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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Currently...

I saw this on some blog whose name I can no longer remember, and its format reminded me of blog posts on MySpace and message boards from days of yore.  And since it's been awhile since I've commented on any of these things, I figured it was quite apropos...

Current Book(s): The Cobra Effect by Richard Preston and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (I know, I know, I'm a bad foodie for not having read this one sooner.  I did read Medium Raw, though!)

Current Playlist: Sadly, I haven't had much time for music lately.  Terrible, I know, but without anything to listen to my music with, like a CD player, an iPod, or even that newfangled "radio" contraption, that makes things a little difficult. I did bust out my shitty desktop speakers and played some Kate Bush recently, so that was nice.  That, of course, led to me singing, then practicing old arias, so now I'm listening to old composers instead.

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure: Scharffen Berger Dark Chocolate "Nibby" Bar.  Best dark chocolate ever meets crunchy, toasty cacao nibs for this intensely deep, dark chocolate experience.  I have like 3 squares left and I'm trying ever-so-hard not to take a nibble every now & then. 

Current Color: Gray.  Like the sky on this gross, rainy, first day of June.

Current Drink: Cold water (as usual)

Current Food: Nothing at the moment.  But lunch is in a few minutes, so I'll be in noodle soup heaven momentarily.

Current Favorite Show: Not much of a TV watcher outside of the news, but now that America's Got Talent is back on, I may have to check out a few episodes.  Oh, and The Voice.  SO much better than snooze-worthy American Idol!

Current Wishlist: A car; to be all caught up on my utility bills so I can just pay ONE bill instead of two (catching up on bills after unemployment takes forEVER...); sunny days; a trip to Baja California; a giant vodka martini, dirty, with 5 olives.  Yes, I said five.  Every martini is an opportunity to have a balanced meal & load up on your veggies.

Current Needs: SUN, money, lunch.

Current Bane(s) of my Existence: Having to cover the front desk while the receptionist is out on jury duty.  Not because I feel it's "beneath" me or anything; it's just that the nature of my particular position is that I need to be in a quiet spot where I can concentrate on a lot of the numbers I have to crunch, so constant interruptions are no bueno.  That and the asshole drivers on Watt Ave./Folsom Blvd. who seem to think that the 18 seconds it takes for me to cross the street during MY light is going to make them so late for life that they have to turn while I'm crossing so that they can be just one inch closer to the freeway.  Asshats.

Current Celebrity (Girl) Crush: Tina Fey.
Current Outfit: White scoopneck tee, gray hoodie w/floral print, indigo jeans that have turned my thighs blue because I was too lazy to wash them before wearing them the first time.

Current Excitement: Still pretty damn giddy about being chosen to lead my panel at this year's IFBC in Santa Monica!

Current Link: Because everyone should know the joy of saying - and knowing the meaning of - words like "kench". (20 Obsolete English Words That Should Make A Comeback)
Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Learning to live with PHN, Part 1

I've never been the healthiest person on the block.

I was born via dramatic emergency C-section conditions because my heart was failing and my mom was too weak to continue with natural labor.  At 18-months I was hospitalized because of more heart murmur issues, and this continued on & off until I was 5. My feet are slightly deformed (which I'm claiming as my new excuse for tripping on everything), I had cancer when I was 12, have a rather unsexy case of asthma, and was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism.  And this is just the very tip of the iceberg.

This is typical in my family, actually.  We age beautifully with nary a wrinkle nor gray hair in site for eons, but healthwise, we have the shittiest genes on the planet.  Cancer, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and a few other formidable disease foes run in my family on both sides.  I do my best to keep things under control through diet & as much exercise as I can get in on those special days when I have zero unbroken bones, but even that's not enough sometimes.  Some things you actually can't control.

I learned that the hard way this year.

In March, in the midst of all the craziness of my unexpected, random move upstairs, I ended up with shingles.  Yes, shingles!  At this age!  Maybe it was extremely ignorant to think this way, but I always thought shingles was something awful reserved for the poor elderly population of the world.  It certainly should not afflict a young lass of 34... should it?

Apparently it does, regardless.  Advanced age, a compromised immune system, or extreme amounts of stress can all cause shingles to just pop up out of nowhere and flip your life upside down.  I fell under the latter category, with my both my doctor & my chiropractor both telling me that I need to figure out a better way to handle stress.

Um, do you think I LIKE having a tiny volcano on my abdomen? 

