Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Empty Nest Bar and Grill


You guys. I don't know how to put this. But Birdy? That tiny little baby girl? SHE WENT TO COLLEGE. I mean. What? I realize I've been a little, er, quiet here. All I've got is links to old stuff about my kids leaving. This, for example. And this

And this piece, which I wrote for Family Circle when Ben left. Cutting and pasting since I can't find it online. Come find me on Instagram, though, please. I know lots of you are in the same boat, not coincidentally. I am sending so much love. So much.

The Stuff of Motherhood

Before he was born, I counted eensy pairs of socks. “Do we have enough socks?” I asked the baby’s father. “Do babies even wear socks? Suddenly I can’t picture a baby with socks on.” His father shook his head, baffled by the accumulation of miniature clothing for a hypothetical person who was only, at that point, a stubborn guest overstaying his welcome in my body’s cramped guest quarters. 

We lived in a sunny room in a friend’s California arts-and-crafts bungalow, and I sorted our accumulated hand-me-downs obsessively: the jog stroller, the duck-printed nighties with their oddly elasticized bottoms, the Scandinavian mobile with its black and white faces, the sweaters and jeans and Air Jordans, sized 0-3 months. (A 0-month old! We would have that.) I counted diapers and washcloths, hooded towels and snap-crotch onesies and crib sheets. I inspected the breast pump, which appeared to have been designed by a sadist who gave up sadism for engineering but then still turned out to be secretly a sadist. 

In the absence of the actual baby, there were the baby’s things. Only, then the baby came, and the stuff was like the punchline of a joke. Who even cared about any of it? He wouldn’t go in the jog stroller! He never slept in the crib! He did smile at his Scandinavian friends, but mostly he lived in our arms and wore whatever, and we passed him around like a bong, like we were high and getting higher, drunk on the baby’s scalp smell and smile. 

And it’s happening again now, in reverse. This glorious grown person, this golden ball who has rolled glowingly through our lives for 18 years, is getting ready to go—and all I can think about is stuff. In the absence of the actual absence, there are the leaving person’s things: the shampoo and toothpaste, the pens and notebooks and wheeled plastic under-bed storage bins. And the bedding. The bedding! I am obsessed with the bedding. “Is twin xl just the size of the fitted sheet? Or do you need an xl top sheet too?” The baby’s father shakes his head, shrugs. He loves the boy, but doesn’t know or, especially, care about college dorm bedding specifications. 

I go to Marshall’s and study the bedding like it’s material I’ll be tested on in a class about the anatomy of loss. Does a mattress cover go over or under a foam topper—or is the foam topper instead of it? Google these questions and find yourself in a forest full of lost mothers, calling out to each other in their grief and fear, except the only language available to them is percale.

On drop-off day, I make his bed while his roommate’s mother makes her son’s bed, and we laugh at ourselves. I understand the expression “lump in your throat” with sudden urgency. There is a rock in my throat, an anvil. There is the piano in my throat that I watched him play last night, his sister on guitar beside him, perfection threaded through with dread, weighted down with this lump in my throat. The many things unpacked and put away, the toiletries stashed, the giant socks piled in a drawer, the sheets pulled tight. He came into our lives two weeks late, but now he’s leaving right on time, and we’re supposed to graciously show him the door. We’ve been running alongside his bike for 18 years and we’re supposed to wave cheerfully as he turns into a pedaling speck in the distance. He is our nurtured sparrow, and we are flinging our arms open to return him to the wild, where he belongs.

And all I can do is text him later. “Is your bed comfortable?” I write, and he writes back immediately, “So comfortable! Thank you.”

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Yay! We raised a bunch of money! Happy New Year!


