Thursday, July 24, 2014

Things in jars.

No, not jam. Other things.

It's a weird summer this year. I mean, hooray, my big trip. But since I've been home I've been feeling very much like a hermit, like going out of my house to see anyone or do anything exceeds my energy level. Or maybe my emotional strength? I'm good hanging with my kids--I love that--but I've been laying pretty low. Working at home, being at home. Not leaving much or going far. I don't really know what it's about.

Change, maybe? Addie starts junior high in a few weeks and I have this feeling that once she does, she'll be heading off to college in five minutes. It pains me to think about how fast she's already grown. And I'm going part time at work this year. This is good. But I think maybe the idea of my kids being in two different schools and myself being in a new situation is just making me want to dig in my feet. To stand still, even if just for a second.

This, also: I felt really low this week for two days... sore all over, tired, cranky. And then I got a migraine that took two more days to go away. I should know better by now to read the signs, but I didn't see it coming. (I kept telling E I thought I was getting sick.) So I'm sure migraine-me contributed to Operation Hermit Crab a little bit.

So let's talk about putting things in jars. Because I've had too much time on my hands. There's really no good reason for this behavior. I mean, I could blame the fact that I've been watching a lot of Ina Garten lately, but Ina hasn't put anything into a mason jar that I've seen. I think her nervous laughter, the "how easy is that"-s, and the bright, shining kitchen are making me invent kitchen projects.

But no jam. Because it's hot as heck, and I'm not trying to sweat it out and make a big sticky mess (there's a great essay on the Paris Review Blog about making jam, though, and it makes me think that yes, I will go there again someday). Not now.

My culinary efforts lately have been other protective measures (imaginary, maybe?) against the imminent approach of the school year. Black feathers to my Dumbo anxiety. They feel like things I can do to get myself ready for Super Mom/Teacher Time. I went down the rabbit hole of Pinteresty ways to make lunches ahead (read: not every single morning when the kids go to school because that always ends in angry peanut butter messes). I started making sandwiches and freezing them. I made 48 granola bars, wrapped them, and froze those too.

And I started putting things in jars. Testing recipes. I am not going to torture you with a picture of the first thing I made, Overnight Oats. Because it looked as bad as it tasted. Who is eating this crap? It wasn't fit for human consumption. I love me some oatmeal, but I am 100% unconvinced why anyone in their right mind wants to eat that sick paste. Don't comment and try to change my mind, either. Overnight Oats are dead to me.

Anyway, the things that worked:


Layered salads in jam jars.

Hey. I admit that I've been seeing this on Pinterest for a thousand years and I didn't get it. I thought people just did it because they thought it looked cute or something. (Aside: I'm cool with jars being functional to hold our foods, but let's stop fetishizing them, huh? You don't really have to drink your vodka out of a mason jar sippy cup.) But you can make salad in there and it will last five days. Here's a post that has more info, if you want it.

You basically go: dressing, hard veggies, softer veggies, cheese, greens, paper towel, lid.

Boom. And then you have a healthy lunch for five days. Put some protein on it. Or put it on the side of your dinner. It's your disco, Stu.

This other one is kind of silly. It's the laziest thing I've ever made.


I saw this post on Smitten Kitchen about easy refrigerator pickles. And I made it even easier because I didn't really measure anything I put in the jar. Basically I just filled it up about halfway with some kind of vinegar (white or rice wine are favorites), add 1ish tsp of salt, a pinch of dill, and whatever else you feel like. What I feel like lately is a clove of garlic. Mmm, pungent. The liquid only fills the jar about halfway, but if you shake it and turn it upside down a few times over a day or so, eventually the water is drawn out of the cukes and into the brine.

I think any cucumbers would work (peppers, etc too), but so far I like Armenian cucumbers the best. (The ones in the picture are just regular ol' grocery store cukes... have to get the good ones at the farmers' market since my garden is terrible this year). I've made three different jars and they're all good eatin'. We all know that pickles are just a vinegar and salt delivery device.

So there you go. A post on how to keep yourself busy when you have lots of time but threemany feelings. And you don't want to leave your house.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Summer BFB

BFB = Big F____ Book


Fat. Fun. Famous. Ferocious?

Or, you know. The other thing.

For a few years I've been using my summer as a chance to tackle big books. Classic books. Books that people I admire have read. For me, beach reading is the kind of book that barely fits in your hands and takes many a lazy July afternoon to finish. And I allow myself to destroy them. I am not being figurative here. I get them wet at the pool, I cram them into my purse and they end up with gum between the pages. I get all up in these books.

These BFBs are not always great literature, but they can be. I try to find balance -- especially when I started BFBs and I made myself read one classic for every new book. (That part has since gotten a little messy, which is fine...) They almost always fall into the category of things that I would not have time to read when I am teaching/in school/reviewing.

Previous BFBs: Gone With the Wind, The Thorn Birds, East of Eden, Middlesex, and Anna Karenina.

What's funny about looking back at those reviews is that my feelings about many of those books have changed over time. Some that I was not a fan the day after finishing have grown on me. And honestly, with things like Anna Karenina there's a nice confidence that comes later from being able to jump into a conversation about a big-ass classic and know what you're talking about. It makes me grow to love the book more than I did when I was like crap, I just read a thousand pages and I need a rest.

