found

this place feels like a dream. it’s been more than three months since i first set down my boxes here, peeled off the packing tape, and moved myself in—but i still catch myself in a moment every once in a while and wonder how i got so lucky.

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i know that finding a new place to call home was my very specific new year’s wish, but it’s still hard to know how to take it when these things actually work out, when you get what you want. i have trained my cynical heart to prepare for the no’s, for the inevitable disappointments. and here i am, completely spun by how sweetly i have landed here. all i can do is keep whispering thank you.

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living here has been restorative, a place for my whole soul. in some ways, this was what i was hoping for. i knew that moving from a stale, shabby house in a gritty neighborhood to a little cottage on a lush, tree-lined street would bring me relief and peace of mind. i knew that letting go of a shared space with three housemates i had fallen out of rhythm with would free me to find a rhythm of my own. of course i love it here.

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but it has also surprised me, how deeply i needed this place. to bring grace and purpose to my solitude. to strengthen my sense of home and belonging. to help me understand that i know how to walk away. that there is indeed a place to be received into, once i am brave enough to voice out loud that there had been something missing all along.

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a song for these sweet and hopeful times.

Walk the Moon – ‘Aquaman’

 

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this place

i come here every once in a while to shake the dust off my writing, wax poetic, and take myself too a little too seriously. but it’s been too long, i think, since i’ve let my mind wander in the other direction – to come here and daydream forward a little.

i know it’s not that hip to make resolutions these days; we’re opting for “intentions,” or choosing a theme word for the new year, or articulating affirmations on the year gone past. and i like those—they’re kinder to the self. but there is one thing i’d like to scribble out for my 2016, a resolution in the classic sense: by this time next year, i’d like to have a new home for myself. a new space to nurture the old me. i’m a nester by nature, and a hostess through and through. it’s time to give her a place to shine.

it will be a place to gather friends again, over dinner

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or over hot mugs of tea, warming our fingers and fueling long chats

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a place to mix up drinks and toast to big celebrations and small victories.

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there will always be lots of light

 

and places to curl up

cozy

and little remindersyou-make-everything-beautiful-illustrated-art-print-01.jpg

of what makes this place a home.

these days

lunarbabboon comic 'thINK'comic by Lunarbaboon

this winter break has given me the amazing gift of time. large swathes of it, largely uninterrupted, for reading and thinking and inspiration in its gentlest form. it’s also brought the seasonal jealousy of being bystander to happy families and cozy homes, friends’ and strangers’ alike… but that comes with the territory, every year. i’m getting more used to it, and better at wading through it.

so i refocus my attention as best i can to what i have and realize i have a lot of good work to do—catching up with myself, my thoughts, and what matters.

here is what i’ve been tucking into:

 

The New York Times’ Year in Pictures

i always hesitate with these, because i know clicking through will be painful. beauty always pushes right up against the horrific. but this year i’m glad i let myself be assaulted by the images. to feel every bundle of confusing, contradictory emotions that came with them. what an overwhelming year on this earth.

 

Mothering My Dying Friend

absolutely beautiful writing. the subject of enduring friendship has been on my mind lately, especially as i track like a spectator all the ways our lives have been changing, all the reasons we have for not staying.

 

The Friend

i promise i’m not seeking these pieces out like a morbid article hound. they are finding me — and helping me understand what it means to stare loss straight in the face.  to understand writing as an act of healing.

 

12 Signs You Accomplished More Than You Think You Did This Year

i usually go on autopilot when asked to take stock of my personal growth. ‘not much has changed,’ i’ll say. i’m still single, still living here, still working on this, still dealing with that.  but i’m ready to give myself a little more credit this year.  part of this season of hibernation and introspection has been realizing how powerfully i’ve changed, and how little of it i have yet recognized in myself.

 

…and some snippets of affirmation from around the instagram world:

Brene Brown The magic is in the mess

Brené Brown
Our City Lights
Momastery

’tis the season for imposed expectations of cheer and warmth and unfettered celebration. it’s nice to know there are big voices out there advocating for a reality that is more complicated than that.

homecoming

sometimes when i sit down to write in this space, i wonder forward about whether and how my words will crystallize this particular time in my life. when i read them back to myself at some indistinct point in the future, what will they help me remember?

old passages i’ve written conjure up memories of a particular summer sweetness, or a dull and heavy dread, an uncertain waiting, a sharp vibrancy. and i am grateful for that. this course i’m traveling has felt long and varied, deep and complex, and i am glad to have records of it here.

