Friday, 30 November 2012

NaNoBlogMo2 - Done...And?

~Warning, this entry got kind of introspective.~

Welp. I'm done. I ran 3 miles this morning, which brings my total miles ran* to 40.25 for this month, barely squeaking by the goal of 40 miles I set. And if you are reading this and the post date says 11/30 then I posted once a day, every day, for November. what?

Those familiar with improv will know one of the fundamental rules of a scene is "Yes, and". This basically means that your response to your scene partner(s) should always be one of agreeing and building. You never want to tear anything down or reject their suggestions, but you also don't want to just agree with whatever they say. You want to build something, bit by bit.

At the end of this month I find myself saying "I'm done! ....and?" Partially its a feeling of, ok, so what did I get out of this? What did I build? I didn't lose any significant weight this month from the running, I really didn't get any better at running (I had to push to finish my 3 miles this morning just like I had to at the beginning of the month), and I have the sort of begrudging feelings of wanting to improve at running but not really enjoying it, same as I did on November first.

As for blogging, I actually did a little better than last year. Last year I cheated a bit. I posted at least two entries that were verbatim things I had written before, sometimes I wrote stuff ahead of time and scheduled it to post later, and I think once I just barely missed midnight and backdated the post to look like I had made it. This year I wrote everyday, posted on time, with my most cheaterly entry being the Sea Tea "Locally Made Improv" commercial that I am in. But, I don't feel like a better writer, and I worry that my entries seem boring or forced.

I know I am my own harshest critic. I set two goals to try and improve myself and my life and I completed them successfully. Yet I still feel like it wasn't enough. As I talked about in more detail in my blog swap entry with Julia, sometimes I feel like I do these things just so I can use that sense of accomplishment to give me the boost to do other things. Just like going to the gym makes me want to eat healthier and be healthier overall, and just like learning something new makes me want to learn even more, finishing things successfully makes me want to go out and accomplish more things.

When I first moved to Shanghai I was shitscared, lonely, terrified that I was going to be awful at my job, and I felt more than a little lost. At my lowest point, I took a postcard of the Shanghai skyline and scribbled over the picture in Sharpie: "If I can do this, I can do anything". That postcard hung inside my wardrobe on my mirror for the two years I lived in China. I saw it everyday when I got dressed. I tried to take that idea to heart, and to let it give me confidence. It made everything else seem easier, and to some extent it still does.

I guess I do these things to myself to get some small bit of that feeling back. If I have the willpower to make myself get out of bed and go running in 30 degree weather on Thanksgiving morning, blisters, hills and all, then of course I can answer my personal emails in a timely fashion. Of course I can be more productive at work. Of course I can do Christmas cards this year. It may seem like a stretch, but those things are all connected in my mind. Accomplishments, no matter how small, breed more of the same.

So, now after that little journey into my psyche, I still have the same thought. Done....and? What will I challenge myself to do next? How will I test myself? How will I make myself better, thereby wanting to make myself better? Another physical challenge? I'm not asking rhetorically, suggestions are welcome. A weight lifting challenge? Vegetarian mondays?

I'm done.....and? What's next?

Milage: 3

*I do want to be completely honest that I counted my entire mileage on the treadmill/track/etc, which included warmup & walk breaks. But I tried to keep the walk breaks on the short side. I think I would be safe in saying that I solidly ran 30 miles.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

NaNoBlogMo2 - What We Made (Blog Swap)

For today's entry we are doing something a little different. My friend Julia (with whom I ran the 5K this month) and I decided to do a blog swap today. When I stop obsessing and nitpicking over my entry you'll be able to read it at her website. I highly recommend checking out her blog and reading everything. If you are curious, you can find some of my favorite entries HERE, HERE and HERE. Or, of course, you can start by reading her wonderful entry below.

What I Made
Hello, readers of the blog of Stephanie Rice. I’m her friend and co-improviser, Julia. You can visit me regularly on my own blog, if you like me, which I am not certain you will. Because, if you enjoy the company of Stephanie Rice, you probably have a certain healthy respect for achieving things on a day-to-day basis. You, like her, are probably hooked on hobbies. You can probably sew. You can definitely cook, right? Yeah. You totally love cooking.

