In Transition

For someone who hasn’t had a full-time job since May 2016, I’ve been awfully busy these last few weeks. And more than a little spoiled. This year my paternal relatives (Family 1) and my stepfather’s relatives (Family 2) both decided to go on vacation in late July. As of right now I’m back in my aunt’s house after a week in St. Pete’s Beach, Florida with Family 1. It mostly consisted of sitting by a glorious heated pool with a Rum Runner in my hand (either that or a Flying Fish, which was basically an alcoholic Arnold Palmer). Tomorrow my immediate family will pick me up on their way to North Carolina, where my stepfather’s sister rented a house by a lake.

I know – such a tough life for the partially unemployed. I didn’t even have to pay anything since my two aunts covered the Florida trip for the whole family. (At least I’m not the only spoiled one?) My main hardship these days is getting from Point A to Pont B. Both knees are fully healed, but I discovered that my quad muscles are nowhere near where they should be. The long walks and unfamiliar terrains wore me out, so by the third day I had to take a nap and borrow my aunt’s Aspercreme. It taught me a big lesson about staying in my comfort zone. For the past few months I’ve been getting around my house and other common places fine. If I want to go out into the real world, aka take the train to a job interview, I’ll need to push myself harder when my whirwind double vacation ends.

Vacation also made me a little frustrated with my “real life.” I mean, most people go on vacation to escape their daily stresses, which I don’t really have. While my general current situation stressses me out, it’s all self-inflicted. I don’t actually have anything to escape from. It made me feel stuck even though, IMO, finally addressing my knees after 29 years crossed a major life goal off my list. I will end up working full-time somewhere, but having no idea where freaks me out. My cousin who works for a college is trying to convince me to get my master’s degree. I’m still not convinced, and a master’s requires commitment. I can’t just say “oh, this sounds sort of interesting, I’ll take out a loan for that.” All I know is that I want to write for a living – maybe create web content or written communication for a major company. I’ll always write stories,but I can’t count on producing a bestseller. Right now I’m crossing my fingers the right job pops up when I search Indeed.com.

Oh well, I’ll worry about that next week. This week I’m going on vacation again. 

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.

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 Day 2: The Return of Homemade Cupcakes

Now that summer’s over, I get very bored during the week. I’m steadier on my feet (again) so I’m trying to walk around the house more. Occasionally, when the mood strikes me, I cook or bake. I explained about this hobby in my previous Baking Day post. At the very least it forces me to move about the kitchen.

Not only did I want to make more cupcakes, I also wanted to prove a point. My mom prefers box mixes. To her, homemade attempts are always too “dense” and “dry” in comparison. Don’t take this the wrong way, because my family does bake during the winter holidays, and I’ll reiterate that my cousin is a pastry assistant. But for birthdays and smaller holidays through the year, Pillsbury Funfetti cake works just fine.

I like the boxed stuff too once in a while. I also believe in making things from scratch when you have the time and inclination for it. Since I did have the inclination for it this week, I set out to prove that homemade cupcakes can be light and fluffy.

Google results produced this recipe for “Perfect Moist and Fluffy Vanilla Cupcakes.” This sounded promising, and it calls for sour cream. How could it be dry?

So, I start to gather all ingredients, and as usual I’m missing one. Did you know you can substitute baking soda with triple the amount of baking powder? I do now. Learn something new every day.

I also separated egg whites for the first time. This was..interesting. Fortunately we only had four eggs so I couldn’t waste a whole carton. The first egg was a complete bust, entire yolk went in the bowl (I always crack eggs into separate bowls before adding them to the recipe). After putting that aside and getting a new bowl, I managed to get by with the last three. I realized it is very important to crack the egg in the middle so you have equal halves when shifting the yolk back and forth. Some yolk still ended up in the the bowl but again, I didn’t have anymore.

The spillage wasn’t too bad…

After saving the one egg white and four yolks for scrambled eggs, I followed the rest of the recipe. Fifteen cupcakes went in the oven and I crossed my fingers. Would there be too much baking powder? Would that troublesome yolk make a difference?

I wound up with this:

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I know, they look a little light, but I kept them in for twenty minutes and they passed the toothpick test. I worried extra baking time would take out some of the moisture.

After they cooled, I tried one…you know, quality control…

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Incredibly moist. Still a little more dense than box mix, but I don’t care. They’re sweet and delicious. If anything maybe next time I’ll  leave them in the oven a minute longer to brown the tops.

