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!

2015-07-05 14.25.10

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

2015-07-05 14.20.57

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

IMG_2639

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.

IMG_2644

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

IMG_2640

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.

IMG_2647

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

IMG_2648

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.

IMG_2672

(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.

IMG_2677

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.

IMG_2675

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!).

2015-06-21 21.36.49

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.

IMG_2778

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

IMG_2779

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.

IMG_2782

weekend with the fam

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

IMG_2710

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

IMG_2755

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)

IMG_2714

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?!”

IMG_2718

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!

IMG_2725  IMG_2731 IMG_2733

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

IMG_2745

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.

IMG_2762

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.

summer class part 1

School update: I started my summer class after a whopping (sarcasm) five days off after my last spring final. Summer class was six hours a day in a classroom (yes, shorter than a workday but six hours of graduate-level coursework in one sitting is fairly exhausting) for the following three weeks. Several things made that time period more bearable. One was the fact that the class was interesting- cool guest speakers, cool topics. Several somewhat emotionally draining conversations about social determinants of health and how eliminating disparities in health between different racial/ethnic/economic groups (breast cancer survivorship in African American women being a particularly grim example) would basically mean having to reform the United States’ entire political and economic system. We learned a lotttt about community health assessments. Fact: your county has to do a community health assessment every 3-4 years. Look it up! Learn how people are doing! Just for kicks and giggles, I looked up my county where I lived growing up. Community assessment data, ideally, is used to help plan programs, services, changes in the built environment, etc. to make the people and environment where you live more healthy. Here’s an example of one of our assignments. We were told to create a simple, short message that could fit on a bumper sticker talking advocating for one area of public health. This was the inarguable winner. IMG_2489

We also did food assessments around neighboring communities. That meant looking at whether there were stores, how easy or hard was it to get to the stores, how affordable were the stores, what kinds of foods were offered at the stores, how family friendly were the stores, etc. etc. You can learn more about community nutrition assessment here. You can see a map of food deserts and racial makeup of neighborhoods here (the Community Commons maps are generally a really cool tool). Some pictures I took that stuck with me:

IMG_2544

6 pack of low-nutrient, high-sodium ramen noodles for 33 cents!

IMG_2542

Both breads were 100% whole wheat. The one on the left was WIC approved. It cost $2.99 and was 16 ounces. The one on the right was not WIC approved. It cost $1.99 and was 20 ounces. HUH?! This seemed like a ploy from the store to get more money from WIC (which reimburses for the cash value of the food item) and to get families’ bread to run out sooner in the month so they had to get back to the store. In our community food assessment, we also saw some depressing convenience stores in food deserts (one had a toilet in their parking area), and some drive through convenience stores (!!!) Inarguably, however, the most fun aspect of class was that we all agreed to sign up for one snack throughout the course of the class, which meant that every day I could look forward to a healthy (ish) morning and afternoon snack. Note that the snacks I took pictures of were the most exciting (read: unhealthy). Imagine a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, baked chips, hummus, and trail mix interspersed with these. CEREAL BAR! Colton brought in all the throwbacks. This bowl was a mix of French Toast Crunch and Reese’s Puffs, swoon. (At least they’re both whole grain?)

IMG_2524

Carolina went above and beyond and made homemade coconut milk rice pudding with fresh strawberries, swoon!

IMG_2584

Fruit, chocolate dip, homemade gluten-free banana bread.

IMG_2587

We had a total EPIDEMIC of birthdays in mid-May (I guess everyone’s parents were enjoying their summer vacations?!) and there were celebrations in and out of class. This (obviously) was once class had concluded for the day: tequila and empanadas! That’s what a new restaurant that just opened offers, exclusively. I had a jalapeno cilantro margarita (just okay, kinda weak) and a sauteed poblano pepper and cheese empanada. Other people ate and sang the praises of the key lime pie dessert empanada.

