Saturday, December 31, 2011


Penn and me yesterday, on a coffee date with Lis. Photo by Lis.

Last week, with a little nudge from a friend, I decided to choose “miracles” as my word for the year. As soon as Julie suggested it, I felt pulled by the word—intrigued, delighted, nervous. It fit well. There’s a lot behind that word for me, and I sat down to write about all of it this afternoon, but I got overwhelmed pretty quickly. There are so many miracles from this past very difficult year, so many people who were involved in creating those miracles or in helping me to see them. But it’s my word for the whole of next year, so I have a feeling I’ll have plenty of opportunity to write about it—no need to get it all out now.

Still, as I wrote and wrote and tried to spin out all the threads of all the miracle stories from my year, one little story popped out at me, so that’s the one I’ll tell you now. Maybe I’ll tackle each story in its time—little piles of straw waiting to be spun into gold.

But this one is about Penn, Lis’s (and Troy’s!) amazing, beautiful little boy (the toddler behind Toddlerblog over there, for those of you who are new here). And I think this story says just about everything you need to know about what it is I'd like to invite into my life by choosing this word.

The morning after I ended my marriage, I moved out of my home and into Lis and Troy and Penn’s spare bedroom. They welcomed me wholeheartedly. Penn and Lis greeted me at their door, and Penn was clearly concerned and full of questions. He wanted to know why I didn’t want to live with B. any more, and I had to tell him that was a really good question, and it deserved a really good answer, but I wasn’t sure how to explain it to him just at that moment, and would it be okay if I thought about it and gave him an answer later?

And he said yes, and then he asked me if I was still sad (Lis had told him I would be, and he could see I’d been crying), and when I told him yes, he came over to me and gave me a hug that made me cry even more. Because the hug he gave me was not, in any way, the hug of a not-quite-four-year-old child. It was the hug of a soul-level friend, a friend who understood at the deepest level that I was hurting. It was the hug of someone who was caring for me in exactly the way I needed to be cared for in that moment, and it was easily the most awe-inspiring, miraculous hug I’ve ever been given.

Friday, December 30, 2011

•river sticks•

Plink, plank, plunk, go the blueberries in my memory.  (Pail, bush, Maine.)  So, too, go the stones into the river of January.  Smooth and strange weights of observation, and choice.  Who doesn't love a skipping rock?  Berry of the sea, blue on its way to the bottom.  

(Join us in writing every day in January!)  xox

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Small Stones Blogroll Update

Alright, Small Stones participants. As it turns out, I'll be putting together the blogroll for the whole event--not just a little blogroll here at HAMAMA (though, maybe I'll do that as well? we shall see...) The blogroll for the entire event can be found at the Writing Our Way Home blog.

If you're planning to participate by writing small stones on your blog during January (either on your regular blog or one that you create specially for this project) and you'd like to be added to the blogroll, please send me a brief email with your URL at this address:

Thanks, and happy noticing and writing!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Join Us in the Magic River?

(More from me later, with any luck, but I wanted to be sure to post this now, since the New Year and the new River of Stones are almost upon us!)

Last year, Lis and I decided (totally on the spur of the moment, as is our half-assed wont) to participate in the River of Stones project. All during the month of January, we each wrote a stone a day (more or less--we did pretty well, actually). A "stone" is nothing more than a moment you've taken the time to really notice and record, in the simplest, most straightforward way.

Technically, a stone is not meant to be long--in fact, by definition, the more carefully and specifically one's words are chosen and the more directly to the point one's stones are, the better. But honestly, Lis and I tend to bend the rules a bit, because really, for us the point is the noticing, the being present, the taking the time each day to write something. Some days I was really inspired by the challenge of whittling my stone as closely and sharply as possible. Other days, I found I had something I really needed to get out on the page just as it hit me, extra details and all.

If you want to see our stones from last year (both from January and some we wrote in July and other times through the year), you can sort on the "aros" label in our tag cloud down the left-hand side of the Half-Assed bloggle here. (Or, you know, I could do it for you.) And if you want to participate this year, consider this: You do not need to think of yourself as a writer. You do not need to have a blog. You just need a desire to spend at least one moment each day grounding yourself in the present, finding your center, and really using your whole self to notice something fully--and then to write down that moment of noticing.

I always risk sounding like an overenthusiastic loon when I describe the effect that ongoing creative commitments like this have on me, so let me just leave you with the assurance that this one tiny act each day can create all kinds of magic in your life. The more you do it, the more magical it becomes. Want to join us in the River? Get more information here or here.

And if you're a reader here (regular, new, whatever! be our friend!) and you plan to participate in this, leave us a comment here to let us know, would you? For one thing, we want to go and read your stones! For another, I may actually get my act together to create a blogroll of our own little community of small stone writers (the larger project won't have a blogroll this year, since this has gotten way bigger than makes sense for a blogroll).

One of the nicest things about last year was finding other stone writers and communicating with them. And even though life got kind of overwhelming and hard for much of this year, and I've been very bad at keeping up regular contact with the lovely people we met last January, that doesn't mean I don't still have all your blogs bookmarked for reading when I can get myself back to regular blog reading. And for sure, this project inspires me to check in with people each day to find out what their own small stone moments were all about.

Friday, December 16, 2011


My next door neighbor stopped by my back door just before dusk. I opened the door and sat down on the threshold to visit. He lay down next to me, rolling over to make it easier for me to pet him. I scratched his chest and head and held his warm paw. When I'd get lost in thought and my fingers would stop working for too long, he'd forsake his blissed out snoozing and lick my hand politely--just once; a gentle doggy reminder to focus on the important task.

