ch-ch-changes {+ hoppin’ John}

At the brink of a new year, it’s that time again to make resolutions. My routine is to resolve things while in a state of quiet reflection; thus, I rarely make any proclamations out loud. But about six weeks ago, I took a break from Facebook, and it has left me feeling so measurably happier with my relationships on the Internet that I thought it worthy to share with you. A positive way to state my resolution is:

I will strive for deep, rewarding connections in 2015.

I was addicted to Facebook’s variable interval reinforcement pattern for years (AP Psych nerd alert!). I kept telling myself that occasional adorable baby photos outweighed negative posts. However, over time I realized those brief happy moments weren’t making up for the barbed wire of snark I encountered there. Sometimes Facebook is the drunk cousin at your wedding who corners and ropes you into a long conversation; meanwhile, the friends you desperately want to interact with are in another room.

Maybe you’ve never been in Facebook’s addictive clutches, or maybe you are on Facebook and like it. Good for you! Actually, if you’re a user of any form of Internet—email, chat rooms, etc.—you might identify with my addiction. Here’s a quote I like about relationships on the Internet from a New Yorker article (emphasis is mine):

“The Internet invites you to count your followers and your friends; it privileges the breadth of your social network as opposed to the depth of those connections. Intimacies can be found in the anonymous corners of chat rooms, but those exchanges are colored by the fact that you might be pouring out your heart to a twelve-year-old or a robot.”

Or here are some of the brilliant Elan Morgan’s thoughts on Internet shaming (emphasis is again mine):

It’s a real mess out there, and moral vitriol comes with a delicious adrenaline rush, so it’s not likely to sort itself out any time soon or at all reasonably. Oh, internets. What are we to do with you?

Unmanageable breadth coupled with shallow connections and moral vitriol are what I miss least about Facebook. But I’ll admit there are things I do miss. I’m turning to Instagram and Twitter these days for my streams of photos and information, respectively.

Instagram’s draw is self-explanatory, but on first glance, Twitter might seem superficial. I agree with Elan that, if cultivated well, Twitter can become your digital home to a cadre of smart and polite folks. Just the fact that I converse with people like Elan there keeps me coming back (and Cheryl Strayed retweeted me recently, so…). Side note: If you’re going to use Twitter, it’s best to follow these two rules: 1) keep lists, and 2) use a third-party app like TweetDeck to view it. See Nina Badzin’s Twitter tutorial for more excellent tips (thanks to Dana for providing the connection!).

ch-ch-changes - heirloom mothering
A screenshot of my TweetDeck account

 

To take the place of sites I used to “like” to receive updates, I’ve created a list of sites I like to read, my own happy reading place on the interwebs. My kid self is shaking her head at me that one of the sites in my “news feed” is the New Yorker. Yes indeed, twelve-year-old me, the New Yorker is now my favorite magazine.  My aunt has subscribed to the New Yorker since probably before I was born. When I was young, the whole thing drove me crazy from the seemingly nonsensical cartoons to the back section of fun things we couldn’t go do because they were in NYC.

What I love about the New Yorker now is it refuses to stoop to the incessant click-bait babble of Slate, Salon, etc. Even The Atlantic is drawn into that sludge, bless their hearts (the January ’15 cover got the hubs riled up over its unnecessary drama). The New Yorker’s unremitting weekly pace makes my palms sweat a little; for now, I’m content to read articles online.

Here’s a thing I like about writers at The New Yorker. They are modern soothsayers, analyzing and reporting trends I didn’t see coming. One of my favorite writers from the magazine is Maria Konnikova. This chick can write and knows her pop-psych science, my favorite kind. Her piece on Internet addiction is full of truthiness.

What are your favorite Internet safe havens? Do you use Facebook without encountering the problems I mentioned? I’d love to hear more about your experiences, and feel free to share favorite reading sources in the comments!

In other New Year’s related interests, I’m making our annual hoppin’ John, which is a traditional Southern dish to make on NYD. There’s something about peas that represents prosperity for the coming year. I make hoppin’ John because it’s easy, I love the taste, and now is as good a time as any; plus, I usually have a ham bone left over from Christmas day (the leftover ham itself goes here and into a breakfast casserole. I may post that recipe next week).  I’m posting this recipe because I realized today when getting ready to make it that I had never posted it before.

