Five good things | 1

This weekend I'm in Georgia for an old friend's wedding. I remember being younger, daydreaming with Cyndi about moving far away for college, meeting new people, seeing brand new places, and never looking back. It's funny how the looking back that seems so uncool and ill advised when you're young becomes the anchor that holds you steady as you get older. The farther away from home you get, the more you feel the need to glance back, however briefly. This weekend will be one of those glances.

1. For this wedding, I decided to make a quilt as the gift. Cut to this week, and I'm still scrambling to pull it all together. They live in Texas, so I could technically just send it to them after, but I knew that without a pressing deadline, I might not ever finish. So I finished it. It's not technically a quilt, but I'm still proud of this blanket with its quilted top. I hope they like it.
2. Our garden has started to overflow onto the back porch on these more frequent warm days. Yesterday we drove home with the windows down, and after working for a couple of hours, we walked to Inman for ice cream.
3. My favorite lyric these days is from Macklemore's "Ten Thousand Hours," when he says, "The greats weren't great because at birth they could paint/The greats are great because they paint a lot." So whether it's an hour or a half hour, I've been spending time doing the things I want to learn to do, the things I love. Yesterday, it was painting these words (inspired by Elise). (That is, when there isn't a new Following episode on Hulu.)
4. Books! I can't get enough these days, excitedly jumping from a finished book to the next one. The lady at the library has begun to recognize me when I come in, knowing that I have reserved books to pick up and letting me peruse the new arrivals table while she grabs them.
5. I'm calling it: Camping season is officially upon us. I secretly booked a site for Mike's birthday weekend in May, and I'm trying to get friends to come with us. I can't wait to reveal the surprise; I've almost spoiled it several times already!


Books of 2013 | March through mid-April

I feel like I spent the first half of this week recovering from last week. What better way to clear your mind and remember the tiny wonderful things than to read a good book?
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This one was recommended to me by a coworker, which is a new one for me; most of my recommendations come from close friends who know me well and understand what I need from a book. This book couldn't have been more spot on for me though, and I am so grateful not only that she recommended it, but that she brought it to the office book swap in December. I picked it up at the beginning of March and finished it just as March was coming to a close.

The book follows a group of students at a small New England college. Tartt is adept at writing a room full of people, which serves the book so well as there are so many characters going in and out of rooms, making phone calls, joining the table in the dining hall. The story is like none I could ever have guessed, and though it is unique, it touches on subjects of humanity and friendship that make even the least relatable circumstances somehow relatable.

Perhaps it's because I read this one as Winter threw its final tantrum, but I'd recommend you read this book during the colder months. It pairs well with a hot tea, and I'm a sucker for daydreaming about a book when I'm not reading it, so matching weather always helps.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
When a friend asked what I was reading, I explained this book as a "beat book." As in, I'm taking a beat after the intense love affair I had with the last book I read. I read Flynn's other novel, Gone Girl, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved it, so when I saw her first novel at Savers, I bought it without a second thought.

While Flynn has definitely grown as a writer since her debut, her gift for creating heart pumping and page turning stories has always been a given. The characters are unique and unpredictable, and they slowly reveal themselves to you and to each other. By the end, I couldn't stop reading and reacting aloud to the turns in the book. The very end felt a bit like an information dump, but by that point I was just glad to know the truth.

a visit from the goon squad by Jennifer Egan
This was one of those book's that I put on my to-read list back in 2011 when it was getting a lot of attention but never got around to. (Also on that list, for context: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, which I've since read; Room by Emma Donaghue, which I bought at the same time as this one.) I kept seeing it at Savers and Goodwill but thinking I'd never read it, kept passing it up. Then one day I was just in the mood for buying books and scooped it up along with Room, Sharp Objects, Roald Dahl's Ghost Stories, I Was Told There'd Be Cake, and Eating Animals.