I am no such person. You will see. For this blog swap, Steph wrote a piece over at my blog about her addiction to finishing things. I much, much prefer beginnings.

I also realized, thinking about this swap, that I have no hobbies. It’s not that I’m swimming in free time; the fact is, I try to turn all of my interests into permanent states of being. My projects either turn into small careers, little kingdoms I like to rule—as in the case of Sea Tea Improv, which began as taking a class and I now describe as “I co-own and operate a professional improv studio”—or peter out and die in a manner I come to regret. There are things in the world I love—blue whales, letterpress cards, Roman mythology—but at present these things have not manifested themselves in casual-project form. Instead, they skip across the world independently of me, and when our paths cross I am delighted. I don’t own these things and I don’t make them. They are not my hobbies.

Sometimes I ask myself: what have I made? What do I have to show for so many years with a passport tucked into my underwear and an opinion tucked under my tongue?

So I’ll tell you what I did tonight. After a day spent attempting to organize a nationally viable writing contest, after an afternoon begrudgingly lifting weights and posting podcast episodes, I went off to the reading series I run. Syllable began because I thought, “why doesn’t Hartford have a reading series?” So I made one.

I got there ten minutes before it was supposed to begin, and one person was there. I was late because I’m always late to everything, no matter what I do. I threw some chairs around the room and I took out a piece of paper and made a list of the readers. By 7:07—start time 7:00--  all ten of our readers were present, along with three noble listeners there just to watch. We read. I placed Farenheit 451 on the music stand and did my best. Others read original work: a funny piece about contracting Hepatitis C; lists of New Years’ resolutions straight from diaries; a retelling of Adam & Eve; an essay about walking through customs. We read, we read, we read.  The theme of the night was beginnings.

When Syllable began, it had that splash of faddishness to it. We’d have seven readers and thirty-five people there just to listen. Slowly, that fell away. We are left with one little room and one little music stand and some empty chairs. At first, this was awful to me: what I made was not what I’d set out to make. It was so small! And simple! And it was always the same people, more or less—six or eight returning readers and just one or two new readers every single time!

Then I realized what we were actually making: a community. Small and simple and slow to grow.  It isn’t as I imagined, but it means something to these people, and that means something to me. It means I’m filling some kind of space instead of creating my own personal Frankenstein’s monster from my own ambitions.

What we make seems like it’s for us, but it isn’t, really.  What we make quickly changes into what we’re responsible for. And the really surprising thing, the thing that has changed my life here in Hartford, is that it takes so little effort to erect something. People assume most things are ten times more work than they are.  On some days I feel like that’s a secret only I know, and on other days I see that there are quite a few people who know that secret. At times it seems like the people who are getting things done, who are building communities and making impact, are the ones who are simply trying. Any effort will do, for a start.

Two weeks ago I had come home from a conference and had to go, that night, to a medieval-themed Gala. Being me, two hours before the gala, I had no costume at all. Despondent, I resigned myself to being the only person out of the costume at the party. My other half, Greg, and my friend Summar would not accept my despair.  “We’re making you a princess cone hat,” they said.

They pulled out a piece of posterboard and produced a silk scarf from within my apartment. They formed the cone around the scarf. They pinned it to my head.

“It’ll probably last an hour,” they said, “but it’s something.”

The damn cone looked ridiculous and felt every second as if it would tumble out into the night. I walked half a mile with that thing on my head, and pulled a change of dress over it while it was still pinned on my head. I wore it for six hours, feeling every minute as if it would collapse, but it did not. I looked like an idiot and I felt like a million bucks.

