Asides

Writer’s block?

I’m in a sort of writing limbo these days. I feel this urge to write all the time, every day, like a craving for chocolate.  The difference is that writing requires too much effort on my part, whereas eating chocolate is just easy and divine.

I’m not sure why this has become such a struggle for me. I blame it partly on the fact that the magazine I usually try to submit devotions to every couple of months still has not released their theme questions, which makes it really hard to write pointedly about any of their scheduled topics.  Every time I check their website, I hope those questions will be there to spark some inspiration. But alas, only the theme titles are given, which are sometimes rather vague.  And so, when I have these good intentions of starting a draft, I let myself go back to Facebook and recipe browsing and don’t get any writing done at all.

Then there’s the obvious problem: time.  As a mom of a toddler, I don’t have an abundance of free time like I used to.  I can’t binge-watch Gilmore Girls for six hours anymore.  I can’t lounge in a recliner reading chick lit for long.  I can’t spend half the day shopping for nothing in particular.  The days I’m not working are dictated mainly by my son’s schedule and needs.  Yes, my husband is there too, but even with the two of us, there’s still no shortage of things to be done at any given moment.  The two hours or so when he naps each afternoon are a godsend, but they fly by too quickly.  Do I spend that time working out?  Do I make some healthy freezer meals ahead of time (something on my mind with a new baby on the way in just a few weeks)?  Do I take a nap? Do I run errands, clean house, do laundry, call my mom?

All of these are valid reasons not to do something, but not really excuses. Yes, I am pretty busy every day, but there is still time left over when I could be writing.  Even twenty minutes a day would be beneficial, and I would feel like I’m getting somewhere.  I tend to choose exercise, or cooking, or reading, or just watching zombie movies and Doctor Who with the hubs, rather than writing.

The other major reason for my laziness is that I can’t seem to narrow down what I want to write about.  My blog isn’t for income, it doesn’t have to follow any set format or quotas, it’s just for me.  Yet, I always wonder what would grab the most interest for readers.  Even though I only have a handful of followers, and a few Facebook friends who sometimes read what I share, I definitely care what they think.  I care what you think, if you’re kind enough to be reading this right now.

I want to write something that matters.  Maybe not to a lot of people.  I’m okay with that.  I’m okay with reaching a small audience, but I still want my words to matter to people in it.  I want to take the time necessary to home the right words for what I try to convey.

The thing that paralyzes me the most is this insecurity about what I have to say.  Daily, thoughts flit through my head, ideas for new blog posts, but then I second-guess myself.  Who really needs another article about gaining patience with toddlers?  Or another complaint about the state of public education today?  Or another commentary on the weather, or another devotion on perseverance through trials, or another recipe for zucchini-carrot-flaxseed muffins?  Who cares about my memories of my two brothers as we grew up?  Who needs to read about my son’s milestones, or how nervous I am getting about baby #2’s impending arrival?

Yep, I don’t quite have a handle on where I want to fit in the blogging world.  It shouldn’t matter to me this much; I should stick to writing what I know and if I feel led to share it, to do so.  But the little voice in my head keeps holding me back.

Who knows? Perhaps I will get up the nerve to publish this piece, despite its rambling nature.  I think I’m not alone in this struggle.  Regardless of how insignificant our work as creative people may be, we still yearn for meaning and purpose in what we create.

Wishing each of you a safe space in which to express whatever your creative little hearts desire…

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Sugar fast–birthday

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Let’s just start this post off with the happy truth: I’m most definitely NOT giving up sugar for my birthday.

My so-called sugar fast has been going great (it’s not even an actual sugar fast, just a buying-candy fast).  I started it back in mid-April and have only bought candy twice since then.  If you are my friend Taryn or if you’ve known me for more than, like, five minutes, you recognize this as a tremendous improvement.  I love candy so much and was known to be crazy obsessed with it at times.