This book is marketed as a novel, but it felt more like a novel in stories to me. In fact, I remembered a couple of chapters because I'd read them as short stories somewhere before. Each chapter—or story—stands on its own; the stories and their characters intertwine toward the end, even if only peripherally. Someone's assistant is married to someone who used to know some other guy in college who is now married to a fan of that one guy's client. The main themes in the book are music and consumption (and consumption of music): the way "good" music is defined by what the consumer wants, to the chagrin of those whose tastes are no longer in style. My favorite look at music in the whole book is in Chapter 12 (which completely caught me off guard and pissed me off for about half a day; if you've read the book, you'll understand why), where Lincoln borders on obsession with the pauses in music. He makes looped tracks of the pauses from different songs, showing the different ways his family members react (endeared to his sister, pissing off his dad).

The book ends with a culmination of seemingly everything and everyone, not only in the book, but in New York City. It tells the story of a slice of a generation, the way they grew up to barely recognize the new world around them, let alone what they remember of their younger selves. That description sounds a little depressing, but it isn't. Egan does a great job of delicately pushing these characters through their lives, whether they like it or not—and who can't relate to that?

Up next on my to-read list: The News from Spain by Joan Wickersham, The Fun Parts by Sam Lipsyte, and A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. Unrelated: the lady at our branch of the library recognizes me now.


In the wake.

We huddled around my computer in the kitchen at my office, listening for any updates, staring at our phones. Snippets of sentences: my wife's there, my friend's daughter is there, my neighbor's running the marathon. 

At first there is confusion, then disbelief and the scrambling search for what is true, what is real, what is happening. The tiny beating hope that the rumors are mistaken.

I thought there were things reporters weren't supposed to say on the news so as not to incite panic, things like there is so much blood and missing limbs. The comparison to a war zone. The looping video of explosions followed by smoke followed by a second explosion, all soundtracked by screaming, the very specific sound of chaos. Each time my gaze went up, following those three yellow balloons tied together as they ascended above the site of the first explosion, hovering nearby as though waiting.

Driving home, I listened to NPR, which consisted of the same information and confusion I'd heard on WBZ. At a stop light in Inman, I rolled the window down despite the chill, wanting to be in the same air as those around me, wanting to hear the voices coming from the car to my right.

Each night after work, my thoughts usually go to the next day, mentally preparing for work, counting down to the weekend. But Monday night there was none of that, just the tunnel vision of right then, right after. When the news got to be too much and we'd seen the same scene 20 times, when I'd checked Facebook more in a half hour span than I usually do in a month, we went for a walk, if just to see the world as it was right then rather than as we'd last seen it on TV.

It's been a beautiful couple of days here, the much anticipated spring is unfolding petals everywhere. What appear to be dead trees and bushes, upon further inspection, are brimming with green, with signs of regrowth where none had been the day before. This season is usually a refreshing one, but this time around it is a comfort, a reminder that in the wake of a gray and bitter winter there is life just underneath, waiting to begin anew.


Oh yes, it is Spring after all.

In true New England fashion, today—almost a month after the actual first day of spring—feels like it, really, spring. Maybe it's the timing of the sunrise, the sky flushed and the early morning shadows of trees against the houses on my street as I leave for work, when hardly a month ago it was still coated in night. It might also be the feeling of a holiday, an eastern Massachusetts holiday—Patriot's Day—and the spirit of all those marathoners in town. There is something coming alive here and therefore in me also, I am starting to feel like there are enough hours, there are enough days, that I will get there, wherever there happens to be, and enjoying the journey, which often includes the figuring out of where there is.
Both photos taken on the way to Atlantic City, NJ, April 2013


Made | Hot buttered popcorn chocolate chip cookies

Confession time: Sometimes when I'm working from home, I bake things. I usually bake them with the full intention of bringing them into work the next day, which makes it feel a little less scandalous. But still. My office is right next to the kitchen, and sometimes it just beckons.
Last Friday I was perusing Bloglovin' and saw Joy the Baker's post about these popcorn chocolate chip cookies (originally from Smitten Kitchen, which I somehow missed?!). I made them that very night with the excuse that we had guests coming into town (I always make up excuses for baking, even though I know I'd still be baking even if I couldn't come up with an excuse). They ended up being a huge hit, especially served as an impromptu breakfast the next morning. Then all this week I kept saying, "I'm going to make more of those popcorn cookies." Then I'd go to the gym and feel like maaayyyybe I should hold off on making a batch of cookies. (Full disclosure: I thought it would be overkill to eat the rocky road ice cream in our freezer along with fresh-baked cookies.) But then on Wednesday I remembered that we were going to Meg's house for a sushi-making dinner party on Friday night and an excuse was born! I'd make the cookies on Thursday while I worked from home. And I'd bring (most of) them to the party at Meg's!

