SAUCES:

Once sauce ingredients are mixed, freeze in muffin tins or ice cube trays and then transfer to freezer bags.

Cilantro Pesto

2 cups fresh cilantro leaves (do not include stems)
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons blanched (skinless) almonds, soaked overnight with lemon and sea salt
2 teaspoons chopped, fresh garlic
3 teaspoons lime juice
1 cup shredded asiago (Parmesan or Romano can be subbed)- organic or from Switzerland
3 teaspoon sea salt

Using a blender, mix together the cilantro, olive oil, almonds, garlic, lime juice, asiago, salt  on low speed for 2 minutes.

Basil pesto

  • 6 Cloves Garlic
  • 4 Cups Fresh Basil Leaves (or 4 handfuls)
  • 6 Tbls blanched (skinless) Almonds, soaked overnight with lemon and sea salt
  • 1 tsp of Sea Salt
  • 1 Cup + 4Tbls Olive Oil
  • 1 Cup grated Parmigiano Cheese (or Pecorino or a combo of both) organic or from Switzerland

In a blender or food processor, cover the blade with olive oil.  Add the garlic and mince. Add the basil, nuts and salt and chop (if you’re using a blender you may not get this to chop, so just keep adding oil and pushing down the basil until you can get it moving).  Once everything is finely chopped, drizzle in the remaining olive oil with the motor running. Mix in the cheese.

Italian Butter

8 sticks organic valley pasture butter (green package)

2 tbsp. ea-  DRIED herbs- Parsley, onion, garlic, oregano, basil, thyme,

2 tsp each- black pepper, sea salt

Any additional fresh herbs can be added. Warm butter on counter and blend all ingredients in food processor.

Curry

5 tbsp garam masala

3 tsp tumeric
3 tsp coriander
3 tsp sea salt
3 tsp garlic powder
3 tsp onion powder

3 jars bionature tomato paste
4 cans of native forest original coconut milk

Blend all ingredients in blender or food processor. freeze in muffin tins

Herbed Tomato Concentrate

6 jars bionature tomato paste

1 c EV olive oil

2 tbsp. ea- DRIED Parsley, onion, garlic, oregano, basil

2 tsp. ea- red pepper, thyme, black pepper, sea salt

Blend all ingredients in blender or food processor. freeze in muffin tins.

PROTEINS:

Prepared beans

– navy, black beans, adzuki and lentils are the only beans we can eat.

-Day before: Soak beans overnight w/ filtered water, a splash of lemon, and sea salt.

-Drain and cook with organic garlic and onion.

-please leave headspace in jars for freezing

Chili

Use your own recipe with these considerations:

Day before: Soak adzukis and/or navy and/or black beans overnight w/ filtered water splash of lemon and sea salt (Do not use other beans- they are too high in lectins)

Meat options– Grassfed ground beef, bison or venison from local source.

Tom paste/tom sauce- Bionaturae

Single ingredient non-irridated spices and vegetables (excluding potatoes, corn and soy) are fine

Coconut and olive oils are the only oils we can use.

Crustless Mini Quiches

 

(make in muffin tins or 9 x 11 and cut in squares- transfer to freezer bag once cooled)

6-12 pastured eggs

2/3 cup to 4 cups of coconut milk (native forest) or heavy whipping cream (organic valley)

1/3 c melted butter (organic valley, slightly cooled)

1 to 3 cups meat (cooked, locally sourced, nitrate/nitrite, dextrose + maltodextrin free)

1 to 7 cups organic veggies (sauteed/softened)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 to 4 tsp other spices

butter, coconut oil or bacon grease for greasing the pan

Combine the wet ingredients (eggs/cream/whatever and spices). Grease a pie plate & put the veggies/meat in the pan. Pour the eggs over the veggies/meat.  Bake at 350 for 30 to 45 min.

Shredded Chicken + Chicken Broth

We go through about 2 gallons of chicken broth a week- and would love some home made in the freezer. We usually make about 4-5 gallons at a time and use this recipe:

12- 2 qt. Jars (available at kleindorfers) Note: do not fill past freeze line!

8-10 qt. sized freezer bags

2-3 whole chickens (My family is CHLORINE sensitive- GUNTHORP CHICKEN from Bfoods does not use chlorine in processing)

Organic Veggie scraps- (please no onions or other alliums)

Filtered water to cover

Sea salt

Bay leaves

½ c apple cider vinegar

Parsley

Combine all ingredients except parsley and cook for 2 hours. Remove whole chickens, shred and cool meat and put in freezer bags. Put carcass, weird parts and skin back in stock pot and cook on low simmer for 8 + hours more. Add parsley in last hour of cooking.  Strain broth from solids. Please leave enough head space in jars for freezing.

Meatballs

Freezer bags

–       3 pound of grass fed local ground beef/lamb/bison

–       3 small onions, grated or very finely chopped

–       6 tablespoon ground cumin

–       1 tablespoon paprika

–       1 1/2 teaspoon pepper

–       1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon

–       1 teaspoon ground ginger

–       1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

–       9 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

–       6 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro

–       3 large pastured eggs

OR
–3 pound ground turkey or chicken
–2 eggs
–2 tsp sea salt
–2 tsp ground black pepper
–2 tsp onion powder
–2 green apples, peeled and shredded
–1 cup shredded sharp cheddar (organic valley)
–1 cup dried unsweetened organic cranberries

The Directions.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the ground meat with the ingredients. I used my hands.

Make golf-ball sized meatballs, and drop them into your crockpot. I used a 8 quart crockpot, but you could use any size over 4 quart, probably. You can definitely stagger-stack the meatballs on top of each other.

Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours, or on low for 5-9—the cooking time will depend on how many meatballs are in the crock, and the size of your machine. The more full it is, the longer it will take to cook.

I cooked 3 pounds of meatballs in a 8 quart for exactly 6 hours on high. I could have left them in a bit longer to brown the ones on the very top, but we were hungry.

Once they are browned, let them cool and package them in portions of about 12 in freezer bags.

Breakfasts and Snacks:

Banana Bread (2 small/medium loaves or 1- 9 x 13 or 2 muffin trays)
5 cups blanched almond flour, plus about 1 cup for dusting the dough if misbehaving

2 mashed organic bananas

1 teaspoon  sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup organic valley butter + extra to grease pans

4 pastured eggs
1 tablespoon honey

  1. In a medium bowl, combine almond flour, salt and baking soda
  2. In a large bowl, blend together butter, eggs, banana and honey
  3. mix the dry ingredients into the wet until a nice dough forms
  4. butter baking dish and spoon dough in evenly
  5. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes, until lightly browned


 

Almond Biscuits

5 cups blanched almond flour, plus about 1 cup for dusting the dough if misbehaving

1 teaspoon  sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup organic valley butter + extra to grease pans

4 pastured eggs
1 tablespoon honey

  1. In a medium bowl, combine almond flour, salt and baking soda
  2. In a large bowl, blend together butter, eggs, and honey
  3. mix the dry ingredients into the wet until a nice dough forms
  4. butter baking dish and make biscuit shaped/sized dough rounds with hand
  5. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes, until lightly browned   on bottom edges

 


 

Pumpkin bacon chive biscuits.