My mom’s verdict? “Did you save the recipe?” (Win!) I told her they were called “Perfect Moist and Fluffy Cupcakes,” and she said something to the effect of “they are that.” We agreed they didn’t need icing, but powdered sugar was a nice touch. When served like this they remind us of pound cake.

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Another successful Baking Day! Next week I’m thinking Pumpkin Spice Latte cupcakes, because who isn’t thinking of pumpkin?

Frozen

Don’t worry, I don’t mean the Disney movie, and I’m not about to sing “Let It Go.”

…well, now I am since watching the music video, but that’s entirely irrelevant.

Anyway, by “frozen,” I mean those times we are frozen with fear and unable to take the next step. This has always been very literal for me, especially now that I’m recovering from knee surgery. You’d think I’d be back to normal after three months, but the thing is, much of the time I didn’t walk “normally” pre-surgery. I could walk on my own when I felt steady enough, but when I didn’t, I leaned on my stronger knee (ironically, the one operated on first) or reached for something to hold on to. I’ve been holding myself back the last few weeks because I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t gaining any balance. So what if I leaned on my other knee instead of the post-op one? I did that in the past and managed well enough.

I’d gotten frustrated to the point of tears (again) because I couldn’t use my shiny new cane that I ordered from Amazon. It seemed bizarre that I couldn’t use it because I barely needed the walker anymore. If I shouldn’t use the walker, and I couldn’t use the cane, how the hell was I supposed to get around?

So, with that realization, I resigned myself to practicing with the cane and only using the walker if absolutely necessary. Not very encouraging three months after surgery.

Then a few days ago I used the treadmill for the first time in weeks, as part of my plan to walk more in addition to physical therapy exercises. I’d been making excuses because we have a foundation leak in our basement, and our treadmill is in the basement, so how can I possibly use it with all the furniture crowding it? Finally I asked Mom about moving things around so I could practice walking (as in heel-toe with equal weight distribution) on the treadmill. I didn’t think much of it but figured it could only help.

“Help” was an understatement. My mental state improves every day by walking with confidence on the treadmill, even if it’s at a snail’s pace and I lightly hold on to the railings for safety. I understand now that, hey, what do you know, maybe leaning on one knee more than the other does have something to do with balance. I also realize that my post-op knee is capable of supporting more weight than I’d thought, that I won’t fall as soon as I rely on it. Even if I do feel like I might fall, I’m capable of righting myself without frantically grabbing for the nearest sturdy piece of furniture.

I feel much more optimistic now. It wasn’t a miracle of course, as I still have plenty unsure moments and reach for furniture on occasion, even when using the cane. Now I try to thaw when I freeze up, and not allow my fear of falling to get the best of me. These days I’d rather risk falling than hold myself back from moving forward.

 

Getting My Groove Back

I consider myself a big-picture person, but there are times when even I can’t see the forest through the trees. It’s easy to get wrapped up in daily challenges. Lately, I’ve felt frustrated with both my writing and physical therapy process, overwhelmed by apparent lack of progress in both areas. My knee had loosened up after being stiff for well over a month, and the new sensation of being able to move it freaked me out – even though that’s what was supposed to happen. I couldn’t help associating it with pre-operation fears, despite knowing that the problem had been fixed.

On top of that, I’d hit a wall with my writing. The idea of writing everything I had planned, then editing it all, then doing something with it…it seems like too much. Then I have to hope that people will actually read it. I got a little depressed thinking of the future, realizing a career in fiction is probably not going to happen, and wondering what else I want to do with my life if not that. I even freaked at the thought of applying to publishing houses. The possibility has always been in the back of my mind, but then I think about the interview. An earlier post here explained why I haven’t read many classics. While it sounds perfectly reasonable on my blog, I doubt a hiring manager will agree.

Confidence in my knee has since improved. I’m getting around better without the walker again, and from here on it’s just a matter of practice. I often have to remind myself that it depends on my state of mind. My knee has been fixed, so it’s all on me to believe I can walk on my own.

I can’t say the same for  a writing career. While I still don’t think I’ll ever make a living from selling my books, but there could be a niche writing/media/communications-related job out there for me in the future. It’s frustrating though because I have no idea where I will eventually end up. Without knowing what kind of writing job I want, I can’t work towards it now. I’m more lost than ever before and I don’t know what to do with myself.

Hoping inspiration will strike soon. Hell, these days I’ll be happy if I decide which book to read or TV show to watch.