Thursday, October 30, 2014

Food Love


"If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with [her]...the people who give you their food give you their heart." ~Cesar Chavez~

I've said it before, and a section of this blog post prompts me to say it again: food, to me, equals love. If I cook you something delicious (or anywhere close to delicious, like merely okay or just edible) and give it to you, chances are good I like you. I probably even love you.

Not necessarily in that way, unless you are Ryan Gosling, or Viggo Mortensen, or a smoking hot neighbor with a steady job, a sense of humor, and a tool box. And a truck for moving big things. No more dogs, though. If you are aforementioned smoking hot neighbor and you have a dog, keep driving your truck on by. I am full up of dogs and just waiting for one of them to die so it feels more manageable.

But I digress.

Food means comfort and creativity. It is at the base of who we are; it shapes our culture, our day, our life. We move to places based on where we will be able to get food; one of the first things we find when we land in a new place is pizza that doesn't suck and a bar with delicious cocktails (or a coffee shop, or bakery, or whatever floats your culinary/survivalist boat). In Georgia, you identify your neighborhood by which Kroger you live near (with clever nicknames, like Murder Kroger, Disco Kroger, and Done Been Kilt Kroger. Seriously. I can't make this up. Except the last one that Sicily and I made up  based on a murder/suicide that happened in the parking lot but still cannot say without chuckling). In Baltimore, it's a farmer's market or a hipster nose-to-tail butcher. Or the newest ironic dive with innovative food.

We speak of food deserts in inner cities where the landscape is sere and hard with the lack of fresh green places and bustling life. Food swamps with their hot Cheetos and Twinkies aren't much better. It crushes my soul in a very non-hyperbolic way to think of kids who have no idea what fresh food tastes like, kids that haven't seen a non-canned green bean or a roasted beet.

I fully recognize the elitist nature of my even being able to write this blog. Absence of food does not mean absence of love, and all around the world people love each other in ways that have nothing to do with calories.


For me, a cookie is a caress. Fresh bread is a warm embrace. Food is love.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix


This is the basic recipe for a gluten free flour mix that you can sub in cup-for-cup when a recipe calls for AP flour. It is based on this recipe but changed for ease of creation.

Here’s the recipe:

1 24-oz. bag Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour

1 24-oz. bag Bob’s Red Mill white rice flour

1 16-oz box of mochiko (sweet rice flour; available only at Asian grocery stores or online. We subbed potato starch in our first batch because we couldn’t find an Asian grocery in Marietta, GA)

1 15-oz bag of tapioca flour (also at Asian grocery stores, but sometimes in regular stores)

2 tsp. xanthan gum

Directions: Dump everything in a big bowl, stir together thoroughly. Stir again when using.

A word about xanthan gum. Some gluten free people are still sensitive to gums, and they can actually be eliminated from this recipe. I choose to keep it in there because A) it seems it make the flour perform a wee bit better, and B) it’s not an issue for me. Xanthan gum is a bit pricey, but I got it on sale for 25% of the regular price, so it was a no-brainer.

To date, this has worked well in chocolate chip cookies, pancakes, scones, and biscuits. Leave a comment below and tell me how it worked for you!

Update, 11/1/14: Made batch #2 with ingredients all purchased at a local Asian grocery and made over five pounds of mix for $8.77. Still more than regular flour, but way less than other mixes!

(image source)

8 Ways To Not Kill Your Teenager When S/He Is Awful


My generally awesome kid has been HORRIFIC for the past several days in a row when I pick her up from school. And then she gets all, "Stop yelling at me!" and I'm like, "Oh, this isn't yelling...THIS IS YELLING," and so on. Super mature.

So back away from the switch and take some advice. It's what I say to myself in both my clearest and drunkest moments. Ready for some tough love?

1. Take a breath. Take another one. If you have not yet hyperventilated and it is five o'clock somewhere, take a drink. I prefer Angel's Envy, Woodford Reserve, and the Killer Bee at Golden West. Only have one, but make it a stiff one. Then drink a big glass of water and go to bed. You're old and you need your rest if you are complaining about kids these days.

