Thursday, October 30, 2014

Football vs Football

As many of my readers know, I am a die-hard football fan. In fact, if you ask the people who know me best to describe my passion for football, the word "rabid" will most likely be used. I love the game. I love screaming at my television until the neighbors complain (they don't of course; this is the South and everyone is yelling at the tv on Saturday.) I've had a passion for football since I was a young girl watching with my dad. Unfortunately, my dad and I are no longer allowed to watch together at my parents' house because we "get too carried away." Go figure.

Football, American football, has long been my go-to sport. I look forward to football season the way kids look forward to Christmas. Recently, however, I have discovered the other football. The "true" football. The game that we Yanks refer to as soccer.

I got interested during this year's World Cup. I watched a number of matches and was intrigued at the pace of the game and the skill of the players. Lately, due in large part to my Italian friend Maurizio, I've begun following Associazione Sportiva Roma (A.S. Roma or just Roma for short.)

Football players have to be in incredible shape and... wait, what was I talking about?

This type of football moves at a much more constant pace, which I really like. There are not numerous stops and starts. In American football a minute may last ten minutes with all the lining up, time-outs, moving of chains, etc. Of course, there are pros and cons to this too. Constant action means no commercial breaks, but it also means no bathroom breaks.  If you step away from the television to empty your bladder or refill your chip bowl, you're liable to miss something.

Of course the rules of the two games are vastly different. In fact, the only thing they really share in common is the name. I am still learning the rules of football (soccer.)  I've been reading and trying to give names to the plays I've seen and heard described in the matches I've watched. That's one problem I've had with following Roma. The televised matches I've watched online have mostly been in Italian, and I only speak Italian in my sleep (so my husband tells me.)  I've managed to find a few matches on British channels, but frankly sometimes I can't understand what they are saying either.

I understand the penalties and fouls in soccer, though it amuses me somewhat when the players make a dramatic spectacle of falling down. In American football, it's all about throwing down and hitting hard. Not to say that soccer players aren't tough. They play without padding after all. And if anything, they demonstrate "football" much better than American football players ever could. The things soccer players do with their feet are simply amazing: scissor kicks and all kinds of fancy offensive and defensive footwork. American football is mainly about throwing, catching, running and tackling, with a few kicks thrown in here and there to score extra points or to boot the ball to the other end of the field.
I may or may not have thought Juventus was a team of referees. 


While I don't think soccer can dethrone some good ol' SEC football in my heart, I am keenly interested in the game. I keep an eye on the scores and stats and watch matches when I can get access to them. They're exciting and dramatic to say the least. Saturdays, of course, are all about Alabama football. After all, we have games like this:

Just a warm-up, really.


Football/Soccer isn't the hard-hitting high-scoring event that American football is, but it's still a thrill to watch. It also has its own rabid fans who go nuts in the stands and scream at their televisions. It can get wild with brawls, cheap shots, and adrenaline-fueled ugliness. I think the most striking thing to me is the loyalty to and pride in one's team.  That seems to be universal. Whether it's the wearing of the team colors to support the Giallorossi, or the greetings of "Roll Tide" on game day, fan pride seems to be a driving force in both sports. Wins and losses are deeply felt by players and fans alike. They may be "just games," but they are also serious business. 

Perhaps that is the draw. A tough loss is excruciating but is later brushed off as not important. A hard-fought victory however, is memorialized in "Best-Of" reels, posters, and conversations in later years about where you were when it happened. It's gritty, it's glorious, it's football.

And Maurizio, this:

Is Alabama's version of this:



Roll Roma.





Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Handmaiden of Creativity

I do not believe in mere luck or coincidence. I think everything happens for a reason and has a design. It's for this reason that I felt compelled to write this post today. I had already been considering a blog post about my emotional issues and my creative therapy, when just a few moments ago an article popped up on my Facebook timeline about one man's study of the relationship between anxiety and creativity.



