Tag Archives: cooking

2012 was a year of lies

20 Feb

In third grade it was clear I was a procrastinator. Not only did I get my first C because I put off learning math, but I stayed up later than my parents NOT doing my homework. I was working on a research project on President Nixon one night that year when my dad tried to rescue me. I can still picture him standing over my white desk (that also flipped up into a high chair) trying to explain Watergate to me. I looked up at him, nodding, my mind fixated on the opposite of wiretaps. Eventually, I created a collage of Nixon’s presidency using rubber cement. It LOOKED great, but I doubt I was clear that Watergate was the name of the hotel.

Patching problems became my second nature, and so began my long-practiced craft of applying band-aids to temporarily fix situations. Once the pain stopped, I rarely took the time to heal the faulty process that led to the wounds. It’s much easier to buy more band-aids. This carried into the smallest behaviors of my life:

I bought new underwear instead of going to the laundromat.

When I couldn’t decide what groceries to buy for dinner, I got take out or had many sad “whatever is in the fridge meals.” The worst of which was green beans with onions. Raw onions.

I put off dealing with the reality of a relationship for years too tedious to count.

I moved the same unpacked boxes from apartment to apartment to house.

(Try not to trip over that baggage metaphor.)

I just kept purchasing those beige, adhesive warriors in bulk at 24-hour pharmacies.

I’m not too hard on myself now because I know this is not unusual: patching the surface to get by is more the norm than the exception. (Lie #1 I told myself.)

Something about moving to Florida and getting distance from the usual comforts forced me to take more action on the root of things instead of patching the side effects. Someone very close to me participates in a 12-step program, and while I don’t need the program for addictions, the tenets have proved helpful in my own search to live life more deliberately and less reactionary.

Lie #2: I don’t have my shit together enough to cook real meals every night.

This  turned out to be a true lie. At my most organized, I cooked maybe three times a week. That merited celebration; mostly, I considered myself a food-preparer. Or a taker-outer. Or a throw-a-party-to-inspire-cooking-er.

I wanted to cook at home because I knew it was healthier, less expensive, and more satisfying than the-dinner-less-planned.

Inspired by my sister who preps and shops for her family of five on the weekends, I vowed to do the same. We are two people with a cat: it’s a little embarrassing if we can’t figure this out.

In order to be a person who cooks every night, I had to learn to be a person who plans to cook every night. This meant sitting down every weekend and churning those collected recipes on Pinterest into a menu, and transforming that menu into a grocery list. Going to the grocery store only once a week meant we couldn’t talk ourselves out of cooking because everything we needed was right there in our refrigerator.

Also, once a week? At our old apartment, people at our local Publix started to know us because either Aaron or I was there every.single.day. Meal planning  equaled phone calls after work to each other asking who was going to deal with that mess?

Now we cook 5-6 nights a week, save money, and wear smaller pants.

Issues of frugality and health aside, cooking is creating. By doing it regularly, I experiment with ingredients I’ve never used, and methods that once intimidated me. I’m on month seven of being a cooker, and I love the process as much as the end result.  But there are times I hate it and it feels like work, just like writing. I used to wait until I was inspired to cook; now I do it as habit.

Since no one is asking me to write, I have to boss myself around.

Note to self: I am stubborn and refuse to listen.

Truth of 2013: Inspiration is temporary; write at least a paragraph every day.

Lie #3: I want to run a half marathon.

My college roommate and her fiance traveled down here to run a half marathon this past weekend so I thought maybe it was a sign that I was ready go from 6.2 miles to 13.1. One of my colleagues and neighbors is a long-distance runner and was even willing to help me train. But it was still an “I want to want to run 13 miles” situation. I threw myself into the process for weeks at times, then I took breaks and had to restart again. My last push came during my winter break from school and the week afterwards. I ran in Virginia in 20-degree temps, undaunted. I returned to run in Florida at 80 degrees in full sun with humidity, and motivation started to wane. Then I got sick for 7+ days and it was over. There just wasn’t time to want the things I didn’t really want to begin with.

Wanting what other people want never works. Actually, working towards something you think you want never works either.  I wanted to run two 10K’s, and I ran them, the second one faster than the first. Eventually, I might want to run a half marathon. That time is not now; it’s fine.