2. Remember that one or both of your parents (depending on who is still alive) is TOTALLY gloating right now. So suck it up and try to see it from your teenager's side. You were once that jackass with the eye rolling and the huffy noise making. If you get totally pissed then you are Just. Like. Your. Parents. Think about your kid: what is his/her major damage? Does it really have anything to do with you? If not, let it go.

(you're welcome)

3. If you are a single parent, get a fucking life. I say this as a single, broke-ass parent in a new city with some friends who like me but all have their own lives to deal with and don't want me moping on their couch all the time. If your teenager is pissy-making, go do something. They are old enough to watch themselves. Quit bitching about how awful they are and go out and find something for yourself. If you have littles, too, make the awful teenager babysit. They need to learn some fucking responsibility anyway.

4. Go for a walk. Especially if you are a single parent. A lot of hot people have dogs and can be found after work perambulating, so there's that, but since you are a single parent, chances are your life has revolved around your sweet dumpling thus far and you've put on a few. Get over it. Go out in nature. It's good for you. Gives you some perspective. Plus hot single parents hike so you can multi-task on the trail. So do serial killers and muggers, so take your dog or don't go out after dark.

5. Sit them down when things cool off a bit and tell them why you're bothered by their very existence on the planet. Maybe not that. But at least why you are aggravated. And use short sentences because kids these days have the attention span of a fruit fly with progeria. Use "I" statements, like, "I am very hurt when you take every single thing I do for you for granted and treat me like a servant." Or something better. Make it personal.

6. Realize that your child is very, very dumb right now. LITERALLY. Like, they can't EVEN. See what I did there? Your average teenager can translate that ridiculous sequence of words into something meaningful but can't do the same with a simple sentence like, "Where the hell is your phone?" or "Don't leave your shoes in the middle of the floor." It is physiologically impossible for your teenager to make good decisions, like respecting their elders and not making us say the same thing eleventy million times.

7. Say yes. Huh? Did I just say that? YES. Believe it or not, it is hard as hell to be a teenager in 2014. Teenagers now may not have a draft or technically be dealing with a  world war, but they have school shootings, utterly broken financial and political systems, and no hope for a job should they decide to go to college after their sub-par public education. They will probably not be able to own a home, and they are experiencing a caste system of lower and upper class as the middle gets slowly squeezed ever downward. And yet they are expected to cheerfully and hopefully go about the business of life and never fight back? How's that working out? Take one day, and god help you if you tell your kid which one it is, and say yes to everything they ask.

Then freaking pray they don't ask for something big, but if they do, GO ALL IN. You said you would.

8. On the opposite side of things, give those kids some damn chores. Stop cleaning their room, doing their laundry, and generally coddling those brats. My kid has friends who, at 14, still have no responsibility in their house - no dishes, dog walking, or kitty litter scooping. Not only are making yourself bitter by doing everything for them and then misguidedly expecting the ungrateful wretch to notice (see #6) and then appreciate it (see #5), you are also creating monsters for their future significant other and society in general. On top of that, you are raising their expectations of what real life is like to unreasonable levels. And that hurts everyone.

So there you have it. Feel better? If not, try reading this list out loud to your awful teenager and see what they think. I did, and the expression on my kid's face fixed me right up. In the end, though, she and I both recognize that parenting and teenagering is a delicate dance of back-the-fuck-off and please-don't-leave-me-ever, on both sides. The sooner you accept that reality, the better.

Now go fix yourself a drink while you work the other steps.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Just This Poem


Just this poem for you today, this beautiful, simple poem that has poked me right in my jelly-soft center this morning. Just this poem today.

When I die
Give what's left of me away
To children
And old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give them
What you need to give to me.

I want to leave you something,
Something better
Than words
Or sounds.

Look for me
In the people I've known
Or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on your eyes
And not on your mind.

You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands,
By letting
Bodies touch bodies,
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.

