The end of the month! Day 28 of blogging every day for the month of February! I’m going to pretend this statue in the photo immediately above is exuberantly rejoicing in my success, but in reality, she doesn’t care. The Lady of The Perpetual Bauble has no time for my literary pursuits, “give me more jewels, dammit!” she snarls, peevishly. Wow, ok lady. I guess I’ll just celebrate alone. Carry on.
As I am pretty sure that I mentioned earlier this month, I was inspired by a fellow blogger, Katie of Wyrd Words & Effigies, to attempt writing a blog post every day for a month. I figured I’d go with February because there’s no time like the present of course, and also it’s the shortest month, so less work, right? Which, while technically true, I’m not sure those two days make much of a difference overall.
As I’ve shared before, I have a full-time job that actually has nothing to do with writing, so it’s not as if I can spend my 9-5 hours writing a blog post. How I’ve managed to do it is by: keeping an ongoing list of ideas, starting a new draft every time I came up with at least one or two sentences for those ideas, and just chipping away at them when I wake up, over coffee, while I’m having my lunch, or after-hours. Somehow I’ve made it work, and I have even managed to schedule some blog posts several days in advance!
What I’ve learned from this is that I should act on more ideas as they occur to me, instead of sitting on them or saving them for a rainy day. And while I definitely will not be doing 30 days straight of blogging again any time soon, I have discovered that I could definitely be writing more frequently than I typically do.
I tend to set a lot of “challenge”-type goals, and I think that’s because it seems like a good way to structure some ongoing and future creative projects for myself. To get myself thinking and working in ways I typically might not think or work. For the sake of some –admittedly arbitrary– goals, with these challenges I am motivated to learn new things and work with new concepts and materials, but because I’ve set some guidelines (blog every day for a month, make a new cake every month, do a YouTube video every month, do a perfume review every day on TikTok, etc.,) I won’t get overwhelmed with possibilities and just either go totally off the rails or decide to not even try at all.
In addition to those cake goals and blog post challenges, I’m also making one soup every month from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups. Almost every recipe in this book has been delicious, with the exception of the orzo and pea soup. I probably should have realized this when just looking at those words on the page in front of me made me want to gag. However! Last night’s Ravioli Potage was another absolute winner. The only changes I made were to add some spicy Italian sausage and I swapped out the chervil for tarragon because who even keeps chervil on hand?? Let me know if I am wrong about that, but I don’t think so.
In other food-related reportings, I implore you to stop everything you are doing and make Rabbit & Wolves’ creamy miso pasta with caramelized mushrooms. This may well be the best pasta I’ve ever had, vegan or otherwise. And you people know I like my melty cheese-covered pasta tubules, so that’s saying quite a bit!
If making this recipe, I would suggest preparing twice the amount of sauce you need, and parcel it out to use in the next day or two. At which point, heat it up on the stove, loosen it up with a bit of broth, add a goodly amount of nutritional yeast and some diced, pickled jalapenos– and then you will have the best vegan nacho cheese sauce of your life.
Here is the second finished object of the year: the hellebore-inspired Winter Rose socks. This beautiful pattern is by Helen Stewart and the wildly vibrant fuschia/magenta yarn is from the inimitable Astral Bath Yarns.
Currently working on: the Wild Oak Socks by Virginia Sattler-Reimer in even more gorgeous Astral Bath yarns, although I don’t think I successfully captured the lovely colors or the wonderful pattern in the photo above. I also broke a needle while I was trying to take that photo, ugh!
I continue to keep up with that wily sourdough starter and am making this sourdough loaf recipe just about every week now. We really love the version where a few capfuls of everything bagel seasoning is substituted for the salt, so that’s what I am sticking with for now.
I hit upon the genius idea to make several batches of naan to freeze for future-us on an evening where a nice curry might call for naan we don’t have on hand or have time to make, but, surprise, we do! Because past-us made a bunch and froze it! I may have shared this recipe before, but I use this one, which calls for sourdough discard and yogurt.
I’ll mention a few changes I made to the naan recipe, for those interested: because I use fat-free skyr instead of yogurt, and I never have milk on hand (as called for in the recipe) I just use water for the milk, and a tablespoon or two of olive oil to make up for the missing fat in the milk and skyr. I also let the dough sit in the fridge overnight. Sometimes it is just easier on your schedule to make the dough the night before and then cook it the next evening…and it’s fine. Didn’t affect the end result at all.
Some new books! Yes, yes, I am still reading all the old ones, but don’t you dare judge me! I know you’re probably doing exactly the same thing, so I do not want to hear it. Included in this mini-haul are:
Bonus: the BEST new snack to pair with any, all, and every book. Takoyaki Balls! I ate a whole bag at once, immediately felt sick, and yet still wanted more. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.
So…that’s my February. Between blogging and TikToking, having my poem published, doing my first podcast, and some plotting & planning with my publisher for the possibility of something new (!!)–it’s been a busy, and, I might even say, a pretty crazed month. I’m worn out! So if my little space here gets a little quiet over the next week, I think you can guess as to why. I’ll just be taking a moment to breathe. Probably while inhaling some more Takoyaki Balls. They’re so good!
How was your February? What did you get into/up to/around to?
I am tired. I bet you are tired, too. This has been a weird year. Has it even been a year? Has it been a thousand years? I feel like I’ve aged immensely in these last 365 days and yet…I’ve experienced nothing. I can’t quite convince myself I’ve done nothing, I won’t allow myself to think that. No matter how furiously that self-effacing little demon on my shoulder tries to bully me into thinking it! I have idle tendencies, but I’m not lazy.
And I don’t mean to say that you are lazy if this year has been too much for you and you can’t function. No. But “I’m not lazy” is a mantra I have to repeat to myself, internally, all the time until I believe it. I grew up thinking I was lazy. I was told in so many ways that I was lazy. I came to believe that I am, indeed, a lazy, indolent person. Perhaps because I am slow to move and act. Often times this has to do with fear and anxiety. Also because I have a tendency to act only when I am ready to act. Don’t rush me! Perhaps also because I am not hugely ambitious, at least in the ways that the rest of the world, and perhaps my generation, define success. But I am not lazy! A few years ago, I made myself look at my progress and motivation and drive, and dammit, I am not lazy. But I still remind myself of this, every day.
I am always working on something. Baking, gardening, knitting, researching, writing, sometimes even making myself do the things that scare me! I mean, I published a book this year! This year, of all years! That counts for something right? But at the same time, I don’t feel like any of it counts at all, like it is entirely possible that this year hasn’t actually counted for anything. Although I have done things, learned things, made progress on, and completed personal projects… I have not gone anywhere new or exciting (or even old or boring) or seen or met anyone. All of these things are different marks that add up on the yardstick for which I measure my years, and this year is terribly off balance.
This past summer, I think I felt that keenly, and so I overloaded myself with tasks and projects and all manner of what I suppose amounts to busy work. I may not have been able to travel to see friends or family, but I dabbled in a multitude of cuisines, I perfected my sourdough starter, I finished a knitting project that I have been working on for five years–I can’t say that I didn’t do anything. I did all of the things. But…it all feels pointless? Wasted? And now it’s December and the year is ending in just over two weeks and I am tired. And I need to rest. Why is that so hard to admit?
On the knitting front: I think this is the first time I’ve worn something I knit in over a decade!
While I love to knit, I discovered that it’s more about the process and the journey for me, than it is about the destination and end result. When I am done with a project I set it aside until I feel I’ve found the right recipient, or, more frequently, they reveal themselves to me mid-stitch, before the pattern is even complete. I’m never sad to say goodbye to these projects because they were never meant for me to keep.
This sweater, though…maybe it’s going to stay with me a while. I hadn’t knit a sweater in a very long time. I tend to stick to things that don’t actually have to fit, like intricate shawls and the like. Measurements mystify me! But I was gifted a book of patterns late in 2019, so I thought I’d give it a another go. It was probably a fluke (because I did no maths, and much like merging onto the highway, I just close my eyes and prayed for the best!) and wouldn’t you know? It was perfect!
Of course, living in Florida, there are not many opportunities to wear such things. But today is chilly and here we are! Warm and cozy and it fits beautifully.
I think this one has found its home.