But I’ve been much better about it.  Occasionally I get a few pieces of candy from someone (such as my boss at our monthly faculty meetings), but overall I have been avoiding it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Out of my house, stays out of my tummy.

So here I am to say that this week, I’m taking a little hiatus from my candy-purchasing embargo.  My birthday is this Tuesday, so I’m going to be a little extra indulgent towards my sweet tooth.  Some say that’s one of the keys to sticking with many diet or lifestyle changes–allow yourself the occasional controlled “cheat” day or meal, and then keeping to your improved lifestyle will be much easier.

Thank you to the Foreign Candy Company for supplying my school’s foreign-language club with Bon-Bons, these delightful little chewy fruit candies that the students just go nuts over.  They arrived on Friday, just in time for my birthday week, and yep, I broke my rule that day to get myself a bag of strawberry-flavored treats!  I honestly worried that they might sell out by midweek, as popular as they are with the kids here.  That package was tasty, and I don’t feel the need to stock up on bags and bags of it or anything.

Anyway, I am looking forward to enjoying a little break from my rule, and just enjoyed a delectable Ghirardelli chocolate…mmm! I will gladly return to abstaining from candy-buying by the end of this week, though.  (My hubby asked, only partly in jest, if I’m also going to drop my rule for Halloween week, Thanksgiving week, Christmas, etc.).  Ha!  Nope!  I really don’t think I will.   Maybe once a month I’ll give myself a free pass, but no more than that.  I’m excited by how much less I crave the stuff compared to before, and how much more I savor the candy treats I get now that they’re so much rarer.  Now, they are an actual treat!  Plus, once the other school-group candy fundraisers begin, I have an excuse for saying no!

Good luck to you with whatever your goals may be, readers.  Keep on pluggin’ away!

Beyond comfortable

So I’m on currently on a “put myself in uncomfortable situations” kick.  Not sure what brought this on, but twice now in a week I’ve willingly done something that makes me feel…awkward.  Anxious.  Out of place.

First was the staff dance that teachers and other adults in my school perform every year at the Homecoming assembly.  Yeah, I’m not big on dancing-at least not in that situation.  I’m all for shakin’ it on the dance floor at a wedding, but the teacher dance has always been an activity I avoid like the plague.  Making a fool of myself in front of the whole student body is not my thing.  I figure, I probably embarrass myself unintentionally during class at least once a day anyway, so why add to the humiliation by doing so on purpose?

It was so sweet being on maternity leave last year at Homecoming time, so I didn’t have to deal with it at all.  Almost every other year of my career, I was in charge of Student Council, which meant I was basically in charge of ALL of Homecoming.  I figured that, plus fall cross-country coaching, should excuse me from pressure to participate in anything else.

Anyway…back to the point.  I’m attempting to do the teacher dance this year.  I still, admittedly, have zero desire to do it, but here are a few reasons that override what I want.

Sometimes, as teachers, it’s good to let students see our goofy side.  It opens up conversation and builds connections.  Plus, I’m no longer a coach or club sponsor, so I do feel I ought to be involved in something in the Homecoming festivities.  And the biggest reason for making a fool of myself  in a dance routine?  It’s important to step outside of our “comfort zone” once in awhile.  Students are required to do stuff they hate, stuff that doesn’t interest them, stuff that terrifies them, on a regular basis.  Some are uncomfortable with reading, or group work, or tests, or speeches, or artwork, but they have to try all of these at one point or another.  Everybody has to go along with something they dislike from time to time, whether for work or relationships or general life-sustenance.

Doing this dance is my feeble attempt to show students that they shouldn’t be content just doing what comes easily or naturally to them.  There’s value and purpose in venturing beyond those things.  You never know where that first step into uncharted territory may lead.  You might discover a hidden talent or passion.  You might create a new friendship.  You might gain opportunities you never even knew existed.

