Feeling 22

I turned 29 last weekend. Don’t get me wrong, while it sent me into a small “OMG I’m so old” freak out, I had a great time. saw Wonder Woman in theaters on Friday (the actual day), karaoke on Saturday, brunch on Sunday. It was one of the best birthday celebrations I’ve had in a while.

It also made me feel like, at this stage in my life, I should be seven years younger. I’m more like a college graduate only with a few years of office experience under my belt. If I’d had good knees and my current level of confidence back then, I would have enjoyed my twenties much more. I would have driven sooner, gone out more, experienced life. Instead I spent most of my time writing stories I’ll never publish and working at a company that closed unexpectedly.

For the record, I still want to write. Maybe the difference is, again, my confidence. I’m satisfied with how my current work-in-progress is going and can see myself editing it for publication. It only took twenty years, but maybe that’s how long I needed.

Now I’m starting over again career-wise. I guess maybe I should be happy this all happened sooner rather than later. What if I’d stayed in my dead-end job for years and never pushed myself to get my knees taken care of? At least I can reinvent myself while I’m young enough to enjoy it. If I’m lucky I might even find a job related to writing this time.

Hopefully my thirties will be even better than my twenties – though, it’s not like the bar is set so high.

More of the Same

I missed my one-year anniversary of blogging! This blog was first created out of desperation on April 26, 2016. Let’s see, back then I was freaking out about my company closing, and about needing two knee surgeries instead of one. All perfectly logical reasons to freak out, in my opinion. While I’m more focused on other projects now, I’m glad I started this blog when I did. It’s nice being able to look at my thoughts and progress from the last year. Sometimes I’ve wanted to remember milestones from the first surgery, so it’s handy being able to look back through my blog.

I haven’t been updating because nothing changed in the last month – except for my recovering progress, of course. My walker has been sitting in the corner of my room since last month, I moved to the cane, and now I don’t even need the cane when walking around my house. I’m still wearing the small brace though. My original follow-up appointment with the doctor was May 18th, but she’s going to a medical conference, so now I won’t see her or the hospital’s physical therapist until May 30th. Frankly I don’t mind. At this point I think I just need to do my exercises until I’m fully recovered.

One sort-of interesting change is that I’m using a muscle stimulation wrap that was (hopefully) covered by my insurance. Electrodes literally zap my quad muscle to make it stronger. Plus I control the strength through an app on my phone. I’ve experienced this in physical therapy before, so I guess this is the home version.

Not to jinx myself, but writing has been going really well too. There was a break in freelancing assignments so I got to work on my novel. It’s close to 30,000 words now and I finally have a clear idea of what the ending will be. This might be a little too optimistic but I might even finish this draft by the end of the year.

I haven’t returned to baking yet, unfortunately. I should flip through my cookbooks again and pick something for this week.

Shameless Plugs and a Recovery Update

I know I haven’t been posting again. This is what happens when I have too many writer-ly things going on at once. There’s freelancing, my novel, plus I’ve recovered enough to start having a life again. However I did find time to churn out this ranty piece about a Hallmark movie I regretfully watched with my mom. I’m the first person to enjoy Hallmark movies for what they are, but this one succeeded in creating an emotional reaction from the audience – it pissed me off.

The Worst Male Lead in a Hallmark Movie I’ve Ever Seen

FYI, I’m really starting to miss baking too. I’ve followed a ton of food accounts on Instagram and Snapchat (add me on both @jgiarletta), so whenever there’s a particularly yummy post I want to make the recipe. As stated above I’m getting around much better now, which means I should be able to bake soon. Of course now it’s boiling in my kitchen since the weather decided to skip spring and go right ahead to summer. Maybe I’ll try no-bake desserts.

Full Update on Knee Surgery Recovery: The physical therapist worked a miracle when she taught me how to walk the right way. Soon enough I barely needed my walker. When I saw the surgeon for a follow-up on Thursday, she was thrilled (yes, female surgeon who’s an expert on the surgery I got). She – thank the Lord – switched me from the big knee brace to the smaller brace. That was a pleasant enough shock because I did not expect that to happen yet. Then she said I didn’t have to go to regular physical therapy yet either. This is also amazing because I won’t have to pay freaking fifty-dollar copays yet. I’m hoping that, when I see the physical therapist again in a month, she’ll tell me I won’t have to go at all. At this rate I’ll be walking normally again – with the brace on – by the time I see her.

Counting My Blessings

While I’ve neglected this blog, I have been a busy little writer bee lately. I hit thirty pages for the new version of my ongoing novel project (I lost track of how many versions there’s been so far). On top of that, a freelance gig assigned me new blog posts that are longer than the ones I previously wrote for them. All good things, but between that and recovering from my knee surgery, I haven’t had much motivation left for this blog.

