happiness is the color red

Not my tomatoes, but those of the lovely Marisa of Food in Jars

I just sat down to a plate of sliced tomatoes in my dining room. I say ‘sat down,’ but it was more of a plop, the kind that starts with a crack in the knees and ends with the jelly legs I typically reserve for after a road race. And because I was seating myself on one of the folding chairs that go with our card table (I’ll get back to that in a minute), my Cosmo Kramer-style sideways slam into the chair nearly launched my plate off the table. This is how it is this month; when I am done for the day, I am DONE.

Tomato season is barely in full swing, but I cannot inhale enough of them to get ahead of the anxiety I already feel about the tomato season ending, someday. I recall that the first year we were in Arlington, I planted cherry tomatoes at our rental house and could not believe how early those little suckers stopped ripening. Thanks to my friend Emily’s advice, I had a nice experience making my first batch of pickled green tomatoes, but I’ve still never quite gotten over the shock. Maybe that’s why I do so much canning of tomatoes now.

My current favorite heirloom is something I believe is titled ‘Sweet and Juicy.’ I also like another called ‘Red Defenders.’ Or something like that. I swear they have more names for tomatoes at Verrill Farm in Concord than there are children’s names in all of Boston—a typical class will have three Ryans, three Sophies, and, who am I kidding, at least a Charlotte or five. When I am at Verrill, I love the browsing ritual my canning comrades and I participate in together, heads down scrutinizing labels but occasionally also side-eyeing each other’s selections. I imagine our slow silent march around the table like a game of musical chairs at the old folks’ home.

Tonight I salted, oiled, and basiled my tomato slices while the girls were still playing outside. I didn’t quite plan on them staying out so long, either the girls or the tomatoes, but it ended up being a blessing, as the salt and oil and acid and herbs had somehow made its own translucent sauce that was out of this world. The girls had been playing outside with the plethora of neighbor children until nearly dark before I finally called them in to shower and eat. We now live (temporarily, in a rental) on a street with an actual official road sign that reads, just, “CHILDREN,” and that doesn’t tell you the half of it. And I had been feeling pretty satisfied about my life choice to let them keep playing—until, that is, I was standing next to a too tired, too hungry, wailing Charlie outside the shower that I had just let her older sister jump into first before her even though I had a few minutes prior said that she could go first. I tried to give myself a knowing look in the mirror, but it was too fogged up.

But then, luckily, Charlie was in very quick succession scrubbed, patted dry, jammied, detangled, fed, and tucked into bed, and the fire was thusly put out before it could get to full blaze. Tomorrow I’ll make spicy tomato chutney and sweet tomato jam, both from the best book there is, Food in Jars. Then maybe Saturday we’ll be off to look for a real dining table to replace the one we left at the Goodwill back in Atlanta, which is the reason I am sitting at this card table. But for now, it is just me and my tomatoes, and I can almost hear the tiny creak of the life choices scale tipping back to balanced again.

feed the Bern

From the NYT article, Sourdough Starter: America’s Rising Pet

Today I’m introducing you to our latest pet, the sourdough starter we named Bernie. I held off telling you about Bernie because I realize, even as I am typing this post, what a cliché hipster I’ve become. But whatever. Bernie lives!

Every day or two (or once a week, when I refrigerate him), I feed Bernie a heaping tablespoon of flour and stir. And that’s it. Easier than pie. If you’re a microbiology-loving nerd like me, you should totally try this at home too. It’s right up there with sauerkraut and honey wine with how easy and fun it is to make. I probably only use my starter to make bread or pancakes twice a month, so I end up throwing a lot of Bernie down the drain (if anyone wants to get some of mine, I’m happy to share!). But I no longer have a package of store-bought yeast in my house, and that is an amazing feat. I get my yeast from the air, y’all.

Today I’m making a loaf of sourdough using the easiest recipe imaginable. No kneading! It takes a grand total of 10 minutes of work and cooks in a Dutch oven, which is like making your own bread oven at home. So cool. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • First read this NYT article, “America’s Rising Pet,” about sourdough starters
  • You can either get starter from someone else or make your own starter using articles on the Internet as a guide (here’s an example I like on the King Arthur website), or if you want to commit fully to falling down the fermentation rabbit hole, buy a Sandor Katz book. We have the original Wild Fermentation, but I’ve heard the much bigger and fancier Art of Fermentation is also great.
  • Original No-Knead Bread recipe, with a quick video, is here. Modified recipe using sourdough starter is here.
  • I haven’t watched Michael Pollan’s Cooked documentary series yet on Netflix, but after hearing an interview with him…somewhere…I’m looking forward to it. The NYT article refers to an episode that includes a discussion of sourdough. Pollan is generally too prescriptivist for my taste, but I do respect and honor him as having sparked my interest in home economics back in the days of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

the beat goes on


 I like routines. Call them rituals, if you’re feeling fancy. Call them predictably mundane, if you’re feeling twenty-two. I love rituals and especially writing rituals. When my bloggy friends cover the same topic again and again, I find it as comforting as soup. Ordinary, yes, but still damn good. Besides, it is downright tradition to become boring with age—probably also to love soup more too, come to think of it.