So here's where I get real honest.  Hi, my name is Amy and I suffer from depression and anxiety. When I say depression, I don't mean that I occasionally feel a little blue. I'm talking about the soul-sucking black hole that opens up without warning and makes me feel like everything is wrong, nothing will ever be right, and I should just save myself some heartache and drink some rat poison. That kind of depression.  As for the anxiety, that seems to be an off-shoot of the depression.  I've dealt with both since I was a teenager. From what I understand from my doctors, the parts of me that produce certain hormones are over-achievers which leads to an unfortunate chemical imbalance. My emotional problems stem from a physical condition. They are not in my head, nor beyond control.


Control though, is the issue.  I've had surgeries, had some over-achieving hormone-making bits removed, tried chemical regulators, etc. Such treatments help, for a while.  I have also tried self-medicating with mixed results. Mood-altering substances, prescribed or otherwise, can make you feel floaty and invincible, but eventually you have to come back down and the crash can be catastrophic.

The best and longest-lasting treatment that I have found is simply losing myself in a creative pursuit. My first bout with depression came when I was about 15 or 16 years old. I had no idea what was going on and my parents chalked up my moodiness to teenage angst. I wanted to die. I was miserable, listless, un-engaged. My grades suffered and I had very few friends. Then, one day during the free-writing portion of my 10th grade English class, I heard some music that inspired me. The music led to a story idea and the story idea led to months of afternoons on my front porch scribbling furiously in a spiral-bound notebook. I wrote madly, sometimes sobbing as I did. The story was terrible, but after weeks upon weeks of writing, I found I didn't feel quite so hopeless anymore. A lot of the dark feelings that I had kept bottled up inside had worked themselves out onto my tear-stained pages. It didn't matter so much that the story sucked; the process had been cathartic and I emerged on the other side of it whole.

I owe a lot to Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman



My next major struggle with depression hit many years later after the birth of my first child. Childbirth does terrible things to your hormonal balance and I suffered major postpartum depression.  I was still bogged under its effects when my son turned two. I was a single mom, living with my parents, with no job and no means of supporting myself. I was largely isolated and at the time I didn't drive at all. I began to see a therapist, who wisely suggested I get involved in a local community theatre group as a means to meet people and refocus my emotions. I auditioned for a summer musical, landed a lead role, and proceeded to once again pour out all the negative emotions I had been dealing with. It was exhausting, but I dragged out all the dark thoughts and ugly feelings and tossed them onto the stage and left them there.

In 2002 I played Maria in a summer production of The Sound of Music.


Fast-forward twelve years and another physical change has resulted in more chemical imbalance. I have moments of intense anxiety and days when I spiral down into the darkness of depression. Through it all my husband has been supportive and comforting, talking me through panic attacks and bringing me gelato on the black days. I know though, that I have to work through the emotional roller-coaster. It's hard, but beneficial for me to keep writing, singing, sketching, photographing, etc. in order to be well. Creative pursuits have always been healing for me. They aren't just distractions. When I'm creatively engaged, I can take the sadness, fear, pain and use them as tools. They become my paints, my pen, my words. That's a large part of the reason I am writing this post. Today has been a difficult day emotionally. I know it all originates in the chemicals in my body, but there are external triggers that are often difficult to recognize and avoid. 

I hope that in sharing this I can help someone dealing with these issues. Emotional problems seem to go hand-in-hand with Art. If you are a creative, you likely suffer from depression, anxiety or some other emotional disorder, though no one knows why. Perhaps it is that people who suffer from emotional problems are given Art as a means of coping and as a way to balance the effects of such disorders. I think of Vincent Van Gogh madly slapping paint on his canvases day after day and I'm reminded of myself, hurriedly scribbling words on a page until my hands cramped. Perhaps I've been given Art as a Medicine to my Madness. I may be another fou roux, but hopefully something beautiful will come out of it.  