But the point of summer BFBs is not really enjoyment, per se. It is challenging myself in some tangible way to read more than I think I can read. It's the grownup equivalent of that Summer Reading Challenge at the library when I was 8 where I could earn points on the library wall and win at reading. The point is winning, basically.

There are no page requirements for a BFB. But it has to feel hefty. It has to be doorstop of a book. I have read all but one of my previous BFBs in actual book form. Even though I'm a fan of ebooks too, there's something about having a book that looks like nobody in their right mind would pick it up that appeals to me.

So, okay. This summer. I have actually read one BFB, and I am just over 10% through the other. The first was the first book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, which is the basis for the HBO Game of Thrones show. It's not a literary classic (let's not argue, okay?), but it is over 800 pages. It qualifies on length alone. And in terms of how much goodwill it buys me with my fantasy book-loving husband. I just finished it this morning (I'll compose my thoughts on it soon) but I definitely have that glad I'm done feeling.


My second BFB this summer (modeled for you on the couch next to me by Puppy) is Middlemarch. I bought Middlemarch as a joke to myself about three years ago after a conversation with my (then to be) program director, Tod Goldberg about how students in the UCR Palm Desert MFA program choose their own reading lists. "You can read whatever you're interested in," he said. "It's not like we're going to make you read Middlemarch. I mean, if you want to read Middlemarch you can, but we're not going to make you." That phone call changed my life--I found out I was accepted to my MFA program and immediately set off reading books that were not Middlemarch for the next three years. When I saw a brand new copy in a used bookstore soon after, I took it as a sign.

And I promised myself I'd read it once I was done with the program. I had absolutely no intentions of liking it, but since I know I can make myself read (and finish) anything, I didn't care about that too much.

But here's what I'm finding, and this means I am a hopeless nerd and I should just surrender any cool cred now. I am actually liking Middlemarch. Like, really, really liking it. I know you're not shocked because you already get what kind of grade A dork you're looking at, but I am pleasantly surprised. It's really good.

I decided to attack this particular BFB from all sides. I have the paper copy, and I had a copy on my Kindle from a long time ago. I bought the audio book from audible, so I am also listening to it when I walk my dog. I am never without Middlemarch, you guys. It's fabulous. I am really taking my time and trying not to rush this one, and so far it is the perfect summer book.

Any suggestions for BFBs?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

They should probably come home now.

I've been a mom for long enough that I'm often not entirely sure which parts of my identity are me and which parts are dictated by being around my kids. It's like when you've been dyeing your hair for so long and someone asks "what's your natural color?" and you press your lips together and raise your eyebrows and you're like "brown...ish?" because let's be clear: you really have no idea how much of your "natural brown" is blended for you in that little black tub of hair dye by your stylist. You can't remember what color grows out of your head, and you have a sneaking suspicion what grows out of your head looks more like those grey wires you try to tuck underneath a sly part so you don't get the urge to pluck them.

Or so I hear.

Anyway, my kids have been gone all week. They're up at their Mimi's house taking swim lessons and running all over the mountain. I miss them like crazy, but I'm not complaining. I have used this time. I'm still playing book review catch up from playing hooky in Europe for three weeks, so quiet time in my house has been a total luxury. I've tried to be good and work and also get some things done around the house, too. It's not just book time in the middle of a crazy pile.

I wonder a little if these rare times alone aren't some way to see what I'm really like, now. Like, maybe the reason I am not BeyoncĂ©-fabulous and Lizzy-Caplan-chic and Misty-Copeland-fit and Herman-Melville-published is that I have too much to do when we're four of usWhen there is nobody to ask for things or dictate a schedule or leave the bag of Lays potato chips on the carpet for the billionth time in a row, maybe it's super easy to be awesome. I can't go off of what I was like pre-kids, because at this point that already feels too long ago.

So of course like any neurotic 35 year old woman, on Sunday I decide I am going to DO ALL THE THINGS during my week alone. The list:

I am going to floss like nobody has ever flossed before.
I am going to read three books, one of which is Middlemarch.
I am going to reorganize my kitchen (see also: be a better person.)
I am going to find the floor in my closet.
I am going to eat only fresh, fabulous and mysterious vegetables because
a) Gwenyth
and b) I'm sure it's not hard to give up Icees.
I am going to probably lose ten pounds. Or so.
I am going to write like five book reviews and maybe a novel.
I am going to plan my first semester of English 9 and AVID.
I am going to write some short pieces for essay contests.
I am going to get up and dawn and run every morning.
I am going to eat hella stuff out of Mason jars.
I am going to make like five kinds of jam.
I am going to meditate, and take long, thoughtful walks.
I am going to binge watch like three new shows.
I am going to keep my house spotless.

So yeah, all that happened. Because that's who I am. See you later.


I mean. I guess what I learned that week is I am not the kind of person who can do all that in one week, even if my kids are not here.