Let’s all slow down and have a bowl of soup! I will someday happily exclaim to my eye-rolling grandtweens.

thirtysixWhether because of motherhood or just plain aging, I’ve grown increasingly fond of writing and reading about the commonplace. There are writers who have elevated this practice to a fine art. Take, for instance, David Sedaris’ New Yorker articles on topics such as: shopping trips to Tokyo with his sisters, the turtle he watched being fed pizza, and his adventures in fitbit-induced garbage clean-up [See also: Commonplace by Dina Relles]. I am not quite so clever in how I write about my experiences. I am always telling, rarely showing. But before you think I’m digging for compliments, you should know I’m okay with that truth about myself. I’ll get to that in a moment.

When I turned thirty-six, I felt an itch again to write about my age, an age that pulls me closer to forty than thirty. Though only a year had passed since I last wrote about age, I’d begun to feel a persistent shift that, imperceptible as it may have been to the outside, was monumental in my head. But it felt a little too indulgent to travel that road again so soon, even for a self-obsessed navel-gazer like me (I’m paraphrasing from one of my favorite blog comments of all time. Thanks for setting me straight, Anonymous Troll!).

Then again, screw it. Life is short. Let’s talk about me again.

Now seems like a good time because I just celebrated my half-birthday. Yes, I still mark the passage of these milestones, if only in my mind, but an Eeyore’s sigh has replaced an exclamation point at the end of the thought, “Closer to my next birthday than my last.” Timing is also good because Vivi just turned eight, and I have been wanting to write her a letter on her birthday.

When Vivi turned six, I stopped my tradition of writing the girls birthday letters on my blog to give them some privacy back. In this era of oversharing, I’m still glad I did that. But one thing I miss is being able to pull up the letters to reread at any time. Although I may have written the girls private letters for their recent birthdays, Lord knows where I put them. The greatest thing about blogging about my family, as I’ve often repeated, is that it keeps my memories in a place where I can find them later.

Inspired by my friend Kristen, who wrote a series of real and poignant letters to her daughter called “If you ask me…,” I’m sharing some changes I’ve experienced lately in the form of a letter to my daughter. I hope that by charting my growth, my girls might learn these lessons earlier than I did, but I don’t pin all my hopes on that possibility. I recognize people change throughout their lives as part of normal growth. As Auden pointed out:

“Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”

-W.H. Auden, found on an archive post on Gretchen Rubin’s blog

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 10.01.23 AM

Some references I make below will be way past their expiration date by the time Vivi reads this letter, but “you,” the Other Reader, might be interested in them, so here they are:

And as for the bomb I drop mid-letter about moving to Boston, I realize I’m burying that lede. But it’s a story for another day, and if you read on to the end, you’ll get the gist of why.

Dear Genevieve,

Eight is an age I recall well. You are so like me in so many ways: your tendency toward organization and planning, your passion for recording everyday life in a journal, your love of letter writing, and your desire to make everyone happy. These traits will serve you well; though your sensitivity and openness will certainly lead to being hurt, I do not worry about whether you’ll come out strong from those situations. Here’s where our likenesses diverge. I know you’ll stand up for yourself because a braver girl has never lived than you. Thanks to Glennon Doyle Melton, I have learned to tell you that your only jobs are to be brave and kind, and I hope you believe it. You already live up to the task.

Because I know it will please your organized heart, I tried to pool my thoughts below into categories. But enough explaining. Let the navel-gazing start!

1. acceptance

I don’t want to give you the impression that I obtained confidence suddenly in my mid-thirties and that, “you will too if you just hang in there long enough!” Rather, I had to make a conscious effort to build up the courage to accept my flaws, realize that I deserve love and support, and stop saying ‘I’m sorry’ unnecessarily. You say you’re sorry a lot right now. I try to undo that need for you, even though I realize I’m likely the person who put it in your mind to begin with, since it’s what I do. Call it a product of being raised in the genteel south.

It’s not that we should never apologize, just that sometimes we do it so much that it becomes burdensome to other people, like a tic, a need to be reassured that everything is okay. Sometimes it is better to say thank you instead of apologizing. Like yesterday, when I was late picking you up. I looked your teacher in the eye and instead of apologizing profusely, I said, “Thank you for staying late with them. I appreciate it.” An apology would have required him to say something like, “No worries!” In this case, my thanks gave him recognition he deserved for the good deed without forcing him to make me feel better about myself.

