waking up

My kids are home with me after a week away.  For once, the time without them did not drag by slowly last week.  I took dance class two nights in a row (sore muscles to say the least), finished up an editing project I’d taken on for extra income, and did a little reading and writing of my own choosing as well. I got some incredibly encouraging news on the freelance writing front with a submission that was accepted quickly, and I hope to expand on the details for that when it is published.  It’s been a goal of mine to submit some personal essays to a few publications for quite some time, so this gives me the motivation to keep writing and keep submitting.  On the whole, it was a really great week.

I’ve heard of Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart for years, and a good friend of mine mentioned it yet again recently, so I decided to pick it up this weekend.  It’s a quick read, and I settled in one afternoon to read most of it in one sitting and then finished it up Sunday morning.  I’m getting better at enjoying the perks of solitude.  A quiet house, cooking a solo dinner of my own choosing, reading for pleasure more than I have in ages, or even small gems like having a house relatively clean and listening to music at my own whim.  These things don’t make up for the kids being gone, and I am happiest for certain when we are together, but I’m finding that recognizing the positives of my situation is helping me to ease into it a little deeper and not long for this season to be over.  This summer is also affording me so much time to think and reflect on the past decade of my life, and I can’t begin to describe the difference that is making in my ability to process things positively and move forward to make things better.

This recent change of perspective relates to Chodron’s book as well.  It’s hard – especially now with social networking to let us know what others are up to – to rest in your own imperfections and your own transitions and not feel lame or worthless.  People are in performance mode almost always, and I know that.  But I fall for it everyday and have to shield its impact a bit from myself if I can.  I see it with friends and acquaintances – and yes even strangers – on the internet.  I see it with my children’s father who is excitedly planning a wedding that is only three months away and relishing in a lot of happiness right now. I see it everywhere.  But the point Chodron makes so well in this book is that change is the only constant in life and that suffering serves a purpose in the grand scheme of things.  When you rest in your discomfort and use stillness to do that, you truly evolve from your pain or experience.

She explains near the beginning of the book that “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy” (8).  Allowing space is the hard part for sure. I’m working hard in my current life to include fun experiences that take my mind off things for a while. Dinner with girlfriends, fun outings with the kids, trips to the bookstore, late night Netflix, weekends away, and lots of other things.  But these past few weeks, I’m also letting myself sink into the loneliness and the feeling of being completely not in control, completely clueless about what lies ahead for me. Before I read this book and could give a name to it, I could feel what Pema Chodron is talking about already – the healing that only comes from allowing space for it all to be felt in the truest sense.

This idea of admitting and feeling suffering without fighting it is contrary to our nature. Chodron speaks at length about our culture’s tendency to avoid pain and suffering by covering it up with a multitude of things – alcohol, excessive spending and a desire for worldly attention, new romantic relationships – and more specifically, she explains how ineffective those distractions are if we really want to grow from our pain and become fuller and richer as a result; “We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated … When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.  We do everything we can not to feel anything threatening … When we breathe in pain, somehow it penetrates that armor. The way we guard ourselves is getting softened up” (89).  I’ve seen this firsthand with friends of mine who have suffered unimaginable losses or pain or disappointment. They have emerged as completely different people than they were before. Life softens and deepens you if you let it, but only when you allow yourself the time to sink into your suffering a little and learn your way around what it all means.  And though it is really inconvenient, I’m seeing more and more that you really can’t do that at all when you try to fill up the pain with something else.

I’ve let go of so many things this past few months.  Material things – my car and house and leisure space in our family budget.  But also I’ve lost so many assumptions about people and about life and about myself.  It’s crazy to look back at the first post I wrote six months ago when I finally explained what had been happening for me, and even then I alluded to this act of letting go and the things I was still clinging to. And though that was only about six months ago, I feel like I’ve changed so much at my core. It’s like being completely emptied of everything you had and everything you assumed only to start filling yourself up again in a totally new way.

