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.

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

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.

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.

roasted bacon & butternut squash pizza

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i have a growing list of reliable dinner recipes that are easy-fast-good, and these days i am feeling so very proud of it. it’s a collection that’s unique to me, full of ingredients and flavors i love, and that involve prep steps that i find therapeutic – or at the very least fuss-free enough to do on a weeknight. 

lately, that little file folder on my desktop has done wonders for my self-esteem. no matter what terrifying, confusing things i may face in the life outside of my kitchen, i at least know i can pull together some ingredients and make a great meal for myself. it’s one sure way i have of taking care of this fragile heart (and rumbly tummy) of mine.

this pizza recipe became a fast favorite, and an almost immediate addition to that treasured collection. i tend to have mediocre results when i try to make pizza at home. i used to get these limp, overly doughy, salty conglomerations of ingredients, and then i’d feel sad. and then order domino’s. this recipe changed the game for me. the trick, i think, is in turning your oven temp up high and stretching the dough thinner than you think you should. this ensures a crisp and snappy crust and beautifully caramelized toppings—in this case, smoky bacon pieces, cubes of butternut squash, rings of softened onion, and cheese for days.

i’ve made this twice now, and the second time i decided to top it off with some arugula for greenery (it is a new year, after all, and time to eat healthier) and a quick shakeover with our trusty jar of red pepper flakes. what i got was something so close to what i used to order from my favorite little pizza joint downtown – but heaps cheaper and fun to make, to boot. 

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Roasted Bacon and Butternut Squash Pizza
Adapted from Parade Magazine
Makes 4 servings
 
1 tsp. olive oil, or cooking spray
12 oz. diced butternut squash
2 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced crosswise (I used Trader Joe’s uncured apple smoked bacon)
½ medium red onion, sliced
Cornmeal, for sprinkling 
1 lb. pizza dough
6 oz. mozzarella, cubed
¼ cup Parmesan, finely grated
Crushed red pepper, for sprinkling (optional)
About 3 oz. baby arugula, for serving (optional)
Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling (or regular balsamic, simmered until thick) 

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Lightly coat a roasting pan or heavy baking sheet with oil or cooking spray, then scatter with butternut squash, bacon, and red onion. Roast 25 minutes, tossing ingredients around once or twice so they brown evenly on all sides. Remove from oven and increase temperature to highest setting, usually 500°F to 550°F.
  3. Sprinkle a large (12-by-17-inch) baking sheet lightly with cornmeal. Stretch dough roughly over baking sheet; no need to form a perfect rectangle. Scrape roasted vegetable and bacon mixture over dough. Scatter with mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake until browned, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper and top with arugula, if using, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar to serve.

no is the new yes

the other day, not long after i wrote my last post, i was shuffling through my feedly queue and read this. i loved what she said about the special ways her apartment parties would bring people together – i feel the same way about my dinner parties. but really, it was this one sentence that sung out at me:

and what a soothing truth it was. my accommodating nature is so ingrained in me… it’s a complex network of cords and cables that runs under everything i do, and very hard to rewire. so any time i’m asked to do a favor, lend an item, give a ride, help out with this work project or that volunteer event, and i’m on the verge of saying no, a riot of noise starts up in my head: “no one else will be able to do it; you have to help!”; “don’t be selfish!”; “what’s your excuse?”; “say yes now, so you’ll feel less guilty when you need a favor yourself!” it’s crazy in there, let me tell you.

but this one sentence really stilled the room, so to speak. it’s simple. it’s strong. it’s something i hope in a year’s time, i will add to my 2014 list of “what i’ve learned.”

p.s. i just read this article about how clichéd the phrase “something is the new something” is… and yet, i couldn’t help myself with the title. sry.

what i’ve learned

i feel like this has been a big year. amazing things have fallen into place, while other parts of my life have taken me by surprise and gotten flung up in the air with abandon. i’ve read others’ lists like this and am always touched by how insightful and wise they are – we have a lot to learn from our own lives if we just take the time to listen. i didn’t want 2013 to go by without a little reflection, so this is my own small act of homage to everything this year has taught me. here goes:

  • in friendship, support is better than advice – i don’t say this as an absolute; everyone values different things when it comes to friendship. but this is what i discovered and ultimately articulated about my own: when i call up a friend, with good news or bad, whether hurting or elated, i don’t want a diagnosis and prescription; i want someone to join me in what i’m feeling, to remind me what i’m made of. my friends are my heartbeat because, with them, i am known. “a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”
  • how to take care of myself – this year, that has meant: exercising, finding healthy foods i like to eat, giving myself permission to say no (instead of doing every favor asked of me), and setting aside sacred time each week to decompress.
  • how to comfort myself – this is different than taking care of myself, and that was a lesson all on its own. no matter how diligent you are about living right, things will still go wrong. what happens when it’s up to you to make yourself feel better? it’s ok if the answer involves netflix, chocolate, a strong drink, and/or a few angry journal scribbling sessions.
  • you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have– this lesson carries over from a health scare i had in 2012. what was then a seemingly slow-motion series of events (lump, doctor visit, ultrasound, probably benign, mysterious pain, doctor visit, biopsy, phone call, definitely benign) has now become a short story about understanding my strength. i am not invincible; i know it could all happen again but with a different ending. but because of how i faced the first fear, i have been irreversibly changed for the better, for the bolder. i know who i am in the face of uncertainty. i have proven myself to myself.
  • having strongly-held values is different than living according to them; setting a goal is different than working towards one – this is my current lesson, and it’s a work in progress, for sure. i have always prided myself on knowing what i want, but this year was a series of gentle wake-up calls that perhaps the way i was living was not in line with those end goals. how can i say i want to meet someone if i don’t set aside energy to date? how can i talk about being a full-time teacher “someday” if i don’t look into what degrees i need to get now? caring is not the same as doing.
  • i like work – yes, i might currently be sitting on my bed still in my pj’s typing this. however! that doesn’t mean i don’t gain an immense sense of satisfaction and contentment after a good day’s work. i was never one to define myself by my job, or my success by my professional accomplishments, so it was quite a pleasant surprise to discover how much work means to me: my job specifically, and my field in general. what i do makes me a better person, and i like that person a lot.

