november 9

396 years ago today, the Mayflower spotted land.

This morning, I feel afraid. My initial instinct is to turn inward. To focus on like-minded friends and family; to spend more time in books, in nature; to huddle up and wait for the next four years to pass. But that, of course, is no solution. If there’s anything to learn from this day, it’s that we don’t know our neighbors or ourselves as well as we might think we do.

110 years ago today, Teddy Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to visit another country.

What must now be done is this: we have to find our common humanity. We have to focus on our communities and build strength and love and caring in those places. We have to identify and cultivate the values we share with those around us and continue to fight against racism, misogyny, and hate. We have to challenge one another to be accountable for our words and actions. Most necessary of all, we have to protect and hold dear those most endangered by our government and our world: people of color, people of limited ability, LGBTQ friends, women and children.This is nothing new, but the stakes feel higher today.

92 years ago today, Miriam Ferguson became the first elected female governor.

Though we very often don’t live up to it, the United States I believe in is a place of great prosperity and ingenuity and welcome. A place where there is enough room, both physically and emotionally, for people who are as different from one another as the landscape of Arizona is different from that of Maine. But the United States is also a place of enormous fear and hurt and shame where many innocent bodies are buried, where the realities of an impoverished populous in both rural and urban areas are glossed over, where there are more people incarcerated than any other nation in the world (a number equivalent to nearly the whole population of Houston, Texas), where our lives — the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe — are infiltrated by the interests of corporations, where almost 70% of people have less than $1000 in savings, where we cannot collectively and confidently say the words “Black Lives Matter”. All of these realities must be confronted in figuring out what kind of country we want to live in. And we have to do it together.

40 years ago today, the UN General Assembly condemned apartheid in South Africa.

This November 9, we elected Donald J. Trump to become the 45th President of the United States. But these facts about our country would have been true regardless of who was elected to be our president; they are issues of human rights and morality. We all deserve to live in a safer, cleaner, more just and welcoming nation, and we’re the only ones who have the power to build that space. And so, on to November 10.

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book club calendar

I really love a good book club. So much so that somehow, over the course of the past year, I have involved myself in not one, not two, but THREE of them. You don’t have to be particularly bright to realize that three book clubs is way too many book clubs and fortunately for the sake of my sanity, I’ve now whittled it down to about 1.5 book clubs. Which is probably still too many. But for now, this will have to do.

One interesting thing about these book clubs is that none of them have happened in person. I’ve spent the last year doing a lot of moving around and thus, inconveniently, the people I love to read with have not been near me. No monthly dinner party book chats shared with a glass of wine happening over here.

But fear not, because the brilliant and highly literate Tuesday has come up with the perfect and most aesthetically pleasing solution for a long distance book club in the form of my Christmas present last year: A book club calendar. AKA the gift that keeps on giving.

Last November, Tuesday and I created a list of six books we each wanted to read in 2016 and she compiled them into a beautiful calendar with quotes from the books and seasonally appropriate images. Each month (sometimes twice per month if we’re really on top of it) we have a phone call to discuss the book and it’s such a fun and special time to share ideas and to stay caught up, both on our reading and our friendship.

Five months in, I have to say it’s one our better decisions of the year. Though there have been times where I especially have gotten really behind on the reading, it’s been such a beautiful experience. Everyone should make one of these — highly recommend.

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Here’s what we’re reading this year:

  • January – The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow
  • February – Notes from No Man’s Land, Eula Biss
  • March – Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  • April – The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
  • May – Ishmael, Daniel Quinn
  • June – The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson
  • July – A Widow’s Story, Joyce Carol Oates
  • August -Purity, Jonathan Franzen
  • September – Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett
  • October – Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  • November – Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
  • December – The House of Spirits, Isabel Allende

on creativity

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I grew up strongly believing that I was not an artistic person. Through grade school art class I came to understand, albeit falsely, that the creative kids were those who drew images of families that resembled something near to actual humans. Mine were lines connected to other lines with squiggles for hair. From this realization forward, I tried to avoid situations in which I had to physically make anything that might be judged on its pleasing or not-so-pleasing aesthetic. Some of this sidestepping almost certainly came from a fear of criticism, but it also came from entirely convincing myself that I did not enjoy making things. I’ve always liked to sing and took to cooking in late adolescence, but anything that my teenage brain classified as art? No, thank you. I wasn’t good at it and therefore I didn’t like it.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become less firm in my self-classification as “uncreative”, though I still wouldn’t jump to the term “artistic” or any of its synonyms if asked for five words that describe me. I’ve also become vastly more willing to participate — and even to find enjoyment — in activities that I’m not immediately good at.

