum. I’d also created an additional section on healthy cooking for the teachers (knowing how little they get paid) and while I had to cut it from the presentation due to time constraints, I made a handout with quick tips (including meal-planning apps and ways to spend less money on meat) and led a discussion at the end of the presentation. Here are some of the nice resources I found!

resources for gardening with kids handout

Random interesting thing: I went to a TOTALLY FASCINATING Safe Kids International meeting.One of the folks there, a representative from the fire department had SO MANY interesting things to share. Key point, friends- you should have a smoke detector in your ROOM, not just in your HOME. People lose their sense of smell when they sleep (!) and in the event of a fire you could pass into a carbon monoxide induced coma before the fire ever got to you. Also, children these days are so desensitized to noise (because, they think, of all the screen time they get) that traditional smoke detectors don’t wake them. What does seem to work is getting a smoke detector with a recorder attached and recording the child’s mother (!) saying something along the lines of “WAKE UP THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE GET OUT NOW KID”.

Another thing I did: planned a series of nutrition classes that’ll be held at the local Housing Authority. I’m stoked about what I planned- lots of cooking and physically active games interspersed with the Powerpoints!

Final thing: there was a lot of free junk food at the health department!

Birthday Celebration:

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(I was stressed by the other intern this day and ate WAY TOO MUCH JUNK FOOD)

Morale building free outdoor picnic lunch provided by the health department:

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And so my summer write up concludes! I learned a lot and stressed a lot and can’t believe it’s already time for me to go back to school.

sweet freedom!

I finished my seemingly endless internship last Monday (really, for all intents and purposes, Friday, since I spent Monday getting my performance evaluated- eeeurgh- then going around giving everyone cards, cookies and hugs). As a result I have been soaking up the goodness! A sampling:

Friday

First I had a hot date with my friend’s five-year-old son. She’s out of town (busy GETTING ENGAGED IN PARIS TO A PERFECT FRENCH MAN!) and her mom has been a little overwhelmed by the energetic grandbaby. So I absconded with Cohen and we went swimming and played with play dough and had a blast.

Once done with that, party in my friend’s backyard! Twinkly lights and cucumber/gin/basil cocktails. Yes please!

Saturday

I woke up with a sore throat so I flaked out on going to the swimming hole… but I did join everyone after for ice cream! Maple View Farm is more beautiful every day, I swear. I tried my best to capture some of the splendor via panorama.

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Sunday

Bruuuuunch! Brunch is the best meal. Went to Jessees and got the Kind Avocado, this gorgeous sandwich with ‘cado and cheese and arugula and vinaigrette, mmm. Talked about life with my cousin Sophia.

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Monday

First I drove to Lumberton, North Carolina for literally no reason. I’d offered to keep Colton company on his trip there, which he made because (he thought) he’d left behind his shoes in the temporary summer housing he’d had for his internship. We arrived in Lumberton (which, as places go, is reallllll depressing- we went by a number of dingy strip clubs in the Fort Bragg area on our way) and there were no shoes. Colton found them at home three days later. Lunatic.

Anyway, it was still fun going on a little road trip with Colton. He’s newly in love and in that disgustingly happy phase. Also, Colton loves to gossip almost as much as I do.

After returning from the boonies, in the evening I joined some friends for South Africa Movie Night! Sam did the Peace Corps in South Africa and wants to share her love for that country with all her friends. Carolina, one of the few people in our program who has a proper TV, offered to host. She also served us a delicious dinner. Here’s Sam being adorable:

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The meal involved fried chicken, Argentinian style (it reminded me a lot of picatta- I could see an Italian influence), asparagus, roasted sweet potatoes, and rolls.

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We watched Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and it was really good. It made me want to learn more about my South African heritage. I know my grandfather left around the time apartheid was instituted, but there’s so much more I want to understand about my own family’s history and also about the history of the nation. SO I polled my family members who still live in South Africa and asked them for book recommendations, which they gave me in spades. My goal is to spend some of the next few weeks brushing up on history. Yay learning!

Tuesday

I worked out! Guys, I’ve been a huge bum this summer regarding exercise. It depresses me to think about it, so I’m not talking about it anymore.

Then we had a movie night, because I learned on the road trip with Colton that he had never seen Almost Famous. The movie came up because the second I finished with my job I felt a strong compulsion to dance around my house while playing Tiny Dancer loudly.