Adding a note not included in my weirdo design thingy to say: write me if you need anything! I have at least $32 mysteriously unaccounted for by my "generous" donation. . . xo

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Holiday Gift Guide 2020

What? It's *this* time already? I can't believe it. It seems like 2020 just started ONE MILLION YEARS AGO! Ha ha ha. I am astonished. I have been made an aunt again twice over in just this past month. We elected Biden and were thrilled about it. Are thrilled about it still! (If you'd told us that back when, we would have laughed in your face. But relative good is a powerful force when it comes to saving people's lives, isn't it.) Stacey Abrams and other bad-ass, tireless activists flipped Georgia from a voter-suppressed state to a less-voter-suppressed state. It's too much. The heartbroken and galvanizing Black Lives Matter protests. Getting schooled in triple time about the criminal justice system. The virus and all of its losses. I miss people. And also we sit with friends around blazing fires, with mugs of soup warming our hands and jars of red wine warming our guts, and I wonder if I've ever been happier. Birdy is applying to college (sob!). Ben is home (yay!). We are well and safe and hopeful and energized. Also exhausted. But okay, okay, onto the gift guide.

  • Last year's gift ideas are here
  • The year before are here--and also there is a list there of links to the homemade gifts we've posted over the years. I'll add Our Fudge of Perpetual Sorrows because it is a perfect recipe and would make a great present for a sweet-toothed kind of person.
  • The year before that are here.
  • The year before, here
  • The year before, here.
  • The year before that, here.
  • The year before that, here
  • And the year before that, here.
  • Some long ago thoughts (i.e. for little kids) are here.
  • As always, the master list of games is here.



And also as always, let me mention that these gift guides involve various revenue-earning affiliate links, and that's because I will earn a commission, and then I'll donate all the money I make from them. In other words, this is something of a fundraiser, with the happy side effect of you doing your holiday shopping. All the book links this year are to Bookshop.org, which supports Indie bookstores *and* offers affiliate $, which is just totally win-win. The other affiliate links are Etsy (indie makers) and, even though I'm trying to wean myself off of them, Amazon. Anything you see here? Try to buy it locally--especially if you have a local game and/or book store--and then just donate a little money to an organization doing great work. That way we support local businesses and it's still (kind of) a fundraiser. 

We'll be donating the earnings to Partners in Health, a global health organization we've been supporting for over a decade. And also to Fair Fight, which is working to take back the Senate RIGHT NOW, and The Movement for Black Lives, a coalition developing leadership and political strategies to represent black communities. Onto the gifts!


First off, we got Birdy a good portable speaker so that SHE WON'T TAKE OURS TO COLLEGE LIKE A WHORE. (This would have made a good graduation gift, come to think of it.) My late, great Ali friend was famous for her object-research skills, and one of her last great gifts to me was researching the UE Boom, which we have loved.


Of the 2199 results I got when I plugged "Four Seasons Total Landscaping t-shirt" into RedBubble, I picked this one for both of my kids. I liked how the tree is kind of a riff on the actual Four Seasons hotel-chain logo. The story is just so delicious, and why would we ever want to forget. If you have never had the pleasure of typing your random thing into the RedBubble search engine and getting a million results, you're in for a treat. I also got the kids cat face masks this year. And stickers of all types--from Killing Eve (our new favorite TV show) to the robber from Settlers of Catan.


I also bought the kids a few things from Mochi. They have the most incredible collection of decorative and organizational sticky notes. And notebooks.


POMMO Press is the art company of the amazing Debbie Fong, who illustrated How to Be a Person and whom I adore. I joined her sticker club to cheer Birdy and me up during this long and tiresome year, and it was an excellent decision. Every month a really pretty envelope arrives with a themed sheet of stylish stickers, and lots of little extra stickers and freebies. Get a gift subscription for someone and make them so happy every month! Plus, you'll be directly supporting an independent artist. (She also sells delightful comic books, patches, and stationery. I have little coveting of this to-do list notepad, but that's not surprising.)


