Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve Resolutions


The best New Year's Eve I ever spent was in Baltimore. Kerry, Luke, and I were hanging out at my tiny little studio apartment on Bond Street in Fell's Point. We were waffling between just staying in or heading out, stymied, in part, by the thought of dealing with the crowd of drunk frat bros stumbling through the streets and vomiting in the gutters. At 11 p.m. we decided to head across Bond to a local dive with friendly bartenders who gave us free drinks (now it's One-Eyed Mike's, and none of us can remember the name when we were there). At midnight we stood in the lot next to the bar and watched the fireworks over the Harbor, way back before Harbor East rose up and took over the view with its massive gym, condos, and Whole Foods.

We stayed in that bar until 6 a.m., when we may or may not have gone to breakfast at Jimmy's. The last actual memory I have of that night is the firework that exploded in the shape of Saturn (the first time I had ever seen that shape in fire), but I also remember the good time and the contentment of that night. Being happy.

I am a creature of habits, odd ones to be sure, but there they are. Before the clock strikes 12 on the 31st, I usually buy a ridiculous amount of food (like Y2K amounts) and put in several bottles of wine or other good booze (it's an abundance thing, I suppose). In addition, I have spent New Year's Eve in various places and with various people, but there are three things that are always constant, three minor rituals that I always do on or the day before New Year's Eve.

1. I shave my legs. I do a good job, all the way up and all the way around, not the normal winter shave of "not at all" or "just up to the kneecap."

2. I get rid of all the grey in my hair. Drapes and carpet. This may be TMI, but it's the truth.

3. I wax my eyebrows. Have someone else wax them, truthfully, but either way they get waxed.

It's odd that all of these three things have to do with hair, the plucking, shaving, coloring or otherwise altering my hair in shape, color, or location, but I only just realized that of everything I have done all of my life, all of the resolutions I have made and unmade, these things are my true north on New Year's Eve. Maybe it has to do with getting lucky. Maybe it has to do with the turning of the wheel and pushing back time.

Whatever it is, there is only one other thing that I have done more than once on a New Year's Eve, and it's a resolution, the same words, and it works every time, for better or worse. Once, it resulted in moving across the country. Once, it resulted in a death. Once, it resulted in a birth. Every time I make this resolution, it happens. I have only made this resolution three times (see the above three results). It is powerful, maybe because it is vague enough to be open to interpretation, but on the years I don't make it nothing much seems to happen. The resolution is this:

This time next year, I will be in a different place.

Sometimes I feel like tempting fate and making it to see what happens, but it's truly a crapshoot and I am not sure I am feeling all that lucky. If I do end up making a resolution this year, I will damn sure not say it out loud or write it down unless I am 100% prepared for the consequences. This is none of this The Secret bullshit, which has resulted in millions of people waiting for things to happen to them instead of getting off their ass and going out and doing them. It seems that when I put something into words then every cell in my body is bent on making whatever I have said happen. So I am already in a  different place, and I am not sure if I want to be in an even more different place this time next year.

What say you? What rituals or resolutions follow you around?


Sunday, December 28, 2014

On Vulnerability


"The question, then, is not only how to uncover our fundamental tenderness and warmth but also how to abide there with the fragile, often bittersweet vulnerability. How can we relax and open to the uncertainty of it?"

From this article by Pema Chodron, in which she discusses how loss and heartbreak opens us up to warmth, but then how we snap our hearts shut soon after. In the days following 9/11, this was the feeling of vulnerability that prompted most people to treat each other with tenderness. Shortly thereafter, just days, really, that tenderness faded, and we all went back to being gruff, protected, sheltered. Hiding our softest parts.

We all have them, these tender spaces that very few people are allowed to see. Babies are born with them, even called soft spots, so delicate that you can see their hearts beating through their downy hair. The body itself wisely closes that soft space as the baby grows, and our heart buries itself deep into our chests.

As 2014 ends and a new year begins, February looms. February, the most bittersweet month on the calendar, mercifully short. The month I met my love, and the month I lost him thirteen years later (almost to the day we met, on the day of our first date). I have felt crabbish and small these last few months, thinking daily of Dane and Life After.

I can feel myself shrinking a bit. I have had a hard time looking strangers in the eye. I have had a hard time being open and vulnerable. More often as I write this blog, this blog that is supposed to be the purest expression of myself (by my own design, as much as I can, as honest and authentic as I can be), I have had to stop or delete altogether blogs written for an audience by some version of the self I would like to project.

I don't want that to be me in my work anymore. I assume there is an audience of some kind reading out there because I get your comments and analytic reports. I cannot write for an audience, though. I have to write for me and know that on some level it might resonate with someone. Being authentic and vulnerable here has been harder of late.

This is the time, Chodron says, that we should turn to each other. The time we feel the most vulnerable and anxious and scared is the best time to recognize that these are universal feelings that everyone has felt or is feeling or will feel. Instead of feeling connected, though, we get angry and withdraw or blame something/one else. We shrink into anger instead of expanding into love.

I don't want to be that person. I want to be open and vulnerable and trust that the people I meet will not hurt me (intentionally). I don't know how to do that except to just do that, but transparency goes against my nature, or at least the vision of myself.

" For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." 1 Corinthians 13: 12 (KJV)

But then also...

"Ignorance is regarding the impermanent and permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasant, and the non-Self as the Self." Sutra 5, Book Two The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali

So I think I know who I am but maybe not so much, and this darkly clouded glass is ignorance and confusion. Chodron says that pain is an illuminating experience in the most spiritual sense of the word if we can manage to seize the opportunity to stay with the tendency towards warmth and light as the pain starts to fade.

All this to say, simply, I want to fall in love again, but I don't know if I am capable of letting myself be that open to another human.

That was hard to say. It took 653 words to get there. It's what I was referring to in this earlier post but literally could not type the words yet.

But as I think about falling in love again, I feel myself closing up. I referred to myself as "not a hugger" multiple times in settings when, in fact, I actually could have easily been a hugger and people wanted to hug me, but I threw up the barrier as much as if I had stacked bricks.

I don't know if I have the capacity to let go that much anymore. But I know I don't want to be alone.

What do you do when you want to do a thing you don't feel you can do?


Thursday, December 18, 2014

What Does Abundance Feel Like?


A couple of months ago I wrote a post about feeling dry. Parched, shriveled up. I always envision pictures of salt flats or deepest Africa, the ones with fissures running across the cracked earth. This dryness, to me, is the ultimate symbol of deprivation.

The contrast to this pervasive dryness is lush abundance, a rainforest filled with light and life, a painting by Ruebens, the fullness of a spring morning. Wetness and warmth and glowing rounded figures.

Just yesterday I wrote a blog for a client on using gratitude to boost mood (#irony). One of the experts I quoted identified the three pillars of grateful people, chief among them the feeling of abundance:

  • Grateful people feel abundance in their lives; they do not feel deprived

  • Grateful people are satisfied with simple pleasures

  • Grateful people appreciate those around them

So what happens when grateful people lose that feeling of abundance? Can they maintain the other two pillars, or, like a three-legged stool, does that gratitude fall away into dust? What is abundance anyway?

I am a grateful person, not by nature but by practice (that continues daily). I know that I am lucky beyond measure with health, good people that I call friends and family, a daughter who is an amazing example of a human, a job that isn't just work, and all of the basic necessities of life. These things are enough. Of course they are enough.

But still.

It seems patently ungrateful to reflect on these things and then still retain that feeling of deprivation.

It's in the worry about building up a savings account after it was depleted to pay for The Child's trip to Paris. Or paying for tiny house parking in January. Or buying new pants for The Child five minutes after she gets new ones because they are instantly too small.