For me, this is just one brief dance routine with coworkers, which I don’t expect to enjoy, but it’s yet another tiny step towards a braver me.  Heck, I was petrified of public speaking when I began teaching, but I did it anyway.  I found that once I got to know the kids, it wasn’t public speaking at all.  It was simply sharing subjects I love with others.  It still scares me an awful lot, but that’s nothing compared to the fear I had thirteen years ago.  There have been some rather amazing experiences and moments with my students.  Having the courage to face my fears is what brought me into those magical moments.

So, even if I look like Elaine from Seinfeld when we perform in a few weeks, it’ll be okay.  I’ll know why I’m doing it, and I’ll attempt to hold on to a shred of dignity (but I confess, I plan to be well-disguised the second we step onto that gym floor!).

Here’s to trying what isn’t easy!  After all, how many worthwhile things in life ever are?

Sugar Fast

I am a sugar addict.

Oh, what a relief to finally admit it on paper (well, online, technically).

Hi, I’m Kate and I’m a sugar addict.  (“Hi, Kate…”)

I confess: I frequently experience incredibly strong cravings for Skittles, chocolate chip cookies, and Twizzlers.  It is not unusual for me to consume three Subway cookies after lunch and still want Lucky Charms after dinner, plus a handful of other sugary snacks sprinkled throughout any given day.

I won’t deny it.  I have known for a long time that my obsession with sweet food is dangerous.  I know my noshing is out-of-control at times.  I have plenty of friends who claim to be just as addicted to sweets as I am, but I’m pretty sure I could out-eat any of them in a contest.  Whenever candy is required, people know I’m the girl to see.

When loved ones bemoan their addiction to smoking, I agree with them that smoking is a filthy, deadly habit that they should never have begun.  But I also am thinking inwardly, “I’m not that different.”  What I am doing to myself, my body, is perhaps equally self-destructive and foolish as smoking three packs a day.

So, here I am once again, resolved to cut back on the junk.  I vow to eat less candy, fewer empty calories.  I should probably say none, but knowing me, going cold turkey would be a setup for certain failure.

I have set up some parameters for myself now.  Only in a couple of areas am I saying, absolutely none.  1: Soda is out, as are sugary juices. 2: I will not buy candy.

Notice I didn’t say I will not eat candy.  My husband, wise man that he is, suggested I just don’t buy any more candy, at least for awhile.  Out of sight, out of mind.  If it’s not in the house, he reasons, you can’t eat it.  I know, I know– totally obvious, right?  But it is not easy for me.  So that’s my other hard and fast rule for the foreseeable future: no purchasing candy of any kind.

Brilliant.  Now, he first brought this idea up about a week before Easter.  Ah yes…Easter, the special time when we believers recognize Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  That is the original meaning of it, after all.  Sometime in the last two thousand years, something else crept in and began overtaking its sacred purpose.

Marshmallow Peeps.  Jelly beans (Starburst ones, not the regular original jellybeans, which are pretty gross, if you ask me).  M’n’Ms flocked with festive pastel pinks, blues, yellows, and purples.  Chocolate bunnies (although, to be honest, I’ve never been very impressed by their taste or quality).  Still, the lure of Easter candy threatened to derail me from the get-go.  I can’t even begin to guess how many jelly beans I’ve eaten in recent years between Valentine’s Day and Easter.   Plus, I would always try to hit the stores the day after Easter, to take advantage of the sales.

Something surprising happened after the implementation of the no-buying-candy rule.  The first time I went to Target, I glanced for a second at the Easter candy aisles, but walked right on by.  No struggle.  No inward debate over whether or not I would go ahead and cheat.  No friends or family members forced to pry family-sized bags of Tootsie Rolls out of my hands as I protested weakly, “Just one more!  I can quit anytime, I promise!” I just thought, nope.  Not gonna do it.