1cup coconut flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup coconut oil + oil for pan
8 pastured eggs –room temp is best*

2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup plus 4 tablespoons pumpkin or butternut puree ( if you are not making this from scratch brands that are ok include farmers market or pacific natural)-  room temperature so the oil doesn’t solidify

1/2 cup organic green onions chopped or thinly sliced

1/2 cup organic shallots or onion minced
6-8 strips of nitrite/nitrate free local bacon

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease baking sheet with coconut oil.

Using kitchen shears cut the bacon  into to tiny pieces. Preheat a skillet over medium heat (I use cast iron), add the bacon and begin to cook. As the bacon begins to release the fat, add the minced shallots. Continue to cook the mixture till it begins to brown nicely and caramelize a bit. Bacon should be crispy.This could take 7-10  minutes. Remove from the pan and allow to cool.

Combine coconut flour (scoop & sweep method, not packed), baking soda and salt.

Add the coconut oil and beat till smooth. Note: This helps keep the coconut oil from hardening into little pieces later if your eggs/pumpkin happen to be cold. For best results though, let them come to room temp first. Try sticking the shelled eggs in a glass of hot water for about 3 minutes to speed up the process.

In a separate bowl combine the apple cider vinegar, pumpkin and eggs. Beat till smooth

Add the flour mixture, bacon & shallots mixture, and chives to the liquid ingredients. Mix all the ingredients until the batter becomes thick and well combined. The longer it sits the thicker it will become as is the case with coconut flour. If your eggs and/or pumpkin were cold the dough will be quite thick. This is fine.

Drop mounds of batter onto the prepared baking sheet. Use a heaping 1/8 of a cup per biscuit. Smooth and shape slightly if needed or if you’re just obsessive like me. They be nice and tall not flat. Makes 15-20 biscuits.

Bake for about 15-18 min or until slightly golden. Times will vary from oven to oven and the thickness of the biscuit. Do not over bake or they can become dry. 

Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before moving transferring from the pan.


Zucchini Spice Muffins

Makes 24 muffins

6 quart size freezer bags (4 muffins ea)

  • 1 cup butter or unrefined coconut oil
  • 1 cup real honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp real sea salt 
  • dozen pasture raised eggs
  • 3 tsp organic REAL vanilla extract (imitation and non-organic often uses corn)
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 4 dashes ground ginger
  • 2 dashes of cloves
  • 1 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 4-6 medium zucchinis (or two extra large zucchini)
  • 1 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  1. Melt butter or coconut oil in a small saucepan over low heat. Turn off heat and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the eggs, salt, vanilla extract, almond extract, spices, and  baking soda in a large bowl.  If using an immersion blender, pulse a few times to combine. Otherwise, mix to combine with a whisk or mixer.
  3. Add the honey to the butter (or coconut oil) and stir slightly.  Pour this mixture into the wet ingredients and blend well with immersion blender or mixer.
  4. Remove the ends from the zucchinis, and shred them with a box grater. There is no need to peel them before shredding.
  5. Measure out the coconut flour.  Since coconut flour clumps readily, it will need to be sifted if you are not using an immersion blender.
  6. Pour the coconut flour into the bowl with the wet ingredients.  Use an immersion blender or mixer to thoroughly combine all ingredients, making sure there are no lumps.  (Since coconut flour does not contain gluten, there is no worry of over-mixing it).
  7. Fold in the shredded zucchinis and optional raisins.
  8. Line a muffin tin with paper cups.  Scoop the muffin batter into the paper cups.  I like to use a 3-Tb scoop for this, but you could just use a large spoon.  The cups may be quite full if your zucchini was rather large, but this is fine.
  9. Bake muffins in 325 degree oven for about 40-50 minutes, until muffins are set and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  10. Cool before putting in freezer bags.

 

 


 

 

Spiced Coconut Flour Biscuits

Freezer bags

18 Tbs. coconut flour

18 Tbs. softened lard (FROM ALLEN @ market—non gmo) (or ghee or coconut oil)

6 heaping tbs. honey

6 pastured eggs

3 tsp. REAL organic vanilla extract (I’m allergic to imitation and additives in non-org)

1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger

3 tsp. cinnamon

3/4 freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

2 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350. Line 4 large baking sheets with parchement paper.

Mix together the coconut flour, lard/oil, honey, eggs, and spices. Let sit for 5 minutes; the batter will thicken slightly.

Mix in the baking soda and vinegar. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto the baking sheets. Use the back of a spoon to spread the batter into circles about 1/2” thick. The batter will not spread very much when baking.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until moist but cooked through.

Makes about 30 small biscuits. Allow to cool before putting in freezer bags in batches of 5-6.


It’s been almost six months since I’ve written here- adequate time to lose just about anyone who was formerly following my journal. There was a time when I watched to see how many people read along, and I found inappropriate self value in the numbers rising. But for now –I suppose for a time now– this has back-burnered to other dearer things.

Andjoli had a number of frightening medical diagnoses since early summer, and we’ve been in the throws. I don’t have words yet to manage all the frailty I felt through this time. And the sour energy doesn’t all just switch off now that her blood enzyme levels are reasonable. Still this is really something: Her blood enyzme levels are reasonable.

I tell myself I knew that it would work out this way, but in honesty, I held to this so I could hold to other things: I wanted to keep teaching, to keep studying, to keep writing. I wanted to keep looking prepared and less overwhelmed than I was. I was afraid to let this professional part of me slip. It felt selfish and necessary, and it feels selfish, still. The guilt makes a lot of the possibility that I once saw for an academic career water-bloated, half drowned in the horrifying realization that I’m not enough of a mother to compromise a professional future for a sick child.

It’s been six months in the poor balance- and it’s over for now. I did not ever take time to imagine myself here, and am surprised, in the moment of over, that I might know even less what to do with myself. The semester wrapped up. My daughter- who I have interpreted, mostly, as a crisis to be managed, does not need the management anymore. I’m less useful, more self depreciating.

I’m spending a lot of my holiday break just watching the person-ness come together- her sympathy and pleasure and creativity. I think this was happening all along, as we went, but now this is all there is: a red-cheeked bright-eyed quick-footed child.

I’m following at a distance, kept back by the residue of all the fear that I can’t put on her anymore. I’m overwhelmed by the nothing-ness of what’s happening, the days just going by.

