Monday, December 30, 2013

You Can’t Steal that Which is Freely Given

Evening Flight Back to Texas{Sunset from the plane window}

Best Book of the Year{Planeside reading}

I’m back in Texas now, safely ensconced in my little kitchen.  The recipe queue is full of things to make this week, and my apartment smells like peanut butter bars.  Paul came came over last night, and we made a very tasty pizza.  Life is good.

Last week, I mentioned the book I’ve been reading.  Did I mention that it’s blowing my mind?  Just when I thought nothing could top Pale Blue Dot and our beloved Carl Sagan, along comes Charles Eisenstein with his clear articulation of the relationship between our connection to each other, money, and why our current money system must evolve or die trying.

One of the ideas in Sacred Economics is that of a gift economy: we give to one another so that we can meet the needs of all.  Giving is about providing for each other.  It is an expression of care for our collective well-being.  It creates a community because she who receives is now indebted, by social bonds, to pass it on.  There aren’t always strict rules about how and when you pass it on but simply that you do.  This, I think, is the origin of family obligations: the gifts of love and care we received are never truly repaid.  Instead, we pass on the gift by caring for the newest members and renewing our family bonds.

It’s not clear to me exactly how my life will change after I finish Sacred Economics.  It’s one thing to declare that the current money system is unsustainable and immoral; it will evolve, whether through peaceful change, violent revolution, or a complete toppling under its own weight.  It’s another thing to be out and about in the world: working, spending money, making life decisions.  Money is still a very real force in my life, and I assume the same is true for most of you.

But as one small gesture toward the gift economy, I’ve decided to relinquish ownership of the text and photos that I’ve shared on this blog.  The blog is still “mine” in the sense that I have created the contents and plan to continue doing so.  But I rather like the idea of seeing my work here as being part of the gift economy; it’s yours too, because you found it.  I think it's reasonable that if you choose to use a photo or text from this site that you credit your source.  It’s the nice thing to do.  But you don’t need to ask my permission because here I have given it to you explicitly.  Go forth and create!  Sharing is caring!

You can’t steal that which is freely given.  Charles Eisenstein, the author of Sacred Economics, has made much of his work freely available through his website, which I encourage you to check out.  As for me, I’m pursuing some new opportunities for blog sponsorship, which may or may not generate income.  We’ll see.  I’m occupying a strange territory where I’m not exactly anti-consumerism or anti-blog sponsorship.  That’s part of what “This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism” is exploring.  I feel like I’m trying to figure out exactly what my message is.  My worldview is changing, along with my career, my ambitions, and my sense of place in the world.  But this blog has always been a place to foster self-growth for me, so I feel comfortable telling you that I don’t know where we’re going!  Maybe that’s the fun of it: to enjoy the ride and to find out where we’ll land.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Here’s the Thing

Here’s the thing: I split my heart so I could be in two places at once.

So I could be here, with these fine folks.

Theresa and Scott Close Shot

Devin on Christmas Morning

Lydia on Christmas Morning

And to see some snow, of course.


But truth be told, part of me wanted to stay in Texas.  I wanted to pet my cat, make soup, and go to a cabin in Wimberley with friends and Paul on Christmas Day.

But here’s the other thing: I never, ever regret a trip to Michigan.  Each trip is a little different.  I change, my family changes.  We grow.  We become the newest version of ourselves.  The kids get taller, the grown-ups…well, we note the passage of time.

I did something unusual this time.  I let other social obligations lapse.  And I don’t know exactly how I feel about that.  On the one hand, it’s nice to simplify.  If there’s one thing I have not done this year, it’s simplify my life.  So it was nice to let some of the usual events slide.  I stayed in on Christmas Eve and read my book.  I didn’t make an effort to see other friends whom I would normally see while I’m in the mitten.  These friends are, I presume, busy with their own family obligations, caring for the children in their families.  And maybe it’s okay to not push quite so hard on all relationship fronts, especially during this season in my life when dating one person means cultivating relationships with his family.

I tend to take a somewhat karmic view of the universe.  Life feels circular to me; people move apart and come back together.  Old friends drift out of touch and swim back into contact.  New friends are pulled together by the gravity of shared values and a shared vision.  I don’t believe that there’s a guiding hand to all these movements.  But maybe part of a lifelong friendship is letting go…for a while.  Long enough to let each other fully inhabit the new roles that we have chosen.

Tomorrow I return to Texas, and it’s bittersweet.  I know I am extraordinarily lucky: I have a family with whom I genuinely enjoy spending time.  Sometimes, like this month, I fly north because I feel obligated to do so.  But when I think about not spending Christmas with my family, I feel strange and empty.  There is something to be said for having rhythms in life that transcend the changes.  I know I might not always be able to spend this holiday with my family.  Circumstances might make such a thing harder in the future.  So I had a sense this year that I should try to really soak up every minute of this visit.

Kale in Winter

And yet.  Introvert me has limits to how much family time she can enjoy.  So I retreat into my books or my computer.  And I feel guilty about it, fully knowing that I will go CRAZY(!!!) if I don’t take steal the time to recharge my batteries.  So I live with the tension of feeling bad that I can’t focus every waking moment on family, while sneaking away and shutting the door on the noise and chaos.

Maybe all of this means that I’m just a perfectionist who has some vision of what Christmas or family visits should look like.  Maybe it’s really okay to have more realistic expectations for seven days spent mostly with small children.  Maybe this is a sneak peek at motherhood: the feeling that if it’s imperfect, it must be my fault.

Maybe I should just get over it.

At any rate, tomorrow I fly back to Texas, and the sweetness of my return is that I get to see this face.

Oh Man

Well, maybe not that face exactly.  (That photo always makes me laugh, so I thought I’d share it with you.)

See what else Paul does in photos that makes me laugh?  I have to politely ask him not to flash me the bird when I want to take a nice photo of him.

Such a Stinker

What a stinker.  (He’s so cute.)

Heart, prepare to leave one set of loved ones and return to another.  I simultaneously can’t wait and can’t bear the thought of it.  Leave, return, home, away: maybe I’ve finally become the migrating bird I’ve dreamt of being.

See you soon, Texas.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 5


On Christmas Eve Day, I confess to you that I am waiting for more gifts to arrive at our doorstep.  I feel like one of those people.  Friends, this is what happens when you don’t start thinking about Christmas until the middle of December.

But today, in lieu of links or deep thoughts of my own, I want to share an excerpt from the book I’m reading now, Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein.  It is the sister book to Saved by Ben Hewitt; indeed, much of Hewitt’s writing in Saved is inspired by ideas from Sacred Economics.  My friends and I are having an unofficial book club for this book, which is the best kind of book club in my opinion.

I’m going to take some liberties with this excerpt by changing the order a bit.  So here we go: a few thoughts on abundance and scarcity, on Christmas Eve, from Sacred Economics.

Economics, it says on page one of textbooks, is the study of human behavior under conditions of scarcity.  The expansion of the economic realm is therefore the expansion of scarcity, its incursion into areas of life once characterized by abundance.  Economic behavior, particularly the exchange of money for goods, extends today into realms that were never before the subject of money exchanges.  [Here, Eisenstein offers two examples: bottled water and childcare, both of which are commodified forms of things that have been abundant in human societies in the recent past.]

* * *

Amidst superabundance, even we in rich countries live in omnipresent anxiety, craving “financial security” as we try to keep scarcity at bay.  We make choices (even those having nothing to do with money) according to what we can “afford,” and we commonly associate freedom with wealth.  But when we pursue it, we find that the paradise of financial freedom is a mirage, receding as we approach it, and that the chase itself enslaves.  The anxiety is always there, the scarcity always just one disaster away.  We call that chase greed.  Truly, it is a response to the perception of scarcity.