i think of this now, because i have more to write. i have closed a stressful, demanding, exhilarating year as a teacher and grad school student. i have returned from two weeks walking so many unnamed roads and riding so many crowded buses and trains through europe. and i have come home to a house that is losing its sense of comfort and warmth.

during my travels, i came across this quote by maya angelou: “i long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever i find myself.” i love it. but i also wish, sometimes, that it wasn’t true. sometimes i want home to really be somewhere—or someone—outside of myself. for the homecoming to be a clicking into place, a slipping on of something soft, a true return. for now it’s just me; i am the keeper of my history, my comforts, my sense of place.

but i do my best. when i came back from my trip, i made sure to cook again. often, the kitchen—my kitchen—is where i feel most like myself. frantic trains of thought dissolve, self-doubt is replaced with self-assuredness, and i let myself be fully absorbed in what happens before me. the easy slice of the knife through juicy, meaty, ripe tomatoes; the sizzle and crisp of fat cheese slices on a hot pan; the smell of bread toasting behind me; the dry shake of garlic salt and fresh pepper sprinkled over it all. i ate this lazy summer meal every day my first week back, trying to regain my sense of land and ground. i hope embedded in this stack of ingredients—and this string of words—i’ll remember this odd, open-handed, wandering time of mine.

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Fried Provolone and Tomato Sandwich
Adapted from Food52
Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches 

Two 
¼-inch slices provolone cheese
1 
Tablespoon mayonnaise, plus more as needed
Two ½-inch thick slices sturdy, country-style bread
1
 medium-sized ripe tomato, preferably heirloom
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

  1. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Carefully add the slices of provolone and let them fry until crusty and golden on the outside but still gooey in the center, about 2 to 3 minutes total, carefully flipping them halfway through with a pair of tongs. Once they’re done, carefully remove cheese slices from the pan, allowing any excess oil to drip back into the pan, and blot gently on a paper towel.
  2. Spread the mayonnaise evenly across the slices of bread, adding more as desired. Core the tomato and cut it into 4 slices. Place the fried cheese on the bread, layer 2 tomato slices on each piece of bread, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

the guest house

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here we are, at the last of november.  wrapped in bed, with the window cracked just a little bit, so i can feel the new winter wind come in, imagine i can smell the coming rain.

at the edge of this holiday season, i find myself wondering at so many different things. this is the time of year i lose my friends to their families, and i lose myself to mine.  every once in a while, it catches me: delight at the thought of a pretty new cake recipe, excitement over the perfect present idea, images of baking up a cozy dinner for everyone and settling in for the night, candles lit, twinkly lights twinkling, heater turned on full blast.  but then i remember: come mid-december, my friends will quietly scatter, houses will empty out, and it’ll just be me. the sense of home i made for myself will dismantle, like it does every year, because the truth is, it’s a mock-up.  a stand-in.

i have a family, they have a house, and  it’s not half-bad.  nice, even.  but it’s not home. and i have to return to it this time every year.

there is a lot of guilt mixed in with this grief. can’t i make the best of it? is it even really so bad? what do i know.  in the absence of others, this poem has been a comforting voice.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jelaluddin Rumi
   translation by Coleman Barks

today

sometimes (most times) music is the best thing to break through to my stubborn, reluctant heart.

today i am thankful for the love i have:

and irrationally hopeful for the love still to come:

sundae sunday

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this past weekend, i got to have some quality time with some of my best girlfriends. time like that is precious these days—time to chat and catch up, to sit around the table for as long as we need to and hear each other out, to remind ourselves and each other that this support system is here, always.

i used to throw elaborate dinner parties every month to get my friends together, with three-course menus and a specially-crafted party playlist and plenty of candles and twinkly lights. and i do miss those days. but life comes in seasons, and happiness comes from accepting that: anticipating the next season while riding out the current one with as much grace as we can. so in this season of us—tapped out, stressed, distracted, and protectively introverted as we are—what works best is what is simplest. a quiet sunday evening before the work week hits, a couple favorite ice cream flavors picked up on sale at the drugstore, toppings improvised from what’s on the pantry shelves, and just one special touch: homemade hot fudge sauce.

this one is dark and deeply chocolatey, drops silkily from the drizzling spoon, and gets just the loveliest bit of chewiness once it hits the cold ice cream. delicious.


i’ll try to remember the lesson of sunday as i prepare to enter my next season, starting up grad school courses again and stepping back into the classroom to begin my teacher training. when nurturing the life of your friendships seems like the last thing you have energy to do, that’s when it’s the most important. but forget the epic girls’ night out or the themed parties or even leaving the house. sometimes all you need is hot fudge sauce.