So we went to Zach and Jaclyns and watched and discussed the movie.

Then we discussed my sociopath fellow intern and all my feelings of guilt and shame for not being able to have a functioning working relationship with her. (She literally did not speak to me, except to respond to direct questions, for the final two weeks of our internship. It was just a LITTLE emotionally draining).

Wednesday

I did a little token work (since my new biochem professor was kind enough to send us SEVEN PAGES of material we were expected to have memorized before the first day of class ISN’T THAT NICE) but the highlight of the day was definitely the evening…

COOKING CLASS!

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My amazing aunt and uncle Kathy and Tom got me a Sur La Table gift card for Christmas. Er, on Christmas. Seven months ago. Between this and that, I just got around to using it, but it ended up being fortuitous: Sur La Table is having 50% (or more!) off their classes right now- I urge you to check it out! Because of that, I was able to use their gift to treat me and a friend to the class, and still have a little left over for a few trinkets.

The class was SO FUN! There was one chef who led the activities and three assistants whose job was basically to make it the most pleasant experiences ever. At one point I turned to Carolina and said, “This is all of the fun stuff about cooking and none of the not fun stuff!” We had high quality, state-of-the art kitchen tools and appliances (like the microplane and the nifty garlic peeler pictured below)…

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We also had a team of assistants prepping and cleaning up after us! Any time things got slightly messy they quickly and gracefully swooped in and wiped down our cutting board; tossed our peelings; got rid of our empty prep bowls; and generally were the most inconspicuous magical elves ever. Whatever they get paid, it’s not enough.

The first thing we prepared was the appetizer: we spread homemade pesto (toasted pine nuts, mint, parsley, basil, parmesan, garlic, and olive oil) and fresh ricotta on olive oil’d, salted, peppered, and toasted ciabatta.

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I mean come on. This was so delicious. Plus beautiful.

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The next thing was a riff on Caprese salad. First fancy chef man peeled and cut very thin slices of cantaloupe. Then he pickled them (!) in sherry vinegar and kosher salt.

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We were in charge of the remaining ingredients. Sliced up some heirloom tomatoes…

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Then combined them with basil and BURRATA! Oh burrata. So creamy and heavenly.

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To gild the lily a little more, there was also olive oil.

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And the remainder of the meal consisted of yet another salad. It was a variation on Salade Nicoise (which the chef called Nick-oh-ease, which I think I can safely say is not the French pronunciation, hahaha). Started assembling the greens, tomatoes, cucs, olives, and hard boiled eggs

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Then Carolina prettily arranged the green beans

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Then lovely waxy potatoes

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And then in lieu of the traditional tuna we grilled some salmon to go on top.

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Such a delicious meal!

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Relatively healthy, too, though you haven’t seen dessert yet…

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So yes, for dessert, there were epic brownies. Start by extremely liberally buttering a pan (with fancy Kerrygold butter!)

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Then continue with tons of chocolate (3 kinds! Unsweetened, bittersweet and semisweet)

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Melt the chocolate with more butter (I wish I could somehow transmit this smell to you through the screen)

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Whisk together the melted chocolate with beaten eggs and sugar, then add a tiny bit of flour (Mom, when my friend was whisking I gently stepped in and said, “Make it go clack clack!” like the crazy French chef taught you!)

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Yeah sure let’s go ahead and throw in some vanilla bean paste. Whoooooooa. The chef gave us little spoonfuls of this to taste and it was like getting punched in the mouth with vanilla bean. And vodka. If it’s not clear, it was a pleasurable sensation, hahaha.

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Then the smell somehow got even better. Again, I wish I could convey the incredible-ness of this smell.

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Stop it, these were so good. Freaking crack brownies. I don’t really know how anything tastes this good. Plus, I am not usually an edges-of-the-pan person (not to belittle them, I know it’s a thing) but I made an exception for these because wowwww the slightly crispy edges were something special.  IMG_2881

This is quite the savvy business deal for Sur La Table- they give you a ten minute break and a 10% off gift card to use in the class. Carolina and I ended up doing a little shopping after class- she got a nifty garlic peeler, I got an instant-read digital meat thermometer (which I’ve been wanting FOREVER!) and a nifty cutting board scraper (which I plan to also use to make pastry).

