Friday, December 4, 2015

Oh, December

Illustration by Kelsey Garrity-Riley

I love December and I don’t care who knows.

I love it because winter feels fresh and anyone who complains about snow at this point is just being a whiner.

I love it because that guy who never took down his Christmas lights from last year is patting himself on the back for his cleverness.

I love it because it has the most work holidays of any other month. Well, two. But still. This is America, we didn’t fight off oppression from the monarchy just to sit around twiddling our thumbs. Yes we did but we want to get paid to do it.

Anyway, here’s my December to do list:

a.     Gingerbread house – this is non-negotiable. In fact, this year I’m bringing in the expert help of the dude I hang out with on the weekends. He’s two, so expect great things.

b.      Visit Seattle. My family is heading there for Christmas “just because” and I’m crazy excited for my very first visit to the PNW, land of foggy beaches and pensive bearded hipsters. Bonus: two of my favorite squinkies live there now.

c.     Get up early enough one morning to properly photograph the hoar frost. #instagramgoals

d.     Audit my sweaters. I have almost more sweaters than there are days in a month and that is nonsense. Let’s be real, some of them need to be put out to pasture. Part of me wants to make slipper booties out of old sweater arms but I can’t sew, and also calm down, Pinterest.

e.      Read two books from my unread shelf. Yes, I have an entire shelf of books I own but have never read. What is wrong with me. I’m thinking The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff and Ellis Island by Mark Helprin.

f.      Ice skating. Or rather, the annual attempt to live out my Michelle Kwan dreams until my feet hurt or I fall catastrophically, whichever happens first.

g.      Hot Chocolate Cookies, get in my oven.

h.     Wear plaid flannel everything. I want to feel like I just crawled out of a tent on a frosty morning in a forest and am brewing coffee in an old tin pot over a campfire. 

i.       Update my blog design. I love you blog, but you need a facelift.

j.       Support my mom, brother, and aunt who are running a 10 mile “fun run” on the 19th. And by support I mean stay home and cook them a big post-race breakfast. And by that I mean sleep through my alarm and text them the address of a nearby Cracker Barrel.

What are your plans this month?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Words on Words

Within my imagination, there is a struggle of constantly wanting to write but not knowing what to write about. Am I writing to pass the time or because I have something to say?

How do I add value to the universe with my words and not just take up space better used by something else-- by a conversation, or a news item, or a song?  Why do I feel the need to make words that are music for the eyes and food for the brain and fuel for the imagination?

Words can be tattoos on the mind, more permanent than ink on skin, than an etch in stone. They can be life-changing, life-directing, even life-giving. But what are words if they are not received? A word of wisdom falling on deaf ears is a precious gem dropped on the floor. Where does it go? Does it roll under the dresser, never to be found again? Or if another is nearby and sees it fall, does it still hold the same value if that person picks it up? It’s diamonds to one but coal to another.

Words can be poison, the most insidious kind--a little sting, over and over again until it breaks the skin. It’s the kind of poison that seeps into the marrow quietly, changing the way the blood flows, until one day the uncomfortable ache becomes unbearable agony. Where did this come from? Nobody remembers the origin story. Nobody was paying attention when the first word found its mark.

Words can build, but it’s disheartening how many more words it takes to build than it takes to destroy.  If you must speak hard words, layer them with kind ones.

There’s not necessarily safety in numbers – thousands of untrue words repeated over and over hold a thimbleful of water that leaks out slowly. A man would die of thirst in a lake of insincere words but feed for a week on a single morsel of truth.

Sometimes it’s not the words themselves, it’s the method of delivery.  Are they issued forth from the lips of a loved one, scribbled in the margin next to other words, or overheard in secret? Some words aren’t meant for us but we receive them anyway. Impassioned words incite nations to war. Make people believe your words and they will die for you.

Words mean everything and nothing. Entire conversations occur in silence. In the blink of an eye, the story can be rewritten between an inhale and an exhale.

So what does it come down to?

Say only the words you mean and never be afraid to let the silence speak for itself.

And therein lies the struggle: knowing when to speak and when to keep my peace.  How to not be overwhelmed when the silence is roaring. How to find the right words when someone asks.

Today these are my words. What are yours?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ten Things I Love Today

1) I fell asleep last night with soaking wet, tangled hair. Naturally I woke up with a balsam fir on my head. Instead of moaning about it, I put on a bright red dress and plaid tights. There is no blending in with the scenery today. IF I’M GONNA LOOK LIKE A TREE, BY GOLLY I’M GONNA LOOK LIKE A CHRISTMAS TREE. 

2) I forgot to set my alarm but I woke up sort of on time anyway. AW YISS.