We skipped out on the cross-country travel and  family holiday. We went to a yule lighting ceremony on wednesday and spent Christmas eve telling stories around our neighbor’s wood stove. Christmas morning we slept in, ate leftovers for lunch, and strung cranberries for the birds. I made dinner, got Andjoli ready for bed, all the while feeling guilty about my decision to skip a tree and wrapped gifts.  I wanted something more for our holiday, and am afraid I delivered something less. I could say this about our year.

Still, I am exhausted from our Christmas, and embarrassed to say so to the friends who have a more pronounced holiday lament- for they all suffered long car and plane rides to distant states and celebrations.  Still they plan on, talking about New Years- It is only a lick away- the year gone. I didn’t get much of it down on paper- and so the writing’s absent, the record- and something too, of myself.


Southern Indiana has the sort of summer that leaves you fuzzy headed and listless in the heat of day, and angsty through the evenings, which calm only enough for the mosquitoes to come out.

We accomplish any outdoor things we are going to get done before 10 am and spend the rest of the day, fitful, fogged and sweaty indoors.

We’ve harvested a good deal of carrots and garlic, cabbage, mustards, lettuce, beet greens and kale. The mint is going wild and we’re putting it in everything. And there are weeds- lots and lots of weeds (some edible, some not).

We’re making half sour pickles with lovage, chervil and dill, and are also whey-fermenting purple cabbage kimchi, ginger carrots, and cardamom beats. We’re hoping to pickle a good collection of grape leaves before the Japanese beetles get too comfortable in our yard. We are also hoping to rescue a lot of red raspberry leaves from them to dry for winter teas.

It is the end of the sweet berry season- gone in a blink, strawberries, mulberries, cherries, blueberries raspberries and now the end of the blackberries. Peaches and apples are fattening on their limbs and the elderberries are darkening.

Peas are done and beans are up and we are watching it go.

Andjoli started at preschool last month and is loving her sweet new friends. We tried preschool at an earlier age and she didn’t take to it- she’s happy as a clam now. We’re pretty thrilled too- it’s a parent run cooperative preschool, and we have a lot of say in what the kids learn (languages, music, gardening, etc) and what they have available to them (worm composting is this weeks thing).  The preschool is on campus, very close to the building in which I teach in the fall. It is a short (but very hot!) bike ride from our house, and if we could get the afternoons to turn down about 25 degrees here we would be in summer bliss.

During the summer, while I’m not teaching, I get to spend half my day writing (heat permitting) and half my day with B. We’re reading together again and making headway through our clean laundry room (which was once an office and is now a pile)

I have had four pieces accepted for publication this summer, and because my family is nervous about the sorts of things I’m writing (and will write- the horror!) I’m now writing under a pen name- Nicol Stavlas- my middle name and my godmother’s family name. I changed the name on this online journal as well, because I was a finalist in the Creative Nonfiction writing competition this spring and they hyper-linked back to my journal. For the world that doesn’t know me personally, I’m trying to separate my real world name-on-the-credit card self and my writerly self, but it’s not the easiest of tasks.

I’m still planning on finishing the PhD (one more year of coursework, and then quals and dissertation) but I’ve also been scouting MFA programs in non-fiction or family friendly writing residencies (especially those that are located in cooler climates) for when I’m done here.  Since January I’ve been polishing and submitting work to journals and this is something I really want to keep investing my time in.  If you know of any good writing programs let me know!


A few houses on my street and the neighborhood park. Click on photos to see full size image-wordpress crops the pictures in the post.


We have grown used to May rain and to thunder, but these storms are not the ones we have known before.

After the first night of straight line winds we are without power for three days. The electricity comes back on the night of the second storm, and we wait for the flicker, for the darkness again.

The sirens sound four times before the storm hits our county. We go to the basement and return to our beds again and again. And then it is not the sirens, but the screech of train in the wind and the thick whip and crash of trees gutting into houses that drives us to the basement. We hear the violence, but do not know until the next day that as the wind moves through, it strips tree limbs from their trunks, pulls porches from houses, rips through roofs, splays shingles and debris into the road.

The storm travels northeast, tearing through the old trees in Seminary Square Park. Across the street, I huddle together with the gathered band of strangers who snap pictures of city workers trying to manage the tragedy with chainsaws and backhoes. We stand together in the remnants of rain, the under-tree drippings, the fresh smell of storm. Someone says the trees are two hundred years old. I know they were so thick that three of us couldn’t reach arms around them this spring. The roots, un-buried and tipped skyward, are taller than the men who work to cut through them. There are other trees, felled but not uprooted, split at their trunks, stretching sharp wooden fingers to the sky. Someone says the trees were twisted by the winds, shattered.

The sound of chains saws cuts through the days and nights of our neighborhood. Now the trees are left in piles- branches and thick wood on the ground- holes in the sky.  By early afternoon, the sun is out, the breeze soft again. My daughter, who is not quite two, picks the plastered spit of leaves off of the front of our house and gets underfoot as I drag branches to the road. Much of our world is untouched: It is just summer again, humid and bright. The strawberries catch in the bit of glinted light that penetrates down beside the shadow of their leaves. Andjoli eats the berries- dripping juice down her chin. She laughs, too young to take in the way what we’ve known of the world has been changed. She squeezes them wet in her fists, and turns the mush like an offering over to the neighbors who gather at the foot of our driveway. I take the sticky mess from her hands while we talk about where to get NOAA radios and batteries with all of the local stores closed, and who has power and freezer space, and if a tornado might follow the same line again, and how climate change comes when it comes home.

There are storms coming Saturday, they say.

 

 


It is my birthday.

I’m grumbly and want to tell you this:

1)My neck is in a brace because I tore through a muscle. Andjoli only wants to be held- she senses my discomfort and reads it as rejection.

2)the turkey did not defrost in time. and I couldn’t lift it anyway. the muscles in my neck spasm.

3)Andy would not nap. she pounded her head into me, weeping. it took three hours to get her down.

I should tell you this:
1) B hand made my gifts

2) Becky made cheese cake. The cheesecake she makes once a year- for my birthday and for no one else.

3) My poetry was accepted at Boston Literary Magazine for the summer issue.


It has been a long time since I’ve written anything.  Our life is fast and cyclical and I either don’t have the time or I imagine my reports would be too boring to send out to the wide world.

the semester is over, and I’m cleaning up, closing up shop for a few weeks. I’ve recycled pounds of papers. I’ve cleaned my computer, deleting file after file. I cut my hair off. I’m letting go.

I’m starting things new- transferring the tiny tomato and pepper seedlings out to the garden. writing poems.

B is back to work and so Andy and I have been spending more time together, making music, weeding garden beds, making food. I am amazed by her humor, her fear, her sensitivity. I am tired. I am beginning again.


It is March, and the weather thinks us a fool, flaunting 60 and 70 degree days, luring us out to put our seeds in early. and I’m biting- putting in,  the Asian greens and Brassicas and carrots that can handle the snap frost that is sure to come still. I’m keeping the majority of my seeds inside, even though the weather outside makes it feel like we are late to plant. March 23rd is the earliest last frost ever recorded in our area, and I don’t trust that the cold will stay away to set a new record.