IMG_2523

We went the most all out for Sophia’s birthday in class. Sophia is basically the warm and loving Martha Stewart of our class. Fall break? She’s got homemade caramel apples. Valentine’s Day? Homemade fudge cups. Last day of class? A cinco de mayo fiesta. And for every single classmate’s birthday, she has brought a delicious edible gift. So, we returned the favor, and everyone got her one thing 😀 (Mine was fancy local creamed honey- something actually nonperishable! Hopefully a loving and practical gift)

IMG_2504

We lit candles on everything. Of course the birthday girl had to take a picture.

IMG_2512

Annnd action shot. We were definitely concerned we’d set off a smoke alarm at one point.

output_BQjk2S

Of course, Sophia then had to outdo herself like a week later and make us a last-day-of-summer-class cake. I mean really- Teddy Grahams floating in Lifesaver rafts.

IMG_2588

The names of everyone in our class (yes, mine is spelled slightly wrong… but the love is there!) and the teachers in extra large writing. Sophia is amazing- of course she had edible glitter, just lying around.

IMG_2590

I was the official Snack Person for this particular day, but let’s be real, my ants on a log (well really fire ants on a log since I used craisins) paled in comparison. (But, uh, they were still delicious because WHO REMEMBERS ANTS ON A LOG AM I RIGHT?!)

IMG_2593

We got out at 2pm on Friday, I amused my sister for a weekend, and then I was back to it at 8am the following Monday. Internship time! I’m in the tricky position of wanting to reflect on the time I’m spending at my internship while balancing that with appropriateness and privacy. We’re writing official blogs on our school site, and our professors discouraged us from including information in any private blogs (they don’t know about mine, nor do my classmates… this is strictly a passion project, and I’m nervous for people to see it and expect the professional-caliber work of other graduates of the UNC Nutrition program). ALL THAT BEING SAID, I’ve decided that it’s acceptable for me to share public information with y’all, and I have a fair amount of it. For example, I can tell you that I am interning at a public health department in North Carolina, and that NC health departments all operate independently from the state office, and that health departments in the southern United States tend to play a bigger role as provider of last resort since there are larger numbers of poor and uninsured people down South. And because Southern legislatures tend to be silly and reject free money for a Medicaid expansion. Because the Supreme Court let them. The health department where I work has a lot of services, including clinics, WIC (where I spend most of my time and where my preceptor- all RD students have to be supervised directly by an RD during their internships- is the director), programs to help families, environmental health, and some cool things with child care. Working with the child care health consultant, I got to see this AWESOME outdoor learning environment designed for preschoolers. This was not a traditional “playground” but based much more on free inquiry and exploration of natural spaces.

IMG_2650

This was a “sensory garden” for little ones to feel different textures (lots of different smells and sights, too).

IMG_2652

A “mud kitchen”. Because kids should be outside getting dirty, both for learning (kids learn through play and open ended play in nature is awesome!) and to get exposed to more normal, healthy microbes!

IMG_2658

Tunnel crawl.

IMG_2659

Water play! Up at the top there is a working pump.

IMG_2660

Blueberry maze!! The berries were still pale pinkish when we visited but in a few weeks they’re going to be abundant and delicious!

IMG_2663

This area was awesome and based on natural environments. Bird’s nest:

IMG_2664

Spider web!

IMG_2667

This outdoor learning environment is available for child care centers to bring kids on field trips. Teachers can get a chance to practice interacting with kids in a less structured space. It’s also an area of inspiration for child care centers and schools to hopefully incorporate areas like this into their own space. And finally, the area is open to the whole surrounding community to come play!

A few other highlights: it’s easier getting really sick (and I mean, obviously, it’s going to happen- I’m around small children all day) when your boss is a registered dietitian. I got the vitamin C hookup!

IMG_2668

Final highlight: WIC has an awesome breast feeding peer counselor program which you can read about here. I got to tag along with one of the BFPCs to the local hospital and I got to meet FRESH NEW HUMANS! It was amazing. Also, they put pink and blue bows on the door awwwww.

IMG_2670