We sat like that for a long time, watching the wind in the pine tree and the willows, and the stars lighting up the deepening dark, and listening to flocks of geese trumpeting their way south.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

•trading awesome•

This morning, while engaging in our usual cuddle-on-the-couch routine (Penn with his milk and I with my eggnog'd coffee--which is a little GBG, as my chum Doris would say, Good But Gross), I suggested we each come up with two things that are awesome. A trading of thanks. I went first, with the fact that Penn actually liked the soup I made last night, in spite of a firm recent stance against soup in general. He countered, and offered his Lego-sticker-starwars book. Admitting that was indeed awesome (it's amazing how almost anything with printed words on it becomes a teaching tool these days), I added my second. Penn's grandparents, who thought of him when they saw that m̶o̶n̶s̶t̶r̶o̶s̶i̶t̶y̶ book, and mailed it. So far, so good, I thought! We were snuggled up under Soft Blanket, drinks in hand, gazing at the lit (but as-yet untrimmed) tree. What a delicious way to share a bit of gratitude, and start off the day with a smile. Yes, those were my dewey thoughts. Then Penn went and tipped the scale. Your turn, I nudged. "I awesome this couch," he said. And there it was. The language, the tenor--the very name of our new tradition. I swooned a mommy-swoon. There's nothing like a new practice, especially if it involves someone who will bend and tweak the practice until, in some curious and surprising way, it becomes the kind of valuable you'd only ever read about in books. Kinda like this very blog. I awesome this blog... and I awesome my Amy. Can't wait for the next awesomeing. Can't wait, even, for the rest of this day. xox
I awesome my friend Genevieve, who harbored me in Atlanta for four grounding days at the start of this month. We laughed at everything, including a pile of pine boughs on the sidewalk.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

•gratitude, and a sort of California barometer, revs'd•

Just grateful for all of it. The whole, beautiful mess.

Listening to Frances Ford Coppola speak through the radio and making leeky, appley greens with egg for breakfast, I am reminded: how small, this world. Absurdly small. I don't know this guy, but thirty years ago, he held my cousin when she was a baby. Tomorrow, I'm going to hold her hello, in Pennsylvania. Charlotte lives in New York, but we rendezvous in other places. "How'd you get here from Maine?" my son asked a friend of ours, just last week. He'd mistaken her for Charlotte, and no wonder. She's in the air, as is the way with certain people at certain times of the year. Tomorrow, I will be in the air.

What a tangled fascination, this life. What luck there is in the world, and what horror. Our town has made international news of late, thanks to an unpleasant decision by a police officer and various higher-ups. Like getting shampoo in your eyes only the shampoo is hot-sauce, I explained to Penn. He caught me watching the video of the row of cross-legged students in sweatshirts, the casual lieutenant spraying red into their faces. "Is those police men?" he asked. "Are they making bad decisions?"

The stories we are telling. The food we are putting in our mouths. The weather, how large it feels. How we go on, about our days, remaining calm. The moon can sweep us off our feet at any moment. The air can change. We can get dropped. At any moment.

Everything matters. Movement, especially, is key. xox

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Borrowed Earrings, and a Love Letter to my Bryn Mawr Friends

(This post was partly inspired by Bella's prompt this week for the 52 Photos Project, which was to photograph something you've borrowed or would like to borrow.)

Five and a half years ago, I attended my fifteenth college reunion, and sometime during the weekend, I admired my friend Giulia’s earrings. Giulia always has gorgeous jewelry, and this particular pair of earrings was made of green amber and silver. She gave them to me—for no particular reason, except that I expressed my love for them, and she loves me. I protested a bit, but she insisted that I take them. So I agreed to take them on loan, and over the next five years, I thought of her—of course—every time I wore them.

This past spring was an especially hard one, but it was also my twentieth college reunion, and I knew I needed to go, because my college friends are some of the dearest, steadiest, most beloved people in my life. And when I packed to head east, I made sure Giulia’s earrings were with me. I figured it was the obvious time to return them.

I’m not sure Giuls remembered that I had the earrings until I handed them to her, but when I gave them back, she proceeded to search through the jewelry she’d brought with her until she found this pair:

She decided I needed to take them home with me, and of course, this time I agreed. At Bryn Mawr, we like to joke that once we’ve done anything twice, it’s a tradition, and so Giulia and I have started our own little earring loan tradition. She picks a pair for me to borrow for five years, and I bring them back at the next reunion.


It’s difficult to put into words just exactly how much Giulia and all my other friends from college mean to me. I’ve thought of them pretty much every day since last May, and the energy of their love washes over me frequently. That love has always been there, ever since college, but I think something about this particular reunion marker really hit many of us hard, in the best possible way.

I had a moment during the weekend, in our class meeting, when I looked around the vividly familiar dorm living room, and saw all those vividly familiar faces—the faces of people who are incredibly close to me, and the faces of people I really barely know, except that I’ve “known” them in some way for the last twenty-four years. That’s more than half my life.

Faces you’ve known for more than half your life mean something—something significant. They may not be the faces of dear friends, and yet—they’re not at all strangers. They’re something more than community, even, though they’re certainly that. Perhaps they’re like an odd kind of extended family, people you feel connected to, people who share some vitally important part of your history, even if you really don’t know a whole lot about who they are, or what their daily lives are like.