There is plenty to do in the spring that doesn’t require frost-less nights, and so we are setting up rain barrels, turning compost out on the beds, building grape and kiwi trellis, pulling weeds and muscles and sharing spring things with our wide-eyed (and open mouthed) little one.

 


We rose in the darkness, to greet the new sun. but it did not rise. Still we waited, for it is the tradition, after the longest night of the year, to celebrate the turning of solstice. Our days grow longer now, our nights shorter. The sky turned slowly grey, and I insisted we wait on a crack of sunbeam. But the sun stayed masked the whole morning. Our celebration was bewildered. I was the last one to give up and go, cold, back inside. When we found its outline upon the sky it was past the noon hour and even then, it was only a faint shadow of it’s possibility, dull as the early-risen moon which prints like a thumb in the morning sky. Perhaps I have come to expect too much, and I should let the sun take its time to wake, groggy after the long night.

The solstice marked, infused, defined our rest this season. We are waking from it, sleepy eyed.

I am preparing to go back to the university next week. And I hope to keep both the anticipation and the soft rest of this break with me as I venture forth.  

 


 

It is winter now, a brown season in Indiana, and a particularly daunting one for families who eat from their own backyard. My husband, with careful foresight, mulches the vegetable beds and prunes the fruit trees and bushes, which are dormant in this cold season.

On days when a bit of warm sun penetrates into the midwest afternoon, he takes our one year old daughter out to the garden, so that they may examine the leaf litter and bare branches. Together, they cover the back porch with their found goods– organizing small dead twigs and the recently pruned branches. They meticulously seek out cold frosted leaves and seed pods turned golden and brown, to fill in the hollows of their winter bouquets. Brambles and bits of their discoveries are carefully arranged now in jars and in water carafes- and they present them as gifts, to me and to the neighbors in turn– these bold lined cold-season collections.

Now, with a tall jar of last years growth as our table center piece, I too am forced to admire the world gone dormant. The seeds, scattered across our table and dining room floor, hide a hard-knobbed bit of life inside. I sweep them up and toss them into the yard, where they will wait for spring, to wake.

In the evenings, I fill jars with whole grains and pulses, covering them in a bit of water and whey so that they may germinate. It is a false spring rain, cracking shells, softening seed bodies. Sprouting neutralizes enzyme inhibitors and makes a long list of vitamins and minerals and other nutrients more available. The composition of the seed is transformed in this waking. Rising from its dormant hour, a bit of life, once stored deep in the small grain-stones, sends out a cautious growth.

While it is winter, here, and I can talk all I want of the brown and the dead, I must not fail to recognize that there is life waking in my kitchen each morning. The realization of the life within our food must change the way I come to understand and dismiss winter’s death. While death is bound up in our cold garden, in the centerpiece for our dinner meal, it also, perhaps more importantly, graces our plates. Our family, raising forks together, are marked by the life and the death that we bring to our tables and into our bodies. Our food has lived, and died –all of it– before it comes to our plates. And then, in some miracle, it is converted again into the living matter of our bodies, meted out in days, joys, growth spurts, and health.

In the evenings, before we eat, we have begun something shy of a prayer but more than a list: we utter a bit of thanks for the richness of a meal wrapped up in the living and dying that the land offers us, fecund with seeds, even in the dormant hours of the coldest months.

 


In my early adolescence, when I was busy trying to separate my meaning from my mother’s I found a church-going family who helped me in this task. They -like I- were quick to point out her sacrilege: her poverty, her politics, her single parenting (they did not know, like I did, what the alternative would have looked like). And I, like them, became spitefully critical of the church she’d taken me to when I was a child: A place marked as irreverent for its open willingness to negotiate through the beauties and follies of a number of faiths.

I borrowed the criticism of the Unitarian Church, like I borrowed the criticism of my mother. I refused her christianity, and so she made a new round of it, refashioning her faith in a new space that I did not snub at the time (though I wouldn’t put it past myself now, knowing my history).

I began looking too, sure that the “real” church could provide what I needed in a community and faith, if it was so self-assured and critical of everyone else. After years of looking around, blinking dumbfounded at congregation after congregation, often as numbed and insensitive to me as I was to them, I came to question the right for religious institutions and their spokespersons to point fingers.

It has been a long time since I’ve stepped into a church building. In my time away, I have let my imagination run wild with the grotesque possibility that all churches– indeed the buildings themselves–would represent everything I wouldn’t want a church to be: exclusive, apolitical, self-protective, anti-humanistic, gold-plated and in the clouds.

I walked in this weekend to wood. To the smell of it. To walls, darkened in places with old oak knobs and lit with the honey of split planks. There was a wooden rocking chair in the tall ceilinged meeting room– in case someone like me, wandering in, would want to keep a small child with me, rather than turn her over to strangers. And in all that crafted wood, and the murmur of forested voices, there was a whisper of worship at the pulpit- but worship, identified in working hands and good rest, in the richness of the land and the possibilities of music.

The man picked up that old book, laughing, laughing and proceeded to tell us the things in it that he found useful: A young prophet, politically radical enough to have been executed by the state. A message of peace and disarmament; the pounding of weapons into ploughshares and scythes.

This is not the first time I have realized a need to restitch myself to a history I rejected in my youth, but its the first time I’ve considered that task to be spiritual. Something in me feels deeply drawn to the idea of building a community in a place that wrestles (faithfully) with environmentalism, human rights, and peace, in ways that have been instilled in me since my childhood. I see room here, not for me to agree with everything, but to set a course down, and learn from others, in a community of people who hold on to whatever point of religiosity seems to make the most cultural sense to them, while still insisting on sharing a conviction that there’s something spiritual about the loves and joys and politics that we might live together.

When I arrived home, I called my mother, to tell her I knew something — some little thing– of what she’d lent me in life. and to apologize.


Despite my lack of time this month, the press to start writing and processing some of the harder parts of my life has been keeping me up into the night, after B and Andy have bedded down. Writing for me has always been, before other things, a tool for processing my world.

Some of the stories might be submitted for publication, if I can adequately and carefully determine how to tell stories that I do not have solitary claim to (for they are always, also, it seems, my mother’s and daughter’s story). Many of the stories are not polished- and I do not intend to make them “publishable.” They have simply been good for me to get out of my head, so that I can keep them from rattling around up there and getting in the emotional way of other things that I’d like to write. And that, so slowly, is beginning to happen: I have almost said enough about myself, to start to need to make things up. I am almost –almost– back to writing fiction.


I’ve started a second journal that will focus more on food and health. You can see it here.

 

If you follow this journal from the facebook link, my journal will no longer auto-update there.   I’ve made B change my facebook password and hide it from me so that I can’t get into my account.  This is only one of many ways that my charming husband is helping save me from myself. I have arranged a subscription-link for this site (Check the side bar on the left if you are interested), but I can’t seem to do the same for the other site.