It was actually rather freeing.  Easier than anticipated.  That day and in the following shopping trips, instead of stocking up on bags and bags of candy, I walked on by.  I used to tell myself “well, I can give it away at school” (true, but I’d usually finish off most of it myself before I got the chance). I liked knowing that was one thing I could simply say no to.  I saved money and didn’t have all that sugary poison hanging around my house, hidden in various cupboards in vain attempts to deter me from eating it.

It’s only been a little over a month, but I’m so glad my man got me to make this change.  I’m not craving candy as much as I used to…hmm, perhaps because I’m not eating it every day? Notice, I didn’t say I can’t have candy…occasionally.  I thought that might be a little too drastic while starting out.  I’ll allow myself a little something once in awhile if someone else buys it, but I won’t buy the family-size bag anymore.  So I indulged in a few Peeps over Easter weekend (my husband’s family was roasting them …come on, there’s no way I’m going to say no to that caramelized deliciousness).

But out that’s it.  Since April 17th, those three or four Peeps, plus a weird gummy candy my friend gave me at her bridal shower are the only candy I have touched.  Scout’s honor.  If you knew me, you’d recognize this for the HUGE accomplishment it is.

Yeah, I still want my Cinnamon Toast Crunch or some sort of baked good before the day’s end.  I’m only human.  Baby steps.

Maybe one of these days cookies will be off the menu as well.  I don’t know.    Baking is just too much fun…

By the way, I’ve been trying out recipes from Chocolate-Covered Katie lately, too.  I’m not a vegan, but her blog boasts delicious lower-fat, lower-sugar dessert ideas!  Chocolate Chip Mug Cake…Snickerdoodle Dip…Chocolate Cake with a Crazy Ingredient (it’s cauliflower!).  Check it out!

 

 

The End of Human Decency

As I have been reading a lot of blogs lately, I have noticed an unfortunate trend: the use of both blogs and their comments sections as a forum for disrespect.  I understand that if you’re writing a blog, you must have something to say and you have to expect both praise and criticism.  Nevertheless, I don’t think the comments section should be an excuse to insult other people.  The same problem occurs on youtube.  It drives me crazy.  I just want to ask why people can’t find anything better to do with their time than comment on their hatred for songs.  (Don’t bother listening to it if you don’t like it!). It’s one thing to share opinions that are different from those in a blog post, but it is quite another to hurl deprecating remarks.

One example: one blog about writing offered some advice for writers, and the first comment I saw was someone saying, “I was going to take you seriously until I saw that your book was nonfiction. That’s not writing, dude.”  First of all, excuse me?  Since when is nonfiction writing “not writing”?  Even if you set aside the ridiculousness of that statement, why do you need to be a jerk?  If you didn’t find his advice useful, then stop reading, or accept that not every single piece of text you come across is going to be applicable for you.  Don’t waste your time or the author’s time in bashing what he does.

Other comments I’ve found while perusing various posts are similarly rude.  I just don’t get it.  I guess it’s because of the same reasons I don’t get kids bullying other kids, or CEOs ripping off their employees.  If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.  Unless your comments are actually constructive for the writer, then keep them to yourself.  (Okay, one other exception: when the writer has been deliberately offensive, it might be fine to lash back.  Like maybe to the woman who “looks down on young wives and mothers and isn’t sorry”.)

My husband reads a lot of product reviews before buying anything, and he often remarks on this as well.  People tend to jump all over each other online.  They have a much shorter fuse and an apparent lack of basic decorum.  They start off with relevant reviews of cell phone carriers or car parts or restaurants, but quickly deteriorate into name-calling and petty arguments.  My friend who moderates the website for a law review magazine can attest to this online rudeness epidemic, too.

Why do we become so ruthless when we’re online?  I mean, obviously, there is that sense of distance created between us and the people to whom we communicate online.  But how is it that we lose or ignore our moral compass just because we don’t expect to deal with others face to face?

I think that, deep down, most of us just like hearing ourselves talk.  Even I do–and I’m a very shy and introverted person.  Perhaps this is true of many of us who enjoy writing.  It gives us the chance to speak out when we normally would remain mute.  We become bolder through our written words, particularly when we can publish them online with just a tap of one button.

