Reflections on Virginia, and Life in General

Today my husband and I leave for Missouri (thank goodness for the option to schedule future posts!). As of writing this, I have two full days left in Virginia. Other than the first five or six years of my life, Virginia has always been home. I went to school here. I made lasting friendships with some beautiful, garbage people. I fell in love and found my forever person here. Despite being born in Maryland, Virginia will always be the best part of the D.C. metro area, and Maryland will always suck simply because it isn’t Virginia.

My excitement for the adventure my husband and I are about to embark on has far outweighed any nerves or sadness up until now. Maybe I was tucking all the fear and grief and anxiety into a box as easily as I packed our apartment. Cocooned in bubblewrap and triple-taped so it can’t burst free until I’m ready to unpack it all. Maybe it didn’t feel real, until I found myself surrounded by boxes and drinking water from a solo cup. Regardless, I’ve been able to avoid the harder feelings, but now that the move is here, so are they.

Don’t get me wrong; I am excited. A move like this, to a place that feels random, seems so right. It’s healthy. Adulting. From here, we could go anywhere. And now is the best time, before we are entrenched in careers and surrounded by babies.

But I keep thinking about my college graduation. In a way, this is similar. A huge life change, full of unknowns and fears that friendships will look different when we no longer all live within 5 minutes of each other. At a party just before graduation, one friend — who I met early on freshman year — took my hand and said “we’ve been friends for FOUR YEARS! That’s so long! I’ve known you longer than most of the people here!” It seemed so epic, and at that time in my life, it was. When I said goodbye to that same friend earlier this week, I felt that same teary nostalgia. I’ve known you longer than most of our friends.

It’s hard saying goodbye to that — in some ways, harder even than leaving my family. I know my mom will drop everything to talk to me whenever I call her, because she’s my mom and that’s what moms do. The dynamics of my family relationships won’t change so drastically. Friends have lives that take precedence. They’ll have babies and buy houses and get married, and my part in their immediate lives will diminish. It won’t be as simple as sending out a group text asking who’s around to hang out this weekend. We’ll have to plan time and take off work and buy plane tickets. Still, I know they’ll be there when I need them, just like I’ll be there for them.

I’ll also miss Virginia. I know on the trips I’ve taken to Missouri, I’ve thought it looks fairly similar, but I’ll miss walking along the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandria, or watching the planes take off and land from Gravelly Point, or easy “hikes” along Skyline Drive or Great Falls Park. It’s been nice to go back to JMU for Rocktown Beer and Music Festivals or for Homecoming or just to reminisce. Even though we rarely took advantage, having D.C. so close has always been a tantalizing option for food or sports or fun.

So even though I’m truly looking forward to the adventure of discovering a new place — even though I have dozens of things to do already listed — it’s hard leaving this beautiful state that’s been my home in every sense of the word for nearly my entire life.

Tequila Dance Party

Once upon a time, I worked in residential property management, which meant I got paid very little to get yelled at a lot by people for things like charging them late fees when they didn’t pay rent or sending out “pick up after your dog” letters or when a lightbulb needed to be changed but they didn’t report it until the end of the day after our maintenance team had already left and what do you mean that isn’t an emergency, it’s dark in my dining room!

There were good days, too, and wonderful residents, and the team I worked with was made up of some of my favorite people ever. The good parts don’t work for this post, though, because they did not contribute to my discovery of the best stress relief exercise ever.

After one such day that left me feeling like a total failure, I went home planning to lay on my couch and watch TV until my eyeballs bled. Instead, for reasons I still do not know, I decided to take a shot of tequila and watch YouTube videos of zumba dance moves set to Enrique Iglesias’s “Bailando” (I do not remember in which order these happened — it’s a chicken/egg situation). Next thing I know, I’m tequila-tipsy and trying my best to sexy-dance to Spanish music — AND RECORDING MYSELF. I think the recording was to show my mom I was okay. Or maybe because my friend was laughing hysterically at the idea of my tequila-dancing, and I wanted to show her how epic it was. Either way, it was horrendous and so mortifying I couldn’t possibly share it with anyone.