My 30’s have been a decade of learning the difference between what I want and what I think I should want. The difference between what fulfills me and what fulfills other people.  Running for longer than an hour at a time does not complete me.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

–Theodore Roosevelt

Truth of  2013: Run at least once a week, even when I don’t want to.

Lie #4: Self-discipline is a breakthrough, not a long-term battle.

This lie screamed the loudest. My procrastination habits had always crippled me without deadlines. Too often I allow distractions to shift my focus; it’s a lifelong battle to manage them. In 2012, I imitated a home DIY-er, an amateur sous chef, a real runner, a regular reader and writer, and a motivated teacher who grades essays in a timely fashion.

Home projects accomplished in 2013: Zero.

Miles run in 2013: 20 in one week then a steady zero.

Meals cooked in 2013: 35 (The system works!)

Books read in 2013: Zero.

Blogs/articles/podcasts/animal videos that distracted me from reading books in 2013: ALL OF THEM.

Oscar-nominated films seen in 2013: Three.

Papers graded in 2013: 3.14156 per hour over the square root of it never ends.

Finished pieces of writing: Zero. Not even this blog post started in 2012.

Pieces of writing worth your time: Zero (see # of books read in 2013).

Muses are fickle so I have find a way to freedom through self-flagellation. And so ends my mid-February New Year’s Resolutions post: cheers to the liars!

What to learn from what you don’t finish

14 Jul

I have a WordPress dashboard full of unfinished blog posts. I thought the reason I didn’t finish them is because I’m more in love with ideas than follow through. I felt like a blogger failure. But then I remembered I’m more than beginnings, and have a year of developed posts to prove it.

The reason I didn’t finish those posts is because I don’t want to write about those topics anymore. They were ideas I thought better of: I lost my inspiration to finish and since this blog is free, why should I? Here’s a look at how I can’t always finish what I start:

Failed Post #1: “Things on Facebook I find moderately irritating”

An excerpt:

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for lists. One of my favorites is a piece CNN did back in 2009 on the 12 most annoying types of Facebook personalities. I’ve tried very hard not to become one of them but in my early social networking days (you know, back in ’09), I might have come close to “the Obscurist,” that person who thinks everyone is watching the same show or reading the same article or who lives on the same brainwave as he or she does. One of the examples CNN gives is the actual status update from someone reading “small world.” I am 92% sure that was my status update.

Maybe you read this before IN EVERY ARTICLE ALREADY WRITTEN ABOUT FACEBOOK. And by excerpt, I meant that was all I wrote.  File under overdone.

Failed post #2: “‘Outside in’ doesn’t always mean ‘open book'”


What matters more to you, how you look on the outside, or how feel on the inside? The better question is where do you start first: outside or in? If you want to feel good, do you clear off your desk and get organized? Do you create a beautiful garden or remodel your deck? If so, you’re outside-in. You need to get all the outside stuff in check to clear your head enough to deal with what’s inside your head.

It went on to describe how I’m inside-out. Turns out this post was over my own head. File under lame.

Failed post #3: “Your career is a rubber band ball.”

This one was promising, relevant even. I even researched the biggest rubber band ball to extend the metaphor (9,032 lbs). But it turns out I don’t want to write about careers anymore. Or rubber bands.


One band by itself is useful for holding together a few things, but if you try to bind too many things with it, it breaks. A single band can also be used as a device of pain and annoyance. Or it’s just a colorful circle laying on your table or wrapped around a door knob. If you wrap enough of  those bands around each other, though, they form a ball of force that rolls. But when you’re faced with a bunch of pink, purple, and white bands by themselves, they make you want to cry. Or flick others with them to ease your pain.

I went on to explain how each band is one of your talents or skills and if you put them all together. . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Sorry, I fell asleep just recounting this. By the way, the rubber band guy (who is from Lauderhill, FL, just around the corner from me) made enough money from selling his ball to Ripley’s Believe it or Not that he can fund his next world record: longest time spent as a human fireball. Maybe he should write about careers. File my post under too much metaphor.