Still, it held, that little thing. That paper and silk meant more to my friends and to me than we knew when it was being made. And when its time was over—when I finally pulled it off and threw the paper into the recycling—I was amazed at how it had all held together for so much longer than I’d imagined, crooked and battered as it had become.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

NaNoBlogMo2 - Fingerless Gloves

Last year I went to the first annual Fiber Fest. I had a pretty decent haul from the event, though I was trying to be conservative. I got a bag of sheep's wool (which I've only just started processing in the last few months), some roving (which I immediately spun into yarn and haven't done anything with it since), and some really beautiful green yarn.
I was undecided with what to do with the yarn. I bought it from the sale bucket on a whim so I only had one skein and no set project in mind. When I felt the yarn against my skin and saw the lovely colors, I was inspired to make fingerless gloves.

I don't know why I have a bit of an obsession with fingerless gloves. I've made a few pairs for myself, and some for friends as well, and I think each pair gets a little better. The first pair I made had a weird seam up on the middle (as I hadn't learned to knit with dpns yet), and the edges were rolled up (because I hadn't yet learned the importance of making hems). The first pair I made for myself had edges and no seams, but they were also misshapen, mismatched in terms of size, and overall too big. I think this pair is the best yet. I knitted on a thumb for extra warmth, and with the entire glove being ribbed, it provides a nice fit all through the glove.
I keep these in my purse in the event of a little last minute hand chilliness. I use them the most at work since my cubicle can get a little chilly, but I still need my fingers free to type. Every once in a while I will wear them just because I like how they look, though. They are impractical on so many levels, but I still like fingerless gloves. Now I just need to decide what to do with the rest of that gorgeous green yarn...
Mileage: 3

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

NaNoBlogMo2 - Stuffed Chicken Breast

I am very surprised that I have had this blog as long as I have and have never once talked about my stuffed chicken breast. If I have a signature dish...this is it. It is likely the dinner recipe I have made the most often.

When I was younger and just getting into cooking, I usually followed recipes. I was still me, so I often changed a few things here and there and quickly switched to using my hands and eyes to measure more then I did measuring cups and spoons. But I didn't often make up my own things to cook from scratch. I still remember one of the first things I ever made was a weird chicken/cream of mushroom soup/rice glob that turned into a salty pile of not-too-goodness. But I think I was in middle school, so give a girl points for trying.

To this day I will usually look up a few recipes that are similar to what I what to cook to get some tips/ideas (such as using tomato paste in my venison stew), and then cobble something together. Years ago, I can't remember exactly when but I think I was in high school, I had a craving for dinner. I searched for a bunch of recipes on line but nothing I was finding had exactly what I wanted. As I was searching I realized how stupid it was to keep trying to find the holy grail of a recipe when I pretty much had the entire thing ready in my head.

I knew I wanted to have chicken breast, and I wanted it stuffed with a creamy, cheesy, spinachy, bacony filling and then baked. That was it. So I mixed together cream cheese, sour cream, pieces of cooked bacon, chopped up spinach, shredded cheddar and some seasoning, rolled some chicken around it and cooked it. It was delicious. 

I said this is the dinner recipe I have made the most often, but that is bending the truth a little bit. Since I don't have a recipe and don't like having strict cooking rules to follow, I never really make it exactly the same. Sometimes I will caramelize onions and garlic and throw that in the stuffing. If I am feeling fancy and remember to buy enough bacon, I'll wrap each breast in a slice. I've done a mixture of mozzarella and parmesan (though I prefer the cheddar). I even made this in Shanghai once, but with some sort of weird ham that I found since I had trouble A) getting good bacon and B) cooking bacon well on a hotplate with a wok.

If anyone is looking to try and make this (or something similar) I would just recommend buying the "thinly sliced" chicken breast or similar at the store. That, or make sure you have a meat hammer. I spent many a time making this recipe beating chicken breasts into pulp trying to get them semi-flat and roll-able. The thin slice just makes it so much easier.

I always seem to have two things happen when I make this recipe: I wish I thought to make enough for leftovers since I love it and don't make it that often, and I always make more filling than I have chicken for. As for the first, this time I think I went overboard and will be eating stuffed chicken for a week. No matter. Its tasty. As for the second, that really isn't an issue. Just take any leftover filling you have and heat it up in the microwave for a delicious creamy/bacon/cheese/spinach dip. Have it on some crackers or bread. Delicious.