Even if Art isn't your forte, you can take advantage of its benefits. Coloring, yes coloring with crayons or colored pencils, has been shown to aid in stress relief. I recently printed out some coloring pages, put on some relaxing music and added some color to this:

Yes, it's Vincent's bedroom...with my own touches.


It was incredibly therapeutic and it brought me through a rough spell of near-crippling anxiety. I don't wish for my emotional issues to become my identity. I am not just a depressed and anxious person. I am a writer who is working through her demons, and I'm doing it with the most powerful drug I know: ART.  




Thursday, October 02, 2014

Save Weiss Lake



I recently wrote about the lake near my home.  I described the water, the trees, the wildlife, etc.  I wrote about the lake as a place of reflection and meditation, of serenity and solitude.  I neglected to mention that the lake, my lake, is sick.  Weiss Lake, the place that has become not only my home, but also my creative haven, is in serious condition.  Years of abuse, pollution and outright neglect have left the once-pristine lake a place of refuse and decay and most people are not interested in changing that.

There is however, a glimmer of hope.  For the past year and a half, I have had the privilege of serving as Secretary for the aptly named Save Weiss Lake Foundation.  The Save Weiss Lake Foundation was created by a handful of local citizens who cared enough about the sad condition of the lake to form a group to try to make it better.  The Save Weiss Lake Foundation is now an official 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with currently around 150 members.  We have regular monthly meetings and most recently had our first annual Member Meeting in which we discussed our progress thus far.

So why am I writing about this in my blog?  Simple.  We need help.  At this moment our voice in the community is very small.  However, the more members and support we have, the larger and louder our voice will be.  A stronger voice means we can get more done in terms of community and political backing.  In the world of politics, money and numbers speak, and we currently have little of either.

Weiss Lake was once buzzing with tourist activity.  People came from all over to enjoy the beautiful lake and its surroundings.  With the deterioration of the lake, the tourists have fled to greener pastures and clearer waters.  The once flourishing independent restaurants, hotels and stores have shut down and for the most part, have vanished completely.  The condition of the lake is not just an ecological concern, but an economical concern as well.

It's also a matter of public health.  The pollutants in the lake, whether from septic pipes or dumped trash are poisoning the water and the aquatic life.  Weiss Lake is not just a recreational area.  For many residents, it is a daily food source.  The long-term health ramifications of eating fish from Weiss Lake are still unknown, but it seems clear that this could be a problem for people who eat from the lake regularly.
                                                          We want to keep this...
                                     
                                                             From becoming this.

Save Weiss Lake Foundation needs a lot of support and aid in order to address the issues with the lake and see them remedied.  The good news is that you don't have to live on the lake or even in this state to help!  You can be a part of making the world a better place right from wherever you are, and it only takes a few moments.  If you wish to do a good work and support a great cause, I urge you to visit Save Weiss Lake.  Read about the lake and our efforts and consider becoming a member, or at least making a small donation. This is a volunteer organization, so all funds go directly toward lake-centered projects and research.  Join us in making a great place even better and safe for future generations to enjoy.  It's an investment in the future, not just of Weiss Lake, but of a whole community.

Please visit http://www.saveweisslake.org/ for more information, to become a member, or to make a donation. You can make donations via our PayPal account, so all transactions are quick and secure!  Thanks in advance for your interest and assistance.  Every person and every little bit counts.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Trying Some New Meds

After much research and Pinterest pinning, I think I have finally hit upon a plan of action for dealing with my issues of mental, emotional and overall physical health.  I have always preferred a more holistic approach when dealing with ailments.  I don't like being medicated.  For one thing, my body is overly sensitive and drugs affect me more potently than they would an average person.  I also don't like putting "unnatural" things into my body.  If I can't get it from my food, I don't want to ingest it.

I have come up with a list of natural "Meds" that I hope will help me get into a better state of being.

Med 1:
Think extra virgin olive oil-covered John Stamos.