It's in the holiday season that is MERRY and BRIGHT with SHINY NEW TOYS. I don't shop unless I absolutely need something because once I enter a store I get caught up in the cycle of "I want." It throws me off the path. Makes me feel like less of a person because I cannot fill my cart with shiny, happy baubles. Baubles that I don't need and would ultimately not use, but still.

It's the conflict between what I truly believe (life should be filled with experiences, travel, good friends and food) and what it seems the vast majority of the country believes (life is about getting the latest. The newest. Shop every season for new clothes. Your kids should have every single thing they desire. You are a bad parent if you say no. Presents should be piled high under the tree). On good days, when I have grown and canned my own tomatoes or made my own farmhouse-style vanity from reclaimed wood from the rehab (that's happening!! Stay tuned!), or when I have spent the day with friends or with Sicily, exploring the city or on the road, there is no conflict. My heart is full.

But on other days, when I try to figure out, as my friend Luke puts it, how to stuff ten pounds of shit in a five-pound sack, it's much harder. These are the days when my now-obsolete laptop shuts off for no reason, or when the Seahawks are on national TV but we don't have cable so we can't watch. These are small things, first-world problems, really, that make me think that I need to spend some time with people who truly have nothing.

But then I feel awful because we have to choose between buying Sicily's art teacher a giftcard for the holidays so he can replenish the art supplies without using his own money and "adopting" a family from the local community center so they can have SOCKS FOR CHRISTMAS. Or putting together kits for the homeless, so when I stop at a light and see a sign I can hand out a bag with a few protein bars, some hand warmers, some socks, and a few hygiene items.

Abundance to me means enough to share, widely, and I don't feel that way right now. It makes me feel shrewish and ungenerous and cold in a season that has those feelings in spades. It makes me feel pinched with worry. It doesn't feel like "christmas" (minus the Christ part, for me) because I cannot give. And that, to me, is the height of deprivation.

I am not sure how to cultivate the feeling of abundance even when I am worried about bills and giving and the future. Maybe the answer is to not worry about those things which, after all, are ultimately not fixed with worry. Asking me to not worry is like asking the sun to please not set in the west.

What is abundance to you? Do you feel like it exists in your life?


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Muffin Sunday


Some mornings are made for muffins.

Sunday mornings, in particular, seem like the perfect time to wander sleepily around the kitchen in your bathrobe, throwing ingredients together. As you feed the dogs and they head back to sleep, your muffins will be filling the house with the warm, tantalizing smells of cinnamon and, because it's the holiday and you happen to have some in the 'fridge, eggnog.

These particular muffins are delicious, dense and sweet but not cloying. They take five minutes to throw together and are highly adaptable to whatever is in your pantry. They don't make many, though, just eight goodly-sized muffins, so be prepared to double if you are feeding a crowd. They freeze well, so every morning can be Sunday morning.

Cinnamon Eggnog Crumble Muffins

For the muffins:

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour (gluten-free blends work well here; try this recipe)

1/2 c. sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 egg

1 egg yolk (or just add 2 full eggs, easy like Sunday morning)

1 teaspoon vanilla

5 tablespoons yogurt

splash of eggnog (or milk if you have accidentally consumed all of your eggnog)

Crumb topping:

1/2 c. sugar

1/2 c. all-purpose flour (gluten-free here, too, if needed)

1/4 cup melted/cooled butter

1 tablespoon cinnamon (you could use less if you want to, and maybe add in a pinch of nutmeg. Your kitchen. Your choice. You could also add pecans or some other kind of nut.)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use muffin liners, or spray muffin tin with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, mix together dry muffin ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together wet muffin ingredients. Add wet to dry, and mix until combined. The mixture will be fairly thick, but if it seems too thick, add another splash of 'nog or milk. Spoon into prepared muffin tins.

For the topping, combine flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Add melted, cooled butter and mix with a fork. Top each muffin with a  generous spoonful.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the muffins peek a golden brown top through the crumble. A toothpick inserted into a muffin will come out with crumbs sticking to it but not be wet.

Try to wait a couple minutes while they cool in the tins, then eat. Cool completely if you are planning to freeze. Fresh muffins keep well for three days, but they won't last that long.

(image is what I plan on doing after eating these)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Should You Bother With A Backup Plan?


This week Sicily and I managed to get ourselves out of the house after dark THREE TIMES. This is huge. Even though darkness comes obscenely early these days, once The Child is home and dinner is done, all I want to do is curl up on the couch and go to sleep.

However, I bought a Living Social deal for a restaurant in Fell's Point back in August, and it was about to expire, plus The Child had a painting in an art exhibit at UMBC, so we went to dinner before the show and then to UMBC.

The Child's piece of art (photographed poorly by me, see above) was based on the work of Tom Scott, and the curator of the Tom Scott exhibit spoke to the assembled group to talk a little about Scott and to give some life advice. Namely, that artists shouldn't plan on making a living from their art and that they need to have a Plan B, and "probably a Plan C."

As he spoke, I got more irritated.

He talked about how it's not possible to live simply these days, but it was easier to live simply back in the 50s and 60s, so artists didn't need as much money to survive. He said that art can be a profitable hobby, and parents should support their kids and let them go to art school if they want to but to make sure that they are prepared to do something else and leave art to the weekends and evenings.

I will concede: very few artists of any stripe will achieve international fame and exorbitant monetary success. An artist who subsists off the proceeds from his or her art (and here I mean painting, writing, music, etc) will generally not live in a mansion and drive a fancy car.

And to this I ask: so what?

So what if you don't have a mansion? So what if your car isn't fancy?

This obsession with gadgetry and new everything and what things look like on the outside (brand-name clothing, etc) are cyanide to anyone with artistic inclinations. The message being delivered by the curator and people of his ilk is this: you have to choose between eating and art. Which is patently untrue.

One of my favorite quotes that I will butcher here and not attribute to anyone because I cannot remember who wrote it (but it's not plagiarism if you make sure to say you didn't write it, yes?): Don't be so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.

If you are an artist, ART. Paint. Write. Make music. Sing your song. Having a Plan B, or god help you, a Plan C, makes it too easy to fall back on that plan. If you are hungry and you are working on it you will succeed. How you measure success is up to you. If you measure it by the size of your house, then perhaps art isn't the right place for you. Maybe you like the IDEA of being an artist, the trappings, more than the act of art.

But if you measure it in terms of granting yourself the freedom to find your voice and express it, or by dedicating yourself to getting better at your art and doing it every day, then toss out the Plan B, and just ART.

This panic over money and the Plan B cushion is why I didn't become a writer when that's what I wanted to be from a very young age. I drank the middle-class Kool-Aid that said I had to have a career and go to college, so I did, and I became a teacher, which I loved, but in the back of my mind was this idea of writing. I am 100% sure that the reason my school got off the ground at all is because a donor backed out at the last minute and I had no money to work with. I had to make it successful because for a time, that was all the money we had coming in. So I put in the work and ended up with a fully accredited, non-profit private school that I built myself from nothing. Had I fallen back on the cushion that a donor would have provided, I am not sure that I would have worked as hard. If I am being honest (which I always try to be).

When Dane died I decided that life is too uncertain to put off doing what I wanted to do. As much as I loved the school, and even though it was beginning to turn a profit in the sense that I could actually give myself a paycheck, it was time to put that work into something for me. Teaching and education is my heart, but writing is my soul. Or vice versa, depending on the day.

There is definitely a certain level of anxiety surrounding the money I am bringing in (or not). But if I am being honest, which I always try to be, there has always been a certain level of anxiety surrounding money for me. So much so that I can remember coming up with a mantra in my mid-twenties self-help period that clearly reflected this anxiety: I have everything I need.