Acceptance, to me, means acknowledging you aren’t perfect and forgiving yourself for those imperfections, even embracing them. Your quirks are what make you, you! I learned this lesson from Gretchen Rubin when reading The Happiness Project and Better than Before. A big part of her message is to accept your quirks as part of who you are.

Here’s a quirk of mine that I’m sure you’re all too familiar with. I talk and talk way past the point that the other person has understood my meaning, and then I keep on talking: I am a teller, not a shower. Gretchen calls her rule, “Be Gretchen,” because she realized that although she was odd about certain things, it made her happier to accept those things and be different than it did to try to fit in. It’s a simple concept, but a powerful one too.

Maybe the primary message to Sheryl Sandburg’s Lean In was for women to build up their confidence enough to accept their flaws and stop apologizing, although I didn’t take it that way when I was reading it. She seemed to be saying, “Everywhere I go, women are doing it all wrong!”, but I couldn’t glean any specific tips from her. It was like, “Get a mentor! But don’t ask anyone to be your mentor because that’s too needy!”

But luckily, Sheryl isn’t the only source of feminism; there are far better badasses in my generation. Cheryl Strayed is my (and everyone else’s) writing guru and all-around feminist badass. Her Dear Sugar essay, “Write like a Motherfucker,” is the stuff of legend. Recently she offered a great counterpoint to the challenge to “Stop Apologizing.” She noted there are two kinds of apologies, the one we give when we’ve done something wrong, and the other that acknowledges someone else’s pain. “I’m sorry you’re hurting,” we say. It took me a few sessions of marital counseling with your dad to acknowledge the merits of such a phrase, but I’ve grown to accept it, and the more willingly I offer it, the more natural it becomes.

Feminist comedians are doing a great job of moving the conversation forward. Amy Poehler is another example I look for in a public mentor. In fact, I recall back when I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants that my favorite story wasn’t even about Tina herself, although she too is a feminist badass. It was instead the anecdote regarding Jimmy Fallon having told Amy a joke of her’s wasn’t ‘cute,’ and Amy shouting at him, “I don’t fucking care if you like it!” This is 100% Boston Badass Woman (she’s from Burlington), and it’s the primary reason I’m excited to move you back up to that area this summer. Boston has its flaws, chiefly its latent and blatant racism, and it is as cold as well digger’s ass in January. But it is also a place that raises women who stand up for themselves. I have no doubt you’ll do just that.

Last September, on my lady-friend trip to Colorado, I devoured Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. It is a feminist manifesto. Read it. But first, brush up on some of the best of Amy’s comedy, like Parks & Recreation and clips she did on SNL, like her Sarah Palin rap from Weekend Update when she was a week away from delivering a baby. PURE comedy gold. Amy’s insistence on her point of view, and her unflinching ability to look straight into anyone’s eyes and say, “I deserve to be here!” inspires me.


2. grace

I’ve been hearing this word more often in the context of describing my actions toward others (and by ‘more often,’ what I mean is: at all). Of course my first reaction is to mimic Elaine, “You think I have GRACE?!” I’ve never been described as graceful in the physical sense, for obvious reasons, i.e., several broken bones, countless bruises, etc. But on further thought, I truly believe when I’m described as having grace it’s because of #1 on my list, the self-esteem that comes from accepting ourselves. It’s like that old adage, “You can’t forgive others until you’ve forgiven yourself.” Or maybe that’s a brand new adage I just created, and if so, you should use it. It’s a good one. You could insert other words for forgive, like love, tolerate, admire. It works!

The older I get, the less black and white the world is becoming. I think it’s by seeing most situations as gray, by admitting I can’t see all sides and that there are plenty of mysteries and complexities to any situation, that I’m able to offer others grace. Whatever grace I have to offer always comes back to me again. I still fall short so often, but the good and bad news is we never stop having chances to offer and receive grace.

3. slay

Around my birthday, my neighbor begged me to come work at the public health non-profit organization where she had just started a job because they needed so much help. I didn’t exactly saunter into that room, but I will admit I was the most nonchalant I’ve ever been in a job interview. I have to imagine it’s how many men probably approach their everyday lives, but for me it was highly unusual. The thing was, they loved me! They wanted me even though I was up front with them that I didn’t want to work full time and that I probably wouldn’t take the job for more than six months. I got the job!