Hot Fudge Sauce
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

⅔ cup heavy or whipping cream
½ cup golden syrup (or light corn syrup)
⅓ cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped, divided
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a 1 ½ to 2-quart heavy saucepan, bring cream, syrup, sugar, cocoa, salt and half the chocolate to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in remaining chocolate, butter and extract and stir until smooth. Cool the sauce to warm before serving it so that it can thicken up. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

songza!

it’s funny the things that give me a sense of security these days. knowing i have a batch of cookie dough stored in the freezer. a new bottle of pretty-smelling lotion sitting by my bedside. two new library books loaded into the kindle. a handful of recipes i know almost by heart.

today i’m going to add: a kickass playlist to keep in my back pocket. specifically this one: ‘indie in the kitchen

i had friends over for dinner this past weekend, and it made me feel so hip to just type some words into my laptop and suddenly have fresh tunes kicking through the stereo system while we sat around the porch. a lot of stuff i’d never heard before really – but somehow all of it perfect.

for example:


Kimbra – ‘Warrior’

 


Sky Ferreira – ‘Everything Is Embarrassing’

 


Frank Ocean – ‘Lost’

 


Electric Youth – ‘The Best Thing’

if you haven’t heard of songza, it’s a music streaming app/website similar to pandora – except better. it suggests playlists based on your mood or what you’re doing. so if you sign in late night on a thursday, it might list some music good for unwinding or studying, even an option for songs without lyrics. if you hop on the site on a saturday night, there might be playlists for “pre-gaming”; on a monday morning, some songs for “waking up slowly.” it’s tons of fun.

indie in the kitchen‘ is still my top playlist of the moment – great for literally being in the kitchen and chopping, dicing, and sautéing away, but also perfect for long commutes when i need to keep the energy up, and those aforementioned dinner parties where i’m trying to impress all my friends.

here are a few other favorites:

harvest moon‘: one of the first playlists i ever found on songza and still my go-to for warm, folksy, guitar-driven songs

post-rock bliss‘: all instrumental and perfect for working or studying from home (when i’m just not feeling the classical station)

relaxing rain ambience‘: for curling up with a good book or drifting off to sleep

strawberry jam crumb coffee cake

strawberry jam crumb coffee cake

i’m usually the type who needs to get all the work done and out of the way before truly being able to relax. on a typical weeknight, i’ll drive home from school and get going on my checklist: send last work emails, feed dogs, walk dogs, exercise (maybe) and shower before finally getting myself to sit down, eat, and unwind. but today, i heard this: go slow. pay attention.

the porch was so inviting today. the light so soft, this spring evening air so cool and so gentle after the heat wave of last week. so i did things out of order. i sliced off a thick square of this crumb cake, brought out a cup of milky tea, and sat with the evening light until it started to fade and i thought i saw the first of the mosquitoes.

how many more days do we have like this? how many other breaths will come this sweet, this easy? it’s hard to say, and maybe better not to know. instead, i’ll try to remember today’s lesson: every once in a while, go slow; pay attention.    

Strawberry Jam Crumb Coffee Cake
Adapted from Baking Bites
Makes 9-12 servings

Crumb Topping
:
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

A pinch of salt

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
 
In a medium bowl, stir together dry topping ingredients until combined, then stir in melted butter until damp crumbs are formed and the mixture sticks together into chunks when you squeeze it between your fingers. Set aside.
 
Cake:
¾ cup sugar

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 cup sour cream (light is fine)
½ cup strawberry jam, melted and stirred until smooth

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and line a 9-in square pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Lightly grease and set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla, followed by the eggs, adding them one at a time until mixture is smooth.

  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to sugar mixture, alternating with sour cream in two or three additions, until well blended. Batter will be quite thick.
  4. Spread evenly into prepared pan.
Stir jam in a small bowl until smooth and drop by spoonfuls onto the cake batter. Gently swirl through with a knife. Top with crumb mixture, clumping it by squeezing it between your fingers while you work and spreading it into as even a layer as possible.

  5. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  6. 
Cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

ready for the mess

it’s been so many damn years since my last relationship that even if my personal growth weren’t enough, the sheer amount of time would’ve done the trick — it’s history.

but to hear this song after this movie was like someone taking me by the wrist and leading me back, just for a short visit, to that time. to my young, new, raw self, just learning how it’s possible to hope and to walk away at the same time.

 

i loved it. i love how one movie and one song can shovel under all the progress i’ve made, undo it all just for a sweet miserable moment, long enough for me to remember the taste of that specific grief, the dismantling, the mess.

and then to remind myself: i know how to put it all back.