This (Last Maple) journal will still contain my less food-related ramblings- but I’ve decided to change the structure here a little as well: I’m giving up on monthly reviews. I find them tiresome, and sometimes anxiety producing. I’d prefer to write when I have something to write about, rather than putting myself on a mandatory calendar.

and so it goes, from here on out.


We are a few days into November — a month that has bled in from the one before it, in a few red leaves and a lot of brown ones. My dear family, ever optimistic,  continues to bundle up and take color walks. I stay in, also bundled, and work on papers while they are out in the woods.

When they return, they share their best finds, and usher winter in, with sticks and other dead bits of forest matter. Andjoli is thrilled with it all. She is walking, dancing, saying more and more.

These autumnal remainders cover our back porch, our table, our kitchen floor. They, alone, mark the month of October. Otherwise we spent it, mostly, one meal to the next, and onward, to the bigger question: With all this talk of being done with teaching and classes in December, with no work lined up, no places we are burning to leave for, no real aims outside of what we are already living, what precisely will we do?

After some long discussions, we have settled on more of the same. I have decided to continue on in school, and am applying to a second PhD program. B is also preparing to go back to school in the fall, and is deciding what programs will best suit his interests and skills.

And so I’m un-doing all my former talk about being done because it seems like this is the best possible way for us to keep living this life we love. Graduate school, for all its hard moments, has provided paid opportunities for education, with an additional stipend that provides just enough to live on. And there’s some flexibility in being a student, some time left over that a real job would not allow, to keep investing in our beautiful home, family, and community. Of course, we’d like to find a better balance for all of these things.  And so we are also evaluating the way we move through life (too fast, too heady, too scattered). If we’re going to keep on at the university, I’m going to need to learn something about rest and restoration in the present- rather than continuing to put it off until i’m finished with my degrees.

This must start, I presume with an intentional reduction to the way I (over) schedule my time. I’m not sure, precisely what I intend to do to teach myself to slow down, but I am starting now, to plan a mild spring- committing to fewer things than I’m used to. I have been offered teaching for next semester, and with it, I have tuition coverage. I have decided to take two classes pertinent to my work (as apposed to this semester’s four classes). I will also take a creative nonfiction class which will encourage me to write/process/do something good for myself.

I don’t imagine that a lightening of my academic load will un-train my tendencies to do to much. But it is a beginning.


Andjoli has begun to murmur in some softer, looser register than that found in ours- up from the deep and all of a sudden, there is a distorted echo in our midst.

She is far, still, from what we expect in the Germanic and Romance languages we encourage her to.  She lacks the precision of the sounds we include and exclude in language. She ignores the idea that language is human- meowing back at cats and humming with the noises rising from the gravel and cobblestone as she rides over them in the pram or bike trailer. She sings, loud and outrageous, along with the neighborhood band. She stuffs words- French, English, Spanish- with their vowels first, and then loads their ends down with the necessary consonants. Cheese is “eechs” and chaussures sounds more like “auuchssrs”

She borrows words that we give her, but turns them to her own needs. And so we learn our old words again. Mom is not a reference yet, for me. Instead it means “help me through this sorrow, whoever you are,” or “please can we go outside.” Papa is a tall thing- a man, a tree, a basketball hoop. Anu (her version of “andy”) can be self referential, but more regularly, it is a term used for another baby.  Language is slippery, loose, new for us all.

And it is a gift, to my writing, to the way I think about the world and the terms I think in, to realize there is room for redefinition, for a wild language of stones and animals, for new expressions- and a lot of laughter in all of the seams.



It is growing cold, and so we are picking the tomatoes–some only slightly turned from green. First frosts bring a pithy taste to the summer fruit, so we cheat the season a bit by letting them ripen on our warm counters. Andjoli, who has found tomatoes to be her favorite garden food, is quite happy with the late season abundance. At fourteen months she is standing now, stretching her hand up and across our lowest counter tops to pull tomatoes down and make a red-wet mess of herself and the kitchen. I do not discourage her.

It is fall, and as they go, our garden has gotten away from us. It is fecund, mostly, with things we did not plant. Much of it is edible- and we are learning to eat and love the unexpected green things the land provides for us. I am amazed at the lamb’s quarters that made it through the rainless summer.  While our water barrels ran dry and our lettuce wilted, this spinach relative managed to acclimate, as the wild things tend to.  I tap it’s seed heads, encouraging the scattering of next year’s growth.

It is the season that I consider next year’s garden and I take notes about what we will rotate, what we will plant again. We hack through late-season overgrowth and tally up the hours we did not spend in the garden (and should have). I plan a smaller garden and an additional CSA share for next year.

In six months time, when I am waiting for spring and buying seeds at a green-lacking farmers market these plans will be forgotten. I don’t do well with the fluctuating mud and frost of Indiana winters, and am already rattled by the threat of staying more indoors. Walking the grounds, I watch it all die, taking notes no longer of garden plans, but instead of the first plants, going brown. The maple is a vivid orange, and is shedding itself across the front beds, filling cat food bowls, and covering over the kale, chard and amaranth that is still growing. I unbury and collect the green leaves left in the garden, trying not to lament winter too soon.



here we are again: a month has been wrestled from us, and has gone where they all go, in dishes, and dust, a good lot of work, and a bit of shut-eye.

It is fall, finally, in our cold noses. we have been waiting for this. I cup a mason jar of hot tea in my hands as I walk to the university in the mornings, and I relish the cold of everything but my hands, and then, in turn, the great warmth of my hands around the jar in the otherwise and early coldness.  There are bright-turned leaves aglow through the tea steam, rising. And squirrels digging up, and hiding again, their winter stores.  I can’t help but feel deeply held by it all.

it is trivial and overly romantic, in a way that feels younger than I am. And I articulate it, I’m sure, also in the heady language of youthfulness.  I don’t, right now, know what else to do with the beauty. I need it, and need to focus on it, for winter will be upon us, soon and too long.  This is the time to store up a bit of sweet light, of romance, of bright colors, of the end of the seasons bird calls and vegetables. they will too soon– all of them– be gone to grey. So I, too, dig and hide a winter storage. I preserve it, blanching, freezing, photographing, canning, writing pretty bits of it down. putting up for winter.


1. we are not the preschool family type. we gave it a go, and are all happily nested at home again.

2. I’ve started back at school- this should be the last semester of coursework, and I have three readings courses, which figures out to reading one long book a day. I don’t have time for anything else, and we are renegotiating family responsibilities so that I may live life and a book a day at the same time.

3. re-negotiating family responsibilities is never easy. my husband is wonderful. i miss cooking so much that I’m sleeping less in order to fit it in.

4. I like what I’m reading. don’t feel too bad for me.

5. My sister came down and stayed with us in august. She played my shadow in the kitchen for a week, and now finds my college vegetarian guidelines (found in an earlier post) manageable.