I wish there were other ways in life to experience this groundlessness as Pema Chodron calls it, but it usually only comes in these painful experiences of loss or profound disappointment. As she says, “We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure because sooner or later, we are going to have an experience we can’t control. … We can give up on being perfect and experience each moment to its fullest. Trying to run away is never the answer to being a full human being. Running away from the immediacy of our experience is like preferring death to life (72).  There are so many ways we “run away from the immediacy of our experience,” and they seldom look like running. They often look like distractions or like “moving on,” “staying busy,” or “having it all together” as I hear people say from time to time.

The biggest change that has happened for me is that I’m done with that. I don’t have it all together. I am not starting some brand new life that will align perfectly by my expectations and look just like my old life but with a different person. The perfection veil was pulled away for me. I didn’t choose the actions that began that avalanche.  But in the aftermath of all of that, it feels so liberating to have it removed and simply be in a moment in my life when I have no master plan and no grand storyline I’m trying to write. All there is in front of me is the here and now.  I worried so much in these past few months that I was missing life with my kids because I was so overwhelmed and busy with life tasks and cleaning the mess in front of me.  But now, in a weird way, I feel like I am missing less than ever because I have no idea what is ahead and I have nobody to answer to but my own calling and these two little people. That’s it. I woke up to that new lens as I finally reached the other side of all that has happened.  I’m here, right now. I don’t know about the rest, but the rest doesn’t matter.


And I feel as though it has taken a lot of internal work to get to this statement, but I am finally beginning to feel genuinely grateful for it all – every moment and where I am now. I’m starting to look less at my current situation as a stepping stone to something else and see it as simply life and what I am. Yes, it is all part of who I will be and where I will go and forever changes the way I see the world, but really it’s just the path I’m on to learn what I am meant to learn in the only way I could learn it. I am exactly what I feared when I made decisions seven months ago – alone and completely unsure where I am headed next. But ironically, now I don’t fear where I am at all.  I’m almost beginning to fear the other end because I don’t want to lose this lens if I move forward to something else.

Everything is at its most essential and distilled moment.  Everything is immediate right now.  It’s like waking up, and I want to remember these lessons and these moments – even the hard ones – in my years ahead. In hindsight, I had years and years of ease and happiness, and I was asleep for so much of it. As Chodron says, “When we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, what we want to do is move to the right or the left. We don’t want to sit and feel what we feel. We don’t want to go through the detox. Yet the middle way encourages us to do just that. It encourages us to awaken the bravery that exists in everyone without exception, even you and me” (54).  I’m awake to all of it now, it seems.  Awake to the bravery and the kindness and the softness and all of it. I’m seeing it all in a way I haven’t witnessed when things were easy. I’m becoming grateful for the hard part, and I guess what I am trying to say – if this makes any sense at all – is that I’m enjoying the middle way as Chodron calls it.  There’s so much good I’m uncovering, and even more waiting down the road if I can keep these eyes to see it.

mid June phone dump and a little rambling

The kids head out to the beach early tomorrow morning, and I’m on my own for 8 days.  Such a long time – longer than I’ve ever been without them before actually.  I’m soothing that sting a little bit this afternoon by looking back at photos of our week together.  We had so much fun doing things close to home, and it makes me feel grateful for their ages as they are now.  All the magic is still here, but much of the difficulty of a diaper bag or sleep struggles or broken toddler vocabulary is gone.  It’s easy to have fun with them, and they are so much easier to handle on my own than they were a year or two ago.  I mentioned on my Instagram feed recently that it feels unnatural when they are gone, and I can’t imagine how I will do this for a total of 4 weeks this summer.  A friend commented that it would make my time with the kids even better, and though I hate the separation in many ways, that is true. I miss them like crazy, and we make up for it with a lot of quality time – just the three of us – when they are around.

So last week they got to pet baby chickens with my grandad.


It never once passes me by how lucky I am that they get to maintain close connections with my family and especially my grandparents. Not many kids can say they know their great-grandparents well and see them often, but mine can. They are leaving such a mark on my own kids the same way they did for me as I grew up. In a world where everything changes, it feels immeasurably good to see something stay the same.


We also spent an afternoon at the lake with a close friend of mine who is always such a comfort to me. It’s surreal and beyond beautiful to see our kids playing together when our own paths first crossed about 16 years ago.



We caught a puppet show at a nearby theater yesterday, and I got to listen to little kid cackles for the hour-long production which was a treat. There’s a special energy when you’re in a room with dozens of little kids like that – all fidgety and full of energy and feeding off each other’s laughter.


