Hope in a Jar

Pace-ProductsAs I mentioned in my last post, I have started eating much healthier foods and in much more reasonable quantities. Fortunately, one of the local supermarkets takes all of the guesswork out of determining whether or not a product is organic, hormone free, non-GMO, etc. All products sold in their stores have gone through a rigorous screening to determine if they meet with their food philosophy. If you would like to know more, please visit their Food Philosophy Page. For all-too-obvious reasons, there are virtually no mainstream brand name items on the shelves. I was walking down the chip aisle last week looking for a good salsa to pair with my blue corn tortilla chips when, lo and behold, there sit several jars of Pace Picante Sauce.

At first I was mildly confused and even a little affronted that this particular item had managed to find its way onto their shelves. How on earth could a nationally recognized brand really meet their standards? So I read the ingredients list. There were no artifical flavorings. No artificial preservatives. No color enhancers. Nothing but wholesome vegetables, herbs and spices. The fact that Earth Fare is willing to sell their product also means that their vegetables are not genetically modified to produce larger crops or deter or kill insects, which can have a very negative effect on the local ecosystem. There was nothing there to suggest that they were doing anything different from all the other brands of salsa, perhaps just on a larger scale. Pace’s products went through the same screening, and probably more scrutiny than most because, like me, I am sure someone thought that this could not possibly be right.

As I stood there holding this jar of picante sauce (and probably receiving some very odd looks from other patrons) I came to a very important realization. Not all companies are willing to cut corners to increase their profit margins. I do not know what their gross profits are every year, but I can guess it ranges into the millions. Even if they had chosen to lower the value of their ingredients, regular supermarkets would still carry their products, and the average consumer would still buy them. It would not hurt them financially one single bit. These people take pride in their product, however, and pass that pride down to the consumer. They clearly love what they do and what they make, and if a company like this can continue to make a simple, honest product that I would be proud to buy, that only proves to me that there is still hope for the human race.

Someone Let Me Off This Crazy Thing!

Alright, that’s it. I’ve had it. Enough. I’m done. Fed up. Tired of it. With what, you may ask? Well, there is, as always, a bit of a story behind a life change I have decided to make.

Last week, I was talking to my fiancée about his parents. His father is, as usual, being unbearable and trying to martyr himself. His mother is up to her usual antics, and through her I have had a vicarious view of my future. I don’t like it. At all. I am overweight; I cannot deny this fact. This is only evidence that I have not taken care of myself physically the way I deserve. My fiancee’s mother had knee surgery over a year ago. I was not aware she was diabetic, but I did know she was not doing her physical therapy, taking her medications or eating properly. All of these are contributing factors to the state in which she now finds herself. She can barely walk without becoming completely exhausted within about twenty feet or so. Her age does contribute some (she is 72, I believe) but more importantly her overall health is atrocious, so her body is not able to repair itself the way it should. In spite of all this, she continues to lead a completely sedentary, almost catatonic lifestyle, where she sits in her recliner (with her feet up, which is contributing to neuropathy in her feet caused by the diabetes) and eats high-carb processed foods all day, such as Pringles, cookies, and brand-name popcorn. These foods contain not only high carbohydrates and sugars, but tons of artificial preservatives and flavor enhancers. While I may not have a defeatist attitude about life, I also find myself buying many processed foods because I (mistakenly) thought they were a cheaper alternative, but more on that in a bit.

To see what she is putting herself and her family through is hell for me. She has two wonderful sons that lover her very much and a husband that denies there is anything wrong, I think partially because he can’t stand the thought of being alone after forty years of marriage. To see what she has done to herself is even worse, because I know that if I refuse to change my ways, I am also headed for the same fate. My fiancee is constantly at odds with her, trying to get her to eat better, more wholesome foods. She, of course, refuses since she is eating the same things she always has.

His parents also do all, and I mean literally all, of their grocery shopping at Wal-Mart. As if the foods they buy are not bad enough, they choose to buy them from a place notorious for cheap quality products because they have fallen into the media hype about Wal-Mart being the low price leader. Once upon a very long time ago, that may have been true, when Sam Walton was still alive and Wal-Mart stood for quality without higher prices. The corporation once supported local businesses and US manufacturers rather than running them out of the area and worked to give their employees and customers the best they could at affordable prices. Today, with few exceptions, their prices are lower by only a few pennies per purchase unit, just so they can claim to still have the lowest price. Their prices on food are now comparable if not more than most grocery stores, and their quality is beyond terrible, but many people still have that “low-price leader” campaign stuck in their heads, so they do not comparison shop.