6. Andjoli is exceptional. and I’m going to go spend some good time with her instead of sitting here at the computer and writing about it.


Julianna somehow talked me in to this self portraiture project. I find it a little embarrassing, but think it’s good to have friends who talk you into your own discomfort. Here it is again:

I was out on a collection walk early this morning. It seemed like a necessary beginning to the day, after another unsettled night. For as long as I can remember I have used walks like this one to clear my head and calm my spirit. A collection walk has a simple measure: I step outside. I decide on some beautiful thing that I might find a variety of, and then I meander, green space to green space, on a quest for the irrelevant thing I am seeking. It gives me something to focus on, to appreciate, to hold in my hands. Small stones, twigs, bark varieties. Red things, grasses, seed pods, types of beetles. My mother would throw fits about all of my collections when I was younger, mostly because I would find bizarre places to keep them (for instance, spiders in the freezer). Perhaps she assumes age or time has allowed me to grow up past this need to collect little bits of the outdoors, and leave them in questionable spaces indoors.

It is not the case. Today I was out collecting summer leaves. And with a pile of them in the bathroom sink, I took on this project of the eyes. I don’t have much to say about my eyes, so I’ll let their green and the leaves speak for themselves.




Andy is leaving my lap more often, and venturing out to play even when we are in public spaces. I have been promised, since the beginning, that allowing her to detach herself when ready will provide for a more self confident child, but I was beginning to worry that I may just be supporting her clingy-ness. Today, in a case that is symptomatic of recent events, she played happily in the midst of other tumbling, grabbing children at babs. I sat twenty feet away. And she was fine. Her new found individualism leaves me feeling more confident about our most recent decision to start her in preschool.

We are thrilled with the preschool we have found, which focuses on language learning and provides organic local food to the children. It is a small, house based school that has a wonderful outdoor space and an organic garden. Perhaps the best part is that Andy’s father will be hired as her Spanish teacher and primary care provider. While he is certified in Secondary Education, there are no available jobs within 1 ½ hours of our home, and none of us liked the idea of missing him from 5am-8pm every weekday, or of him being paid to watch someone else’s children while we pay someone to watch ours. So he is going to get certified for early childhood education while he works as Andy’s teacher. He can count his working hours as part of the training, and attend courses one evening a week for 8 months. The preschool is exactly half way between my office and the house, close enough for me to bike to from either direction so that I may continue to nurse. I think it will ease the stress of both my last semester of coursework and the time I spend taking care of our house/garden/food preparation. I am also really excited about how much Andy will grow as she spends time learning not only from other adults, but from other children.

I think the changes to our schedule will also be great for B and I, as I find our relationship thrives the most when we can learn things from one another. We are both interested in Andy’s development but haven’t read a book on child development since before she was born. B’s coursework will allow him to learn about this, and share it with me, just as I will have opportunity to continue to learn interesting things in my courses to share with him. Spending so much time at home together for Andy’s first year has been incredible, but I think that this new arrangement may be remarkably good for us too.


My little sister is in that blissful and stunning month of self revision that proceeds a freshman year at college. I have taken up the task of outfitting her kitchen. She is coming down for a week in August to learn to prepare food, and I have promised to send her home with a list of healthful cheap and simple ways to start eating the sorts fo foods that make you feel well.

My sister does not (yet) read books on food politics or traditional foods. She is of a generation that reads a lot in very small portions (facebook, wikipedia pages, text messages). In preparing food guidelines for her, I realized I had to design something that would work into the way she sees the world. I believe in food traditions, in learning things by watching them done for years, as I did in my godmother’s kitchen. My sister has given me a week, not a childhood,  to teach her everything she needs to know about food. And she probably won’t read more than three pages about food unless she has a test. She’s dabbled in veganism, but has for the most part been a processed-food vegetarian for a good portion of her life. And she asked for my help “changing everything.” My family has a history of serious digestive issues (potentially due to our over consumption of soy products) and my sister is looking for ways to find wellness in food.

And even though she asked for this, I have to work on her terms. And her terms are “something to hang on the inside of a cabinet” and solve all of her “food problems.”  Which means simple foods, that are diverse, quick, complete. Foods that take no time to learn how to make and have endless possibilities for alteration. Foods that you can make on a college budget and fit into a college kitchen cabinet.

It’s a tall order, and I’m posting what I have so far below. I’m interested in suggestions and reflections, if anyone has the time.

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How to Not Die While Being a Vegetarian in College (Cliff’s Notes)

It seems the best way to promote health through food is to eat well long enough for you to be able to discern what “health” feels like and how your body responds to foods. When you reach this point in life you will be able to pay attention to your body, and intuit its needs. Do not feel like rules will solve your problems, or that food is the only factor in health. But do give food the credit it deserves: good food stimulates good digestion, good absorption of nutrients, good overall health.

To start, try to incorporate these five guidelines into EVERY meal:

  1. leafy green
  2. some other vegetable (or fruit, on occasion)
  3. complete protein (Beans AND grain, Seeds AND Beans, milk AND Grain, Eggs AND Grain)
  4. Digestive (raw or cultured dairy food, vinegar, fermented soy + sea vegetable)
  5. B12 source (raw dairy product, meat or eggs. 1 ounce of raw cheese with each meal will suffice-but don’t melt it)

EXAMPLES of Basic Combinations:

Morning:

1)      Oats and nuts w/ fruit and milk or kefir

2)      Smoothie (w/ veggies) and toast (or french toast or pancakes if you have time to kill)

3)      Omelette w/ veggies, cheese and toast

4)      Rice with cottage cheese, dulse flakes or arame, cooked veggies

Lunch/Dinner:

1)      Salad: (lettuce, nuts and seeds, sprouts, raw cheese or egg, + vegetable, vinegar or buttermilk honey mustard)

2)      Stir fry: (rice w/ braised greens and veggies on top, beans or lentils, curry or peanut sauce)

3)      Pasta: (cooked veggies, tomato sauce w grated raw cheese or butter garlic sauce)

4)      Dips: Pita or crackers AND raw veggies (carrots, celery, lettuce), hummus or egg salad

5)      Soup and Sandwich: (make tomato bisque w/ cultured milk and tomato sauce with a green or make light miso veggie soup (see below). Add onions and tomatoes to grilled cheese or hummus w/veg and sprouts)

REMEMBER: Many “good for you” foods are good only when properly prepared. Our family is prone to digestive issues so try to be rigorous about the following:

1)Soak anything that was once a seed (grains and nuts included) see quick soak solution below.

2)cook (with broth- which is hydrophilic) or ferment all leafy greens excepting lettuce

3)Eat whole foods. Avoid juices and refined foods. If you juice veggies and fruits, eat the pulp as a salad (with olive oil salt and pepper. so good) Buy single ingredient foods as much as is possible.  The one exception to this rule is the addition of cultures to  dairy products and fermented foods, which aid digestion, intestinal health, absorption of nutrients, etc.