So if I am going to be anxious about money, why not be anxious while doing something I love? Why not finally throw myself into learning more about who I am as a writer? Why not prioritize time over money?

Thankfully, The Child was just as irritated as I was by the curator's speech. She felt like he was saying that art was good, but be okay with spreading yourself thin with a day job. Some would argue that I am handicapping her by encouraging her to throw herself into what she does with no thought of the practical, but to that I will simply say this: she built a house and has given two TEDTalks. She can certainly be as unmotivated as any adolescent, but when she is determined, she is persistent. Persistence is a better Plan B than any day job, and she is working hard to cultivate that (with some "motivational help" from me, I'll warrant).

Final thought is this: if you are prepared to throw yourself into learning and doing and creating, if you are determined and persistent, if you have focused on what's important to you and not followed the sheeple who preach material goods and the almighty dollar, if you have a path that you believe in an are willing to do what it takes to make it work, then a backup plan is unnecessary. Go out and ART.

What do you think? Should you have a backup plan?

Edited to add: I should also say that, after reading this blog again, some might interpret this post as being judgmental of those who take day jobs. This couldn't be farther from the truth; I was one of those people, too. We do what we have to do based on where we are and what we think we can do. There is no shame in providing for yourself and your family. I just hated to hear this guy telling a group of enthusiastic students that they can't be artists as a job. He was killing the dream before they could even dream it. The point is to think differently about what really matters in this life and act on that.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Yoga: The Art Of Finding Your Worst Self


Just like that, I have run smack into myself.

It's in the way I argue with Pantanjali's Sutras, choose the hour class over the 90-minute one, and judge the shapes I make as I learn the asanas.

It's the bargaining about whether or not I will go to yoga today because, after all, the teacher training only requires two classes and  I already did those, so technically I don't have to go.

It's hard. I don't believe in God, really, so the bhakti (devotional) yoga is killing me, and it's just like Jack Nicholson's crazy face through the door in The Shining: it's opening the door just enough so I can focus on how hard everything is and highlight the things I don't agree with and the parts I am bad at (nearly every pose, these days, apparently). Only meeting once a month leaves lots of times for assumptions and interpretations.

And then I read this from sutra 30:

"Yoga practice is like an obstacle race; many obstructions re purposely put on the way for us to pass through. They are there to make us understand our own capacities. In fact, this is the natural law. If a river just flows easily, the water in the river does not express its power. But once you put an obstacle to the flow by constructing a dam, then you can see its strength..." (source)

And then I guess that it is human nature to want the river to just flow smoothly, but how many people really allow it to do that? How many people let their lives run in an unhurried pace with no drama? More often than not we stir the pot to create a little current in the river of our lives. I think we enjoy the rapids, even as we complain about them.

If I am being honest (which I always try to be), I am a little over all of this self-discovery, which is unfortunate because there is so much more in store. So I guess the plan is this:

  • Make a rule: don't skip more than one day between yoga classes.  This is how you build a habit, and I should know because I just wrote two blogs on the topic. It takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit, big or small, and falling off the wagon or slipping up doesn't seem to affect that time period. However, taking a big break can stop the habit formation in its tracks. I feel better when I go to yoga, and I am a better human, and I just need to keep that in mind. I'm doing it for humanity.

  • Make a plan: my procrastination is going to bite me in the hind parts sooner rather than later, especially with all of my technology issues of late. So it's back to the "to-do" list and making a budget to keep up with the house rehab, the reading requirements, writing my $#@! book, and working. Plus finances, because I am going to need a new computer soon, and cash is our currency of choice around here. Maybe I'll figure that out on Monday.

  • Make a deal: I am so judge-y. Even that statement was judge-y.  I need to stop being so critical of the classes that I choose to take. Getting on the mat is challenge enough sometimes, so that has to be enough.

  • Make the effort: I go to class because my home practice is non-existent, and I need a teacher to push me. So I need to push myself in class. Coming back from a wrist injury is very discouraging, especially when so much is done on the hands and wrists, but within minor restrictions I can go much harder than I am currently going.

  • Make some balance: yoga is not just the asanas (poses) but also the other eight limbs, one of which is prana (breath, energy). I have been avoiding the breath. Sounds weird, but stop this instant and tell me how you are breathing. I bet you are holding your breath or breathing very shallowly, and your shoulders are hunched forward and clenched up near your ears. BUSTED. So I need to breath, to meditate, to try to quiet my brain. When I push myself in asana, sometimes it's all I can do to breath and stay upright, so my brain is only focused on that. Valuable, but I need to learn how to do it when I am not moving. HARD.

Can you tell I need a little structure in my life? I guess I will consider this as fortifying the banks of my own personal river to contain the raging flood of self-discovery. See how I did that?

What's raging in your river this week?


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Fear Of Silence


Many things are conspiring this past week to make it nearly unbearable.

I am particularly sensitive to the world, and sometimes it's too much. It's easy to scoff at this and say I am being too sensitive, or that I am overly dramatic, or I should just ignore it, and I try. If you tend to let things slide off your back, you will never understand, and you will always think me a bit weak for not only feeling this way but for also admitting to feeling this way.

But sometimes, between the dark and the tragedy and the daily stuff of life, it is very difficult for me to hold up well. I feel in my cells.

This morning there is new video of the aftermath of Eric Garner's death. Police officers milling about, not particularly urgently, and Garner very obviously not breathing. No one administering comfort or aid. Eric Garner is a neutralized sack of meat on the sidewalk. Devastating.

Usually I will respond by hibernating a little or going on a media blackout. This weekend I am going to try something different. I am going to try to go out into the grey world. I am going to breathe.

Tricycle has published an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh's next book talking about the fear of silence. The reasons why we won't stop and turn off the noise, either physical noise or media noise. There is a brief guided meditation focused on uniting mind and body and moving into the silence.

I catch myself breathing in short, sharp, shallow breaths these days. Even on the mat it is hard to breathe deeply. I feel like I am holding tragedy in every cell of my body these days, internalizing it and keeping it in. If I am being honest (which I always try to be), I will say that I don't know if I believe that simply by breathing I will make anything better. Maybe I will be less tense, but in yoga breath is supposed to contribute to some sort of magical release into the universe, and I am just not there. Call me the Cynical Yogi.

But goddamn. I am willing to try just about anything. I found The Child sobbing in the shower last night, and I can't fall to pieces right now. I can't hibernate.

So today, and tomorrow, I will breathe.



Friday, December 5, 2014

Dreary Days, Or How To Hold On Until The Solstice


So some days it's better to stay off the internet.

These are the days when I look at all of the beautiful pictures and writing that other people are doing, then look at mine and think, "Why bother?"

These are the days when I feel an overwhelming need for stuff that I can't buy. That feeling ultimately isn't really about the stuff anyway. Still.

These are the days when I want to get in my car and just go, or go to the airport and just leave. Somewhere warm and without many people.

These are the days where it is getting dark at 4:30 and the skies are a beautiful dreary grey that nonetheless makes me feel like listening to Damien Rice or Ray LaMontaigne and sitting on the couch with a fluffy blanket and a never-ending cup of tea.

These are the days when I lose all touch with my yogic mind and begin to flagellate myself in the brain. This is a flogging that leaves no visible marks but is nevertheless very painful.

Everything is a minus. Every hill is a mountain. Every step is a trial.

Until December 21st, the light gets smaller and smaller.

Then the very next day we start to add precious minutes of daylight, little by little, until the ladybugs wake up and starting landing on windowsills and the grass starts to grow and the dogs start to itch because the fleas are back.

Right now I have to figure out how to float through this and just let it be whatever it is.

Maybe I will bake my way through it.