Seriously, that's what I came home to one day.  My very first full day at my new place, I got home, fed the furbabies, checked my mail, and proceeded to take off my clothes before taking a shower.  The minute I had my shirt off I gasped in horror.  WTF was that???  A rash?  Chicken pox?  Chicken pox do start on your tummy, right? 

But you can't get chicken pox twice, unless you're totally weird... Shit, shit, shit! Maybe it's not a disease, maybe it's just an allergic reaction to something.  Soap that wasn't rinsed well in the shower this morning  Maybe something I ate? 

All these thoughts swirled through my mind as I turned around and inspected the rest of myself in the mirror.  That's when I realized that the volcano had friends.  Even tinier, nano-volcanoes of fiery discomfort were on my back & side.  SHIT.  What was wrong with me???

I snapped a picture with my phone, sent it to my mom (who, when I am in a panic, immediately receives a medical degree), and proceeded to freak out.  We did a complete inventory of everything I'd eaten, drunk, touched, etc., and she finally decided it was "that one rash [I] can't remember the name of right now".  Gee, thanks, Ma!  I hopped online, trying to compare my inflamed skin with pictures of folks with other dermal afflictions and came to no conclusions.  In my flustered state, they all looked the same to me.  It's a good thing I never decided to be a dermatologist.

When the volcanoes kept multiplying the next day and I could no longer stand the feeling of my bra against my skin, I hastily made an appointment with my doctor and dashed out of work early.  "I think it's the shingles," said my mom when I called her and let her know I was going to get checked out.  "Shingles, Ma?  Seriously?"

"Yeah, this is a classic case of shingles," my doctor told me about 40 minutes later.  "It's almost textbook!  Very nice example [why are you so excited about this??? Quit being a nerd & make it go away!].  You just stressed yourself out again, kiddo..."

Of course I did.

The next few weeks were nothing short of torture.  I missed an entire week of work because I was in such serious pain & discomfort.  Between the whole left side of my torso feeling like someone was repeatedly splashing scalding hot water on me, the intense nerve pain deep in my side and back, and having to take pills every 3-4 hours, I had never experienced anything like it.  And I'm no stranger to being laid up sick in bed!  Surgeries, pneumonia, vertigo, you name it; I've probably been laid up with it.  But never with this kind of intense pain

It was brutal, cruel, and never-ending.  It never, ever stopped (still hasn't), no matter how many vicodin I took or how many ice packs I'd use for relief.  Sometimes it felt like I'd cracked a rib, so every time I breathed was sheer torture.  Sometimes it lessened to a deep, but persistent ache that I could sort of huff & puff my way around throughout the day.  Other times, it felt like some giant demon was inside of me, taking my entire T-3 nerve and gnawing through it with razor sharp teeth & vicious jaws

I couldn't think, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't even putter around my new place and put stuff away.  The cats were all confused, particularly Miss Hana, who is very used to calling my tummy her "bed" whenever I'm at home.  The pain made it impossible to move into a comfortable position no matter how hard I tried.  Even wearing clothes was sheer torture.

Over the next couple of weeks, things started to die down a bit.  My blisters finally healed over & were starting to slough off on their own, the back pain I'd assumed was from a pulled muscle was now just a faint ache, and I could almost wear proper clothes again.  But that stinkin' pain in my side - from the middle of my ribcage down to my waistline - just wouldn't go away.

So I called my doctor and she prescribed more pain meds.  Lovely.  Just what I needed: to continue assaulting my liver on a regular basis with more Vicodin.  But I took the refill anyway, because how else was I going to get through the days & nights?  It's not like Motrin did the trick, and the ice packs were a very temporary type of relief. 

A couple weeks later I was still in pain & decided to get checked out one more time.  Sure enough, I had the one "rare condition" that "usually just afflicts those over 50": postherpetic neuralgia, otherwise known as PHN, otherwise known as hell:

"Severe, acute pain caused by nerve damage due to the varicella zoster virus.  Pain usually may appear in the area of the shingles rash, but the size of the PHN pain can vary considerably.  In some people PHN pain can last for months, or even years..."

It had already been two months and I had no clue how to make it through the pain every single damn day.  How do I go about this?  How do I make life as close to normal as it used to be?  How does one live with perpetual, acute pain and still find reasons to smile?

That, my friends, is going to be my biggest new project of the year.
Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Reflections: It's not all about me.