4)When you do eat muli-ingredient foods, check ingredients carefully on all foods. Organic is not the only standard: Don’t eat any prepared food that you couldn’t make in your kitchen with whole food ingredients. (People can make cheese in their kitchen, but not hydrogenated oils or citric acid)..

SEED SOAK: cover Grains/Nuts/Seeds for 12-24 Hrs in 2 tbsp whey and filtered water before use. Do not let them soak longer than this because they will sprout. Call your sister if this happens and she can teach you about making sprouted breads or other sprouted foods.

WHEY/YOGURT CHEESE: Find a pastured (meet the farmer to know that you mean the same thing by “pastured”) whole milk yogurt that is runny and let it drain through a thin cloth over a mesh strainer into a bowl for 12-24 hours. Place a bowl on top to press additional whey out after 5-6 hours. If you let it sit out close to 24 hours the yogurt cheese will be more firm and you will have more whey, mix salt pepper and spices into the cheese and use it as a spread. Reserve whey for soaking seeds and grains.

QUICK HUMMUS: combine and mix these ingredients in blender: 1 can chickpeas drained/ heaping tbsp tahini/tbsp whey/tbsp raw AC vinegar. Add cayenne pepper, garlic and salt to taste.

QUICK MISO SOUP: start with bone broth. Add pre-soaked seaweed or seasalt/seaweed mixture and garlic as base heats. Add pre-steamed vegetables and cooked grains (great use of leftovers!). Remove from heat after 6-8 minutes. Stir in miso just before serving- do not cook it.

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Shopping List to Not Die While Being a Vegetarian in College

25 Items to “Stock the Larder”

1)Coconut Oil

2)Celtic Sea Salt and Fresh Pepper

3)seaweed varieties

4)organic garlic powder

5)organic cayenne powder

6)organic curry powder

7)organic cinnamon

8)miso

9)Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

10)Aluminum free baking powder & Soda

11)Seeds to sprout

12)mustard

13)Organic whole wheat flour (put in freezer)

14)Organic bulk fair trade brown rice

15)Organic quinoa

16)Organic sprouted whole wheat pasta (no additives) or brown rice pasta

17)Organic oats

18)Organic onions

19)organic garlic

20)Organic spaghetti sauces

21)lentils

22)canned beans (garbanzo for hummus, black beans, aduki)

23)nuts and seeds

24)peanut butter and sesame butter (tahini)

25) raw honey

Each week buy pantry items you are out of and these ten things:

1) 4 varieties of leafy greens (variety!)

2) 4 other vegetables (no more than 2 starchy root vegetables)

3) 2-3 fruit varieties

4) Organic raw milk cheeses (this might be your only available raw milk food if you can’t find a farmer, so stock up)

5) organic local free ranging eggs

6) Organic whole milk grass fed yogurt (no sugar added, really milky to drain whey)

7) Organic pasture butter

8) Organic grass fed whole milk cottage cheese w/ lactic cultures

9) Organic whole milk buttermilk OR plain kefir OR non-homogenized whole milk that you add buttermilk starter to from last week’s buttermilk

10)Sprouted grain (WHOLE WHEAT, NO ADDITIVES THAT YOU COULDN’T MAKE IN YOUR KITCHEN): either bread (w/ seed meal) or pita or tortillas or crackers

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A Word on . . .

Meat:

meats, if you decide to include them are better in small portions. Think of them as an ingredient among many rather than a main course. 1/3 of a chicken breast is sufficient for a meal in combination with vegetable proteins (grains or legumes). Save the rest for other meals (add slices to salads, make up chicken salad and eat small amounts with your meals, or dice it and add it to a stir fry or soup). Buy high quality pastured local bird meats. Get heritage birds if possible. Or wait till Christmas and ask your sister to bring you a bunch of frozen birds from a farm that she knows well. Wild caught salmon is better for you than tuna, and not currently endangered. Do not eat farmed fish. Animal broths are great sources of nutrients if you make them yourself, don’t use bullion, and if you buy chicken broth make sure it is organic and doesn’t have additives.

Soy:

only use fermented organic products. We don’t know the effects of Genetically Modified foods, but there have been horrific animal studies that show that they contribute to serious health issues, infertility and death.

Corn:

Buy organic and whole kernel. Do not eat corn-based additives. eat with lime.

Yeast:

Autolyzed yeast extract is the base of MSG. IF you eat nutritional yeast make sure it is low-heat processed so that it isn’t accidentally chalked full of MSG (which is made with a similar process, but at high heat). Candida runs in your family, so make sure that you eat yeast products AND SUGARS only irregularly. Mom and I get “MSG” headaches, so be aware of products that might have MSG yeasts in them that aren’t labeled as such. This happens pretty regularly, as MSG is an accidental by-product in many foods. See suggestions on processed foods below to help avoid this.

Processed Foods:

I know I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating: Check ingredients carefully. Eat whole foods. Organic is not the only standard: Don’t eat anything that you couldn’t make in your kitchen. (People can make cheese in their kitchen, but not hydrogenated oils or citric acid).

Eating out:

Don’t do this often, but when you do, chose a small restaurant that has rice as its starch base (Thai, Indian, Chinese, Sushi bars). Talk to the cook- They are often able to accommodate menu alterations that would reduce additives (cornstarch, soy sauce etc) especially with stir fries. Opt for white rice as they won’t have pre-soaked their grains- it is not as nutrient dense, but many of the anti-nutrients(that soaking would break down) are in the hull and bran.

Ask them to cook food in butter or steam it– tell them that you can’t have soy or corn oils. Don’t eat any animal that could be industry farmed (which usually means eat vegetarian). Unless they advertise all organic produce, don’t eat potatoes or onions, which have growth inhibitors on them that are really damaging. Don’t assume that the restaurants do these things anyway because they are “some cool vegan restaurant” or advertise making everything from scratch. Make sure you let them know you have food sensitivities, so that they don’t just think you are a bitch. Small organic-hipster restaurants are an occasional possibility but find out what is in the food- best bets for eating out at hipster restaurants are typically soup and salad.


My first lesson in ritual masking was taught by my godmother. For the application of a base layer, she would close the door to the bedroom, and I would wait on the other side of it.   When finished,  I would hear her voice rise, “Luthe”, “”Lu-thee,” shrill, because she expected me to be downstairs. I was never downstairs.   I ran down and back up, to make the patter of sound she would expect, and then went in to see her same face, only made-up peach.

In the time it took for her to apply the mask, she would don not only a face cover, but a persona.  She became vibrant, electrically charged, and prepared for the worst. You could hear the change in the way she breathed.

