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20December
2014

not the humidity

maura @ 9:15 pm

It’s not so much that I’ve been writers blocked, exactly. More like an inspiration desert, of sorts — lots of thoughts, but trying to get words onto paper has been difficult. It’s been a very full semester, a full year, really, full of big things both good and bad. And I’m perhaps a bit more tired now at the end of this semester than in years past.

CUNY’s fall semester goes late so I’ve still got 2 more days of work left before break, as does Gus with school. Then it’s 9 days off in a row, which sounds decadent. I have 6 books to read and 2 videogames to play and 2 tv shows to catch up on, woo! And there’s an article idea that’s been kicking around my brain for a while now that I might try to start to draft, too.

Perhaps extra sleep will help me come out on the other end of the inspiration desert. But in the meantime, here are some random recent photos from my phone.

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Graffiti from the staircase at work, in one of the classroom buildings. Why indeed?

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Graffiti from East Williamsburg across the street from the new gym where Gus does parkour. It’s right near the beginning of the Newtown Creek and is pretty industrial, lots of low warehousy buildings. There must be some kind of understanding with street artists and the building owners because the graffiti is AMAZING, seriously complex and gorgeous. The first time I drove Gus over there I almost crashed the car from all of my neck craning, and I see something new every weekend it seems.

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The Lego research scientists set was back in stock for like 1 day, and I got one! Kind of amazing, actually — I just happened to be on twitter in the 10 minutes I had between meetings at exactly the right time, and ordered one up right then and there. Funny, too, as I haven’t been on twitter much lately, just unable to keep up even using my old strategy of scrolling through quickly as I walk between meetings. So many meetings, the mind boggles.

Anyway, not that I need any more stuff in my life, what grown lady does? But women in science toys FTW! And I can always bring it to work to decorate my office, right?

EDITED TO ADD: What slays me is the support strut under the dinosaur skeleton. I mean, that’s not necessary to make the legos structurally sound, but it is totally necessary for a real life dino skeleton in a museum. Swoon.

les tags: , ,
30November
2014

cicely

maura @ 5:17 pm

It’s the last day of November, and I can definitively say that I am ready to put this month behind me. It’s been a hard past few weeks.

A close, longtime friend of ours died suddenly at the beginning of the month. She was our age which, I’d hasten to add, is much too fucking young to die.

We all first met in our first round of grad school, just over 25 (!) years ago. She was fun and smart and kind and funny. We lived through some of those early tough times in archaeology grad school together, then she switched to new media. During my break from grad school when I worked in new media too, a bunch of us went to a web conference in New Orleans (paid by our jobs!) which was delightful. We watched Buffy together and played Magic together and ate Japanese food together and she always talked to Gus like a person and he liked talking to her about the videogames she was playing (which were often the same ones we were playing). She came to Thanksgiving dinner at my family’s once in the ’90s which was a literal trip, and since we were here for Thanksgiving this year we’d planned to ask her if she wanted to come over for a casual Thanksgiving, NBD, Jonathan’s making 3 desserts and spatchcocking the turkey, want to stop by?

And now she is gone and it’s hard. Hard to drive by the Japanese restaurant where we took her for a belated birthday dinner in September, which was delicious, chicken hearts on a skewer and all. Hard to see a preview for the recent dumb Godzilla remake at the beginning of some other movie we Netflixed that I can’t remember right now, because it reminded me about the fun we had on that hot hot day 2 summers ago when we got Japanese dinner and saw Pacific Rim at the IMAX on the Upper West Side which was awesome. Harder still to see ads for Mockingjay, because we’d seen the last 2 Hunger Games movies with her at the Ziegfeld because the screen is hyoooooooge and now we can’t see this one with her because she’s gone.

She’d lived in NYC for as long as we’d known her, as long as we’ve been here, and her family’s in the South. We’ve been helping as much as we can with arrangements and dealing with her apartment, such a small thing to do for so many years of friendship. I wish I could do more. We’ve had Twitter and email conversations with her other friends, friends we don’t know, and some of her neighbors too. We’re still not on Facebook but of course there’s conversation there as well that we’ve heard second hand. She was well-loved, and it is lovely to see these tributes.