Mediterranean Diet-
I've read for years about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and have always leaned toward that style of cooking.  I use a lot of extra-virgin olive oil and fresh vegetables.  I try to cook fish as often as possible.  I don't fry food; I bake or grill or saute. I am going to try to incorporate even more fresh veggies and fruits and eliminate most processed foods from my diet.  I started doing a gluten free challenge several weeks ago and have noticed a big difference, so that will play a part as well.  Gluten free can be challenging, but I've found some really great alternatives to the things I love.  I've also discovered lots of great recipes using leaner cuts of meat and healthy proteins.  I have a regularly updated pinboard dedicated to the Mediterranean lifestyle here: Mediterraneans Don't Need Prozac.  I will also be re-instituting Meatless Mondays.  For info on that, click the following link: Meatless Monday Recipes.

Med 2: 
Lama lama lama... ka-dingita dinga dong


Meditation-
The term "meditation" means different things to different people.  For me, it isn't necessarily sitting cross-legged and chanting, but more a time of quiet reflection and peaceful thought.  I tend to rush around from thing to thing every day without taking any time to unwind and just sit and enjoy a moment.  Whether I spend the time in prayer, listening to calm music or just occupying one of the rocking chairs on my front porch in the early morning or evening, it will be time well-spent.  I plan to try a return to yoga.  I tried some simple moves and stretches years ago and greatly benefited from it. I have also found that keeping a journal or diary (or blog!) is a great way to work through my thoughts and emotions and can be very cathartic.


Med 3: 




Media (As in Social Media) Limits-
 While social media sites like Facebook can be great for keeping up with friends and relatives, they can also be a big distraction and time-suck.  I live out in the country and don't often see my friends and family.  Facebook is a nice way to stay connected, but I've found that more often than not, I waste valuable time reading through the events of people I rarely speak to on a normal basis.  I lose myself in the endless procession of cute kid pics, inspirational memes, Buzzfeed quizzes and funny videos.  And don't even get me started on Candy Crush.  Social media, like junkfood, is fine every now and then and within limits.  I can't live on brain junk.  I need real, valuable experiences outside of cyberspace.  Yesterday I cut back my Facebook timeline to the bare minimum.  I kept all my friends, but there are only a handful that I'm actually following.  I've also deleted all the apps junking up my sidebars.  It looks a bit sterile, but in a good, I-just-bleached-the-bathtub kind of way.

Med 4: 



Medium (Moderate) Exercise-
I have never been the athletic type.  I'm the sit-and-read-a-book type.  For years, this wasn't a problem because my metabolism was fast and furious.  However, as I've gotten older, my metabolism has slowed considerably and I can no longer just sit around.  I have to do at least some moderate activity.  I enjoy walking and here in the country there is plenty of room to just amble about.  I also have a walking partner. Her name is Lady and she is a very energetic and enthusiastic canine companion.  We walk just about every morning when it's cool and quiet. I enjoy the sunshine and Lady sniffs everything in sight.  I also plan to head back to the gym to spend some time on the bike and maybe even do some light weight training.  I'm not so concerned with losing weight as I am with just being healthy and in shape.

I am very hopeful that these new "Meds" will help me in my quest for total health and wellness. They're natural, simple and most importantly, enjoyable!  I will try to keep updates on my progress on here.  Of course, if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Be well!







Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Lost Hour

I was told, "Go slowly.  Enjoy the day, minutes. You rush and are stressed and anxious.  Stop. Breathe. Relax.  Look around you and appreciate what you see.  This is good for your mind and your spirit.  Go slow and enjoy."

Today I sat by the lake and watched the waterfowl.  One large white egret flew over and landed on a stump that was sticking out of the water.  He stood there tall like a sentry, keeping watch over everything going on around the lake today.

It was a beautiful day and the water was still warm and the fish were very active.  Quite often there were bubbles or splashes and ripples from the flip of a tail fin.