She was not just putting on make-up, she would tell me. There was a spiritual preparation, bound in and up with her ritual paintings. It prepared her for the worst of days and doctor’s visits.  I was young though, and I wasn’t looking at much but her face. I made poor correlations, dismissed her comments on meditation, and understood the transformation as a power of the mask.  “Someday,” she promised “I’ll teach you about meditation.”  I have yet to get this lesson.

Now, whenever I am home, she shuts the door for long hours. I wear this weight: She has come to use the same meditation and mask to prepare herself for the every day that she once designated only for the worst of them.  Day and worst have become synonymous.

I know, only a little of what “the worst” once was, before it became systemic.  The mask was always applied before a visit to the hospital. These visits were frequent.  She’d suffered a  long medical battle to keep her only child alive. The failure of this minute-by-minute endeavor, after twelve years of hospitals, made her voice quiet to a whisper, wearied and perhaps afraid, when she spoke of doctors and hospitals. Twelve years would be enough, I’m sure, to make anyone whisper about them. But before a real breath was taken, she was back to the hospital. Scripted on her own body, a cancer grew. She was in the same strange-lit hallways, waiting, always waiting, on procedures and results and new promises from doctors eradicating her body of one carcinogen, and filling it with another: the burnt post-chemo pain that she still wears.

I knew this history, but as a child, I understood very little of what any of that pain meant. I was invincible still, little-touched by the marring and marred way this world twists us up into adults.  I’m not claiming that age lets you understand pain, it just seems, with time passing, to demand a more frequent acknowledgment.

And in this forced acknowledgment I  have come to understand the tri-part tool of a self-mask: to conceal ones own pain, to use a barrier, a protection from the next very-possible pain, and to create a persona that can negotiate these spaces of pain with some perceived holding-it-togetherness.

While I might not have fully understood, I was privy at a young age, to the seeming usefulness of a mask.  I used it sparingly in my younger years, but, in preparation for my move to college, which involved the purging of material collections that had defined my childhood, I evaluated and carefully packed the usable masking tools from my room.

I practiced the application for a week before leaving for school. I had learned in the local theater how to draw fish tails and white spots by my eyes to open them up, how to emphasize cheekbones and draw lines to appear like wrinkles. I intentionally modified my technique, to design a new face for close-up encounters. It was a mask, I assumed, that would let me start again, in a new space. I mustered up a mantra to go with the self-painting, in order to convince myself into the  modified face.   And so I very intentionally fell into the trap of women’s masking.

In a purse I had never used, I packed the stage makeup and the few compacts I had been given as gifts from well meaning family members in my earlier years. I still have this expired collection.

The first day of classes I prepared myself, shutting the bathroom door, and smearing over my more familiar face. By the second day the time spent on my ritual already seemed absurd, the daily tasks manageable. Years later, when I was new to teaching those freshman classes I once attended, I maintained the ritual of first days. I painted my face,  I focused on my breath. And by the next day, I found it unnecessary.

It was also, in the early years of my marriage, a standard practice to don the mask while I was in my mother in laws home; A place where mother and daughter refined themselves in mirrors in the morning, and I, newly part of the family, and in their space, followed suit.

Recognizing the pettiness in the way I have chosen to don the mask, it has been applied less frequently as I age. Perhaps my scale of tolerance for the world has  strengthened as the experiences that my own body has come up against have become more frightening. I am numbed, now, to the more simple fears of my youth. and their more simple concealments and solutions.

But, because this is a mask I own, I thought it appropriate for the self-portraiture project, despite its commonplace status among women.

And so, a mask:


It is a strange feeling to learn about life through its passing. Twice since we have been married  the idea of children has glimmered in briefly and then out–more swiftly– in blood clots. Andjoli sits in between these losses, and her life makes the possibility of another one a little more real this time around. Because I know a child, my child, to be more than a bit of blood and mush.

I don’t know why I am telling this to strangers. Or how I am supposed to tell this to family. Or why I am doing those two things in a single stroke.

We are fine, I am mostly tired. We had family here, had a friend leaving for the other side of the world, had a first birthday party to attend. And I had blood clots, a bit of bearing down in the middle of it. And we went on.

We go on, just the same.


Juliana and I swelled up, last year, in time. Our daughters were born the same month. We shared a midwife, and I was secretly apprehensive that we would go into labor on the same day, and the midwife would miss my birth. We’ve shared a few play dates and dinners since our daughters were born. The girls have aged enough at this point to acknowledge one another’s presence long enough to take each other’s things. I’m not sure we should call this playing. But we do.

Since I’ve know Juliana she’s talked about leaving. The first thing I knew about her was that she was moving to North Carolina. And for this reason, I’ve been a not very wonderful, half-committed friend.   Living in a transient space like Bloomington, I tend to warm up most to those who buy houses and plant asparagus. I don’t care for the feeling of being left.

Juliana is leaving. And she is leaving to do a lot of the things I say I would love to: to build a yurt in the woods and write her demons away and her pleasures into being. I haven’t figured out how she manages to write at all with a child the same age as mine, but its what she’s got planned for the year, and I can’t help but be envious of the way she sees possibility in her approaching time.

Juliana is also someone I respect for her commitment to writing in community, something I tried once, but felt disheartened by and have not done again. She attends and leads workshops in town, and sets up writing prompts in her public journal to encourage her more distant writing community together. Just now, she has posted a self-portraiture prompt at her journal.

I’ve always been both too proud and too puzzled to do much with writing prompts and I almost snubbed my nose to this too.  But I got to thinking about how many photographs I’ve taken this year in which I am a prop, a balance. Here a child leans against my leg, here I hold her at her waist. You can see my arm in this one. It feels indicative of my year. My body has become secondary to hers, acknowledged only for the fragmented ways it maintains her: It feeds a child, holds a child, puts a child to sleep, cleans, dries, guides, protects, changes a child.

I wonder what an intentional movement from the blurred background to the center of a photograph would do for my sense of self.  I wonder what making time to reflect on a body, a little less small and round, and a little more my own, would allow me to discover.

I am afraid to find either a poor unnecessary pride or a violent shame. Or worse than both, perhaps, nothing at all of the self that was before her.  This project, if I’m honest, is a crying out. The sort of call you make to mountains, waiting for an echo. And I wait for this: I need a reconfirmation, be it only a hallow reverberation of the hullabaloo I make,  that something about the self I knew before was not forced to be forever buried now that someone else’s needs dictate mine.

And so, I’ll be taking this snapshot project up. I’ve impregnating the undertaking with a little too much planned self discovery. And I’m apprehensive for reasons it seems, a little different than the other women who are also committing to self-photograph. They seem afraid of their beauty value, I am afraid that the photographs will be a sham, an imposter’s depiction of a re-centered self. Because what I am really after is not the image, but the centering.


I am looking under rugs, through bills, and books read, trying to deduce where the month might have gone. I have nothing to report. It seems to have vanished.

I am taking notes already for the newest month, to ensure that it does not also, go missing.

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