Kids are so unguarded. It amazes me. They will hug someone they met on the playground only ten minutes ago. They will laugh without any regard for how loud they are or who hears them. They will cry without shame or apology. We shed that innocence along the way as we learn about what behavior is appropriate or acceptable. Life will be easier when I can count on them to filter their actions a bit, but the payoff now is that I get to watch this wide open enthusiasm.

While the kids attended a birthday dinner with their father’s family, I got to top off my week with a quick meet-up with some college friends to celebrate one of them returning to Atlanta for the weekend. Conversation with this group always meanders from little things to weightier topics, and it feels so good to have a friend or two who are true thinkers and see into the life of things, so to speak. We talked a lot about the events that shape our lives and how some of them feel so tragic and heavy in their immediacy, but they change our perspective in the very best way.


There is no doubt that has happened to me this year, but I’m finding that I’m ready to move forward. Ready to discern what the next chapter will hold for me. One very good thing about so much alone time this summer is time to think clearly and deeply about what is next. Experience makes you no wiser without self-reflection. Not at all. My path took an abrupt turn, but I feel certain my destination is not shaping up to look much at all like where I came from.

I’m reading a lot, and I hope to finish some half-written creative non-fiction while the kids are away this week. I’m deep in memoir and non-fiction lately and fascinated by how people’s stories shape their own lives and then touch the lives around them through the written page. There was a time when I ran away from non-fiction, but I think teaching it so much in my composition courses these past couple years has given me a better appreciation.

Summer Reading

It’s all we can hope for really – that our own pain and experiences are not wasted on us because our lives become fuller and richer, and then the reward is multiplied when you can shed light on someone else’s path a little bit.

2012 Christmas Gifts Round-Up

I’ve really enjoyed reading about gifts some of you have received, and I love learning about new books and products from fellow bloggers, so I thought I’d write a little about our goods, too!


All Jude really wanted for Christmas was a violin.  He’s been really interested in instruments of all kinds lately, and he’s watched a ridiculous amount of Little Einsteins since sister came along, so I’m guessing that’s what led to the obsession. Or maybe it is my adoration of Andrew Bird who pretty much played on repeat throughout my entire pregnancy with Jude. Ha.  Who knows?  Whatever the case, he was so amazed to see this toy one left by Santa on Christmas morning.  What did parents do before Amazon?  In addition to that, we picked up a train on Groupon Goods a while ago and this Batman toy has received A LOT of playtime this week.  We threw in a few other little things here and there, but those were his big items, and I think he seems pretty happy with them.


Norah, on the other hand, is just happy to have a few toys that are new and not hand-me-downs.  We kept it simple with her … a couple new cloth diapers, a Kicky Pants sleeper I found on Zulily a while ago, and a Sophie the Giraffe teether.  We also brought up the doorway bouncer from the basement and gave Santa the credit, and she LOVES bouncing in that thing.

I scored some great stuff myself as well.  Scot surprised me with a Kindle Paperwhite and a pretty new case for it. I have a first generation Kindle, and I know they’ve come out with all sorts of multi-functional readers now.  But I only use mine for reading books, so the Paperwhite is a perfect fit for me.  I complain a lot these days that I don’t have time to read with my current responsibilities in life, and my old light that I’d use on my Kindle was far too bright to take with me while rocking or nursing Norah.  This one is backlit very faintly though, so I can read while I am rocking her to sleep.  In the past 2 days, I’ve plowed though a quarter of The Chaperone in my little spurts of 20 minutes here or there to nurse and rock the baby. So this is a gift that got me reading again, and for that I’m really grateful!

Scott also took Jude shopping a while ago with the purpose of buying me something from Jude, and Jude insisted he purchase “a teacup” for me.  Apparently it’s all he would consider for mama.  So they went to Teavana, and I got an awesome loose tea infuser that I love  – coupled with the best tea I have ever had.  Ever.  I am not exaggerating.  It’s all I can do to limit myself to a cup or two a day.  Yum.  Add some Starbucks Christmas blend and this collection of stories from the gift exchange on my side of the family, and I am a happy girl.