But I’m sad, still sad.

les tags: ,
1November
2014

i just got your message

maura @ 7:13 pm

Wow, October, where’d you go? Busy is an understatement for me right now — with the (big!) job + high school process + basic person/family/home/cats maintenance I don’t really have any cycles to spare, as the cyberfolks say. Unfortunately the cats show no interest in maintaining themselves, lazy gits. I’ve let not one but two ebooks expire from my phone, because I haven’t had time to read them. The RSS feeds are clogged + unwieldy, the New Yorkers stacked high. And don’t even ask me about the paper paper.

When it gets this busy it’s easy to collapse everything down to actual and perceived necessities like sleep + food + finishing all the stuff on the to do list, and to let other things drift out to the edges. But that’s not always a good plan, because as much as sleep is very necessary so are other things. Things that shouldn’t be left to the edges, because they too are good for you.

In the past week I’ve hung out with 3 different friends, one pre-planned and two surprises. These are good friends, longtime friends, friends we used to see much more than we do now. We’re all busy, everyone’s got lots to do, there’s no blame here. But in that true way of letting the now things crowd out the longtime things I’d forgotten how good it is to see these friends, to talk and eat and hang out and walk and talk. They know things about me and my life, I know things about them and theirs. And knowing those things means that it’s easy to talk about all kinds of things: frivolous things and sad things and important things.

I need to try and remember this week. Because it was a busy week otherwise — too much working in the evenings for my taste, and I’m pretty much never getting enough sleep recently. But the time with friends was energizing in much the same way that a full night’s sleep is. I felt clearer and calmer and happier. That’s time worth spending, even if I have to leave the occasional item un-crossed-off on the to do list.

Future me, listen to present me: I know you’re tired, but don’t forget to make time for friends. You’ll thank me, I promise.

les tags:
20September
2014

the feeling describes itself

maura @ 9:09 pm

It’s been quiet around here lately, though there’ve been some changes in non-virtual maurawebland. I bought not one, but two (2!) new pairs of fancyish/workish shoes, and got new glasses, too. The latter is not quite a complete change yet — they’re a bit loose so I haven’t been wearing them, but tomorrow I get them fitted and we’ll be good to go.

And I have a new job, too, which is a rather more biggish change. The former Chief Librarian at the college where I work has retired, and I’m now the new Chief Librarian.

It’s been a fast and slow change, sometimes simultaneously. Securing all of the proper university approvals took some time, mostly during the slowish summer months. It was nice to have that time to settle in a bit and start wrapping my head around my new responsibilities. There was lots of physical movement in the library, too — several folks changed offices (myself included), walls were painted, and we did a general cleanup and removal of furniture and other stuff that had outlived its usefulness. Another colleague retired and we secured permission to hire additional tech staff, so I worked on getting those jobs posted and thinking toward the search process. The college does offer courses over the summer, though not nearly as many as during the academic year, and the smaller number of students in the library was helpful as the moving and maintenance was going on. I never lacked for things to do, but the pace wasn’t appreciably different from what I was used to in my former position as Instruction Coordinator.

Since the semester began it’s been fast fast fast. My new responsibilities include a new suite of meetings, both at the college and at the university. I’m learning about our budget and facilities, and getting acclimated to my role of Department Chair too (the library is an academic department at the college, and we go through the same tenure and promotion process as other departments do). Our job searches are progressing. I’m wearing my fancy shoes more often.

Of course there are things I miss about my old job. Teaching has started, both our three-credit course and our individual instruction sessions. When one of my favorite collaborators from the English Department emailed me to schedule her class for research instruction, I was sad to have to say no (though our new Instruction Coordinator is terrific, so she’s in good hands). I haven’t yet been able to figure out how to carve out time for my research, though my research partner and I have 2 articles under review and one that was just published this week, so it’s maybe not the worst time for a breather. It’s been strange to step down from commitments, to ask others to take them on, to say no to new things.

But the truth is that I really *don’t* have as much time. In the past I’d said yes to opportunities that I felt like I couldn’t pass up probably much more often than I should have (I’m retroactively a bit terrified by how many conference presentations I ended up doing last year). But now my time is completely filled, all of it, always. It’s been a while since I’ve had a new job, and I forgot how much learning and thinking about new things all day is actually reflected physically. Even on the days when I’ve spent most of my time sitting in meetings, I’m exhausted by the evening. It’s been hard to turn off my brain, to stop thinking about what’s on my list for tomorrow, next week, this semester.

