A Few Words About Depression

Sometime in January I started to experience the symptoms of clinical depression. It was very gradual, but over the next few weeks I lost interest in most of the things that used to make me happy, like writing and drawing and reading and hiking. I felt like all the life was draining out of me. I wasn’t sleeping well, but it was hard to find the motivation to even get out of bed unless there was someplace I had to be. Riding Mahogany still offered a temporary relief from the dull numbness, but between my job and the weather I’ve been going weeks at a time without seeing her at all.

I know that depression is a complex and sensitive topic, but in this particular case I knew what was wrong. The friends I used to hang out with and laugh with and cry with and share my most intimate thoughts with are now physically unavailable to me. We live in different states. Facebook is a lifesaver for sure, but it can’t provide the sort of personal interaction and platonic physical affection that I apparently require to thrive. I haven’t had any luck yet making those kinds of friends in Texas. Although, as Giles once said to Buffy, “I almost made a new one, which I believe is statistically impossible for a person of my age.”

Anyway, the holidays had also taken their toll. This was the first Christmas and New Year in my entire life that I have ever spent completely alone. The kids were in California with their dad, and I was here in Texas discovering that working in retail during the holidays is its own kind of special. I made a few efforts to share some of my favorite parts of Christmas with my coworkers, but it obviously wasn’t the same.

After the holidays, some new issues cropped up. These were not problems that I could fix or change; my options were to endure them or walk away from them. And if I had had my close friends around me, I think it might have all been endurable. In my depressed state, walking away was definitely the right choice. The whole situation was starting to affect my health, which is where I draw a pretty hard line.

As soon as I made the decision to change what I could and leave behind what I couldn’t, the fog started to lift. As I implemented the changes, the numbness went away completely. I still have some bad days now and then, because it’s painful to walk away from things that you would prefer to have in your life, even when you know they’re not good for you. But that kind of grief has a keener edge than depression, so at least it lets you know you’re still alive.

And that’s enough exposition. The reason I came here to write this post is because I haven’t had much firsthand experience with depression, unless you count the last year of my marriage, and now that I have I would like to offer a personal observation.

When I finally admitted to my loved ones what I was dealing with, they were there for me. All we had was Facebook and my cellphone, but their love and support and well-wishes shone warmly through the fog I was drifting in. It made such a difference. Friends are so fucking important.

But there’s something else I need to say, as lovingly and respectfully as I can. There was one person…and I know that this person meant well. I know for an absolute fact that this person loves me and wants me to be happy and healthy and have a successful life. But when I began speaking openly about my depression, this person began treating me like A Depressed Person. Like that was my new identity, my defining characteristic. They would talk about all the changes I was going to have to make in my diet and lifestyle and whatnot, as if I weren’t already doing the best I could with what I had to work with. And I was like, “This isn’t my normal state of being,” and they were like, “That was then, this is now.”

Life tip: When someone is muddling along in a numb fog of depression, they don’t want to hear, “This is your life now.” They want to hear, “It’s going to be okay. I love you, I’m here for you, you’re important to me. We’ve shared some great times together, and we’ll share more in the days to come. The best is yet to be.”

I feel like people need to understand that, but I’m not trying to hurt anyone here, so that’s all I’m going to say about it.

In related news, I have traded my retail job for one that I think is a better fit for me. I am infinitely grateful for everything that I’ve learned during the past year, but I never really felt like I belonged in retail. I’m back in the food industry now, where all of my earliest jobs were as a teen and young adult. Retail felt like a soulless alien world to me. Going back to working in a restaurant felt like walking into a crowded party where all the people seem vaguely familiar. Plus it’s closer to where I live, and I’ll probably end up making more money there. I was afraid it might not be strenuous enough and that I would gain back the weight I’d lost in the retail job, but it turns out I’m going to have to develop more upper body strength before I’ll be able to keep up with all the heavy lifting. So that should keep me nice and fit. And as an interesting bonus, most of the people I work with there have absolutely no concept of personal space. It’s a busy, crowded, interactive environment and there is more friendly oversharing and casual physical contact going on than I know what to do with. Which is great for someone like me who thrives on that sort of thing.

Maybe I’ll even make some new friends there. I never cared much for statistics anyway.

