Thoughts on My Time at the Ranch

Moving from the ranch.jpg

When we bid farewell to the ranch this past summer, I felt like I was exhaling for the first time in four years. What a strange, transformative time it had been for me. It was there where I discovered just how adaptable I was. It was there where I cultivated a rich internal life for myself. It was there where I connected with Nature. It was there where the literature I chose to read resonated like never before. It was there where everything I thought I knew about science, religion, philosophy and politics was turned upside-down. It was there where I experienced a relationship that kept stretching itself to varying degrees before snapping back again.

The unknown contains infinite possibilities. 

 

 

 

Much Ado About... Nothing

 

The blaring, archaic ringing of the house phone jolted me awake. It was three in the afternoon. I had fallen asleep while reading in bed–in my bathrobe, no less. Why was I wearing a bathrobe? Oh, that's right–I originally planned on taking a shower but decided to put on a cleansing hair masque first. It was supposed to be left on for twenty minutes before rinsing which is where the reading came in. I've always found waking up from naps disorienting, especially when it's unexpected.

"Hello?"

"Hi, it's me, Andrew."

Andrew is a neighbor of ours with a ranch a few miles down the road. He shares the property with his brother. They both live in L.A. but come up on the weekends as a retreat from city life. They're also the only people we're acquainted with in the town of Three Rivers who are under the age of 70. 

"Oh, hi!" I said, trying to sound as awake and alert as possible, sitting up in bed. 

"Are you O.K.?" he asked, "You sound... A little off." 

"Oh, you know... I'm fine. I was just reading a book.... Wait, are you up here?"

I didn't have the nerve to tell him that I was napping.

"Well, I was," he replied. "I tried calling you guys before I left. Tonny said to give a call once I got back–hence this call, though, I must say  I'm pleasantly surprised to hear your voice."

"I'm sorry we missed you while you were here," I said, sincerely.

"What's new with you?"

Ah, the dreaded question. I felt compelled to say: "Nothing and everything." The "nothing" is in regards to having nothing new to report other than I'm still trying to figure out my life; the "everything" is that, in doing the figuring out part, there are about a million feelings, thoughts, and emotions roiling around inside of me all at once–not to mention a collection of short-lived gigs

My life is sorta like a consommé that's in the works. It's a bunch of coarse ingredients simmering away in a pot, with the hopes of–at some point–becoming a refined, harmonious, clarified liquid. Right now, the broth is cloudy and doesn't quite taste like anything yet. It needs more time.

The book I was reading, by the way, was a memoir called Mistakes Were Made (Some In French) by Fiona Lewis. To sum up the book jacket, it's a story about a woman who moves at her own pace through life and who, in her fifties, battles with her fears of not being a success, not having children, and aging. (No surprise here why this resonates with me.) After spending a year in the French countryside, restoring a crumbling chatêau and reflecting upon her life, she begins to accept her "self". She'd finally lay claim to something of her own. No grand achievements or treacherous adventures to be told, yet inspiring all the same.

It's inspiring me to look for my own version of her French chatêau. (Because Lord knows I'm not going to actually buy and restore a French chatêau on my own.)

"I just got back from L.A. and enjoying the ranch." I answered, breezily, looking out at the green hills and gray skies. "It's been chilly here."

"Our goats gave birth," he said, lighting up, "I swear to you, their babies are the cutest things you've ever seen. You should drive down there and play with them–and bring back as many eggs as you want from the chicken coop."

"I should," I said. "Thank you. I should do that."

I really should.

 

 

It Was All A Dream

A work by Tracey Emin

I had a nightmare the other day. In this nightmare, I awoke from a deep afternoon nap and found our house completely destroyed, our beloved dogs helplessly beaten, and a message on the wall that said: I will make sure that you will never be happy. My boyfriend searched every room for the intruder. "It's happening because I'm happy!" I sobbed, "Maybe... Maybe if I show that I'm unhappy, they'll leave us alone."

I actually believed that this was the only way that I could protect life, as I knew it, from being taken away from me.

And then I woke up for real.

The house was fine. My boyfriend was fine. The dogs were fine. But my existential core was slapped so hard that I found myself crying.

This might sound strange, but I realized that I'm not quite accustomed to things being, well, good in my life. My upbringing was sort of steeped in chaos, so I've been predisposed to thinking that something is always bound to go wrong. I have a twisted relationship with anxiety. I can't tell you how often I've been preoccupied with what might happen instead of enjoying what is happening.