I’m super honored to have taken on this new position, and excited to have this opportunity to work to support our students alongside my excellent colleagues. But whew, learning and doing new things, it’s tiring. Time to stop this blagging and hit the hay.

les tags: , ,
10August
2014

whales tails

maura @ 10:34 am

It’s dawning on me that I’m afraid to ride my bike to work. Yeah, it’s summer, and summer is hot, maybe not the best time to start riding your bike to work. But there are so many good reasons to do it:

1. Cheaper. I <3 the subway, but that $2.50/ride adds up.

2. Exercise is good. I have been walking home all summer (which helps somewhat with #1, above), but biking would get me moving in the morning and the evening.

3. The biggest reason is probably that biking is the only mode of transport that lets me bring a bunch of stuff to work (lunch, coffee, extra clothes if need be) without having to carry it on my back. I <3 <3 <3 my backpack* but the fact is that since the slipped discs in my neck started bothering me starting to get old I probably shouldn’t be carrying lots of weight on my back for 45 minutes at a time each way to and from work on a regular basis.

* Yes, pricey, but seriously a fantastic bag that’s holding up amazingly. I’ve carried it practically every workday for something like 6 years and it still looks nearly new. Plus it’s super comfortable when I do have to carry lots of weight (i.e. a laptop) which I know I shouldn’t be doing but still sometimes have to do.

I have ridden my bike to work in the past, though inconsistently. There are somewhat annoying bits to it. I have a sturdy bike that’s pretty old-ladyish — 3 speeds only, plus coaster brakes! — so I imagine it’s not much of a theft risk, but I do still worry, especially since the bike racks at work are just out of eyesight of the security guards at the entrance to the college.** The ride itself is fine, though sometimes the street I spend the most time on (which has a bike lane) gets crowded, and I’ve occasionally experienced grumpiness from fellow bikers as they pass me. Dudes, it’s not a race! There’s room for everyone!

** I’m almost positive that it’s technically legal to use freight elevators to bring bikes inside buildings, and there is actually a frieght elevator that goes right to the floor in the library where my office is. But it’s a little ways to go through the college getting to the elevator and I suspect that the security guards wouldn’t let me walk my bike through that area.

I’m willing to concede that all of these minor complaints might be concealing a bigger fear, which is the fear of being mowed down by a car while I bike to work. Of course that’s always possible — even walking in NYC can be dangerous — but in reality the streets that I’d need to bike on are pretty quiet and safe most of the time. There are lights at every corner and bike lanes the whole way.

It’s been a busy summer with lots going on, new stuff to adjust to, and more coming down the pike. So maybe the real real reason is that I just can’t accommodate any additional new things right now, cognitive overload and such. Tomorrow morning looks nice and cool, maybe that will be the day to begin. (Or maybe not.)

les tags: ,
1August
2014

you may cajole

maura @ 8:49 pm

The thing about adolescence is you go through it and it kind of sucks, sometimes more, sometimes less. Then the suckiness fades and you go through your 20s thinking “wow, that was intermittently sucky!” and then you get even older and think “man, I’m glad I never have to do that again.” Then maybe you have a kid, and if so you’re probably pretty excited about that, and also probably sleep-deprived. Probably so excited and sleep-deprived that you completely forget that at some point in the future you’ll have to go through adolescence again, except this time from the other side.

This is not a post about my kid becoming an adolescent. As he gets older I feel less and less comfortable blagging about him, and I’ve started to ask before I tweet something funny that he said or a photo. It seems like the right time to do that, to start letting him decide how much or how little of his life is online. And really, his adolescence so far has been nothing out of the ordinary.

Instead, this is a post about my adolescence. Even the ordinary with proto-teens can sometimes be trying, and I’ve been working to remember what it felt like on that side now that I’m on this side.

We lived in and around Philadelphia when I was little — both my parents were from around there, and we had some family nearby when I was growing up. From what I remember I was a pretty shy kid and didn’t like talking to new people for most of my childhood, though I was more vocal at home. For a variety of reasons we moved houses and schools a bunch during elementary school, and it was challenging to have to meet new kids when I moved schools. Still, by the end of elementary school we’d lived in the same house for a few years in a suburb with walkable access to parks, stores, and a movie theater. I knew the neighborhood kids as well as had some close school friends despite having gone to different schools in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades.