3) Nena and Co. Everything.

4) It’s almost Thanksgiving and I’m less than a week away from being reunited with my favorite Bostonians. I’m also less than a week away from my favorite feast of the year. FYI, we’ll be serving from both ends of the health spectrum, from lentil loaf to deep fried turkey.
America, y’all.

5) You’ve probably seen it already, but this video of a little boy and his father being interviewed about the attacks in Paris. I’m still crying.

6) It’s that time of year where I play George Winston radio nonstop on Pandora.  If Norman Rockwell paintings were made into a movie, it would be scored by George Winston.

7) I have way too many material possessions and this explains why.

8) I still can’t get over this sky from Tuesday night.

9) For the first time in my life I have real and true business cards. I have never felt more like a kid pretending to be an adult.  I finally have something to give people other than these.

10) Adele’s new album. Basically crying for the rest of my life.

Have a good weekend my dears. xx

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sunday Morning in Penthalaz, a Haiku

This post was inspired by Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop. Write a haiku about something you're thankful for.

April 2011

Ten souls communing,
Golden vials around the throne;
My purpose renewed.

Friday, November 13, 2015

How to be a College Alum

          1. Attend Homecoming

This past Saturday I drove down to my alma mater for one of those classic college student experiences, you know, the kind you’re supposed to have while you’re still in college. I went to a good old-fashioned, all-American football game with my friends.

Yes, pick your jaws up off the floor, I spent my own money and free time to attend a sports game. It wasn’t even to impress a boy! That’s how good of a friend I am.
But really, let me tell you about these friends. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a gaggle of fresh(wo)men were randomly assigned into a student orientation group based on where they lived in student housing.  A few of these girls came and went, but fast forward to the present day and a core of them remain, affectionately referred to as Starship Windsor. (I’m not telling you why, it’s incredibly nerdy and you weren’t invited to make fun of us, so there.)
So anyway, when Starship Windsor plans a reunion, you go. Even if it means displaying your incredible lack of basic sports facts. (Actual things that left my mouth: “Who has the ball right now?” “Why are the guys from Foot Locker on the field?”)
2. Be frustrated by how much has changed since you left.
The first thing I remembered upon arrival was how terrible it is to find parking as a visitor. Your options are to either get there at dawn or pay $20 to park in the cattle pen that is the Ross Ade stadium lot. Or, a third option, drive around for 45 minutes, cry, and then pay a random church $10 to park in their lot, having already missed kickoff. Obviously I went with option 3.
Walking through the campus, I felt incredibly lost. I’ve only been gone five years but it might as well have been fifty, so much has changed. There are new buildings where fields used to be, new buildings on top of where old buildings were, streets with new names, and streets with no names.
And the students! They look so young. SO. YOUNG. These girls in their Purdue sweatshirts and yoga pants with sleek, glossy hair and too much eye makeup, who laugh too loudly. These guys dressed in culturally-insensitive costumes for Breakfast Club, casually strolling by campus cops, red plastic cups in hand. WHO ARE THESE NOISY VAGRANTS? This isn’t MY Purdue!
3. Feel incredibly old.
Literally only Jordyn and Bri are cooperating right now, not even me and I'm taking the photo

The thing that struck me the most was how grown-up I suddenly felt, despite sitting at a football game with my friends. Jordyn made sure we all had on sunscreen, I shared a granola bar with Julie, and when the fireworks went off during halftime, I got a little panicky at how big the blaze was instead of being excited at the pretty display. “But won’t somebody catch fire?!” We complained about how much money things cost, how we feel about our jobs, and even discussed all the foods we can’t handle anymore. Then we laughed at how old we sounded.
Julie asked me if I would go back. I thought about it for only a moment. “I would, but only if I could go back as the person I am now.” And it’s true: I loved college more than any experience I’d had in my life up to that point, but I didn’t love myself. As cheesy as it sounds, I only had a vague idea of who I was and I had even less confidence in embracing it.  That feeling of desperately wanting to be an independent, outgoing adult while still clinging to the safety of what was familiar was an uncomfortable intersection to dwell at for four years. I’m not saying the person I am now is at the pinnacle of self-actualization, but I seem to have grown out of that deep-seated anxiety about my identity.
4. Feel an overwhelming surge of school spirit.
Basically no one is paying attention at this point. We were losing by a lot. Cheerleader group photo!