And then there are the people who actually are my dear friends. I don’t know that there are really words that can adequately describe the feelings of nourishment, love, acceptance, gratitude, comfort, support that I receive from this group of people. They’re home to me.

I was stunned, several times during the weekend, to realize that these friends have always seen me, since I was seventeen, in ways that it took me many, many years to see myself. They knew what was in me and who I could be long before I did. Simply because they love me, and they were paying attention. I certainly hope I’ve been paying enough attention to be able to see each of them in such a deep way.

At the end of the weekend, a small group of us went for brunch at a local diner before dispersing to our separate parts of the world for another five years. (We’ve done this Sunday brunch thing at the last two reunions now, so you know what that means….)

I was sitting in the diner booth, stirring my coffee and listening to Giulia, who was sitting next to me and telling a story in her inimitable, animated, gorgeous, larger-than-life way. I turned to look at her, and it took my breath away. Every bit of her was so familiar and dear—her beautiful face and smile, her mannerisms, her speech patterns and laugh. I know them so well that I can call them to mind in a heartbeat. Just thinking of her calms me, makes me feel loved and joyful and lucky.

And I’m incredibly fortunate. Because Giulia isn’t the only friend I feel this way about—I have a whole pile of friends like that where she came from. And I won’t list them here—I’ll let Giuls stand in for them all—but I trust they know who they are. And I hope they know how very, very, very much I love them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Just a snapshot of just a piece. But it's shaping up into a warm little nest that fits me well.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

•get on to the bus•

Soul Coughing, and red velvet, and peering out at the large world through large windows. Those words remind me of Pittsburgh. To your commute, on this Tuesday! xox

Monday, November 14, 2011

•happy monday•

We could do worse than have a slightly manic one. I'll take mine in Purple Haze. xox

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

•teeny tiny art•

The one that got away. "Mustard Sally" didn't make it to the teeny-tiny-art exchange on Sunday, on account of some frothy growing glue that got out of hand. But it's nice to have her here, at home. (Note to self: don't test a new glue on an otherwise done project.)

Back in the summer, my friend Julie hatched a plan to get all of her friends to make more art. Inspired by Art-o-Mat, she decided to host a "tiny art" exchange in November, amid cocktails and appetizers and friendship. The art would be palm-ishly sized, and everyone would get to ooh, aah, and bring home treasure at the end of the night. Well, that night was Sunday the 6th. And oh, was there treasure! Gobs upon cookie-swap-gobs of it. Beautiful stuff, all. Fortunately, I only needed to pull one all-nighter to get my tiny pieces ready for the final reveal, because.... everyone in my family, as it turns out, is completely absorbed by art! Penn spent the weekend writing and drawing and stapling and taping, Troy made origami caterpillars out of old maps, and I pasted and cut and pasted and cut. It's not exactly news. We've arted in our house before. Supplies live on the windowsill. Houses and carports and Boba Fetts and snowmen are drawn and finessed and decorated and recreated on a daily basis. But this weekend was different. We couldn't stop making art.

It was fabulous.

It might just be the new house order.

The icing on the teeny, tiny cake: my brother Art was among the participants. Undaunted by the country between us, he sent his box of teeny-tinies in the mail. And I sent his swapped collection back to New York yesterday. Very much looking forward to Skype-ing when he opens it! We would have Skyped on Sunday, but oh, the wicked EST to PST time change. It works much better in the reverse.

More art that came out of the teeny-tiny-splosion:

Penn named this "air heart." It makes a little puff on your cheek, if you squeeze the poof.

An homage to... well, I suppose it doesn't even matter.

Now, for the clean up. I'm not daunted by the task, but I don't exactly want to put the supplies away... xox

Sunday, November 6, 2011


I just bought a vacuum cleaner, and I'll say this for the carpeting in my new home--it certainly does hide the dog hair well.

And on the down side, it certainly does hide the dog hair well. Yikes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

More Self Portraits

Last night, prompted by a conversation with a friend about her daughter's Halloween makeup, I felt a sudden need to draw all over my face with eyeliner. I've been thinking for some time about taking self portraits that incorporate some sort of fantastical makeup design, but somehow I never bothered. Because apparently, I was waiting for a really convenient time--like 10:00 at night on a night when I'd had the flu for several days prior. When I had to be up early to go get a U-Haul van so that I could move furniture into my new home. (About which, more later, once it's safely through the "worse before it gets better" stage of moving in chaos. The one in which cardboard features heavily as a decorative device.)

And then, although I hadn't exactly planned to take pictures last night, once I had all that makeup drawn on me, I couldn't very well waste the opportunity.

So here you go, in keeping with my new (but apparently ongoing) obsession with ethereal, fairy-like characters and candlelight in my self portraits. (I have no explanation, really. I was not particularly an ethereal, glitter-and-fairies sort of child. I'd love to think these current ethereal fairy-like creatures have a certain Shakespearean forest creep factor, but it's entirely possible they're just glittery. But whatever. They keep presenting themselves. I think I've decided my job with creative obsessions is simply to play them out to their natural finishing points.)

The last one is hands-down my favorite. I think I now also have an obsession with editing my photos to look like paintings. Yum.

The texture I used on this one can be found here. Honestly,
I wasn't really that into textures until I found this guy's
textures. They're really saturated and painterly and beautiful.