I came home from that day feeling I could do anything

“The perception of meaning, as I see it, more specifically boils down to becoming aware of a possibility against the background of reality or, to express it in plain words, to becoming aware of what can be done about a given situation.” -Viktor Frankl

The hurdles that had kept me from pursuing my dream of nursing school were still there, but I decided that day to stop telling myself it was impossible and just DO IT. I sat down at my computer and immediately got to work doing the last few things I needed to apply. I registered for a microbiology class at the local community college and modified my new work schedule to allow me to attend the lab on Friday mornings. I asked my old faculty from graduate school to write me recommendation letters, again. Then I wrote a damn good essay, closed my eyes, said what the hell, and sent my applications to Northeastern and Columbia.

When the holidays came, I stuffed my face too full of food to do any real pondering, as usual, except for the time spent preparing for my annual “I need to cleanse my body of all this sugar!” elimination diet/eating disorder. When I was still emerging from that yo-yo, I got the word. It seems that Columbia could use a gal like Justine. And I was all:


I’ll admit my reaction after elation was to wonder: why me. I mean really, why me??

A week later, I witnessed Beyoncé’s incredible Formation video and Super Bowl performance. The confidence it must have taken to dream up and enact a sea of female dancers dressed as Black Panthers, and the courage and power she demonstrated on that stage in front of thousands of white male football lovers and millions more on TV…well, it awed me. Then the negative reactions that followed such a wonderful display of powerful female art dismayed me. But in another way, I felt boosted up by the positive reactions from the girls and women between your generation and mine, whose voices rose up above the hate to say that we will not suffer the disregarded and diminished fate of the women who came before us.

Then a fog lifted from my brain, and I immediately thought, I KNOW WHY ME. Me because I worked my ass off to become a birth doula even while damn near every person within earshot of this decision would offer their unsolicited opinion of why this idea was no good. I did it anyway, not because I knew it would help my career, but just for its own sake. In discussing the success of his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl said, 

“Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

Me because I’m the one who had to schedule middle-of-the-night sitters so I could kiss you tiny toddlers on your sleeping cheeks after I dragged my ass out of bed to attend 30-hour births. Me because I’m the one who stood by the side of fifteen brave laboring women, three of whom were LGBTQ, while they attempted to navigate a health system not always committed to giving them the evidence-based births they wanted and needed, and did not even necessarily recognize their right to be mothers. Me because I am the hen who ground every last grain to make bread. 

Even though you know by now that I turned down Columbia to go to Northeastern in Boston instead so I could bring you girls home again, I will always be able to say I AM the reason I got into Columbia.
Because I slay. We slay. You slay.

Love, Mama

read * hear * say * see * eat

I am pretty much always telling people what I like. However, I tend to be someone who forgets what I like very quickly (because I’m ENFP/”a goldfish”). Thus, part of the fun for me in posting this newsletter of sorts is that it provides a shorthand guide later on when I want to tell people in person what they should read/listen to/eat. It’s nice to have an external place to download items from my brain. You can catch up on previous posts in this series here.

Read: New Yorker edition

The Matter of Black Lives by Jelani Cobb, the New Yorker

In Living Color by Emily Nussbaum, the New Yorker

The Perfect Fit by David Sedaris, the New Yorker (via Nina Badzin’s great advice column on HerStories)


Terry Gross’ interview with Larry Wilmore. I spoke with an always-thought-provoking uncle the other day about Wilmore’s Correspondents’ Dinner comedy. I wasn’t surprised he felt differently about the tone and style of the event than I did. I’m a big fan of Larry Wilmore, and I respect that art is art. This next statement is not a direct dig at my uncle, but I believe white people in general, and especially white men, should listen more and weigh in with their opinions less.

Another from Fresh Air, which I listened to twice because I liked it so much, is her interview with Samantha Bee (favorite moment was the discussion about the “wrongiest wronghead” congressman)

I’m digging Mark Maron’s WTF podcast lately. 700+ episodes in, and he’s really hit his stride. The past three I heard, Louie CK/Julia Louis-Dreyfus, & Rob Reiner, were fantastic.

Lena Dunham’s Woman of the Hour, which I think is over but I hope she does more (my favorite episode is #2 about the body with Lola Pellegrino, a women’s health NP)

Another Round: try their interview with Padma Lakshmi (review on The Guardian)


Snap Judgment’s storytelling lessons.


Donald Trump: Your Drunk Neighbor (sorry, can’t recall who first showed me this clip!)

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO. If you don’t get HBO, you can also watch long segments on YouTube.

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS

Narcos on Netflix. It’s got subtitles. And highly gratuitous nudity. But it’s great!

Nora Ephron: Everything is Copy, HBO documentary by her son. Another one I watched twice!