I’ll be honest with you: I barely watched the game. It’s really boring when you don’t know what’s happening. Fortunately, there’s 20 other things going on at the same time: the cheerleaders, the band, the student section, the fans from the opposing team, the little girl in the next section having a meltdown, etc. Plus, when you’re with friends, you can unashamedly be yourself and yell irrelevant things just to add to the noise:

“5th DOWN!” *chortle*
“DONALD RUMSFELD!!” *chuckle*
“BENGHAZI!” *laughing harder*
“...too far, Julie.”
And then it’s half time and they’re paying tribute to the “Voice of the Purdue All-American Marching Band”, who’s retiring after SIXTY YEARS and the field is full of students and alumni. There’s fireworks and music and finally the school fight song and there are actual tears in your eyes. Your voice breaks on “...of all the days we’ve spent with you, all hail, our own Purdue!” and you feel the need to hug people and kiss babies. This is it, this is the feeling I came for. Despite every imaginable difference, the thousands of people in this stadium are united in this moment by one institution.
Well, with the exception of those Illini fans...
5. Wallow in nostalgia.
Ok but like, two people are missing. Katie and Suz, where are you?

After the game, my friends and I walked through the academic part of campus and it started to feel more familiar. Ah yes, good old Heavilon. In which we took all our English classes and once, Cassandra reminds me, a Bio lecture, when something suspicious started leaking through the ceiling in Lilly Hall.  Oh and there’s Stanley Coulter, where I waded my way through French and the Classics, with the professor who looked like he’d be more at home teaching at Hogwarts. And HSSE, my favorite third floor library hide-out. It had that classic smell of old books mixed with the musk of quiet desperation, a perfect place to agonize over finals.
This was my Purdue.  It wasn’t tailgating and football games, it was class schedules and studying and lunch dates at Oasis in the Union.  My Purdue was working shifts at my residence hall front desk on Saturdays.  My Purdue was res hall life and student governing boards and free pizza at callouts for clubs I had no intention of joining. My Purdue was no better or more profitable or more worthwhile than anyone else’s, but it was mine. And the places it overlapped with other people’s made it special.
6. Leave with new memories.
Good job us. Smiling like grown-ups, finally.

Perhaps my favorite part of the whole day was at the very end.  We went out to eat before parting ways but carpooled to the restaurant.  On our way back, six of us had to pile in Cassandra’s Kia Rio for the short distance to our cars.  Poor planning on my part left me stuffed in the middle of the back seat, underneath Suz, unable to reach into my pocket to retrieve my phone containing a map. I had almost completely lost my voice at that point and to make matters worse, I only had a vague idea of where the church lot was that contained my car.  In my haste to get to the game, it never occurred to me to pay attention to little details like the name of the church,  what it looked like, or even what street it was on.
We drove around for way longer than necessary, the others laughing helplessly at my feeble, squeaky shouted instructions. “Turn here! That’s it! No it’s not! Is it?”
7. Promise to not wait so long before the next time you visit.

The Boilermaker by Ross Ade Stadium

We found my car, eventually. Hugs all around, “drive safe!”, promises to meet up again soon. I smiled the whole way home. Oh Purdue, you giant, money-hungry, frustrating, wonderful, emotional, life-changing animal. I love you. I miss you. Please stop calling. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for the friends. Thanks for the education, I guess.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

It's My Minestrone and I'll Cry if I Want To*

*no actual crying occurred 

I am not a person who generally considers soup to be a legitimate meal. I've said it one hundred of times before, but eating soup is only good if you want to be hungry again in thirty minutes. 

But that was in the olden days of being in college, of canned Campbell's chicken noodle for supper when I had used up my meal plan for the week. 

I'm still one who generally skips that portion of a restaurant menu, but I have come around to the idea of soup as a satisfying lunch or dinner. Turns out, watery broth with thin noodles and tiny bits of chicken from a can is at the bottom of the soup quality scale. Rich, creamy potato with scallions and bacon or hearty minestrone garnished with fresh basil and Parmesan are where it's at

So let's talk minestrone. I have made it before and my favorite recipe is by Ellie Krieger of the Food Network. (Can't be bothered to link to it, you can use the Google.) But the beauty of minestrone is that it's a very accomodating type of soup. You can add or subtract ingredients as you please. A learned chef might argue that if you add and subtract too many things, you end up with something that's not minestrone at all. To them I say semantics won't make the soup taste better.  

Today at work (in my kitchen job) we were dreadfully slow so I decided to make minestrone for lunch for myself and the other employees. My number one love for my job is the latitude to create whatever I want in the slow periods, time and ingredients permitting. Seriously. WHATEVER. I. WANT. 

I grocery shop for the weekend supplies on Thursdays, so the pantry and fridge were on the bare side. Every recipe I pulled, I was missing three or four of the major ingredients. One even called for cabbage. What is wrong with you, Martha? No one likes leaves in their soup!  I put all the recipes aside and made the soup with what we had on hand that sounded good to me. 