Monday, October 17, 2011

•shh, shh, little kitty•

Well, shame on me. Nothing soothes the soul like actually voicing one's concerns--and having them put to rest. I spoke with the director of Penn's preschool, and not only are those offending un-foods *not* being served, they probably aren't even the property of the school. Ahem. < chagrin! >

This is a developing story... but I wanted to do a teeny post to make up for completely flying off the handle on Friday. So charged, these issues of food in our day and age. So available, these bloggish tools! (So, too, like a double-edged sword.) I am humbled by the kindness of others who, in spite of my hot-headedness, took the time to comment, to take my side, and to subtly tell me to stand down. xox

Friday, October 14, 2011

•poison apple•

They're baa-aack! And just in time for Halloween! To my utter dismay and horror, Otterpops and Skippy Peanut Butter have returned to Penn's preschool. So now, since I'm no longer on Prozac, do the gloves come off? Do I merely protest by making all of Penn's snacks again, or do I pull him from school? Do I get all the parents to sign a petition, entitled For The Love Of Common Sense, Please Don't Feed Our Children Poison And Tell Then It's Snack?

I asked an afternoon teacher today, point-blank: does she feed them Otterpops. Occasionally, she said. I clarified: Instead of snack? I mean, as snack? She hesitated. Yes... as a treat. When it's hot.

We live at the mouth of the Central Valley in California. It's hot. A lot. You're telling me when the temperature spikes, instead of the usual afternoon offering of water, milk, plus green beans or cheese, they're substituting a 25-calorie frozen stick of high fructose corn syrup and chemically-derived food coloring? What about vodka? Would they feed them vodka, if I put that in the snack-donation box?

I'm seriously heartsick over this. I don't know what to do. Are my only options to remove Penn from the school, or alienate him by Penn-only snacks, or take money I don't have and buy all the right snacks, crowding as best I can everyone else out of that damn snack-donation box? Just the idea of having to have another conversation with the director about why this is important, or even why I won't let Penn eat that garbage, makes me want to crawl into bed, cover my head, and sob for my son's future. How on earth is a child to learn healthy habits, if school teaches you that brightly-colored water is food? Unschooling should not be the only sane option. xox

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

•not your mama's apple•

Photos taken at Full Belly Farm on October 1, 2011.

A half-assed Happy-o-versary to us, to us! And to you lovely readers, thank you. Our first post was also about pomegranates... in a way... :) Thanks for making all of this possible.

Pomegranates. Not my native apple. A seedy, grainy, medieval French pain in your ass? Maybe. (I know a secret for opening these. Think water birth.) When I was growing up in New Hampshire* in the 80s, pomegranates were expensive and misunderstood. Now they grow like weeds on the walk to and from Penn's preschool.

What's weird to a native New Englander is that *apples* don't do well in Northern California. Macintosh at the grocer are bruised beyond recognition, and there are no real tart options beyond Granny Smith, and her tarted-up cousin, the (unbelievably hued, yes) Pink Pearl. Pomegranates, on the other hand, grow magnificently in the Mediterranean clime. They're everywhere, including hedgerows meant as boarders. Throw-aways. In the same way rosemary is grown as a landscape feature, pomegranates are low-maintenance shrubs. They don't like much water. They love sun. And pomegranates are ripest when they split (and look over-ripe). Kinda a cool signal: they flash their ruby jewels to the world. That means you need to live near a tree, for close monitoring. Lest you miss it. (All the poms in the pictures above are still ripening. Note the one with the hexagonal flower opened, vs. the closed-flower orbs...)

Now, a simple recipe:

Maple Pomegranate Cocktail

pomegranate juice
maple syrup (grade b works)
a lime
a few pomegranate arils, if you have the means

In a shaker, put 3 ice cubes. Cover with one ounce cognac, one ounce rum, about a half-cup of pomegranate juice, and 1-2 teaspoons Grade B maple syrup. Squeeze a quarter of a lime o'er top, and shake the beeejeeezus out of it for at least 7 seconds. Strain into an up-glass, with pomegranate seeds in the bottom. It is worth making one serving at a time, but I'm sure a pitchered approach would work.

Currently in the oven: granola with pomegranate pulp. There's a company based in Sacramento that makes granola using fruit juice in place of oil, and I've wanted to try that at home ever since I sampled the results. Pomegranate juice yeilds a lot of pulp: the chown up bits of aril and seed casings, plus bits of juice. What a perfect reason to stir with oats, maple syrup, vanilla and...?? I don't think I included anything else. Although pecans would have been nice. Stay tuned! Update: that granola was spectacular. Next time, I'll add unsweetened coconut!


Sunday, October 9, 2011

30th Street Station

30th St. Station
30th Street Station, by Kevin H. on Flickr

In my old city, I liked to sit in the train station. People rushed around, on their way to other neighborhoods, other cities, other states, even other countries. I sat cross-legged on the old wooden benches, their curves polished to glowing by decades of waiting bodies. I’d buy a cup of coffee and gaze at the impossibly high ceilings; the enormous bronze archangel cradling a soldier in his arms; the art deco light fixtures that look as if they’re a normal size, until you see them on the ground, slowly cranked down with winches to be cleaned, to have their bulbs changed. Then they’re shocking in their bigness, and lovely, their glass panes and bronze edges the facets of giant light-emitting jewels.

Often, I was waiting for a train. Sometimes it was late at night, the station more or less empty, announcements of departing and arriving trains echoing off the marble walls and floors. Maybe I’d just left, for the evening, a relationship that I didn’t really want, that was more a clue to something I wanted—something that had nothing to do with relationships. I’d stare around at the soaring space, feeling tiny and exhausted, filled with longing and yet somehow overwhelmed with joy at the way the building’s enormity underscored my own solidity, at the energy of people going places. The wooden bench anchored me; I could have sat there for hours.