Categories: Family, Friends, Health, Horses, Life, Love, Weather, Winter, Work Life | Tags: | Leave a comment

He Can’t Eat What, Now?

A few weeks ago Luke was at the doctor getting a checkup and I asked them if he could be tested for food allergies. He doesn’t have any major symptoms, but he always seems to have dark circles under his eyes and a stuffy nose. So they did a blood test and the results came back positive for a ridiculous number of allergies. Wheat, corn, soy, peanuts, walnuts, sesame seeds, plums, scallops…clearly some massive dietary changes were in order. Toss in my dairy allergy and gluten intolerance and I was starting to wonder if we’d have to resort to cutting pictures of food out of cardboard and eating those.

In the summer it’s easier; we eat from the garden and orchard and life is good. But in the winter our diet tends to be grain-based, and we are running out of acceptable grains. Basically I need to organize a complete overhaul of our wintertime eating habits.

Not being able to eat bread is a fairly huge handicap. Over the past year I’ve gotten okay at making gluten-free bread, but I’m not crazy about it. It involves a lot of added starches and gums, which offends my whole-food inclinations, and it doesn’t keep well. I like my food to be simple, healthy and relatively undemanding. But man, do I miss bread. And pizza, and donuts.

One thing I don’t have to miss is pancakes and waffles, because I finally invented a GREAT recipe for those. Here’s something I’ve discovered about GF baking: the texture will be infinitely better if you add some kind of fresh fruit or vegetable to the batter/dough. The natural fibers are a surprisingly good substitute for gluten. If it’s not something you can add fruits or veggies to, try psyllium husks; similar effect with no noticeable flavor change. Here is my GF pancake/waffle recipe:

2 cups millet flour (sorghum flour would also work)
1 TBL psyllium husks
1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 TBL oil (I use organic extra-virgin coconut oil)
1 banana, mashed
1 cup rice milk (any dairy or non-dairy milk would work)
1 TBL lemon juice
1 TBL sweetener (honey, agave nectar or maple syrup)
2 eggs, or 3 if you’re making waffles.


But most of my baking is still a work in progress. Last October I was browsing through a catalogue and saw a mini-donut maker that works on the same principle as a waffle iron. “Wow, I’d love to have one of those!” I commented.

Luke and Elizabeth heard, and remembered, and mentioned it to my ex-laws, and there was a mini-donut maker under our tree this Christmas.

(Tangent: this is another one of those unexpected things that I’m not sure how to feel about. This is the first time since the divorce that I’ve received a “from the kids” gift financed by Steve or his parents. And it’s pretty much the first time I’ve EVER gotten a Christmas gift from Steve or his parents that was even remotely relevant to my interests. I love the donut maker. I appreciate the gesture, truly. It just feels…a little…baffling.)

Anyway, the nifty thing about the donut maker is that it seems to be able to bake any “quick bread” (ie, no yeast) batter perfectly. I’ve been experimenting with biscuits, mini-pizza crusts, etc, with good results. Sure, they’re all shaped like little donuts, but that’s fine.

The best part is how easy it is — the most time-consuming part is milling the flour. Whole organic millet is my current grain of choice; it makes a tasty, light, cakelike bread. In theory I like quinoa better, but for some reason it disagrees with my digestion. If you’re gluten-free but not milling your own flour, sorghum flour is also a very good choice.

Once the flour is milled, it’s just a matter of mixing the ingredients and pouring them a tablespoon at a time into the preheated donut receptacles. Each batch cooks in about three minutes. In no time at all you have a plateful of delicious donuts or biscuits or whatever the bread du jour is. And it doesn’t even matter that they’re only really good the first day, because tomorrow you can take a few minutes and make more! SWEET! It’s a great energy-saver, too. No heating up a big oven, no use of propane and only a few pennies’ worth of electricity.

So we’re still working on creating a new wintertime menu, but my new gadget has gotten us off to a great start. Bread is a wonderful tummy-filler, and now I can make it with only healthy, allergen-free ingredients! Yay for mini donut makers!

Of course, now I miss polenta. I don’t suppose there’s a corn-free substitute for that….