Love doesn't die,
People do.
So, when all that's left of me
Is love,
Give me away

Merrit Malloy

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sunday Night Curry


(because nobody takes a good picture of curry, here's some beef)

I cannot keep up this pace for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it gets damn expensive to cook something other than mac-n-cheese all the time. I still have the grand Pizza Dough Experiment to conduct before I am smack out of my gluten free flour mix, and a few other things, but this might be the last food blog for the week.

It is odd what happens when you start closely reading recipes with an eye to cooking someone else's food and writing about it. No one will accuse me of being a good noticer (not a word, but I am a notoriously BAD noticer. We're all bad at something, and this is my Achilles heel. I have to look at stuff and take pictures multiple times before I remember something was there, and then if it pisses me off I block it out like it never happened. SUPER inconvenient.), so that I have noticed some deficiencies quickly is a Big Thing.

And if I am being honest, some of the things I notice are deficiencies in me also. So "boneless" means "no bones," and usually for a reason.


A recipe without salt is an odd thing. And also a recipe that calls for water but has a very short cooking time for a pretty tough cut of meat is strange. So there were adaptations.

Korean curry

Last entry from this weekend's orgy of cooking is Korean curry. Except it's not really Korean because my version did not specifically use Korean curry powder because "Asia Food" did not have specific Korean curry. A cursory search of the interwebs tells me that there are a million regional curries, each with their own proportions, but many of the spices are similar. And the "Asia Food" lady told me all curries were basically the same. So we are going with that theory, calling it Korean curry even though it should be called Madras curry, since that it the type I purchased (unfortunately more hot than The Child would like, but more on that later).

Side note: Korean curry of the Ottogi brand (which everyone recommended) also has wheat flour as its first ingredient, which tells me that it is super mild and also not GF. So it's a good thing we couldn't find it.

And full disclosure: Prior to this I was not a huge fan of curries in general, so I haven't usually sought them out. I have no idea what "authentic" curry tastes like, and this might offend some people. Ah, well. Life is too short. If  decide I Love. Curry. I will then refine it a bit. Until then, here's this one.

Which was delicious, with a few tweaks, like adding chicken broth instead of straight water and FOR GOD'S SAKE ADDING SOME SALT. How is there no salt called for in this curry recipe? Nothing? Did I miss it? No salt in the ingredient list.

This was a steaming bowl of love on a windy Sunday night. The house was buttoned up all cozy-like, dogs were walked and bedded down, and all was left was working on Halloween costumes and eating our weight in rice and this delicious food. As I eat it, I can already think of what I might like to do, starting with choosing a rough cut of meat and braising it for longer, adding veg later. The short cooking time didn't do the short ribs any favors; they were delicious, but it would have been better if the collagen had broken down a bit more. And I like a bit of bite in my veg. And I would have added a bit more curry. I toned it it down for the kid just to start, but I think I would maybe season the beef with curry first, then add more with the veg.

The biggest surprise? The Child loved it. Ate a huge bowl.

An unqualified success, this dish, and a satisfying end to a lovely fall weekend.

Edited: link fixed!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Weekend Baking/Cooking

It makes no sense to write every time I use this new gluten free AP flour blend, especially since I am going a little crazy right now because A) I am back in my own kitchen, and B) I want to try the flour in as many things as possible to make sure it's rock-solid. So this is a weekend baking/cooking round up.

Pumpkin cream scones with chocolate chips 

First of all, there was a lot of pressure on these  to be good because they used an absurd amount of butter and flour, three sticks and four-and-a-half cups, respectively.


(in hindsight, I would have taken the butter wrappers out of this picture. Next time.)

I did make some adaptations to the recipe (including using my gluten free AP flour mix). Additionally, I cannot fathom a pumpkin/chocolate recipe without cinnamon (I added a teaspoon), and I don't have a stand mixer, so I did not freeze/grate the butter but simply cut it in with my hands (which was messy but worked well). The original recipe also calls for vanilla extract but never says when to add it, so I just put it in with the sour cream and pumpkin. I didn't have white chocolate chips and am not a huge fan anyway (chocolate impostors, they should be called), so I used dark chocolate chips.