I’ve got a little cash to spend as well, and Amazon should be arriving today with two cookbooks (this one and this one) I’ve been wanting for a while, and some kitchen odds and ends I need (hand blender and a pizza stone).  I’m vaguely thinking of purchasing an essential oils diffuser with the bit that’s left, but I am confused at the options.  Anyone with experience or interest in aromatherapy?  What kind of diffuser do you use?  I need some advice on that one.


So what’d ya get?  Anything fun or interesting for you or the kiddos?

Lucky Winner

I’m happy to say that the lucky winner of the giveaway is comment number 11.  Congrats, Tally! I know you’ll rock the beautiful handcrafted set.  I really enjoyed reading all of your answers on this one, and I have another interested Etsy shop, so I think I’ll do additional gratitude giveaway in a few months.

And a funny side note: I finally dove in to One Thousand Gifts that everyone has been raving about, and it is absolutely not a typical read for me at all, but I started it yesterday and cannot put it down.  (Bleary -eyed this morning because of it!)  It’s Ann Voskamp’s story of challenging herself to write down 1,000 things she is thankful for and how that changes her life.  This woman is a seriously beautiful writer, and I love her way of describing things.  I’ve been reading on my Kindle a lot lately, but I ordered the “real” book because I knew I’d want to underline and come back to it again and again on my shelf.  She describes how transforming it can be to write down your list of things you are thankful for, “I mean, they are just common things and maybe I don’t even know they are gifts really until I write them down and that is really what they look like.  Gifts He bestows.  This writing it down – it is sort of like …. unwrapping love” (45)  Such an apt description of the value of gratitude.

So basically this book is all about recognizing the beauty in the everyday, and look at the cover.

And again, look at Tally’s new jewelry that she won by practicing some gratitude herself.

Funny, huh? So, I don’t know….. it’s just a weird little cosmic connection with this whole bird’s nest, gratitude, life-is-full-of-possibilities-when-you-look-around kind of thing. Now I have an association with bird’s nests and am reminded to say thanks when I see them.  And I might have already searched Etsy and found a million bird’s nest things I want now.

Enjoy your new bling, Tally. And enjoy your weekend, readers. Be full and happy.

good week

It’s been a good week around here, and it feels good to get back to normal after last week.  It seems like every single week day brings some kind of milestone lately. This week was no exception with someone’s 15 month check-up.

365.227  15 month check up!

He was mobile as ever and all over the pediatrician’s office, but he also got super shy and buried his little face in my chest when she came in.  It’s this new behavior he does a lot lately, and it really makes him seem older.  How does he know to be shy around strangers?  It’s evidence that the baby is drifting away and the toddler is here for sure. He’s almost 25 pounds and just over 32 inches which puts his weight right in the middle and his height at the 90th percentile.   Next month also marks one whole year since we’ve visited the pediatrician for anything other than a well-visit!  There hasn’t been an antibiotic in this house at all, and I know that is part luck, but he does love his green veggies and had mama’s milk for a long time, so I know that helps us, too.  God knows we’ve passed various bugs around the house and he’s played with some sick playmates and cousins without getting anything, and I really hope this health streak continues through the cold months.

Another milestone?  Guess who finished her first ever knitting project?

365.229  first finished knit EVER

Luckily some patterns out there are super fast and hide newbie mistakes. All in all, I actually enjoyed it. A history of knitting and me:  I taught myself from a book just as I was starting graduate school eight years ago.  It probably wasn’t the best time to start something that requires patience, and I began with a scarf which took soooooooo long, so I decided I hated knitting.  I wanted to give it another try though, so this year for Christmas, I have knitting classes as a gift.  (First and foremost, it’s nice to be out of the house and on my own and learning something new.)  As it turns out, I am liking it for other reasons, too.  Sewing is abandoned lately since I have to banish myself to another room for it, but I love that I can sit next to Scott and knit away while still hanging out with my boys.  Bonus:  I think I will actually wear this cowl.  I’m excited to try some other projects soon.