For me thus far, reading Sacred Economics is Charles Eisenstein attaching words to feelings that have haunted me for much of my life.  He takes the ideas of abundance and gratitude to new heights.  Even just thinking of your life as being full of abundance has the power to shift attitudes, to change hearts and minds.  Monetary abundance is but the lowest form of it.

In keeping with the ideas in Sacred Economics, Eisenstein has made the book available on his website.  It’s a full-length version!  I highly encourage you to check it out.

May your holidays be filled with joy and an abundance of all the best things this life has to offer.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Searching for Christmas

The Christmas spirit has been MIA this year.

I blame it on a year of Too Much.  Too Much of everything, and I’m left wanting nothing but to be at home, petting my kitty, thinking about silence and white walls and the hush of finality.  Instead, the calendar announced “December!” so I boarded a plane, flew north, and landed in the Mitten.  We’ve got snow on the ground here, presents to be wrapped, and a family that is not quite ready for Christmas.  It’s a minor miracle that I even have presents to wrap: I started shopping last week.  I am not kidding.

So today, on Christmas Eve Eve, I went searching for Christmas.  I found it inside, hanging on the tree.  I found it outside, on trees decorated and lit up in the middle of downtown Plymouth.  And I found it in the elves’ workshop, as we wrapped and labeled and bowed and stacked.


Gold Leaf

In the Elves Workshop


I figured that as long as I’m in Michigan for Christmas, I ought to get into the spirit of things.

In my family, we’re doing a smaller Christmas.  For those of us around my age, we picked names and focused our gift-giving powers on one special person.  I know a lot of families do that, and it’s been a long time coming for us.  It was weird to not buy gifts for all my siblings and their partners, but I think this is a change we can all embrace.  Down in Texas, Paul assures me that all of his presents to his family are from us, both of us, and that warms my heart.  I’ve never been part of an “us” that compares at all to Paul and me.  It feels deeply right to me, because he feels deeply right with me.  I’m sad that I won’t be there for his family celebration, but Paul’s family is the one that’s local to us, so we see them much more frequently than I see mine.

It’s been such a turbulent year for me in the best and worst ways.  I wonder if I’ve been struggling to stay present in the moment because I’m just ready for the fresh start that 2014 will bring.  I’m already thinking about new goals, new work, a freshly cleaned apartment, and the chance to begin anew.  I fell far short of reaching all my 2013 goals, but I feel like I learned something valuable from them.  I hope to use those lessons to embrace opportunity when it presents itself.

But before we turn the calendar to 2014, there is Christmas and family and a final ~HURRAH!~ for 2013.  I want to be part of that.  So this is me, recommitting to these final days of the year.  About five more days with family.  One more multi-destination trip, during which I will welcome 2014 in the company of dear friends.  Who knows how many moments to live that old cliché: they call it the present because it’s a gift.

Merry days to you and yours, dear readers.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tuesday High Five, Copycatted!

I'm Ready to be Packed{Lucy is ready to be tucked into a suitcase for our weekend trip.}

Last Friday, Chrissy posted her Friday High Five, and I immediately started writing a copycat post.  Then my to-do list intervened, and Paul and I left town, and whoosh, it’s Tuesday and I still haven’t finished my post!  So today I bring you Tuesday High Five, with a nod toward Chrissy and the inspiration.

I’ve been feeling a bit absent from this space in the sense that I haven’t been writing about what’s happening in my life.  That feels wrong to me because this is a personal blog.  I want to give you a few glimpses into what’s up these days.

{1}  Today Friday I began the bureaucratic process of starting a new job.  Yes, A NEW JOB!  ANUSTART!*  I’ve decided to work part-time in a honeybee lab in the Entomology department here on campus.  It’s actually in a friend’s lab, so she and I will be forming a professional relationship in addition to our personal one.

* Sorry, I couldn’t find a good ANUSTART clip. So how about a montage instead?

{2}  In addition to my part-time job, I have started working as a private tutor for biology and writing students.  It’s been great so far!  My first students found me last month through a tutoring site called WyzAnt Tutoring.  The site does some of the work of vetting tutors and it takes care of the billing painlessly—in exchange for a cut of my tutoring rate.  For me, as I’m starting out, I think it’s worth it.  I’ve also been posting ads on Craigslist to advertise my services, but so far, all I’ve gotten are spammy responses.  What’s great is that when I do receive spammy-sounding responses, on the off-chance that they are legitimate, I can just refer them to my WyzAnt profile.  It’s much safer for me that way.  I’m pretty pleased with that solution to the Craigslist dilemma.

{3}  Over the weekend, Paul and I visited his parents at their new house.  For the first time, I saw a photo of Paul’s dad, taken when he was a bit younger than we are now.  Paul’s dad, John, passed away when Paul was a little boy, so I will never know him.  It’s sad to think that that connection is now lost to us forever.  But in the photo, the resemblance between Paul and John was unmistakable.  What’s even sweeter is listening to Paul’s mom, Pam, tell the story of falling in love with John.  They met over computers and felt an immediate spark; they married six weeks later.  They were together for seven years before John passed away.

Pam and I talked about character, about how sometimes you meet a person and they are honest and kind and genuine.  They are exactly who they appear to be, and it’s easy to trust them because they just seem so pure of heart.  That’s how Pam felt about John, and it’s how I feel about Paul now.  So it seems to me that Paul has more in common with his dad than just his dashing good looks.

{4}  Part of our weekend trip was a drive over to Galveston for the Moody Gardens Festival of Lights.  Paul and I are not religious, so we’re feeling our way through the Christmas season, trying to decide if and how we want to celebrate it.  I’ve always loved holiday lights, and to me, it feels appropriate during this season of darkness on my part of Earth.  The festival was lovely and low-key, and we both enjoyed strolling through the exhibit.


Snail at Moody Gardens

{5}  Paul made his now-famous tofu migas recipe for his mom, and she loved it.  She was really open-minded about the tofu and other vegetarian ingredients and cooking tricks.  I think the next time we visit his parents, we’ll make a Middle Eastern-influenced dinner.  I can’t wait to share that with them!  I felt very loved and welcome in their house, which is just about the best feeling in the world.

I’ll be sharing Paul’s migas recipe soon.  He’s gotten several recipe requests, and he even let me photograph him making it a few months ago.      

{BONUS}  The winner of last week’s Saved giveaway is my dear blog friend Chrissy!  Huzzah!  Chrissy, I’m going to drop that book in the mail for you this week.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Full Moon Behind Tree{There was a full moon that followed us on our drive back to College Station.}

Have a great week, y’all!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 4

Of course, of course: just when you shouldn’t be spending money, you find temptation everywhere.  Or is it just me?  (Sidenote: my apologies that this post is a day late.  I got caught up in talking to a friend yesterday, and the time just slipped away from me.)

This week, I have a mix of links, but our main focus is legs!

* I love this old post on Academichic about colored tights.  I’ve been washing all my tights to get them ready for action.  Last year, I bought a red pair, and I’m hoping to make good use of them this winter.

* I love the idea of grey boots, and these are pretty cute.  My sister pointed out that they would look awesome with colored tights, and I agree.

Nolan grey boots _cropped

{Screen shot from}

* I also like these dark grey “river gloves.”  The good/bad news about having a camping boyfriend is that you start buying things because you think, “That would be PERFECT for camping!”  Both the boots and the river gloves are vegan, too—made from synthetic materials instead of a dead animal’s skin.

