Friday, April 24, 2015

Weekend Reading: Become a Better Person





Here's your quick and dirty weekend reading list from around the web, guaranteed to make you a better human being.*

Become...

A more loving person: Especially if you love a highly creative person.


A more joyful person: Find those areas of your life where you're hanging on to the wrong thing, the thing that feels like pain or apathy. Make a change. It might get harder before it gets better. But it will also be worth it. 

A dreamier person: As in, dreaming about the life you want. And then ACTING ON IT. Get a little help from these two folks

A healthier person: Get on the green smoothie train, but for the love of yumminess, don't start with celery. Try this one

A more alive person: Use the Fine Art of F@#k It



*As I've said before, simply reading these articles probably won't make you a better person. But they're interesting, and anyway, I recommend seriously considering whether you're perfect already - just the way you are.


p.s. Bringing back these pandas.


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Thursday, April 23, 2015

I Promise: Vows for my Dearest Friends



My wife and I wrote our own vows, heartfelt and specific expressions of our particular love. A mix of aspiration and realism, they were promises of who we hoped to be for each other while recognizing our own limitations. Writing them was an exploration of the type of person I wanted to be in this relationship. I felt honored to share mine with my wife and to be the recipient of hers on our wedding day. 

I've been thinking a lot about friends lately and what makes a good friendship, a friendship that lasts. I've known some of my closest friends for almost half my life, more than double the amount of time I've known my wife. And there are newer friends that I'll likely know and adore for another half my life. They've talked me through breakups, cried with me over losses, and rubbed my back when I'd had too much to drink. They've partied with me and called me when times were rough. These friendships have sustained me. 

In romantic relationships, at least the ones that choose the traditional route of marriage, the couple makes promises to each other about what the rest of their relationship will look like. Here's what you can expect from me. And even in those long-term relationships without marriage, I think there are conversations about what one partner can (or can't) promise to the other.

Perhaps other friendships are different, but in my experience, even the best of friends don't have those conversations. I've made promises to my friends, of course - I'll keep it a secret, I'll be there for you after you break it off, etc. But I've never set it out in full. I've never said you're so important to me, that I sat down and thought about who I want to be and who I can be in this relationship.

So here goes. These vows that are both aspirational and realistic, promises of who I hope to be for my dearest friends while recognizing my own limitations. 

Dearest Friends,

I promise to always remember your birthday except when I don't, in which case I promise to wake up panicked in the middle of the night and send you a verbose belated birthday text that includes a substantial number of exclamation points and emojis.

I promise to verbally (or in writing) agree with you about how horrible your boss/significant other/roommate/parent/sibling is behaving, but I also promise to offer gentle, sensitive questions if I think you're going to extremes (which of course would never happen, but just in case).

I promise to dance with you at trashy clubs and in kitchens and living rooms and grocery stores and on sidewalks and create more ridiculous memories. 

I promise to read emails from you and respond to them promptly except when I don't, in which case I promise to feel terrible about it and think about the email every single moment that I am away from a device with a screen.

I promise to tell you if you have something in your teeth, mascara smudges, or a wardrobe malfunction. 

I promise never to post a bad picture of you on social media, even if it includes the best picture of me that's ever been taken.

I promise to celebrate your joys and grieve your sadnesses, and I promise to share my joys and sadnesses with you.

I promise to give you the benefit of the doubt and to tell you if I'm feeling hurt by you or angry with you in a way that is compromising our friendship.

I promise to listen and try to understand your point of view when we disagree.

I promise to carry you in my heart for the rest of my days.  


p.s. Blue Moon.


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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I Took the No-Like Facebook Challenge



A post by popular blogger Schmutzie has been making its way around the internet for almost a year - about how she quit liking things on Facebook for two weeks and found herself more connected to her Facebook community. I didn't find it until a few months ago, but when I did, I decided to try her idea for myself. 

It has been a little over two months since I quit in earnest. Perhaps I've let my finger slip a time or two - that habit is hard to break, but for the most part, it's been a like-free zone. In the beginning, I experienced feelings similar to those Schmutzie describes. I felt as though I was letting people down, as if they would notice the absence of my "like" on their recent family photo. I worried that I was breaking the inherent social contract of a Facebook friendship: You like my updates. I like yours.