But sometimes I would go to the station just to be there, anonymous in the busy crowd, but not alone. If I wanted to, I could buy a ticket, board a train, and be gone. There was freedom just in knowing that. More likely, I would choose a table amid the bakeries and food shops and schedule boards, the coffee stands and travelers and flower stalls, and I would write, just beginning to find my way on the page, just beginning to understand where the clue was leading me.

A soaring space with trains will inevitably leave you wanting to go. I left the city, and the station with it. There is nothing like it in my new city, in my new life, where I usually know what I want, where I am rarely anonymous, rarely tiny and exhausted.

Buying a train ticket doesn’t hold the same possibilities anymore. I crossed a bridge on my way out, and while I didn’t burn it, left unused, it decayed. If I visit, it’s by other routes—everything looks different. I can see a chasm where my bridge used to be, and the city hovers dreamlike on the far side, inaccessible, and I’m amazed that I was ever a part of it. I don’t want to return, really. But sometimes, just for a little while, I’d like to sit in that station, anonymous but not alone, and think of all the places I could go.

Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial
Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial
(Angel of the Resurrection), by Sameold2010 on Flickr

30th Street Station
30th Street Station, by MShades on Flickr

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Why Craiglist Furniture for Sale Listings are an Excellent Source of Entertainment

1) Posts that make me gasp with horror and then burst out laughing the moment they load. Seriously, I'd link to current posts, but it's mean to make fun of people's furniture on the Internet. Also, the links would only expire in a week anyway. (If they didn't, someone would have started a Regretsy-like blog for Craigslistings a long, long time ago.)

2) Posts that describe furniture as "shabby chic." Now, that description isn't really set to win my heart in any case. Having worked as a props designer and beat to crap tastefully distressed my share of stage furniture, I figure if I want something shabby chic, I'm more than capable of scratching at it with a rasp or putting dings in it with a screw driver. Furthermore, on Craigslist, "shabby chic" is often used to describe items that'd be better represented as "shredded by the cat" and/or "cabbage roses from the 1980s."

3) Here's a favorite: Posts that authoritatively describe furniture as "mid-century modern" when in reality it's "mid-'70s wood veneer." (Occasionally, mid-'70s schlock is mistakenly described as shabby chic--if it's been sufficiently shredded by the cat, that is.)

4) Posts that tell me--in great detail--exactly what the piece of furniture will be perfect for, or exactly where in my home it will look just fabulous.

5) Related to number four: Posts that tell me just how beautiful I will find a piece of furniture, or how very, very special and/or set to become an heirloom it is. Or! Posts that tell me how very, very precious the piece is to the family that's selling it, but they have to sell it (by today) because their grandmother got sick and they're moving overseas to take care of her and, and, and... In other words, way TMI.

6) And related to number five: Posts that tell me what a great bargain someone's inflated asking price is and explain that if I look around on the Internet for the same item, I'll see that people are selling it for $200 more.

Okay. Anyone else want to play? I'm sure I'm missing classic Craigslist moves from this and other categories. (Though I could certainly go on at length about the housing category right about now. Sheesh. But I find that far less amusing and more irritating and misleading, at least in this town.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Small Confession and a Care Package

The confession is that I never did manage to see the small boy this week, and therefore, I finally just took it upon myself to choose a name for our little blog-o-versary game.

(Don't worry though--I adhered to the highest ethical and technical standards in making my choice.)

(Well, okay. The highest ethical standards.)

And the winner is...Gisele! With whom I've been in touch already. But thank you to all of you who left us comment love! What a lovely group of people this blog has helped to gather around us this year--it's so nice to know you're out there reading.

Off to make a care package! (Not really. Off to get some work done. But soon! Soon, we will make a care package.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Saturday, October 1, 2011

On Writers, Writing, and Generosity of Spirit

I just read this post, by the fabulous Alice, whose writing I’ve admired for years. I agree with her wholeheartedly, as have the majority of her commenters so far. But I was dismayed by a couple of commenters who disagreed with her, and I started to say as much in a comment. I quickly realized that my “comment” was about to turn into a full-on, very lengthy essay response, so I brought it over here. This really isn't meant as a direct response to any of the comments, but reading them brought up several hot button issues for me, and they're ones I've contemplated writing about for a while now. And this was the perfect opening for me to do so.

It seems to me that any person who takes on writing in a conscious way is a writer. I'm talking about the idea of practice—in both a technical and a spiritual sense. And I think it's nonsense to say that if someone only writes for themselves, or only blogs, or isn't publishing their work, or isn't getting paid to write, then they somehow don't meet some magical definition of the word "writer."

Whether I write for myself, in secret; or join a writing group; or start a blog; or start submitting my work to literary journals or magazines; or earn a paycheck from my writing is irrelevant to my right to define myself as a writer. I've done almost all of these things, in various stages of my writing life (I’m not literary journal girl…yet), and the timing and meaning of those activities have been much more about the level at which I was ready to join a conversation with other people through my writing than they have been about my level of legitimacy or how serious my practice has been.