River glove shoes_cropped

{Screen shot from}

* Speaking of camping (sort of), I just started watching Alaska: The Final Frontier.  It’s about the Kilcher family.  They live off the land on the coastline of southern Alaska, and it’s pretty fascinating.  (It’s heartbreaking, too, if you’re inclined toward compassion for non-human animals.  But I won’t spoil any plotlines here.)  Paul dreams of “living free” by living off the land, so this show reminds me of him.  Except I don’t think he’s planning to move to Alaska for his dream!  You can watch snippets of the show here; it’s also available for live streaming on Netflix.

Also, you’ve probably heard of one member of the Kilcher family: the singer/songwriter Jewel!

* I like Ashley’s series on automatic healthy eating.  I’ve been using a lot of frozen vegetables; they’re just so easy to keep around and throw in a pan when you’re ready to make dinner. 

(These days, I dream of having the time to make more elaborate meals at home.  But I did bake cookies over the weekend, so that feels like a win!)

That’s it for today.  Don’t forget about the Saved giveaway!  I hope to be back later this week with a newsy post about what I’m doing these days.

Happy Hump Day, friends! 

Monday, December 9, 2013

“the richness of interconnectedness” (plus a giveaway!)

Red Leaves Above

Ah, hello!  I didn’t mean to disappear on you last week.  It was my final week in my second postdoc job (which I wrote about here, but things took a tragic turn—more later).  As you all know, I have a tendency to ramble, and I’d really like to get the show on the road with a giveaway that I’ve had up my sleeve for—oh, I don’t know—FOUR MONTHS.  Ridiculous.

(You’ll be glad to know that whenever the topic of this giveaway comes up, Paul lovingly mocks me.  Hey, I’m an idea person, not a “get all the things done” person.  Maybe I just need a personal assistant…who is willing to work for free…)

Here’s the deal.  Several months ago, I was inspired to give away a copy of Saved by Ben Hewitt on this blog.  I wrote to Ben, and he let me purchase a signed copy of his book, which has now been in my possession for too long.  It’s not a stretch to say that this book changed my perspective on money.  My relationship with wealth is evolving in positive ways, and I do believe it is opening the door to a more authentic way of living.  One paragraph has lingered in my memory.  Today I share it with you.

Over the past century or so, and perhaps longer, we have been taught that to rely on others is to be weak and incapable.  The notion that we should be dependent on one another is almost antithetical to contemporary American expectations of autonomy and independence.  But in truth it is that autonomy that exploits and, irony of ironies, turns us all into dependents of the very arrangements that profess to offer independence.  It exploits our resource base, because it depends on each of us owning the raw materials that enable us to shun one another.  But even more profoundly, it exploits us, because it deprives us of the opportunity to experience the richness of interconnectedness and the meaningful relationships it gives rise to.  By striving to achieve the American ideal of personal independence, we wind up not just independent, but isolated. 

Powerful stuff, no?  There is so much to say here, but I think I’ll save my thoughts for a review of the book, which Chrissy suggested I write.  For now, if you’d like to win that signed copy of Saved, leave a comment below.  Tell me anything!  I’d love to hear what’s going on with you these days.

I’ll pick a winner in one week and send the book out before I fly north for the holidays.  And if you’re inspired to buy a copy of Saved (perhaps as a gift?), you can do so and support this blog by clicking here.

Thank you and good luck!

PS  I plan to be back tomorrow with another volume of “This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism.”  Yay!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 3

It’s that time of the week, dear readers!  And what better week to think about thoughtful consumerism than that of our American Thanksgiving and its insane sidekick, Black Friday?  Paul tells me that we’ll be heading out at 10 PM on Thursday to get in line for Black Friday.

(Or maybe not.  Maybe we’ll just be hanging out with friends, fat and happy after a Thanksgiving feast.)

This week’s set of links will be a mix of old and new.  I didn’t find a ton of new stuff to share here, but I have many old favorites that deserve to be mentioned in this series.  We’ll just dip into them as we go.  I also want to mention that none of this content has been sponsored.  I am open to sponsors (as you can see on my sidebar), and one of the companies below has sponsored this blog in the past, but my fondness for them goes way beyond a sponsorship.  Like many people who publish content on the internet, I’m feeling my way through the process.  I hope that’s okay with you.

Okay, enough yammering.  Onto the links!

* Over at the newly renamed Art of Simple, Tsh has published an Ethical Shopping Guide.  Be warned: it’s HUGE!  I’m hoping to publish a much smaller list myself—I figure we can use all the information about this topic that we can get.

* One on-line shop that isn’t on Tsh’s list is Five Bamboo, maker of excellent bamboo clothing.  I’ve written about them before, and they are still a favorite company of mine.  I think their ballerina dress would make an awesome fall/winter little black dress.  (I’ve been on the market for a cold-weather LBD for a long time.  But since I live in Texas, it’s too easy to ignore the cold-weather wishlist, until this week when it’s suddenly 40-something degrees and COLD!)   

* Do you support employee-owned companies?  I think it’s a pretty awesome model for “working for yourself” but together with others.  A large scale version of working for yourself!  One employee-owned company that always comes to mind for me is King Arthur Flour.  I buy their flours whenever I can.  Let the holiday baking commence! 

* Let’s keep the podcast love going from last week.  Angelo Coppola has been knocking it out of the park on his podcast, Latest in Paleo.  Now, I know it can sound shocking for a vegetarian to recommend a paleo-themed podcast, but Angelo’s show is about real food and basic human health.  I find that I have a lot in common with his perspective on life.  And quite frankly, nobody reports health and nutrition news with as much humor and panache as Angelo.  Recently, the American Heart Association changed its recommendations for who should be taking statin drugs.  On the last few episodes, Angelo has been taking the AHA to task for their negligence and blatant corporate sponsorship from companies like Coca-Cola, makers of heart-healthy high-sugar beverages.  (Wait, that’s not right…)  I enjoy Latest in Paleo so, so much—Angelo’s messages about marketing and consumerism will make you think.

To my American readers, happy Thanksgiving and as always, thank you for reading.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 2

Hey, hey!  It’s another volume of This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism.  This week: links about time, health, money, and oh yeah, a whirlwind wedding.  (No, not mine.)

For the first volume in the series, click on over to this post. 

* I love posts that remind us of simple truths about how we spend our time.  I need those reminders this month.  Don’t know where to start when you’re staring at a mountain of work?  How about doing the thing in front of you?  Or you could just wash your bowl.  That works too.

* I am about to be an Obamacare customer.  Before the end of the year, I will be laid off from my current position because someone made an accounting error that will cost me my job.  Right now, the idea of having health insurance that is both affordable and not tied to a particular job is very, very appealing to me.  Paul shared this article on his Facebook feed, and it made me cry.  I’ll share an excerpt here with you:

There’s a popular myth that the uninsured—in Texas, that’s 25 percent of us—can always get medical care through emergency rooms. Ted Cruz has argued that it is “much cheaper to provide emergency care than it is to expand Medicaid,” and Rick Perry has claimed that Texans prefer the ER system. The myth is based on a 1986 federal law called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which states that hospitals with emergency rooms have to accept and stabilize patients who are in labor or who have an acute medical condition that threatens life or limb. That word “stabilize” is key: Hospital ERs don’t have to treat you. They just have to patch you up to the point where you’re not actively dying. Also, hospitals charge for ER care, and usually send patients to collections when they cannot pay.