Except of course, my mom and my friend. I have a pretty high threshold for humiliation at my own hand. I lay on my floor and belly-laughed until I thought I was going to throw up, and it was amazing.

It became something of my own ritual: have an especially horrible day, come home, drink tequila and dance it out. I always text someone if I’m drinking alone, because drinking alone is usually frowned upon. The last time I had a tequila dance party, I told all of Twitter, so I was extra covered.

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As you can see from the likes and retweets, I have a ton of followers who really care about my goings on. Regardless, I hadn’t had a dance party like that probably since getting engaged about two years before those tweets — because who has time for fun when a wedding needs to be planned amiright? — but now that I’ve found it again, I’m not giving up my dance parties.

Tequila is my go-to party liquor. I get that it’s a controversial choice that makes a lot of people gag just hearing the name, so you know, go with whatever works for you. Also, stupid dancing is amazing fun all on its own, so there’s no real need for alcohol to have a great dance party for one. But it does help lower some inhibitions if it’s hard to get started. Closing your eyes helps, too. If you can’t see your windows, you forget people can see inside them. I try to think of the dumbest things I could possibly do with my arms or legs or head and then I do that thing, so the dancing is more kicks and jerks and wiggles and it-is-hilarious. Whatever gets your lungs working and your face hurting from grinning. The goal is to forget your worries and remember how great being alive can feel.

My Favorite Recipe

In preparing for our big move, I’ve had to really think about our meals this week. Half our kitchen is already packed and the rest is either in the dishwasher currently or waiting for my husband to use (like the coffee maker he’s used exactly twice since purchasing with our wedding Crate&Barrel giftcard at the beginning of the year). I’m not bitter. Just impatient. Movers will be here in 4 days and rather than just letting me pack it and continue to purchase his iced coffee elsewhere, he insists he’ll want to brew coffee….

I digress. My husband’s packing style and the frustrations it causes me could have its own post. This is supposed to be about the meal I’ve discovered can be made super-lazy-substitute-style and is delicious and also cleans up SO easily because it’s one pan (okay, two including the rice).

I used to be wary of Indian food. The first time I tried any, we had a local Indian restaurant sponsor an open house at the apartment community where I worked. One resident told me her son loved their Butter Chicken, so I tasted some — and went back for like fourths. It blew my mind and made me sad that I hadn’t been more adventurous in my food choices until then (Since, I’ve discovered I also love Thai and Ethiopian food, so hooray!). I found a recipe to make Butter Chicken at home and realized that other than garam masala, I had all the spices I needed already. That recipe can be found here and I highly highly highly recommend it. It’s my favorite thing I know how to cook. Because my husband is paranoid of things like salmonella, I stir-fry the chicken until cooked before adding it into the sauce, but otherwise follow the recipe to a T (including cooking the chicken more in the sauce. Between the olive oil I saute the chicken in and the sauce, the chunks stay super moist — and I hate myself for that word choice).

One night I was craving the sauce, but we had no chicken and no desire to go to the store. I subbed in chickpeas and even my husband loved it. More recently, since my immersion blender has been packed, I used a can of tomato sauce in place of diced tomatoes. Ultimately, I prefer the more authentic pureed texture, but in a pinch — or if you’re feeling lazy — very little is sacrificed in terms of taste by using sauce over tomatoes.

Below is the recipe I used last night, scrounged together with what I had on hand. It turned out better than any other time before, so it’s probably what I’ll follow going forward, especially if chickpeas are involved.