Monday, 26 November 2012

NaNoBlogMo2 - Cross-stitch

Photo courtesy of the lovely Julia Pistell
Cross stitching is one of those things I like that I can do and I enjoy doing....and rarely do. I've done a few projects over the years but nothing all that big or exciting. Last year when my friend and fellow Sea Tea'r, Julia, mentioned that she had ended up with a cross stitch pattern as part of a Yankee Swap (she had brought it as her gift and the lucky recipient apparently didn't think enough of it to bring it home so Julia kept it) I took that as a chance to do a little cross stitching. Julia's taste is really impeccable. If you can't tell from the scant amount I have finished so far, the picture is of penguins walking through a rainbow and then emerging as the colors of the rainbow. Adorable.

One of my favorite things about this project is I have never brought it home. I started working on it at Julia and Greg's and other than a brief trip to Dan's for a Sea Tea Super Bowl party, it has stayed at their apartment. I like that I have a go-to project there. I get together with Julia (and sometimes Greg) from time to time to watch Game of Thrones. I never have to bring my knitting or another craft project with me, or worse sit idly watching without something to keep my hands busy. Instead, I just dig out my cross stitch that I have squirrelled away by their couch and hunker down for some stitchin'.

I kind of like when I have projects that were mostly finished in one place, or watching one thing. So many of my projects are done bit by bit over a decent period of time. But when I have something where it was mostly done in one place, I can't help but look at the finished project and remember what I was doing while I worked on it. I like that when these cross stitch is finished I'll be reminded of the fun times I have had hanging out at Greg and Julia's apartment, enjoying good time with friends and Game of Thrones.

Mileage: 3

Sunday, 25 November 2012

NaNoBlogMo2- Convincing

I didn't want to go running this morning. I had quite the back and forth in my head laying in bed. It went a little something like this:

Good Stephanie: You should go running. You still have 12 miles left to finish this month.
Bad Stephanie: Its cold.
GS: You've got that nice cold weather running gear. You'll be fine.
BS: My hip hurts and my knee hurts and I've got those blisters on my feet.
GS: Take an aleve for the joint pain, put bandaids on the blisters. Its not that bad.
BS: Its too hilly around here. I can't run for long before I get tired.
GS: So? Some running is better than no running. And the world isn't need to get used to running on hills.
BS: I'll go tomorrow instead.
GS: You've said that before and then not followed through. I don't trust you when you say that anymore. Besides, you need to go tomorrow anyway to finish your 40 mile challenge.
GS: .....if you run, you can wear your rainbow knee high socks.
BS: ......fine.
Mileage: 3.25

Saturday, 24 November 2012

NaNoBlogMo2- Tradition

Despite how often my life is changing and how interested I am to seek out and learn new things, I am a real sucker for tradition. I love the idea of tradition...of things being done a certain way for years and being passed down from generation to generation. I think part of the reason I am so fascinated with China is because of how old the culture is, how much depth there is to their history and how many traditions there are.

I have often felt cheated as an American that my culture and tradition and history is not that old or particularly interesting (in my own opinion). So I have grasped on tight to the few small traditions we have in my family. One of the only ones that has kept up year after year from as far back as I remember, is having cinnamon rolls on Holiday mornings....specifically Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. And not even homemade rolls, but Pillsbury rolls from the can.
Even this year we cheated a bit since on Thanksgiving day morning my dad was out hunting and I was out running. So we had them this morning. I suppose it is a little childish to hold on to these traditions when life is always changing. This year I shared Thanksgiving dinner with more friends than family members in upstate NY, when in my mind "tradition" dictates it should be spent at my parents' home with my family. That doesn't mean the meal was any less tasty, the evening any less fun, or that I was any less thankful for the people and things in my life.

There's no harm in sharing a plate of cinnamon rolls with my parents on holiday mornings, though, and the idea of continuing this small tradition if/when I have my own children makes me smile. Traditions and holidays and family are all what you make them. And I love mine.