This was meant to be a divorce blanket for my baby sister. She could have gotten married and divorced again in the 4-5 years it took me to knit this!
Each and every square was knit with my deepest heart’s love for this beautiful, brilliant, brave woman, and with wishes and dreams that her life as she goes forward is exactly as she wants it to be. And more or less it has been, I think, and utterly without the help of this blanket! Well, it’s the thought that counts, anyway.
Thank you to the many friends who have contributed yarn to this project over the years. I appreciate you all for your help.
Reading: Though I’m a life-long fiend for all things horror, my love for the genre does tend to wax and wane. Sometimes I become a bit unplugged, only to dive back in with a voracious ferocity that’s probably a bit alarming from an outsider’s perspective.
Recently I was gifted a copy of Matt Glasby’s The Book of Horror: The Anatomy of Fear on Film, and it has marvelously rekindled my love for all things horrid, haunting, and harrowing. Glasby examines some of the most frightening films created and explores with us what it is exactly, that makes them so scary. Which sounds like it might be a dry, scholarly affair, but it’s not even a bit! The analysis is tightly written, wryly humorous, and exceptionally insightful, and, coupled with the spare elegance of Barney Bodoano’s striking black and white artwork—I’m utterly immersed and enthralled and I haven’t been able to put it down.
The advent of the winter months are casting their strange spell and making me forget, as I do every year, that baking in Florida in November is pretty much the same as baking here in July. Still, the heart wants what the heart wants (even though the heart doesn’t even care for sweets) and so that means Swedish cardamom buns and cranberry scones.
I really don’t have much to say about them, but I did think they were nice photos!
I have been feeling some kind of way in the last few weeks. I can’t put my finger on what it is, or why…it’s somewhat inexplicable and mostly inexpressible and it’s for sure not a particularly nice feeling.
The closest I can get at it is this: I have been hearing various friends at various points in time say that they need to delete their Facebook accounts or stop scrolling through Instagram or maybe even stay off of social media entirely, because it makes them feel crappy about themselves. They compare themselves to friends and acquaintances who have perhaps had more achievements and successes, who have gotten married or had children, who have traveled the world, who seem beautiful, valued, fulfilled, and happy…and in seeing all of this, they find that they are coming up short in their own lives and wonder where they went wrong. Rather than be bombarded by their social media reminding them of these short-comings every time the page refreshes, they delete these platforms from their devices, removing the temptation to subject themselves to these feelings.
I thought that I never really understood or properly empathized with the dissatisfaction or disappointment or depression/despair they experienced from these interactions (oh, the arrogance!) because I believed that I measured my success differently. I genuinely believed I wasn’t paying that much attention to what everyone else was doing. Or if I was, I was happy to see that they were doing well. And I am!
But I suspect…I’m more attentive than I thought I was to what X/Y/Z person was progressing with, making strides toward and ultimately achieiving and succeeding in. And inevitably, we relate information about others to ourselves, and it would appear that I am not immune to that, no matter how much I imagined myself to be! And while I might not covet the lifestyles and timelines of say, that enthusiastic person posting pictures from their themed-engagement photo shoot, or the third-time mommy-to-be celebrating milestones in her kid’s lives, or the career woman who was just promoted to Regional Director of Whatever…I do take notice of the various ways in which the people whose interests align with mine are putting themselves out there and achieving things. And I wonder what is wrong with me that my expectations for myself are so vastly different and what opportunities I might be missing because of that.
I guess when it’s stripped down to essentials, what I’ve been feeling of late is the dull hum of inadequacy. It’s been buzzing through my brain at a frequency I couldn’t quite attune to, but in writing about it just now, I think I’ve dialed it in. And I hate to blame social media, but it’s so easy to lose ourselves in what we think we should be doing/wanting/having because we see those individuals whom we admire involved in all those things…but are those things really the things we want for ourselves? Or is the algorithm just brainwashing us into thinking so? And so maybe it is better to step back. To remember who we are and what we want for ourselves, and use that clarity to both connect with our identity and cultivate our self-esteem.
Psychology today writes that:
“A stable sense of self comes from thinking about who you are absent any feedback. What are your values and preferences in the absence of anybody knowing about them? Can you be proud of the person you are who isn’t publicly posted?”
So I can certainly see how taking a step back from Instagram and Facebook can provide some time for self-reflection, to strip away all the clutter that you’re constantly barraged and the constant need to “create/curate content”.
I don’t know where I’m going with any of this navel-gazing, because while social media creates these uncomfortable and upsetting comparisons for me, it’s also a source of so many wonderful connections. And while I realize that my efforts fall far short of anything that would be described as a journalistic or literary tour-de-force, I do like to try to keep my finger on the pulse of things, so to speak, for writing purposes– and social media platforms can be such an amazing source for the sorts of tidbits that I like to stay on top of. So what can I do? Just keep it all in perspective, I guess. As poet and writer Lisa Marie Basile wrote on Instagram recently: “The universe is nearly 14 billion years old. I promise that bitch on Instagram doesn’t matter.”
Seen too, just today, via Sarah Faith Gottesdiener’s Instagram:
“It is a fucking relief to dive deep into your own well, to move forward in your own integrity, and forge your own path. It is a breath of fresh air to acknowledge your own needs, dreams, and particular talents. We all have our own unique roles to inhabit and our own particular calls to heed. The more we stay in our own energy, the easier it is to attract what is for us. Do you understand?” (Read the rest of it here, it’s exactly perfect.)
I think I do understand. And so maybe you will be seeing a little less of me in my familiar haunts. You can always find me here, though.
My little sister has done an admirable job with keeping a “plague diary” over the course of the last X number of days (yikes, has it really been that long?) I wish I had that same dedication and fortitude and the …motivation, I guess, to summon thoughts and what to say about them, but I guess I don’t. So much of this time right now feels exactly like the life I was leading up until this crisis, and it seems…profoundly uncool to talk about how much my life has not changed. Still working from home. Still a homebody. Still relieved when it comes to canceled plans. Still living in my own little world.
My fears and anxieties come not from concern for my own safety or worries about my continued financial stability (although quite frankly I am not sure how or why I am still employed) but rather…sympathy pains, I suppose you could say, for my friends and family and the rest of the world. I’ve internalized so much of the collective chaos and I am sad and stressed and scared; this article says it has something to do with “allotastic load” and this article says that the discomfort I am feeling is grief. From whichever perspective I look at it, man, I am drained. And I can’t even believe I am saying this…I have now officially spent too much time at home.
Last month I was to have visited (and met in person for the first time) a dear friend in the midwest; this past weekend I was supposed to meet up with my sisters to celebrate one of their birthdays; typically we visit Y’s parents every month or so, we go into Orlando for a weekend, we have a few dinners out during the week, and not to mention the absence of grocery shopping and hair appointments! But. Nobody’s going nowhere and there’s nothing to be done about it and that is all for the best.
As far as all of this time we supposedly have on our hands now. I’ve got the same amount of time as I’ve always got. It just feels different. It simultaneously feels like swimming in jelly or running in slow-motion as though in a dream, except there’s this dreadful urgency there, because, although I am still feeling foggy and slow and drained, I am expected to work my same 8:30-5:30 (or sometimes 6:00 or 6:30 every day.) I feel like I’m both in this liminal, holding pattern place–sort of like how it feels here, in FL, right before hurricane hits–and I am in real-life, where things are needed and expected of me, and it’s taking a superhuman effort be in both places at once.
I also should note I have been trying to write this blog post since the beginning of April. Ugh. Is there any point to finishing it and posting it now? I think there is. Even if it feels like life is at a standstill…it’s not. It’s not on pause. It’s still happening and unfolding every day, and I guess I’d like a record, of sorts.
Instead of the travels I had planned, then, let me tell you about my culinary explorations. I made biscuits for the first time, ever! I made my first-ever chocolate cake from scratch (it looked horrible, but it was delicious–and I don’t even like cake!) I ground my own spices and made Masala chai; I made a vegan caesar salad dressing and vegan jerky; I made what I am calling a “savory fruit salad” in an attempt to salvage a few tomatoes and an avocado that were just past their prime.
Which is to say: combine diced and ripened tomato and avocado, a bright green funky flurry of chopped scallions, a nutty slick of sesame oil, a tangy dribble of rice wine vinegar, and several enthusiastic shakes of aromatic shiso furikake. It may look like a glunky pile of unpleasantness, but holy Japanese guacamole, was it incredible.