It breaks my heart.  But we can and we are doing something about it.  That’s why I am a liberal, perhaps even a socialist.  (Gasp!)  (That didn’t actually surprise you now, did it?)

* I’m becoming a bit of an entrepreneur by tiptoeing into the world of private tutoring.  So far, I have two clients, and it’s been great.  I’ve been listening to a podcast, The Suitcase Entrepreneur, that lets me dream big dreams about being my own boss.  (Episode 58 was exactly what I needed to hear when I first hung out my shingle for tutoring.  Recommended listening.  The podcast has its own page here.)  Recently, Kate Northrup was a guest on the podcast.  Her book’s title, Money, A Love Story, kinda turned me off at first because it sounds so blatantly materialistic or like she has equated money with value (they are not the same—a house that no one will buy can still provide shelter to a person in need).  But the more I listened to Kate’s interview, the more intrigued I was by her perspective.  So I might add the book to my wish list.

* For more on that money/value thing, you must read Saved by Ben Hewitt.  More about that book soon.  (Talk about things that have been languishing on my to-do list—I’ve been meaning to say more about Saved since August.  August!  Gah!)

* Let’s end on a more lighthearted note.  Check out this comparison of prices between a traditional wedding and a whirlwind wedding.  I think I know which kind I might want to plan!  Infographic is courtesy of Simply Bridal.  Hop on over to check them out!  They have pretty jewelry.  (FYI: this post was not sponsored by them.  I just like the inforgraphic.)



Saturday, November 16, 2013

Chocolate and Defiance

A Birthday Cake for Paul

If there is one thing you should learn from this post, it’s that a good peanut butter frosting can hide a multitude of sins.

A few weeks ago, we celebrated Paul’s 30th birthday, and it was terrific.  Five of us went out for sushi at one of our favorite restaurants (Kamei Sushi & Grill), where we drank sake and ate sushi and sukiyaki.  Afterward, we headed back to Paul’s house to eat cake and play Scrabble.  I hear that after I went to bed (such an old lady I am!), there was Scotch-drinking, a fun game of 4D Connect Four, and a pizza-sized cookie.  And the next morning, Paul made his signature vegan migas for breakfast, we watched China, IL (so funny, but definitely an adults-only cartoon!), and Paul had a slice of cake for breakfast dessert.

After the birthday weekend, Paul and I stayed at his sister’s house for a night, where there was plenty of Halloween candy left for the taking.  Every time he would eat a piece, he would sort of stare at me with this funny look on his face.  It was inscrutable to me at first, the way he would catch my eye and hold it, like we were playing a game of chicken and he was daring me to look away.  Suddenly, the name for his expression popped into my head: defiance.  He was looking at me defiantly, and why was that?  “You’re judging me,” he said, only half joking.  “You’re judging me for eating junk food.”  Then he stuffed another piece of candy in his mouth.

To which I replied with laughter, “No, I’m not!  I’m the one who baked you a birthday cake, remember?”

As a couple, Paul and I have a very happy relationship with food.  We both love to eat.  For the first time ever, I’m dating someone who prefers to eat vegetarian food, and I have to say, it is awesome.  I love being able to try everything we order when we eat out, and I love that Paul is open to eating just about anything I cook at home.  We eat a lot of Asian and Middle Eastern food; we like exotic tastes and interesting textures.  The main difference between us?  One of us lost 100 pounds and would like to keep his newly remodeled body in good shape.

Paul lost those 100 pounds before he and I ever met, so I have only known him in his sleeker form.  As his new girlfriend, I didn’t know what to expect.  Did he adhere to a strict diet?  Was he nervous about keeping the weight off?  Would the constant parade of cookies dancing out of my oven bother him?  Would my fast metabolism make him envious?

Would he expect me to change my cooking and eating habits for him?

My worries, it turned out, were just worries.  While Paul pays attention to how his clothes fit, he is hardly fanatical about his diet.  I like to cook healthfully because it’s my preference.  That means when we eat together, our meals are filled with vegetables and spices and protein.  We eat very well.  And occasionally, we eat cake together.  Early on, when I was still feeling cautious about food with him, I told Paul that I couldn’t and wouldn’t be the food police in our relationship.  If he wanted to eat sweets or shall we say, less nutritious food, it was his choice.  I was not in charge of his eating habits.  And along with that, I don’t judge him based on his food choices.  Which is why his defiant candy consumption was so funny, so very Paul.  Realistically, some of the weight he lost might come back.  I hope it doesn’t, for practical reasons like the tuxedo that he had custom-made for his ballroom dance competitions.

Tails Make Paul Want to Twirl{Tails make Paul want to twirl!}

It’s always the tuxedo that makes him nervous about weight gain.  But me?  I am trying not to be nervous about change in general.  There is a lot I’m anxious about these days, but Paul’s weight is not one of them.

So with chocolate and love I baked Paul a cake for his birthday.  It gave me a great excuse to dust off an old recipe that I’d loved once before, but this time we tried something new: a handful of chocolate chips tossed into the batter before baking.  It seemed like a great idea.  My Bundt pan disagreed: I had to pry my lovely cake out of the pan.  The chocolate chips had sunk to the bottom of the pan and glued themselves to it.  Normally, it’s easy to slip this cake out of its pan, but because the batter is thin, the chocolate chips didn’t stay suspended in batter.  They became little chocolate pebbles in a sea of cake batter, sinking to the bottom of the seafloor.

I was so sad to see my ugly deformed cake.  On top of that, I felt a little panicky about presenting it to other people.  That’s when I had the brilliant idea to just use the peanut butter glaze to hide the destruction.  I had already planned to glaze the cake, but now it felt essential.  After the cake cooled, I whipped up a simple peanut butter glaze and spooned it generously over the top, like winter snow drifting over mountainsides.  It was quite lovely, if I do say so myself.  

From the Top      

And to top it all off, I sprinkled some more chocolate chips.  Festive and a bit rustic, that cake was.  And despite the mishaps, it was delicious and appreciated.  Even the bits that stuck to the pan were devoured by me.  Cook’s treat!  As my mom always says, the broken cookies don’t have any calories.  That’s also true for the bits of cake that stick to the pan.

Happy baking, friends.

PS  A good-looking Bundt cake, fresh out of its pan.

Black Mocha Cake with Peanut Butter Glaze or Paul’s Birthday Cake

Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts and Nigella Express

Serves a small crowd (12-16, according to the book authors)

Be not alarmed by my mishap above.  Like I said, the first time I made this cake, everything went beautifully.  The only suggestion I would make is that if you bake it as a Bundt cake, it takes closer to 45-55 minutes, not the 30-35 minutes that the authors suggest.  Testing this cake for doneness with a butter knife is a reliable method here.

For the cake:

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups sugar

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1/2 cup peanut oil

1 cup fresh strong coffee at room temperature

1 cup soymilk (or buttermilk or yogurt)

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1)  Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F.  Grease a Bundt pan thoroughly.

2)  In a large mixing bowl, stir together the cocoa powder, sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  In another mixing bowl, beat together the oil, coffee, soymilk, eggs, and vanilla.

3)  Add half of the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until smooth.  Repeat with the remaining half.

4)  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  (The batter will be thin here.)  Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a butter knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.

5)  Let the cake cool in its pan on a wire rack, then place a plate on top of the pan, invert the pan, and gently shake the cake out of its pan.  If it won’t come out, run a butter knife around the edges to loosen it and try to shake it out onto a plate.  It should slide out pretty easily.

