Pharmacy People – Forever Young

There are definitely certain advantages to working at a pharmacy. And before we start making methamphetamine jokes, I mean for those who enjoy their jobs and perform them legally.

For example, I can go in any day of the week and get a free consultation on my current medication, on potential future medications I may need to take, or the risks of mixing loratadine with over-the-counter pain killers like ibuprofen (there really aren’t any).  I can learn exactly what my grandfather’s medication does to help him, what insurance companies are really doing when your co-pay is over fifty dollars, and how many drug reps it takes to sell one box of lancets to a stubborn haggler. I can even learn the per-pill price of every medication we carry and realize just how much good health costs these days, at least for some.

I also have the advantage of getting to know my community (Houghton students, gimme a C!) and its members quite intimately  While some of that intimate interaction does involve hearing play-by-plays of colonoscopy preparation and being shown horrendous rashes in order to diagnose a creeping ailment, not all of it  is disease and horror. Occasionally it just involves a hello and a chuckle with the same man who comes in at noon every day to buy his newspaper. He scatters two quarters, a nickel and a dime into my hand with a sprinkling motion and emits a the manliest “tee hee hee” you’ve ever heard before wandering back out into the afternoon.

Or perhaps it’s the elderly woman who met me when I first started working, and even though she’s been confined to bed rest for some time, she is always so thrilled when I answer the phone to write down her RX numbers. “Is this my special friend?” she asks before laughing and demanding I let her know how I’m faring at the job and what’s new with the bustle of Akron.

There’s also the regular Lottery players who exchange small talk and success stories while I print them their usual tickets, and who never leave before slipping me a dollar to share their good fortune. Lottery creates a split atmosphere, as some people are obnoxious with half-hour that passes with them at the scratch-off table or how much change they need from me before they’ve run their luck out for the day. But they spend money, and in the business of making money you take any and all who are willing.

Growing up in a relatively large city outside of Cleveland, I never understood the “small town atmosphere” that so many novelists encapsulated in their stories. I never understood the characterization of citizens like I do now that I’ve been living in a town with a population of 2,856 and working at a local business. There are many, many characters and many, many plot lines.  There are categorized villains and jokers and nomads. It’s quite easy to learn names and begin recognizing people when I see them lined up in front of me daily and I can see just how different they all are. Being at the pharmacy, however, has also made me very self-conscious of my good health, happiness and youth. Almost every day, I have elderly people shuffle through their bag of many drugs, sigh wearily and look at me with narrowed glances .

“Never grow old. It’s just awful. Stay young forever.”

What in the world am I supposed to do with that? It puts me in the most awkward position. What’s my best response to that? Let’s see…

1. “I will, I will! Curse your age, I shall defy it and stay young for ALL ETERNITY.”
2. “Ok, thanks for the tip. Did you want your receipt in the bag or with you?”
3. “Uh… well… how do I stop it?” 

I just become exceedingly aware of the fact that I am young, fit and not on any regular medication.

I do my best to relate to everyone who comes in my door, but there are times when I don’t know what I can do except accept them where they are at and give them at least one smile in their day.

Today in particular, I was sent on the delivery to a few of our residents who are unable to get out to pick up their medications themselves. One woman began to relate to me the regrets of her youth and her poor choices and her failing health and while I tried to encourage her, all I was thinking  was “not me, never me, I won’t regret and I won’t want to do it all again.”

These people are lonely. Most of them live with either a disabled spouse or no spouse at all. I do my best to enjoy my brief visits with them when I can, simply to remind them that while they may not have much around them, they do matter. And since they can’t do it all again, we’ll make the best of where they are at now.

I know we all grow up with this sentiment of every children’s book or television program tattooed on our brains – the one that says “Be the best you can be! Reach for the stars and follow your dreams!” Most of us can’t appreciate that sentiment. Either we keep trying and are blinded into non-retrospection or we let it fall apart and live the depressing reality of a dead-end street like so many of the kids I grew up with.

However, when you’ve seen the people who didn’t live lives to be proud of and who really don’t feel like their life led anywhere good, you begin to find the sincere motivation to wake up each day and say “I will live a good life. I will stay healthy and have everything in moderation, I will do well in my marriage and find joy in all things and happiness when possible.”

Like New Year’s Resolutions, we can all be good liars. But let’s strive not to lie and not to cheat. We can be human and fail and not do our best some days, but the difference is found in the will to get up and do better next time. You can’t really regret those choices you’ve made in life because then you can never learn from them. We all wish things had never happened, but if we’re always wishing things had never happened, we’d never have grown and learned the way we have. We would not be the people we are.

I want to look back at my life when I’m eighty and not want to trade those spent years for anything in the world.