On top of all this, his parents also eat out at least once a day at a fast food restaurant (usually Bojangle’s or some other deep-fried food chain.) After having a lengthy discussion with him about his parents’ shopping and eating habits, I decided it was time for a change. I have decided it is time I practice what I preach. The reason I have not bought organic foods in the past is because I was under the impression that it was more expensive. With income like mine, penny-pinching really is a necessity. I decided Tuesday it was worth the sacrifice, though, and walked into the local organic food market for the first time in probably over a year. What I found there shocked me to my core. First, the prices are really not that much higher, less than a dollar a pound more on meats, and in the case of whole chickens they are actually two to three dollars less. There are some items that are more, such as gluten free breads, but there are plenty of alternatives and honestly, as a society, we eat too much bread anyway. What makes my wallet even happier is the fact that, in addition to competitive prices, this particular market also offers some great coupons and deals on their merchandise. For instance, just for signing up for their program, I received a coupon that allowed me to buy all organic peanut butter, jelly, cookies, apple sauce and crackers for only a dollar each. I also received a coupon for a free chicken or a free six pack of veggie burgers for providing my email. There are weekly coupons and deals, but the daily coupons are even better. I have received $5 off a purchase of $25 or more, two free organic pineapples with a $10 purchase, and $5 off an organic spiral cut honey-glazed ham. With all of the coupons they offer to encourage people to eat organic, I actually come out spending less money for more and better food.

As if that weren’t enough, I have been eating organic foods for the last five days (minus last night…I slipped up and ate pizza from Papa John’s because I had a free one and less than $2 in my bank account) and I have found that I can eat much less food (less by about half) and feel just as full and satisfied, if not more so. I also have more energy and feel healthier in general. I no longer get that heavy, leaden feeling after meals, and physically I can already feel a huge difference. Weaning myself off sodas has taken a little longer, but I have not had any for the last couple of days and, unlike in the past, I am not getting those terrible caffine withdrawal headaches. I also don’t really feel any cravings for caffine or processed sugars.

Food has always been a big part of my life, but that does not mean that I have to eat processed, unhealthy crap just because I can get a little more volume for my money. Quality over quantity really does have its advantages. I have also decided to somewhat repurpose my blog to describe my journey into this new phase of my life. Wish me luck!

Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

So again, I have had a fairly uneventful month.  Work, come home, have some dinner, go to bed, and repeat.  Of course, that is an extreme oversimplification of my daily life, but it more or less boils down to the same thing.

I did have a rather nice St. Valentine’s Day, however.  I went out and got my nails done, which for me usually just involves having them shaped and painted.  I have tried getting acrylics put on before, even the supposedly heavy-duty ones that require curing under a UV light.  Every time, though, within just a couple of days, I end up breaking or tearing one off.  I have found that fake nails are truly not conducive with my work environment.  There are some people who seem to be able to keep them, but I comfort myself by saying that they must not be working as hard as I am.  Regardless, I received a very nice French manicure from a man whose given American name (as in, the name they gave him when he moved over here) I couldn’t pronounce.  Dravola, perhaps?  Sue me, it’s been over two weeks.  His real name, Dra, was much easier to wrap my tongue around.  Anyway, he was very nice and did a fantastic job, and the woman sitting next to me provided endless entertainment.  She also reminded me, though, why I rarely go to the nail salon and even less frequently do I do so by myself.  She was nice and everything and if I refused to really think, the conversation was pleasant enough.  The problem, though, was that the conversation centered around superfluous, shallow things like where she was from and what her ethnicity was.  Again, a silly conversation, but she was nice enough.