As usual my recovery has been the standard roller-coaster of emotions. My knee is a lot less stiff than the other one was because the surgeon completed this procedure in half the time. On the other hand, I had much more trouble walking this time around. Before I wasn’t so concerned about walking correctly because I still had one knee left to do. When trying to “be good” over the past month, I could barely out-shamble a zombie and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. Thank God for the hospital’s physical therapist, who I saw for my belated four-week appointment on Saturday. Apparently I should be leading with the surgery knee instead of the recovered knee (wouldn’t you think it was the other way around??). The therapist made sure I had the technique down pat and showed me exercises to make sure my “muscles fired.”

I’m so grateful to be on the right track again. On Saturday night I went to my aunt’s house, my first social outing since the surgery (though I’ve had visitors every week). I’m still struggling a bit but I’ve improved more these last few days than I have the entire month. I’m also glad I didn’t miss dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house because I got to see my cousin and her new husband after their destination wedding last week. Although, watching their wedding video made me wish I could’ve gone to Jamaica! At least I wasn’t the only relative who couldn’t make the trip.

I’ve had a more positive outlook these past few months. Instead of cursing my misfortune of needing two consecutive surgeries, I’ve been grateful to have the opportunity to fix knees that have bothered me my whole life. Still living at home at my age turned into a blessing because I didn’t have to worry about giving up an apartment and moving back home post-surgery. I’m grateful for my two best friends who have visited me every weekend in the last month. I’m even feeling optimistic about my writing again. While I still doubt I’ll make a living selling books, I’m hopeful about eventually publishing my current work-in-progress.

That said, I still dread getting back behind the wheel of my car in a month or so. I just have to remind myself of all those hours I wasted taking public transportation.

 How I Get Ideas

I often use terms like “brainstorm” when talking about the writing process. Putting words to computer screen only happens if there’s a crapload of activity swarming around in your brain. Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, there needs to be something going on up there before you open a text document. Thinking about your future best-seller is just as important as the physical act of writing it.

So how does an aspiring writer* get the proverbial juices flowing? Where do great ideas come from? (*IMO, the phrase “aspiring writer” is a misnomer. If you create a story, you’re a writer. People should say “aspiring author” in reference to someone who wishes to be published.)

In my limited experience, there are two parts to this answer.

Inspiration

Inspiration can be a good angel or a bad angel. It’s a good angel when you’re really stuck and have no clue what the hell to write. It’s a bad angel when you’re midway through a novel and a shiny new story idea distracts you from a project you’ve been working on for months. We’ll address the positive aspects of inspiration here.

You can harvest ideas from literally anywhere, and I do mean literally. The trick is opening your mind to them. While you’re out in the world, working at your day job, spending time with friends or family, listen to what’s going on around you. The same applies when you read a book or watch TV. My own novel-in-progress combines elements of shows I’ve loved over the years. (Mostly Disney Channel’s So Weird, a show with a permanent place in my heart. There’s also some of the dynamic from  ABC’s Castle, and the premise will probably make people think of X-Files.)

So when you’re not writing, grab on to anything interesting and expand on it in your thoughts. Add a plot line, characters, settings, themes. I picture the process as a Rubik’s Cube, where you have to move all the pieces around until they finally click together. When a scene takes shape (any scene, not necessarily the first one) you’re off and running.

Playing Twenty-Or-More Questions (Or, How to Drag Yourself Out of Writer’s Bock)

This is a technique I use when my surroundings don’t feel particularly inspiring. I’m the type to ask myself the tough questions when things aren’t going right, so I apply this to my writing. It’s also a great way to pull a story idea from thin air.

For starters I’ll ask myself these types of questions:

What do I want to write about? (Can mean anything – person, place, theme.)

What story line would fit that topic?

Which characters would best demonstrate what I want to say?

Am I in the mood to write something light or dark in tone?

Which genre appeals to me right now?

Answering those questions always gets the ball rolling. When I inevitably hit a wall after the first few chapters, the questions become a little more difficult.

Why am I stuck?

If I don’t want to write the next scene, why is that? 

What can I change?

Does this story suck and I haven’t realized it yet? (Ignore that one.)

Where do I want the story to go?

Keep playing the game until something breaks loose. The only way to defeat “writer’s block” is to think long and hard about why you’re not writing.

Another Ground-Breaking Opinion on Ross and Rachel

I realize the last thing this world needs is my opinion on Ross Geller and Rachel Green’s breakup. Fans have debated/fought/screamed about it since it first aired. I’m willing to bet money that someone, somewhere, is discussing The Breakup at this very moment. But you know what, I’m watching season three (for the upteenth time), and I’ve never spelled out my thoughts on this particular topic before despite being a die-hard Friends fan.