For the peanut butter glaze:

1/2 cup soymilk

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (natural brands are fine here)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

A handful of chocolate chips

1)  In a small saucepan, heat the soymilk, peanut butter, and sugar over low heat.  Stir frequently.  Don’t be alarmed when the mixture looks grainy; the glaze will come together with time.

2)  Stir until the glaze has a smooth, creamy texture.  Take it off the heat, add the vanilla, and spoon it over the cooled cake.  Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the glaze to decorate the cake.  A quick word about the chocolate chips: mine bloomed (turned unevenly beige-ish) after they were on the cake, probably from the heat of the glaze.  If you want, you can wait for the glaze to cool and then sprinkle on the chips to avoid chocolate bloom.  Blooming doesn’t affect the taste, but it does look a bit less attractive.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 1

Welcome to the first volume of This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism!  I’m hoping to make this a weekly (or close-to-weekly) feature on the blog.  I’ll gather a handful of links to pieces about consumerism that made me think.  And sometimes, like today, I’ll also tell a story or two about my recent adventures in thoughtful consumerism.

The links will be a mix of old and newer stuff.  Just because something is a little older doesn’t make it less valuable or insightful!  Oldies are goodies, I say.

Onto the links!

Newer stuff:

* At Already Pretty, Sally started a discussion about how social media influence our shopping and dressing habits.  I found the comments fascinating!

* What do you think about Lululemon’s clothing quality?  And why does Chip Wilson look like he just ate a lemon in every photo?

Older stuff:

* I’m not sure if I’m heading into “austerity measures!” territory, but this post of Chrissy’s is a classic in my book. 

* There’s been a flurry of closet inventory posts around the style blogworld.  I don’t know about you, but I’m fascinated by people’s shopping and closet habits.  Here’s one from AJ and another one from Kimmie.  Style bloggers on the whole are not minimalists, but I do admire their courage to confront (and document!) their consumerism head-on.

And now, two stories from me!

* First, nothing beats hand-me-downs from your stylish sister.  I love these wedges she gave me!

November 4 2013 Rice Competition 025

Cute and comfortable!  I used to dislike the look of wedges, but now I’m quite fond of them.  When we were looking through the items that Theresa was going to purge, she cautioned me, “Now, don’t take anything that you’re not going to wear.”  I think she’d be pleased to know that I’ve worn these wedges at least half a dozen times in the last few weeks.

* And a story about not-so-thoughtful consumerism.  As you may know, Paul and I are vegetarians, and this applies to eating out as well as cooking at home.  After his dance competition in Houston, we went to the cutest café called Ruggles Green.  We were trying to sneak our dinner order into the kitchen before they closed at 10 PM, so we rushed through our plan without a close reading of the menu.  They serve an appetizer called hempanadas, and we figured that with a name like that, they must be vegetarian!  WRONG.  The hempanadas are made with a beefy filling.  (I would like to point out, though, that beef is the final ingredient listed for the filling.  In hindsight, I’m not terribly surprised that we missed it.)  Anyway, so the hempanadas arrived and Paul discovered they were made with beef, and I was terribly embarrassed.  I don’t usually make that kind of rookie mistake when it comes to eating out, but there I was.  There we were.  And you know what?  We ate them.  Because the mistake was on us, and I had to own that fact.  Paul kept offering to eat them so I wouldn’t have to, but we ended up splitting them.  Saving grace: the two sauces that came with them were awesome.  We used them as dipping sauces for the nut burger Paul ordered, and the combination was delicious.

I told that story to some friends, and one of them asked, “Well, were they worth it?  Were they delicious?”  I think what she was really trying to ask is whether beef tastes great to me, since it’s a forbidden delicacy.  And the truth is that beef is not a very exciting meat to me.  I loved the sauces that came with our hempanadas, but I was too embarrassed by our mistake to enjoy the hempanadas themselves.  Truly, I prefer beans or tofu or vegetables to beef.

Have you read any good stories lately that fall into the thoughtful consumerism category?  Feel free to share them in the links!

PS  I have not forgotten about that chocolate cake recipe I owe you.  This weekend, I promise, I will share.  So busy all the time…

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Snark Fail

Have you ever written a blog post only to have it fall flat on its face?

Yeah, I think that’s what happened with my last post.

I’m a lot snarkier in real life than I am in writer form.  Being funny, in my experience, is not an easy task to pull off in written form.  Or maybe I’m just a tough customer, because a lot of things that other people say are “so funny” don’t make me laugh out loud.  Paul would probably tell you that I think I’m funnier than I really am; he often accuses me of making “Mom jokes.”  Guilty as charged!

Anyway, so back to the subject of that last post: spending all my free time with Paul.  The truth is that I am feeling a mix of emotions about our time together, but the prevailing feeling is one of happiness.  I feel a bit guilty about our time together, as I have so many other things that I probably should be doing, including job applications, blogging, and catching up around my apartment.  My should list is long, but being with him feels so good and so right that I kinda push those shoulds to the side so that we can be together.

To be fair, we have been out of town a lot: at least two weekends a month for the last three months, including this one.  I can be a lot more productive and spend time with Paul if our travel schedule slows down, which it might (perhaps?) in December or January.  It’s really the travel that is sucking up all my time.  The irony is that we are both self-professed homebodies!  We love cooking together and staying in to watch our shows.  I love slowing down with him.

Paul and I are coming up on nine months together this week.  I get kinda teary-eyed when I think about it.  Meeting him was the single best thing that happened to me this year, and I can’t really imagine my life without him now.  Have you ever heard someone say, “When you know, you know?”  Meaning that when the time and the relationship are right, you don’t need to spend your time hemming and hawing over whether you’ve found a life companion.  You just know.  That is how I feel about Paul, and as much as I am a skeptic about everything, I don’t feel skeptical about us.  I just feel right.

I may be snarky about my unfinished to-do list, but my gratitude for love runs deep.  Outwardly pragmatic but secretly romantic, I am a very lucky lady.

Found Heart

Monday, November 4, 2013

Gone Boyfriending

Nice Glasses!

I have officially turned into that person I never wanted to be: the girl who spends all her free time with her boyfriend.

I’m not exactly the stereotype of dependent, clingy, no-life girlfriend.  It’s just that most of my weekends have been spent elsewhere with Paul, and all this travel and boyfriending is cutting into my blogging time!  To top it off, when I think about what I want to write, it’s all about my adventures…with my boyfriend.

Oh boy.

But I have good news.  The first is that yesterday I went to a wedding shower by myself, and it was great.  I ate cake, drank sangria, caught up with old friends, and chatted with new people.  I rode my bike there and enjoyed the time alone on two wheels.  The second is that I have no travel on the calendar until Thanksgiving, when we (yes, “we” again!) go to Houston for a kick-ass, completely non-traditional Tex-Mex feast that my friend Courtney is making.

And there’s more good news: I’m about halfway done with my post about Paul’s birthday cake, and there will even be a recipe.  A recipe!  From me!  The retired food blogger!

Until then, happy November, friends!

PS  Cheers to Paul’s best friend Tim, who coined the word “girlfriending” to describe how he has been spending his time.  It’s adorable.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Feels Like Running

Bib Plus Medal

Hey, hey!  I’m alive!

My apologies for my unannounced break from this space.  I thought I’d stop by to say hello and point you toward my other blog, where I just wrote about running my first marathon and what an adventure that was.  It was an amazing day; I’m still glowing about it.  And if you want to read about the ups and downs of training for a marathon in summertime Texas, I’ll be updating this training archive page soon.