What might have been the last necessary push toward action in my years-long ruminations on creativity and my relationship with it was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic while I was in Hawai’i. I am a Gilbert fan (and not because of Eat, Pray, Love in case you were wondering; read her fiction and I think you will understand my fondness) and when her most recent title came out, despite my initial uncertainty on the topic and fear that it might be a bit too woo-woo for me, I picked it up at the airport. It’s been a number of months since I read Big Magic, but as I remember it, the mantra of the book is that each and every person alive is innately creative. It isn’t a trait that only a select few posses, but a function essential to the human spirit.

Gilbert writes, “Are you considering become a creative person? Too late, you already are one. To even call somebody “a creative person” is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species. We have the sense for it; we have the curiosity for it; we have the opposable thumbs for it; we have the rhythm for it; we have the language and the excitement and the innate connection to divinity for it. If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers–these are our common ancestors.”

When I arrived back to the mainland in January, I started taking a pottery class. My first pieces weren’t anything to write home about, but I couldn’t believe how good it felt to have my hands around the clay. The class time was scheduled for an hour and a half each week, and I ended up purchasing an additional hour. The time felt sacred and meditative and it was so fun to be surrounded by others of all ages and skill levels who have chosen to prioritize creating. As the weeks passed, it came as a great surprise to me that I too was soon able to make things! This afternoon, as I dirtied my hands planting a succulent in a pot that I’d dirtied my hands throwing, I felt very thankful to have taken the leap into something that was — and still is — new and foreign. It is now so clear to me that each of us are makers, and what a powerful connection that is to share.

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cooked

“surrounded as we are by fast food culture and processed foods, cooking our own meals is the single best thing we can do to take charge of our health and well being.” – MP

Let’s take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to talk about the incredible production I spent hours enamored by last Sunday: The new Netflix series Cooked by author/teacher/activist and all around brilliant man, Michael Pollan. Some may have read his words in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules, The Botany of Desire, or another of his intriguing and educational books (maybe even Cooked, the one this series grew from.) If you’ve done so, you’re probably already sold on how great this guy is and how smartly he communicates his ideas. If you’ve never heard of him, make this show your introduction.

 

The program is split into four episodes, and each episode covers one natural element: Fire, water, air, and earth. Below are some tidbits from each.

Fire features a pitmaster in the Southern US and aborigines in Western Australia who continue to hunt wild game. It will give you a new understanding and appreciation for human heritage, the original diet, and beautiful pigs.

Water delves into the ways in which climate change is impacting farmers and food production in India. It also explains how completely the act of cooking is chemistry, in both the home kitchen and the food processing facilities around the world which so many of us are increasingly eating from.

Have you ever heard the aphorism, “Man cannot live on bread alone?” Air, will give you all the details as to why that addage is false. You’ll also learn that the way we make bread in the U.S. is so spooky and that we should all start making our own. Needless to say, I began my sourdough starter on Monday.

Earth features an Abbey in Connecticut that I had the opportunity to visit a few years ago where they still make raw milk cheese out of a wooden vat. Not only is this methodology preserving a cultural tradition, it has created a surprising relationship with E. coli. Also, those dairy cows are called Dutch Belted and they are a critically rare breed in the U.S. and I want all of them!

I was feeling a lot of feelings while watching this show. I laughed, I had to blink a lot at certain moments to avoid tears, I considered that maybe I should procreate so that I could explain all of this information to my child, I was hungry, I was amazed that the human race hasn’t gone extinct, and my mind was BLOWN by just how much I still have to learn about food and nutrition, even after studying it at some length and feeling relatively confident about my knowledge of the subject. If you’re interested in food or cooking or food systems, care about what you put into your body or what your body does with it once you put it in there, or if you like looking at farmers and cooks, beautiful cinematography, or watching people enjoy the heck out of the things that they are doing, this is your new weekend plan.

If you don’t have a Netflix account, sign up for a free months trial (that’s what I did!) — just remember to cancel it before the 30 days end if you don’t want to continue your membership.