Take this tip from a Georgian: next to the melted white queso served in Mexican restaurants across the south (but much to my oft-repeated dismay, inexplicably unheard of across New England), pimento cheese is the best spreadable cheese concoction around. Pretty much any recipe will do, as there’s not much to it, but word is that the best around is offered at the Masters golf tournament in Augusta. We’ll have to take their word for it though because it’s top secret, but here’s an attempt at a knockoff that went over well at Vivi’s 8th birthday party a few weeks ago.


Boxelder, which is often confused for poison ivy when small, but never by us campers, who know both very well. At camp we adored a boxelder for housing our beloved tire swing.

I would say I was compelled to come back here to tell you something deeply moving, but what actually happened is I finally took some pictures with a camera that wasn’t my phone and then in the same day downloaded them to my computer, and I felt this extraordinary yet ordinary moment required chronicling.

This is not to say it’s necessarily a problem that I never plug in my ancient digital SLR to the computer any more. I’m well aware the clear victor in our times is the digital image that doesn’t even require downloading, let alone printing. Notice we call them images now instead of photos? But even so. Add me to the list of dinosaurs who misses flipping through a stack of just developed photos.

Version 2
Eastern Redcedar (“Red Juniper”), for which one of my favorite birds, the Cedar Waxwing, is named

In case you’re keeping track of the tally of unusual behaviors of the day, you can put one more: that I took the time to try to remember my password to this blog, which is even more atypical of me lately. A month or so back, my Chrome browser decided to forget all my passwords, which has become a decided– albeit accidental– indicator of how much I care about certain parts of the Internet. I can tell you, for example, that I haven’t returned to Facebook since the fateful day of lost passwords. But on the other hand, I have come back to Instagram, Twitter, and somewhat reluctantly, the homepage of my online microbiology class, which I am happy to report I will no longer have to visit after this month.

Here’s another thing I can report. It has been 76 days since my last post. I realize that no one, apart from me, cares to know this precise length of time between posts, but like any good (recovering) Catholic, I can’t seem to allow this passage of time to go unmarked or unfretted. So now we’ve got that out of the way.

Speaking of Catholicism…

A friend texted tonight to find out what I am doing, and the first word that popped into my head was leafing. I’ve mentioned before here that I am a lover of gerunds (go make the black bean soup from that old post if you haven’t yet). I am also an unapologetic lover of puns. At the time I received my friend’s text, I was scrolling through photos of leaves I took today. Literally leafing, get it?

I never told you I was good at puns.

Version 2
Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum, perhaps? Help! What is it?

I took pictures of leaves today as part of a project I’m taking on to label my favorite trees at my summer camp. Because we’ll be gearing up to move again [sadly, I still can’t tell you yet whether that will be to NYC or Boston], I can’t work as a counselor this summer. But the tree identification project is one that I can tackle in the few months I have left in Georgia, and the satisfaction of completing a project from start to finish has quite the pleasing ring to it right about now.

What kind of projects are you excited about?

read * hear * say * see * eat

Inspiring true story about Gene Roddenberry from The Oatmeal

I posted yesterday, and now I’m posting again today! Posting every day is certainly not my new plan, but I hope to be back to posting about once every week or two. Thanks for encouraging me to keep posting podcast recommendations! I feel great knowing that even one person enjoys them. I still listen to about an hour a day of radio at least, so I have plenty of material to share.


honoring the end as much as the beginning by my friend Lindsey Mead, who among other things is the most consistent writer of wonderful things on her blog of any blogger I know (seriously, a great blog to follow) and who has the rare ability to look even more fresh-faced and happy-looking in person than in pictures

Mizzou, Yale and Free Speech—a NYT Op-Ed by Nick Kristoff, via @PattonOswalt

5 Books to Teach Kids Kindness by Cup of Jo—You probably know her blog already, but in case you don’t, I could have posted anything else I’ve ever read. Her curatorial ability is fantastic both for its breadth but also her steadfast devotion to a particular “Jo style.” Whether it’s a post about marriage, kids, movies, clothes, or books, I know I’m going to love it.

Mommy blogging, 101 by Dooce

…when Leta says she doesn’t want to have kids I’m like WRONG. YOU HAVE TO LIVE THROUGH RAISING SOMEONE WHO IS EXACTLY LIKE YOU.


Sampler, a new Gimlet podcast, came out yesterday. I’m excited to have a podcast that features great clips from other podcasts. There’s only one episode so far, but it’s a doozie. I also like another new Gimlet show called Surprisingly Awesome, which is not 100% awesome yet but is getting there. Basically you can’t go wrong with any Gimlet show.

Song Exploder picks apart the making of a song with its songwriter. So cool! I’ve listened to these episodes twice, I liked them both so much: 1) Tune-Yards, and 2) The Long Winters (inspired by the Columbia crash).