The island in the distance looked like just a cluster of green, while the mountains beyond were deep blue.  Some days the lake is still enough to reflect the clouds in the sky, but today there were many boats out, churning up the water and making waves to lap the shoreline.  The sun was on my shoulder like a warm, comforting hand.



The tree closest to where I sat had already changed color from green to gold, and its top branches were completely bare, just scraggly sticks scratching the sky.

The lake shore was lined with moss-covered rocks and I've always considered them to be beautiful. It's almost as if the rocks that dare to sit closest to the water's edge are given a soft, emerald cloak as a testament to their courage.


I sat by the lake today.  I just sat and watched and thought and scribbled a few notes.  I didn't plan or schedule or think about what I had to do next.  I didn't even look at my phone to check the time.  An hour passed and I didn't realize it.  And I was very glad.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Retail Therapy in Rome... Georgia

It has always been a dream of mine to visit Rome, Italy.  It's in one of the top slots on my Bucket List.  However, until I make some more money with this writing thing, I'll have to settle for somewhere a bit closer.  Today I headed off for a little Roman adventure in Northwest Georgia.  Rome, Georgia is a funky and vibrant little city situated on the Etowah, Oostanaula and Coosa Rivers about an hour's drive from Atlanta.  Diverse and urban, Rome offers a lot to do and experience.  The historic downtown area is lined with brightly painted shops and interesting restaurants.  There are also lots of bookstores, antique shops, and watering holes.  The red brick pedestrian paths are spotted with nice benches under colorful crepe myrtles.  Parking can be difficult on the street, but if you don't mind a walk, there are parking decks and pay-for-parking lots.  My advice is to park wherever you can and walk.  There is plenty to see along the way.

Downtown Rome, Georgia has plenty of pedestrian pathways for easy access.



I started off my downtown excursion by checking out my favorite bookstore, Paradise Lost Books. It's a very small used bookstore, but it is packed with an ever-changing assortment of previously owned and loved books.  For the amount of books crammed into the tiny space, it's surprisingly well organized and the prices are very reasonable.  Be sure to greet the friendly shop cats that roam the store when you check it out.

My other favorite Roman bookstore is Dogwood Books and Antiques.  This cool store has a great selection of antique and vintage books as well as collectibles and memorabilia. There is even a cozy reading nook upstairs. 

When I had finished foraging for books I was hungry, so I headed to Harvest Moon CafeThis neat little café offers sidewalk tables, an indoor/outdoor patio space and a cool interior seating area.  The indoor dining area is funky and cool with décor pieces by local artists, a number of cow-themed objets d'art, and some really awesome flatware chandeliers. There is also a bar upstairs on The Moon Roof and an event space, The New Moon Venue.  Harvest Moon Café has an excellent menu featuring favorites like chips and fries made in-house, pasta salad and the devilishly delicious Hot Wicked Pimina Dip.

I normally get the French Dip sandwich, hot rare prime rib with provolone on a toasted hoagie roll and served with au jus.  Today however, I opted for the meat and two veggie plate.  I ordered grilled tilapia as my meat, but was told the tilapia had been changed for either trout or salmon.  A tough choice, but I went with the salmon.  For my veggies I ordered garlic mashed potatoes and fried green tomatoes.  Since it was really beautiful out I decided to sit at one of the sidewalk tables.  The wait staff is always friendly and attentive and my glass was never less than half full of sweet tea.  My food arrived promptly and I couldn't wait to dig in.

The lunch menu at Harvest Moon Cafe is superb and relatively inexpensive.


While the garlic mashed potatoes could have used just a bit more seasoning, the fried green tomatoes more than made up for it.  The cornmeal crust was light and crispy, not at all soggy or greasy.  The tomatoes were nice and juicy and sweet.  The salmon was perfectly grilled, flaky and wonderfully seasoned.  A piece of cornbread came with the dish and it was super moist with just the right amount of heat from some sweet jalapenos. It was overall an excellent lunch: great food, nice atmosphere, excellent service.