The result?



These scones were tender, crumbly, not too sweet, and delicious. They make me want to sit on the couch and curl up with a cup of coffee, several of the scones, and a Sunday New York Times. And maybe a nap. These are for sure a lazy brunch day treat. Highly recommended and will make these again, perhaps with a touch more cinnamon and some clotted cream.

Apple butter

An unqualified success. What could be easier? Five pounds of apples, a splash of apple cider vinegar, about 3/4 cup of apple cider, and tons of clove and cinnamon. I used an apple peeler to save my old lady hand joints (you could keep the skins on if the apples are organic and just run the final product through a food mill, but I don't have a food mill. This blog totally takes donations, and while you're at it I could use a stand mixer, a food processor, a tablespoon, a new pastry brush, and a bench scraper. Oh, and a large stainless steel mixing bowl to replace the one a dog watcher made off with. How weird is that? He took a rectangular glass baking dish, too, and slept in my bed. That was his last engagement at our house.), and I don't believe in measuring spices for apple butter. You just add them until it tastes good to you. Put the whole shebang in a pot on the stove and simmer until it turns brown and mushy (or double/triple the recipe and do it in a crockpot. That's what I usually do, but I didn't have that many apples), then blend with an immersion blender until super creamy. You could shove it through a chinois if you REALLY wanted to make it smooth, but I don't have one of those either.

I didn't add any sugar to this batch because it was plenty sweet (I used Red Delicious and a couple stray Honeycrisp), but if you do use sugar, add it later in the cooking time, and taste often as you add because that is a bell you cannot unring.

I also canned the apple butter but promptly opened a jar on Sunday and ate it on a scone. And I am giving another jar away. But it's nice to have a spare.

The bread brick



I blame the bread machine. Yes, I used a machine, and I don't give a rat's ass who doesn't like it. A bread machine allows me to make pizza dough and bread fresh daily if I want. When I have the time and space, I do make bread the old-fashioned way, but otherwise, it's all ingredients into the bread machine, push a button, and walk away.

Except maybe my bread machine is getting old and didn't make the move quite as elegantly as it perhaps should have. I noticed when it was in the kneading cycle that it wasn't kneading so much as building a little cave in the bottom of the dough. I opened the lid and tried to push it down, but I had visions of a broken finger and was a bit tentative. Safety first.

Plus, when you make bread on a quick bread cycle it is supposed to get super hot, so I maybe ruined it that way.

Whatevs. I am not giving up on the gluten free AP flour for this. I  may need to tweak the recipe to up the protein content, or something. The GF bread I am buying is crap, and it costs a small country's GDP per loaf.

Bubble (boba) tea

This one was a bit of an outlier. I have never had bubble tea before, but it looks interesting and "Asia Grocery" had black tapioca pearls. So in the interest of doing whatever the hell I feel like, I decided to throw this one in.

Note to self: perhaps a better idea to try it somewhere that makes it professionally first.

Another note to self: if it says to cook the tapioca pearls for a total of a half hour, 15 minutes will not cut the mustard. That's just hubris.

The Child was not a fan of the black tapioca pearls, which are large, chewy orbs that can be disconcerting if texture is an issue for you. I like them.


You drink bubble tea out of fat straws, and watching them approach your mouth up the straw is half the fun (or terror, if you are The Child). The tea itself is just very strong, very sweet black tea. I added clove and cinnamon because Fall Flavors. Some people also use fruit-flavored tea.

A note of caution: every element (tea, sweetener - we used sweetened condensed milk - and boba needs to be very cold, and when the boba get cold, they get firmer/chewier. I thought The Child was going to vomit when she swallowed her last slippery black orb. #PointsForTrying

As this has gotten rather wordy, I shall continue tomorrow with Korean curry. No pictures of that one; it looks a bit like the aforementioned potential vomit. And that's not an enticing thumbnail.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookies: Part 2

So this happened:


But let's backtrack a bit, shall we?