Speaking of the Columbia, Snap Judgment #601 “The Path” includes a story about an astronaut and his wife that raised the hairs on my neck. Ditto another story from that episode in which a mother becomes an expert tracker of missing children after tracking her own.

Fugitive Waves’ Walkin’ Talkin’ Bill Hawkins was touching. If you haven’t tried this show yet, I recommend it to go along with any activity that puts you in a meditative, relaxed mood. The voices of the hosts, who call themselves the Kitchen Sisters, are so rhythmic and soothing that I can nearly fall asleep while listening.

This American Life, Episode 577: Something Only I Can See. The segment I particularly loved was the one about Tig Notaro and her mother-in-law. I love Tig’s comedy, but the best part to me about this story was that I so identified with her mother-in-law! I am not a funny person by nature except by accident or self-deprecation, and I can clearly recall this one day I got the song “Ain’t We Got Fun” in my head while folding laundry (deeply sorry for getting it in your head just now), except instead of the title lyric, I sang to myself, “It’s laundry time!” Somehow I was so giddy with the humor of this lyric swap that I could barely get the words out when telling Nate. I don’t think I need to describe his reaction, but even so, I still laugh almost just as hard now at the memory as I did at the time.

She Does podcast: interview with Anna Sale of Death Sex Money

What if my kid asks to try my beer (with audio!) by Casey of Life with Roozle — because of this post, my kids never ask us for a sip of beer any more! I also love that they know what a law is enough to be able to define the concept to others.

Vocal fry and other speech trends by Stuff You Should Know (in this episode, they refer to a great conversation on Fresh Air between a linguist, a speech pathologist, and Jessica Grose of DoubleX Gabfest)


Gretchen Rubin offered a starter kit  for people interested in starting their own Better than Before habits group. I love this idea (I’m an Obliger, no surprise there). Is anyone out there interested in starting a habits group with me? I’m thinking it could be online, just a place where we can cheer each other on and keep up accountability. I’m not that into Facebook, but I could see it working well there. Or are there “LinkedIn groups”? Someone please chime in who knows more about starting online groups. Thanks!


Making a Murderer, the Netflix original series everyone is talking about. I think folks are right that it’s similar to Serial except for being a TV program. I can only recommend the first episode, as that’s all I’ve seen so far. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll watch them all. Ten hours is a long time for me to commit to TV, especially since I almost never watch TV alone, and Nate isn’t interested in seeing it. But I think the first episode is definitely worth watching, if only to remain plugged into pop culture; personally, it got me riled up so much that I am looking into volunteering with a nonprofit focused on prison reform. And if nothing else, I have some excellent articles to offer once you’ve seen the first episode. One is this article on The Rumpus by one of my favorite Boston writers (and Arlington Author Salon readers!), Lisa Borders, and the other is this New Yorker critique, which begins with interesting details about the Perry Mason crime writer that I never knew.

For something a little lighter, I recommend Reading Rainbow for parents and kids. That intro song really takes me back. I finally just had to put it on for the girls, who weren’t sold simply by a picture of a man’s face (ditto Mr. Rogers, whom they both also now love. Next up will be Pee Wee Herman). They love the 1st episode featuring “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” plus how bowling balls are made and a guy who sets up huge displays of dominoes and knocks them down.


I hope you follow Catherine Newman, aka the blogger behind Ben & Birdy and the advice columnist for Real Simple (and writer of a new book coming out soon that you can pre-order on Amazon!). I never chortle so much as when reading her blog (and just at this moment, her new website). Last night I choked on some sauerkraut while reading this post, which I’m putting under “Eat” because she gives the recipe for a delicious-sounding blueberry pie smoothie (and yes, I said choked on sauerkraut. Sauerkraut that I was eating out of the jar, that I eat every night out of the jar ever since Nate started fermenting our very own homemade sauerkraut. More on this development is forthcoming). Anyway, because I love Catherine so much, I will add my favorite quote of hers, which perfectly described my own second child, Charlie, at the age of two so much better than I ever could have.

“Even as a 2-year-old, she had the determined wrath and gait of a murderous zombie gnome — and my husband and I grimaced at each other, afraid, over her small and darkly glowering head.”

I still read her article from NYT Motherlode, where the quote originated, from time to time whenever I am worried about Charlie’s tendency to glower. Catherine reminds me that not only is it ok, it might even be a good thing. A writer who can do that is a keeper.


My desire to come write here again after a long break always begins with being annoyed. It’s something like trying to locate that hair inside your mouth. You absolutely can’t go on with your day until you get it, but no matter how much you fish around and gag and curse, it remains elusive. Ditto this experience. I can’t just sit down to write. First I have to torture myself with indecision about the topic I most want to discuss. Then I will finally sit down to write, but instead I will stare for half an hour at my list of half-finished posts (of which I always have between 15 & 20, it’s just how I keep track of interesting subjects), at which point I’ll have either run out of time or become so disgusted with myself that I rage-slam the laptop shut and go find something yummy from the pantry to soothe my aggravation.