This little chunk of a book is 4- by 5-inches small and filled with prompts to draw teeny-tiny things, which is kind of all anybody in my house actually wants to draw. A chewable vitamin! A freckle! A thimble! A chickpea! Pair it with these pens or these (bizarrely expensive) pencils, our favorites in each genre.
For my nephews and kids, I could not resist these posters. The series, Subpar Parks, is based on actual nitpicking Yelp reviews of National Parks. OMG. If you've ever read someone's sighingly inane complaints about the most spectacular place you've ever stayed or visited, you will love this so much. (A tour operator in Puerto Rico told us he'd once gotten a bad review because the beach was "too sandy.") These are the two I picked, but there are so many good ones, and you can order them in all different sizes. Plus, the posters are actually gorgeous in addition to being LOL funny.

For better or worse: That straw creature does not come with the mug.

Also on Etsy, Pamela Zimmerman of Hobbitware makes all of my very favorite things. I am just completely in love with her lumpy, heartbreaking mugs and dishes. In fact, I have such a profound attraction to lumpy, heartbreaking pottery in general that my friend Lydia thinks I must have been a terrible ceramicist in a past life.

Or does someone in your life need a glam mask from a Black-owned Brooklyn business for their stay-at-home New Year's celebration? (Um, I kind of do.) 

My brilliant award-winning artist friend Melinda Beck created this Georgia Peach illustration, which she's putting on socks and mugs and t-shirts and buttons, and all the proceeds go to Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight. Look around while you're there! Everything is fabulous.


Also glam is the flying wish paper I got the kids, which I thought we could light on New Year's eve. I've never used it, but I guess you write your wishes in pencil, then roll it up and light it and it flies away. (Did you wish that your neighbor's leaf pile would catch on fire? Your wish came true!) I figure we've got a lot of wishing to catch up on! Or do we? Maybe all my wishes came true already.

I don't know whom to credit for this, but it makes me laugh every time I look at it.

Okay, onto the games, because I know that's why you're really here. First of all, if you didn't buy Wingspan last year, buy it now. It's expensive, but it's a beautiful game with lots of replay value.


Viticulture is one of the big games I'm giving Ben and Birdy this year. A heteronormative-appearing wine-themed worker-placement game! What could go wrong? I'll report back, of course. But I got this game with a fair amount of confidence both because it scores so well on the (geeky) boardgamegeek, and because a trusted gaming friend recommended it to us.


And Parks is the other (although full disclosure I'm saving it for Birdy's birthday). People love it because it's gorgeous and seems to offer that great kind of always-different play, which I love in a resource-gathering board game. Plus, it's such a good pairing with the Subpar parks posters, no?

We had occasion to get and play a bunch of new games this year, thanks to a piece I was writing for Parents magazine. Lots of them were games for tiny little kids, and if you've got those, you might think about this game (for the very eensiest gamers) or this game (for the next eensiest).


One game we tested and loved was this slightly easier version of our beloved Patchwork, which is perfect if you have less time, or if you play with easily frustrated people. This is one of the very best two-person games I know, even thought the design elements feel just a little like a missed opportunity, as if your grandma made it, only she's kind of a shitty quilter. But still.


Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza is this completely ridiculous game that we've now played a ton of. It's fun playing with Birdy because she's always like, "Fuck me, I flinched" and "Fuck you, take your fucking gorilla back." It's simple and slappy and I always lose because it turns out that my hands have been somehow unhitched from my brain and are now living a life all out on their own, totally unsupervised by any higher powers. We've already gifted this a bunch because, besides being a really funny game, it's small and packaged stylishly and the cards themselves are perfect and adorable.


Point Salad is another little stocking-stuffer-ish type card game that I got for b + b for the holidays. It comes super highly recommended but, as always, feel free to wait for us to report back on how much fun it is! 


OH MY GOD AND THESE PLAYING CARDS! I just came back here to add them after seeing them on Buzzfeed. I am a sucker for the rainbow gradient, and also Fredericks and Mae are one of my favorite queer design teams! If you have great big wads of cash burning a hole in your pocket, you can check out their website (or donate it).


If you haven't gotten Animal Upon Animal yet, that's because you're new here. Welcome! Ha ha ha! (We seem to play it as a drinking game now.)