I said there were many advantages to working at a pharmacy – like being constantly reminded of how other people live and how you can learn from their example, both good and bad.

One day at a time. Just one long youthful day at a time.



Life, Post-Wedding Style

In this week’s episode, Hannah finds out that being an adult is not a box of chocolates.

Adulthood is more like dumping all of your money into buying the world’s most expensive, hand-crafted, artisan box of chocolates using the world’s oldest recipes from the birth of Historic Record, and having someone eat them, when you’re not looking, on the bus.

For the bum who ate them, they were fantastic, but it’s just not at all the fate you imagined for your precious dreams.

Marriage is excellent. Between the happiness and wholeness it brings and the cost of ending, it’s hard to conceive why people could even dream of divorce. But I know everyone has their reasons.

Moving was great. After college and my family home being sold and living out of suitcases most of the past four years, it was so refreshing to come back from our honeymoon to a home. Our stuff was in it, our cars were in the driveway, and our mail found its way to the box at 2:30 p.m sharp.

Working minimally from home was great until a woman realizes how bored she can get and how much money this “adulthood” thing requires. Thus, a job (part-time) was found.

Bills and loans are the devil’s coloring book.

Being a Stein? Probably the best move I could have made as an outdoorsy, adventurous lady. I’ve got my hunting license and a tree stand and I got my two extra doe permits. I’m helping to conserve and control wildlife populations while eating like a queen. Plus, the wood stove and a hot cup of coffee after waiting in the rain two hours for no ducks makes the whole experience complete. Beards are in.

So thus far, it’s all checking out okay. The Ideation Post-Marriage Update is a winner.


Oh yeah, and then being asked to leave your new home because you asked for a repair that was three months late… That part was not so much fun.

But finding a newer, better, warmer home a week later? We’re back on the blessings list.

The house which we had found for the first two months of our marriage was nice enough. It was an old house with no central heat, slanted floors, cracking ceilings and a few mice, but it was colorful, cozy, and had a backyard that overlooked cows. However, after the brief and dwindling heat of a New York summer starts to fade and the residents can see their breath inside in October, a chill (far more than literally) starts to set in and you realize that the justifications you made for loving this house so much don’t apply when you have to keep from freezing all through a long and unsympathetic winter.

To avoid divulging more information than would be proper for this circumstance, all I will say is the lack of insulation had been overlooked by all parties connected to this house. Then, when we needed that warmth most, we were thrown out into the cold.

With 30 days notice and bills and loans to pay, there was brief panic. I had just finished adding a tapestry over our bed and putting up our movie cards to bring some life to the living room. It seems that only a day after I begin to truly feel like the house is our home, we’ve been told that not only is it no longer our home, but we’ve brought this upon ourselves. Fighting feelings of immense injustice, we pushed on with the search for something better, owned and maintained by better people.

Less than a week later, we find a place we like. A day after viewing it, Matt and I had a conference and realized that in our own separate times, we realized we loved this place. It was smaller, but newly renovated, quiet, warm and right in town. It is (quite literally) a thirty second walk from the place I’m working for now. And the people who own it are sweet and on the ball.

Put a rambunctious tortoiseshell foster kitty named Tinker, some good friends and some great culinary adventures, and you have two Stein peas in a cozy center-of-town pod 😀

That’s the moderately brief, mostly upbeat summation of 5 months of married life. On one hand, I feel like we’ve just settled in, and on the other hand, I can’t believe we haven’t been here forever. We’ve dealt with our share of sorrows, frustrations, confusion and chaos, but it’s all been tangled together in a nest-web-ball-tangle of overall blessings and good.

So after a long time away and a few nudges, I’m back. I can’t make any promises about my consistency, but at least I’m still around.

And that’s enough for now.


Unforeseen Circumstances

Note – I know it’s Monday, but when you have unfinished posts you want to complete, you find a way. Roll with it!

Wednesday is the new Friday and man, today is one of those days.

Wednesday has never been my favorite day. I won’t subscribe to any of that “hump day” business, especially due to a flagrant dislike of the Black Eyed Peas song.  In general, Wednesdays remind me that the tough start of the week may be over, but we still have half of the days to finish up. When a Tuesday feels like a Friday, Wednesday is the worst because in your mind, it should be Saturday… and instead, you have 3 days of work remaining. It’s a similar feeling to waking up and, thinking you missed school, tearing around the house at six a.m to get ready. Then, just as you’re walking to the bus, your mom stumbles out of her room, bathrobe clutched together in one hand, to remind you it’s the weekend, and why can’t you ever be ready on time every other day?