Firs came the gluten free flour mixture, adapted from another recipe to be easier (no measuring, no muss, no fuss). When I told The Child what I was doing, she went on a brief rant about how dumb the American measuring system is (based on units of twelve) and that colonists developed it because they wanted to be nothing like the British but in the process they totally screwed generations of children who are clueless about the metric system, an infinitely more logical system.

Can't argue with that, really.

The other good part about my flour mixture is that it is based on the weight of the flours, not the physical measure, which as any baker worth their chocolate chips will tell you is the way to go with baking.

But I digress.

I used the basic Nestle Tollhouse cookie recipe. Nobody said this was going to be a health food blog.

Cooking tip: most chocolate chip cookie recipes require packed brown sugar. This is a pain, very messy, and ultimately super bad for you because you always end up licking the delicious brown sugar off your fingers when you're done. Also bad for your sampling team if you happen to have ebola and don't wash properly after licking your fingers. Easier method is to dump the brown sugar in a plastic freezer bag, then use the side of the bag to pack the sugar into the measuring cup as needed (lightly or firmly, as required).


I did promise food photography ranging from the terrible to the merely okay, but that's part of the process, yes? You get the idea here. No sugary fingers. Which could be a blessing or a curse. I may or may not have eaten a big clump of sugar anyway.

So when the cookies came out, I made a huge mistake, and tragedy struck.


This is what happens when you don't wait a minute or two for the cookies to cool. Half of the hot, chocolately deliciousness falls into the sink where, try as you might, it is unsalvageable. No 5-second rule in a sink with soap in it.

The verdict?

I thought they were damn near perfect, but I needed an unbiased set of opinions. I sent a bag of cookies to school with The Child with instructions to share at lunch and not tell her friends they were gluten free until after after they were eaten. Apparently, I have several new fans and orders for more.

This is not quite enough, though, as teenagers are not known for their palates (generally). I also delivered some to my gluten free friend Peter and asked for an honest assessment. Did they taste like gluten free cookies? Did they feel like gluten free cookies, or could they pass as a regular cookie?

Let's be honest: many (most?) gluten free cookies have the mouthfeel of that wonder sand stuff that sticks together. The texture is generally dense, grainy, and heavy, with a slightly beany aftertaste (from the chickpea and other bean flours that gluten free folks seem to favor).

Peter reported thumbs up all around. Not only were they chewier and softer than other gluten free cookies, but there was also a pleasant salty aftertaste (I may or may not have added a little extra salt than was called for to achieve this).

Days later, the cookies remain chewy in the center and crispy around the edges. So I rate this gluten free flour experiment  success, and move on to the next two challenges: bread in the bread machine (no counter space to properly knead, plus, if I am being honest which I always try to be, I am just too lazy) and pizza dough. I am also making apple butter in the crock pot, which can save most any baking disaster. Stay tuned.

(Images all mine. You were warned.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookies On A Rainy Day: Part 1

So apparently we are experiencing a hurricane. The rain has been torrential and unceasing since the middle of the night, but without the threat of funnel clouds I can't bring myself to worry too much about it.

Just seems like a good day to bake. And chocolate chip cookies are just the thing.

Even better are gluten free chocolate chip cookies because then even I can eat them.

First, there was flour.


This recipe is adapted from a gluten free all-purpose flour from The Art of Gluten Free Baking. Sicily and I used it once before without including the mochiko (more on that later) and it was AMAZING. Light, tender biscuits and fluffy pancakes. Normal people would leave it alone and not change a thing, but no one has ever accused me of being normal. I wanted a flour recipe that didn't involve actually measuring different flours to combine in odd ratios, leaving a 1/2 cup of four weird flours in crinkly bags in the pantry. I wanted it to be easy and delicious. Here's the recipe:

1 24-oz. bag Bob's Red Mill brown rice flour

1 24-oz. bag Bob's Red Mill white rice flour

1 16-oz box of mochiko (sweet rice flour; available only at Asian grocery stores or online. We subbed potato starch in our first batch because we couldn't find an Asian grocery in Marietta, GA)

1 15-oz bag of tapioca flour (also at Asian grocery stores, but sometimes in regular stores)

2 tsp. xanthan gum

Directions: Dump everything in a big bowl, stir together thoroughly. Use as a cup-for-cup substitute when AP flour is called for.