So, the Short Version: Both Ross and Rachel messed up. They weren’t meant to be together at that point in their lives. I’m not even a big fan of them as end-game. (I prefer Monica Geller and Chandler Bing, or “Mondler.”)

The Long Version:

Let’s go over Ross and Rachel’s relationship. Even when it’s good, it isn’t perfect. They fight constantly and have no common interests, even mock each other’s careers. At the root of it they lack respect for each other. Instead of trying to overcome their communication issues they brush them aside. Ross doesn’t trust Rachel with Mark right from the beginning and never makes a real effort to change. While Rachel never has any intentions to cheat on him, telling Ross she wants to keep part of her life separate (episode 3.14) isn’t reassuring. Rachel becomes more focused on work and neglects Ross. Meanwhile, Ross plans their future together and blames Mark for her disinterest entirely.

I don’t believe Ross ever sees Rachel for who she really is. Even after she’s been in the real world for three years, he still thinks of her as the spoiled princess he knew in high school. He’s her knight in shining armor who can whisk her away to a picket-fences life in the suburbs. He has no idea she’s still running from that picture and the expectations of the world she left. I suspect this is partly because he’s still recovering from his own disastrous relationship and needs to be the knight in shining armor again to boost his fragile ego. To him, everything falls into place: “The girl I crushed on in high school comes back to me right after my marriage ended. We’re meant to be.” It never occurs to him she’s not in the same frame of mind.

With that shaky foundation, they’re bound to collapse eventually. Their ruined anniversary and a one-night stand happens to be the trigger. In a way it’s similar to Monica’s breakup with Richard Burke – Ross and Rachel want different things at this point in their lives. Ross wants to be married again and Rachel has a newfound career. They’re never going to work until Rachel achieves her professional goals and feels ready to settle down.

That’s why I don’t care who did what. Rachel should have acknowledged their anniversary and promised to make up for missing it. Ross should’ve talked things out with Rachel and not hooked up with ChloeRegardless, their relationship is doomed to fail from the start.

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Finding My Balance

I’m a lot less cranky than I was after my last surgery. Since they didn’t put me on strong pain killers this time, I felt alert as soon as I got home from the hospital. I took a nap then went on my computer and read as usual.

I’m also getting around so much easier since I have a strong knee to lean on. I can’t believe the difference from last time. I feel like I’m a month ahead of my recovery when it’s only been exactly a week.

Even before the the surgery I began thinking about my life afterwards. First item on the to-do list is to get back into driving. Then I need to find a full-time job. I’m trying to be optimistic about both.

I think of the fun stuff too. I’ll be able to ENJOY my summer without worrying about my knee going out when walking on a slippery pool area or sandy boardwalk. I’ll be able to spend all day outside without worrying about finding enough places to sit. I can finally go out and DO. When I get settled in a new job, maybe I’ll even find a yoga class or something. God knows my balance needs all the help it can get. (Having friends who are into exercise helps. They can’t wait for me to go hiking with them.)

This frame of mind is new for me because I’ve always been content to sit in front if a computer and write. I never had much natural energy. While I still want to write, I also want to experience more things that can inspire me to write. The trick will be balancing my newfound outdoorsy self with my former couch potato instincts.

It’s Surgery Eve Again

So I was going to make a post about how I made these Pound Cake Cookies from a book and they were yummy, but let’s be real…I’m not thinking about cookies. All week long I’ve been trying very hard NOT to stress about my knee surgery tomorrow (ligament reconstruction).  Purposely not thinking about stuff really doesn’t work. I’m good at distracting myself but crazy, negative thoughts sneak in. My family has been telling me to think positive so let me try that.

The surgery will go fine tomorrow. I had the exact same surgery last year. Then afterwards the recovery will go faster because I’ll be stronger and will know what to do. Then after that I’ll have to drive again and look for a full-time job…

Whoops, one too far.

The surgery will go fine tomorrow. There.

Screw it, I’m watching some cartoons.

Baking Days: Super Bowl Cupcakes and Pumpkin Muffins

Strangely enough I did not bake during our snow day yesterday. My mom threw together brownies and my stepfather made odd-tasting sweet and sour meatballs, but I had no burning desire to make my own contribution. Whenever there’s leftover treats on the kitchen counter, like the brownies, I tend to hold off.