To begin, my car is much like a celebrity. To all outside onlookers, it looks healthy, soundly built and pretty handsome. It even has tiny flame decals. However, when one gets to know my car better, it starts to show signs of wear and instability – indicator lights coming on, strange noises, a spongy delay to the breaks, a slow leak in the tire. We take it and put it through gentle rehab and it looks ready to face the world again. Give it two weeks to a month and it’s back to the same drama – new parts and time. I thought I happened to own the world’s most high-maintenance car based on the number of repairs needed in such a short time. My dad informed me that, much like celebrities, the issues and drama are normal and my car is really no worse off than any other. It just likes all the attention and in another few years, it will just accept the fact that it’s not hot stuff anymore and will resign itself to running errands for old ladies and puttering kids off to school.

In other words, Nicholas Cage and Disney. It’s going to spend all our money and then finally work well for us when it has no other choice.

So on this fateful Wednesday, the car was in the shop. It needed a lot of replacements – fuel lines, brake lines, ball joint, power steering fluid. Under the impression that the shop would be done with it this morning, we drove into Solon from our new house in Cleveland. The people I work for expected me to be late, but when I called them and told them it would be close to noon, they weren’t the happiest. I am blessed to work with very flexible, understanding people, but I also work with animals who can be a little less understanding, especially when hungry or needing to pee. We’re working with what we’ve got. Along with some unusual personal issues, dealing with businesses and people connected to the wedding, there have been a lot of unforeseen circumstances muddling up my month.

“The Unforeseen” have been teaching me a lot, though. Order things months in advance. Make sure you’ve got all the right information from the start. Make sure you do everything you can so that you aren’t to blame when “circumstances” become “facts of life”. And make sure you are prepared to do what must be done to fight biting disappointment and clean up the messes left behind when people (mortal as they are) let you down. TIP: NEVER PUT FAITH IN MORTAL BEINGS. They will find a way to take that faith and do bad things to it, much like Dolph Lundgren to magical unicorns (see hilarious Norton commercial here).

I’m getting married in two weeks to the love of my life, my best friend and confidant, my “tough with the scruff”. I have been hoping to share more about my summer, but between the end of work and wedding planning and my silly “s” key still acting up, blogging has been one of the last things on my mind. I’m planning on sharing my entire wedding band fiasco (another “unforeseen”) with you all at some point, mostly to serve as a consumer warning against the “big dogs” of industry and economy. In fact, one of the only things thus far that has gone wrong with wedding planning was Kay Jewelers, a Stirling Jewelers company, royally screwing up my wedding band and giving me the hardest time about getting my money back.

Weddings were once sacred. They have now become a giant, sucking black hole of burning cash and frills. You would think that people working in an “industry” with emotional, needy, selfish women (think the worst of the worst Bridezillas) would be a little more considerate and tactful when dealing with mistakes. No such luck, my friends, and for that Kay Jewelers will never get my money for any piece of jewelry, no matter how big, small, or encrusted in shiny stuff. However, before I start my big business rant early, I must redirect and say that in this minor case, the grand Unforeseen almost had me beat, but due to love and support and a stellar local jeweler, all’s well and Kay’s awaits my scathing internet review. Soon… *finger pyramid of doom*

When we least expect it, the Unforeseen can be those situations that bring us joy. People who I didn’t think would be available accepted my wedding invitation with excitement. Others who I would have loved to see and share my joy with were inhibited by life circumstance and travel. I know my wedding only needs to be Matt and me and our beloved officiant (flying in from the Great White North) in the sight of God, but I am so excited to share my one and only wedding with my loved ones, family and friends alike, overlooking the lake that is so close to my heart.

In closing for now, I have had people have mentioned the one “unforeseen” that Matt and I have banished from our list – Divorce. I have watched too many young marriages of people I know die within the first year because of laziness, misunderstanding and an unwillingness to accept the responsibility of the marriage commitment and God’s expectation for that union. This is a one-time event, baby, and once we say “I Do”, there will simply be no going back.

Looking at the man I’m going to marry, I’d say I’m perfectly all right with that. I’ve waited my whole life for him to come along, and now that he’s here I’d be a fool to chase him away. Twenty-two years is a long time to have otherwise wasted waiting for love.

I’ll do what I can to write a couple posts before the wedding, but in case of unforeseen circumstances, I look forward to reporting to you from Akron, New York as Mrs. Hannah Stein. I’ll have adventures and travels and stories to share, and we’ll finally be back on track!

Two years ago, I would never have imagined that I would now be in the throes of preparing to marry my best friend. Now that it’s only two weeks away, I can’t imagine a future without him. Funny how things change, isn’t it?

Be well, everyone!

Itsy-Bitsy Teen-Weeny Update Since You Haven’t Seen Me…

There’s always a reason for why bloggers don’t update for weeks.