…and have I shared sweater journeys with you? I haven’t knit a sweater in years and years, and the reason for this is because they require more precise measurements than I care to deal with; socks and shawls don’t really have the same fit issues that sweaters do, so I’d prefer the fiddliness of tiny stitches and complicated lace to the prospect of a sweater that’s going to end up being the size of that tent that the Weasley family travels with for Quidditch matches.
However! I was gifted with a sweater pattern book for the holidays, and I thought “well, hey, now that I am living in the semi-tropical climate of Florida again, it sure seems like a great time to knit up some heavy woolen sweaters!” When the imp of the perverse calls to me, I must obey. And so I did.
And do you know what? Now that I’ve got another decade of knitting under my belt, these things actually fit!
Last week I left the house and drove my car for the first time since mid-March. I went to the dentist for a tooth-cleaning. It was both scary and underwhelming. I’m ready for more normal, stupid activities like this, but at the same time, I’m almost certain we’re collectively not ready for this at all. I guess we’ll see. A dental visit and an expression of depressing uncertainty is a bummer of a way to end this missive, and pretty anticlimactic to boot, but that’s all she wrote, I’m afraid.
Ok, so if we’re being honest, I’ve been self-isolating since the late 70s. And it must be noted that I wrote that sentence last night and in opening this draft again early this morning, I misread that as “…self-loathing since the late 70s”. Also true. But not why we’re here today.
It’s a scary, lonely, and possibly boring time for a lot of folks right now if you’re keeping your distance from others, working from home, and just hanging around your house, waiting for this madness to pass. No happy hours with co-workers, no bookclubs or yoga classes, possibly no trips to the library or the grocery store (if, like me, that’s about the extent of your social interaction right there.)
I know a lot of us think–hey, 24/7 home-times and zero amounts of human contact is basically my life, anyway! No biggie! But it’s one thing to want that for yourself…it’s something else entirely not to have any choice in the matter. What once felt safe and lovely in the cozy confines of your home may begin to feel like a sentence of stifling, smothering imprisonment. After all, no one wants to be told what to do! There’s nothing like being informed that you can’t do something, to flip that contrarian switch in your mind that makes you suddenly want to do that thing more than anything in the world. So I absolutely understand how frustrating it can, even for an introvert, not to be able to leave the house, let alone see the places and do the things and hang out with the people. Or just…you know, go to your place of work and put in the hours for a paycheck. Or maybe you are immunocompromised, or you deal with the daily experience of living with a chronic illness, and frequently must turn down invitations or reschedule appointments for things outside the house while you tend to your own health. During this strange time of isolation and quarantine it’s possible you may be feeling well enough to spend time with friends, but…you can’t. And let’s not forget our extroverted friends! I know that I personally feel drained from being around people and am happy to avoid it entirely, but I have plenty of friends who find interaction and conversation energizing and invigorating. The friends who are always moving, going, doing! I can think of any number of reasons we are worried and anxious and the possibility of stir craziness and cabin fever looms.
Me, well. As someone who already works at home and has for almost a decade; who has maybe only one local IRL friend; who is very much an introvert anyway…I believe I am doing OK. For now. I don’t think I am likely to get bored (in my childhood, someone once told us, “if you’re bored–you’re boring!” and that is a sentiment that has always stuck with me, and has instilled in me the idea that to be boring is maybe the worst personality flaw one can have.) My youngest sister explained our temperaments quite well when it comes to being okay with being home, and alone:
“My early years of being a socially-awkward, friendless little freak have served me well: I’m comfortable in my own company, and my internal landscape is rich and well-supplied with my own interests and curiosities.”
Wow, you can’t tell we’re related or anything.
I’m still working full time at my day job–not much has changed on the surface with regard to what I do for a living. But it’s an industry that will no doubt be affected by what’s happening now, and I have a feeling that these are effects that may be felt soon. So I’ll be grateful for my job while I have it! For this period of quarantine and captivity, things at work are no doubt going to be a little slow, so here are a few of the things I will be doing. Or thinking about doing. Or some ideas for you!
Clean and tidy and organize my environment. When you have to look at the same walls and shelves and surfaces for days on end, dust and scraps and piles of random things where they don’t belong can start to make your space feel annoying and gross–and this feeling can naturally affect your attitudes and motivations for doing other things.
Block out some time to make the bed, to vacuum, to put things back where they belong, at the very least. Catch up on some podcasts while you’re doing it! For me in particular, that means organizing the stacks of stuff that end up on top of the captain’s bed in my office, a spot which has become sort of a catch-all for everything that enters my home that I don’t have immediate plans for. And because I work in my office, I always see that mountain of yarn, or perfume samples or whatever, looming and mocking me from the corner of my eye. It’s distracting. I’m going to take some time to find homes for these things and bring my office back to a nice, functional space.
Read! Now is a great time to make a dent in those stacks. You know the ones. The library stacks. The purchased-from-amazon-for-summer-reading-in-2015 stacks. The Kindle Unlimited backlog digital stacks. The poetry-section-at-Powells-from-a-previous-trip-to Portland stacks. Have a nice beverage, kick up your feet and put on your funny socks so that when you look down you see your silly toes and it makes you laugh. Post a photo of that on Instagram. Or maybe listen to some free books! Right now I am finally reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, catching up on Monstress. What are you reading during these strange, unprecedented times?
Catch up on personal projects, hobbies, or creative activities–finish that knitted shawl, make that pelmeni that your friend gave you an excellent recipe for, KonMari your tee shirt drawer; redesign an awkward room, fix those wonky, squeaky, creaky things around the house, throw out all of your old crusty makeup, do your taxes. Tune that ukelele that your partner bought you for Christmas in 2014 and you’re afraid to even look at, update your resume/portfolio and refresh those skills that might give you a leg up on the job market, unsubscribe from all of the stuff clogging your mailbox, unfollow all those boring people on Instagram who never update anymore …though if you were close to them you may want to reach out and see if they’re ok, of course! Create a budget for yourself and make some plans to be more financially solvent. Do some end of life planning! (this is not morbid; this is practical.)
Learn something new! A yoga pose, a fancy nail design manicure, a Skillshare class on whatever, I don’t know, maybe one about being a social media guru or taking nice photos of your coffee in a hipster cafe. Listen to that one TED talk on empathy; learn to make a classic cocktail. Learn origami, watch some youtube tutorials for making cold process soap or wax candles, or herbal tinctures and decoctions. Read up on some eco-sustainable solutions for your home to begin implementing when you’re comfortable enough to think about things like that again. Look at some beautiful art for your eyeballs in a virtual museum tour. Finally begin reading up on the Tarot! Take your cue from The Hermit, and use this introspective, reflective time to learn about the things that excite your soul. Like crochet! The Hermit is totally crocheting some amigurumi dolls right now.
Are both you and your partner working at home? Take lunch together and do something absurd and ridiculous like rewrite the words to a popular song; I’ve started with the lyrics to the Eagle’s Desperado–my version is called Death Burrito. That’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I mean… I haven’t even learned to play the original on my ukelele.
Talk about something silly and fanciful. Plan that pie-in-the-sky-vacation you’ve been thinking about taking. Daydream together. My partner and I both work from home and have for years now, in our very different jobs. We have separate offices, luckily, and we’ve worked it out so that we don’t get in each other’s way, and we understand that we are at work between the hours of 8:30-5:30. But if that’s not your situation, this may be a good read right now: Surviving Quarantine Without Killing Your Partner.
Get outside if you can. Walk around the neighborhood, peek in your neighbor’s garages (why do so many people leave their garage doors open all day long? Guy with the confederate flag hanging over your mossy old sofa…do you really want people to see that?) Go to a park, I mean I know it’s only a quarter-mile walk around a craggy retention pond, but use your imagination. Hang out in your backyard and garden, plant some seeds, grow something. Have a little picnic on your back porch. Squat down and look at some bugs. Lean your head back and look at the sky.