Maybe I will drink a lot of tea and read and sit and stare and twirl my hair.

What would you do?


Separating Food And Life

So thanks to my intrepid webmaster, Andrew Odom, I now have two separate blogs: one for food-related stuff (Bitter/Sweet Food), and one for everything else (Bitter/Sweet Life). Mad love to Andrew; he is the SEO and social media master!

Have a great weekend, everyone!


Monday, December 1, 2014

Creative Entitlement And Responsibility


This quote popped up on my Facebook feed this morning.

"All the resources you will ever want or need are at your fingertips. All you have to do is identify what you want to do with it, and then practice the feeling-place of what it will feel like when that happens. There is nothing you cannot be or do or have. You are blessed beings; you have come forth into this physical environment to create. There is nothing holding you back, other than your own contradictory thought. And your emotion tells you you're doing that. Life is supposed to be fun—it is supposed to feel good! You are powerful creators and right on schedule. Savor more; fix less. Laugh more; cry less. Anticipate positively more; anticipate negatively less. Nothing is more important than that you feel good. Just practice that and watch what happens. There is great love here for you. We are complete."


I went to sleep as early as my grandmother last night and woke up at my birthday time (3:14), wide awake. The dog liked the idea of getting up, so rather than lie in bed, twirling my hair, I gathered the dog and the cat and headed down for early morning coffee, and maybe some guilt-free Facebonking.

I read the above quote, then saw something else posted on Elizabeth Gilbert's Facebook page, and it was like an epiphany this morning. She is talking about the idea of creative entitlement; that is, the idea that we are all entitled to the space of creativity. To wit:

"Creative entitlement doesn’t mean behaving like a princess, or acting as though the world owes you anything whatsoever. No, creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and believing that — merely by being here, merely by existing — you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own."

I have been thinking a lot about this lately, as my mercenary writing work picks up and I ignore Pantanjali's Sutras that I am supposed to be reading for yoga teacher training. Along with being entitled to creative space, voice, and vision, there is a responsibility (should you choose to accept it) to take advantage of it. I fall into the easy trap of distraction frequently. I use the excuse that it's all research and reading and that should be okay for a writer.

Except it's only okay when it is done to a purpose, not just following clickbait until you suddenly find yourself reading an article on the ten best places to retire in the mountains and you realize that two hours of fluff have gone by.

I write and talk and think a lot about the cult of busyness, how everyone says, when asked how they are doing, "I'm BUSY!" like it's a badge of honor to be so busy but it's kind of complaining also. But we have exactly the same number of hours in a day as Einstein or da Vinci or Curie. And it many ways, we have more time created by our modern conveniences. So when we say we are busy, we are really neglecting to utilize our time. I am not utilizing my time.

If the resources are right at my fingertips, and I am entitled to my creative space, then it is my responsibility to fill that creative space with creation.   Gilbert talks about why we shirk this responsibility so often, and it is spot-on for me this morning. She talks about David Whyte and "the arrogance of belonging":

"Without [the arrogance of belonging], you will never push yourself out of the suffocating insulation of personal safety, and into the frontiers of the beautiful and the unexpected.

The arrogance of belonging is not about egotism or self-absorption. In a strange way, it’s exactly the opposite; it's a force that will actually take you OUT OF YOURSELF and allow you to engage more fully with the world. Because often what keeps you from living your most creative and adventurous and expressive life IS your self-absorption (your self-doubt, your self-disgust, your self-judgment, your crushing sense of self-protection)."

This is psych 101: if you don't try you will never fail. If you don't step away from the computer or the other distraction, if you don't shut up the voice in your head and all of your fears, you will never escape the "suffocating insulation of personal safety" (this phrase bears repeating for me, and all of us who fall into the trap of routine. To quote Coehlo: "If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.").

After realizing that you are entitled to creative space, then it is time to show up and do the work. It is your responsibility to do so. It makes you a better person.

This is my meditation for today: I am entitled, I am responsible. What is your mantra?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mark Strand: Lines For Winter


Mark Strand, Pulitzer-prize-winning poet, died today, and I'll be damned if he didn't write just about the best poem to encapsulate my mood. His other poems are equally gorgeous and spare in tone, but this one is particularly timely for me.
Lines For Winter 

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself --
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

Offered without commentary today simply because I can't quite encapsulate the sneakiness of grief, almost two years later, as Christmas lights twinkle and the weather gets darker. This is why we have poets: to say what we mean, and mean what we say.

What are you telling yourself these days?

Saturday, November 29, 2014



Last night I shared the magic that is Moonstruck with The Child.

It is a simple little movie. Uncomplicated but fraught nonetheless. About 45 minutes in, The Child said, "It's halfway over, and nothing has happened."

I pointed out that in those 45 minutes, a day had passed in the movie, and Loretta had fallen in love. The Child was looking for the big action, the major, in-your-face moment, not what usually happens in the small, quiet moments when life changes.

We miss it, often, I think, because we are looking for the big, in-your-face moment. We are looking through the branches to the top of the tree for the biggest fruit, then wasting time puzzling how to get up there to grab it, when sometimes the sweetest things are at eye level.

Today, I hope you find something sweet right in front of you.



Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday


Today is Black Friday, and the only thing I will be buying is a couple pies for breakfast, plus regular grocery shopping because I didn't cook yesterday and we have no leftovers in the 'fridge.

We are a nation of conspicuous, ridiculous consumers. Our economy is based on whether or not people shop. I think this is ridiculous, but before everyone jumps all over me and tells me that's how it always is, I will admit that I am not an economist and I have no idea of another system that would work on a large scale. Yes, people need goods, but shopping is a hobby for many, an actual activity or destination. They buy because it's there, not because they need it or it is especially beautiful.

To utterly mangle a quote from I'm not sure who, my shopping philosophy is simple: do not buy anything you do not find utterly useful or beautiful.

In other words, lay off the crap from China.

Stop shopping recreationally.

Stop teaching your kids to purchase ANOTHER $10 toaster just because it's $10. This is especially important. Our society raises kids who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. They don't need another video game; they need to go to the zoo or a museum or a sporting event or a fancy tea. Kids need your time and space to develop creativity, not dolls or toys that reinforce gender stereotypes.

For myself, I need to work on allowing myself to buy things when I need them. We have been broke for so long that I fall into Depression-era thinking (use it up, wear it out; make do, do without) uncomfortably often. I need to allow myself to buy something I need that costs more because it is well-made, to spend money on myself without feeling guilty about it. Sometimes I need to just buy the beautiful thing because it's beautiful and I love it.

Fun fact, though: I declared bankruptcy when I was 22. I was a recreational shopper. A strong believer in retail therapy. So now I have swung the other direction and want to save my pennies for experiences and travel, not things. After all, there are so many things you won't find in a store.

But there is a balance, and it is okay to settle somewhere comfortably in the middle.

Maybe ask yourself this, though, as you head out today: will what I am about to buy bring joy to someone's life, real joy, or will it make their life easier or more beautiful? If not, what can I do to make that happen for them today?

Leave your answer to that in the comments. I'd love to hear what happens.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Everyday Miracles


“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, from The Miracle of Mindfulness

Happy Thanksgiving.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Procrastinate Productively


Snow is starting to mix in with the rain, as promised by the weather forecasters, but I don't believe we will get any interesting accumulation, which is just as well because no one likes three inches of grey slush.

Snow or don't, in my opinion. And certainly don't just be cold.

Today is cookie baking and writing and yoga reading and procrastinating to some extent but with one caveat: procrastinate productively. This may be my mantra for 2015. If I must avoid something, avoid it productively. Eventually, my house will be so spotless or my random paper will be so organized that I will have to address whatever I am avoiding.