A word about xanthan gum. Some gluten free people are still sensitive to gums, and they can actually be eliminated from this recipe. I choose to keep it in there because A) it seems it make the flour perform a wee bit better, and B) it's not an issue for me. Xanthan gum is a bit pricey, but I got it on sale for 25% of the regular price, so it was a no-brainer.

Gluten free all-purpose baking mixes can be pricey themselves. This mix costs about $10 to make and produces almost five pounds of flour (4.9375 pounds for the sticklers among you). In comparison, Pillsbury's Best all-purpose flour costs about $7.50 for five pounds, while Bob's Red Mill's gluten free all-purpose flour costs $8 for about half as much. One of the things detractors of gluten free eating point out is that you pay three times as much for something that doesn't make a difference (absent a celiac diagnosis). I'm not here to debate the merits of gluten free food, but I sure as hell don't want to pay three times as much for flour. If this particular formula works as well as the last batch, I am sold.

In addition to the cookies I will be baking this afternoon, I plan on making pizza crust and bread in the bread machine this weekend. I am sure a batch of scones or biscuits will happen, too, as the test much be thorough and well-documented.

And bread is dee-licious. So there's that. Stay tuned...

Part 2: The Cookies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Food Blogs: How's This Gonna Work?


So every now and then this blog will shift its focus.

This goes against all traditional recommendations about building blog traffic and gaining followers and blahblahblahblah. Apparently once you decide to write about life after the sudden death of your husband, you are locked into that for life (no pun intended).

Good thing it's not part of any income stream and that it's my blog and I can do what I want with it.

This is a courtesy notice to those of you who couldn't care less about food blogs. That's totally cool. I'm not offended.

So when you see the tag "Food" you can just keep movin' on if you'd like.

Although you might miss something. Something delicious.

I can tell you right now that you probably won't be missing any gorgeous food photography. I know that you can take delicious photos with iPhones, and I can haz one of those, but every picture I take turns into a food photography fail. They are too yellow, or the shadows are weird or the styling is dumb or something else. So as I learn how to do that better, pictures will be present but minimal. I hesitate to add them at all right now because even seeing the thumbnail might make you want to scroll on by.


This is a learning experience for me, so hopefully things will get better. And every now and then I do accidentally snap a scrumptious photo, so there's that to look forward to.

I can also tell you that I make some crazy good food. And if you are local you might be getting some of it. And if you are gluten-free, then this is the place for you.

In fact, starting tomorrow, I have an experimental gluten-free all-purpose flour mix and chocolate chip cookies.

Might as well go ahead and prepare yourself for bad pictures of delicious cookies.

(The above image is not mine. So don't get used to it.)

The Most Important Things: Of Love and Rehab


I can't find my knives.

We are unpacked in our temporary rental, closing on the rehab this Friday, and I am ready to start cooking. But I can't find my knives. So tonight's dinner (chicken, roasted veg, and smashed potatoes) was prepared with an old steak knife. Knife cuts don't matter for any of these foods, so it should all work out just fine.

In the meantime, our first cooking blog entry looks like it is going to be bubble tea. I know, weird.

So because it's odd, I am also going to mix up a big batch of gluten-free flour and make some chocolate chip cookies. It's like I am getting ready to go and just waiting at the same time.

Only it doesn't feel like waiting. It feels like two other things simultaneously: living right now and taking advantage of what's happening in the universe.