And then during the summer between 6th and 7th grades we moved to Columbia, Missouri, for my dad’s job. It was starkly, starkly different: we lived on a cul-de-sac at the bottom of a big hill in a development that I remember being sort of on the outskirts of town. There was nowhere to walk or ride bikes to, and my parents had to drive us everywhere. My junior high was huge: I spent most lunchtimes in 7th grade in the library after eating in the cafeteria as quickly as I could. I got glasses, my hair got curly, my parents wouldn’t buy me the izod shirts that all the cool kids had. We got cable for the first time when we moved which coincided with the debut of MTV, and I watched lots and lots of cable. It took me a long, long time to make friends, though I did end up making a few friends that I missed terribly after we moved to Delaware after 8th grade.

High school was hard in the beginning — repeat moving, meeting new people, needing to be driven everywhere — but it got easier as time went on and I made friends and learned how to drive. The older you get, the less it matters what other people think, and that helped too.

It wasn’t universally awful, so few things ever are. I have fond memories of playing Tempest at the arcade and buying jelly bellies at the candy store, or seeing Raiders at the movie theater in the mall. But I also remember that for much of adolescence I was angry. Angry that we moved, angry not to have friends, angry that there wasn’t anything to do. Pretty typical stuff, but thinking back on it now I realize I was probably pretty horrible to be around at home, probably pretty mean to my parents and siblings. And I remember the crazy emotions, sometimes flying off the handle for something seemingly minor even while a little glimmer of reason meant that I kind of understood that I was freaking out needlessly, but being unable to pull out of it. It felt like I had lots and lots of reasons to be angry, really good reasons, but now that I’m a grown lady it’s clear that my parents were not actually trying to ruin my life, as much as it might have seemed so at the time.

Damn, I’m glad that’s over. The thing about getting older is that so much gets easier — I’m still more on the introvert than extrovert side of the world, but I’m much much closer to the middle than I once was (and being an introvert is perhaps somewhat easier in academia and librarianship than in other professions). And I’m old enough that there’s no way I’m even a little bit cool, anyway, so that’s a huge relief.

les tags: ,
22May
2014

eggs and their shells

maura @ 10:14 pm

So I had jury duty today. It’s been a long time — nowadays you only get called for service every 8 yrs and I could swear I had jury duty after I’d already started at City Tech, but that was only 6 yrs ago so maybe I’m wrong? Maybe I was still in library school.

(Woah, checked my files and it was actually 2005! Time, flying, etc.)

A million years ago when we moved to NYC the jury duty thing was different. I got called probably in my 2nd or 3rd yr of anthropology grad school, pretty much as soon as I changed my drivers license from DE to NY. There was no limit to the deferrals then so I think I deferred something like 5 times — they kept calling me around finals week and I always had exams to proctor and grade. The director of grad studies in my dept wrote me a letter every semester to get out of it. Then I took some time off and was called right away, but I didn’t get picked for a jury.

I didn’t get called in Brooklyn until after Gus was born, and Jonathan and I had this incredibly complicated work + childcare setup that kept us both out of jury duty for a while (though required us to bring Gus and/or his birth certificate to the courthouse repeatedly). When I did finally do jury duty in Brooklyn I got to the questioning stage, which was new for me, though I was released before being assigned. They only keep you for a couple of days before they let you go if you haven’t been assigned, which is decent.

Now they automatically let you postpone once, which I did when I was called to report in last December, not the least hectic time of the year. I picked today, May 22, figuring that it’s the end of finals and that things would be slowing down, regularly scheduled commitments ending, and that it wouldn’t be the worst time in the world to be on a jury. Which is sort of true, though of course other things have come up in the interim. Our Chief Librarian is retiring in a few weeks and his retirement party is today (which I may miss the very beginning of). We’re hiring for a couple of positions and I’m on the search committees. By next Friday I’ve got to grade students’ final projects for the grad course I co-taught this semester, and prep a conference presentation for that date. And the usual end of semester meetings which result in end of semester meeting minutes to be written up and distributed.