A couple of puzzles while I'm at it. This one and this one, both from my beloved publisher Storey, from the beautiful Julia Rothman books. So stylish and fun to look at--and a little educational even, which is nice, since you're sitting there staring at it for hours. You might as well learn something! (The puzzles are not themselves out of focus, by the way. I think there's something amiss with my camera.) Edited to add: We just did the Nature Anatomy one last night, and it was so deeply pleasurable. An easy puzzle, but captivating, and the pieces are gorgeous, with a lovely printed backing.


Eatable Alphabet is this big, stunning little-kid activity deck that we made over ChopChop, the nonprofit where  I edit the kids' cooking magazine (itself a wonderful gift). It would be hard to overstate the gorgeousness of these cards: they're big (the size of a greeting card), and heavy, and smooth, and designed by all the most talented people I get to work with. Plus, I wrote all the copy! If you buy this, you will be supporting a tiny nonprofit with a mission to teach families to cook and eat real food.


Each card has a letter/food front, and then a back with recipes and activities for that food.

I am framing this one and hanging it. For real. I love it so much.

Foodwise, there are a couple more gifts I need to recommend this year. Even though you can buy Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp at your local Asian grocery store for $4, and it is perfectly delicious, or you can make it yourself, I have to recommend this crazy creme de la creme of chili crisps

 

I got it for Ben for his birthday, and we are obsessed. We splotch it mostly onto ramen and soft-boiled eggs and cold, raw tofu, and it is tingly and spicy, crazy-umami and just incredibly exciting and oily and wonderful. 

Shown here drizzled on a plate of miso oatmeal with Momofuku soy eggs.

Is it expensive? It is! But not too bad for a gift. Plus, my defining culinary equation is turning out to be "cheap food + expensive condiments." 


Following that same equation, this is the truffle oil you want truffle oil to be, if you like truffle oil. It's funky and fragrant and fresh. Just a tiny drizzle, and your plate of scrambled eggs or spaghetti or polenta turns into restaurant food. 


I got the kids Tony's Chocolonely chocolates for their xmas stockings because a friend of mine tucked a tiny little bar into a card she gave me and it was so extra good that I looked it up. And the company is awesome: fair trade and free from slave- and child-labor all the way through the supply chain. I found it at Whole Foods, but you can order directly from the company. Plus, aside from the pretzel bar (yum), they're gluten-free! (I know because I wrote them.)


The truth is, I looked for a dish towel that said, "Is Stephen Miller dead yet?" Which is a question everyone in my household has asked each other upon waking for the past few months. But that dish towel doesn't exist. (Weird, I know. Business opportunity alert!) But this one is so good. And everything from this shop is so lovely.




Okay. Onto books! I have cooked from The Dosa Kitchen cookbook pretty obsessively this year. If you've never had one, a dosa is a crispy, tangy Indian pancake that's made from a simple fermented ground rice/dal batter. (I ferment the batter in my Instant Pot overnight on the yogurt setting. Sorry. TMI.) Is this too particular a gift? It might be. Though it would be cool if you also gifted the only three ingredients you need for the batter: the urad dal and the masoori rice and the fenugreek seeds, all of which you could get at a local Indian or Asian grocery store (any white rice will work and, in fact, I've been doing 1/2 white and 1/2 brown). You should give this to your spouse or any older children living at home who will take this on as a project for your enjoyment! (Shown here: A fab dosa-dilla stuffed with melted cheese and spiced mashed potatoes. What!)


Here's a lovely gigantic book for someone who likes to leaf through a big book lookingly. It's part how-to, part armchair DIY, part "Why on earth would anybody do that?" and part "I wish I did that." These are all kinds of home skills culled from Storey's vast archives of guides: crafts and homesteading and brewing and animal husbandry (!) and food and gardening and 209 other things. In fact, the finger-knitting how-to from Nicole's and my book Stitch Camp is featured! 