For the recipe below, I combined aspects of this Cooking Light article I’ve had for a decade with Emeril’s nice touches and a bit of new flare from the LA Times. I’m not fussy about a single method; it’s a good one-pot, use-what-ya-got meal. This year I even have leftover cooked rice from our Christmas morning fried rice, so I’m adding it later instead of adding uncooked grains earlier on.

hoppin’ John
serves 8

Ingredients:

1 lb. bag of black eyed peas, soaked overnight, rinsed, and drained
2 tsp. bacon fat or oil
1 c. onion, chopped (about 1 medium)
1/2 c. celery, chopped
1/2 c. green or red bell pepper, chopped (optional; I rarely have these on hand in winter)
1 Tbs. garlic, minced (about 3 cloves)
1 large smoked ham hock (or leftover ham bone)
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried thyme
4 c. chicken stock
hot sauce, fresh hot peppers, or ground cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
1 c. long-grain white rice (or 3 c. steamed)
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

1. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, saute onion, celery, and bell pepper (if using) in the bacon fat for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 additional minute.
2. Add ham hock, bay leaves, thyme, chicken stock, peas, hot sauce, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes to 1 hour or until peas are tender and creamy but not a mushy mess.
3. Shred meat off hock and add to the pot, or if using fresh cooked and diced ham, add it now. If you’re using uncooked rice, add it now too. Adding additional liquid if needed, cook 20 more minutes, covered and without stirring. If serving with cooked rice, you can stir it in once cooking is complete and leave it covered, with no heat, for 10 minutes to get hot.

If you’ve made it this far, bravissimo! As a last note, I’ll direct you to read the lyrics from David Bowie’s song I borrowed for my title; it’s lovely when read as a poem.

wondering about other writers

I’ve been enjoying the answers to Kristen’s questions for writers so decided to jump into the current of her meme and answer them. Plus, this is way more fun than cleaning my house to prepare for my mom’s arrival (sorry for the mess, Mom). Thanks to Lindsey & Nina for introducing me to Kristen and for the inspiration!

1. Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet? (I share with my husband something that I submit elsewhere only AFTER it’s been published, and I am pretty certain he does not read my blog 90% of the time.)

My husband reads what I’ve published after the fact (when I send him the link), but I almost never give him a draft to read. He’s not into my blog; I guess he figures I’ll tell him whatever I wrote there, which is probably true. I’m a talker.

2. How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life (IRL) first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback about it? (Comments from my family and friends, either online or in person, are overwhelmingly rare. I’m totally fine with that, but I am curious if this is the norm for others.)

My mom and mother-in-law are fantastic editors, so I often send them drafts for feedback. My dad is one of my biggest fans, but he never got the hang of consistent web commenting so keeps his feedback to in person or over the phone. One friend IRL gives me occasional feedback, for which I am supremely grateful (thanks, Care!). None of my local friends even really know anything other than a vague notion that I “write for fun.” Now that I’ve switched the focus of my writing away from family updates and recipes, I’ve lost much of my old readership of friends and family. These days I think my readers are mostly friends I’ve cultivated online or people who had a link forwarded to them. Once a year or so, a friend who never gives feedback will shock me by saying “I’ve been reading your blog.” I’m guilty of lurking too so I don’t hold it against them. 😉

I recently was part of a 4-week free class on memoir writing that my local library sponsored, and it was so much fun. I loved the incredible rush I got from reading my work out loud and getting feedback from other writers (including a professional writing instructor), and I quickly became addicted to that feeling. When the class ended, I was despondent even though I was fine without it before it started. Once I knew what feedback could be, I craved that kind of interaction. I’m on the lookout for new writing groups in 2015.

3. What do you do with the pieces that continually get rejected–post on your blog? Trash? When do you know it’s time to let it go?

I plan to submit more pieces to publish in 2015, so I hope I will have the courage to keep submitting and reworking pieces that get rejected. Often I start my concepts for pieces on the blog; then if I feel like it’s something that will be good for a wider audience, I’ll transfer the article to a word document and work on it for submission elsewhere. I have trouble killing my darlings, but I am learning to take Anne Lamott’s advice that even if the first four pages were junk, sometimes you have to write them to get to that golden nugget sentence.