Good Reason: Kidnapped by Vikings and taken on a three-month pillaging voyage against their will.

Bad  Reason: Bag of Doritos was obscuring the keyboard.

Good  Reason: Ravenous wolves ate my hands while camping and was waiting for dictation software to arrive.

Bad Reason: Netflix wouldn’t load with so many tabs open in Chrome

Good  Reason: Graduation, selling childhood home, moving to new house and starting a job took lots of time and energy.

Bad Reason: My “s” key won’t type unless I hit it like a semi crushing a water bottle on the highway.

In case you somehow haven’t figured it out, the last two reasons are my own. Yes, I graduated Cum Lade from Houghton College in May, and then moved home and immediately started with some home/animal care work. Within a month of being home, we were frantically packing belongings, setting up a garage sale, throwing away piles of trash and useless accumulations from our past, and moving. My parents moved into our new rental house, and I moved enough stuff to get me through summer. The rest of my worldly belongings are packed neatly into a 10×15 storage unit, waiting to be moved to New York in August.

As for the “s” key dilemma, it’s taken me a while to get through even this short post, but it’s time for me to get past my irrational fear of slow typing and excessive use of my backspace key. I’m back on the internet, and I’m really excited to share all the activity that this summer has seen thus far.

It’s good to be back.

Look for my return to the blogging game on Friday!

Hidden Blessings

Readers, a month goes by in a flash when the life you’ve known for four years is almost at an end.

I’ve got a lot planned for you all in the near future – more recipes, updates on the end of college life, anticipation of marriage. In the meanwhile, I’ve been caught in a whirlwind of hidden blessings scattered like tiny seeds throughout my week. When I stumble across them, they burst into bloom.

The most recent that I would like to share involves the selling of my childhood home. You can read up on my original feelings on the matter in my post here. Since that post, I have come to terms with this change in life. However, with the house on the market for over a year now, we’ve all become a little more than detached and worn out with this worldly object that we have to hold on to until someone else wants it. It’s burdensome to live in your home like it’s already owned by another person.

Well, things change. We had our first offer.

The reason this is a hidden blessing is a wonderful story. Four years ago, my parents first began talking about a new life in the country where they could build an earth-sheltered home, have animals, dig a large garden, go off the grid. In a desperate wave to keep home close, I begged them to not sell our house until I was out of college. My sister was able to always “go home” from school, and I should also have that chance. They agreed.

Then, last year, my father lost/left his job and we were faced with a self-imposed ultimatum. We had to sell the house or we would be in serious trouble for numerous reasons. I was ripped in half, but I agreed it had to be done. I agreed, but I wasn’t ready to lose the only house I had ever known.

That was a year ago, and in that time we’ve had lookers but no one willing to settle down. I got engaged and have a set day that I’ll be on my own. And even though it’s not set in stone yet, a first offer on this house is a serious offer and bounds from where we were. Over an entire year and a couple months, we only have an offer just now?

Just as I’m two weeks from graduation?

Just as I’m getting ready to get married and leave home?

God works in wonderfully mysteriously and ironic ways.

If this all goes through, the transition is perfect. My parents are beginning an adventure in a new home as empty-nesters and I’m beginning the adventure of marriage. Just like the transition of my sister getting married was eased by my moving to college, we meet that glorious ideal crossroads again. Only this time, my parents will have fulfilled their promise and all the pieces fall into place. No word was broken, even by necessity. And we’re now all ready to let go.

Call it what you will – coincidence, irony, chance, but God is always faithful, especially in that dark hour just before the creeping calm of morning light.

It’s another hidden blessing, wrapped up in the vines of a tangled time away.

Two weeks until graduation, and I’m doing my best to stay strong.

Sisyphus’s Kitchen – Beef is a Breakfast Food

Nota Bene: Many of my friends and readers have suggested that I share some of my recipes and cooking experiences. While I don’t want to be one of those bloggers with twenty blogs on twenty subjects to a million different audiences, I really want to share what I am learning with my readers. The encouraging response has been wonderful! Therefor, I am starting a new blog segment entitled “Sisyphus’s Kitchen” to share some of my cooking experiences, favorite recipes, one-serving cooking tips and helps for people looking to make great food on a budget. Stay tuned and good eating!

Being a fortunate student who has no early morning classes this semester, I will often wake up and have the urge to cook. Sometimes, it may just be baking some muffins to go with my coffee. I’ve ventured into the exciting realm of pancakes and bacon, breakfast sandwiches, baked oatmeal and even the simplest scrambled eggs and toast with a cup of Caribou Coffee’s Obsidian. I really enjoy starting the day with a solid breakfast, especially when I can eat slowly, savor my food and watch the sun rise… or just get higher in the sky.