If you’re able, do your best to move around and don’t turn into a fossil! Little micro-workouts, gentle stretches, strength training, learn a K-pop dance, dance with Debbie Allen!; hula hoop in your backyard, do one of those crazy VR games, use your treadmill or stationary bike, try yoga apps or youtube videos, use that zombie running app that you downloaded once and promptly forgot about. If any of my DDR PS2 games worked with our PS4 I’d be hardcore Dance Dance Revolutionizing right now. I am actually the worst at this, so if you’ve got any tips of things tried and true that work for you, please let me know!
Plan and organize and make appointments and schedule things! I know it’s tough to book mammograms and hair colorings right now. Who knows when it will seem like a smart idea again to see our doctors for non-crucial issues and book appointments with the folks who make us look good? I don’t know! But if you’re suddenly working from home (or you’re at home because you’re suddenly not working) it’s understandable that you might be floundering and adrift because your regular routines have all gone out the window. Make a plan for yourself even if you’re just scheduling the stuff you do around the house. 6:30am wake up. Make bed. Drink water. Wash face. Do laundry. Email friends. I know these are just dumb daily things that you are going to do anyway, but when you don’t have anything else going on and your whole day boils down to these quotidian activities, it can feel like a big deal crossing small wins off your list.
Communicate with friends and loved ones. Keep up with your Facebook group chats, Skype with your sisters, text your best friend, send out emails to folks you haven’t heard from in a while. (If you’re me, don’t take/make any phone calls because why don’t people get that you are on the phone from sundown from sunup for your day job and you would rather throw yourself into a woodchipper than talk on the phone in your free time?) Play online games or apps with your cousins, watch movies with your coven over facetime, do book club discussions over coffee or cocktails together via Skype. Create a shared playlist with your buds on Spotify. Write some actual letters with that fancy stationery you never use, for pete’s sake
Cook! Experiment with a new recipe (make one of those technical challenges from the Great British Baking Show! Pretend that Paul Hollywood is going to give you that famous handshake if you get it right!), make a comforting classic; perfect one of your granny’s recipes, do some nice, relaxed, non-rushed meal-prep; see what kind of dreamy charcuterie board you can come up with what you’ve got on hand. If what you’ve got is string cheese, salmon jerky, and Cheez-Its, that’s a good try! The unattractive photo above is a barley and lentil soup I made with some dried goods that had been in my cupboard for maybe 5-6 years. I don’t know if it’s because I sauteed the veggies in bacon grease, but this was really an excellent-tasting soup for having used such humble ingredients.
Step away from the media that’s fueling your anxiety; draw yourself a bath and use some of those potions and lotions and oils and balms you have on the shelves in your bathroom– bath salts, bubble baths, fancy soaps, bath bombs, bath melts, etc, etc. Give yourself a manicure, a pedicure, a hand massage, a foot soak (or if you’re like me, you’re too lazy to draw a bath so instead you put all of those things I listed above into a tiny foot soak tub instead); do a facial, a mask, a peel; do some gua sha, light some candles, listen to some ASMR for tingles and relaxation. Lisa-Marie Basile has got some really wonderful rituals for troubling times such as this in her gorgeous book, Light Magic for Dark Times: More than 100 Spells, Rituals, and Practices for Coping in a Crisis, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is the perfect time to dive in.
Write it out! Do some journaling (keep a plague diary!) work on your essay, your article, your interview, your poetry, your great American novel; meditate on and document what is happening right now, scribble and ramble to work through your fears and your feelings during these chaotic times. It’s scary to sit with these worrying thoughts, but if you’re up to it, you may find it helpful.
Follow your heart and see what it wants to do…and if that’s exactly nothing, then go with that for a while, too. It is OK to be still. I think the idea of “keeping busy” and the hustle/grind/etc–these types of relentless toil have been glorified in our society, and listen, you don’t have anything to prove right now. We place unbelievably high standards on ourselves, and that pressure is untenable on any given day, let alone in circumstances such as these. Listen to that small voice within and to the messages your body, instincts, spirit give you. You don’t have to “think positively.” Be worried, be anxious, be scared. Lean into those feelings and let them have a voice. If that’s too much right now, and stillness doesn’t feel like something you can handle, to do those things that make you feel safe and cozy and let you tune out for a while: movies, puzzles, knitting, looking at pictures of corgi butts, napping, whatever.
If your heart is moved do something else, maybe consider donating to or buying a gift card from local businesses that you support; purchase a gift card or two from some of your favorite artists, or contribute to their Patreon, or buy them a Kofi. Support your local mutual aid network. If we’re at a point where you can still do this, run errands for someone who needs to stay indoors. I am sure there are lots of helpful and good things that I am not even thinking of, so please feel free to comment with ideas and practices of your own.
And I get it, we’re not all on vacation here. Some of us are still working– I know I am. (And there are some lovely, gentle work from home tips in this article at Luna Luna Mag!) It’s not like all of this magical free time just opened up for me! Some are not working and currently without income. Some of you have kids and can’t just take up crocheting or a new hobby or whatever. You’ve got diapers to change or kids out of school who need wrangling. Some of you live in apartments and maybe don’t have a park or a neighborhood to walk around. We’re not all in the same situation, and we don’t have access to the same things. The circumstances look different for all of us, and I wish I had more answers and ideas for everyone. But these are some things that I’d like to try to work into my schedule because now seems like a good time, I mean it’s got to be good for something, right?
Ghost hugs from exile, friends. Be well and stay safe.
I hate looking at my face in photos that other people have taken of me.
It’s hard to articulate why you think your best angles are your best angles, because quite frankly when we look at ourselves, I’m fairly certain that all we see are our flaws. (If you’ve evolved beyond this, I tip my hat to you.) My weak chin, massive forehead, my wonky tooth, my squinty, asymmetric eyes, my weird albino mole, and conversely, that dark splotchy sun-spot–I have been evaluating, assessing, and critiquing these problems with my gargoyle face in photos for …well. My entire life.
Our friends, however, aren’t as intimately familiar with how hideous we believe that we are; they don’t examine our repulsive facial topographies in the mirror every day (they’ve got their own faces to deal with, I imagine) and since they probably think we’re decent-enough looking humans, they are not as circumspect and calculated as we are in capturing our own portraits on film. I am certain that anyone who has ever been tagged in a friend’s Facebook photo looking like a chubby, inbred goblin is mortifyingly familiar with this oversight on the part of our friends, and this is why I think we need consent forms and NDAS and binding contracts promising that they will never ever ever tag us in a photo on Facebook unless we have pre-approved said photo. In my opinion, there is no betrayal quite so heinous as being marked as yourself by a “friend” in a particularly ugly photo.
Anyway, I had some author photos taken last weekend. I tried not to be too critical of them afterward; they were shot by my brother in law and I think he did a great job! He made me feel comfortable, and I knew I wasn’t going to wind up looking like anyone else other than me. (I am terrified of getting my makeup done, because, as part of the process, I may be given those terrible fuzzy caterpillar Instagram eyebrows; I am so scared of this that I wore exactly zero makeup in these photos except for some tinted moisturizer. My eyebrows may be non-existent, but at least they are not Eugene Levy-levels of lepidopteran larvae hovering above my eyeballs.) These photos came out looking exactly like me, for better or worse. But the one above is my absolute favorite. “Cackling into the void,” a friend of mine captioned it. And I don’t think anything captures me better than just laughing at how scared and ugly I feel all the time. It’s kinda hilarious. And sad. But mostly funny!
One thing that -mostly- never makes me feel sad or scared or ugly though, is spending time in the kitchen. (Just don’t ask me about the time I had the “brown rice risotto meltdown”! It was just last week. Too soon.)
Last year, thanks to the recipe and encouragement of dear Sonya, I tried my hand at making gravlax; this year, I thought…why not make the bagels and cream cheese to accompany it?
This time around I went with Brad Leone’s gravlax recipe from this episode of It’s Alive. I left out the turmeric because that just seemed…a little weird. The peppercorns and coriander seeds smelled so beautiful; sharp and fresh and floral and a bit citrusy, and I wish I could wear the glittering finery of this salt and sugar sprinkle half as well as this little slab of salmon!
Did I feel the slightest bit of trepidation contemplating the creation of homemade bagels? Maybe. But even bad bagels had the promise of being pretty freaking amazing, and please indulge me when I tell you that these were not bad bagels. Were they perfect? Lordy. No.