But not today! Today, I finally have a chunk of time. I thought this hour was going to be filled with finishing a project for my microbiology class (my last nursing prerequisite, yay!), but because I ended up completing that task yesterday evening during the girls’ group violin class, I have a glorious unmarked hour in which to blab some things I’ve been pondering lately.

My quest to write this post started with this Instagram caption by Amanda Palmer:

amandapalmeri carried the child for six hours on a big jet plane to the other side of the country, where he is going to spend the next few weeks meeting his extended west coast tribe. i am not working here. it is hard. when I delve into despair, remind me that it is fine that i’m not working or touring and that i am a fucking new mother who is allowed to take six months off to nurse and cuddle a baby. my good friend @andrewoneillcomedy once told me something about our mutual hero Henry Rollins. Henry, he said, takes an inhale year (reading, learning, traveling, absorbing) and then an exhale year (touring, working, speaking, art-assaulting). if I ask you, remind me. this is an inhale year. this is an inhale year. over and out.

Inhale years and exhale years. What a cool concept, right? Henry Rollins! Who knew. A few weeks after reading that quote and pondering it, I read this post by my friend Kristen about her word for the year and immediately knew mine would be Exhale. If I had to give an official start to my exhale ‘year’ (thank goodness I don’t), it would probably be November 16th, the day I started my job.

But before I tell you about the job, first I want to back up and tell a quick story about how weird and small the world is. The first mom I met when I introduced myself to other parents in Vivi’s class was our neighbor (I’ll call her “Sue”) who lives in the house behind ours. Sue’s daughter and Vivi hit it off right away and are now best beds, and as fate would have it, Sue’s career is in public health, so we hit it off too (I would say, “What are the odds?” but this is Decatur, Georgia. Between CDC and Emory University, it’s the public health capital of the world).

A month after I met Sue, she started a new job at the Task Force for Global Health, a nonprofit under Emory’s umbrella that is focused on eradicating diseases of poverty. When I would ask her for updates, Sue always told me how swamped she was and how she wished they would hire extra project management help temporarily. That general complaint became more focused as the weeks went on into how they should hire ME temporarily. She knew I didn’t want to work full time, certainly not in a permanent position, but she twisted my arm to apply for the job. And even though I told them I only wanted to work 30 hours a week, they hired me!

It’s been great being back in the working world. My house is a mess, but no one cares but me and Nate, so I can handle that. I won’t underestimate the kids’ sadness at not having Mommy give them  her undivided attention full time, but to be honest, I needed a bit of a break so that I could appreciate how much I really enjoy taking care of them. And I do miss knowing as much as I used to about all the little minutiae of their days. It’s not like I can’t still ask them questions, but much more often these days I’m too tired to make dinner, let alone grill my kids about their social activities and composition of that day’s cafeteria lunch. For example, tonight’s dinner is comprised of spaghetti-o’s (might I add that they are leftover spaghetti-o’s?) and dried pears. Yum!

After the inhale year of getting ready for the move, the move, and recovering from the move, I am looking forward to doing some exhaling. I hope lots of that will happen here. And I hope there’s still at least one human out there listening! I promise I will try to listen as much as I talk. Even though I’m exhaling, I can still inhale too.

Cheers, xoxo

read * hear * say * see * eat

Wil Wheaton is one of my favorite Tweeters, admittedly in part because I like to pretend he is still the character in Stand by Me and we are friends now.

I’m drafting a post about turning 36, which I am happy about sharing next week. For now, here’s some interwebs goodness for all your holiday gaming needs. Some notes on this list: I just viewed it on my phone for the first time, and ack! Horrible design aesthetic. As a result, I’m going to try not bulleting the list in case it reads easier that way.

In other post-improvement news, I’m doing my best to figure out which podcasts I love that I haven’t mentioned yet. In case you find it easier to get into one with a recommended episode, I try to pick an episode that stands out, but you can also just jump in with the most recent.


My Writing Education: A Timeline by George Saunders in The New Yorker, via Orangette

The case—please hear me out—against the em dash in Slate was shared among my editorial circle

A Test of Body Image, by Amanda Magee, including this lovely thought:

My nervousness crescendoed as she squeezed my skin together. Her fascination had nothing to do with anything related to body image or fat, it was entirely about creating something from nothing that entertained her. It felt almost as if I were a witness to it, rather than a participant and I saw it for what it was; love.