Fact: I love what I do for a living. Sure, I need more projects to make it really profitable, but we have had a few things going on, and still have a few things going on. So for now it is at the sustainable level and allows me to make our transitions as seamless as possible. It strikes me that with all of this time and flexibility I may be vacuum parenting right now (sweeping all obstacles out of Sicily's way), but I don't care. I want her to focus on school, not whether or not we will have a place to live. If what I do allows me to take some pressure off and maybe clean the house or scoop out the kitty litter more than she does, at this point it's okay.

Fact: I love that I found this place for us and we have moved in. It's my first place since Dane died, and Sicily and I moved us in by ourselves. While that sucked a little, it showed Sicily that she can really do whatever needs to be done. And we will for sure be manipulating our next move date so that we have lots of help (because, for those of you we will be recruiting, and you know who you are, it is going to be a bear). But for now, we have set up a comfortable temporary home and have settled in nicely in just two days. Even with internet.

Fact: I am more grateful than ever for what I have. This does not include things at all. My support system of friends and family, a sunny sky when we moved, an awesome landlord, a great kid: these are the things that matter.

Today I meet another contractor at the house. My brother is meeting me there, too, so it's a family affair. Which is amazing because it feels like I am following through with the main lesson I learned in the wake of Dane's death: keeping the most important thing the most important thing. And with that all things are possible.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Courage. Shine On.

Antoinettes Yoga Garden

The word "courage" comes from the Latin cors, which means heart. So to be a courageous person is to do something with your whole heart. All in. Makes things pretty vulnerable, sometimes, when you throw your shoulders back and let your light shine on.

Or admit you're wrong (courage).

Or tell someone you love them (courage).

Or do something new (courage).

Or sometimes just get out of bed every day (courage).

I am suffering a lack of courage these days, which may sound odd, given that we are still in the midst of a major transition, and I am embarking upon adventures that are new to me, but it's true. As the very definition of an introvert, I am at my most courageous when I let people in. I can chat for hours about dumb stuff, make people feel like they really got to know me, but it's only a precious few people that get beyond the hard candy shell to my soft, gooey center.

Yuck. Oddly misplaced delicious candy metaphor. Sorry.

I thought I would have the courage to share what I wanted to share in this post, but I have sat on it for several days and just don't have it yet. Kind of like the time it took me 30 minutes (a lifetime!) to ask my mom if we could go bra shopping for the first time (in my defense, she should have known I needed one, but in her defense, I have a teenage girl that I am not so keen on having grow up either. So there's that). I think I maybe need a little more time.

So why post this?

To remind myself in the future that even though I stopped myself from being courageous, I still have it in me.

To remind other people maybe that courage doesn't have to roar. Sometimes it whispers, "I will."

I will.



Friday, October 10, 2014

10 Things I Am Grateful For On 10/10


Although I am not a fan of the listicle, per say, today seems like a good day to pause, reflect, and express some gratitude. Here, in no particular order, are 10 things and people I am grateful for on 10/10:

1. Kerry and Mark Langkammerer and their kids (who shall remain nameless just in case Kerry and Mark are keeping their internet shadow dim). We have invaded their house for the past SEVEN WEEKS, adding two people and a dog to the mix of four people and two pre-existing dogs. Yikes. They seriously deserve a medal.

2. Yoga. I have started again after finding a local studio, and I can already feel the effects.

3. My mom. There are so many things I could list here, but I am just grateful that she is around.

4. Sicily. Her teenager has been showing a bit these days, but 95% of the time she is an awesome kid and a stellar human being. Things could have gone in a totally different direction after Dane died, but she is going about the business of grieving and becoming herself with such general aplomb that I cannot help but admire her.

5. Laura Lavoie. She is the writer behind Life In 120 Square Feet, and she is responsible for putting my name in the hat for the writing job that got me started as a professional freelancer. It was the boost I needed to get going and gain some confidence.

6. The flexibility of life. I have somehow managed to reconstruct a life after death that allows me to be flexible and schedule my own days. I can docent at AVAM, do yoga in the middle of the day, write when I like, and hang out with Sicily. I don't need to take vacation time from my job because I can work ahead and still get paid. I am my own boss. Granted, the boss could use a raise, but that will come with time. The flexibility is worth it.