Getting my nails done actually had a secondary purpose: to waste some time until my hair appointment.  That’s right, I cut my hair.  For those of you that don’t know me, this requires a little context.  When I was sixteen, my high school marching band went to Europe for two weeks for a few invitational events and parades.  Considering how many other things there would be on our plates, having to deal with my hair was one thing I could actually solve.  My hair is thick and curly; before I cut it this last time, it took me 20 minutes to brush the tangles out.  So my mother packed me in the car and drove me to Sharp Cuts or some other discount chain.  I showed the stylist what I wanted, which was basically a version of a pixie cut.  Rather than the adorable layered look I saw in the magazine, the woman cut my hair about an inch and a half to two inches long all over my head.  This particularly bad style would not have been such a tragedy, since it was during the summer, if it were not now forever immortalized in pictures taken on our trip to Europe.  Every time I see these pictures now, I cringe.  Anyway, due to this particular experience, I let my hair grow for entirely too long now before deciding to get it cut.  This time I think I went about a year and a half.  Anyway, Blake did a fantastic job on my hair and he even managed to straighten it, which heretofore is a feat no one has accomplished.  Basically it just involves a lot of patience and a really good straightening iron.  He received a very good tip and my eternal gratitude.  So much of a tip, in fact, that he tried to tell me it was too much, which I’ve never had anyone do before.  I ignored him, of course, and gave him what I thought was fair. 😛

So now that I have gone on a wild tangent for entirely too long, we will get on to the reason for the title of this entry.  Yesterday I drove to get gas on my lunch break and, since it was the middle of the day, decided to take a back road.  Now, the speed limit on this particular road is 20 mph.  The speed here is actually justified, since the road is mixed business and residential, there is a daycare and a place that assists mentally and physically handicapped individuals with finding and maintaining employment.  For all those reasons plus the fact that local law enforcement tends to lie in wait for speeders, I refuse to go more than a couple miles per hour over the speed limit.  Apparently, though, the man behind me felt I was not going fast enough to suit him, so he got about six inches from my back bumper and laid on his horn all the way down the road, even after passing two speed limit signs and a state trooper.  When we arrived at the intersection where the road splits into three lanes, I pulled into the far right lane to turn and he slammed on his gas to get into the far left lane, only to immediately slam on his brakes again since the light was red.  The man was old enough to be my grandfather, which I noticed as I was waiting for an open spot in traffic to turn right, and made a very significant point of never once looking in my direction.  In fact, he had his head turned so far to the left in an effort to avoid eye contact I couldn’t even see his face.  It just strikes me sometimes how ridiculous and childish some people can be.  His efforts didn’t get him to his destination any faster and he refused to even watch the light because he might actually have to look at me.  Silly old man.

The Road Goes Ever On and On…

I know I haven’t posted in a while, mainly because, frankly, there just hasn’t really been much to post. My fiancee complains daily about his parents and tells me he misses my sanity and steadfastness, work is a neverending grind, and home has been my refuge from the crazy world outside.

One of the more exciting things that has happened lately, albeit not a fun type of exciting, was the migraine that hit me last week. I don’t get them often, maybe every couple of years, so I never take heed of the warning signs before it’s too late. For a couple of days before it happens, I always become extremely uncoordinated and more forgetful than usual. I am already a bit of a clutz and I tend to forget the little things that I subconsciously don’t find very important, but before a migraine those things increase tenfold and I have difficulty concentrating, which is unusual. I usually just chalk it up to hormones or too little sleep until I wake one morning with a skull-splitting pain. I also have photosensitivity and noise sensitivity and tend to be virtually catatonic for the first few hours. Usually I can sleep through them, waking up occasionally to take in some fluids (water, mostly, because nothing with flavor tastes right) and take care of bodily functions, which turns into a huge circus as I try not to turn on lights in order to reach the bathroom. Eventually, if I stay still, the pain goes away, so long as I don’t move. Then it reaches the point I can sit up and maybe walk a little before it starts to hurt again. It continues to fade in the same manner until eventually I reach a level of normalcy, but it leaves me exhausted and pretty much all I do for the next day, if possible, is sleep or read. As I said, they don’t happen often, and from what they can tell they are stress-induced in my case, so nothing to cause any real worry.