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Thursday

Borrowed my friend’s one and half year old kid and romped around the botanical gardens and the farmer’s market. It was the best! For “butterfly”, she says, “BUH BUH BUH BUH BUH BUH” Baby and her daddy and I then hit up the farmer’s market and had some of our goods for dinner (while her poor mama worked late). Baby loved the cherry tomatoes. Her dad informed me that baby refused to eat grocery store tomatoes but loved the ones from the farmer’s market. Classy baby :)

Then I binge watched some Outlander with my roomie. It had been too long.

Friday

Got coffee with my ment-ee. Yes, in a crazy turn of events, since I am now a second year, I am in a position where have (or at least I am at assumed to have) gained enough wisdom to mentor a first year. My ment-ee is from Ecuador and totally adorable.

Then I cleaned my house to prepare for girls’ night with Myra. Decided I hated my room. Bought a desk… it’s still in my car. Had a girls’ night with Myra! Cooked a feast that included that cantaloupe-tomato salad (mmmm). Then we watched Atonement, sigh. The daschund was being her usual incredibly poorly behaved self, so we ended up going back to Myra’s and having a slumber party! Like the ones of childhood, except better, because R rated movies and red wine.

Saturday

After waking up and taking a romantic walk to the farmer’s market with Myra (ha!) I wrote most of this blog post. Then I went to an afternoon cookout with my friends and their bambino, where I spent a lot of the time marveling at how big the little one is getting!

Something that really struck me  is how lucky I am to’ve made the friends I have in this town. I’ve had some moments of, “Agh, will I ever hang out with anyone again?!” first when Steve and I split up and then when my dear Andrea moved off to NYC. I’m feeling really blessed that I have a few different networks (school friends, work friends, neighbors, etc.). I also have some really old friends- I’ve known Andrea since 9th grade and I’ve known Dan, who I hung out with this afternoon, since seventh grade (!) At the time, he was my friend’s cool and crushworthy big brother, actually. Now I hang out with him and his wife and kid in another state. Crazy how these things go.

Then I went with Myra and Alex and saw the totally ridiculous Pitch Perfect 2 outdoors.

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It didn’t come close to approaching the majesty of the first movie, but so what, right? Movies are inherently funner outdoors.

Sunday

I played in the river again (swimming at the secret spot with the rope swing is quickly becoming my favorite summer activitiy) with some buddies from my old office and their ADORABLE doglet Ella. I captured her on film while we enjoyed post-swim ice cream (every single time I’ve been to the swimming hole so far I have gone with my companions for ice cream after. Yes I’m very proud of this).

Ella photoshoot. She is so cute and smiley and cuddly!

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Also she is a big awkward nerd, so I relate to her quite a bit.

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fighting the introversion

Sometimes it’s easy for me to feel like a creepy loner. Especially when I’m single. Especially in the summer. It’s funny- summer is my favorite season but also the time of year I tend to get most depressed because it’s like “WAHHHH why are all those beautiful people out in the sunshine having fun and I’m sitting in here being sad?!”

So this post is useful to remind myself that I have, in fact, been doing fun things. And also push myself to do more. Just yesterday I made two new friends at my favorite coffee shop. Then I attended one of those strangers’ (public, I’m not an idiot!) birthday party.

In other fun events, I went with some chums to see Magic Mike XXL. Fabulous film. They didn’t bother with a plot at all!

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Public health students (two of whom are in the Nutrition Department) of course had to get heart healthy snacks. Mine was mint chocolate chip!

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Went to a Greek festival with my some other friends. Lots of music and dancing and sunshine and FOOD.

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It was crazy because there was this group of little girls who danced and it was like OH OKAY COOL JUST LOOKING AT MY CHILDHOOD THEN. (My sister and I were in the Greek dancing troupe at our church growing up. I was kind of neurotic and methodical about learning all the right steps and my sister, three years younger, just skipped around giggling and of course SHE GOT ALL THE APPLAUSE BECAUSE YOUNGEST CHILDREN).

Anyway, this picture is a big ol’ nostalgia trip.

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Was there with my friends who have a baby, and baby was ENTHRALLED by the dancers. Kept clapping and clapping!

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Naturally we ate a lot. I looked after the baby while they got food (note that they did not tell me to do so- rather, I decided to do so whether they wanted me to or not) and they came back with a sizeable spread.