So I made these bad boys during the tail end of my lunch break yesterday. I actually dressed up because I was going out for drinks later, so I even had to put on an apron. My neighbors must be confused about what I do for a living. But I mean, look at this, it's just daring me to mix it on low without an apron on (we all know that hand mixer "low" is stand mixer "warp speed").

This recipe is a delicious chocolate chip cookie with one daring amendment: buttery popcorn. Joy makes her popcorn from scratch, which I also do on official movie nights, but for these cookies, microwave popcorn is an equally viable alternative (but you must resist the urge to just eat the popcorn on its own; plug up your nose or something). Beat all of your ingredients together in a particular order with a stand mixer (or hand mixer, for us unmarried folk) then dump in your popcorn! It looks like an accident, but it is just the opposite.

Then comes the chocolate. I used Nestle's dark chocolate chips; they're bigger than normal chocolate chips and they're the only dark chocolate option I found at Shaw's? Or you could put some fancy chocolate chunks or even (I just thought of this!) butterscotch or caramel chips. Turn this movie snack into a county fair treat! 
Bake these guys up for about nine minutes (every oven has its magic cookie-baking number, what's yours?) and then let them sit in the sun while you take pictures. Or skip that part and just go straight to dipping them in 2% milk. Save that skim milk for your bran muffins on Monday morning. These are for Friday night.
Maybe it was just coincidence, but the sun came out at the same time the first batch of cookies did. 

Buttery Popcorn Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 20 cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 bag of chocolate chips
~2 cups or 1/2 personal size bag of microwave popcorn (the more buttery, the better! I used Trader Joe's brand)

1. With a mixer of any sort, mix the butter and sugars until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix for another minute.
2. Mix in the flour, soda, and salt until just combined.
3. Fold the popcorn in until it breaks down a little, then add the chocolate and incorporate.
4. Form dough balls with an ice cream scoop or a regular old spoon and place on parchment paper about 1-2" apart.
5. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about nine minutes (I like mine a little undercooked).
6. Bring to your "friend's party."

PS: You know that moment in Baby Mama when Tina Faye's sister is trying to figure out what's on her kid's face and after saying it could be either chocolate or poop, she tastes it and discovers it's chocolate, and Tina Faye says, "What if it had been poop?!" Well, after cleaning up the cookie making mess, I had a brown smudge on my finger and I licked it off, thinking it was chocolate. When the taste was bitter, I panicked and ran to the sink to rinse my mouth out, during which I realized it was just vanilla.

PPS: There's no way it could've been poop, but still it was as traumatic as drinking your water to discover it's actually Sprite.



No doubt in Holland,
when Van Gogh was a boy,
there were swans drifting
over the green sea
of the meadows, and no doubt
on some warm afternoon
he lay down and watched them,
and almost thought: this is everything.
What drove him
to get up and look further
is what saves this world,
even as it breaks
the hearts of men.
In the mines where he preached,
where he studied tenderness,
there were only men, all of them
streaked with dust.
For years he would reach
toward the darkness.
But no doubt, like all of us,
he finally remembered
everything, including the white birds,
weightless and unaccountable,
floating around the towns
of grit and hopelessness—
and this is what would finish him:
not the gloom, which was only terrible,
but those last yellow fields, where clearly
nothing in the world mattered, or ever would,
but the insensible light.