So far it’s not so awful. The waiting rooms have somewhat decent wifi. The one I’ve been hanging out in has windows that overlook the street which is reasonably pleasant, though it’s kind of weird to be able to see my workplace from here (City Tech is just up the block from the courthouse). Since switching to a mostly-standing desk I’ve become mostly bad at sitting, which is a little weird in a waiting room situation, but I was able to find a table near an outlet in a corner to hang out in. I feel like people are looking at me a bit funny for standing, but what can you do. I’m caught up on twitter (a rarity for me these days) and catching up on other reading. I’m writing this blag.

On the downside, lunch was a bit late at 1pm. And, you know, it’s a waiting room. Sometimes the anthropologist in me enjoys looking around at what people are doing and eavesdropping on the conversations strangers are having, and sometimes I just want that young guy with the PSP to turn down the volume of his game so I can concentrate on what I’m reading. It’s sleepy, even after my afternoon thermos of coffee. But in some ways that’s nice, too — I don’t typically have much time to zone out and daydream, and the older I get the more I enjoy those opportunities when they present themselves.

Postscript: There was a big lot of no announcements at all when we got back from lunch, then bam, at 3:50pm they announced that everyone left in the room would get to leave, service completed. Woot! Later on someone noted that they probably didn’t have many cases just before Memorial Day weekend, which wasn’t what I’d planned for at all but seems like useful info to remember for next time. And *then* the officer who dismissed us pronounced both my first AND last name correctly which practically never happens. See you in 8 yrs, Supreme Court of Kings County!

les tags: ,
31December
2013

this is my house roll out the red carpet

maura @ 8:33 pm

On the last day of the year it’s hard to think of anything other than the past year. I tend to make most of my resolutions on and around the beginning of the new academic year in the fall, because that’s when my work calendar resets. But sometimes I feel like I want to take advantage of the normal new year, too.

Really there can be only one resolution for me this year, and that’s balance. It’s been clear over the past weekish that I haven’t been at work that my shoulder and neck issues are at least in part work-related. Even with the standing desk I probably don’t consider my posture enough when I’m computing, and I haven’t done much keyboard work over the break, which is one big difference from non-vacation times. That’s not to say that computer work is the only culprit as there are definitely other ways I hold my body that cause flare-ups, though I’m usually able to avoid them. Stress likely plays into things as well, though it’s tricky to say how much. Certainly I have sources of stress that are not work-related — stress reduction overall is a good goal.

I’m lucky enough to have a job that I love and to work on projects that I find both interesting and worthwhile. But it’s hard to push back against the academic norms of working or thinking about work all the time, and of measuring our own production in comparison to others, despite differences in life situations, ambitions, age, health, and sleep requirements. So part of my balance goal is to stop worrying about everyone else and find a pace that’s sustainable for me. This almost certainly means that I’ll need to turn down some opportunities that sound interesting and worthwhile, because time is not an unlimited commodity. But I hope that what I gain instead is better focus on the projects I do work on, as well as the shoulder and neck stuff under control.

So, striving for balance in 2014. Happy New Year!

les tags:
1August
2013

chutes and ladders

maura @ 5:13 pm

We took a 5-day trip to the northlands to visit family and I’m going to go ahead and call it a vacation. There was one small thing I had to write at the beginning of the vacation, and another time when I had to pop into work email and approve timesheets, but other than that I was pretty good about staying away from work (even the book, about which I feel a little bit guilty but not too much, though I can’t decide if that’s good or bad). Also from twitter and the news: for whatever reason I’ve lately decided that tuning out from them are necessary for a vacation to feel real (not rss, though — if anything vacations offer the opportunity to catch up on nonessential stuff in my feedreader).

While I didn’t set out with it as a goal, it also turned out that this was the vacation of trying to punch my fear of heights in the face. And mostly succeeding!

One day we went to the alpine slide at the nearby ski mountain. Gus has wanted me to go on it with him for ages but I couldn’t face the chairlift, so Jonathan’s always been the slider parent. This year I decided that it was kind of silly for me to continue to be afraid of chairlifts, because alpine slides are really fun (I went on a few as a kid before the fear of heights set in) and I am a grown up. I *almost* backed out at the last minute as we were getting the tickets, but then I bucked myself up and got on the lift.