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Pita and tzaziki x2, fries, dolmathes, greek salad, spanikopita x2, and…

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Loukomades! Greek donuts soaked in a honey syrup. I knew these would be good because they were lumpy- essential to good loukomades.

At the festival, we also enjoyed a baklava sundae and a Greek wine tasting. And, on the part of the baby, had a thrilling time with hula hoops, traffic cones, and the always fascinating blades of grass.

Another fun friend activity- this was a few weeks ago, when I was cripplingly depressed after the shootings in Charleston (slash depressed about the whole world in general) and put out a request to the world of Facebook for someone to come hang out with me and make me feel like part of a community. Several friends came through, the first of whom was Andrea, who met me at my favorite coffee shop. We ended up getting stranded in there after closing time due to an epic and beautiful rain storm. The power was knocked out, so we played blocks by (LED) candlelight. Quite romantic.

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(Andrea does not as a rule talk to other people on the phone while hanging out with me. But, at the time of this picture, she was getting ready to move- away from me, *sob*- and frantically selling all her stuff).

Myra and Alex had me over for one of their usual feasts.

The salad contained fresh greens/cooked black lentils/cherries/cherry vinaigrette/marinated red onions/pumpkin seeds, plus was topped with goat cheese. There are several similar recipes online but I can’t find the exact one, though I can tell you that Myra finds most of her recipes on Food Gawker.

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The feast continued! Myra had been having a stressful few weeks at work and, luckily for me, when she’s stressed she likes to cook fancy meals to decompress. Awesome! There were also amazing homemade crackers, and fancy rum cheese. I brought some unexciting but good panzanella.

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The real masterpiece, though, was the dessert!

It was a KEY LIME PIE SUNDAE! Homemade lime curd (!) homemade shortbread (!) vanilla ice cream, and meringue topping (!) that, lacking a kitchen blowtorch, we beautifully toasted with a lighter (!!!) It was super duper incredible, and crazy filling. That recipe you can find here (though Myra simplified a lot- thawing ice cream just to mix in strands of lime curd and then refreeze it is silly!).

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Another fun meal-

I was working in another county’s health department for the day and met my classmate who’s working in that county for a post-work walk/chat/eat. It was SO GOOD to talk to her. This classmate has lived a lot of life and brings a lot of wisdom to every conversation. We both did a little venting (she has a lunatic preceptor, I have a nasty co-intern) and enjoyed a stroll by the river.

And thennnn it was time for amazing Mexican food! These pictures are actually of Melissa’s dinner- she likes taking pictures of food too! (I haven’t told any of my classmates about my blog. I’m debating whether to do it because it can be awfully helpful to kvetch about people in secret and I’m not sure I’d want to give that up).

Anyway, Melissa got, as I did, a delicious sope topped with beans, cabbage, and fresh cheese. Melissa can’t do the gluten thing so she was delighted to learn that it was easy to get corn tortillas (even the tortilla chips you get with your guacamole!) rather than flour.

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And she got these super pretty fish tacos! (I got shrimp tacos)

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Enjoyed another fun meal al fresco with the baby. You would never know what a little demon dog she is when you watch her sleep so adorably.

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weekend with the fam

My sister always does a nice job of keeping me up to date on the cat’s life.

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Hurtful, right?! Even with the frequent pictures, though, it’s best when I get to interact with Sheila myself. She is just the best.

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You know how sometimes you don’t realize how much you needed something til you got it? That’s how I was with this trip home. I’m a summer intern, so it’s hardly the level of job stress that most people experience. Buttt… I’m in the awkward position of being partnered with someone else in this internship, and we just have very different personalities, very different work experiences, very different ambitions, very different styles. It’s a bit tiring. Meanwhile, my bestest friend in NC is getting ready to move to NYC to pursue her dreams (*sob*) which is so thrilling for her yet so sad for me! And, yknow, life. Getting sick from working at a health department. Being single and trying to figure out if online dating is worth it (between my horror at the thought of putting pictures of myself on the Internet for people to judge and my fear of stalkers/serial killers, I’m thinking no). Battling the blues that always seem to hit me during the summer (perhaps because I have excessively high expectations that I’m supposed to be having ALL THE FUN)? And of course keeping up with the apparently consistently tragic and horrifying news of the world. I’m on a self-imposed NPR ban for awhile, because my commute is long enough that I’d begin and end my workday with a steady stream of horrific news from all over the country and the world. For now, I’m sticking to amusing public service announcements about summer safety.