Categories: Christmas, Family, food, frugality, Gluten Free, Health, kids, Life, Nutrition | 4 Comments

Seriously, 2011? Seriously?

Everywhere I look people are grumbling “Good riddance to 2010! What a crappy year!” Twitter, Facebook and most of my favorite bloggers seem to be in agreement about the epic suckitude of the past twelve months.

As usual I’m the oddball: I had a GREAT 2010. Truly a fantastic year for me and the kids.

2011 is, sadly, shaping up to be less than stellar. I know we’re only three days into it, but let’s take a look at what we’ve got so far:

On New Year’s Eve morning I woke up with the sort of head/chest cold and fever that erodes one’s will to live. And then it wouldn’t freaking go away. New’s Year’s Day I was still dragging around congested, feverish, coughing up smurfs and generally being a big whiner. Yesterday I finally kicked the fever and got my energy back, but all of the other symptoms are, as of today, still firmly entrenched in my respiratory system. This is what I get for bragging that I never get sick anymore since I started growing my own food.

This morning we woke up to about a half-inch of snow. My little car slipped and slid all the way to the bus stop. I suspect that I have the wrong vehicle for my location. Anyway, the bus was very late so I shut the car off while we waited, and than after it finally came and the kids left my car would not restart. It clicked like a bad starter, but the oil pressure and battery lights were both lit. I could have called AAA, but I was wearing my pajamas, a bathrobe, worn-out Uggs and a ratty Carhartt jacket, and was feeling less than presentable. I could have walked home, gotten dressed, called AAA and then walked back to the car, but it’s a about a mile along a paved road just to get to the driveway and see above regarding my stylish ensemble. So I gritted my teeth and called Steve. And he came and gave my battery a jump and my car started and I drove home. So before I get on with the grousing about how I probably need a new starter and I have no money and why did this have to happen right after Christmas, let me take a moment to marvel over the mindboggling fact that Steve has become one of the most dependably helpful people in my life lately. It is almost painful for me to admit that, and I would rather eat thumbtacks than take advantage of this inexplicable grace, but the fact remains that in the past year or two he has been there for me in moments when no one else was and I am deeply grateful.

And now: Probably need new starter, no money, why right after Christmas, etc. /grouse

So 2011 is getting off to a shaky start for me. I’m really hoping it’s just getting all the bad stuff out of its system right at the beginning, so the rest of the year can be drama-free. Yay optimism!


In other news:

Luke has a passion for turn-of-the-century (as in 1900) machinery and steam-tech, especially in European settings, so the game Ticket To Ride: Europe was an easy pick for one of his Christmas presents. It’s a lot of fun to play, but the gameboard is basically a map of Europe and we don’t know how to pronounce some of the city names. Most of them we can figure out because we’re familiar with the English translation, like Bruxelles and København (Brussels and Copenhagen), but others we just have to guess at. Sure, we could Google the correct pronunciations, but because we are children we prefer to substitute our own words in place of the names. All of this is to explain the following exchange from a few nights ago:

Luke: “I’m claiming the route from Breast to Diaper.”

Me: “Ah, yes. Pretty short trip, as I recall. About twenty minutes, usually.”

Yes, I am twelve. And so is my ten-year-old son.


Speaking of twelve-year-olds, I also got Luke two of the “Diary Of A Wimpy Kid” sequels, “The Last Straw” and “The Ugly Truth,” since he enjoyed the first book so much. He and Elizabeth have both spent the past week reading, rereading, laughing at and quoting their favorite bits from both of them. I haven’t read any of the series myself yet, but just going by how much my kids love these books I have to recommend them to anyone with kids in the 10- to 15-year-old age group. Luke doesn’t read a lot of fiction, he’s more into history, science and machinery, so for a kids’ book to grab his interest this hard it has to be exceptionally entertaining. If you have kids of middle school age or thereabouts, check this series out!


And now I am off to eat a bowl of frozen pomegranate seeds, because they are magical and will restore me to full health. Any day now.

Categories: books, Family, Gaming, Health, Humor, kids, Life, Nutrition, Weather, Winter | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Happy 2011!

New year, new look for my blog. Felt like time for a change.

I have four resolutions and I’m feeling pretty good about them, but I don’t want to jinx myself by uttering them aloud. I’ll just post four updates throughout the year as I fail each one; it’s more efficient that way.