To combat that feeling, I had to comment on posts where previously I would have simply hit "like." I felt suddenly shy. Do I really know her well enough to say something about her recent promotion? Liking it, sure. 185 other people liked it too, so she probably wouldn't even notice. But even a simple "Congratulations!" seemed like it might prompt a response like, "WTF? Why is this person writing on my Facebook wall?" Or worse: "WTF? Who is this person? Did she go to my high school?" 

Through Facebook likes, I had been smiling and head nodding along with perhaps dozens of people that I never actually interacted with. It was as if I sat on a bench a couple feet away, listening and smiling and nodding, while someone told all their "real" friends about their trip to the Grand Canyon. What would happen if I yelled out from the sidelines, "Hey! I went there last summer too!"? Would they incorporate me into the conversation? Or would they view me as an intruder?

So while I struggled with worrying that someone might miss my likes on their posts, my fear of intruding simultaneously kept the bar high for posts I would comment on.  If I hadn't spoken with someone in real life in the last 10 years, I didn't comment on their posts. And because of Facebook's algorithm, I eventually quit seeing their posts at all. For the most part, the posts that remained were those belonging to the people that I actually engaged with - the ones where I commented on the adorable overalls the kid was wearing or sent my condolences for a terrible experience or gave a little "Woot!" for a job well-done. 

My feed was more tailored to me and more likely to prompt a friendly online conversation than a like fest, which made Facebook a more enjoyable place to be. I'm not immune to Facebook envy, to pictures of vacations and new offices and perfectly decorated birthday parties leaving me with a sense that everyone else's life is better than mine. And recent studies indicate that the voyeuristic style of Facebook use, where we watch (and perhaps like) but do not engage, is more likely to result in feelings of depression after we peruse our feed. The watching means we only see the Facebook story, the pretty pictures, the parties with girlfriends, the successes, the combination of images and words that make someone appear to us as a constantly beautiful and happy character rather than a live human being. Engaging, even with people we don't know in real life, often leads to an understanding of a more nuanced story. We comment on someone's photos from Hawaii, "That looks like Heaven! Those must've been the best 10 days of your life!" And they respond, "It was! Except for the 3 days the kids were sick and puking and the day my husband locked the keys in the rental car! Haha!" And Bam. Envy spell broken. Humanity restored. 

But perhaps the restoration of humanity is not what we're all looking for on Facebook. 

What surprised me about the experiment is that I visit the site less often now. I shouldn't have been shocked. I'm an introvert at heart (though, obviously, a very chatty one), and engaging with other people, even online, requires more energy than simply liking a post. I'm less apt to pull up Facebook on my phone while I wait in line at the grocery store because I won't have time to really respond to a post. Before, I could scroll through, liking away, without really being present. Now, if I like someone's post, I take the time to say something, even if it's just "Way to go!" or "What a cutie!" (which, incidentally, might be my new "like"). If I'm in a terrible mood or just feeling like I need to recharge, engaging even in this online fashion is more challenging. 

And I miss some of those old posts. I appreciate reading about the lives of people I don't really know, or at least not anymore - I'm a self-professed online voyeur. Sometimes I feel envy, absolutely. But those people and their posts also broaden my view of the world, precisely because they're not in the circle of folks with whom I usually engage. 

So after two months of not liking anything on Facebook, I'm adopting a hybrid approach: Commenting as the primary activity. Liking as secondary, to be used primarily when commenting would feel too much like inserting myself into a conversation for which I have no invitation.* 

But don't even try to take away my Instagram double-tap.


p.s. The Blogosphere Comparison Game: It's a Lose-Lose


* I know there are those who believe that posting something online is an automatic invitation for comments by any and all who can see the post. While that may be true in theory, I think that in practice and specifically on Facebook, people tend not to think that someone they barely know is perusing their posts.


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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Easiest Fabric Napkins



I went to a wedding last summer where the groom's mother made dozens of fabric napkins for the place settings, beautifully mismatched in as many different patterns. The bride was incredibly generous and sent me home with four dainty flowery ones, which I use for special occasions. 