I think the biggest problem with people so self-assuredly defining who "gets" to call themselves a writer is that it scares off those who are less confident, but who would absolutely be writers if they had just a little bit of encouragement to begin—or to continue—writing. I think making distinctions between "blogger" and "writer" is dangerous, not because I think everyone who blogs wants to or needs to or should define themselves as a writer, but because I think everyone who blogs (or keeps a journal, or writes poetry secretly) should most certainly have the right and the opportunity to define themselves that way if it's a title and a practice that calls to them.

There's nothing worse than feeling a genuine longing to try something—particularly in the creative world—and thinking, "But I can’t write; I’m not a writer,” or, "I'm not allowed to define myself as a writer, because I'm not published." Well, if you never try writing, then you’re not a writer. But when you follow that longing, and pick up a pen or open your computer and begin to explore the world by placing words together, when you take on writing as a practice in a conscious way, then you get to think of yourself a writer whether or not you publish anything.

Note that I keep saying “in a conscious way.” I don’t necessarily think that everyone who ever has to write something is a writer. We all have to write things here and there, for school, or work, or whatever. It’s a matter of intention, and it’s a matter of need. Writers need to write. When I was a child, my father used to say this to me all the time—that artists have to practice their art. Writers have to write. This was problematic, since as a child I took it quite literally. And because I clearly wouldn’t actually drop dead if I didn’t write, I assumed that I wasn’t a writer. And that assumption made me ache, although I didn’t understand that ache back then.

It took me until I was 25 to be able to keep a journal, much less write anything else. But when I did begin to keep that journal, my entire world shifted. I didn’t know where it would lead me, and I certainly didn’t have any big dreams of publishing anything. All I knew was that it kept me sane. It soothed the ache. Sure, I can not do it for a time, but it isn’t a healthy choice. And it turns out, that was what my father meant—though I suspect my father was a very unhappy, non-practicing writer, so I’m not even sure he fully understood what he meant.

When I first imagined starting a blog, my goal was to create a community to which I would be accountable for writing in some way. I have a wonderful real life writing community, with whom I meet and share work, and that community also keeps me writing. But a blog demands more regular work, more regular content. And in terms of putting pressure on myself to do the work I know that I need to do on a regular basis, that’s a very good thing. While I don’t believe that keeping a journal that no one else reads makes me any less of a writer, what I know about myself is that I stay on track better when someone is expecting the work from me.

Will I drop dead if I forsake my practice? Nope. But I also won’t be as grounded or as well or as happy, and I won’t be as effective in any other area of my life if I’m not doing the work of writing. Because I’m a writer. Of course, other writers' particular sense of need may be different from my own, but I believe a writer has a need of some kind. Frankly the work is often kind of a pain in the ass, difficult, and time consuming, so unless it speaks to someone, it's hard to imagine them wanting to do it.

There’s another element to this that bothers me. When people begin to make rules about who gets to call themselves a writer, or any other sort of artist, I always sense an air of cliquishness and unkindness. People say things like, “Well, that person isn’t a writer. They’ve never published anything. They only blog. They just keep a journal and never show their writing to anyone.” Frankly, statements like that are what keep fledgling writers feeling shy, less-than, self-deprecating, and locked out of the thing that they perhaps most want to do. And that limits what they will ever be able to do.

Just because I write all the time, work as a writer and an editor, participate in a writing group, publish my writing in various ways, and am lucky enough to have people other than me define me as a writer, does that give me the authority to say who is a writer and who isn’t? I don’t believe that it does.

What it does give me is a certain kind of power. Because people now think of me as a writer, beginning writers might be more than willing to believe me if I told them that they can’t call themselves writers. But who the hell am I to determine how people are permitted to define themselves? Who am I to say who is and who isn’t a writer?

If someone risks telling me that they’ve always wanted to write, I consider that a sacred moment. It may or may not be sacred to them, but it has to be to me. Because that’s the defining moment. That’s the moment when I potentially get to open a door for someone and invite them inside, or when I get to use my power to smash a small, fragile part of them. And make no mistake, it doesn’t matter if you literally have a potential writer standing in front of you allowing themselves to be vulnerable or not. When what you put into the world is the belief that certain kinds of writing are better or more legitimate than others, or that you are in any way better and more legitimate than others, you will inevitably be smashing a small, fragile part of someone somewhere.

My job is to do my own work, and to be the kindest, most generous person I can be. It’s my job (and I believe it’s everyone’s job) to encourage the small, fragile, beautiful parts of the people I encounter. My own incredibly kind, generous creative communities have enabled me to do work I don’t think would have been remotely possible without their encouragement. I believe it’s absolutely critical that people receive that kind of creative generosity of spirit in order to do their own best work. Just because they haven’t yet proven that they can do it, just because you can’t see what that work might be, that’s no excuse to be anything less than open-minded about what they might do in the future, or generous about helping them to define themselves in any way that opens that door for them.

It’s not my job to legislate what constitutes “real” writing. The only thing I can know for sure is that those who write—consciously and because they need to do so, for the love of the work, because there’s something in them that wants to come out on the page, or because they love other people’s writing and want to be a part of the community that generates such work—those are people who get to call themselves writers if they want to.

Writers write. For themselves, for others—it doesn’t matter. Well or badly—even that doesn’t matter.* The writing is what matters. The practice is what matters. The actions we take are what matter. And in writing, as in life, the actions we take are the things that define who we are. Writers write, and it’s the act of writing that makes them writers.