For today's avoidance, because snow flurries and movies and peanut butter hot chocolate, I will be watching this. Who Owns Yoga? floated across my Tumblr this morning. Yoga is a hot commodity in the west, competitive and fancy now, far removed from its origins 5,000 years ago. Since I have already written 2,000 words, it's time to take a break.

If you don't have time for the video, or your boss frowns on you doing something other than working at work, check out The Onion's article from 1996 "Monk Gloats Over Yoga Championship." #Classic

Enjoy your day!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014



“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.” ~Andrew Boyd~

When bad things happen, really, really bad things, like Newtown, I have a hard time functioning in the world. The morning after Newtown, the first thought in my mind when I woke up was, "There are parents who are waking up to their first day without their children today." A crippling thought.

Generally I have to approach the very worst of the bad by going on a media blackout. I know the basics of Newtown, but for the better part of five days I did not go online, watch TV, or pick up a newspaper. No NPR, no news on other radio stations. Full media blackout. I got to spend time in reflection and with my daughter, feeling immense gratitude and still a nearly overwhelming sadness. When I emerged from the five days of silence, the world was largely unchanged.

But this is not really about that.

This is about Ferguson.

I don't care which side of the fence you land on. It doesn't matter if you feel Michael Brown was killed unnecessarily or if Darren Wilson was protecting himself.

It doesn't matter how you feel about the looting that occurred after the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson.

(But let's pause here for a moment to correct some facts. To not indict someone does not absolve them of the guilt of the crime. That Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown 12 times is not in dispute. That Michael Brown was not an angel is also not in dispute.The grand jury decided that based on the evidence presented they did not feel that a prosecutor would secure a guilty verdict on any of the potential charges. So they did not issue an indictment)

What matters here that an entire segment of the population feels that, once again, the system of law in the United States has failed to protect them. They feel that the law applies unequally based on skin color, that racism is institutionalized to shift the ever-growing balance of power to the ever-shrinking majority (for now). They feel this so strongly that last night, their powerless rage led some people to burn, loot, and steal, sometimes in their own neighborhoods.

When someone destroys their own home, rends their own clothes so to speak, they have lost all hope.

And again today, the parents of a black son are waking up without their child.

"Seek first to understand, then be understood." Proverbs 4:7 

Ferguson is just a visible, violent reminder of how disenfranchised members of the black community feel. How vulnerable, discriminated against, and powerless.

Ferguson is a reminder of the thousand tiny ways in which the roots of racism are still spreading wide and far.

Until we sit down to understand one another. Until we recognize that "other" is the same thing as "self." Until we realize that the destiny of one affects the destiny of many. Until every child in this country is our child. Until we stop blaming and take personal responsibility for our thoughts and actions. Until we recognize truths about ourselves that are hard to admit.

Until then, there will always be Ferguson. There will always be dead black boys in the street, shot by each other, or white police officers, or black police officers. There will be riots and looting. Mistrust and suspicion.

Until we actually care enough about ourselves to extend that compassion into the world, the universe will continue to crush us. And we will never be free.


Monday, November 24, 2014


This is a last-minute post. I committed to NaBloPoMo, and I will see it through, come hell, five inches of snow, or last minute Thanksgiving plans.

Unlike many people, I like to cook for Thanksgiving. It does not stress me out at all.

Thankfully it does not stress me out (see how I did that?) because I am now cooking for a small party of four after my sister-in-law's papa found himself in the ER tonight (please take a moment to send very happy and healing thoughts to him. He is fighting bladder cancer, and it appears to be some type of infection but this news is so recent, like just hours recent, that they don't quite know yet. So spare him a healing thought if you have a moment.).

On the menu I have just cobbled together in my head:

  • Turkey (duh. Although possibly just a breast because only three of the four eat meat)

  • Potatoes, brussels sprouts, green beans (not that casserole crap. Snapped and steamed. Although the casserole crap is YUM, I just choose not to make it)

  • Pumpkin curry soup with coconut milk

  • Risotto

  • Some type of bread/bread product/cracker

  • Assorted olives, cheeses, pickles, chutneys

  • PIE. Maybe even three different kinds. Delicious PIE. Maybe a cheesecake for my brother Jason.

Can you tell which course I am most interested in?

Truthfully, this is why I am not ever particularly flustered by cooking on the day. I like the leftovers, and the hardest part (the pie) can be made in advance. Turkey just needs a little brine and a little love with the gravy at the very end. It is in my nature to procrastinate, so this arrangement actually suits me.

Except snow's a-comin', I have a tire that won't hold air, and I now have to shop two days before Thanksgiving. So there's that.

So a last-minute post for a last-minute meal that is going to be delicious and intimate and lovely. I will be glad to see my younger brother and happy to not be traveling.

Sending well wishes to John, and quick healing thoughts. This medicine Buddha is for him.



Sunday, November 23, 2014

Easy Like Sunday Morning


(I am the serenest!)

Sunday morning.

Is there any better way to spend it than making spicy ginger pumpkin pancakes and listening to Ben Harper?

I didn't think so.

Just in case you have no paper to read, or are casting about for some type of leisure reading, here is an article from The Onion from 1996: "Monk Gloats Over Yoga Championship." I read this when it first came out, and it has stuck in my mind ever since. Yesterday at yoga teacher training we were talking about competitive yoga in the west and how that goes completely against everything yoga is about. But, hey, when in Rome, right? So today I am going to walk around the studio, hands held high above my head, Rocky-style, chanting, "I am the serenest!"

Have a great day. Be the serenest wherever you are.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Where Do You Place Your Faith?


Yesterday was science Friday, so today it seems like a discussion of faith is in order.

But not really in a traditional sense.

Last night at yoga teacher training (YTT), before we started a two-hour asana practice that seemed both endless and lightning-fast at the same time, the teacher asked us three questions:

What is the solid foundation upon which you rest yourself?

Where do you place your faith?

What do you come home to?

I suppose for those raised in a church the answer is easy: God. Allah. Yahweh. Pick one. Whomever the deity is. The Godhead.

For others, such as myself, this question has plagued me for awhile, not in a seeking-religion or walking-in-the-desert-for-40-years-searching kind of way. People raised in church have it easy. In my experience (which I am sure has its opposite), the faithful are generally raised not to question. Faith is believing in something you cannot prove exists, and that's what happens. In the face of any evidence or any trial to the contrary, the religiously faithful still believe.

This is comforting in the face of tragedy, certainly. Unless you are on the receiving end of platitudes like "He's in a better place," when your husband has just died in a car accident. Then I wonder for whom faith is comforting. Certainly not me. But so happy the faithful feel good.

But I digress.

I thought about those three questions as we practiced (when I wasn't struggling to stay upright or "hug my muscles to my bones," which is still a very mysterious instruction to me), which I suppose was the point, and maybe there was a right answer. I suppose the right answer is supposed to be "the breath," but I am still young in my yoga practice and breathing, although reflexive, is very, very difficult. The breath is life, yes? A symbol that no matter what happens (unless death), we are still breathing, it is still constant, it is still there.

That's not enough for me. Alive isn't living. Alive isn't awake. Breath isn't enough. I don't care to place my faith in a reflexive action.

I have been seeking my home for a long time, and the archive of this blog will show evidence of that, including blog titles like "Running Away To Return" and "Home" and "Home Is..." and "Heading Home," plus others. Dane felt like home in a way that I hadn't ever known and hadn't ever appreciated until he died, but "home" can't be people. If you put your faith in people or build a foundation of them, that is problematic for super-obvious reasons, like death and disappointment and expectation and all of the other things that sentient beings are plagued with.