And now here is my Second Annual List of Inspirational Notes and Quotes For the New Year. Long ago I had the idea of beginning each new blog post with a relevant quote, but then I realized it was way easier to cram all of the literary bits and snippets I collect into one big pile right at the beginning of each year, when people are more in the mood for that sort of thing.


On Simplicity:

Everything we possess that is not necessary for life or happiness becomes a burden, and scarcely a day passes that we do not add to it. 
–Robert Brault

We don’t need to increase our goods nearly as much as we need to scale down our wants.  Not wanting something is as good as possessing it. 
–Donald Horban

Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, 
and the labors of life reduce themselves.

–Edwin Teale

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. 
–Leonardo DaVinci

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.


On Frugality:

Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying.  The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things. 
–Elise Boulding

Our affluent society contains those of talent and insight who are driven to prefer poverty, to choose it, rather than submit to the desolation of an empty abundance. 
–Michael Harrington

Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, 
to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like. 

–Will Rogers

My life can be so arranged that I can live on whatever I have. If I cannot live as I have lived in the past, I shall live differently, and living differently does not mean living with less attention to the things that make life gracious and pleasant or with less enjoyment of things of the mind.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

On Gardening:

“When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, There is always the garden.”– Minnie Aumonier

When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

A person who undertakes to grow a garden at home, by practices that
 will preserve rather than exploit the economy of the soil, has his mind
 precisely against what is wrong with us….   What I am saying is that if 
we apply our minds directly and competently to the needs of the earth, 
then we will have begun to make fundamental and necessary changes in
 our minds.  We will begin to understand and to mistrust and to change 
our wasteful economy, which markets not just the produce of the earth, 
but also the earth’s ability to produce.

–Wendell Berry

I see humanity now as one vast plant, needing for its highest fulfillment
 only love, the natural blessings of the great outdoors, and intelligent 
crossing and selection.   In the span of my own lifetime I have observed
 such wondrous progress in plant evolution that I look forward optimistically 
to a healthy, happy world as soon as its children are taught the principles
of simple and rational living.  We must return to nature and nature’s God.

–Luther Burbank

Learning to produce our own food is essential if we are 
to ever truly take control of our own lives.  It liberates 
us from the role of passive consumer, remote from real 
decisions, alienated from nature.

Primal Seeds

Man’s heart away from nature becomes hard. 
–Standing Bear

I am not bound for any public place, but for ground of my own where I have planted vines and orchard trees, and in the heat of the day climbed up into the healing shadow of the woods.  Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.
–Wendell Berry

I am led to reflect how much more delightful to an undebauched mind, is the task of making improvements on the earth, than all the vain glory which can be acquired from ravaging it, by the most uninterrupted career of conquests.
– George Washington

“I have never had so many good ideas day after day as when I worked in the garden.” –John Erskine

“God almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.”
— Francis Bacon

The farther we get away from the land, the greater our insecurity.
– Henry Ford

To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.
– Mahatma Gandhi

The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, 
not a garden swollen to a realm;  his own hands to use, not the 
hands of others to command.” 

— J.R.R. Tolkien,  The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee


On Living Well:

This is maturity: To be able to stick with a job until it’s finished; to do one’s duty without being supervised; to be able to carry money without spending it; and to be able to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.
–Abigail Van Buren

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.   It turns what we have 
into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos 
to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, 
a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes 
sense of our past, brings peace for today, 
and creates a vision for tomorrow.
–Melody Beattie

In matters of style, swim with the current;
in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
–Thomas Jefferson

Happiness grows at our own firesides, and is not to be picked in stranger’s gardens.
–Douglas William Jerrold

One of the best ways of enslaving a people is to keep them from education… The second way of enslaving a people is to suppress the sources of information, not only by burning books but by controlling all the other ways in which ideas are transmitted.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

A person is just about as big as the things that make him angry.