The other night, I was getting ready for bed and felt the familiar prodding in the back of my brain. Hey Hannah, said Brain, you haven’t broken fast in a fancy fashion in a while. How about we do something traditional, like a scramble or sausage and eggs?

Brain was on to something. Early rising sounded like a plan! Only problem with this delicious decision – I had no sausage.

One thing that cooking on my own on a budget has taught me is how to be creative with the resources available to me. So, I started searching for recipe ideas online. I knew I had three pounds of ground beef in the freezer and, thus far, no ideas for their use. My inquiries led me to where a user had submitted a recipe for Beef Breakfast sausage.

Beef for breakfast? Beef is traditionally thought of as picnic-and-burly-American-man dinner fare. Steak, hamburgers, sloppy joe’s, spaghetti and chili are where beef belongs, but not at the breakfast table. Thanks to creative substitutions, beef can  be a wonderful, flavorful alternative to pork as a breakfast meat, and it can be enjoyed by those who are unable for whatever reason to eat pork with their morning noshing.  Since beef was what I had, I gave it a try.

In order to let the flavors blend, this may end up being as long as a two-day process or maybe just overnight. For the sake of time, I defrosted one pound of ground beef the night before and mixed in my seasonings so everything was ready for the morning. An alternative method would be to let the beef thaw one night in the fridge and then put the mixture together and let it rest for another 24 hours.

Homemade Beef Breakfast Sausage
adapted from papadooka’s recipe

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried sage
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (originally marjoram)
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 pounds ground beef
  • 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)

Stir the brown sugar, sage, salt, basil, black pepper, onion powder, oregano*, and red pepper flakes together in a small bowl. Place the ground beef in a large bowl; Drizzle with maple syrup and add spice mixture. Mix beef and seasonings thoroughly with your hands until well mixed and seasonings are evenly integrated. Depending on when you’re making the mixture, refrigerate up to 24 hours to allow flavors to blend.

Divide the ground beef mixture into balls and shape into patties. Depending on how much beef you use and the size of patty you prefer, the number may vary from 6-10. The beef will shrink up as it cooks, so if you like thinner patties, flatten them more as you shape them and press on them gently with a spatula as they cook.

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the patties until firm, hot, and cooked in the center, 5 to 7 minutes per side. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read 160 degrees F (70 degrees C). If you don’t have a thermometer, check one patty to make sure the inside is fully cooked and no longer raw and pink. Be careful of overcooking as these can get dry. Serve warm.


I really enjoyed this recipe. Served with a poached egg and homemade wheat toast with jam, it was a good morning indeed. I made about eight patties and I ended up freezing the extras (one disadvantage to living alone – I’m often freezing my many leftovers so that they won’t go to waste). A few notes to consider:

  • If you don’t like spicy sausage, either cut the red pepper down significantly or remove it. I do suggest you replace it with another seasoning for some flavor and heat as the patties have the potential to be bland without it. I did notice a lot of spiciness in mine,  so for personal preference, adjust as you see fit. It’s a savory sausage more than it is sweet. If you like it sweeter, add more brown sugar.
  •  Adapt this recipe for a maple sausage – reviewers recommended adding some imitation maple flavoring or more syrup to enhance the maple flavor – something to try and experiment with. Do NOT use pancake syrup – it’s not the same as real maple syrup.
  • *Spice is nice – I had no marjoram, which I’m sure would be delicious in this recipe. Instead, I used oregano and doubled the amount (from 1/4 tsp to 1/2) to make up for the intensity of flavor.

Finally, don’t be afraid to try a few small batches to see what you like best. The difficulty with raw meat/egg recipes is that it’s not recommended that you add spice to taste before you cook – yuck. This is one of those times where you can add and subtract and find the perfect combination of ingredients to suit your tastes, but you’ll only know it worked after cooking – it may just take some time to get it just right!

Eat well and read on!

For Weight Watchers Points Plus, each patty is 2 points.

Note – I will also be changing my WordPress username to SisyphusFalls. It’s my username for most other sites that I am part of. Nothing about the blog will change, just the name you see with my account 🙂

A World of Pure Culination

I refuse to be a starving college student. College gets played up as being the place where penniless kids escape from home with only drier lint and gum wrappers to line their pockets. Ramen is a food group, sleep is non-existent, and food sent from home and Chinese take-out leftovers stolen from friends are the only reasons half the campus is still alive and semi-conscious. The college diet should properly consist of coffee, toast, noodles, cookies and canned soup. If an entire daily serving of vegetables is not cut into perfect cubes and soaked in watery chicken stock, life as we know it has jerked to a halt.