It just feels like we’re becoming meaner and meaner to one another.  It’s pretty disheartening.

Homemade pasta

Yesterday, I made fresh pasta for the first time.  Ever.

It was a big deal.  I’m pretty proud of this accomplishment.

It seems almost foolish,  in this day of prepackaged convenience, to actually take the extra time to mix ingredients and make something like pasta from scratch.  Why would anyone want to do this?  I can buy a boxed pound of pasta in any shape, from around a dozen local stores, for a mere dollar or two.  That box can sit on a pantry shelf for months, even years, without going bad, so I can cook it up at my convenience.  Trust me, I have at least eight or nine boxes of spaghetti, rotini, farfalle, and macaronis in my house at this moment.

So why would I decide to go the homemade route with this staple?

Well, one reason is that I have three sisters-in-law who have Julia Child and Martha Stewart pretty well channeled.  They use fresh, organic ingredients.  They grow their own vegetables and herbs In backyard gardens.  They make their own almond milk, tortillas, pizza sauce, and Popsicles.  Every meal I’ve ever had that was made by one of these ladies is amazing, and they do all of this while somehow also managing households and raising awesome children.  I am under no illusions that I may ever catch up to them in their super-cook (and super-mom) skills, but they inspire me to attempt a fraction of these things nonetheless.

Reason number two is this cookbook I have.  It’s entitled The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making.  Author Alana Chernila paints such idyllic images of her whipping up mozzarella, granola, and golden-brown bread in her country kitchen that it makes me want to pack up and move to a farm.  I love her personal anecdotes of how and why she came to love making most of her family’s food.  (It’s a great cookbook–you should give it a look if this interests you, too.)

Besides these reasons, I’ve just been really wanting to adopt a more natural lifestyle, with fewer processed foods and more whole, real foods in my diet.  Being fairly attached (addicted?) to cheese and bread, I don’t envision myself ever following the Paleo diet; however, I can definitely see a lot of merit in its  precepts.  The more I think about the umpteen chemicals, dyes, and overall fake food-like items found in much of what Americans consume these days, the more it disgusts and frightens me.

All that being said, returning to a more natural way of eating is not easy.  Life is busy.  We all know that.  Saving time by purchasing quick groceries is hardly shameful (heck, I count it a victory just to make “semi-homemade” meals, instead of just buying fast food or a complete frozen meal that goes straight into the oven).

Fortunately for me, I have two full weeks off work this Christmas, so I was able to carve out some time for homemade cooking today.  My son also cooperated with this moment of motivation by napping for nearly two hours.

I turn to the recipe for basic pasta, and how wonderful is this?  Only two ingredients!  Flour and eggs!  That’s it.  Okay, that sounds about as simple as it gets.  I don’t even require a mixing bowl, Alana says–all I do is mix everything right on the clean countertop.  Sweet!  Not what I’m used to, but all right.

Make a volcano with the flour.  Ooh, that’s neat.  I never did build a faux volcano for an elementary-school science project, so this will make up for it.  I mix my eggs into the flour slowly, and lo and behold, the pasta dough does begin to come together.  Yay!  It’s working!

After I’ve divided the dough into six little pieces and let them sit for half an hour, it’s time to roll the dough.  Not possessing a pasta roller, I know I will be using the good old-fashioned rolling pin.

First mistake: using a sharp knife to cut out the dough directly on my dining table.  Oops.  It’s no family heirloom or anything, and it’s already scuffed in many places, but those scratches I added today hardly  improve its appearance.

Switching to a cutting board helps.  The dough is still sticking to the board after I cut it into strips, though, so with a light dusting of flour on the board, I am back in business!  I use a knife to cut the pasta, and only the next morning does it occur to me that a pizza slicer would be perfect for this task.  Oh well!