Were they a lot of work? Like maybe a thousand times the effort of going to Bagel King? Yes, they were. Were they probably twice as expensive? Yes, they probably were.
Were they absolutely worth the mess and the effort? Oh yes. And they were even more delicious knowing that I made the dough, I kneaded the dough, I shaped and boiled and I baked the dough, and I had a hand in nearly 100% of the processes that brought these wee bagel bebes into existence. I didn’t grow the grains and grind them into flour. And that was a pre-packaged everything bagel seasoning (it needs more salt!) But other than that…I did it. And that feels pretty amazing.
The bagel recipe is from Joshua Weissman, and I chose it because he wasn’t adding extra ingredients like malt extract and vital wheat gluten. Those might have made the end product tastier, but I didn’t feel like futzing around with them. The cream cheese is really more of a “cream cheese-like spread” and the recipe is from Chef John of Foodwishes. I really dig how he compares the cheesecloth marks on the spread to the pattern that fishnet stockings make on the flesh of someone’s leg. I think the world needs some erotic foody fanfiction from Chef John, but maybe that’s just me, hee hee.
Since we are on the topic of food (and if we’re not, let me bring it back to what’s really important here) I’d like to tell you about this soup.
We were low on stores and I didn’t want to do any extra shopping. I had a really excellent chicken stock I’d made from the remnants of this chicken recipe, a handful of old vegetables, and two half-full bags of dried baby lima beans. I am not sure why I had two bags, and why there was an equal amount of beans missing from both, but I suppose that shall remain a kitchen mystery. I soaked the beans in some cold water for a few hours, and then I chopped and sauteed two celery stalks and two carrots with three cloves of garlic, minced, in a splodge of olive oil. I would have added onions, but I had none, so subbed in a hefty tablespoon of onion powder, along with some salt and pepper. I added the soaked beans and stirred them around with the veggies for a few minutes or until everything looks friendly with each other and smells lovely and then I added several cups of broth and a bay leaf or two. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the beans are as tender as you like and the soup starts to thicken up a bit.
I used to hate bean soup as a kid, but I think this one is better than the one my grandmother used to make me eat. It was actually quite delicious. Sorry Mawga!
RE: my Stephen King project (here’s a link to a spreadsheet if you are interested! It’s…a bad spreadsheet. Spreadsheets are not my thing.)
So far in 2019 I have read The Institute,The Dead Zone, and The Outsider; I have watched Pet Sematary (2019), IT Chapter Two, In The Tall Grass, Doctor Sleep. I am currently watching The Outsider television series, listening to The Dark Half, and reading The Gunslinger.
Of course, I am reading other things, too, alongside this Stephen King madness, but still…I think I am making progress!
I’ve been in a funny place for the past few weeks. Funny, and a little unfamiliar, and I almost don’t even know what to do with it. I’m feeling kind of …carefree? And generally good about life? Like everything might actually be ok for once and the world doesn’t feel like it may crash down around my head …any second…any second now?
This is such an alien state of being for me. And what makes it worse (what makes good…worse? Ah, Sarah.) is that so many people I know are struggling and suffering and just really having a rough go of it at the moment. I feel awfully guilty for feeling as great as I do.
I feel so great, in fact, that every day for the last three and a half weeks I have launched myself out of bed at five a.m. sometimes, at 4:59, before the alarm has even gone off. I’m immediately out the front door–in my pajamas, no less–to take in the world while everything is dark and quiet and still. I used to walk in the early mornings for exercise; it was a slog, and I hated it, and more often than not I would find reasons to avoid it and lay in bed for another few hours. Now I have begun to think of it as a gentle stroll to stretch my toes and wake myself up, and I’m finding that it’s become a really vital part of my morning. (I still get the stupid, sloggy exercise at night, though. Bah.) It may sound as if I’ve contracted some sort of passing mania, but I have kept this practice up for nearly a month now, even on weekends, and as it turns out, I don’t really need more than 5-6 hours of sleep a night. Which doesn’t quite sound right, does it? But I feel loads better than when I was getting 7-8 hours a night? And anything over 8 makes me feel awful, anyway.
I’m attributing this change to a handful of things:
-In late summer we finally wrapped up this interminable business with my grandparent’s estate, so after nearly three years, that particular dread is no longer weighing on my shoulders. My grandfather passed in 2015, and my grandmother’s decline was long and slow (she passed in 2017) so between caring for them before their deaths and dealing with the aftermath and the house and the paperwork and finances, it finally feels like I can let go and properly say goodbye. Goodbye, Mawga and Boppa. Until we meet again!
-I submitted some of the final stuff for a project I’ve been working on, and even though it’s not even close to being done, I think the most challenging aspect of it has been taken care of, and even if nothing ever comes from it, or if it all falls through… at least I will know that I was able to commit to writing 12 chapters of something. Yes, I am writing a book. Yes, this is what I have been obliquely alluding to since March earlier this year. Nope, still not really ready to talk about it yet. But I will say this: be careful what you put out into the universe because sometimes you just might end up eating your words.
-I had a difficult conversation with my boss that I was scared to have, and it turned out ok…it didn’t kill me at all. Now I finally feel good about plans to eventually move to the West Coast, and hopefully sooner rather than later. Portland, here we come!
-Another thing I am loathe to talk about for myriad reasons is that I have lost almost 25 lbs. I’m actively working on just feeling better in general, and unfortunately, weight loss is a part of the process. I just want to be able to squat comfortably again, man. And I don’t even mean for exercise, I mean for when I want to squat down and look at a tiny roly-poly on the sidewalk or something. And maybe wear one particular dress I bought four years ago, but which didn’t even fit me at the time.
-And finally, I am fixing my teeth, a thing I’m terribly self-conscious about.
But listen: I may be in a better mood and I may have nicer teeth–but I’m still not smiling for anyone. No way, no how!
Oh, and another great thing is that I found a Heart record for $8 at a boba shop, of all places.
So, let me tell you about this sandwich. First, slice up a shallot and quick pickle it in a little bit of vinegar and sugar. Set that aside. Crumble half a block of tofu and saute it with some garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, nutritional yeast, turmeric, and a bit of black salt (it’s sulfurous and will make it taste eggy.) While that’s cooking, toast a few slices of sourdough bread, and when they are ready, mush up some avocado slices on them, top with a few spoonfuls of the tofu scramble and garnish with the pickled shallots. This was something I threw together last weekend, and it was pretty tasty.
Next, allow me to bring your attention to this pumpkin bread. I have been making it since 2002, using ingredients and directions from allrecipes.com, but which I have slowly been tweaking and changing over the years. I use half brown sugar/half white sugar, mostly applesauce in place of oil, and for the remainder of the oil I use olive oil, twice as much cinnamon, omit the nutmeg, add cardamom and black pepper, and sub in fresh ginger for the powder. I reckon it’s a whole new recipe by now!
Finally, this is a pumpkin curry I improvised when I realized I’d bought more pumpkin than I was ever going to eat in my oatmeal. (I always think pumpkin oatmeal is a great idea for like, the first week in October. And then I’m over it.) First, whiz up one medium onion, 5-6 cloves of garlic, one serrano pepper, and a knob of ginger in your food processor. Or, you could mince it all by hand, whatever’s easiest. Cook in the instant pot using the “saute” function for about five minutes. (I might do a few minutes more.) Add to the pot a can of chickpeas, or if you thought ahead to cook up some dried chickpeas, add about a can’s worth, about 15 oz or so; a 15 oz can of coconut milk, a 15 oz can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) and a cubed sweet potato. To this add 2 tbsp curry powder, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and fenugreek leaves. Or whatever you generally like to add in terms of curry spices! I just sort of threw in whatever sounded good. Stir it together, close the pot, and cook for 10 minutes, with a natural release.
I served this curry with short grain brown rice because that’s what we had on hand, and which was also cooked in the instant pot. Our formula for rice–whatever kind of rice– is to rinse it in cool water 2-3 times, drain and use a 1:1 rice to water ratio, minus about a tbsp of whatever (to account for whatever liquid is still left in the rice after the rinsing). Cook on high for 6 minutes and then do a natural release. Most of the time this makes for perfect rice. I also roasted some cauliflower that had been tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, garam masala, and a pinch of turmeric.