*For the record, while I don't believe quality of writing affects how one is allowed to define oneself, or whether one should continue to do the thing one loves, I absolutely agree with Alice that at the point when you begin sharing your work, it's part of the work to try to learn as much as you can and to make your work as readable, accessible, and high quality as possible for an audience by editing and refining it to the best of your ability. But that has nothing to do with how I or anyone else gets to define you.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Our First Blog-O-Versary

Lis and Amy zest lemons. Why yes, I did put a texture on this snapshot.
It's my trick of the moment, why do you ask? (The texture in question is
by Kim Klassen, from the Past Favs collection.)

Happy blog-o-versary to us! Well, the actual day was this past Wednesday--our little blog turned one year old. I meant to write something on Wednesday, after Lis reminded me what day it was. But that didn't quite work out as planned.

(You do remember which blog you're reading, right?)

I believe the traditional celebratory gesture would be for us to host a giveaway, yes? And I'm totally game for that, because I really quite like sending people gifties in the mail, whenever I get my act together to do it

So with that in mind, I'm officially offering a small blog-oversary care package to one lovely reader, who will be chosen at random. I have no idea what it will contain! It'll be a surprise even to me!
I'll drag my co-blogger into the project too! (Did you hear that, Lis?) You see how easily I spin this half-assed thing into a fun feature? We're not pathetic, we're spontaneous, and whimsical.

So if you're reading, leave us a comment if you'd like me to count you in, okay? Just tell us a little about who you are, or anything else that strikes your fancy--or just say hi. A comment is the perfect birthday gift for the blog that has everything.

(Actually, a comment is the perfect way to build community and make new friends! Can I encourage all of you to talk to us more often? No worries if commenting isn't your speed--the half-assed aren't into pressuring people about things like that--but really, it's so great to get to know who you are out there. It's one of the nicest things about this blogging business.)

I'll find one of those random number generator thingies online to choose the comment number of the winner--I'm not making those up in my head, right? They do exist? Well, if they don't, I'll just stick scraps of paper with your names on them into a hat and ask Penn to choose. In fact...that actually seems more appropriate. I'm going with that method.

Let's say you should feel free to comment on this post...well, whenever you like, really, but let's say I'll count all the folks who comment from now through Monday evening, and then I'll announce the soon after that as I can pin down Lis's lovely child and ask him to choose a paper scrap. I'm thinking maybe...Wednesday? Yes, let's say Wednesday. 'Kay?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gluten-Free Challah

L'shanah tovah! I really should have posted this earlier, but whatever--challah is necessary year-round, right? I also wish I had a picture of this bread for you. Perhaps I'll bake some again soon and take a pretty picture to place riiiiiiiight...


While I don't usually blog about food, it's a pretty big part of my life. I teach cooking classes and have been creating recipes for those classes for over a decade. And this recipe is certainly seasonally appropriate.

I created this challah for one of my gluten-free bread classes. If you're a regular baker of gluten-free bread, do try this trick of adding protein powder to your recipes--about the ratio I use here should do the trick. I happen to use rice protein of this brand, and they happen not to be paying me to say so. You want the plain stuff--not chocolate or vanilla or whatever. You will not believe the difference it makes in your bread recipes. All the structural benefit of the bean flours, without the awful taste! Yay! Softer, lighter, moister, breadier bread.

This particular recipe does rely heavily on starches, and I get questions about that all the time. But my general theory on gluten-free baking is this: Baked goods are a treat. They are not meant to be all-the-time food--not even if you can eat glutenous baked goods. Is it possible to make healthier versions of baked goods? Absolutely, and I do have a lovely seeded teff-buckwheat bread that contains less starch and more whole grain goodness. I'll post that at some point.

But while I don't follow a gluten-free diet myself, I believe it's sometimes important to have a slice of bread/a cookie/a cake that tastes precisely like what you remember from before you went gluten free (and I think that's especially important with a food such as challah, which is so rich in ritual, spiritual, and cultural associations). And so that's what I aim for in my recipes--I want people who don't follow a gluten-free diet to want to eat my food. And they do! But often, in the baking style I generally use, that means adding some starches to get the right texture. This challah is very close to my favorite all-purpose (wheat) flour based challah recipe in both flavor and texture.

You could definitely modify this recipe to include more whole grain flours, or some flax meal, or almond meal, etc. Please feel free to do so! Just understand that your results will be quite different from what this recipe will yield as written.

(And incidentally, if you'd like to be able to take challah and make the blessing when making this bread, or to say hamotzi over it before a meal, technically you'll need to incorporate [certified gluten-free] oat flour into the recipe. My advice would be to substitute the oat flour for both the millet and sorghum, though you'll need to decide for yourself/with your rabbi if that's enough quantity for this recipe to meet the requirement. That one substitution shouldn't change the bread drastically. Again, you can increase the amount of oat flour, but that will change the bread drastically. It's a trade-off. And not to get too halachically specific, but because the texture of this bread "dough" is really much more like a cake or quick bread batter, that may affect your decision on whether or not challah should even be taken. And if I'm forgetting any other critical information people might want to know, do feel free to chime in in the comments.)

Now, if you'd like a great source for entirely wholesome, entirely starch and grain free, and very well-done gluten-free recipes--baked goods and much more--check out Elana's Pantry. Elana's recipes are fantastic, and she has several delicious looking cookbooks out now. (And if you're in need of more holiday recipes, Elana also happens to be Jewish, and she often puts together mouthwatering recipe lists for the holidays. I love to look at her blog for festive inspiration.)