And yes, chairlifts are still scary to me, even slow low ones that don’t travel a great distance. I was mostly fine while grabbing the safety bar tightly and not looking down and talking to at Gus; these words came out of my mouth: “No, you need to listen to my boring story from my childhood because it’s helping me to not freak out — just smile and nod.” And it was a pretty day, all sunshine and wildflowers and blue skies. But it did seem to take a long, long time to get to the top.

Once at the top there was a weirdly long backup of sliders, and then, the slide, which is still pretty fun and rad, I have to say. Gus and I raced even though you’re not supposed to and I beat him only at the very end, likely because of my superior weight. I’m not fired up to go chairlifting again, but I guess I can do it if I have to.

The next day we went to this treetop obstacle course at another nearby ski mountain (because the ski mountains need something to draw tourists in the off-season, apparently). This place also had a zipline treetop tour, but I voted that down because it still seemed too high for comfort (73 feet!). The obstacle course looked more interesting anyway, and ranged from 5-40 feet off the ground, which sounded more manageable.

The obstacle course was an absolute blast, I have to say. Jonathan totally pegged it when he called it a puzzle for your body to solve. You progress through a course made up of various things to climb, balance on, or ride on (each had a few short ziplines); the easy course was pretty linear, and the more challenging course sort of circular, climbing a bit higher on the trees with each activity. Some obstacles were fun and easy — wobbly bridges or a slack line — while others were really difficult — 5 tires hanging from ropes (the trick is to use your feet like monkey paws and grab each tire to bring it close enough to move to). With few exceptions it was just scary enough to be fun, and since you’re harnessed in and clipped onto a cable the whole time it felt reasonably safe.

Until the end. There were 3 levels on the challenging course, and the only way to get down from the medium-hard level or the hard level was a drop from a tall tree platform straight down. They used this smart belay system that’s all the rage these days — you see them whenever there’s a climbing wall set up at a fair or whathaveyou. The mechanics are similar to a seat belt: there’s a round-cased machine hanging from a tree with a line extended, you hook yourself to to the line and jump, and the line catches you and lowers you slowly to the ground. I watched several people do it and they all seemed okay, even people who were bigger than I am, and then I sort of forgot about it until I got to that platform.

And man, that tree was tall, and the drop, very far. It’s a peculiar experience to force your body to do something that your brain is so completely dead set against, but it was the only way down, so I took a deep breath and jumped. Really it was only a split second, maybe even less, before the machine caught me, and I was surprised to find that the fear evaporated instantly — a wasabi burn rather than jalapeno.

So, if you’re counting: Maura 2, fear of heights 0. In your face, irrational fear!

les tags: , ,
21July
2013

each and every one

maura @ 2:56 pm

Avocados! Lately I cannot eat enough of them. Is that some sort of deficiency? I don’t know, but if it is then I’m happy to address it often, daily if possible.

I came to avocados kind of late in life, like lots of other tasty foods (and especially vegetables). My family ate a pretty conservative British Isles-type diet when I was growing up, lots of meat and potatoes, punctuated by the occasional Chinese takeout. I wasn’t exposed to non-Taco Bell Mexican food until high school, and even that was pretty bland (better than Chi-Chis, but not by much). Like many who spent their formative years in the suburbs I didn’t really start eating lots of different foods until college (in the city): Thai, Indian, Greek, Japanese, and, yes, Mexican and Cal-Mex.

Once I started eating Mexican/Cal-Mex food of course there was guacamole and chips, yum. I’m kind of sensitive to textures — can’t really eat yogurt, pudding, or smooth/slimy foods that are similar — but guacamole was so delicious that I tried it anyway. Plus the chunks of tomatoes and chips for dipping cut the softness so I could eat it. I resisted moving on to plain avocados, though, for fear of texture issues. They always seemed kind of bland, too, unless they were mashed up with spices in guacamole. But little by little I’ve found myself eating them more often — sliced up on the occasional sandwich, maybe in chunks in a salad.

Then all of a sudden, earlier this year, Jonathan started buying avocados and serving them up in halves on salad or as a side dish. And bam, I was hooked! Now I greedily eat them first, and it doesn’t even matter if there’s no dressing or seasoning. (I think my tastes are changing as I age, as lately I’ve found myself much more willing to eat lots of vegetables without any sauce or spices at all, just their actual veggie taste.) They taste so green and summery and delicious, how could I have ignored them for so long?

les tags: ,