As is this lovely craft (and lovely model) from Nicole's book Improv Sewing. It would make a great gift for someone who was curious to get a little taste of a lot of different skills and ways of living.


How to Be a Person! Of course. Because it would make a great gift with a little set of related useful items to go with it: a swiss army knife and a nice little quesadilla-sized frying pan and a stationery set and a sewing kit and maybe a plunger.


And then 2 perfect novels: this and this.
And 2 perfect (funny) memoirs: this and this.


If you've got a lover of nonfiction on your list, I cannot enough recommend Caste. I'm reading it now and it is, as everyone said it would, blowing my mind. (Did you know that the Nazis studied race and Jim Crow laws in the United States to learn about the architecture of subordination?)


Finally, sorry to be so perverse, but is there anything more satisfyingly infuriating and hilarious than a menorah Christmas tree ornament

Stay cozy, my darlings. Be brave and also rest when you can. Anything that doesn't matter? Let it fall away. Let it burn away so that all that's left is love, burnished and bright. Happy everything. xo

Monday, November 02, 2020

As if

you'd be here and not be voting, not be voting blue down the ticket. I know. But please, let's get this done. 

Go ahead and bookmark this Atlantic article. Like an umbrella you won't need because the fact of your bringing it means it won't rain.

Take care of yourselves. I for one have been doing a lot of journaling, which helps. 

(Totally kidding! I have not done any journaling. Just various prescription, legalized, and OTC medications.)

Come do this with me tomorrow! It's calling NC dems who requested absentee ballots but haven't returned them. We'll be trying to send these folks to the polls.

We got this. Sending love to you all. So, so much love. 

xo



Sunday, September 06, 2020

Our Fudge of Perpetual Sorrows

Hopefully we're together on Instagram at this point, where you can follow all my tragic musings on the passage of time, etc. For example, here, where I write about our Ben leaving us (again) and how happy-sad that makes me, blah blah, same as I ever was. 

When I posted this picture on Facebook, my friend Suzy wrote, "And I was so sure he was going to turn out all wrong back in his girly days." I laughed again just typing that here. If you're a long-time reader, you may remember how much shit everyone gave me about Ben's self-presentation over on babycenter. He was recently musing about turning out cis and straight--even though we'd always given him total freedom to express himself--but how, if we'd shamed him and badgered him to be boyier, we would always have had to wonder if that's who he was really meant to be or if we'd just topiaried him with the heteronormative clippers into that particular shape. Meanwhile, his toddler tiara-and-tutu-wearing sister has turned out gay as a glorious butch Easter bonnet, so go figure.

Anyhoo. Ben's summer bucket list included "making fudge." On his last day home he was scrambling around, packing and gathering and laundering and stealing our spices, and I said, "Hey! Let's just make fudge at Thanksgiving!" And he was like, "What? No! We have to make it today!" I did not burst into tears and fling my old-lady arms around his waist, which is as high up on him as I can reach. I just said, "Okay! Let's." And it is truly the saddest, best fudge I have ever eaten.

Pink shirt! Good god! #stillhisfavoritecolor


Our Fudge of Perpetual Sorrows
Just slightly adapted from this penuche recipe. I have to recommend only making it if you have a candy thermometer. I think "penuche" just means "brown sugar" or maybe "you won't be sorry" or "until you get a sugar migraine."

2/3 cup evaporated whole milk
2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 sticks salted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup pecans (this makes it taste like pralines--but you could use walnuts)

1. Put the evaporated milk, brown sugar, butter, and salt in a heavy medium-sized pot, and bring it all to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.

2. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula to makes sure it's not sticking on the bottom, until a candy thermometer reads 240°.  (This took roughly 15 or 20 minutes.)

3. Carefully (it's very hot) scrape the mixture into the metal bowl of a stand mixer and beat it with the paddle at medium speed while you add the vanilla and then, gradually, the powdered sugar. Stop beating when the fudge is thick and smooth. The recipe says 3-4 minutes, but this happened nearly instantly for us. (If you do this with a hand mixer, just make sure not use a plastic bowl, which will melt.)