In other news, we just celebrated Paul’s 30th birthday with friends and sushi and games and this chocolate cake, which I will tell you about ASAP, I promise.  He said it was one of the best birthdays he’s had in a while, which made me happy.  (He makes me happy.)  And in other other news, I’m back on the job market earlier than expected, which I will also tell you about soon.  Man, this year—it’s giving me whiplash.  I’m hoping to slow down a bit in November, to savor things for a while.  Things like the Cranberry-Pecan Cinnamon Rolls in the newest issue of EatingWell.  Things like my 32nd birthday, which is less than a month away.  Things like the light in late autumn Texas, which is so heartbreakingly beautiful that time just stops when I go for a walk in the late afternoon.

There’s so much to tell you, dear reader.  We’ll start with cake.

Until then, have a great week!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Postcard from Last Thursday Night

Thursday Night Appetizers

Love is attending two out-of-town weddings in two weeks for your beloved.  Paul and I just finished our October wedding circuit, which I hope to tell you about soon because it was fun.  Hectic, yes, but a lot of fun.

Before we left for the second wedding, we had a wonderful, relaxing date night.  Paul built a fire, I chopped vegetables, and we cooked a dinner wrapped in foil over hot coals.  While our rustic dinner sizzled outside, we ate pan-seared cheese and drank wine.  I got a little tipsy, and the stresses of the week receded away.  We watched our standard date night show (30 Rock), and when dinner was finally ready, we dug into it with our sporks and ate every last bite.

(Yup, those are sporks up there in that photo.  Paul is a spork evangelist, and he converted me.)

Life has been busier than ever but so, so good.  I hope you are well too, dear reader.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How Things Are Going

Pedernales Falls in Autumn{The view from a weekend trip to Pedernales Falls State Park}

I wanted to title this post “Why I Decided to do a Second Postdoc,” but I felt like that would imply too much intentionality.  It was never my plan to do a second postdoc.  For a long time, I was dead set against it.  For the record, as a grad student, I didn’t think I would do a first postdoc.  Oh, but what humble plans we make!

To be really honest, I tend to have a “work is work” attitude toward my own scientific pursuits.  This thread has run through the years as I’ve moved from graduate school to my first postdoc to my second postdoc.  Part of this attitude is that I come from a blue-collar background: I grew up in a lower middle-class family in a modest town.  My parents are very smart and college-educated, but they are not romantic about their work.  Work is work.  The other piece of the puzzle here is that for most grad students and postdocs, the bulk of the “work” they do as scientists is labor, plain and simple.  Animal work, molecular biology, behavioral assays, biochemistry—all of these entail an enormous amount of labor that somebody’s got to do if the science is going to get done.  Graduate and postdoc work is usually couched in terms of “training,” but at some point, you’ve handled enough fruit flies and done enough PCR that it’s not training any more.  You’re a damn expert, and running another PCR reaction is just work.

But I love—LOVE!—learning and becoming proficient at new skills.  I really do.  Pursuing science isn’t really non-stop learning so much as it is a lot of WORK and some learning.  My new job involves both.  The learning part is the fun part, and it is the part of this job that I enjoy the most.

My new job is not a perfect long-term position for me—I can’t say with any certainty that it’s getting me closer to my mountain*.  I took this job so that I wouldn’t have to move and because I fell in love. I have no regrets about choosing either of those things.  I love my life in Texas. Uprooting myself in search of a job didn’t feel like the right move this year; perhaps I have grown cynical about the idea of a job making me happy. My home and my relationships make me happy.  I have lower expectations for my job, which I’ll talk about in this post.

In the spirit of keeping myself organized here, I’m making a list of my thoughts on the new job.  Starting with the good stuff…

* I love the newness of what I’m doing now.  Truly, I’ve been drinking from the firehose, trying to learn, absorb, and reflect on all the new stuff being thrown at me.  It’s been a lot of fun.

* My work keeps me busy, and I generally feel good about what I have accomplished at the end of the day.  I have enough little projects that I have some success every day.

* My expectations of this position are flexible.  Initially, I thought I’d say that my expectations are lower, but that’s not quite right.  Instead, I see my work in terms of making contributions wherever I can.  I’m doing a mix of animal work, molecular biology, and manuscript-related work.  The variety of my tasks keeps me excited and engaged.

* My boss challenges me to get things done, but I don’t think she’s ever shamed me for not getting something done.  There is, I think, a fine line between dangling the carrot to motivate people and making them feel bad if they fail to meet a deadline or make a result.  My boss has high expectations of her people, for sure, and she expects me to get a lot done.  It can be stressful—sometimes I am stressed—but I’m adjusting to her, and she’s adjusting to me. 

* I will likely have this nice job for about a year, and then…?  The plus side: a job I like for a year.  I’m not sure what happens after that, and I don’t want to speculate too much here.  But I see my position as the chance to learn a lot of cool new stuff, and for the most part, I’m feeling optimistic about the future.  This much I know: I want to write a book, and I want to teach.  What else I’m doing is to be determined.

As for some of the downsides to this job…

* I have to follow a dress code.  My boss’s stance on clothing: 1) no showing cleavage and 2) cover your thighs.  So that means no showing toe, back, or front cleavage.  I generally don’t have too much of a problem dressing for work, but I miss wearing sandals.  Now I can only wear them during my off hours, which gives me sartorial separation between work and the rest of my life.  I’ll admit that it’s kinda nice to have a tangible reminder of the difference between work time and play time.

* Frequency of meetings.  I am attending upwards of four meetings a week, if not more.  This is hard on my introvert self.

* Less time to write.  If you read either of my blogs, you’ve probably noticed that things have been quieter than usual.  The truth is that I just don’t have much time to write these days.  It breaks my heart!  I love writing and miss it so much.  I also have a huge backlog of things I’d like to share here, and I live in hope that I’ll find the time I want and need for writing.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with my work life these days.  This current phase may have an expiration date, so I’m enjoying the experience while it lasts.

* You must watch this speech from Neil Gaiman—I loved it.  My friends and I now talk about our mountains as a metaphor for goals and dreams.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

You Must Watch This Film

Tap, tap, tap.  Is this blog on?

I don’t usually go more than a week without posting, but life is moving fast these days.  Marathon in 17 days, two weddings in the next two weeks, and oh yeah, my day job.  Overwhelmed is my current status.

But rather than say nothing, I thought I’d pop in and say hello.  (Hi!)  I have a film recommendation, which, if you haven’t seen it, will give you chills.  I thought it was incredible.  It filled me with hope and rage at the same time.  Paul and I watched it together.  I think he had seen it before, and topically, it’s something we talk about a lot.  So without further ado, please click on over to watch…

The Lightbulb Conspiracy: Planned Obsolescence

(Scroll down a bit.  The “backup link” version worked for me here in the United States.)

Happy almost-weekend, friends.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

This Week I Am…

Roasted Tomatoes

* roasting tomatoes using the technique from this recipe.  They are delicious!  And you can totally use canned tomatoes if that’s what you have on hand.  That’s what I had on Sunday, and the smell of them in my oven was intoxicating.

* catching up with blog friends and saying hello on their posts.  (Hi, guys!)

* trying to pick recipes from Vegeterranean, which is a lot on the cheffy side for my taste, but maybe I’ll learn something new by moving out of my culinary comfort zone.

* speaking of Vegeterranean, I’m trying to recommit to my streamlined list of 2013 goals.  I feel like I have so much to think about these days!