The question of where to lay out the pasta to dry is easily solved.  I find a little plastic slotted rack in a cabinet, which works just fine.  I leave the last two dough bunches for later use, as Alana says it can be wrapped and refrigerated up to two days.

A couple of hours later (you can cook the pasta after just five minutes or so, but I needed to wait until dinner time), my beautiful, homemade, irregularly shaped noodles go into the chicken soup that’s been simmering all day.

I feel like a little pioneer woman or something.  Homemade chicken noodle soup, with REAL noodles made from scratch!  I know it’s a small thing, but wow, did that pasta taste delicious…

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some things are sacred

I hate to act like the stereotypical “old person”, constantly harping on the “good old days”, but I just have to say something.

When it comes to Christmas carols, songwriters, please leave the greats alone.

Yes, feel free to perform the classics in your own voice, with your personal style.  But please quit altering the lyrics of beloved Christmas songs. Don’t put the lyrics to “O, Come, All Ye Faithful” or “Joy to the World” with some terrible melody that you created just for the sake of so-called “originality”.  The fact that something is new does not automatically make it better (or even halfway decent).  There’s a reason so many of these songs have stood the test of time.

I’m a carol purist.  The words and the music to our yearly favorites deserve our respect.  They were intended to work together, in harmony, to convey messages about Jesus and about Christmas.  When people decide to divorce the music from the lyrics, the results are often not pretty at all.

We are creatures of habit.  We like things to remain the same as long as nothing is wrong with the original.  It’s a challenge to remake a movie or TV show or song and have it be as good as the first version.  Imagine taking on the remaking of “The Godfather” or “Gone With the Wind”.  Just listen to the myriad criticisms of the recent live broadcast of “The Sound of Music”.  Now, I’m not saying it’s okay to be so hard on poor Carrie Underwood, and I did not see this performance, so I cannot comment on its success or failure.   But some things are amazing just as they are and cannot be improved.

All I know is, I like a song as it is, which is usually the first version I’ve heard.

Changing a classically-known song detracts from the unity that song can create.  Isn’t it wonderful to be a part of a group singing along to a piece that everyone knows and loves?  We all carry our own personal memories of that song, but we can draw together in enjoyment of it.  Even secular songs hold their own sacredness.  Wouldn’t the scene in “Elf” when Jovie leads the crowd in “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” have been pretty weird if she had broken out into her own tune? (Plus, no one would have been able to sing along, which is what ends up saving Santa and Christmas!).

Using well-known lyrics but throwing them into some random musical arrangement is like putting garlic on cinnamon rolls–the just don’t go together.  It’s quite jarring to have to try and pick up a new melody at a church service or other musical event, especially one with congregational participation.  It doesn’t encourage me to enter into worship or any kind of shared experience or emotion.  If you’re going to make me get out of my comfort zone, you might as well just write an entirely new song.  It seems lazy, not refreshing, to steal the words or the music from someone else.

I’m trying to imagine that final scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life” without “Auld Lang Syne”.  Or worse–with a bubble-gum pop version sung by Justin Bieber or One Direction.  How depressing!

My high-school madrigal group always concluded our show with “Silent Night”.  Don’t even try to convince me that any remake could be more beautiful…the holiness of those moments as we fanned out, voices echoing  around the auditorium, each holding a single candle, haunts my memory to this day.

Songwriters, musicians, I implore you:  keep working at your craft.  By all means, continue to pen new music.  But be original.  If you absolutely can’t come up with an entire song without pilfering pieces from music we’ve already come to know and love…I don’t know what to say.  I guess you’d better make it good.  (Or find yourself a skilled collaborator, like Hugh Grant did in Music and Lyrics.)

I have to concede that occasionally, a good songwriter’s reworking of a classic turns out beautifully.  Please, if you have examples in mind of awesome “remakes”, whether in music, movies, or otherwise, let me know. I know I’m probably much too set in my ways…