So I don't know what my answer is, but I am certain that it has something to do with something inside, and this feels very New-Age-y to me, which will run right up against my cynical side throughout this training, I suppose, but will ultimately make me a better teacher because so many people are already shaking their heads at the very IDEA of having faith in anything other than a vaporous god.

What are your answers? What do you place your faith in? What is home? Upon what have you built the foundation of your life?


Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Is Science Day

Struggling to come up with a Friday post. In the interest of staying the NaBloPoMo course, though, I here present to you a video for work-watching, should you need a diversion.

In a nod the House's ridiculous passage of the anti-science bill that would forbid scientists from advising the EPA based on their ow research, I offer lighter fare, a lovely TEDTalk on the science of happiness. Enjoy!


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Letting Go


Sicily is riding the city bus home from school today. Alone.

I had initially told her she had to ride with a friend first. With good reason. This is the same kid who had no idea where we were when we walked the dogs in a  larger rectangle than usual one evening. She is not known for paying excellent attention to her surroundings.

This is partially due to the fact that she is a teenager, and everyone knows that the world revolves around them. They shouldn't have to actually pay attention to the movements and actions of others, they are so sure that they are the center of attention.

But I have been thinking.

Sicily has started pulling away in the way that adolescents do. She no longer shares her school work with me (unless I ask, which I do, but I never get details, and it's never so I can help her). It takes more effort on my part to get her to share the details of her life, even though she isn't sullen or moody much. She is just becoming more private.

Hard doesn't come close to what this is.

For the past five years, I have been Sicily's teacher and mother. We have spent most of our waking hours together, and I have been in charge of her education and the organizer and coordinator of her household and personal life.

I have lost my husband, and now it is time for her to go away, too.

This is how it feels. Maybe a little less desolate because I know that she is here and will need me in other ways. But still. The hours that I spent on her are now available to me, but I am still finding my way back to life and could spend hours just staring out the window.

This is a feeling that non-parents will not be able to understand. It's not like you can raise a dog that is suddenly self-aware and able to function by him/herself and wants to move into the backyard two doors down. When Sicily was born I had to figure out who I was again. When Dane died, I had to figure out who I was again.

And now Sicily is becoming her own fabulous, independent person and it's time to explore myself. AGAIN. It's getting a little tiresome, if I am being honest. Sometimes I would like to just be the one person and get it over with.

And for you naysayers who are out there thinking you are always the same no matter what, well, to you I say: just wait.

So today, I will wait for the text that says she is on the bus. Then wait again for the one that says she is off the bus, then walk with the dog to collect her. Most likely, it will be a non-event. She will not want to do it every day because weather and sleepy and hassle. Or maybe she will. I am trying to think of it as giving both of us a little more freedom, but today this letting go makes me just a little sad.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Dream School


Every child should go to a school that sees them. They should all be treated with respect and dignity.

100% of children deserve a second chance. They also deserve to be held accountable and to be taught what it means to be responsible for their actions. They deserve to know what it means to fail, just as much as they deserve to know what it feels like to succeed, for it is only from the bitterness of the former that we taste the sweetness of the latter.

School should matter, and all of the people in it should make a difference in the lives of students, including the students themselves.

This model of care and commitment and accountability and respect can and should scale up to include every kid in our country, not just the ones who can afford Montessori or Reggio Emilia or a progressive private school.

Dream School is not 100% successful. The process is hard and filled with conflict. All of the kids in the school have been discarded by the education system, some by their families. No one expects anything of them, including the kids themselves.

Is it easier to hand them a worksheet? Of course. But see where that has gotten them.

If you haven't watched Dream School, take a look. Comment below. What would you change in school? How will you make a difference? 

"Everyone's a dreamer. Who doesn't want something great for themselves?"

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thich Nhat Hanh


Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen Buddhist monk. He lives in a monastery called Plum Village in the south of France. He is an activist for peace and mindfulness in the world.

"Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy and serenity."

On November 14, 2014, he suffered a brain hemorrhage. This came across in a snippet on my Facebook feed and has since disappeared.

"Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones."

 Thay, as his students refer to him, is as profound and important a spiritual leader as the Dalai Lama or the Pope. If either of those two were frail or suffered an injury, no doubt there would be massive coverage. Still.

"Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today."

Indeed, even Kim Kardashian's ass seems more important, based on the coverage of Thich Nhat Hanh vs. Photoshop.

"When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?"

He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr in 1967 and was awarded Courage of Conscience award in 1991.

"We need enlightenment, not just individually but collectively, to save the planet. We need to awaken ourselves. We need to practice mindfulness if we want to have a future, if we want to save ourselves and the planet."

He has published over 100 books on peace, meditation, love, courage, and hope.

"People sacrifice the present for the future. But life is available only in the present. That is why we should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now."

As of today, Thay has opened his eyes and shown signs of consciousness of his surroundings. The area of the hemorrhage has not grown, and new test have not shown additional damage. Doctors remain optimistic that he will recover, but that is still uncertain.

"Let us fill our hearts with our own compassion - towards ourselves and towards all living beings."

Spare a thought today, and spread the word. Namaste.


Monday, November 17, 2014

New York: A Photo Essay

I don't know if this would actually be considered a photo essay because it doesn't quite tell the whole story, but it's rainy and I am sleepy and this is what you get today.

Baltimore's Penn Station, Friday morning.


Practice on the train ride to NY


Fancy Hotel Hugo


Subway to Times Square (we lived on the 1 this weekend)


First stop


Times Square


Last minute advice Saturday before the talk


After the talk


Sunday. 9/11 Memorial.




Lady Liberty


Pigeons staking their claim outside the Plaza


Sunset. Leave-taking.



All in all an amazing experience. Mad love to the TED team, including Kelly, Rives, Nick, Cloe, and Liz, plus everyone behind the scenes who made the event so amazing. I will post the talk as soon as it is online.

New York, we will see you again soon...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Gratitude On A Friday Morning


I am writing this on Friday before we leave for NYC, but because I have promised to publish one blog post every day for the entire month of November, I am writing this before we get home from NYC and the TEDYouth conference.

I felt compelled to take a moment today, before we leave on yet another amazing opportunity for both of us, to express my gratitude. I was sitting at the table this morning, reacting to some very distressing news about a former softball coach, and I had a moment of clarity that was overwhelming. For a brief moment, that one that we all want to hold on to for as long as we can, my heart was full of gratitude.

Gratitude for family and friends who have supported us in so many ways.

Gratitude for the opportunities that have come our way.

Deep and abiding gratitude for all of the teachers who have been in both of our lives, the good and the bad, the ones who were actually teachers and the ones who just taught us lessons.

Gratitude for the interwebs in all of their crazy glory, for bringing people into our lives that we may never have met otherwise.

Gratitude for the relationship that I have with my child and the amazing person she is becoming.

Gratitude for our ability to grow and change. I hope we never get stagnant and are always open to saying "yes."

The list could go on for miles this morning, but I actually am not quite packed and that is anxiety-producing for me. It was important that I write this before we started off today, and scheduled it to post for Sunday, just in case things get crazy and I can't quite get myself together.

I hope you all had a beautiful weekend.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

TEDYouth Livestream!


Today Sicily is speaking at the TEDYouth conference in New York; catch the livestream here! There are a ton of amazing speakers, and the event runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

If you miss it, I will post it here on Bitter/Sweet when TED makes it available online.

Have a great weekend!!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Off To The Big Apple!


So we are off to NYC for the TEDYouth conference today; riding the train up and staying in the amazingly posh Hotel Hugo. I had to warn The Child that our experience was not going to be like most experiences in NYC; we are being met by cars and shuttled all over the city. Which is nice in a way because we can gape out the windows.

Tomorrow I will post a live stream link for the conference.