* still thinking about this post and the idea of using new-to-you things right away or waiting to decide if the new thing should be returned.  I think I want to write about this, but I’m not exactly sure how it fits into thoughtful consumerism.

* enjoying pumpkin spice flavors.  Not in latte form, but in my family’s favorite pumpkin muffins or a bite of Paul’s whole-wheat apple pancakes at Kerbey Lane over the weekend.  (Okay, there was probably no pumpkin in his pancakes, but apples are pumpkin’s fruity fall cousin, right?)

* thinking about how it makes so much sense to me that in relationships, we share responsibility for feelings.  Feelings are dynamic, malleable experiences, influencing and influenced by each other.  People are happier and things go more smoothly when we acknowledge that nurturing a relationship is a shared act of love.  

* Just for fun, how about a fun set of formulas for fall outfits?  Simple and inspiring.

Happy Hump Day, everyone!

Friday, September 20, 2013

“The open road still softly calls…”

Truthfully, it’s probably a bad idea to start reading a Carl Sagan book on the bus on a Wednesday morning.  You will want nothing more than to find the nearest cozy nook where you can devour the book and sink into a kind of imaginative reverie, thinking about the discovery of new worlds, the Big Bang, and the edge of the universe.

I just started reading Pale Blue Dot, and coincidentally, Paul and I are heading to Austin this weekend for some fun and friends in that lively city.  I’m excited to hit the road for some new adventures, and this passage from Pale Blue Dot reminded me of that sense of happy anticipation before a trip.

For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled.  Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten.  The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood.  We invest far-off places with a certain romance.  This appeal, I suspect, has been meticulously crafted by natural selection as an essential element in our survival.  Long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game—none of them lasts forever.  It is beyond our powers to predict the future.  Catastrophic events have a way of sneaking up on us, of catching us unaware.  Your own life, or your band’s, or even your species’ might be owed to a restless few—drawn, by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand, to undiscovered lands and new worlds.

Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, spoke for wanderers in all epochs and meridians: “I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote.  I love to sail forbidden seas…”

En Route to Routt National Forest{On the road and into the mountains in Colorado}

Happy weekend!

Sunday, September 15, 2013


A while back, Kate hinted that she’s got some ssb (secret single behavior) that might be carefully stowed away, now that she and her fiancé are living together.  Kate and I have many things in common; most relevant for this discussion is that we have lived alone for a long time, about ten years for each of us!  That’s a long time to develop the perfect repertoire of ssb.  I’m somewhere between living alone and living with another person.  Paul and I are talking about living together in the vague future, and he is, ever so slowly, leaving things behind in my apartment.  I currently have in my possession one sewing machine, one toothbrush, and several chargers for various gadgets.  He thinks he’s being stealthy about this, but I’m totally onto his plan: move in so slowly and gradually that I won’t even notice it.

And you know, there is something to be said for a gradual transition.  There are little things he does that make me feel like he lives here, and I just melt with happiness.  The other night, we were making dinner, and he stepped outside to pick some fresh rosemary for the oven fries.  He didn’t say anything, he just did it, and I loved that.  Mi casa es su casa.  My herb garden is your herb garden.  There’s no need to ask.

That being said, I’ve got my own ssb—things I tend not to do when he’s around.  Maybe this will change with time, but for now, there’s still a curtain between my home-alone behavior and my home-together behavior.  For example, when I’m home alone:

* I usually don’t close bathroom doors, because why?  Ain’t nobody here but the cat, and she gets upset about closed doors.

* I like to dance badly.  Paul would probably enjoy seeing this, because it would make him laugh, but I’m shy about it.

* On weekends, I like to wear my pajamas until the afternoon.  It’s about 2:30 PM on a Saturday as I’m typing this, and I’m wearing a big t-shirt and my glasses.  So sexy!

* I like to be alone.  This is the thing that worries me most about living with a partner: that I’ll never have the house to myself again.  Paul and I have talked about it a little bit, and to be honest, this is something that we both worry about.  Still, I have hope that we’ll work it out.  I am sure we are not the first pair of introverts to contemplate the challenges of living together.

* I listen to podcasts or music nearly nonstop.  I don’t do this when Paul is around.

* I eat many of my meals in front of the computer.  But I also enjoy eating a meal with Paul or friends, away from the computer.

* I like to spend weekend mornings reading and puttering on the computer.  It’s one of my favorite ways to relax.

And then there’s my ssb outside of the house:

* When I’m stressed and in need of relaxation, I like to browse at stores.  My favorites are Pier One, Target, or Old Navy.

* This isn’t really shameful, but eating out alone is another way I relax.  I spend so much of my time cooking and cleaning up after meals that letting someone else do that work feels like a wonderful, yet relatively cheap, indulgence.  A tip from Paul: if you happen to live in a town with a Freebirds (hello, fellow College Station dwellers!), order the vegetarian nachos and you will get a boatload of food for about five bucks.  Seriously, I did this the other night, and it was like getting rice ‘n’ beans, a salad, and fresh chips all in one very inexpensive meal.  Usually I get a burrito at Freebird’s, but I may be a convert to the nachos.  It was life-changing!

So what about you?  Do you have any secret single behavior you want to share?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Postscript

Recently this article showed up in my snail mailbox.  I read it and then got fed up with it.  The problems of privileged women are just not very compelling to me, perhaps because most women, as one commenter put it, “have to make do” with what we have.  In an article that overflows with the dilemma of choice, it is important to remember that most of us do not have unlimited choice, because most of us are not wealthy enough to fund all those choices.

But there was one part that I thought was applicable to all woman.  Even the ones who don’t date men:

Both genders need to be more forthright in discussing the obstacles that women face. All too often, women are scared of raising the topic of gender with men, thinking it will brand them as radicals or troublemakers, while men are terrified of saying or doing anything that might classify them as politically incorrect. The result is that no one says anything productive at all.

Pardon the self-congratulations, but this is exactly what I did with Paul when we started dating.  We have an on-going conversation about what we want in life, as individuals and as a couple.  I think the gender discussion has given us both permission to reach for a higher level of honesty.  Rather than assume, we ask.  I delight in our gender role non-conformity.  Paul wants to be a stay-at-home dad some day.  I’m okay with being the primary wage-earner because I enjoy my work so much.  Paul is an emotionally expressive feminist man.  I am a feminist in part because I want men to be free to show their feelings without fear of patriarchal judgment from anyone.

When we start to worry about saying something that’s not politically correct, I think we set that worry aside so that we can communicate an idea.  Maybe it’s a half-baked idea, maybe it is offensive or politically incorrect.  But within the context of an intimate relationship, I think it’s more important to keep the lines of communication open than to be perfectly articulate all the time.  That strategy works for us.  It works because we trust each other and because we don’t expect flawless behavior.

Which brings me back to the most important point: I am grateful that our discussions about feminism let me dispel any myths about my own superwoman status.  Superwoman I am not, nor do I ever plan to be.  I don’t want to do it all.  I want to do enough to build a happy, fulfilling life.  What exactly that means is something I am still figuring out.

We are figuring it out.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Mom and Her Four Kids

It is days like today that I wish I believed in a god.

My brother Scott would have been 35 today.  He’s gone now, having passed away almost a year ago on October 7, 2012.  Yesterday was eleven months since his death.