It's no wonder that adjusting to my move has been somewhat of a process. Things have been so good that I can't believe that it's real. Surely, the rug will be pulled out from under me? In fact, come to think of it, I wouldn't be surprised if the intruder in my dream was merely a representation my own self. I am reminded of a scene in Sex and the City: The Movie where Carrie asks Charlotte: "What makes you think something bad is gonna happen?" And Charlotte replies: "Because! Nobody gets everything they want! Look at you, look at Miranda. You're good people and you two both got shafted! I'm so happy and... Something bad is gonna happen."

Of course, I had to have a therapy session with a friend on the phone about this and I couldn't think of who better to call than my friend Amandine. She has had the proverbial rug pulled out from under her before and that's one of the reasons why we bonded so well.

"Your life changed so drastically overnight," she said, with her charming French accent, "We were both working so hard and struggling and being stressed. And now you live in this beautiful place with someone who loves you. Don't think about New York. Nothing changed; it's the same. Enjoy your life. You really should enjoy your life." 

Here's the thing: Even if you live in the most perfect of conditions, in order to fully enjoy it, you have to exorcise all of the insecurities, judgments, anxieties, traumas, and other psychological roadblocks that you've let inform your identity. Like anything else, it's a process. The relationship that you have with yourself is an ever-evolving one. Don't forget to take opportunities to get to know who you really are on the inside, beyond what've you been through. Sometimes a nightmare might just be a wake-up call.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Inner Picky Eater

What's the deal with hummus? I mean, seriously. When guests come to the ranch, they always bring at least two tubs of hummus. It doesn't matter if it's roasted red pepper flavor or roasted garlic with gold-leaf and white truffles, nobody ever eats it. You know why? Because there are OTHER OPTIONS. Nobody willingly goes for the hummus when there are other things on the table. (Don't be that person who brings hummus to a party.) Dieters, especially, believe that hummus is a "healthy" snack, but it's actually loaded with carbs and it tastes meh. Meh, I tell you! It's edible, but it's not fantastic, by any means. It certainly doesn't warrant all of the oohing and aahing that it gets. I've heard people gushing "Omg, I loooove hummus" as they scoop up a gob of it with a baby carrot and I just want to grab them by the shoulders, look them square in the eyes, and say: "It's OK. It's not that great. You don't have to fuss over it. Try the Doritos over there. Those are great." Dips are meant to be fun. Hot spinach and artichoke dip in a bread bowl is fun. Queso con carne with tortilla chips is fun. And, if you want something fun for your baby carrots, try whipping up a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch Dip with sour cream–that's fun. Garbanzo bean paste? Not fun. It's suffice to say that I'm not that into hummus. 

Or beans and lentils, in general.

Tell me, is there anything more unappealing to look at than a bowl of mushy brown lentil soup? You can try to garnish it with a sprig of parsley, but it's like putting lipstick on a pig. It's another one of those things that's marketed as "healthy." I'd beg to differ. A bowl of simple chicken soup is much healthier for you, and your stomach won't feel like it's filled up with slop when you're done.

You know, I never thought of myself as a picky eater. I eat liver and sea urchin and anchovies and headcheese, for crying out loud. I've always kind of prided myself on being open-minded when it comes to food. Only recently did it occur to me that I might be a closeted picky eater. 

For example, whenever I order pancakes with bacon and eggs, I always ask for the pancakes on the side because I can't stand when the syrup touches the eggs and bacon. And, speaking of breakfast, I can't stand omelettes either. I think people go too crazy with the ingredients: ham, cheese, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, spinach, turkey, sausage... I've even seen chicken quesadilla omelettes on a menu! Stop the madness already! I rarely stray from soft-boiled or sunny-side up because I like my eggs yolky, with the whites barely set. When you ask for them scrambled, it's never done properly. It's either too dry or not whisked well enough. Scrambled eggs should have a certain creamy look that takes skill to achieve.

Caramelized onions? Not a fan. Just because you get caramelized onions on your hot dog or burger does not make it fancy. It just makes it complicated. I do, however, like thinly sliced raw red onions on my burger, but not lettuce–because it gets soggy–unless it's shredded, which is fine. I usually skip the tomato too, due to the sogginess factor. For the tomatoey-ness, I can get that from ketchup. Plain or sesame seed-topped hamburger buns are acceptable. As are soft potato buns. Brioche is a no for me–too sweet. And don't even think about putting a burger patty between a ciabatta roll. Are you insane? It's too chewy. 