4. Stir the nuts in with a spoon and spread the (very, very stiff) mixture into an ungreased 8-inch square pan. As it cooled, we kind of pressed it in with our hands. Refrigerate uncovered for about 30 minutes, then cut it into small squares (we pried the whole thing out the pan first) and store airtight at room temperature while you and Birdy weep into the cats' fur.

5. Vote and make sure all your friends are voting and do something, even if it's just something small, every day until the election to make sure that the democrats win because oh my god.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Various Things That Are Mostly Links!

My darlings, how are you? Time is passing so strangely. I am surprised to see that I haven't written in a while, even though it feels simultaneously like yesterday and a jurassic era ago that I wrote that last post. I hope you've been healthy and good and not too fretful or stressed about all the worrying things. But maybe just fretful enough to start thinking about the November election and what we're going to do. Right? Donating to a bail-out fund is always a good starting place.



I am very excited to say that my new book, How to Be a Person, comes out next week. If you haven't ordered it yet, I am really hoping that you will. You can order it here, for example, to help support your local bookshop AND me! I am going to be weaning myself off of Amazon links in the next stretch of time, because it is unconscionable to continue to support that kind of radical social and economic injustice. (Wow, I am really off to a ranting kind of a start in this post!) I think the book would make an excellent graduation present or a wonderful passive aggressive Father's Day present for any man in your life who doesn't, say, know where you keep the wrapping paper or why you would ever need any.

She does *have* a regular mask.
In related news, I got to talk to funny, brilliant cool moms Liz Gumbinner and Kristen Chase over at their Spawned podcast. I got weirdly nervous, and also was balancing my mic on a "bed desk" made from a plastic bin with holes cut into the lid so that the psilocybin mushrooms growing inside could breathe (we are babysitting them for an out-of-town friend), but still it was so much fun to talk to them.

Photo credit Jörg Meyer, 2008, from the late, great Wondertime magazine.
I've also written about both camping (the backyard kind) and camp (the at-home kind) over at the New York Times, which thrills me no end. Longtime readers will understand the extent to which both of these things speak to me. (Especially given that both my kids went to IKEA Catalogue Reading Camp for 10 years.)


And I wrote--this was a while back now--for the lovely Cup of Jo about the very, very small helpfulnesses that were making me feel less awful. They still are, honestly, but I'm feeling sunnier overall, maybe because of all the sunshine.


A few other favorite things:

  • This book, which my friend wrote, but still, OH MY GOD.
  • This film, this film, and this film. All documentaries, and all so, so good.
  • This SK recipe for rhubarb bars, which I like because it's so nice and small. I make them with all rhubarb (instead of adding strawberries, since strawberries are not currently growing in my backyard like a giant alien life form), I double the white sugar, and I use gf flour (you don't need to use the xanthan-gum kind for this).
  • The salted chocolate buckwheat cookies that Liz Prueitt posted in the comments of this instagram post. OMG.
  • Melissa Clark's Spicy Thai Salad with Coconut and Crispy Tofu, which is a version of this NYT recipe, but in her Dinner book, she uses the whole package of tofu, which she corn-starches before frying, she doubles the lime juice and zest and the brown sugar, and she adds shallots, 1 cup of toasted coconut, and 11/2 cup each basil, cilantro, and mint leaves. It's tons of ingredients, and it kind of all takes forever to make, but it is ridiculously good and you can definitely omit this or that. In addition to the cabbage, I use whatever veggies we have (e.g. asparagus or green beans or cucumbers) and I swap in Bragg's for fish sauce, because of our vegetarian. It is an absolute house favorite.
  • This recipe for Paneer Butter Masala, which you can make with tofu, and which you can add peas to, as shown here. (I use canned tomatoes.)


Okay, my loves. Stay safe out there! Be vigilant and also forgiving! Love your people. xo