Scott’s memory pings me at random interludes.  I don’t cry every day; the worst of my grief seems to have faded.  I thought about Scott when I was in Albuquerque—how unfair it was that I was healthy and able to travel, while Scott had been saddled with bipolar disorder, unable to count on the stability of his own body as he moved through the world.  But he did move through the world; he lived all over the place during his four-plus years as a Marine.  Being a Marine was one of the proudest experiences of Scott’s life, and I’m grateful he was able to serve.  It’s hard to know what military life was like for him with his bipolar disorder.  Within my family, we don’t agree on how the military affected his mental health.  For me, knowing it was something he wanted and was able to achieve seems like its own measure of worth.

He’s been on my mind for the past week, with his birthday and death anniversary so close on the calendar.  When I think back now on Scott’s life and death, I feel grateful for my family.  We are a family that nurtures individuality, and I am glad that each member of my family had their own relationship with Scott.  It is through those other relationships that I came to know him better, that I was able to better understand him.  I feel a lot of regret for things that went unsaid, for the apologies and forgivenesses that we never uttered aloud.  More than once have I wished I could reach back in time to say and do more.  Do I believe I could have saved him from suicide?  No.  I have to believe that he made his choice.  I don’t believe suicide to be an irrational response to what must have felt like an impossible situation.  I’m sad that we couldn’t save him and that there weren’t better treatment options for him.  It tears me up inside that he had to live with bipolar for so long, to endure its terrible lows with little relief from the pain.  I suppose the best I can say now is that he is not in pain any more.  And for that, I am grateful.

Scott’s death showed me how fragile we all are.  Without thinking about it, I had always assumed my family was invincible.  We are a solid, sturdy bunch.  But alone, each of us is fragile, capable of being broken by the chaos and cruelty of life.  I think it was a struggle for Scott to stay with us as long as he did—suicide was always an option, and he resisted the temptation for many years.

When he passed away, we held two ceremonies for Scott.  At our informal family ceremony, my sister-in-law’s uncle read this beautiful poem by Mary Oliver, and I thought I’d share it today.  I think of it often, and it makes me cry.  It really is a perfect fit for Scott.

“Wild Geese”

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
       love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”

I’m not inclined to believe in a life after this one.  The day of Scott’s military funeral was a harsh, cold, grey autumn day.  After I stepped outside of the pavillion where I placed my hands on the box that contained his remains, a flock of wild geese soared overhead, honking to announce their passage above.  I like to think that they were speaking for Scott, saying good-bye and thank you.

* * *

Two footnotes:

1)  The photo is an old family photo, taken before my little sister was born.  Starting at the top left and going clockwise, that’s Charlie, Scott, my mother, John, and me.  I’m probably about three or four years old, which means the photo was taken in 1984 or 1985.  Charlie, Scott, and John are my three brothers.

2)  The poem is from this site.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Wine Notebook: Totally Random Peach

Totally Random Peach

This peach-flavored white wine from Totally Random was surprisingly delicious.  Paul and I bought it on a whim from Spec’s (about $10 a bottle, if my memory is correct).  I forgot I had it until I opened my wine drawer one day and hurray!  I have a bottle of wine in the house!

Paul and I opened it one night to eat with dinner.  I don’t remember what we ate, but of course it was vegetarian.  This peach wine is a great summertime choice: it’s definitely on the sweet side of things, with some delightful carbonation that adds a refreshing quality.  The next day, my friend Courtney and I finished the bottle while she made migas for us.  I wish I’d had another bottle of it to open because I think we both could have gone for another glass.  This was a really good second-day wine—while the carbonation had fizzed out a bit, the flavor had deepened into something lovely.

This bottle is definitely on the to-buy-again list.  It reminded me a lot of the fresh peach moscato spritzers that my sister and I drank during her visit.  Yum!

PS  Happy Labor Day to my American readers.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Breaking the Bubble

Leaving Albuquerque

Paul and I passed the six-month point this month.  Romantic soul that he is, he wrote me a note and made me a beautiful present that I’ll show you soon (it’s for the kitchen!).  Pragmatic soul that I am, when he knocked on the door for a surprise visit, I was cooking in my underwear and thought it was the Mormons paying me a visit.  Apparently I lack his sense of romance, or maybe I’ve had so many boyfriends who break up with me at six months that I’m kinda spooked by it.  I didn’t do anything romantic for him, but I did invite him to join me for dinner and it was suprisingly good: spaghetti in a sauce made of butternut squash soup and sautéed onions, topped with chopped soysage and fresh basil.  Tasty!

Paul and I are living in such a sweet spot right now.  We’ve been together long enough that we’re comfortable with each other, but it’s still very new and happy and full of promise.  A few weeks ago, we had an amusing conversation with our friends Amber and Jeremy in which we aired some secrets.  We talked about annoying habits (mine), unconventional bodies (his), and the topic of today’s post, my inability to create a façade of perfection.

I’ve been a perfectionist ever since I was a child, when, after reading about an anorexic’s quest for perfection, I decided that I too should be perfect at everything I do.  It was a terrible decision.  I never went down the eating disorder path (and I’m eternally grateful that I did not), but perfectionism seemed like the right thing to do.  I grew up in a family culture where failure was not acceptable, where mistakes and missteps were blown way out of proportion.  Perfectionism was the solution to these fears, and it followed me into adulthood, long after I moved out of my parents’ house.

And I know it’s not just me who feels like she needs to be perfect.  It’s a very common belief among women that our role in life is to be perfect while we do all the things.  I suppose in a way I’m just a terrible cliché in that regard, but I think each story is unique and beautiful for its own sake.  We should tell our stories!  You never know whose life you might touch.

Paul and I started dating in February of this year.  By the time we had our third date, I’d been handed the news that I was going to lose my job (fucking NIH!), and I had no idea what was going to happen next.  But it was clear to me that Paul, so funny and sweet and wonderful, wanted to stick around.  And I wanted to get to know him and enjoy our budding romance.

Before we went out for that third date, I cried as I told him the news.  He handed me a hankie and listened.  Then we put that behind us for the evening and went out for drinks and dinner.  My job loss put me in a mild depression for the next two months or so.  Looking back, I think the humiliation of losing a job—and knowing that it wasn’t the sort of thing I could hide from someone I’m dating—created the space for me to let down my guard.  I was already so fragile, so vulnerable from the job stress and disappointment that I just didn’t have the willpower to fake perfection.  My imperfect nature was staring back at me every day for the last months of my first postdoc position.  Rather than trying to compensate in other areas of my life, I let it all hang out.  This meant that Paul saw my strengths and talents, but he also saw my flaws because I didn’t try to hide them.  He saw that my apartment is not perfectly neat and clean all the time.  He saw that sometimes I’m so tired that I wear pajamas on our date night at home.  He saw my anger and frustration over academic science and its labor issues.  Sometimes I yelled; other times I was irrational.  Paul let me have my moments, but he also called me out when I was being unfair.  Our relationship gave me a safe haven during my transition.  I will always be grateful he chose to stay during that time. 

And together we learned that we are a great team.  Paul is happy to do the grocery shopping for our date night, and if I ask him nicely, he’ll help me clean up after dinner.  I tend to be the brains behind our menu, but he’s pretty happy to eat anything I cook (Paul is easy that way).  Our dinner arrangements sound like such a small thing, but since we cook at home every week, our teamwork has its own routine.  I think dinner is a mighty fine thing on which to build a relationship. 

Perfectionism is such a heavy weight to carry.  I can distinctly remember the feeling I had after our first date: it was lightness.  I felt a lightness in my heart that I had not felt in a long time.  I know Paul so much better now than I did after that first date six months ago, but that feeling of lightness has remained.  Truly, his companionship is everyday joy to me.  I feel incredibly lucky that we found each other. 

I hope he sticks around.