I have also started the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I am apparently a little late to this literary masterpiece, but the writing and the stories are wonderful. I am currently about halfway through the first book, which is just over 2000 pages, and I can barely put it down. Almost all of my free time, even a few minutes here or there, goes into reading and I cannot wait to see what happens next. The author’s writing style reminds me a great deal of Tolkein, with detailed and sometimes rather lengthy descriptions, but it flows so well I barely notice. Jordan has created a fantastic and magical fantasy world with a history and a future. Sometimes it seems when authors write fantasy, at least the mediochre ones, they create a setting for their purposes, but there is really no clear path as to how things ended up the way they did, why people act the way they do, or where the societies might be headed from the present. There is a great deal of mystery to the past as the main character is from a small and sheltered village in the middle of nowhere, but through his travels there is a very clear picture of the world and where all the different players in it originated. I have some theories about what will happen, but even in that respect there are so many different paths the story could take. I cannot wait to continue the saga and see where the story goes from here!

The Art of Aging Gracefully

This week has been a little hectic with work and soforth since I arrived home after my visit with my fiancee, so I have not really had time to sit down and write. Certainly not a bad week, by any means, I just haven’t had a lot of free time that didn’t need to be spent sleeping.

The visit this weekend went well, and apparently my fiancee’s mother is in much better spirits, taking her medications when she needs them and even talking about the future. I hope this is a permanent change; I know he can’t take much more of her negativity about her own situation. I hope he has the sense to take advantage of her upbeat attitude and encourage her to get up and exercise more. In the long run it really will make her feel much better and speed up her recovery time.

Most importantly, I learned something about myself this weekend and the way I want to live my life: I never want to get old. I am not saying I want to halt the aging process or track down the fountain of youth. What I mean to say is that I never want to reach that point where I no longer look forward to tomorrow and all the possibilities it brings. I do not want to become so disillusioned with life that I’ve had enough and I am simply waiting to die. I want to enjoy and treasure every day I have, and know when I do finally die I can do so in peace, knowing that I have lived a fulfilling life, regardless of how long or short it is. There will always be more things I will wish I could have done, but the point is to use the time you have wisely to grow and succeed, not to dwell on the fact that someday it will end. I also feel that this is only a new beginning, but that is a matter of opinion since there is no hard evidence that there is anything beyond. Don’t live your life for tomorrow, enjoy what you have today and don’t put it off. You never really know when tomorrow isn’t going to come.

In light of these new revelations and watching his family interact, I realized that even though my home life was not a traditional one as a child, it was amazingly supportive and loving. I simply took those things for granted, assuming that most parents went out of their way to teach their children right from wrong, protect them from but inform them of the dangers of the world, and generally prepare their children to become well-balanced, independant and capable adults. I really thought that, to some degree at least, nurturing your children was engrained in your DNA. It never once occurred to me just how opulent and childish some people could be. I really thought that the only people who resented their kids were those that really didn’t want them in the first place, but it dawns on me that even planning for children doesn’t really prepare you when they arrive. In addition, not all people who have children unexpectedly fail to rise to the challenge of parenting, though this does not come as a shock to me. My parents are only human, though I didn’t realize it as a child, but they always managed to put aside their petty bickering and do what was best for me. I know that they would not have married if I had not come along, but it also seems that they would not have divorced if they did not feel that it was in my best interest. I actually really admire them for trying to stick it out, but I also admire their ability to recognize that their efforts were not working and that we would all be better off if they were no longer together. I know it wa a difficult decision for them, but I genuinely believe they made the right one, not only for me, but especially for themselves.

In light of these new revelations, I had the bright idea of writing a letter to my parents. Incidentally, it would seem that actual letter-writing is a completely lost art form. I could not find stationary anywhere in town. There is still one more place I can check in the neighboring town, but I don’t currently have gas enough in my vehicle to make the trip there and back without worrying I may run out. I even got the bright idea of making my own, so I headed to the craft store, but sadly to do what I wanted was going to be about $20, which seemed a little steep. I may wait until I have a little extra money; the letters are important, but not really time-sensitive.