I gave up on giving up cussing for Lent early in the Lenten season.  Frankly, it made no sense.  What was I supposed to do come Easter, drop F-bombs all day long?  Today is a feast day, and it just seemed pointless to give up something like a slight case of potty mouth for 40 days, only to feast on this "pleasure" all day long today (though I did make an effort to cut back some, which is a good thing).

So I tried something new this year: instead of giving something up that I liked for Lent, like chocolate or wine (slightly selfish, if you ask me, since you'll just gorge on it on Easter), I decided to do at least one good deed per day for someone else.

It was nothing big, of course.  No grand philanthropic gestures or building houses for the masses; just little things that made a difference to someone else.  Letting the elderly couple take my seat on a crowded light rail train while everyone else let them stand; helping a coworker with a difficult task even though I was on deadline with something equally taxing; smiling & saying hello to some sad looking stranger as I walk down the street (and I'm very NYC in that respect; I usually ignore everyone when I'm walking).

Little things.  Once, twice, even eight times per day.  It felt good doing them.

And in a way I realized I was giving something up for Lent: self-centeredness.  Not that I'm the biggest offender of this, of course; sadly, I can rattle off the names of about four people I know very well who make me look like Mother Theresa.  But like many people in this day & age of having the latest iGadget, or the nicest outfit & manicure, or getting the most likes & re-tweets on Facebook & Twitter respectively, just to get some sort of virtual validation for every single thought, photo, or sneeze that's posted, it's easy to get wrapped up in oneself.  Yours truly included, as much as I try not to think only of myself.  It's just so easy to think of everything in terms of "me" instead of "we" or "them".

THEM.  Do we ever think about other people anymore?

Now that it's Easter, I could stop all my good deeds and go back to ignoring people on the street, or focusing on my work deadlines, or staying seated while some tiny 700 year old man with a cane struggles to find his balance on an unsteady train, just so I can sit & nurse my own painful knee.  After all, isn't that what you "get to do" on Easter?  Go back to your old ways, indulging in everything you'd given up for those 40 days, forgetting all those promises you made when you were trying to be all good & pious?

I could do that.  It would be easy.  It always has been.

But it just felt so good to make someone else's day, no matter how small the deed done, that I don't think I can stop.  I don't want to stop.  To hear a "thank you" from someone who truly meant it, the timbre of genuine gratitude in his voice not unnoticed, to make someone's day a little easier, a little brighter, a little less difficult; the feeling you get from it is almost euphoric.

And I don't want to keep doing this just for me, just so that I can feel good; that feeling is just a fun by-product of helping someone else. I want to do it for THEM.  For you.  For my mom, my dad, my friends, my coworker, the toothless homeless dude on the street, the hungry stray kitty on my doorstep.  I want to continue to think in terms of everyone, not just me.  We don't do this enough anymore, and that's a shame.

So today, on Easter, I'm still reflecting, I'm still conscious of how my actions affect others, and will make an effort to help someone else in some small way.  And I'll continue to do so tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.  After all, personal reflection & overall kindness shouldn't be a once-a-year thing; they should be year 'round!
Saturday, March 19, 2011

ATTN: Any guy who'd like to court me...

If any eligible bachelor is interested in squiring me and making me his bride, this is a pretty good way to get my attention: Wooing my parents, home improvement, and a kitten wearing a sentimental collar.  Chocolate: optional and appreciated, but not required.  Diamond: up to you.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Moving up(stairs).

If you're a friend of mine or a reader of PGEW, you know I've always had issues with my living situation.  Not just financially, but in terms of its location and the way it made me feel.  See, when I first moved to the building, it wasn't really by choice.  Rent at my old building had just skyrocketed by $200+ in one month, I'd just been in a car accident & missed a ton of work, so I was basically forced to find someplace cheaper.  

I rented the first place that would take me with my financial issues, thinking it would be a temporary situation.  I didn't want to have to move again, but I knew that a shoddy downstairs apartment in plain view of everyone who would walk or drive through the alleyway, was not a place I wanted to call home for very long.  At the very least, I hoped to move upstairs, just to have some peace of mind and not have that fishbowl effect in my apartment.

But things got worse for me - and for everyone - once the recession hit, so downstairs I had to stay.  It was a much smaller place than the one I'd moved from, so having all my stuff and very little storage space made it difficult for me to settle in completely.  I never fully decorated because I had little wall space and fewer funds, and just felt..... sad there.  I didn't want to be there.

Then, after being there for about a year, I ended up with a Peeping Tom (or, as I like to call him, The Peeping Tool).  That asshole terrorized me for three months, watching me dress/undress, use the restroom, or just go about my life in my apartment.  No, my blinds weren't open.  Except for the front window in the living room, all of my windows were on the alley sides, so I always kept my blinds & curtains drawn. 