On the food front, I’ve tried some new things, too.  I got a really great cookbook recently that I love.  There’s a whole chapter on breakfast-for-dinner, and it suggested pairing garlicky swiss chard with eggs and grits.  And y’all it is the perfect dinner with the husband is away and I am on my own.
<untitled> 827This is sort of a crappy photo, but I couldn’t manage to try another one and wanted to dive in.  It’s becoming a favorite of mine, and of course I add a dollop of heavy cream and a pat of butter to the grits because, I confess, I like my food as sinful as possible.

Speaking of confessions, I sort of like hamburger helper, too.  I know it’s low-brow and out-of-fashion, but for real, I do.  It’s done in one skillet, it’s inexpensive, and sometimes it just hits the spot.  When we gave up all processed foods and packaged seasonings a year ago, I really started to want some quick comfort food back in my life, and I found a few beef and noodle skillet recipes online that were so-so, and I’ve adapted it over time.

<untitled> 829

Beef & Mushroom Noodles (“real food” Hamburger Helper)

1/2 pound ground beef (We use grass-fed ground sirloin, but you could use ground chuck or even ground turkey.)

1 large onion, sliced

2 cloves of garlic (less if you are not as garlic-crazed as I am)

8 oz sliced mushrooms

3 tablespoons butter

3 cups of egg noodles

beef broth – I start with about 2 cups and add more as it needs it and the noodles are cooking.  You can add a little water as well.

Brown the ground beef until done add onions and garlic and cook until the onions are done as well.  Drain it, and set it aside.   Using the already dirty pan, (less dishes, yay!) melt butter and add flour to stir until you have a roux.  Now pour in the the beef broth and use a whisk to get rid of the lumps.  Put the beef mixture back in the pan, and add mushrooms and noodles.  Simmer until the noodles are done, and keep checking to see if you need to add more water / broth.  It usually takes about 15 minutes to finish this up.  Add salt and pepper as you want, and you’re done!

When it’s cold outside, it’s exactly what I want.  I know someone else who likes it, too.

So that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to.  A little crafting, a little cooking, and also a lot of reading.  (Why am I so late to get on the train for Philippa Gregory?)  I hope your week has been great, and you’re staying warm.

Book Love

Did you know it’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week?  Yep, it is.  Once upon a time, I considered myself a book blogger, but these days my content is far too varied and random to allow myself to claim that title anymore.   I’m always reading something, but it’s only fiction every now and then, so I never end up posting reviews anymore. There are some great book blogs out there, though.  Check out Estella’s Revenge for lots of fun things to celebrate this week.  Andi’s always got something good cookin’ over there.  She’s also got a million links to other book blogs if you want to start reading.  Or just see what everyone else is reading.

I’ve always been a book girl.  Always.  I remember my mother having to tell me to turn off the light and threaten to take away the book so that I’d stop reading and sleep.  I pushed through the years when it was uncool to be smart and stayed smart anyway, continuing to read.  I went to college as an English major with absolutely no plan except to read books for a few years and write about them.  I love to talk books, especially with friends and occasionally with strangers.  For years, I lived and slept books 24/7 in order to be a damn good teacher and maybe ignite some of that same excitement in my students.  I get excited when I walk in a bookstore, and I read anywhere…. in waiting rooms, on my couch, on my porch, on the beach, in my bed.  It’s a way to pass the time, yes.  But books are often far, far more than that to me. A home has no heart without its books, and I love my stuffed bookshelves.  I’ve learned a lot from books along the way as they have not only entertained me but maybe stretched my mind that little bit (or that big jump) that it needed to see the world a little differently than it did before.

So in honor of Book Bloggers’ Week and the book blogger I once was, I figured it was a good time to talk books.  Back in my teaching days, kids would always ask what my “favorite book” is, and we all know it’s not that simple.  There are some books that changed me for the better though, and I know everyone has a list – long or short – of those works that really affected you and maybe changed your worldview in some small way.  Not to be overdramatic and all this-book-changed-my-life, but sometimes that little tweak in your perspective is all you need to alter your view and become something better than you were yesterday. So here are mine, and I’m including a passage if I have the book handy to look it up.