(I imagine this is obvious to anyone reading this, but neither Netflix nor Michael Pollan is in any way affiliated with my endorsement of this show and I’m certainly not being compensated for doing it. I just really really liked it and I think that you will too!)

squash and democracy

I voted today! Just got done and have my sticker to prove it. YAY! You know what tastes really great with a side of democracy? I don’t think you’re going to guess this so I’ll just tell you: The answer is squash.

Why, you may ask, does squash go so well with representative government? Here’s why: Squash, like voting, is a humble and not particularly exciting thing. People take squash for granted. They leave it in the corner and forget to use it and now, a year later, the squash is still sitting around in that same dusty nook. But lucky day! Squash, while not particularly gorgeous or exciting, is hardy. It sticks around for the long haul and if you don’t use it when you thought you might, there’s always next time. (Is this too far a stretch? Are you still following?) Furthermore, squash, like voting, comes in all shapes and sizes! You’ve got your butternuts, and spaghettis, and acorns, and kabochas. Similarly, there is election day voting, early voting, or absentee ballots. Pick your poison and go do the damn thing because if the squash rots, it’s on you, my friend. (Still following? Quite possibly not by this point, so we’ll just move right along…)

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Squash! You can find this stuff in countless varieties at farmers markets throughout the winter and it can be stored for an absurdly long time in the right conditions (maybe not a full year, but at least for a couple of month.) There are so many methods by which squash can be cooked and eaten. It makes a great pasta, can be eaten on its own, can be mashed, made into soup, roasted, etc. Per pound, they are very economical and if you can learn to embrace the process of breaking them down, there’s nothing to dislike about a good old squash.

I asked Tuesday last week if she had any recipe requests, and she mentioned that she’d been hoarding squash. To help her begin to get through that reserve and to add extra A, B, and C vitamins to her diet, here are two easy recipes that together use up all the parts of whatever squash you may also be hoarding. Just about any type of squash will work for these recipes, so give whatever you can get your hands on a go.

stuffed squash ingredients:

  • 2 small squashes (something grapefruit sized is good)
  • 1/2 lb turkey sausage links
  • small onion
  • handful of mushrooms (I used blue oysters)
  • two big handfuls of spinach or kale
  • 1/2 c kamut
  • 1/8 c shredded parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste

This is a super flexible basic recipe which can be thought of as a model for making your own squash filling. Use a different protein, or none at all. Add variety in the vegetable department. Use brown rice or millet or quinoa or another grain in place of kamut. Whatever you choose to do, these amounts should provide a helpful guideline. Also, I was able to find all of these ingredients minus the salt, pepper, and kamut from Indiana farms.

Soak kamut in a pot of water overnight. The next day, drain kamut and refill the pot with fresh water. Bring to a boil and add kamut and a pinch of salt. Cook for 30 minutes. When done, drain kamut and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375F. Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and pulp. Set seeds aside. Place squash flesh-side down on a baking pan and fill with 1/4 inch of water. Place foil overtop and bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until tender.

Brown turkey sausage in a pan. Once browned, remove from pan and slice. Return to pan to continue cooking. Chop onions and mushrooms and add to browned sausage. (If not using meat, heat a few tsps. of oil and sauté veggies in it.) Once vegetables are translucent, add cooked kamut and spinach and adjust seasonings to taste.

Remove squash halves from oven and fill  with vegetable and grain mixture. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake for 15 minutes longer. Allow to cool slightly, and dig in!

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baked squash seed ingredients:

  • rinsed squash seeds (I used seeds from 5 small squashes and ended up with approximately one cup of seeds; use whatever you have)
  • a few glugs of olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp. chilli powder

Preheat oven to 325F. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add seeds and salt. Boil for 10 minutes, remove, pat dry, and allow to cool. Put cooled seeds in a small bowl and coat with olive oil, spices, salt, and pepper. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkles seeds over top. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring seeds every 10 minutes.

These make some heavily-seasoned seeds, so halve the amount of spices if you’d prefer a less spicy batch.

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on giving gifts; painted spoons tutorial

Gifts can be a weird weird thing. When they feel mandatory, I’ve sometimes found it difficult to get inspired. Giving an unexpected gift, however, can be a lot more fun. I participated in a Secret Valentine gift exchange this year with a group of friends and wasn’t quite sure what to get the recipient, whom I adore, that a computer program had generated for me. Personally, I love nothing more than receiving a dozen home baked cookies, a hand-crafted ornament, or a thoughtful note. Here’s to hoping other people share this sentiment?