4. Are there pieces you write for one very specific place that, once rejected, you just let go of, or do you rework into something else?

Yes, I have written pieces for a specific place and then reworked them; often it’s not because of rejection but because the tone of the piece changes, and instead of trying to corral it I just let it be what it is. If I know a piece isn’t working, I put it in a digital folder “parking lot.” If and when I do mine it for ideas years later, it’s like reading something a different person wrote.

5. What is your main source of reading-based inspiration (especially you essayists)? Blogs? Magazines? Journals? Anthologies? Book of essays by one writer?

I read magazines, blogs/websites (you can find a list of what I’m reading here), and I LOVE books; like Lindsey said, I always have one on my bedside table. Today it’s fiction: Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. I am especially keen on non-fiction though; there are lots of essays and memoirs on my list. I love Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, and if I’m in a serious mood, David Foster Wallace. I just finished Delia Ephron’s Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog and loved it. Like Nina said, I also love audio books and podcasts (here’s a list of what I’m listening to). If you haven’t done so yet, you simply must hear Bill Bryson read one of his books. I promise you won’t regret it.

6. What tends to spark ideas more for you: what you see/hear in daily life or what you read?

I get my inspiration from the oddest places sometimes. I’ve been reading an old book of children’s poetry to my kids every night that was my mom’s when she was a little girl; I find myself sprinting from their bedroom to my notebook so I can write down ideas. I learned a trick from my dad to carry pen and paper with me everywhere. Sometimes I make notes on my phone, but I’m an old dog when it comes to having a notebook; I like to dog-ear pages and refer back to them later. I always buy a red one so I can find it easily.

7. Who have you read in the past year or two that you feel is completely brilliant but so underappreciated?

Although they are becoming more popular, I routinely find people who still don’t know the awesomeness of Maria Popova’s Internet spaces: Brain Pickings & Explore. They are a treasure trove of creative inspiration. As Nina mentioned, I am glad to see Roxane Gay is getting her due recognition, so she’ll have to come off the underappreciated list (ditto Meghan Daum and of course Lena Dunham). And I’m really hoping Alice of Finslippy and Karen of Chookooloonks take over the world.

8. Without listing anything written by Dani Shapiro, Anne Lamott, Lee Gutkind, or Natalie Goldberg, what craft books are “must haves”?

I wrote a post on this topic recently. To sum it up, I’ll make the obligatory reference to Stephen King’s On Writing since you didn’t put that one on the list. 😉 Also I love every book by William Zinsser. I found Cheryl Strayed’s Write like a motherf**ker essay inspiring to say the least.

9. Have you ever regretted having something published? Was it because of the content or the actual writing style/syntax? (Obviously we all grow as writers and looking back at our “clunkier” writing can be cringeworthy…that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean are there things you wish you hadn’t said out loud either because of what you said or how you said it. I’m not in this position right now, but some things I’d like to write about might get me there. And yet…how can I ignore those topics, you know?)

I haven’t regretted publishing anything yet, but I’m still pretty new to this writing gig. I definitely have cringed when reading some of my older blog posts, but I’ve also LOLed at myself. There are a few posts I’ve written for Natural Parents Network that received harsh criticism, particularly on Facebook, but I knew when writing them that I was walking a tightrope. For the most part I roll my eyes at the critics and move on. Naysayers gonna nay. I think it was Taylor Swift who said that.

something so right: a podcast love story

Hello everyone! Today I have an article up at Mamalode, Podcasts are your Next True Love (A Top 5 List). Go check it out! No really, I’ll wait. If you like it, SHARE it! And if you have a favorite podcast I didn’t list, please let me know in the Mamalode comments section.

When I was 24 years old and about to be married, I couldn’t find a job in our new town of Madison, Wisconsin. I ended up at a temp agency, and they immediately found me a place to work. The catch? I would come home reeking of hotdogs and failure.