Failed post #4: “Love in the time of mangoes”

This one is just a title. That’s how unfinished. Jerry Seinfeld said he picked the title of Bee Movie long before he knew what it would be about. I knew more than that: I thought I wanted to write about what I learned from cooking a different mango recipe each night during the month of June. Then I went on vacation to Colorado and this is not a food blog. But I still cook every night now (even though “Mango Month” is over). I already have meals planned through the weekend (and groceries purchased). Even recycled recipes so I don’t waste food.  Okay, I promised this wasn’t going to turn into a food blog. Unless I start writing about how I’m cooking my way through sadness. But that’s too Like Water for Chocolate for this venue. But I did love that book. And the movie. *sigh* File under two Latin literary allusions don’t make a right.

Sometimes you fail because you were doing it wrong. And sometimes you fail because your idea just plain sucked. The latter is harder to admit to yourself because at the time you conceived that idea, it was genius. Then you start telling other people about it and you feel like you have to stick with it even though you know you’re better. And it’s not that my almost-posts were hideous; in fact, they were almost-good. They just weren’t good enough to keep me interested past the first two paragraphs. That’s where most of us dwell, in almost-good. This often feels like failure, which is why so many of us give up before we get to good (or excellent or inspirational).

I used to tell my students they had to write the bad stuff to get to the good stuff. Writing the perfect phrase never happens until you’ve written tons of mediocre ones before it. Creating the perfect publication or project never happens without a parade of almosts.

Maybe today I have to tell myself the same. Past every boring idea lurks a better one that will inspire me. Just keep putting pen to paper. This is where the rubber band ball meets the road.

What it means to do your best

28 May

I’ve discussed my love affair with introspection on this blog before, and how it’s not always good. Sometimes you just need to get shit done. Your head will have to wait.

For example, two days ago, by the time I got home from work I realized I was just old-fashioned sad. It took a few days, but it happened: getting laid off isn’t as fun as it was last weekend.

I had planned to make a pasta dish for dinner, bought the ingredients the night before and everything. But that part of me that was stuck in my head couldn’t get me to do it. I got halfway across the street to get sushi and turned around and came back. Instead of giving in to the urge to escape, I walked right back into my kitchen and started chopping peppers and onions, and prepping the turkey sausage…time to deliver. It was tough to move past the stagnation I was feeling but I did it because I knew it would give me something to write about. And right now the writing is saving me.

Sometimes you’ve just got to start chopping the peppers. You’ve got to remove the seeds and slice up the parts that nourish you. It wasn’t a fancy dinner; no one wants me to post a picture of it on Facebook.

But it tasted delicious. Because it was the best I could do at the time.

“Do your best” is one of the agreements in don Miguel Ruiz’s Toltec wisdom book, The Four Agreements. It seems obvious but the important distinction he makes is that your best isn’t always the same. You can’t compare your best at one time in your life to another. You haven’t failed if your best wears a different mask at times. This helps the perfectionist in all of us: you aren’t letting anyone down as long you give it your best.

While at times this book takes itself too seriously for my taste, this bit of wisdom is comforting right now as I wind down the final two weeks of school with even less emotional energy than usual. I’m not letting the kids down as long as I show up every day and say good morning, smile at them, and let them know they matter to me. That’s my best right now.

“Light and dark can live together,” Ben Gifford of Death Cab for Cutie said on VH1 Storytellers. He’s exactly right, and that concept has always comforted me. We spend our days mingling the two harmoniously.

Leonardo da Vinci still has my favorite related insight: “A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.” Leo, you complete me.

“Helplessness Blues,” the title track of the new album from Fleet Foxes, is my new song to play on repeat. First, the musical arrangements boast such rich texture that it takes repeated listening to even process what you’re hearing. This particular song becomes almost an opera: in the middle it shifts to a different tempo and you almost feel like it’s a different song. But the transition is so natural that you embrace it. The song details a person’s search for what he’s meant to do, even though he doesn’t know what it is yet. The line that has most captured my imagination comes during the second movement:

“If I had an orchard, I’d work ’til I’m sore.”

That’s the key in our lives: once your find your orchard, whatever it is that bears your favorite fruit, you won’t even notice how much work it is. Okay, you will, but you’ll keep doing it because you love the taste.

Your best will be different then.

My best will look different in two weeks.

I will cook again, too. (But probably not tomorrow.)