Those aren’t vegetables – they’re tiny little salty cubic lies.
 Bruised café apples are a luxury. Daily vitamins are a must.

Call me crazy, but I like making waves. I have never wanted to be that college kid.

I was spoiled rotten growing up with a mother who was such a fine chef. “Cook” seems to imply occupation and mediocre skill, but “chef” has an air of authority and respect. My sister and I occasionally wanted to go to McDonald’s or eat Lucky Charms, but it was never a first choice or a last resort. Mom always had food (and good food, mind you) on the table, hot and flavorful and ready to eat right when Dad got home. With a mom who can cook, really cook, you stop believing that fast food is actually edible. Sure, I sometimes enjoy going out to eat cheap grease-trap fare, but with a mother like my mother… let’s just say any other culinary offering is a step down from the best.

If we're going to be honest, Mom and I do enjoy the rare lunch of sweaty, overweight champions (aka White Castle). Shame.

Despite my well-fed upbringing, I had the impression that college was all learning and friends and had nothing to do with food. Living in the dorms, as I did my first three years, I did some dabbling in cookery in my spare time – the occasional ramen stir fry with my roommate or dressing up cafeteria leftovers (they looked great in little ties and hats). This was a step ahead of most of my friends.

Is it roast beef or shoe leather? Dressed up with mushrooms, onions and some soggy broccoli, it's edible. That's all that matters.

However, with work and a meal plan and itty-bitty kitchens with smoky electric stoves, as well as a lack of proper cookware, I refrained from doing much culinary exploration through junior year. The most adventurous I got was hand-kneaded homemade bread, and that was on Tuesdays when the only class I had was Philharmonia. Overall, I was content to eat bland cafeteria dinners and occasionally go out on the town to China Star or Subway. This pattern broke a little during summers at home when I would offer to help with dinner.

Form follows function follows an empty plate.

I also love to bake. The problem at Houghton is that, just like all the guys seem to play guitar masterfully, all the women bake. The ones who bake the most are praised and adored, and I just got tired of trying to fight them for attention even though I was confident that we were matched in skill. Baking was mostly set aside. I suppose I was a “typical” college student, but something inside me sang like Belle and plucked dandelions on hillsides and yearned for something more than this non-glamorous diet of carbs and processed cheese-flavored substances. Then, one day, it walked into my life. Rather, I walked through the front door.

My apartment was waiting.

In the frantic rush to escape from screaming girls and bipolar plumbing, I applied and was accepted for a Campus Living Option apartment (CLO) for the 2011-2012 school year. I had no roommate and was thrilled to be situated in a third-floor house apartment overlooking the woods behind campus. I have my own deck and back entrance, a spacious bedroom and bathroom, comfortable living and entertaining space. And then, there’s the piece de resistance; a medium-sized kitchen with wrap-around counter, cupboards, walk-in pantry, full-sized fridge, oven, 4-burner stovetop and sink. It also has a table for four. Compared to the card table and mini-fridge that had once been my entire cooking space, this kitchen is like a Grecian temple. On a college budget with a college mindset, this is a place of extreme luxury and ridiculous amounts of space. In reality, it’s a modified kitchen with the exact model stove from the dorms. But it’s my kitchen, full of my dishes and spices and ambition. This is my five-star experience.

Best seat in the house - having only seen a little of the house below me, I shouldn't judge. But I will anyway.

I have made more full meals in this kitchen that in my own kitchen at home. I have hosted many different guests for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. I’ve baked and sautéed and fried and boiled and chopped and mixed and folded and kneaded in this kitchen. I’ve made soup and stews and bread and casseroles and salads and desserts and three-course meals. Out of all of my cooking adventures, I’ve only ever had one clear failure of method – Brethren Cider Pie. The flavor was outstanding, but it’s just too hard to fold egg whites into cider that has not yet been reduced to syrup. Despite this one occasion, I have carried on with determination and, according to my enthusiastic fiancé, resounding success.

Beef "Stewp" - I wanted to call it "Stoop" but it looks too close to "oops", which this meal certainly was not. Don't forget the homemade rosemary garlic bread.

One of the greatest successes that I have had while living here was not solely being able to cook “real” food. It’s the fact that I’ve been able to cook and eat healthy, balanced meals. I started Weight Watchers in May of 2011. In three months, I lost approximately thirty pounds, shedding all of the weight I had gained in the previous school year and more. It’s possible to be living as a full-time college student and still eat well. One of the beautiful things about WW is the ability to eat what you want, but in balanced moderation. I have loved trying new recipes, tweaking old ones and continuing to cook my little heart out.

Like this, for example... From a WW recipe, it's Brazilian Chicken with Lime-Cilantro Black Beans and Rice. Ole!