For something that I did not consult a recipe for, it was really quite good!
This is a shawl that I knit last month. I think it broke me. It was the most epically tedious thing I have ever created. I was warned, going into it, that I was probably going to be bored with the pattern, and man, I sure was. The funny thing is, it seems to be a pretty beloved pattern among most knitters (it’s the Find Your Fade shawl.)
I don’t mean this as a criticism to the designer, but I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who enjoys the challenge of a more intricate pattern. Which I normally do! But sometimes I like to rest my eyes a little and not stress out so much about something that’s meant to be an enjoyable pastime. If you need something a little mindless for a netflix binge, this is perfect!
…but be certain that there’s at least 6-7 seasons of it because this knit is interminable.
In blocking this I noticed A LOT of dropped stitches. I think I got so bored with it that I just totally tuned out and mindlessly sped through it, without even noticing. I performed some surgery after blocking, so I think it’s okay. (Here’s a good video on how to pick up dropped stitches on a finished piece of work.)
So just an FYI: don’t daydream your way through this project. Check every few rows for some dropped or wonky stitches so that you’re not surprised by them after you have already finished!
Two movies and a cocktail: I did not do my thirty-one days of horror films this year; however, I did watch one movie at the beginning of October and one at the end, and I highly recommend them both.
Cooties was kinda funny and kinda dumb and a whole lot of fun, and I’ve been meaning to watch it for years now, ever since I saw that sonic creepster extraordinaire, Kreng, was involved in the soundtrack. It’s more or less about zombie children, and, Frodo, who plays the part of a failed writer who has to move back in with his mom in the town where he grew up, and is a substitute teacher at the school where the kids start getting freaky and bitey and gross one day.
Knife + Heart was a beautiful and brutal homage to the giallo film, almost entirely populated by queer characters, and I don’t know what I was expecting but I sure wasn’t expecting what I got–a dreamy, kitschy, sleazy, thriller, the likes of which I have never seen before. This one also has a pretty great soundtrack.
This is not a themed cocktail, but I suggest you pair either of these films with the rum Old Fashioned that this guy shares on his youtube channel (skip to 5:35 for the specific recipe). We crafted a few this past weekend, and I’m fairly certain that I liked it even more than a regular Old Fashioned!
Ok, so that’s it. You can all go home now. Oh, but wait! I got a fancy new mattress, too. Which is kind of hilarious, considering I don’t spend all that much time sleeping anymore.
Earlier this month we bought a new mattress–and that was a bit of a debacle which I’ll get into some other time–but I have since its arrival slowly been making a few gentle upgrades to my dream sanctum.
I wanted a small circular shelf for above my bedstand to house and display various dream-time odds and ends, talismans and looky-loos, but what I ended up with was this ginormous behemoth. I distinctly recall my internal approval of the dimensions while I read them…but I guess it turns out I don’t know what numbers are or how they work. However, my partner convinced me to keep it, we swapped out the massive, fearsome sorceress on that wall whose wild, chaotic energy probably belongs in another room, and yesterday, we got the shelf hung.
Now it’s pretty naked. I didn’t really have anything in mind just yet with which to adorn it with Most of the items there currently are just placeholders, but the print by Becky Munich may be perfect and might stick around….
, I would love some thoughts, suggestions, and recommendations for candles, crystals, statuary, sculpture, art, books, whatever–anything you feel might be a good fit for a bedtime/sleep sanctuary/dream adventure altar. My tastes run toward the fantastical and surreal, so I am not looking for anything too cutesy or twee (here’s a shelf I passed on, for example), and high gothic drama really isn’t my thing, either. Mythic, fairy-tale, folk-tale art feels may be okay, because I love all of those things, but again, nothing too saccharine. Sorry to impose so many restrictions, but I know what I like, and I think that’s helpful to share when looking for advice!
All my cranky codicils and caveats aside, what might you put on your own personal dream altar? Please share your links and tag some artists in the comments for me!
I am currently in a hardcore avoidance mode. When this mood sets in, I get the sudden urge to clean house when most other times I can’t be bothered in the slightest; I get in at least 20K steps a day due to the sudden desire to keep fit; I uncovered a scattered ambivalence of WordPress drafts that I started two years ago and I center all of my focus on them because clearly, that’s a priority right now! The bottom of the barrel items which are so insignificant that they don’t even register for the to-do list suddenly become of vital importance when I am avoiding certain work or projects. I made jam this past weekend, for god’s sake! Which…to be fair…making jam is totally a thing that I would do, so that’s not a great example. But I should absolutely not be making jam right now! I have things to do! Which is also why I rearranged all of the art on my walls.
…and since I am still not doing the things I should be doing, I thought it might be a good time for a small update.
I have been going to a new therapist since January of this year. I say “new” like I’m trying to distinguish her from all the other therapists I’ve seen, but really, that list is not terribly long. I tried one out back in 2015, right around the time my grandfather died, but it wasn’t quite a fit. I don’t know how to say this without sounding like an asshole, but I just didn’t love the feeling that I might be smarter (maybe a lot smarter) than the person who is counseling me. I mean, how can that be? They went to school and got degrees and all that sort of thing, so I can’t be all that much smarter, right? AND YET. Also, I don’t want this person to be too chipper. Or too “normal”. I don’t even know what I mean by that, but basically, I just don’t want to get therapied by someone who reminds me of the most average person in my high school class. The sort who was probably raised in a nuclear family with a nice mom and dad and was in a sorority and grew up to have three kids and who gets regular blowouts and does Zumba classes (and I KNOW these are all ridiculous qualifiers but I can’t help it!) I can’t talk to that person about my problems and I can’t take advice from them.
Right now I am seeing a therapist, twice a month, who reminds me of a grown-up Pippi Longstocking, which I find somehow really comforting. She drives a jeep with a “Chewie is my co-pilot” sticker on it. She wears skirts but doesn’t bother to wear stockings with them. I like that. Not that she needs me to like it, I just mean I dig the carefree aesthetic. She doesn’t seem to say a lot. I don’t know if therapists are supposed to? I find myself talking until I’m hoarse, and during this time I have observed that she barely even guides the conversation. Is that normal? Is this how it works? Oftentimes there are silences and I jump to quickly fill those in. I don’t want to be thought of as a bad conversationalist, but is what’s happening even considered a conversation? It’s a one-woman show, really.
…and yet. I have of late found that in these hour-long sessions I seem to shepherd myself along a circuitous route to some fairly impressive epiphanies and revelations. This is unexpected. What does it all mean? It’s hard to know. It’s maybe to soon to tell. I have been holding space for my wounds and trauma and broken bits for so long, I am not sure who I would be without their strange and dreadful companionship. It might be interesting to meet who that person is, though. I’m open to it.
One of the things that came up is how sometimes–most times, really–the only way I can get myself to actually go somewhere and do something, is because I know that afterward, I shall have a memory of having done it. It’s the pursuit of the perfect memory that finally compels me to do the thing, whatever that thing might be. But funny enough… the things I have the most wonderful memories of, are those unprompted moments– the things I did on a lark, decided on a whim, without having time to hem or haw about it or to have worked up a fine amount of dread.
On the way home that particular day after non-talking with Pippi, we grabbed some coffees at a cramped but charming donut shop, and as we were readying to leave, we realized that an accident had just occurred on the street just outside the building. A damaged truck was lodged on the curb right behind where we were parked, and we couldn’t back our car out of the parking lot to leave. As we waited for the police to take statements, we stood holding hands under a flimsy awning in a downpour, its meager shelter barely keeping us dry…and in the space of that moment, I was so inexplicably joyful. I have no idea why. But I knew I would stash this afternoon away in my mental drawer of mind-nibbles as one of those wholly unexpected morsels of happiness.
Another instance of this spontaneous joy happened while I was visiting BGF in Philly last month. I had been fiercely looking forward to the trip–to seeing her, to decompressing after a few months peppered with more stressful kinds of travel–and though we had a few things planned for my time there, it was a late afternoon hour or so spent walking through the city as the sun was setting, glaring directly in our eyes and blinding our vision, that remains a memory to cherish. I was practically trotting, attempting to keep up with her long-legged stride as we hoofed it through a more worrisome part of town, and either right before or right after that, we walked by the park where the Chinese Lantern Festival was being held. Nothing was lit up yet, so I didn’t really get a sense of what it was all about or how beautiful it would be after dark, but I did snap a photo of this lovely sidewalk Chinese zodiac along the way. I was overheated and overstimulated and my feet were bruised and blistered and bone-sore, but that time spent with my beloved friend on that particular afternoon left a vividly buoyant feeling in my heart that I can still summon when I conjure the imagery of those moments.