I think I first saw a tutorial for dip-dyed spoons on pinterest a few years ago — I used to really love pinterest — and thought that they’d make a sweet and simple gift. Fast-forward a number of years, and they are now in the hands of an excited owner! Here’s a quick how-to for making your own:

materials:

  • set of utensils (I found this bamboo set at TJ Maxx for $3.99)
  • one colored paint, one white paint (or maybe black? I didn’t consider going from light to dark — artists, would this work?)
  • dish to put paint in
  • paintbrush
  • painter’s tape
  • old cloth or wax/parchment paper

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Lay out utensils on wax paper/cloth/job rejection letter that you want to defile, and wrap painters tape at roughly the same place on each. (If you want to paint different heights on each, wrap the tape in a way that makes that happen.) Paint the first utensil with either the base paint color, or adjust the starting color with white paint first. Continue painting each subsequent utensil, adding white paint to the existing color to lighten it between each utensil. Below, I’ve accidentally made the paint lighter than I wanted it, so I added more of the original color to darken. Gotta work with what you have.

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Continue lightening the color and painting each utensil until the entire set is complete. It may be helpful to prop the utensils up with some object so that they dry without sticking to whatever is underneath them. I strangely happened to have many rolls of tape laying around, so I used those. I allowed the paint to dry overnight, though I’m sure it was finished within a few hours. Viola!

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on hobbies and busyness

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I’ve long dreaded being asked what my hobbies are, because, quite frankly, I’ve never had any. Up until recently, the only possible responses to the question I could have honestly given were watching tv, reading, and maybe running, if that were a thing I was actually doing. To excuse my lack of extracurriculars, I would use America’s favorite buzzword (phrase?) — I’m just so busy.

Don’t you hate it when people tell you how busy they are? It’s like, “No kidding! I’ve never met anyone with that particular problem before!” We are all busy. Of course, this phenomenon occurs to varying degrees, but vying for the title of ‘most busy person’ simply isn’t a contest I want to participate in.

I came to the conclusion that instead of lamenting to every curious inquisitor about how very booked my schedule was, maybe it was wiser (and more genuine) to say this instead: “These are what my priorities are, and aren’t.” Because isn’t that the truth? I know many people with what I would consider fully-booked schedules (and often children or other people they care for on top) who make time to train for a marathon, participate in a book club, or host a weekly dinner with friends. This assertion does not encompass all situations, but I think the argument can be made that what many of us do or don’t get done is more related to our priorities than to busyness. It is certainly the case in my own life.

A few years ago, I came upon this quote by Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And I thought, well shoot! When you put it that way….. A professor of English and an author, she made this statement in reference to writing, but I think it applies broadly and generally to the whole of life. With this new and empowering/frightening information in hand, I was moved to take a look at my priorities. Did I want to spend my life tired and stressed and finishing a long day by binging on Grey’s Anatomy, a not even good show? No. I did not. To be clear, this is not a rant advocating that people don’t watch tv. If that feels enjoyable and empowering to you and is how you want to spend your life, please watch tv. That is 100% what you should do. For me, it has become a thing that absorbs precious hours that I’d prefer to use differently and I usually walk away from the activity feeling regretful and unmotivated. It is not how I personally want to spend my life. I no longer want it to be a priority.

While visiting family for Christmas, I stumbled upon an ad in my hometown newspaper about a beekeeping class that was to take place nearby in February. It was a day-long seminar (nine hours in total) and as soon as I saw the ad, I knew I had to do it. That was absolutely how I wanted to spend my life. It will be at least another year before I set up a hive, but it has been so fun having a new project to research and be excited about.

In addition to my new interest in beekeeping, I’m also taking a pottery class, writing this blog, and working on a number of other projects that are just about me and not related to monetary gain in any way. Notice that all of these activities require my thought, creativity and energy. It is logical to assume that tasks of this nature would leave a person feeling more tired and less energetic after the aforementioned long day which might have previously ended in a Grey’s Anatomy-induced stupor. However, I can attest to the fact that these activities have had the exact opposite effect; I feel more focused, more in tune to myself, more alive. Holy moly has this been liberating.

So, here’s to taking a hard look at our priorities and to remembering that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Spend wisely.