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

GC, Are You With Me? Or, How To Be A General Contractor


Turns out, general contractors in Baltimore look at me and think one (or both) of two things:

Thing the First: Geez, she sure looks uptown. I don't know if it's the sloppy bun, lack of makeup, or frumpy Dansko clogs, but something tells me she has a ton of dough just lying around. Maybe it's the dead husband.

Thing the Second: Awesome. A chick. They're dumb.

We have thus far received three estimates for our rehab, you know, the one that I wanted someone else to do entirely? The first was a cut-and-paste job by someone who seemed to have no interest in the job itself or me ever coming to see what he was doing. He only opened his mouth to point out, twice, that if the customer wanted to help or visit the job site the price went up.

The second estimate was by someone who had no desire for the job. He estimated HVAC at 2 1/2 times the going rate and charged me once for "carpentry" and again for "framing." Pretty sure they are the same thing, especially as the items listed under both were identical.

The third has a hard time finding the "on" button for his dadgum computer and took four days to remove a line item. His work is beautiful, but I fear that Sicily would not get a chance to sleep in her new bedroom before she graduates high school. While our current landlords would love to have us as tenants for four years, that's not in the plan.

The next contractor said he charges per day, so his estimate isn't really carved in stone. It may go up (no mention at all of it going down).

More and more it's looking like I am going to have to (wo)man up and become the general contractor.

Which I am not loving. First, there is bureaucracy. Permits. Slowness. People who couldn't give a crap less about the house because it is COFFEE BREAK TIME and I CAN'T BE BOTHERED.

Prime example (because giving examples in writing is GOOD WRITING): the local utility which shall remain nameless denied me electrical service but wouldn't say why. Four phone calls later, with each phone call featuring a 45-minute hold time and two of the four featuring a disconnect so I never actually talked to a human, turns out I need to prove that I am not the person who lived there two years ago who didn't pay the bill. All of this explained in small, slow words, in the same manner in which you would speak to a very small child. You know, BECAUSE I'M THE DUMBASS.

So there's that. Which is a HUGE that. Because apparently, if you dig a hole in the ground, the city has to come and inspect the hole. And then after concrete happens, the concrete. And each of these inspections has a lag time of at least a week. EACH. As in, you call, ask for an inspection, then a week later you get an appointment.

I may not be able to handle the moronacy of this system. Yes, I made the word up. Definition: a system governed by morons.

Second, I have no earthly idea of what it takes to be a general contractor. This is a deficit I am sure I can overcome, but I am not so sure that all of the subcontractors I will be dealing with will be able to overcome it. When you are a woman in a construction field, you are automatically assumed to be less than. Your skills are less, your knowledge is less.

Well, I'll tell you what is less for me. My ability to put up with that type of bullshit. And there are tons of sharp objects around a job site.  So that could be dangerous.

And finally. Although I may have no choice in the matter if we want to save tons of cash, I don't know if I want to be this project's general contractor. I am in the process of writing a book, writing to make money (because the book is still an outline with some notes and, well, there are no guarantees), and starting yoga teacher training in a week. Plus parenting. I am not a huge fan of the Cult of Busy. I like some time for navel-gazing, and when I am with The Child, I like to be with The Child, not thinking about something else like whether or not the electrician has done his/her job.

But then there is the other part of me that knows that if I want something done well and the way I want it done, I will have to do it. No one cares as much about your stuff as you do. Any general contractor I hire will treat it just like another job.

I will meet with this other dude next week, but I have a feeling I know where this is headed.

So. Any general contractors out there who want to give me some advice? Where do I start?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

10 Ways To Waste Time So You Almost Miss Your Daily #NaBloPoMo


1. Get published on Elite Daily and spend a couple hours refreshing your feed to see if anyone else has read the article yet (sidebar: the picture is not mine, and the title is definitely not mine).

2. Watch the first episode of season 2 of Dream School. Uh-mazing. Mind-blowing.

3. Watch and share the episode of Good Mythical Morning that has a picture of Sicily's tiny house.

4. Go to yoga, the overly-gentle class because you hurt your stupid wrist in two back-to-back classes last week that were too intense for you at this point and can now only do intermediate classes every other day until the carpal tendon in your wrist stops tingling and then being numb. #TheDumb

5. Walk the dogs. Realize that even though it's sunny and gorgeous outside there is some weird polar vortex of swirling death happening that makes it about 15 degrees colder than it ought to be and that you should have brought your coat. Suffer because you're stubborn and the dogs need a walk.

6. Finish the work that actually pays you money. Try to get more work that actually pays you money. Research ways to do that very thing. Get distracted by chickens in sweaters. Damn you, NerdyBaby!!

7. Share the hell out of an IndieGoGo that helps inner city kids get to college and stay there. Give more money than you can afford.

8. Buy milk. Finally.

9. Download and read summaries of Laurie Colwin's books. Don't buy them because you are saving pennies for New York. Break down and go to the bookstore and when you don't find them, go buy Dark Places by Gillian Flynn because you can never have too many books and your stupid books are packed in the basement in boxes that the cat may or may not be peeing on because you've noticed that the litter box isn't nearly as dirty as it should be for an indoor cat, and it's either that or the dog is helping out. #GoodBoy

10. Finally sit down to write the damn thing and end up submitting more writing that you have already done to be featured on another blog that promotes blogs. See #6

BLAMMO. I knocked you OUT NaBloPoMo. Just 18 more days to go.

(Image. Get it? Under the wire?)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Spicy Ginger Pumpkin Pancakes


You know you want them.

I don't usually hop on the pumpkin bandwagon. It's not that I don't like pumpkin. It's that it's not really pumpkin that is in pumpkin-flavored stuff. I am not a purist in that sense, but I won't generally seek pumpkin-esque things out intentionally. I like cloves and cinnamon year-round, so when fall hits and everyone starts up with their pumpkin this and pumpkin that, I am not so influenced.


I had some leftover pumpkin from my pumpkin chocolate chip scones. And I thought I would try some pancakes because The Child loves pancakes and if I can get actual breakfast into her before school that would be great.

I have only the picture above because we ate them as fast as they came out of the pan and then I was too full to care about taking pictures.

These pancakes could not have been more delicious if they tried. Faintly spicy, studded with crispy candied ginger and tasting very much of pumpkin. Light and fluffy. Delicious with or without maple syrup. Delicious with homemade apple butter. You will want to keep this recipe and make it often, especially my gluten-free friends. They freeze beautifully, and you can even freeze the batter (although the resulting pancakes are less fluffy. Still delicious.). Add more or less spice, use the ginger or don't, fry bacon until it's super crispy and then crumble it into the batter before you fry them up: go crazy. Here is the basic recipe.

Spicy Ginger Pumpkin Pancakes

In a large bowl, mix together the following dry ingredients, adjusting the spices as you see fit:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used the GF flour mix I made)

4 tablespoons sugar (use less if you like)

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

minced crystallized ginger (as much as you like; I ended up with about 4 tablespoons).*

In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients:

1 1/4 cup pumpkin puree (freeze the leftover puree in ice cube trays and pop them in soup as a thickener)

1 1/2 to 2 cups of milk (when combined with the dry ingredients, it should be like thick cake batter)

4 tablespoons melted butter, cooled slightly

2 eggs

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. You don't have to be gentle here, but it's also okay if there are still lumps in the pancakes. I gave the batter a good thrashing with a whisk because lumps drive me crazy, and the pancakes seemed to like it. Use a little less than 1/4 cup of batter per pancake, and cook on one side until the edges are dry and little bubbles form (about 2 minutes, depending on the heat. Figure that your first pancake is going to look awful and just resign yourself to eating that steamy mound of deliciousness right away. It's a sacrifice I am sure you are willing to make). Flip, cook for another minute or two, then serve with syrup, apple butter, wrapped around a sausage, or plain.