I only worked in the HR department of a meatpacking plant for a few months before finding a job I loved—if your bologna has both first and last names, you know the place I worked—but I will never forget that pit of despair. Remind me some time to tell you about the demoralizing fog that enveloped me after having to tell a sweet older man he couldn’t get a job packing meat at 2 o’clock in the morning because he had a felony older than me for growing a small pot plant in his uncle’s basement. Or on second thought, maybe don’t ask me about that.

I was in a funk. Full in the throes of a quarter-life crisis, I listened to Paul Simon’s compilation album, Negotiations & Love Songs, every morning on the way to work to soothe me before the crazy day ahead. I learned Paul Simon had been married to Carrie Fisher, and that the song “Train in the Distance” was about her, so I bought all of her books to jump further into their world. I fell in love with their story woven through memoir and song. It’s the first time I remember using someone else’s tales of suffering to relieve me of my own, though I may not have realized I was doing that at the time.

Eleven years later, I still love oral storytelling. A few years ago I fell in love with podcasts, which are an easy, free, organized way to listen to all the stories I could possibly want. Now that they’re taking off in popularity, there are more podcasts to get lost in than I have time to listen.

something so right (my love of stories) - heirloom mothering
New “Dear Sugar” podcast starts today!

Happy listening, y’all.
xoxo j

winter potluck salad

winter potluck salad - heirloom mothering
After much ado, I finally got a good holiday photo! You were a fun year, 2014.

I have a few articles lined up to appear elsewhere, and I’m excited to tell you more about them when they go live starting next week!

(Gah, I hate when writers tease like that, sorry).

For now, I’m taking a break from words and getting straight to the goods. I made this salad for Nate to take to a Friendsgiving last weekend. When he returned home with the empty bowl, he reported it was a big hit. Which I knew already, of course. I realized when reviewing it that I’d made enough changes from the original post to share it with you again. I changed its name from “resolution salad” to “winter potluck salad” because it needed to be bumped up earlier in the rotation. It’s perfect for a winter potluck because so many dishes are heavy, and this is a refreshing sight to behold on such a carb-loaded table. Plus, it is oh so adorably festive with the red and the green. I’m making it again for a potluck I’m attending next week.

Cheers & happy holidays, y’all! Hope your winter parties are all smash-hits. xoxo j

winter potluck salad - heirloom mothering

winter potluck salad
serves 8

Ingredients:
2 c. farro
1 c. dried cranberries or seeds of 1 pomegranate
large handful (about 1/2 to 3/4 c.) flat-leaf parsley, chopped (basil or mint works too)
1 c. edamame beans, defrosted & shelled (optional)
1 c. pecans, chopped & toasted
1 c. soft crumbly cheese, like goat or blue

Citrus Vinaigrette (from Bon Appetit):
3/4 c. light oil (I like grapeseed & sunflower, but olive oil works)
1/4 c. vinegar (I prefer white or red wine)
zest and juice (2-3 Tbs.) of 1 clementine
zest and juice (2-3 Tbs.) of 1 lemon
1-2 tsp. salt, plus pepper to taste
1 shallot, minced finely or grated

Directions:

1. Cook the farro according to your package’s directions. I put a big pot of water on the stove, salt it well, let it come to a boil, drop in the 2 c. farro (don’t bother washing it, you can skip that step), and cook it for about 25 minutes. Taste it to be sure it’s al dente. Then drain and rinse well with cold water to cool it off faster. Let it sit in your colander while you do the next step.

2. Toast your pecans while the farro cooks, then let the nuts cool. If you’re using frozen shelled edamame, take it out now so it can defrost. Crumble your cheese and set it aside.

3. While the farro cools, add all your dressing ingredients to a small mason jar and shake well. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Pour slowly over the cooled farro, cranberries or pom. seeds, parsley, and edamame in a huge glass or ceramic serving bowl; go light with the dressing at first because you won’t need to use it all now (but it’s great on arugula later). You’ll be surprised how much the farro soaks up; I usually end up with about 1/4 c. left. Toss salad, and let it chill in the fridge covered with plastic wrap for at least an hour.

4. Meanwhile, if you’re bringing the salad to a potluck, put the nuts in their own container, ditto the cheese. You will want to toss those in at the last minute, or else your cheese will dissolve into a pink mess, and the nuts will be soft. Just trust me.

obstacles, or: well begun is half done

I was at the gym the other day, surveying the abundant types of equipment. The kids had ventured to the babysitting room, so I stood in the doorway feeling carefree. I must have looked helpful—the broad smile of a mother who relinquished care of her children for an hour—because an older woman walked right up to me.