Why is this noteworthy, you ask, that sounds like a normal course of events to the seasoned cook. But here's a secret about me: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING. EVER. I'm winging it in there, 24/7. I've never been formally trained. I make a mess, use too many bowls, and I hope you never have to witness my knife skills. I've broken spatulas, glasses, the butter dish, pots and pans, and even started two (2!!) small fires. 

My saving grace is that I know two important safety tips: always cut away from yourself and never use water to put out a grease fire. Seriously, those are the only reasons why I still have all of my fingers and eyebrows and I have never burned down a building. Were it not for my winning smile, can-do attitude, and innate ability to never overbake the cookies, my dear boss would have sent me packing ages ago. 

And so I rarely improvise. I'll substitute and skip a step here and there but for safety (and insurance) reasons, I FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. Until today. I threw caution to the wind (but carefully and away from any open flame) and made soup. And here it is. 

(Me Ellie, not the Food Network lady)

1 tbsp olive oil 
1 tbsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 green onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 tsp Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper (whatever feels right)
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 14 oz can French-style green beans, drained
4 cups chicken broth 
2 cups water
1 cup elbow macaroni

1. Heat the oil in your soup pot. Add the garlic, onion, and celery; sauté til celery softens, about 5 or 6 minutes. 
2. Add the seasonings and the diced tomatoes, juice and all. Let cook a little more. (No idea how long, really. A minute or two? Just until it smelled yummy and tomatoey.)
3. Add both kinds of beans, the broth, and the water and bring to a low boil. 
4. Add the pasta and let simmer 10-15 minutes. 
5. Ladle into bowls, pray it tastes ok, and then dig in. 
(Spoiler alert: it tastes ok. Good, even.)

There's at least eight things wrong with this recipe, including things like sautéing in a soup pot (amateur hour!) and using green onion (all onions are not created equal, you moron!). Also, in a perfect world, I would have added carrots and fresh green beans and grated parm--WHATEVER, IT WORKED. 

Those are the things I had, I put them together, and most importantly, I didn't apologize for the outcome. 

"Soup's up, take it or leave it."
We took it. And we liked it. 

Day 2: Try improvising

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

An Orange Wingback Armchair

I'm afraid of moving forward and terrified I'm sliding backward, and so I grow roots right where I am, inconveniently in the middle of the street, and tremble in fear and indecision as time roars by around me. The wind of passing opportunity yanks out my leaves, creating bald spots in the canopy. Loud and troublesome crows are nesting in my hair. 

I'm so so scared that ten years will pass with a quick inhale and ten more before the same breath leaves my lungs. And I'll still be right there, a bit of grass at my feet and empty branches above. 

Where will I be? What will I be doing? Will I be all alone?

I don't know anything about trees. I assume it's easiest to move them at two points in their lifespan: when they are saplings and when they are dead. Transplanting at the ages in between would require an enormous amount of effort and machinery and patience, I'd imagine. Does one dig up the entire area around the base of the tree and get it all in a ball? If you cut away at the roots, will that make it more difficult for it to thrive in a new environment?

Something must be done. I cannot possibly remain here in the road. For one thing, I'm creating potholes. But have I waited too long? Are the roots too deep?

Enough about trees. Enough with metaphors. I'm stuck in a hole and my twenties are marching on. I'm ninety-three and it's only half past eleven in the morning. 

I'm doing nothing, dreaming about everything, and the time is passing all the while. 

I'm not even writing. I'm afraid to write because it's a mirror more effective than glass, than a powerful camera lens with 300x optical zoom. In words I can see past my skin and eyes and hair, past my bones and muscles, straight into the center of my heart. 

There's a fifth chamber in there, a secret chamber that the blood flows around, but never in. The chamber is comfortably appointed, with a rug and a slightly worn orange wingback arm chair and an oak side table with a large book on it. The book contains all the reasons for who and why and what and where I am. 

But it's like the journal Harry Potter finds in the second book, blank until written in. It absorbs the ink, dissolves the words I wrote, and writes out the answers. I'm afraid to see into the chamber, put words into the book, and see what it has to say.

"You're afraid of failing so you don't even try. And by not trying, that's the greatest failure of all." 

And there it is. 

I've failed without even trying. 

And so I stay exactly where I am, doing the same exact thing, and roots shoot deep into the earth, curling like fists around the bedrock. 

I'm ready to uproot, I don't want to be here forever.  So it's time to try. Try what? Literally anything. For thirty days. Maybe one thing, maybe thirty things. Exercise? Pottery? Vegan mayonnaise? The universe is my oyster. 
(Except oysters. Because food poisoning.)

I've already failed without trying, so let's see if I can try without failing.
*softshoes off stage*

Day 1: Try writing again

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