Fugitive Waves, by the Kitchen Sisters & Radiotopia—The Building Stewardesses: Construction Guides at the World Trade Center

Living While Dying by Minnesota Public Radio & NPR—“Embracing Loss” touched me deeply

EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey—How Conflict Can Help You Win with Les Parrott


Tomorrow I am giving a talk on conflict resolution at a university! That is all.


My good friend Caroline and her daughter Edie are in the National Journal! The article is called “Outdoor Preschools Take Children into Living Classroom.” I’m putting it under the “See” category because there’s a video that goes along with the article. Caroline makes some great points, my favorite of which is below, about the importance of giving kids an early introduction to nature.

“I think I’m really conscious of that in these years, that she can spend a lot of time outside and gain an ap­pre­ci­ation for it. When she does go to kinder­garten, I think she’ll have that sense in her body that she knows, ‘OK, when I go out­side, I feel bet­ter, I get ex­er­cise, I get fresh air, I can use my ima­gin­a­tion,’” Pet­tit said.


Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Goat Cheese Biscuits by Joy the Baker. I have made this soup many times, but I just finally tried the biscuits for the first time. OMG.

Have you tried a cocktail mixer called a “shrub” yet? A shrub is a drinking vinegar that I recall first reading about last year in Edible Boston. Why it took me a year and a half to try is beyond me because I was in fact one of those “closet vinegar drinkers” she refers to in the article. When I was a kid, I used to hide in the fridge and drink the pickle juice, ducking because I figured it was somehow a bad thing to do (I also used to eat sticks of butter and take swigs of maraschino cherry juice, but I’m still waiting for those odd childhood eating habits to be vindicated by the modern hipster culture scene. I can only assume I was also that baby who loved to suck lemons). Anywho, the shrub I purchased at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market came from a company—McClary Bros.—that just happened to have been featured on a recent Shark Tank, which I just happened to watch for the first and only time in a hotel room a few weeks ago. I mixed their signature apple pie flavor with a spicy ginger ale and whiskey, and the results were delightful. I declare it to be the perfect holiday cocktail, and I have no doubt it would be tasty in a warm beverage too. I’ve since tried a funky soda made of just shrub and sparkling water, and I LOVE it. What can I say, I’m a weirdo. For me, it can’t get sour enough.


read * hear * say * see * eat

From the StoryCorps Thanksgiving Listen project (see “Say”)

I’m starting up my weekly/monthly installment again of the things I find on the interwebs. You can read past lists here.



  • So many excellent podcasts! Since I last covered this topic, I’ve added quite a few. Here are some of my new favorites:


  • I’m going to start sharing some of the podcasts that I know are looking for contributions. Here are a few I heard of this week:
    •  I’ve been hearing for months from StoryCorps about the Thanksgiving Listen, their big push to get everyone to record and submit stories of their elders over Thanksgiving weekend. There’s much more info on that link, including a PDF guide.
    • Lea Thau of the Strangers podcast is looking for stories about how we care for loved ones in our families as they age (which, if you read my essay above, you know is an important topic to me). You can share by recording a story here or emailing your thoughts to stories@storycentral.org.
    • Gretchen Rubin of the Happier podcast is looking for stories about your experience with her Four Tendencies (if you’ve been following the podcast or read her new book, Better than Before). You can share by emailing podcast@gretchenrubin.com or calling 774-277-9336 and leaving a voicemail. (Fun fact: I was the nitpicking editor who wrote to tell her she misused “backslash” in Episode 33. She must have mentioned it five times in Ep. 34, and it tickled me to no end. As a word nerd, I have gotten used to being made fun of for picking nits!)



  • So Mom and the kids would have a yummy treat (and so I could use up some apples), I made Smitten Kitchen’s breakfast apple granola crisp before leaving for Boston on Tuesday, and it was delicious. Modifications I suggest are: cover the dish with foil halfway through, cook it at 350º instead of 400º, and use 1/2 coconut flour.

I learn slowly

So many times I have thought of coming here to tell you how much I love The Summer of the Great-Grandmother by Madeleine L’Engle (well, I suppose I did, if you follow Literary Mama’s Now Reading). I came across this passage tonight, stared blindly at the ceiling for a long moment, and then lurched out of bed to come share it with you:

“I learn slowly, and always the hard way. Trying to be what I am not, and cannot be, is not only arrogant, it is stupid. If I spend the entire day hovering around Mother, trying to be the perfect daughter, available every time she asks, ‘Where’s Madeleine?’; if I get up early with my grandbabies and then stay up late with my actor husband and get no rest during the day; if I have no time in which to write; if I make myself a martyr to appease my false guilt, then I am falling into the age-old trap of pride. I fall into it too often.”