Especially in this place, full of “typical college students”, I have had plenty of feedback and opportunities to share what I love doing with people I love. I’m prepared to start a home with my better half in less than six months, and ready to test my skills to the max when I have a constant food critic in my house. The beauty of this whole experience is that it’s not just about the cooking – it’s about learning, growing and bringing myself and others joy and a delicious outlook on life.

Honey Wheat Quick Bread. Who knew "sandwich" and "quick bread" could be in the same sentence? I do now.

And everyone keeps asking themselves over for dinner.

Ma’am, Is That Your Arm?

Why must waking up often include startling experiences? 

Ah, a day for out-of-body, in-body experiences. This morning, I experienced the phenomena of arm limpness – something I have only had happen one other time in my life. The last time it happened, I panicked. Who wouldn’t? I’m moving my arm and it’s not convinced that I really want it to go anywhere. I’m making a fist and waving and panicking and it just flops there like blubbery seal on the beach.

Round two of limp arm syndrome –  I was taking a nap on my couch and my arm (somehow reaching the state of jello) flopped off my chest where it had been resting and my hand hit the floor. My eyes snapped open.

By goodness, someone has stolen my limb. *glance off the couch* No, never mind, it’s over there. Crisis averted.

I knew immediately what had happened simply because it doesn’t take a person long to realize their arm is possessed (or dispossessed, as the case may be) and no longer 100% connected to the rest of the body.  What was spooky was that I could simultaneously feel the weight of my arm off the couch, hanging into space like a useless twig and straining my shoulder, as well as still felling my arm weighing down on my chest. As if it had never fallen asleep.

I tapped the fingers of the ghost arm – my fingers on the floor wiggled. I tried to move the “arm” from my chest to where it physically rested near the carpet in an attempt to reconnect the mental and physical feelings. Rather than connect them, my limp arm just moved up toward my head, as if I was stretching. After a couple minutes of making myself into an awkward puppet of a sleepy college student, I reached over with my left arm and pulled the limp right back onto the couch and “matched” it with where the feeling of the chest arm was laying. Feeling flooded back, first in tingling and then in a wave of icy trickling. And now I’m writing with it, as if it had never been gone in the first place.

So strange to think that while in my head everything felt normal, anyone with eyes could have said “Um, Ma’am, is that your arm?”  

And I’m assuming I’d tell them well, yes, but I just really can’t control it.

I understand a little more about “phantom feelings” of amputees. The brain is trying to hard to compensate for something missing that it tries to make everything normal, still connected, despite the obvious fact that things are not all as they should be. But when in the right place, parts become functioning again, and the brain is able to stop trying so hard to make those missing connections and continue to function as it had been.

What amazing creations we are.

And how very nice it is to be awake. 

Location, Location

Here’s a thought – does our geographic location really determine the appropriateness of our actions?

In other words, does our moral compass rest on the compass rose?

Mull over this absurdity for a moment – you’re sitting in church and a younger couple, fighting their raging hormones like they’re contestants at the Running of the Bulls, are making out furiously in the pew in front of you. Finally noticing the piercing stares and slack jaws , the young man pulls away from his lip-lock and scoffs, insisting that if he were sitting outside in the park or in a popular night club that this behavior would be completely appropriate and it’s only because they’re sitting in church that no one understands their actions.

Closer to home – you’re a student in your senior year at a small, private, “faith-based” liberal arts college in the northeast. Your campus is really lovely, academics are decent and the student population generally has a reputation of being closeted, naïve and completely ignorant as to how the “real world” functions. You come across a few characters on campus whose behavior is less-than palatable. Their attitudes, ideas, treatment of others and perceptions of their little universe are negative and usually skewed by their resentment of their upbringing. When confronted or caught in an act which might mar their reputation, they become horribly defensive and formulate an argument that sounds very similar to the justification from the scenario above.

In summary: Just because we are in a place where a certain behavioral expectation and accountability has been established, does that give us the excuse to act as we wish just because we claim people don’t understand us?

Oh, now I remember… in the Bible, Jesus said that we should go out and become just like the world because that’s acceptable, and we should just blow off any obligation we have to strengthening our character and modesty because those Christian school people are a bunch of squares anyway. Let’s go eat some fish, man.

No…. No, he did not.

It wasn’t about whether or not it’s frowned upon where you are but not in some teen night scene. That’s really not the point. You can’t just blame the disapproval of your actions on the narrow-minded bigots you are stuck with. Policies and rules and social implications do not just all become obsolete because you choose to have an attitude and act in ways that defies all moral constructs. What is sad is when we reach a point where we cling to that petty justification and shut everyone out as a result. 