  1. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth –   Yep.  You probably want to stop reading right here because that sounds like the most boring book on the planet, but hold on a minute.  It’s the only nonfiction/informational book on this list, and I can’t not include it.   I read this book in the first trimester of my pregnancy, and it is no exaggeration that it changed my life. It allowed me to stop looking at childbirth as a problem and instead as something natural and even beautiful.  Without Ina May’s words and her included powerful narratives, I would never have pursued unmedicated childbirth, and I feel like that one decision put me on a road to other significant things as well – from breastfeeding to natural living and better health overall.  This is essentially the BIBLE for all midwives and doulas.  Some background: Ina May is the head midwife at a place called The Farm in rural Tennessee, and in an oversimplified nutshell, it’s a hippie commune that settled there in the 70’s and (duh – free love and youth) 9 months later, there were babies being born.  Ina May became the resident midwife, and she still is.  Her record is impeccable, and she looks at childbirth as a beautiful rite of passage, not just a means to an end.  Acknowledging that complications arise, she deals with the subject matter realistically but empowers women to see their role differently.  She tells the reader, “Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.” This was my mantra for my previous pregnancy when I would get nervous.  We all know how that turned out, and yet I know that when the next time rolls around, I’ll repeat her words again and again to remind myself of the power and beauty of the female body and the task before us.  Even aside from the subject of childbirth, her message continues to guide me.  So many women beat up on their own bodies because we aren’t skinny enough or tall enough or curvy enough or whatever.  Remembering our perfection and capabilities in spite of perceived imperfections is so important.
  2. Fair and Tender Ladies –  Oh, where do I begin?  This novel follows one amazing woman throughout her life, and it has all my favorite ingredients – a southern setting, epistolary form, surprising character twists, beautiful description, and a feisty, admirable female lead.  I’ve memorized passages from this book and reread it so many times that my copy is battered and bruised and marked. Ivy sucks the marrow from life in a way that inspires anyone.  She shares my love for carpe diem-isms and warns you, “The days seem to go faster and faster…the days whirl along like the leaves blowing off the mountain right now. I want to hold up its flight like you would hold up a train and steal what I can from each day…” How many times I’ve thought the same thing in those happiest moments or stages of my life.   When you depart from Ivy at the end of the book, it’s like turning the page on a friend, but she continues to inspire; “We spend our lives like a tale that is told, I have spent my years so. I have loved, and loved, and loved.” What better way to reflect on a life well-lived? Might be on my tombstone one day; I’m only half kidding.
  3. Wise Children – This work of magical realism focuses on twins Dora and Nora Chance, and it begins on their 75th birthday.  They spend much of the novel reflecting on their life which has been deemed marginal or illegitimate in so many ways.  Despite their challenges, they continually remind readers, “What a joy it is to dance and sing!” and this book reads like a carnival. It’s so inspiring and I finish it wanting to consume every last morsel of Life with no regrets.  There’s so much more I can say, but I’ll babble.  I love this novel.  I love Angela Carter.
  4. Eat, Pray, Love – Umm, yeah, this memoir is overdone.  It’s a movie and women flock to see it.  Oprah-lovers read it in their book clubs, and it is ubiquitous right now, but I can’t deny the power of one woman’s firsthand account of literally traveling the world to find herself and finally claim her happiness after years of living what felt like someone else’s life.  There are passages in this book that are pure magic and really, really worth something. I love that this work reminds me that you have to chase after the life you were meant to live, not fall lazily in to someone else’s. Every passage is quotable, so I couldn’t choose only one.  Plus my copy is upstairs at the moment and I’m lazy.
  5. The Bluest Eye – I read this in high school and then reread it years later.  I am white, middle class, and admittedly come from pretty sheltered beginnings.  It is only through literature like Morrison’s that I could experience the life of someone so different from myself.  Pecola obsesses about her eye color, but we all know that wouldn’t fix everything about her troubled, sad existence.  Morrison is such a master.  “It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights-if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different.” This book is heavy, but I realize we are not all that different from Pecola….if only I had more money, if only I lived somewhere more exciting, if only I had a different career, if only I was beautiful, if only, if only…..All of us could benefit from the reminder that life does not hinge on one fact alone.  We are all beautiful. We are all meaningful.  Life your life as such.
  6. The Time Traveler’s Wife –  This is another one that might be overdone with a blockbuster movie and a prominent place at Barnes and Noble, but I can’t praise this novel enough. I am usually ashamed to read love stories, but this is an honest, unabashed, bold, and beautiful story that, at the heart of things, is really about the incredible love between two people.  I read it during a 3 week break from graduate school courses when I was planning my wedding, moving, and beginning my career; I relished this novel and did not want to turn that last page.  I love that it makes time irrelevant while also reminding the reader that time is tickin’ and you’d better be bold with your life and your love. “Time is priceless, but it’s Free. You can’t own it, you can use it. You can spend it. But you can’t keep it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.” Such a sentiment we all need to hear.  And at the end of my journey, I hope I too can say, “There is only one page left to write on. I will fill it with words of only one syllable. I love. I have loved. I will love.” Oh, Henry and Claire.
  7. Billy Collins [Poetry]  –  I adore Billy Collins and have seen him read twice.  I even got his autograph – my claim to fame. I love that he makes poetry accessible for all of us. Do you love poetry?  Pick up a Collins book.  Do you hate poetry?  Pick up a Collins book, and he will change your mind.  The second time I heard him read, he stated that all literature “is about the same thing: Life is beautiful.  Then you die.”  I love this man.
  8. Keats [Poetry]  – Oh, my crush Keats.  Only a man who dies at 25 and knew he was dying for much of his life could affect us the way he does.  Go LIVE, now. he seems to say to me.  His work is nothing short of beautiful, and I could waste so much time just reading and rereading his poetry. I love that he values love and beauty, art and sincerity, knowing that in the end, not much else matters. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” The irony is that he proves that more than anything else.  Centuries later, we are reading his work when he only lived for a brief moment.