That bastard was pretty aggressive, though, literally crouching down to see up through my closed blinds, and, if I happened to walk from one room to another, he would actually follow me.  I saw his face the first few times and have it burned into my memory, so I gave the police a very detailed description.  Sadly, they never did catch him.  I still see him in nightmares, always wondering when/if he'd be coming back to watch me.  Or do something worse.

Despite all that, I tried to make the best of this living situation for nearly three years.  But the longer I stayed, the more depressed I got.  I'll admit that now.  Sure, I suffer from my fair share of SAD in the winter, but this was a more generalized depression, made worse by the fact that I always had to keep everything dark, was either un- or under-employed and perpetually in danger of losing the apartment I hated.

Not a fun way to live at all.

Last month, my (very loud) upstairs neighbor moved rather unexpectedly.  I didn't mind because that meant I could actually hear myself think again (writers really need quiet), but also dreaded the possibility of someone even louder.  No problem, I told myself.  Since I'd finally secured a good, steady job, I'd already decided to move someplace else in spring or summer.  I had seen the other two apartments on the other side of our little fourplex, and mine was sadly bigger & better than those.  I didn't even consider the upstairs one an option anymore.  I was done.

But life being what it is, there was a showing of the upstairs place this Saturday.  My curiosity about everything bordering on feline, I couldn't help but ask my landlord's employee if I could take a quick look.  Now would be the prime opportunity to move upstairs; everything else in Midtown is either too expensive or a studio, and I couldn't possibly go to a smaller place without just moving into a closet.  I figured that if the kitchen in the upstairs apartment didn't suck (of the three I'd seen, mine had the best kitchen), I'd ask if I could trade apartments. 

Yeah, yeah, I based my decision on the kitchen, but I'm a food blogger, dammit.  I have needs.

Turns out the kitchen was better than mine.  The whole place was better than mine, but I sorta knew that would be the case.  Just the ability to do things like *gasp* let the sunshine in made the place feel 100% better.  The floors were actually refinished & a lighter color than downstairs; the paint was nice & fresh; hell, there was even a wall of shelves I didn't have downstairs - hooray for extra storage space!

There were few things that were not so good: the closet in the living room was about a third of the size of mine, and because of voltage & space issues (those awesome shelves were suddenly not so awesome), I wouldn't be able to bring my washer & dryer with me.  And the stove!!!  That thing was about the size of my laptop!  Sure, it had four burners & it was a gas range, but my God!  What was I supposed to cook with?  Fisher-Price toys?

Still, I asked my landlord if I could move upstairs.  She said I could, but I'd have to start moving pretty much that same day.  I knew I couldn't find anyone to help me move on such short notice, but told her I'd try anyway.  But considering I'd also committed to helping a friend with a dinner party that night, I knew there was no way I could move in 3 hours. 

So I told my landlord that if she didn't rent it in the next few weeks, she could consider it rented for April.  Just walking through it briefly it felt better, more like home.  Safe.  I just hoped & prayed that no one else would rent it.

About an hour later, I got a call from our handyman saying that my landlord had told him my situation and asked if he could help me move.  Holy shit!  I thought.  If this isn't a sign that it's meant to be, I don't know what is?  What landlord asks her handyman to help a tenant move, right? 

So I took it.  I did ask if the stoves to be switched and for a few days to get everything moved & cleaned, since the decision and original timeframe had been so sudden.  But again, it was probably meant to be because Mrs. Landlord easily agreed to both.  I scheduled a time to have Mr. Handyman help me move the big stuff, and within 24 hours after having seen the place, I had a new lease, new keys and a new home.

It's not a perfect place.  It's still very, very tiny, and I will have to start using a laundromat again, at least until I get something smaller for my laundry room.  But last night, as I climbed into bed all sore & exhausted from Phase One of my unexpected move, I realized that for the first time in almost three years, I felt hopeful.  I was excited about getting everything completely moved and looked forward to how I would decorate.  I was even looking forward to inviting people to my tiny place, something I never felt comfortable doing downstairs. 

This feels good.  Crazy, but good.  Now, if I can only convince the furbabies of that...

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Kimberly A. Morales
singer. writer. artist. champagne taste, 2 buck chuck budget. good cook. kooky. chocoholic. patron saint of cats. talker. listener. thinker. sometimes to a fault.
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