Don't get me wrong. I did a lot of stuff. Just sometimes I was a total asshole about it. To myself. Take today for example. All I did was go for a walk finish reading a review book, and my internal dialogue was not a pleasant one. I won't tell you the words I said, but it felt like it took forever to finish reading 50 pages. Neat.

It's not like I didn't know this, but in my haste to be skinny and productive and published this week, I forgot to account for the two things I was going to spend the most time doing:

1. Naps
2. Being fascinated by my pets

There have been a lot of cat pictures up in here.


And cat talking. And weird talk-to-dog voices. And you get it.

I did some good things. Sunday I got a desk. A real honest-to-God desk so I can type there and stop having couch related laptop neck pain. It's very simple and very small and very much better than the card table I've been using.


Plus it has bookshelves, which my forays into critical work are quickly demanding we need more of. I filled the top with books on my to-read (not for reviews) list, and I filled the bottom with books by people who inspire me.

Oh hey, professors.

So, listen. I did read. And I walked the dog a lot. And I ate a little bit better than normal. And I did cull about 20% of the crap out of my kitchen and haul it to Goodwill. And then I did the same for my closet. And I sent reviews to editors and I kept the place pretty clean and I tested some new recipes. But that's about it. There are probably 8 or so hours each day I can't account for, and I'm guessing only about two of those hours were spend Googling obscure facts about Nicole Richie's hair color.

I didn't become an entirely new person, no matter how many inspirational pins I found on Pinterest. I was productive, but I'm probably just about as productive when the monkeys are here.

More than anything, I missed 'em.

Saturday, July 05, 2014



Yesterday felt long. A side effect, I'm sure, of the early waking/still not sleeping right thing. I finished a review before 6, took the dog for a run before 7, and was done dragging the kids through Walmart and the pet supply store before lunch time. After lunch and unpacking all the snacky American processed goodness I purchased at the 'mart, we swam at my mom's for a while, and we hadn't even made it to the actual 4th of July party.

But after a short visit with E's parents--who stopped by to bring me a bookshelf for my classroom and a new quilt ladder that my father in law made for me (yay! more on that soon)--we were in the car and off to see the rest of the family.

Is it just me, or does it seem like we spend a lot of time in the car on holidays?


We had a great BBQ with E's family, most of whom we haven't seen in quite some time. We reunited with our fellow travelers from the trip, though, so it was fun to catch up about life since we'd been back.

And of course, Henry made sure we had our s'mores. For the S'moreth. They were delicious, too.

I couldn't stay awake for the end of fireworks, though, and I was almost knocked out in the comfy chair inside by the time E came in to say we were all done. I crawled into bed when we got home and somehow Addie ended up asleep there next to me. I didn't realize until I woke up this morning to an elbow in my face--I assumed it was E, but it was Miss Roo.

And now I'm trying to drink a smoothie of last week's farmers' market leftovers. For two reasons: A) use up all of the produce that was left from last week's purchases and about to go bad or get tossed. B) to atone for all the Coke I drank and marshmallows (okay, and doughnuts) I consumed yesterday.

Happy Birthday, America.


Friday, July 04, 2014

Lumps and the S'moreth of July


I've been home now for a week, and most of that has been spent asleep. Jet lag has been kicking my patoot, and as of last night I have yet to remain awake later than 9:30 PM. The flip side of this is that I have been awake by about 5:00 AM every day, so I've had the quiet hours I need to catch up on some book reviewing. Not a loss to sleep that much, really, and since I don't have to be anywhere right now, I can stay at home and nap myself back to normal.

Life always gets small in the summer, but this week my car died and needed to be at the dealership for a few days, so life shrunk to the size of a pinpoint. For most of the week I didn't go any farther than my parents' house so the kids could swim in the afternoons, and that's only about a half mile away.

I'm happy to be home. As awesome as it was to be away, I missed my bed and my pets and the simple joy of being home with the kiddos during the summer. We've had a great week even though Mom has been kind of a lump. The pets, of course, do not mind this lumpiness at all.


I wasn't able to get myself into gear while I was traveling to do any reviews (or even to read for them), so I've been really busy on that front. Luckily, I scrambled to finish a bunch of them right before I left, so I think I'm okay. It just means I have to stay on my organizational game.

Will this summer seem too short? I keep wondering about that, like I'll have to pay for spending three weeks of my time traveling. I paid a little already with a stinging sunburn on Monday when I didn't think about the fact that my skin had been under cloudy European skies. It wasn't up to its ordinary June bronze. Oops.

We'll see about how long this summer feels. My garden is kind of a non-starter, since the sprinklers were unplugged for the three weeks I was gone. I might get a few tomatoes, but I don't expect anything else. And I know that there won't be any peach jam this year. The peaches ripened while I was gone and they all either got picked or fell on the ground before I came home. Sads. I'm sure I'll be making some strawberry, so it won't be a total jam fail. But it won't be like it usually is. (Strange that I measure my summers in jars of preserved fruit, no?)

I'm trying not to think too much about the end of summer, and to just be happy I'm not at work (that's not hard, by the way). Today we'll be with family for the 4th rather than all alone like last year, but Henry just asked if we can go get marshmallows to continue the S'moreth. Sounds good to me.