“Where have all the Stairmasters gone?” she asked, puzzled.

“They retired in the ‘90s?” I offered, smiling. She did not smile. I don’t make a lot of friends at the gym. In fact, I probably usually give off a don’t-talk-to-me vibe. I insert my earbuds and listen to the newest podcasts I’ve downloaded to my old iPod shuffle.

(Now you twenty-somethings are going to tell me I could listen to podcasts on my iPhone. Hush now, baby steps. It wasn’t that long ago I ignored the podcast evangelists, but now I’m a born-again listener. If you’re not converted yet, I predict you will be among the faithful audience soon.)

The last time I exercised, I listened to a recent This American Life. The theme was “a front,” and stories were fascinating but frustrating—an apt TAL tagline, if there ever was. The first story, “WTF, ATF?,” was as alarming as it was informative. While I am a registered Democrat, I do not accept the label that I am overly trusting of the Federal government. I believe in a healthy dose of skepticism and transparency. Being on the level is not just a legal imperative but a moral one as well.

My favorite was Act 2, “The Border between America and America,” which delved into the troubles with border checkpoints. [Aside: On this topic, I am in agreement with the Democratic Party that “illegal immigration is tied to the broken legal immigration system, not necessarily security.” I question whether we should spend the BILLIONS of dollars we do on border security rather than fix that broken system, which is why I support President Obama’s attempt to make repairs.]

In any case, these complicated stories got me thinking about obstacles. I am experiencing one of my own obstacles at the moment. As I type this piece, I am stopping to put a bag of peas on my face to reduce swelling from the gum graft I had this morning. It was a scheduled standard procedure, nothing major and certainly not an emergency. But it rattled me to sit in that chair this morning, listening to all the scraping and cutting sounds (one thing’s for sure, I’ll be listening to a podcast next time). And the results have got me feeling worse than I expected, which always takes me by surprise.

When my activity level grinds to a halt, I am humbled to have to ask for help. But on the other hand, I am thankful to have a husband willing and able to step in and take over. If obstacles like my mouth surgery have an upside, it’s to remind me of how lucky I am to live most of my life impediment-free. Self-pity can make it difficult for me to see my own obstacles in this way, but I’m grateful for reminders—like the mine field of Christmas decorations in my foyer or the email from my aunt telling me my grandmother is back in the hospital again—to ground me in the awareness of my good fortune. Today as I step over the garland that’s waiting for me to wrap it around the banister on my way to replenish my frozen pea packs, I can’t help but smile (or rather, half-smile like Popeye).

On another positive note, we did lots of the decorating over the weekend, so it looks pretty good even in its current state of chaos. Well begun is half done, as Mary Poppins says. Speaking of Mary Poppins, I’ve been using her aphorisms (like Daniel Tiger) to help my first grader through some struggles; her maxims are fresh on our mind because we just saw the film again at a local sing-along screening. Violin and first grade are both tough, and Vivi also seems to be going through both a growth and developmental spurt as she approaches seven years old—“Life in a minor key,” as Ames refers to seven. It’s full of capital ESS Sulking, this age.

We talk about how Mary Poppins distinguishes between firm and unkind as a way to help her through her feeling of being picked on. There are so many great lessons to be learned from that story; what a character the dad is. As I said to Nate, I never thought I’d identify with that father character, but now I do! Ultimately, Vivi’s ability to overcome challenges, heaped on both outside the home and in, is admirable with or without the Poppins pep talks. She inspires me to challenge myself as I step out of my comfort zone in my writing. Writing requires a leap of faith that I have difficulty making, but Vivi takes that leap every day and gives me strength to do the same.

Nate bought the t-shirt version of this someecard. Some people just don’t get it, but I think it’s hilarious and great for tension relief! It’s become an inside joke for one of us to say to the other in an anxious moment, “Remember that you’re going to die some day!”

 

So how about you? Do you have a distractor like podcasts that gets you through the obstacles you face? And if you’re a podcast listener, tell me: what are your favorites?