A Matter of Choice

I’m a writer, it’s a holiday. Obligation states I acknowledge the day. Carrying on…

I have spent the last three years following a progression in terms of Valentine’s Day – a year of singleness followed by a year of year of dating followed by a year of being engaged. Despite the fact that I spent one year without romantic attachment and this year was spent with my husband-to-be, I haven’t really monitored distinct differences in the days or how I was affected by them. I know that this year I had plans, but the overall feeling of the day itself is no different.

For me, that really speaks to the nature of love, not some silly holiday.

I have always felt loved. I have not always felt like I deserved it, but that’s where grace comes in.

A slightly younger and more cynical me wrote this about Valentine’s Day four years ago:

“Love” – it doesn’t exist. Sure, we can claim it’s the “reason for the season” and give all our affection to the one we “love” the most. But what happens when Valentine’s Day is our only excuse? The rest of the year we ignore the needs and emotions of others, but as long as we buy those carnations on Valentine’s Day, our lack of love the rest of the year is pardoned with a standing ovation.

Don’t get me wrong, handing out flowers every day of the year won’t make every day a day for valentines, but we should keep that same mindset. Why only have one day to love people?”

Apparently, I was a bit of a linguist as well:

“Besides, we don’t know what love means anymore. People date, throwing “love” out in the open and two weeks later break up and feel like life isn’t worth living. Uttering a simple word will not change emotions or expressions, and our overuse only proves we are ignorant to what it truly means: “Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties” and “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another”.

Love doesn’t have to be a romantic, swooning overdrive of the soul. But we use it like we use any other word: without thought and without understanding. Too often we use it, thinking we know what it means and how it feels, but we are almost always wrong. Love is not an emotion: it’s a state of the heart. True love, not the fluff that we lace into so many conversations, is not shallow, stingy or simplistic. Love is nowhere near that tingling we get in our stomachs when our adored person of choice comes down the hall. Love is the soul-deep affection and compassion for others that cannot be replaced, cannot be formulated no matter how influenced your brain is by it. True love lives for others, and not itself. Love is forgiving. Love is selfless. Love has been destroyed by society.”

I don’t think I would stitch that last statement onto a pillow – my heavy-handedness stemmed from singleness, teen angst and frustration at people with heads as empty as flower pots. Despite my hyperbole, however, there is a lot of truth in that statement. Love has been stained by societal expectations and its new understanding influenced by the media. TV shows for anyone over the age of thirteen frequently offer the idea that love is synonymous with sex and that love is as easy to return, lose, or exchange as any sweater from the Gap. In terms of what we know from popular culture (and seeing as culture is a societal construct), Love can be defined in three ways:

1. Love is a living thing that, if not fed and watered and influenced by the proper measures of attention and care, will die and cannot be resurrected – no choices, only consequences. When it’s gone, we replace it with another living thing and the cycle continues until we finally bite the dust.

2. Love is a state of being, just like “fatigue” or “hunger”. There are periods of life when people are “in love”, but that time fades and we can fulfill its needs through various outlets including sex, gifts and shallow material offerings.

3. Love is a mirage. Marriages today are like jobs – fifty years ago, a man worked the same job all his life and then retired. Today, if a man is lucky, he stays at the same company for ten years before being laid off or becoming bored with his prospects. Love is really just an illusion but doesn’t actually exist. It’s a placeholder for whatever better thing will come along.

Who wants to be in a steady, consistent, monogamous relationship when there’s so much love to find in the world? Who wants to be trapped with only one option? In the words of Peter Pan, “Forever is an awfully long time.”

True love is not a trap or a cage.

Love does not inhibit and it does not deny. Love never fails.

Love is not a status or an incurably diseased organism or a worn-out idea. Love is a choice. Love IS a state of the heart. You choose to love someone. Love only dies because people willingly let it die – they stop tending it, they have no desire to nurture it, and after all the care they poured into it in the beginning, they try and seek the easy way out. Worse than just letting love die is letting it die because attentions were drawn elsewhere. There were “better things” and “better opportunities” that came up, and the previous object of affection was a mistake or a misstep.

I choose to love, even when there are no guaranteed rewards for my actions or promise of reciprocation. I love because I am called by God to love, because I am made to love, because I cannot deny it or escape it. Love does not die of its own free will as love is not a living thing by its own will – it is a symbiote, surviving in unity with a human host, given in perfect example by God who created it.

I pray that fifty years from now, people will ask me how we ever did it, how we ever managed to stay in love this long. I hope that even then, I will look over at Matt and squeeze his hand and be able to quote Isaac from The Fault in Our Stars:

Some days, it wasn’t easy.
“But you keep the promise anyway. That’s what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway”

No matter what happens, I will choose to keep the promise anyway.
That’s some of the very most we can do in this short life.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.