One reason why birds and horses are happy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses.
–Dale Carnegie

“I cannot wander about being wise and brilliant all of the time, it certainly isn’t expected of me. However, I have discovered an ingenious system for being discovered should I become lost. Here’s how it works.The moment you discover you are lost, simply remain calm and don’t panic. Just sit down and remove your pocket knife from your pocket and begin to sharpen it. Within minutes, some know-it-all will come along and inform you that you are incorrectly sharpening your knife.”
–Tom Firth

Categories: Animals, books, frugality, Gardening, Health, Horses, Humor, Life, Love, Self-Sufficiency | 2 Comments

Misty Pomegranate-Colored Musings

Sunday night we got another nice rain, and Monday night we got our first frost of fall. Yesterday most of the pomegranates on my tree had suddenly developed those little splits in their skins that means they need to be harvested soon or they’ll go to waste. So I spent most of yesterday taking pomegranates apart, putting the seeds in containers, and putting the containers in the freezer, which was…about as tedious as it sounds. But also satisfying, because around January and February a handful of half-thawed pomegranate seeds tastes like a fresh little boost of happy.

Still pretty tedious, though. The mind wanders while the hands work, and my mind had lots of time to wander on Tuesday. Some thoughts it offered up for my consideration:

1. I’m amazed at how many people see love as a weakness to be exploited. These people are seriously shortchanging themselves. Love is the most powerful force in the universe, and they will live and die without ever tapping into that vast, amazing power.

2. People have to receive before they can understand the value of giving. People have to be listened to before they can understand the value of listening to others. They have to be accepted and respected, in all their quirky uniqueness, before they can accept and respect others who are different from them. If you convince a child that her feelings don’t matter, she will grow up believing that no one’s feelings matter. Feelings either matter or they don’t. If you’re constantly telling your child not to be so sensitive whenever your thoughtless words and actions wound him, don’t be surprised if he grows up to be insensitive and thoughtless of others. If you try to teach your child humility by treating her as if she has no great value or importance, don’t be surprised if she grows up treating herself (and others) like garbage. This often involves chemical addictions and promiscuity. If you try to impose your will on your child by force, don’t be surprised if he grows up believing that might makes right. If you try to impose your will on your child through lies and manipulation, don’t be surprised if he grows up to be a manipulative liar.

3. A common misconception among Christians is that they are (or should be) somehow exempt from the natural consequences of their own poor choices. This is an unrealistic expectation. You may be “saved by grace,” but you still have to water your garden, tend lovingly to your personal relationships and feed the dog, or they will all wither and die. If you lie and cheat and steal people will stop trusting you. If you are unreliable people will stop investing in you. Being “a Christian” doesn’t absolve you of any earthly repercussions or responsibilities. It’s silly (and totally missing the point) to think it should.

4. One person’s “normal” is another person’s “completely unacceptable.” One person’s “attractive and desirable” is another person’s “eww.” What one person admires and reveres, someone else will feel nothing but contempt for. A way of life that feels like heaven to one person will feel like hell to another. What feels like glorious success to one person will feel like dismal failure to another. I don’t think there are any exceptions to this rule. To borrow Alan Alda’s phrase, “all laws are local.” You have to walk the path God designed you for, and accept that not everyone is going to understand.

So much for the navel-gazing. In other news:

5. I’m currently reading “Travels With Charley” by John Steinbeck. It’s one of the books that came with my house when we bought it twelve years ago and it’s been in my “to read” pile all this time, and I finally got around to it. It is an incredible book, and I highly recommend it if you’re interested in shrewd, amusing and often brilliant observations on human nature and eerily accurate predictions (it was written in 1961) about the impact of technology on American life.

6. I decided to make some of my kids’ Christmas presents this year, to save money. Somehow it didn’t occur to me that this would suck up the last vestiges of my spare time. If my blog goes dark for a while, that’s why. Turns out there is a finite number of minutes per day, and that number is not negotiable. Who knew?

7. A closing quote borrowed from one of my favorite bloggers, wordsmith Scott White of Caveat Emptor:

Once I met a man with a hundred hands. “It must be amazing to be able to get so many things done,” I said. “Alas,” he replied, “if only I had a few more brains and a longer reach, maybe that would be true.” Then I understood the value of people working together.

Categories: books, Christianity, Christmas, Family, frugality, Gardening, Health, kids, Life, Love, Nutrition, Self-Sufficiency, trees, Weather, Winter | 9 Comments

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