During my most recent visit with my therapist, I began what I believe will be several sessions of EMDR, which is a treatment designed to diminish the distress associated with traumatic events. I don’t think I am quite ready to talk about it yet, but I will share that I was a walking wound afterward. My eyes were raw from all of the savage, furious crying until well into the next afternoon. That was a week ago. Now, when I attempt to call forth the feelings I’ve associated with that particular experience, I feel a little differently about it than I have for the past 25+ years. It’s still very tender when I probe at it, but I think I may be looking at it from a different perspective now, through different eyes. I was stuck at that point in time, and it’s a little easier now to see it through the eyes of someone older, someone not standing so close.
Is this progress?
I sought guidance from the cards, above. Which is somewhat absurd, since I am not really all that knowledgable about the tarot. I just like the art, much like my mother did when she was alive …which is funny, because she is a major source of the angst and trauma I am currently working through. Oh, universe! You’re such a hoot. I am sure that someone much more well-versed in this divinatory art than I could give me a more thorough analysis and interpretation, but from what little I understand, I was encouraged.
I suppose it’s time to take a moment for a bit of a spring-time check-in…
Sadly…well, not sadly, exactly…but whatever-ly, I guess… I don’t post up my “Currently” monthly updates in as timely a manner as I did there for a good long chunk of time. I mean, I realize no one is losing any sleep over not knowing what I am up to, but it was a nice exercise to be able to take a moment to reflect on the things I had accomplished, both big and little, over a recent span of time, and to be able to share, “hey, I made this thing!” or “whoa, I found this out, and I’d really like to share it with you!”. But more and more often, these Currently check-ins have just been feeling like a chore to cross off a list rather than an accounting of recent achievements and discoveries to delight in. And maybe that’s the problem right there; I used the word “accounting” just now. Why would I phrase it that way? I mean that just sounds dull and boring and something to avoid, right? That’s how I have come to think of it. Perhaps I need to shift my perspective. How does one do that, anyway? Something to think on for next time.
In the spirit of “hey I made this!” here are two not particularly impressive things that I have made recently. I decided that I wanted to learn a few new knitting techniques this year and formed a two-person knitting group with my friend J. to this end. As an aside, even if it is just online, there is no way that I can participate in group activities. It makes me too anxious. I have a difficult time even replying to facebook comment threads, sometimes. Back in the day, you would never find me in an AOL chatroom. Omg. I am sweating even thinking about it! Online, as in real life, I do so much better in one-on-one activities and conversations. So I am definitely not going to be found in a room full of real life human knitters and I am also not going to be joining an internet collective, either. No way, no how! Just one friend to support and encourage and challenge me is quite enough, thank you very much.
Our first task was to tackle mosaic knitting, a color work technique involving simple slipped stitches and some intermittent knits and purls, dreamed up by the legendary Barbara Walker. I didn’t really love this method; maybe it was the fact that my colors were too close in shade to contrast much, or maybe my stitches too loose, but I couldn’t really see the pattern unfolding before me, which made made it feel…not very intuitive, I guess? Both in anticipating the next step in the instructions or as it relates to cleaning up any mistakes. ALSO, and this is the part I resent the most, it was very hard to mutlitask and binge The Umbrella Academy while knitting this. I had to pay absolute attention to my knitting to ensure that the design was consistent, and sure, I have no problem doing that with an exquisitely intricate lace shawl, but I’m not about to strain my eyes on what’s supposed to be a relatively simple system of stitchwork. At the end of it all I knit up a baby blanket for a friend and I was glad to be rid of it.
Next we took on brioche knitting, a technique that a friend of mine describes as her “final boss”, or the most difficult challenge to undertake and defeat. Brioche is a little hard to describe, and in a simple pattern, it might be hard to tell that it’s anything special, like the photo above. In a more complicated pattern, however, it’s pretty mind-bending. It involves “tucked” stitches–yarn overs that are knitted together with a slipped stitch from the previous row, and form a second layer of knitting in front of the first layer that sort of looks like arches or fish-scales. I am sorry to say that I think I hated brioche knitting even more than mosaic knitting. Though…it could quite possibly be the yarn I was using, or the pattern wasn’t working for me. Which the swatch, above, seems OK, the hat that built on these skills was a giant failure.
What have I learned from all of this? That learning is dumb and awful. And I guess I’d better do more of it.
I did a little learning too, with the Instant Pot that I received as a gift from my sister. I have been afraid to use it, I thought that maybe I’d blow up the house or something. Pressure cookers have always held a vague sense of danger, as far as I am concerned. Even their mere presence in the garage, unplugged and gathering dust on a shelf. Just their existence in my home seemed to herald some far-off-but-definitely-one-day explosion of doom. It seemed a shame, though, to let it languish, assigned as some obscure lower-level threat next to an ugly but perfectly harmless vase and a not-so-oven-safe Pyrex dish, so in January I finally began to experiment with it.
The house still stands, but it is quite stinky, as since I overcame my kitchen appliance anxiety, I have been using the instant pot every chance I get. Some of the recipes I have tried so far:
I believe most, if not all of these recipes were vegan, and even though I am not vegan (I’m not even vegetarian, really) I made all of them according to their directions, without sneaking in any dairy or chicken broth or anything like that.. and they were mostly quite good! Next up, I think I am going to try an instant pot version of gumbo or paella, or kimchi jigae, if such things exist.
Reading! Well, that’s always happening. If you peek at my Goodreads 2019 challenge, you might get the impression that I have completed my challenge and that I am 420% done, having read 21 books out of 5. And while I did set for myself a goal of five books, what Goodreads does not account for is that I have designated five very specific books as my end goal for 2019. I set out to read five particular titles that have given me trouble in the past decade or so, books that for whatever reason, I never finished. And basically, so far, I have read just about every other book but those five–and technically, zero percent of my challenge is done.
I am trying my best, and have been consciously attempting for a while now, to diversify my reading stacks to include more narratives from authors whose human experience is different from my own, and literature that reflects the lives of all kinds of people. I’m always a little bit afraid to talk about these things aloud (although I have conversations in my head about it all the time) because I worry that I don’t have the correct language for it, and in discussing my aims, I may end up looking stupid… which is OK I guess…or offending or insulting someone, which is definitely not OK, and which I would feel terribly about.
My reading list, actively, and in an ongoing way, includes titles from POC authors, LGBQTIA, differently abled or disabled authors, authors who fall somewhere along or at either end of any spectrum–I am seeking them out, reading their books, and supporting their efforts because if I don’t expand and become aware of what goes on beyond my own sphere of existence, then I am ensuring that my life remains very, very small. I mean, I probably don’t have to explain why it’s a good and important thing to read books written by a diverse range of people, right? The world contains more than just your story, or mine; it’s important, empowering, and beautiful to hear all of those voices. Anyway, all this wasn’t a lead up for you to hand me a cookie or a trophy or whatever this kind of talk goes for nowadays, but I would appreciate some suggestions of books you have enjoyed or learned from lately that were not written by white-cis-het males (or their female counterparts, really.)
Wow. Hi there. Hello. It’s been a while. Last I checked in I was feeling mopey and melancholy, for reasons, I suppose, that have much to do with Florida’s eternal summer…and not having much else going on, I had a lot of time to brood.
Time seems to have sped up exponentially since August. It’s already less than a week until Thanksgiving, and I barely have time to reflect on how busy these past few months have been. Although, to be fair, anytime I have a planned event or excursion– that is to say, singular, just one– I feel like, “omg, I’m so busy! such a whirlwind of things! hooo-whee boy I am I exhausted!
The end of September saw me getting dressed up as if for an autumn day in layers, dark stockings and boots (it was actually close to 90° outside, and I was dying), to see one of my all-time favorite bands, with some of my very favorite people. First we dined at Morimoto and that was…not great. But I am pretty sure that since this location is nestled into Disney tourist central, they probably cater to the broadest, blandest tastes possible. I hear that Philly Morimoto is pretty amazing, so I’ll just chalk our experience up to location.