Making some more to go along with those original four has been on my project list for almost a year. I don't know why it has taken me so long because whipping up a few of these fabric napkins is about the easiest and fastest sewing project you could imagine. Making hundreds for a wedding would take a while for sure, but I made 10 in less than an hour, with a little extra time for trimming the edges in front of the television. 

And now, not only are we being a bit more environmentally friendly, but I get to see these pretty fabrics on a regular basis instead of having them folded up in my studio. And I have enough that we don't have to save them for special dinners, and we shouldn't run out even if I'm behind on the laundry (and you know I am). 

If you're all set for fabric napkins at your own house, these would make a great hostess or housewarming gift. 




Easiest Fabric Napkins

Cotton fabric in a variety of patterns
Ruler
Rotary cutter or scissors
Coordinating thread
Pinking shears



1. Cut your fabric into a large square. I did this by folding from the edge into an even triangle and then cutting the two sides, which ensures that the square is...well, square. I used an existing napkin to get the size right.



2. Sew a simple straight stitch all the way around the edges of your fabric square with a 3/8 inch seam allowance. 



3. Cut the edges with pinking shears to avoid fraying. 



That's it! Now put one next to your plate and enjoy having something so pretty for wiping your hands! 


p.s. Embellished hand towels are another great way to get pretty fabrics into your everyday life.


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Monday, April 20, 2015

Project Pie: Very Berry Mousse Pie


Project Pie: I'll be baking 24 pies before Pi Day 2016 to get over my fear of baking pies. And to eat delicious things. You can join me by posting about your pies in the comments or tagging your twitter, instagram, or facebook posts with #projectpie. Make something gooey and delicious!

Saturday afternoon, in the middle of making this pie, I stopped, took myself into my bedroom, and put myself to bed. I gave myself 5 minutes. A time-out to think about my own behavior. 

We had people coming for a not-yet-cooked dinner, the kitchen looked like we'd been bombed, I broke the shell of my pie crust, the coconut cream layer was too thick and wouldn't spread properly, the pie crust was out of proportion to the amount of filling, the sun was going down so I wouldn't be able to get natural light photographs, and I'd done almost nothing on my page-long to-do list. Naturally, I did what any reasonable person would do in this circumstance. I yelled at my wife, slapped a spatula down on the counter (spattering coconut cream everywhere), and had a full-on temper tantrum. 

Unaffected by Navah's attempts at logical problem-solving, I huffed around the kitchen, slamming cabinet doors and muttering under my breath. And then some mildly sane voice, which I suspect was my therapist telepathically sending me messages from her vacation in Turkey, suggested that I walk away for a few minutes. 

So I did.

And I learned what I assume every parent knows. Time-outs are not so much about punishment as they are about resetting. When you're in the middle of the temper tantrum, there's nothing but the temper tantrum. Everything is horrible and unfixable and must be blamed on someone. 

In the five minutes that I lay on my bed, these things happened: 

1. My breathing slowed down. 

2. The thoughts in my brain slowed down. 

3. I realized that the sun would could up again tomorrow, and I could take a picture then. 

4. I had the epiphany that a fruit compote on top of the coconut cream layer would be delicious and would (1) cover up the messiness of the coconut cream layer and (2) increase the height of the filling so it didn't look so stupid in my deep dish pie pan. 

5. I thought, "I love my wife. I'd like to apologize to her and give her a hug."

6. I said a little prayer of thanks that it took less than five minutes for some space in my brain to open up and allow rational, non-panicky thoughts. 

I sat on the edge of the couch and told Navah I was sorry, and we talked about why making a pie had sent me over the edge. "If this doesn't turn out," I told her, "I won't have any recipes for my blog this week. And I'll get behind on Project Pie." 

"Couldn't you write about the failure?" she asked.

I looked at her askance. 

"Wasn't the whole Project Pie thing supposed to be about facing your fear and allowing yourself to mess up?" she asked. 

Oh, how quickly the attitude of play and experimentation gets thrown out the window. 