Butter Chickpeas:

Ingredients:
1 can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 Tbs garam masala
1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs minced onion
1 Tbs garam masala
1 Tbs paprika
generous pinch cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 cup milk (I use Lactaid 2%)
2 Tbs butter

  1. Combine first section of ingredients in ziplock bag and shake/mix until chickpeas are coated evenly with spices.
  2. In large skillet, heat olive oil over Medium. Add spices (onion through salt) and cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.
  3. Stir in tomato sauce until spices dispersed throughout. Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Stir in milk until dispersed throughout.
  5. Add chickpeas. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes (I cook until 2 cups of instant rice seasoned with turmeric is ready).

It’s excellent over rice. That’s all I’ve tried, but I bet it would be good on its own or over potatoes, maybe? Also: the first jar of garam masala I bought was Archer Farms brand (Target) and it was delicious and mild. When it ran out, I bought a bag of the stuff from Wegmans (Laxmi Brand) and whooooo does it have some heat. Fortunately, my husband and I like spicy food. Still, if — like me — you don’t have much experience with Indian spices and would be purchasing garam masala for the first time, especially if you prefer little to no heat, I’d recommend heading to Target for the spice. Those are the only two brands I’ve tried, so I can’t make personal recommendations beyond them.

This dish also reheats really well, so I’ll get to enjoy the leftovers while my husband is out with his buddies tonight (and maybe sneak the coffee maker into a box while I’m at it).

Writing Soundtrack

I’ve read so many books and articles and blog posts full of writing tips. Tips to focus, tips for time management, tips for character development. So many of them recommend silence while writing. If you must listen to music, it can’t have words, or if there are lyrics, they should be in a language other than one you speak.

I’ve made playlists on Spotify for every work-in-progress, and some for specific characters. If I hear a song that evokes a certain feeling or perfectly describes something a character is going through, I save it to the playlist and use it for inspiration later. Most of the time, I listen to these playlists while I’m driving or sunbathing or cooking or packing. They enhance the story I’m working on and help me see characters and events in a new light, the same way music changes my perspective in my own life.

I prefer to write with one of my playlists going. Usually, I’ll start with whichever song most recently spoke to me to jog my memory of all the pre-writing I’ve done in my head, and the rest of the songs fade into the background as my writing picks up. Then I’ll hit a snag and search for a new song to prompt another scene.

It’s worked for me as long as I can remember. Sure, I catch myself singing along sometimes, but I don’t think the lyrics are as distracting as the pros warn about. I mean, I’m also the type of person who needs to mindlessly rap along with T.I. or Eminem while driving through a snowstorm or torrential downpour or other traffic situation that makes me uncomfortable.

I’ve tried listening to the soundtracks of epic movies and shows and games like Thor and Game of Thrones and Assassin’s Creed. I’ve tried creating my own mix of lyric-less songs pulled from soundtracks and classical composers and string quartet covers of popular hits. I’ve tried the Russian Rap playlist I found through Spotify to give me the sound of human voices without the words I understand (although my four semesters of Russian come rearing up and cause excitement when I do recognize a word or two).

What it comes down to for me is this: I have a lot going on in my mind. Maybe it’s quiet, constant anxiety that makes my brain spin in a thousand directions at once. Maybe everyone’s mind runs things in the background and foreground at once. All I know is I need the lyrics to pull the background focus. If the behind-the-scenes-processing part of my mind is stuck in familiar songs, the rest of my thinking can focus outward. Whether it’s keeping control of a vehicle on an icy road or pouring my heart into a half-formed story, the music — with lyrics I can learn by heart — is imperative to my writing process.

Writing vs. Typing

I’ve made a commitment to myself to write 200 words or more each day. For the past two weeks, I’ve kept it. Most days, I’m able to write a lot more than 200 words, which is great. But on those days where I’m busy or exhausted or not feeling it for whatever reason, 200 is a pretty small number I can reach fairly quickly, even if I end up scrapping everything in a revision. It’s a way to hit a goal no matter how great or blah I’m feeling each day.