The Decemberists always put on a fantastic show …and I’ve seen them twice now so obviously that makes me an expert! And now I finally get the appeal of The Mariner’s Revenge song, so I will never cut out early before the finale again. I am not sure I’ve ever heard lyrics that provide me with such a sense of joyous, demented glee…
“”Find him, find him
Tie him to a pole and break
His fingers to splinters
Drag him to a hole until he
Wakes up naked
Clawing at the ceiling
Of his grave”
And since we mentioned Philadelphia…shortly after our evening with evening with Colin Meloy & Co., I journeyed back up north to visit with my BGF again. I had some semi-plans in early Autumn to either visit Salem again or else visit my youngest sister in Indiana, but both of those ideas came to naught. When BGF wistfully spoke of my visiting her in Philly in order for us to experience autumn together, I jumped on the idea and we made it happen. Well, mostly. I flew up there and had a fantastic visit, but the weather up there was not overly cooperative either, and there was not a fiery falling leaf in site.
Delicious foods eaten: Dan dan noodles, brazilian cheese bread, french toast donuts, soup dumplings, smoked old fashioneds.
80’s movies watched: Pretty In Pink (which I had never seen!)
Enormous pieces of still life bricolage art featuring flora and fauna and various pieces of natural ephemera purchased, for which I have no room to display: Let’s not talk about it.
More concerts! We saw The Secret Sisters and Ray La Montagne at the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center in Orlando, and I wore a very low-cut dress. This two things are not necessarily related, but I thought it worth mentioning. As my late Mawga would say, the “boobers were floppin'”. As a bit of an aside this is a tunic dress from City Chic and it’s just got the most marvelously unique shape to it, and they come in all kinds of gorgeous floral prints and I love it. Also, it’s 50% off right now!
Anyway! The Secret Sisters were amazing, they were an absolute joy to watch and their harmonies really just blew me away. If you like melancholic blue grass and murder ballads, you definitely need to check them out. Ray LaMontagne, well, he was a bit of a snoozefest, but I wasn’t really there to see him anyway, and I knew what I was in for, so I’ll not complain overmuch about what I am now thinking of as “an evening of naptime with Ray”,
I have been making lots of lovely Japanese-style breakfasts lately, with rice and miso soup, broiled salmon, homemade pickled vegetables, and tamagoyaki (rolled japanese omelette). I’ve never been much for pancakes or cereal and sweet stuff in the morning, and there’s something about this combination of foods that is wonderfully savory, and perfectly balanced to fill you up while at the same time you feel like you are eating something light.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes for creating such a meal:
I have also lately found myself craving kimchi jjigae, a Korean dish which my BGF made for me ages ago, and which I have found myself thinking of frequently now that the nights are getting darker earlier and the temperatures are (slightly) starting to drop. I think at its most basic it’s just a stew with kimchi and pork belly, but then to that you can add all sorts of seasonings and extra spices and wonderful things like green onions and tofu and rice cakes. Most recently I think I probably cobbled together two or three different recipes and made sure to include sesame oil, garlic, gochujang (red pepper paste),gochugaru (red pepper flakes), scallions, tofu, and rice cakes. Not too many of the little rice cakes (or “rice tubules” as I like to call them) because you’ll probably want to serve this stew with/over rice! I haven’t made it often, but I get the feeling that it’s hard to mess up, and you’ll definitely want to make enough for leftovers, because it is even better the next day.
In searching out youtube videos for various recipes, I came across honeykki’s channel; she makes the most peaceful, soothing videos of the recipes that she prepared and eats each day, so if this is a thing that appeals to you, I highly suggest you take a peek at her beautiful meals.
So, I’ve been diligently knitting away on a few things this year, and because one of them was mega-intense, my finished object pile this year is very, very small. Back in January I started the Ghost Orchid shawl, a pattern by Andrea Jurgrau, which I believe was inspired by the one of the creations of legendary doily master Herbert Neibling. I bound off the last stitch last weekend, blocked the thing with much help from my creative consultant and partner-in-crime, who insisted that we measure precisely and make it perfect because I put so much work into it. I eventually let him take over because I personally think blocking is the worst but he seemed super into it. Win-win!
Additionally, on-and-off-again I am working on this sock yarn leftover blanket, which I plan on giving my youngest sister as a “congrats on your divorce!” gift. She got divorced two years ago, so I’m running slightly behind on this one.
I know I have said over and over again, that I prefer my nails short, long nails are gross, etc, etc. They’re unwieldy, and impractical, and I hate the feeling of the even the slightest dust particle under my nails, so I have always kept them brutally short. I got some fancy nails last year before I visited Salem, but I wasn’t really happy with how they came out (and to be fair I had them done at my regular salon, where the average age of the clients probably range from 65-75, so those ladies were probably not prepared to bring my vision to life.)
I gave it another try earlier this autumn when my sister recommended her new nail lady to me and holy moley! Evee at City Escape Spa is crazy-talented, a consummate professional who is overwhelmingly thorough and knowledgeable, and not only that–she is so much fun to visit and chat with and gives you terrific one-on-one attention while she’s making your nails look magnificent. From the first visit she gave me exactly what I was looking for, and with each subsequent visit she has somehow made my nails look even better than the last time. I believe she really puts in the effort to getting to know her clients and really digs down deep to figure out what they’re into and about, and that helps her hone in and focus and start putting ideas together for you–and they are so spot on!
If you are in the Orlando area and looking to beautify your claws, I cannot recommend Evee at City Escape Spa highly enough. And if this sounds like a review, well, maybe it is. She’s a veteran, minority, female business owner, and I want to see her succeed, so if someone happens to see this and make an appointment because of it, that would be pretty great.
Media/entertainment-wise, I spent most of October working on my 31 Days Of Horror, but I did recently watch a non-horror film (sort of) this past Friday, when I finally got around to watching Paprika, a 2007 anime more or less about technology that can record your dreams, and what happens when someone with less than noble intentions hijacks those capabilities. Visually, I mean, whoa. Hyper gorgeously trippy, delightfully surreal, and story-wise, I don’t think I’ve ever seen something so perfectly capture the utter wacky weirdness of dreams. I have also been watching Better Call Saul, on Netflix, but less because I like the business of lawyers and more because I love watching grizzled old Mike Ehrmantraut.
All throughout October I indulged in various haunted house stories: The Haunting of Hill House and Hell House, which were both re-reads, along with a few others, all of which I go into in our Stacked feature at Haute Macabre. Currently, I am catching up on my non-fiction stack: What The Eyes Don’t See, written by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha about the Flint water crisis; she is the physician who stood up to those in power in order to address a gross environmental injustice and save the city she loved. Dr. Hanna-Attisha writes compellingly, compassionately, and with such an intensity, that you feel like you’re there in the trenches with her, just trying to get somebody, anybody, to pay attention to her urgent findings of the elevated levels of lead in her tiny patients bloodstreams. And any level of lead at all in your blood is bad news!
Alongside What The Eyes Don’t See, I am also reading Floating Gold: A Natural (And Unnatural) History Of Ambergris by Christopher Kemp, and this, too, is a wonderfully gripping, engaging book–but in a very different way. Flint’s children need lead-free water for all kinds of important developmental reasons, etc.; this book is about water and the vital role that it plays in our lives. Floating Gold, however, follows one man’s obsession with ambergris, a substance that is basically impacted dung that is forcefully expelled from a sperm whale and floats in the ocean for a very long time before making landfall. It’s used, or it was used as a fixative in luxurious perfumes, and it’s very expensive–sometimes costing more per ounce than gold. These two books couldn’t be more different, and yet they do have that main/underlying element (pardon the pun) of water in common.
And lastly, here’s some pork shoulder braised in a pumpkin, recipe via Chef John. Ours doesn’t look as good as his did, but it was damn good. No, it was actually divine, even. Sadly, this was the pumpkin we meant to carve on Halloween while we passed out candy to neighborhood kids, but I’d had an awful day and decided Halloween was officially canceled. There was no candy or carving, and this wee orange gourd sat neglected until we hit upon the idea TO EAT HIM. Sorry, little buddy.