Everything, Mary Oliver (From House of Light)


Went | Atlantic City, NJ

A couple weekends ago we went to Atlantic City with Mike's parents. I'd never been, but we can't turn down a free hotel room (all to ourselves!) and free drinks in the Chairmen's Lounge. Our friends Nicole and Jay came on Saturday and we all pretended to be high rollers. 
We went for a late night stroll on Friday and saw one of these push taxis with a disco ball and a boombox. 
Of course we were drawn to the $.99 store on the boardwalk, where we found cheating chopsticks, little wooden umbrellas for pina coladas, and mugs that look like old school desktop computers. I got one for everybody.
We'd seen this place the night before, but they had just closed up, so I went on a mission the next day to win something out of these grab machines. Cyndi and I used to spend all of our allowances on the grab machines at Kroger (and anywhere else we saw them), so I felt like I was making adolescent me proud by winning an Annoying Orange for Mike's sister and stopping after only $2. 
This is Mike being serenaded by the "singing lady" on the boardwalk singing, "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore." Hallelujah.
Saturday was the sunniest most promising weather day we'd seen in a while, so I braved the ocean gusts without tights. It was wonderful! Until I realized that I had to hold my dress down against the wind and standing anywhere not in direct sunlight was freezing. Then I changed into jeans.
The ride home was chock full of This American Life episodes, naps for me, and vanilla shakes to soothe my sore throat. Atlantic City is a loooong six hour drive from home, so we were glad to be back in the land where people don't smoke indoors (the only gripe I had about the weekend).


Y'all | South Boston Yoga

Image via
So I want to start this new series called Y'all, for when I discover something new to me that I want to share with the world (emphasis on new to me). The title is inspired by my friend Katharine who always prompts an exclamation with "Y'all." When she wants to tell us about the latest YouTube video she's died laughing at (even though her rendition is always better than the original), she says, "Y'all." When she tries a bite of delicious peanut butter Pinkberry, "Y'all." This is my homage to her and to new experiences and just general giddy exclamations.

Last night I finally made it out to South Boston Yoga with Meg. She's been trying to get me to go with her for, oh I don't know, a couple years now? I've been curious about yoga for a while, but I'm one of those people who likes to try things on her own before going in front of a big group of stretchy pant–clad folks and making a fool of herself. But last week we made a date for last night to meet up for the All Levels class with David, one of the co-owners. Can I just say that last night's class blew all of my preconceived notions (the little bastards) about yoga out of the water. Sure, the place was quiet and dimly lit. Okay, so they want you to take your shoes off immediately and when you enter each classroom, it's a sea of LuluLemon. But beyond the superficial yoga cliches, this place is like a church—there is so much respect for the practice and excitement about newcomers.

I got there a little bit late; it's a straight shot down the red line, right across the street from the Broadway stop, but the class fell smack dab in the middle of rush hour. Let's just say my proximity to warm and breathing bodies on the train was a good precursor to the class. Meg had luckily saved me a spot; my other option was right next to the instructor at the front of the class. Everything from the class pace to the instructor's sense of humor (he narrated and encouraged and distracted us right when we needed it, interrupting our breathing for a couple laughs) wasn't what I expected. The class was vinyasa, which is the "sequential movement that interlinks postures to form a continuous flow. It creates a movement meditation that reveals all forms as being impermanent and for this reason are not held on to." At one point he said to stretch without the expectation of the next movement. Can you imagine? All day I'm thinking about when I can have my lunch, when I can have my next cup of coffee, when I get to go home, when the weekend is. It is so rare to just stop and be in the moment. Having that reminder while focusing solely on the way my body feels and breathing was amazing.

My favorite part, by far, was the meditation at the end. I focused on this section of peeling paint on the ceiling and thought of nothing, focusing on the syllables of the instructor's song. I remember thinking one thing, "My mind feels the way it does when I get a massage, and I'm just lying here." To say it was a revelation would be an understatement. I'm already planning out when I can go back.

The Details:
Where? South Boston Yoga, 36 W Broadway Boston, MA 02127
When? They have classes all week with a variety of options (hot, core strengthening, all levels) with a variety of instructors. Our instructor David and his partner own the place; his classes fill up fast so get there earlier than I did.
How much? $5 for your first regular class. On your second visit, you can pay $25 for a two week unlimited pass (I'll be doing this), or each class is $15 or $12 with a student ID. You can rent mats for $1.
Why? I left feeling elated, Meg and I giggling like schoolgirls on our way to the train.

So tell me, do you yoga?


Hello, April.

Hello, April showers. Welcome, longer days, rolled up jeans and no socks, homemade iced coffee, and smoothies for breakfast. Hello to weekends outside, and the impatient anticipation of Spring in full force.