So that’s my list, books that shape my life in many ways.  What are yours?  Is there a work that changed you?  A passage that changed you?  I’d love to hear.


Table for One, Please

One of the things on my long list of summer self-improvement is to eat better when my husband is gone on business.  In efforts to do this, I ordered The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones who, if you don’t know, worked with Julia Child for many years and has now written a cookbook full of recipes she has learned as a result of her new life as a widow.  While that, of course, is not my situation, I do eat alone about 4-7 times a month, and Trader Joe’s stir-fry is good but gets old.  This book has so many promising ideas from a single, stuffed Portobello mushroom to beef bourguingnon for one. I find myself looking at solitary dinnertime with excitement rather than lonely maybe-I-should-just-have-cereal-tonight desperation.

A couple of weeks ago, I ventured to make a steak for myself and use the leftovers 2 nights later in a gratin which was yummy.  My latest try from Jones’s book, however, blew that away.  This was so incredibly good that I think I’ll want to double it and make it when Scott is around as well.  A bonus that makes the dish even better is that it is nourishing, fun to make, and composed of real, wholesome ingredients.  I’ve never thought to eat eggs for dinner before, but she has a whole chapter on the usefulness of eggs for the single cook, and I think I just opened a whole new door that I never knew existed.  The final result of this particular recipe is so decadent and so French.  I seriously felt like I was back in Paris, sitting in a street-side table along the Seine.  Sigh.


Baked Egg with Vegetables

First grate a single, small zucchini.  Place the shreds in a colander and salt them.  Wait about 30 minutes for the zucchini to drain.  (You’ll be surprised at how much water comes out, and you don’t want your final result soupy.)  Next melt a tablespoon of butter in a saute pan, add diced onions (she specifies shallots) and sliced mushrooms.  Cook for about 3 minutes.  Now squeeze the grated zucchini so that most of the excess water comes out.  Throw the zucchini in the pan and saute with the onions and mushrooms for about 3 minutes.  Next add 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. (DIVINE.  Makes everything better.)  Stir and cook for one minute.  Judith Jones also says you can throw in any other leafy green vegetables you have.  I threw in Swiss Chard from earlier this week, and it was delicious.

Now spoon the vegetables in to a small gratin dish and make a small well in the middle.  Crack one egg on top.  Add a dash of salt and pepper.  Pour 2 more tablespoons of heavy cream on top and sprinkle some parmesan cheese if you have it and want it.  Cook in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until the egg is set.  It comes out looking like this and smelling incredible.

There’s something about sitting down to eat a perfectly proportioned one-person meal in a little individual dish.  Heaven.