I generally bake this recipe in circular cake pans, though you can, of course, use a loaf pan. Better still, check out this braided loaf pan! And this circular braided pan, perfect for Rosh Hashanah! (Once again, these people don't know me from Eve, and they couldn't care less that I think their loaf pans are adorable.) I haven't got one, but it really is the perfect solution, since it's absolutely impossible to braid this bread for real.

(That, by the way, makes me sad. I get a tremendous amount of pleasure and spiritual sustenance from the kneading and forming of regular challah, and I wish that were an option in the gluten-free world. Alas, it's either edible gluten-free challah, or braidable gluten-free challah, but I'm afraid the two seem to be mutually exclusive.)

If you have questions, do feel free to ask them in the comments. You can certainly also use the blog email there off to the left-hand side, but you're much more likely to get a timely response from the comment section, as I don't check that email every day.

Gluten-Free Challah

1 cup water

a pinch of sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast

1/4 cup sorghum flour

1/4 cup millet flour

1/2 cup plain, unflavored rice (or other) protein powder

2 cups cornstarch

1 cup tapioca starch

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

4 teaspoons xanthan gum

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 eggs (plus an extra to be used as an egg wash)

2 egg yolks

1/4 cup melted butter or Earth Balance Buttery Sticks (for a meat meal, or in case of dairy sensitivity)

5 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons vinegar

Optional: 2 teaspoons lecithin granules

Optional: a healthy pinch of saffron, crumbled in with wet ingredients

Optional: Raisins, chocolate chips, etc. as you prefer.

Grease and flour two medium-small loaf or cake pans.You can also line the pans with parchment paper cut to fit them--this will guarantee that the bread won't stick, though it's not generally a problem if you've greased and floured them thoroughly.

Stir the pinch of sugar into the water and sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside to proof for about five to ten minutes. Proofing--or giving the yeast a chance to prove that it's still alive--is important! Make certain that your yeast is bubbly/foamy and alive, or your bread will not rise. I'd encourage you to incorporate this step into all your yeast recipes--some recipes will tell you to stir the dry yeast granules directly into the dry ingredients, but I don't recommend that, since you won't be able to tell if your yeast is dead.

Meanwhile, mix all the dry ingredients together in a small bowl.

Mix the wet ingredients in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer (including lecithin and saffron if using). Add the yeast water, and stir everything together.

Using the paddle attachment, and with the mixer on a LOW speed, begin to add the dry ingredients a little at a time. When you’ve added all the dry ingredients, mix at high speed for two to three minutes. (Add a little more water or flour at this point if you think the bread needs it.) If you’d like to add raisins or other add-ins, now is the time to stir them in.

Spoon the batter into the greased pans and gently smooth the top of the loaf with wet fingers. Brush the top of the loaf with an egg wash—one egg beaten together with a few teaspoons water. (You can also sprinkle the top with sesame seeds if you like.) Cover the bread with well oiled plastic wrap, and allow it to rise until it has almost doubled in bulk—about an hour, but if your house is on the cooler side, it may take longer.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees about five minutes before the bread is ready to go in. Bake the loaf for about 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375 degrees. Bake the loaf until the crust is nicely browned and the loaf sounds kind of hollow when you tap it on the bottom. If the loaf seems to be browning too much, you can cover it with a piece of aluminum foil. (This loaf may fall slightly in the middle as it cools, but it will still be delicious.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

•if it's from the curb, is it ok?•

It's true, I loathe dyed confections. But sometimes things come into my life, and I have a hard time batting them away. (Penn loves the word "dumpster," and I am sort of proud.) Plus. A little neon dino-sprinkle goes a loooooong way.

Happy Friday, everyone! Share a link to your moment in the comments? And pour a little out for Amanda Blake Soule, who came up with the share-a-photo-every-friday idea. xox

Monday, September 19, 2011

Open the Door

You want to know a fantastic antidote to oncoming depression, whatever its source?

Reach out and tell someone how much you love them, the work they do, who they are, what you see in them. Do it because it's true. Do it because they should know. Do it because the moment you do, a door will open up, and you'll see outside of yourself--that place that seems so dark right now. There's incredible beauty and light out there, and when you open that door, the light will never fail to lift your heart and spill in through the opening to get all over you.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Playing with Texture

Layering photos on photos (Swan Dive assignment of the week):

Spiderweb texture (old, dusty spiderweb that was
filled with
cool bits of dried flowers and dead things)

This texture is a small bit of a beautiful painting my
friend Kathryn made for my birthday one year. This
doesn't show off the painting in any way, of course--
it's a gorgeous fall tree in many shades of orange--
but it sure did provide good color and texture
to layer on a photo.

A section of wrinkled bed sheet

Another self portrait

My fave: This texture is actually a photograph of rust.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Night Lights

Part of the point of Vivienne's latest class is for us to play with post-processing options. Part of the point for me personally is 1) to try actually using the manual settings on my camera (revolutionary, no?), and 2) to push myself to do some things that go beyond...realistic self portraits? Maybe that's a good way to describe what I'm after? Something that tells more of a composed story? I'm not sure--maybe I should just call them photographic lyrical fragments. In any case, there's nothing like killing multiple birds with one stone. So to speak. (Really, what a horrible expression--isn't there a less vile way to say that?)

Also, I now have a whole lot of Mason jar lanterns in my possession, which can only be to the good.

(As always, you can click on these to enlarge them.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011


[This post is part of a tag-you're-it game, designed by Amanda Blake Soule. Check her out! And leave a link to your own moment in the comments, if you wish!]