One good thing did come of my running around, though. I have never been in one of the local bookstores, and so had no idea that there was a yarn shop in the back. More importantly, the woman who runs the yarn shop has a little knitting area set up, basically for a come-and-go Stitch N’Bitch type setup. She also offers formal lessons, but those cost money, which I clearly do not have. I wandered in, looking for stationary, and wound up in the back talking to her for close to an hour. She is even trying to get some of the people in the group to bring their spinninig equipment. I purchased a bottom-whorl spindle a couple of years ago along with an instructional book (or so I thought.) Rather the book talks about the superiority of the author’s favorite style of spindle, which isn’t even the one that I purchased, and has very little to say about its practical application. Thank you, Amazon, for a very poor description and an even worse product pairing. Needless to say, the spindle has not seen much practical use. Sadly there was an informal meeting yesterday, but I had to work too late and was unable to go. It is a very nice little atmophere back there though, with comfy chairs and people to talk to, so I may just bring my knitting (after I brush up a little of course; I’m very rusty) and plop down in a chair for a few hours during the week. It would give me the perfect opportunity to get out, meet new people, and actually get some of my knitting and crochet projects finished. I’ve never done any social knitting, or even knitted in front of other people, so we’ll see how it all pans out. Maybe they can help me to refine my technique. If nothing else, it’s something different to break up my week.

Another Year, Another Blog Entry

Not too much has happened since last I posted. I worked, I came home, I slept, I played video games. I did also get my car inspected, though that’s not really earth shattering news. On a positive note, the people at the tag office were very pleasant even though it was busy, at least for a small town, and even gave me the added perk of making sure that I did not have to come back again until January of next year. Yes, my inspection was overdue; it was actually supposed to have been done in November, but because I was working third shift and simply the nature of the holiday season, I didn’t have either time or energy to haul my car across town and back during the normal office hours. Fortunately, as long as I have this particular vehicle, that will no longer be a problem.

I grew up in a large city, and visits to the DMV were always something to be dreaded and abhorred. You would be forced to sit in line for hours waiting, only to be met with a disillusioned and generally unpleasant person to process your paperwork in the slowest way possible. Yes, the DMV offices have truly earned their reputation as a generally unpleasant place. It seems that of late, however, they have made a concerted effort to step up their customer service and hopefully put a stop to the endless jokes about the necessity of dealing with their offices. That has never really been a problem here, as I live in a small town and most of the residents have at least seen each other a few times if not know each other by name, and it has always been an overall pleasant experience, minus the fun I had last year visiting the ADA’s office to drop a ticket for my expired tag.

The good news is, I did have enough money left over this weekend to drive down to see my fiancee. He has been under a lot of pressure lately and I’d like to think that me coming down to visit is a help to aleviate some of those overwhelming feelings. I arrived last night around 5:30 or so and since then I have gained a completely different perspective on exactly what he is being forced to experience, and I can’t blame him in the least for being defensive and a little negative since he arrived. Frankly, I do love my parents with all my heart and I would do anything for them, but there would only be so much I could tollerate in the realm of self-defeating attitude and intentional provocation. Fortunately, those are not things that I ever have to worry about.

His mother had surgery a little less than two years ago on her knee, and since she is in her mid-70’s, she has had a very difficult time recovering. There is also something going on with her foot, but I do not have the whole story on that. So she has had some long-term mobility problems, and is starting to show some of the earlier signs of Alzheimer’s. The part of which I was unaware is this: she is either conveniently forgetting or flat-out refusing to take her medications, stating that she is going to die eventually anyway, so she doesn’t really see the point. His father, who also has some trouble getting around, swings back and forth between martyr and asshole. He will point out every little household chore he is forced to do, since his wife is physically incapable of helping, and constantly complains about having to manage their finances, which she had always done in the past but recently handed off to her husband. When he is not playing the “woe-is-me” card, he is constantly judging the choices and lifestyles of those around him. I understand from a psychological standpoint that he feels cornered and afraid and these are simply defense mechanisms, but try explaining that to their son, someone who has always looked up to them with the utmost respect. To be blunt, it is tearing him apart inside. To make matters worse, it seems his brother has completely washed his hands of the situation. He does have a family and a life to live, but these are his parents, as well, and I would not have thought that he could be so callus watching them go through this ordeal. He and his wife used to come over and lend a hand now and then, which I respect, but I guess they are under the impressing that now that his brother has moved back home, it’s his turn.