I had planned on getting dessert next door at the Honeymoon Bakery after lunch, but I was much too full, so I decided to take a stroll downtown and do some shopping instead.  There are a number of excellent vintage and upscale consignment shops downtown, but my personal favorite is POSH.  This is the kind of store you see in magazines and on television.  It's super hip with cool lighting, tasteful displays and an excellent selection of upscale clothing and accessory items at great prices.   

POSH is a frugal fashionista's paradise!


After scoring some remarkable deals on some quality pieces for fall, I was feeling a bit noshy, so I headed back to the Honeymoon Bakery for something sweet.  The bakery is amazing.  The pastry case is stocked full of delectable items like cookies, cupcakes, tarts and even jumbo-sized Rice Crispy treats.


The Rice Crispy treats are the size of bricks!  Delicious marshmallowy bricks.

Honeymoon Bakery also makes custom cakes for weddings or other events.  They even have a nice assortment of gelato.

Soooo much better than plain ice cream!

 On this particular day though, I was after only one thing.... cannoli.



Honeymoon Bakery has the best cannoli I've tried so far.  The shell is nice and crispy and coated on the inside with a thin layer of chocolate.  The marscapone filling is sweet, but not cloyingly so, and the whole thing is drizzled with chocolate.  I took mine to go and sat out on one of the street-side benches and enjoyed it slowly.  Ah, la dolce vita!  

Other notable places in downtown Rome include:

The Historic Desoto Theatre: Home of Rome's Little Theatre, a community theatre company, this venue also hosts shows and concerts.

La Scala Mediterranean Bistro: My favorite place in the world to eat is pricey, but more than worth it.  The tomato basil soup and portabella ravioli are excellent.  

Old Havana Cigar Company: With its comfy leather chairs and top-notch selection of fine cigars, this cigar bar has an appealing speak-easy vibe to it.  They also have drinks and live music.  

There is much more to Rome, Georgia than the downtown area, but that's another post.  For more information on this cool city, check out: http://www.romegeorgia.org/ or visit their Facebook page at:Georgia's Rome








Monday, July 21, 2014

Meatless Monday Recipes

A while back I instituted Meatless Mondays at our house as a way to not only eat healthier, but to save money as well.  Meatless Mondays were hugely successful and no one seemed to be bothered by the lack of a meaty main dish.  Unfortunately, we ran into a snag when our collective schedules went berserk and we just started grabbing whatever was handy.  I plan on reinstating our Meatless Monday practice ASAP.  Here are a few of our favorite recipes:


Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells



from myrecipes.com


I know what you're thinking, "Spinach?  My family will never eat that."  Trust me, they will not only eat it, they will love it and beg you to make it again.


Eggplant Parmesan



from recipe.com


If you haven't tried eggplant, you should.  It's mild, but meaty and delicious!


Perhaps you're not into veggie dishes that are covered in tomato sauce and cheese. If that's the case, here are a few recipes for you:


Veggie Stir-Fry



from bbcgoodfood.com


This makes a really nice summer dish.  It's quick and easy and you can add whatever suits your family's tastes.


Portabella Mushroom Burger

from simplyrecipes.com


Portabella mushrooms, like eggplant, are meaty.  They have a nice beefy flavor and lend themselves perfectly to burgers. Pair this with some sweet potato oven fries and you'll have a super tasty and healthy alternative to fast food! 


And for days when no one can really agree:


Personal Homemade Veggie Pizzas
You can use a premade crust, a mix, or a made-from-scratch crust for your pizza.  Use any sauce you like and then let the family members choose their toppings from an assortment.  We like mushrooms, spinach, peppers and even artichoke.  The pizzas cook up in minutes and everyone is happy!


Click here for more tasty veggie pizza recipes


Happy Monday!