Anyway, I went home. The drive up was QUITE something, what with the entire Eastern seaboard opting to have a thunderstorm. There was a point I pulled over by Quantico because it was literally like having continuous buckets of water dumped on my car- I couldn’t see a thing. I did stop for a relaxing dinner at Cracker Barrel (oatmeal and tea- I think it’s safe to say the healthiest things on the entire menu)

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And then it was time to soak up the family goodness! First, I finally got to meet my mother’s squirrel friend. She’s taken to putting out stale bread on the deck. It’s ostensibly for the birds but this little guy always shows up for it. He has a bloody right leg and looks a little piteous, so it’s okay that he steals the bird food. We hope the leg injury wasn’t Sheila’s doing. Anyway, he appreciates the food, and when my mom goes down to eat breakfast in the morning he’s often waiting there, like, “Well?!”

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The reason I was home was to celebrate Malindi’s birthday, which I did in a variety of fashions. Just the little nuclear family (mama, sister, and me) got lunch together the day before Malindi’s birthday. We all got virtuous salads for lunch but then split the epic banana pudding for dessert. They bedazzled it for the birthday girl, and we sang to her!

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Then it was time for a rather unusual birthday celebration: LOOK WHO WE SAW!

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Yep. Hillz! Actually Hillz and the entire Democratic party contingent from the state of Virginia, hahaha. It was a big ol’ fundraiser (like $30 from a lot of people fundraiser… not $10,000 from a few people fundraiser. We are not that fancy.)

This was a nice little pep talk for the soul, as I’ve been feeling this hard-to-articulate but consistent sense of dread for awhile. I just feel… disliked in our country right now. Like there is a large, voracious group of people (like the lunatics in the comments section of every news article or op-ed ever posted, or the online message boards that Eliot Rodger so adored) who just… hate me. Hate me for everything I represent.

I’m a woman who believes that women should have the same rights as men. I think it’s unacceptable that women’s salaries are 77 cents on the dollar compared to men’s. I think it’s not okay that as gay rights have expanded (which I’m stoked about!) that women’s rights have been constantly under attack. I don’t think that it’s okay that some people with pro-life political beliefs think that an acceptable way of getting political victories is to shut down women’s health centers that provide vital primary care (which has absolutely nothing to do with abortion and, in the case of providing affordable contraception, actually helps prevent abortion). I’m scared as hell of guns, and I don’t think our founding fathers intended it to be okay for people with criminal records to stroll into a gun show and buy a sh**ton of ammunition and assault weapons. I think people who truly think everyone in this country has the same opportunities regardless of the skin color and income levels of their parents hasn’t bothered to learn enough about what it means to grow up in a crappy neighborhood with crappy schools and the threat of violence and chronic stress and limited economic opportunities and (I can keep going).

I was chatting with some friends about this last night (because what better way to celebrate Independence Day than to celebrate one’s freedom of speech and articulate desires for a more perfect union?), and a lot of people made interesting points about my hard-to-articulate dread. One of my friends is from Argentina and she said that in Argentina, there are a lot of guns, and there’s a lot of crime… but it’s rational crime, if that makes sense. Like, people point a gun at you and steal your wallet, and then it’s over. They want money and get it. At least it’s logical. Someone shooting up a church full of people (a church!) because of the color of their skin? Nothing about that is rational. Another of my friends mentioned that America, the idea of empathy isn’t valued. We have a long cultural history, he pointed out, of creating Us vs. Them. You can see it in the Civil War and the Cold War. And “Us” is becoming an increasingly narrow group in this country. It used to be Americans, but a lot of people, like Donald Trump, now one of the most popular Republican presidential candidates, are narrowing it down to “Americans with skin the same color as mine”. And/or, “Americans who agree with me”. I would argue that the disvaluing of empathy also has to do with our national preoccupiation with individualism, which leads to the pernicious transition from “I worked hard and got rich!” to “That guy isn’t rich, so he must be lazy”.