Be you, bravely

cranberry-orange breakfast buns


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it is important for me to bake. it is how i create home when i’m missing it; it’s how i celebrate togetherness when i’ve found it. transmuting butter into tenderness, eggs into fluffiness, sugar into beautiful browned edges… and then taking the whole pan out of the oven to share around the table — that’s love of life to me. 

for as long as i’ve known to notice, my family has felt disjointed. we never were the picture of coziness and comfort that i saw in holiday movies, that i felt when i stayed for dinner at my friends’ houses. there was a warmth missing, a ‘say anything’ safety net not yet in place. it stung when i went to college, and entered adulthood, and didn’t have what i thought was a strong sense of where i came from. it very nearly broke me, actually, to have to go off on my own and figure out what mattered in life, how to keep it, how to care for myself.
 
but the funny thing about struggling is how much it creates in you, even as it seems to take away. i walked forward as best i could, and while i did i was being granted my superpower. i think we all have one: something that comes easy to us but makes a world of difference to those around us. for me, it was the gift of making a home. of conjuring warmth and welcome into raw spaces, of lighting candles and setting out the plates and heightening the pleasure of company and comfort. i think i was given it because i needed it. and in knowing its lack first, i understood second how important it was to share.
 
and so i return home this christmas, a pan of rolls in hand, knowing i am stepping into a safer place than i’ve known before. this house has become a place of rest and comfort in part because i have. it’s a long lesson, i think, changing your posture from ‘what do i get’ to ‘what can i give.’ baking, at least, gives me a place to start.

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Cranberry-Orange Breakfast Buns
Adapted (barely) from a recipe by Smitten Kitchen
Makes 12 buns. This recipe could be halved and baked in a 9-inch round or 8×8-inch baking pan.

Dough:


4 large egg yolks

1 large whole egg

¼ cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup buttermilk

Zest of 1 orange, finely grated (to be used in dough and filling, below)

3¾ cups (470 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting counter

1 packet (7 grams or 2¼ teaspoons) instant dry yeast
(also sold as Bread Machine or Rapid Rise yeast)
¾ teaspoon table salt, or more to taste
Cooking spray for bowl

Filling:

1 ½ Tablespoons butter

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup fresh cranberries

Orange zest leftover from above

Icing:

3½ Tablespoons orange juice

2 cups powdered sugar

  1. Make the dough: In the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, buttermilk and ¾ of the orange zest together (saving the rest for the filling). Add 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; stir until evenly moistened. Switch to the dough hook and add the remaining 1¾ cups flour and let the dough hook knead the mixture on low speed for 5 to 7 minutes. The dough should be soft and moist, but not overly sticky. Scrape the dough into a large, lightly greased bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled, which will take between 2 and 2½ hours. [If you don’t have a stand mixer, stir the mixture together with a wooden spoon, then continue stirring and beating it about in a large bowl for several minutes, until it comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead it for another 5 minutes. The dough will be a tad sticky, but resist adding too much flour while kneading.]
  2. Prepare the filling: Melt the butter and set it aside. In a food processor, pulse the whole cranberries until they’re ground to a coarse rubble, but not fully pureed. You may need to scrape the machine down once or twice. Set them aside.
  3. Assemble the buns: Grease a 9×13-inch ceramic or glass baking dish. Turn the risen dough out onto a floured work surface and roll it into a rectangle that is about 18 inches wide and 12 inches long. Brush the dough with the melted butter. Sprinkle it with the brown sugar. Scatter the ground cranberries over it, then the remaining orange zest.
  4. Roll the dough into a tight, 18-inch long spiral. Using a clean piece of dental floss or sewing thread, slice the log into 12 sections; they should be 1½ inches thick. Arrange the buns evenly spread out in your baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or up to 16 hours. Liquid will pool at the bottom of pan; don’t worry, this will caramelize and thicken during baking.
  5. The next morning, bake the buns: Take your buns out of the fridge 30 minutes before you’d like to bake them, to allow them to warm up slightly. Heat your oven to 350°F. Bake your buns until they’re puffed and golden (the internal temperature should read 190°F), approximately 30 minutes.
  6. Transfer pan to a cooling rack and let cool slightly. Make the icing by whisking the orange juice and powdered sugar together. Transfer icing to a small Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off. Drizzle over the whole pan and serve immediately, or drizzle over individual servings. Leftover buns can be individually toasted and then iced the next day.