This makes about 20-24, 4-inch pancakes. Maybe. I can't actually remember. Plus we ate many, many pancakes and I lost count. But it makes a bunch.

If you have leftovers, cool them all the way then pack them four to a bag in Ziplocs and freeze. YUM.

*You can also use ground ginger, but I like the texture of the crystallized ginger in the pancake. For ground ginger, try 1 teaspoon.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Berlin Wall


Twenty-five years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down.

I don't know what you were doing, but I had quit school the year before and was just about to drop out of community college, too. I was living in a three-bedroom house with six other people and tending bar. I was 18 and clueless as I watched the wall dividing a country come down. It was momentous in the truest sense of the word, and even in my ridiculous 18-year-old stupor I could recognize that things were changing.

I cannot compare the walls that individuals put up with the Berlin Wall, not straight across. The Berlin Wall cast millions into poverty and starvation and allowed others to prosper and move forward. It represented all of the worst parts of humanity - captivity, scarcity, cruelty, discrimination - and embodied the worst characteristics of countries around the globe, specifically apathy, for far too long.

But in a way the walls that we build within separate us from the things and people we need just as if they were made of mortar and brick. A wall prevents us from acting when we see injustice. A wall lets us say, "Well, that's not my problem." It dehumanizes and diminishes anyone on the other side, including the parts of ourselves that are fragile and easily damaged.

I won't say that at 18 I realized that I had built walls and then they magically disintegrated and I lived a fulfilled life. Rather the opposite. It takes a strong person to operate in the world without his or her own personal fortress. Mine has been, at times, impenetrable. But this week in yoga, coincidental to the full moon and the change in the weather which has literally sent me spinning (I am something of a human barometer and am overly affected by moving weather systems, so I often suffer migraines and vertigo when it is especially beautiful or windy outside. It's horribly inconvenient but makes me more reliable by far than most newscasters. But I digress.) we have been talking about courage. The small moments of tremendous courage that it takes sometimes to do even the simplest of things.

Knocking down walls, Berlin or otherwise, requires such bursts of monumental courage, sometimes all at once, and sometimes over a period of years, or a lifetime. The point is that these small moments chip away at the wall and let everything in you shine, within and without. So I continue to chip at my formidable walls with small moments of courage.

What walls are  you chipping away at?


Saturday, November 8, 2014

TEDTalks: From The Sublime To The Ridiculous

So The Child is giving her second TEDTalk next week at the TEDYouth conference in New York. In honor of that, I happened to run across two excellent compilations of the 20 best TEDTalks of all time (most viewed and shared) and ten ridiculous TEDTalks.

I present them both for your time-suck this Saturday. Did these lists get them right? Which talks are missing in either category?

And here is The Child's first talk last year. This year promises to be even better. This was her first public speaking event EVER, and it was broadcast live to millions of people around the world. She put this together in one week.


Hard to believe a year has passed since this talk, and yet here we are.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Throw Back Friday

Because I have never been one to do things in order or the way people tell me to, here is a throwback Friday snap of a friend and I. We were very obviously just risen after what appears to have been quite a shinding. Note the coffee in my friend's hand (she shall remain nameless unless she chooses to step forward. 'tis the interwebs, after all), and the lack of coffee in mine, which certainly accounts for the look on my face (plus also the fact that I am positive I am trying not to vomit. My early 20s were...rough).

In all our glory, here we are, both cautionary tale and advertisement for adventure....have a great weekend!


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Swim Ten Strokes


The dog did not get the "fall back" memo, so he poked his cold nose under my hand at 7 a.m. on a day when The Child has no school. Normally this dog will sleep until I am good and ready to rise, but not this day.

Two hours later, there is a cup of coffee in my belly and two pots simmering on the stove, one of homemade meat stock (steak bones and chicken) and another of curry. The Child is sleepy-surfing the interwebs with her own coffee as I sit down to write.

Mondays are list-making days, the time of the week when I sit the week down firmly and tell it how things are going to go. This does not often work, but I persist at any rate, attempting to ignore the siren call of anything other than what I am supposed to be doing. There are corners of the city that have gone as yet unexplored, and although it is blustery and not so nice outside I feel like putting on my boots and walking for miles.

I often write about motivation and persistence. For me, the key has always been to get into a routine: you get up and do certain things because that's just what you do. It's the routine. In Georgia, I did yoga every day because that was the routine: get up, write for an hour and a half, go to yoga, come home, eat lunch and write some more, all done.

Here, we are so uprooted and cattywampus that there is no routine beyond delivering The Child to school every morning at 7:45. At that hour my brain is fusty with poor sleep and I am not ready to write, and there is no yoga to go to, and sometimes I am meeting a contractor or going to a museum training or Something Else Very Important, and then it is 2:45 and time to pick up The Child.

I have not ever been very good at self-discipline.

My father told me the story once of an English Channel swimmer, this old dude whom they interviewed as soon as he hauled his scrawny, exhausted, hypothermic self from the water. They asked him, of course, how he did it. What he said is the thing that got my father through chemo therapy (among other things).

"I told myself," (says he, the swimmer), "that I would just swim ten more strokes. Then after that if I had to, I would quit. So every ten strokes, I would keep saying, well, I guess I can swim ten more. And I strung together ten strokes at a time and got all the way across."

So it's entirely possible that my dad made this up, but its lesson is important. Today, I will swim ten strokes.

What are your ten strokes today?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Intuition: Losing Teeth


Last night I dreamed, again, that I was losing teeth.

A cursory search of the interwebs provides this:

Dreams about losing teeth generally symbolize:

  • Representation of anxiety

  • A costly compromise or decision

  • Radical change

  • Starting a new project or phase in your life

Sounds about right.

Or this:

Common teeth symbol meanings

Losing your teeth. Feeling helpless, powerless, overwhelmed.

Baring your teeth Dreamer is preparing to defend or attack. Seeing someone else bare his teeth is a warning.

Being toothless. The toothless person is weak or vulnerable.

Having your teeth pulled. Losing your power or positive public image to someone or something.

Broken or chipped teeth. Public image is tarnished or in question.

Decayed teeth. Your power is being diminished. This could be in the areas of health, business, finances or society. People fighting disease or suffering business losses often dream of decayed teeth.

Braces on teeth You are being groomed or trained. You may be feeling constricted now but this stage will have positive results.

Seeing your teeth as fangs. You are a threat or a drain to someone. Or vice versa, if someone is biting you with fangs.

Biting someone. Something you are doing or saying is hurting another person. You may be reacting in a childish, forceful manner in a particular situation.

Being bitten. Dreamer is feeling threatened or pressured.

I have had teeth dreams since I was very young; usually in the dream I would end up with a mouthful of crumbled teeth, the image so vivid that it was hard to shake for many moments after waking. This feels like that today, and it's a bad, regressive place to be in for me.

I find I have these dreams after I make a decision that goes against my intuition. When I follow my instincts, I am never wrong. Literally, obnoxiously, gloatingly never wrong. Uprooting from one place and starting over AGAIN has made me tentative and mistrustful of that, and I made a stupid decision, one that I knew was wrong, and now I am suffering through the midnight-hours gloating of my sub-conscious.

Instinct is there for a reason. Intuition is a powerful tool. Why I continue to ignore these things after so many years on the planet is beyond me. Some day I will learn.

Updated to add: after another night of sleep and a flying dream, I have come to some conclusions that jibe with my intuition and also potentially solve (or eliminate) the problem. We will see what happens. But the moral of the story is the same. This is the last time when I ignore what I know to be right.