7. Baltimore. Odd to be grateful for a city, totally, but I am so glad to be back that it is ridiculous. The Orioles are on fire, and the city feels like home.  Not everything is perfect, and it is still the honeymoon period, I suppose, but there is so much possibility laid out in front of us it is hard not to feel gratitude.

8. That we are so privileged and that there is opportunity in front of us. With so much tragedy and strife all over the world, I feel even more grateful for the "simple" things we have: freedom of speech (even for assholes. It's cumbersome but part of the package), clean running water, education, healthy food, electricity, supportive friends and family. Imagine what the rest of the world would be like if these things were a given for everyone.

9. A sense of humor. I am glad I can still laugh at things. Maybe it's a bit morbid at times, but it's there. That has helped tremendously. When nothing's funny, time's up.

10. Dane's family in Washington. I love knowing that they are there, and that they will always be a part of our lives. We waited too long to really get to know each other, but I am glad we are making time together a priority. Hopefully they will be our first house guests in the rehab in spring 2015!

What are you grateful for? Quick, make a list and tell me in the comments. 


Wednesday, October 8, 2014



Startling-not-startling revelation of the day: everything requires effort.

Any time someone talks about something being "effortless" or seeing someone appear to do a task "effortlessly," what they are actually seeing is the culmination of tons of effort put in over long periods of time, usually willingly but sometimes grudgingly like in the case of teenagers who don't really want to get out of bed but totally want to do something cool that they planned for that day.

Effort also strolls around in the mask of "perseverance" and "motivation."

Newsflash: there is not a direct correlation between effort and excellence. Some people put all of their effort into the wrong thing and do it poorly. Like the one time a student made a map of Europe and put eleventy million toothpicks with flags on them that represented something that was not even close to what the assignment was and then sicced her mom on me when she got a 'C.' "But she worked really hard," said her mom, which was the equivalent of saying that she worked really hard to dig a hole when what I asked for was a paved road.

But I digress.

Effort is a tricky thing in that no matter how hard you want something, sometimes you just don't want to put in the effort. Building the tiny house was like that sometimes. Going to yoga is like that sometimes. Being a writer is like that most times.

Still trying to figure out how to reliably suck it up and put in the effort, even on the days where I would rather sit in a coffee shop and stare out at the water, except I don't even want to put the effort in to get to the coffee shop.

Thoughts? How do you make yourself do stuff you want to do when you don't want to do it?


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Habit Of Reading


Since Dane died I have lost my habit of reading.

I have read everything I could get my hands on since I was little: cereal boxes, advertisements, comics, novels, bumper stickers, street signs, billboards. All fair game. I read myself nearly blind with a flashlight under the covers after dark, and nearly sick on long car rides. I read in restaurants, at the beach during breakfast/lunch/dinner, on play dates, and during classes that were boring throughout my academic career. I have read both widely and deeply in my free time and as a teacher and an English major and a person generally dedicated to the written word.

When Dane died, nothing written has really kept my interest. These days I have a hard time concentrating deeply on anything in longer than two- or three-minute chunks. Fiction is hard to stay invested in, unless it is Jhumpa Lahiri or T.C. Boyle, and non-fiction, although more intriguing, floats into my brain and right back out.

This has not really been a problem beyond just one more sadness in a year of extraordinary loss, until now, as a newly minted docent at the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM). Now I find myself needing to concentrate for a period of time that lasts longer than 140 characters. I need to be able to take in and retain information, then shift and respond to questions about that information. Intellectually I know how to do it.

My brain doesn't feel up to it, though. I get tired when I start to read deeply, and my eyes become blurry. I find that I need to take breaks at the same time that I find that I need to make myself push through that fatigue, which may or may not be real. My brain jumps at shadows and resists.

Even sitting down and writing this has been difficult today. I am exhausted trying to express myself, and compelled to do it anyway.