I also baked twice over the past few days. My best friend’s family throws a Super Bowl party every year, so I wanted to make cupcakes for the occasion. I’d like to clarify that I barely understand football – baseball and basketball, sure, but football remains a mysterious combination of “downs” and tackles. I go for the company and the traditional pizza during halftime. It’s a small party by their standards, more like a dozen of us sitting around my friend’s attic, but we have fun. After showing up for party after party over the years I’m more like the cousin who’s always around.

Anyway, this counts as the first time I’ve made cupcakes for an occasion. I wasn’t too nervous since these people are like family, but I still wanted them to be good. I also wanted to use peanut butter.

Now, my mom and her twin sister have a serious peanut butter aversion. They’re not even allergic but neither of them can stand the taste or the smell. This has come up often, because who can hate peanut butter? It’s like how my Italian aunt and cousin can’t stand garlic in their food. My cousin’s been known to tell restaurants she’s allergic just to make sure they don’t put it in.

Since my mom is typically one of four people eating the stuff I make, I’ve steered clear of peanut butter as an ingredient. But these cupcakes were going out of the house. Let the peanut butter fest begin!

I chose Peanut Butter Cupcakes from the cupcake book I got for Christmas. They turned out…okay. Of course my friends said they were delicious but I have my doubts.

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I added an extra quarter-cup of peanut butter just to make sure you got the flavor. The book said to decrease the amount of butter and add peanut butter to their standard yellow cake recipe. Logically, I decreased the butter a little more to make up for my twist. The cupcakes tasted a little dry to me but were okay with store-bought chocolate frosting. Peanut butter is drying on its own, right?  I also think I overmixed them since I’m still adjusting to my grandmother’s stand mixer.

So at the Super Bowl party, my friend brought over a bunch of extra non-perishables she had. She gave me some organic pumpkin since she figured I could bake with it. One of the containers was a box that had a recipe for Pumpkin Muffins on the back. My mom saw this and commissioned me to make them using the spice cake mix she had in a cabinet. All it required was the pumpkin, a package of spice cake mix, an egg, and a cup of chocolate chips.

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Same thing, they were okay. I’m not a fan of spice cake. Still we liked them enough to have them for breakfast or a snack. My mom and I brought some to her aunt and uncle’s house when we went over for tea during the week. I recommend using mini-chocolate chips since the muffins are so small.

Better luck next time! I’ll probably bake more than once next week since my knee surgery is Friday the 17th. After that I won’t be able to get around as much for at least a month. I was nervous as hell last time – which you can read about in my old posts – but now I’m just eager to get it over with already. I know exactly what to expect, and my quad muscles are stronger, so recovery should be much shorter.

Baking Days: Disappearing Cupcakes and the Recipe Jackpot

I did resolve to update my blog once a week, right? It’s technically the next week after my last post so this counts.

It feels like forever ago, but last Thursday I made another recipe from my cupcake book – Chocolate Candy Cupcakes. I picked them because again, Mom wanted me to use up what we had left in the fridge. This time we had buttermilk. (My stepfather needed it for some crazy sandwich recipe he wanted to try…to paraphrase Alton Brown of “Good Eats” fame, that’s another blog post.) We also had leftover chocolate from the holidays.

This marked my first venture into cupcake filling. It consisted of cream cheese and chocolate bars, which I broke up with my trusty meat mallet given my non-existent knife skills. I never realized how useful meat mallets are in baking.

Anyway, these turned out…delicious. I dare say they’re the tastiest cupcakes I’ve made so far. My mom even said so without any prompting. They disappeared literally overnight – all eighteen were gone by Friday. This recipe also marks the first time my sister asked, “Can I bring some over my friend’s house?” Given how picky teenagers can be, I was extremely flattered.

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The only thing I would change is the amount of candy bars in the filling. I used less than the recipe called for due to a moment of confusion, so I think using the right amount would cut down the (subtle) tang from the cream cheese and buttermilk.

On Friday I baked again, this time whipping up another Cream Cake to bring with me to my aunt and cousin’s house. So far it’s the most relaxed and confident I’ve been when making anything. The recipe really is so simple, plus it’s one of few times I’ve made a recipe more than once. My relatives loved it. At my other aunt’s house for Sunday dinner, we asked again about my grandmother’s elusive Orange Chiffon Cake recipe.

That’s when my aunt brought out her recipe boxes. Dozens of ancient index cards and newspaper clippings, separated into categories with frayed rubber bands. My cousin and I spent an hour going through each one. Not only did I find the cake, I also found the Italian anisette cookies we used to make for Christmas. I pulled some more that looked interesting and took pictures with my phone.

At first I wanted to make them right away, but I might save some of these for special occasions. I’ll probably leave the Italian Cookies for the holidays. Then again my cousin wants me to make the Orange Chiffon for her birthday in July, so maybe I should start practicing now.