With just three successful pies under my belt, that old familiar expectation of perfection had plunged me into the worst version of myself. Failure was no longer an option. Especially not with an audience.

And as it turns out, it wasn't a failure. Giving myself the time to step away and let the Perfection Monster slink back into its tidy little corner allowed new ideas to bubble to the surface. The fruit compote saved the day. After Navah and I tried a little of the pie without it, we decided the "fixed" pie was better than it would have been had I not had a few mess-ups in the first place. 

It's a constant practice, this acceptance of imperfection. 

It's better with pie. 


Very Berry Mousse Pie 
Adapted from Spunky Coconut 

Prepare and bake this pie crust (or your favorite) for 10 minutes at 325 degrees. 

Very Berry Mousse

Add to your blender or food processor:

3/4 cup canned coconut milk
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 heaping cup frozen mixed berries
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon gelatin, dissolved in boiling water (add last)

Puree and pour into the cooled crust. Place in the refrigerator to set for at least 30 minutes. 

Coconut Cream Whipped Topping

Add to your blender or food processor:

2 cups coconut cream
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon agave nectar
3/4 tablespoon gelatin, dissolved in boiling water (add last) 

Puree and pour onto the very berry mousse layer. Refrigerator for 30-45 minutes to allow to set up fully. 

Fruit Compote

4 cups frozen mixed berries
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1/2 tablespoon agave nectar

Bring ingredients to boiling over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and stir frequently until a jam consistency. Spread onto the cooled coconut cream whipped topping layer. 



p.s. Another coconut cream favorite - four-ingredient vegan chocolate frosting.


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Friday, April 17, 2015

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Opting Out



A few weeks ago I read this post by Sarah over at Yes and Yes. 

"I remembered that freeing feeling of opting out and started applying it to other areas of my life. And I realized that there were plenty of things I could opt out of - things I could simply choose to not care about."


Perhaps it sounds simple, but when I read her post, a lightbulb went off for me about the difference between not being able to do something and choosing not to do something. 

A few months ago, I signed up for the trial period on one of those online exercise programs. You know these sites, right? You pay $10 or $15 dollars a month, and you get access to a library of work out (or yoga, pilates, etc) videos that you can do in your own home. Usually there are a bunch of filters you can use to find just the video that works for you in that moment. For instance, you can sort the videos by length. So if you only have 20 minutes, you can find a video that's short and only do those squats and lunges for 17 minutes. 

I tried out Barre 3 after learning about it from (never home) maker, and I did one of the 10 minute videos and liked it. And then every day, for the next 15 days, I thought about how I should do a video. But I didn't. I was busy or tired or forgot when I was actually at home. The next day I would chastise myself a bit for the previous day's failure and promise to sign on today. 

13 days came and went. 

And then I read Sarah's post, and it hit me. 

I could choose not to do these videos. In fact, I was choosing not to do these videos, but I wasn't thinking about it in those terms. Instead, I planned every day to do a workout video, and every day I failed. I was viewing myself either as a failure or as someone way too busy to fit in working out, both of which left me feeling crappy and not in control of my own life. 

What if I decided that walking my dog twice a day was all the exercise I was going to get? Maybe not forever, but for right now. What if I decided that having toned legs and sexy arms just wasn't on my priority list?

What if I opted out? 

I cancelled the membership. 

I have a lot going on, and I choose not to add home exercise videos to that list. 30 minutes of sitting on the couch and knitting while I watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is on the list, but home exercise videos are not. That's just how it is right now. I opt out.

I started looking for other places in my life I could opt out. 

Making the bed
Looking fashionable on the weekends (see photo above)
Getting my inbox down to zero
Saving old clothes to re-purpose them (now I just consign)
Giving up coffee 
Being an emotional stoic

I'm *this* close on high heels.

Opting out is basically about honesty. Either you're opting out already but not owning the decision or you're opting in but feeling miserable and stressed out. 

By finding places to opt out, I'm realigning my time and my energy. Sometimes you have to figure out what you don't want so that you can make time for what you do

I encourage you to do the same. 

Opt out.


p.s. Our stenciled bathroom.


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