When I say I’ve done it every day, I should clarify that some days I hand-write and other days I type, so I don’t get an accurate count on the hand-written days. My husband and I share a computer and he has school work to do, so we have to take turns and the computer isn’t always available when I’m feeling most creative.

I used to hand-write everything for a first draft. I have entire novels in smudged ink and loose-leaf pages, packed away in boxes. I’m not sure if it’s laziness or efficiency that has shifted my preference toward typing. It saves time — I’m not writing essentially the same thing twice — and makes editing, tracking progress, and fitting together story bits so much easier.

But this week, being “forced” to return to handwriting parts of my story has reminded me of the art I fell in love with. There’s something beautiful about the connection between ink and paper, the power and vulnerability of a creator.

For the sake of time, especially when I have a long scene developing in my mind, I’ll choose typing into a computer, but when I have the time to let my mind — and pen — wander, I’ll indulge in the art form of my predecessors and carry the inkstains on my fingers for days.

Rambling Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was very hard to read. Not because it was poorly written or boring — that’s not the case at all. The story was intriguing and I was invested in the narrator’s plight. The end felt like such a cliffhanger that I audibly yelled “are you serious!” which scared my husband, but then I realized there was more to the story in a new section with a different perspective (so if you hit a snag near the end, keep reading — it’s not just end of book acknowledgements!).

No, the reason this book was so hard to read was its terrifying plausibility. Most dystopian novels are set in a far off future, after wars and bombs and viruses and apocalypses have utterly changed the face of the earth and how society runs. Some dystopian novels are a chilling commentary on where the world could be headed (think: 1984), but this is so much more immediate. The changes, the leeching of power from the people — or from certain types of people — are so subtle at first, so insignificant that by the time enough people start to question things, it’s far too late.

In a lot of dystopian stories, there is one dictator or a small group of “bad guys” lording it over the masses. The majority of the people don’t agree with their leadership, but are too downtrodden and tired to fight back. In The Handmaid’s Taleplenty of people agree with the new society. There are rumors of underground movements, sure, but most people seem supportive of the new order’s ideals.

The story is both intense and detached, told by a narrator who has nearly given up on everything that mattered to her in the world before. It is both resigned and angry, rebellious and cautious, disgusted and apathetic. It is a desperate warning wrapped up in inevitable possibility.

I had to take a lot of breaks while reading this one. It isn’t something you’ll binge-read for hours or enjoy while lounging on a beach. It’s a tale best told in snippets and whispers, with long silences to digest each piece of new information. It’s heavy with real-life foreboding, but I’m so glad I read it.

Memories of July 4th

When I was a kid, my family would go to the local park on July 4th for chicken shish-kabobs, funnel cakes, sno-cones and games. We’d end up at the church nearby to watch the fireworks. My brother and I would roll down the hill, staining our clothes green and arguing over who was faster.  To this day, July 4th feels weird if I don’t get a chicken kabob.

More recently, my husband and I gather with friends or family to grill, maybe play some cornhole or other yard games, and try to catch some fireworks. Last year, we were on the roof of our building in Arlington, struggling to see the national fireworks across the river through the oppressive cloud cover.

One of my favorite Independence Days in recent years came a few years ago. We met up with a friend in Arlington, where we porch-sat and day-drank American beers before heading across the street to a little park for some wiffle-ball. There was only three of us, so it was mostly one person hitting, one pitching, and one fielding. It still felt very patriotic and youthful. As the day moved toward evening, more people showed up. I’m sure we grilled, and I know we took a walk to get ice cream. The grand finale was watching the fireworks at the Iwo Jima Memorial. It felt beautifully “American”, snuggled on our blanket or crowding along the curb, shoulder to shoulder with strangers of all colors and backgrounds, sitting near one of the most iconic memorials, watching the firework reminders of “bombs bursting in air” that brought us our great nation.

We were sunburnt and sweaty and together, a thousand different stories sharing a single experience for a snapshot in time, celebrating freedom and independence and joy.