And there’s this big, big, overhanging of hate I feel in this country. And I’m one of the lucky ones! I’m white! I’m economically secure! And I nonetheless think about all the people walking around every day with contempt for so many things that they have decided other human beings represent as a result of the groups to which they belong (women, people of color, people who are LGBT, pro-choice voters, people in favor of gun control). And contempt seems to be viewed as totally fine. Sure, there’s lip service to combatting hate paid when there’s a mass shooting, but has it resulted in any change? None that I’ve seen. When did it become socially acceptable to hate entire subcategories of people? Why are we sticking cameras in people’s faces who advocate for that? Sure, they have freedom of speech, but to me when someone says all Mexicans are rapists, that person gets to rant and rave on a street corner but not be on CNN.

I know a lot of folks grew up during the Cold War, and I know there was a specter of potential nuclear war hanging over the whole population. To me, though, it is no less sinister living in a time when there’s not the same sense of an outsider Big Bad Guy (sure, ISIS is destroying much of the Middle East, but we as Americans are isolated and safe from so much of the outside world’s tragedies, a fact about which I’m not sure we are as grateful as we ought to be) and yet we allow for such emotional violence towards one another (and then the emotional violence explodes into physical violence).

Anyway, all that being said, it was nice to spend some time with people who shared my values. It’s easy for me to view the constant parade of vitriol both covered by the media and, in some cases, perpetuated by the media, and feel as though no one in the world has my same beliefs. Which are, essentially, that we are all worthwhile human beings, and deserve some opportunities for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Regardless of our sexual orientation. Regardless of our biological sex or our culturally determined gender. Regardless of our race or ethnic background. Regardless of whether we are gazillionaires or not (and, uh, most of us aren’t, and most of us never will be, and our entire country’s economic opportunity shouldn’t really be catering to those lucky few). And that it’s fine for us to disagree with each other without demonizing one another.

Anyway, it was nice to hear some folks with those same beliefs. I am now a HUGE fan of Virginia’s lieutenant governor Ralph Northam. He’s a veteran. He’s a pediatric neurosurgeon (!!). He can actually talk about health in a way that makes sense and is scientifically correct, and he TOTALLY used the word “vagina” in his speech to talk about the invasive forced ultrasounds Republicans were trying to force for women seeking abortions in Virginia. How many politicians are scared to use the proper terms to talk about women’s bodies?! Or understand basic human anatomy? If you haven’t heard of him, I think he’s going places.

Also, my second favorite part was when Hillary was talking about Republican climate change deniers. She said they hide behind saying “I am not a scientist”. To which her response was, “Then why don’t they listen to scientists?!” I am a big fan of listening to scientists, guys.

So yes, it was a family outing, with my sister, me, and my dad (who treated us to the tickets). It was kind of funny and weird being at this with my dad. I tend to think of my dad as sort of a distant uncle who I see occasionally. I don’t think about us having a great deal in common. However, the experience of cheering along with the same talking points as him was really funny. It’s like being at a concert and realizing you and your dad like the same band, hahaha.

So that was our very exciting Friday. Saturday my sister went off to Baltimore with her boyf. Her birthday gift was a membership to the aquarium I’M SO JELLY AAAGGH! And meanwhile my mom and I had a perfect day: lazing around reading the paper while it rained, getting eyebrows done, hanging out at the Korean bakery, getting mani-pedis, taking a long post-rain walk and talk, and watching a Jake Gyllenhaal movie. HOME, GUYS. IT’S THE BEST!

And the birthday weekend wrapped up with brunch, the greatest meal. Eggs Florentine, mmm.

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I was so grateful, not for the first time, to have my whole family in the same place.And I’m also so grateful that my mom is classy and stayed friends with her ex-husband’s family, so I also got get in quality time with my aunt and uncle on that side. I love my new life in NC, and yet there’s friends and then there’s family. Unconditional love is the greatest thing in the entire world. I know I can really do anything and make any mistake and my family will still be there for me, will still think I’m a good person. Will help make me a better person just by being them and giving that kind of love.

I have a tendency to be preoccupied with making everyone like me. Which reflects poorly on me in a lot of ways. It demonstrates unrealistic expectations, particularly in the workplace (sure, you have to professionally coexist, but you don’t have to be best buddies with everyone). It also demonstrates insecurity (and yes, I realize my feelings of persecution referenced above are in part due to a fragile sense of self).

So, having people whose love I don’t have to question is huge. I also benefit from their wisdom. Seeing people in my family letting life come at them while retaining the grace that they do is pretty amazing.