Usually I am not this judgmental, and it makes me a little sad to re-read the previous paragraph, but to see what it has done to one of the most amazing and wonderful people I have known in my entire life. My fiancee tries so hard to hide how much he is hurting, but after the whole situation came to a head last night, he finally broke down. He had gone down to the kitchen to grab a snack and I followed shortly after. His parents’ bedroom is downstairs, and he was talking rather loudly, and I asked him about it. It was not meant to be a scathing remark, but unfortunately he took it as a personal criticism and completely flew off the handle. I tried to appologize, and explain that I simply didn’t want to wake his parents at 2:30 in the morning, but he was having none of that, so I went upstairs to remove myself from the situation. After a while, he had finally calmed down enough to come back upstairs, so we stood and smoked a cigarette and he explained to me just how difficult this whole situation was for him. I had not realized that the situation was that bad and felt even worse, but we managed to talk it all through and I think in the end we were both better for it. He was able to talk about his concerns, and I received a better perspective on the exact situation.

We are just fine now, though, there was simply a lack of communication and an overabundance of fear. Now is the time for us to band together and support each other, probably with me doing more of the supporting than him this time since he is clearly in need of it. I just hope I can be the person he needs me and stay strong to help him through these trying times.

‘Tis the Post-Season

I had forgotten just how much I dread working retail after the holidays. I have always been a people person, and I really enjoy interacting with the public, especially when I am able to provide some service. In short, most of the year, I actually enjoy working retail. To be honest, this year people were fairly tame. I had just forgotten the sheer volume of returns. Yesterday, I was reminded why I was so thrilled to move off the service desk back onto the floor. I didn’t have any noteworthy incidents, no customers throwing merchandise or pitching a fit, and several even complimented my cheery and upbeat attitude. The downside to manning the service desk so soon after Christmas is the fact that EVERYONE has something they didn’t like, which means tons of returns. In years past they have done a pretty good job of spacing it out over the following couple of weeks, but due to the recent weather being rather harsh, the public took the opportunity of a fairly mild day to do all of their errands, including returning their unwanted gifts. This means that between the hours of approximately 10am and 5pm, I was completely swamped. I can count on one hand the number of times I had no customers at the service desk.

It saddens me to remember how much I looked forward to Christmas as a child. It was one of the rare times that our entire family was together in one place at one time, including some of our extended family. There was always wonderful food and conversation, and the atmosphere present during the holidays reminds me of simpler times, especially times spent with lost loved ones. The sad part, however, is thinking of how I view the holidays now. In contrast, it tends to be the most stressful part of my year. I do not suffer from seasonal depression, but working with the public for the last eight years has caused me to dread this season. You would think that the great “holiday spirit” would put people in a better, more charitable mood, but it seems to do exactly the opposite. Is it because we have become a nation of consumers? We forget the real spirit of the season. And no, I am not talking strictly about the Christian view of sacrifice and miracles, but rather the general feeling of coming together as a family, spending time together, engaging in activities and bonding with each other. And of course this is not meant to imply it has to be blood relatives. I have spent several Christmases with friends when I was unable to go home. It isn’t quite the same feeling, but equally saitisfying.

After work, the rest of the day was pretty uneventful. My roommate and I watched movies and played Star Wars until 6 in the morning. When we finally reaized what time it was, we decided it was probably time to get some sleep. For the first time in probably a week or more, I actually was able to sleep for more than 6 hours. There have simply been too many changes to my sleep “norm” lately. I switched off night shift at the beginning of the week, and I am still getting used to sleeping by myself. I have gotten used to sleeping in the same bed with my fiancee for the last year and a half, and we usually stayed at his apartment. Since he moved at the end of last month, I have lost both my usual sleeping evironment and company. He always had a difficult time believing that I could tell whether or not he was there when I was sleeping. I can attest that I can, in fact, tell. I have had a very difficult time staying asleep for more than two or three hours at a time. Sometimes I even wake up and, in my sleep-addled state, forget where I am and reach over, trying to figure out where he’s gone. I really hope he can find a job sometime soon so I can move down and join him and work on finding a place of our own. Until then, I will have to settle for periodic visits on the weekends and talking on the phone, of which I am not a fan. I would much rather talk to someone face-to-face than over the phone. Video chat is a little better, but still not the same as having someone there in the same space with you. I will be okay, I just have to stay optimistic and look forward to the time when we can start our new life together.