French onion soup. I don't mind the soup part, but it's impossible to eat gracefully because when you dip your spoon into the thick blanket of gruyère, the melted cheese seems to string on forever, like an endless strand of spaghetti. Do not order this while you're on a date at a French restaurant. This sort of thing can only be eaten if you're dining alone and your table is completely shrouded by a thick curtain. 

Bell peppers. You know how Nicolas Cage is always Nicolas Cage in every movie he's in? Well, anything that a bell pepper touches tastes like a bell pepper. It doesn't enhance whatever dish it's in, it just overwhelms it. Therefore, I refrain from using bell peppers in curries, stir-fries, fajitas or pizzas. On the other hand, I like them as cold and crunchy slices on a crudité platter, or as the star of a dish, as in Stuffed Bell Peppers. Let's just say they don't do well as a member of the supporting cast.

I'm such a purist when it comes to classic dishes and this could not be more apparent than the night that Mountain Man cooked "spaghetti bolognese". You cannot put chunks of carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers, blue cheese, coconut milk, curry powder, and tons of hot sauce in ground beef and tomato sauce and call it "bolognese"! A twist here or there, like adding a splash of heavy cream, can still qualify it, but not a full-on Frankenstein situation. 

Swiss cheese, like the cartoon one with the holes in it. It tastes like rubber! We can also add Jarlsberg and provolone to this category. They're all flavorless. I mean, why bother? 

Meat dishes that contain cherries, dates, apples, raisins, currants, pomegranate seeds, or any kind of fruit or berry. And may I also add: no pineapples on pizza. Just not into it. Same with nuts. Nuts are totally overrated. Also, do you know how much fat is in a nut? Who can stop at six almonds? 

Rhubarb. It's so ridiculously tart and sour. Why is it used as pie filling? Blech. In the same dessert vein, toasted coconut flakes always texturally feel like they don't belong on whatever they're sprinkled on. Kind of like finding a hair that has accidentally fallen into your food.

Quinoa, buckwheat, bulgar, barley, farro, and other grains. I must not have the same tastebuds as a horse because I cannot down any of the aforementioned grains. Yet another thing labeled as "healthy". Listen, I've tried living on a macrobiotic diet for four months in my twenties, and grains were put on a pedestal, but, for slimming down, I'm all about the high protein/low- or no-carb aspects of diets like the Dukan Diet or the Paleo Diet. I can't stand when I see a "quinoa and kale salad". The kale would taste so much better on its own without those soggy clumps of quinoa!

Broccoli. Poor broccoli. It's kind of an outdated vegetable and it smells awful when you cook it, no matter whether you're steaming it or puréeing it into a broccoli and cheddar soup. My thought is, why not eat broccolini? It has a much nicer flavor and doesn't stink up the house. Or try cauliflower, which looks like an albino version of broccoli, but has a nice mellow sweetness to it. 

Chicken feet. 'Nuff said.

 

 

 

 

Moonrise Kingdom

I could never fully capture the beauty of an actual moonrise with the camera on my iPhone, but I woke up one morning and found that the moon was still lingering in daylight. It's just a sliver, but it's there. Can you see it?

I never thought of watching the moon rise at night as anything special before I moved to the mountains. Life in the city moved at a tick-tock pace: morning, work, gym, walk home, eat, sleep. It never occurred to me to actually watch it rise. Sure, I've gazed at the moon many a-nights, whether on a bench at Washington Square Park or while sipping a cocktail on the rooftop of SoHo House or strolling home from somewhere–but I've never watched it rise. Most of the hoopla is made around the beauty of sunrises, and rightfully so, but it has to be said that a moonrise feels quite majestic in its own right. Even more so in a big open sky. We've created a ceremony out of this by sitting out on the terrace, under the covers with a glass of wine, blasting Sigur Rós on the speakers. "Here it comes! Here it comes!" we'll say to each other, excitedly. And we'll watch, wide-eyed with our jaws dropped, as the glowing-white moon floats into the sky. The atmospheric music only intensifies the drama of this glorious event. In fact, it elevates it to a religious experience. Sometimes the moon as bright as the sun. It's impossible to photograph because it'll just show up as a white dot in a black square. You won't be able to catch its elegant movement or the thousands of glittery stars that surround it. No, no... It's something that can only be experienced.