Friday, August 29, 2014

On shyness

I'm shy, so this is preaching to myself, and if you are offended by what I say here, then please at least realize that I don't like it either, but I think it's true.  Furthermore, I believe that truth is more important than palatability.

Elizabeth Eliot said that shyness is really only a form of selfishness.  I was unable to locate this quote; it may have been in an article and not a book, maybe even a magazine interview or something.  Additionally, my exact wording is probably inaccurate.   All I know is, I read it, and it was attributed to Mrs. Eliot, so whether or not you tend to agree with her, I'm trying to give credit where credit is due.

Also.  Let's just think about that statement: Shyness is really only a form of selfishness.

Shyness is a form of selfishness.

In what way is shyness selfishness?  Let's list some of the ways:

1.  When I am shy, I focus on my own feelings.  I am uncomfortable.  I am afraid to speak.  I don't want to be around these people.  I don't think anybody is being very nice to me.  I.  I.  I.

2.  When I am shy, I often think that I am the center of the universe and everybody is looking at me and sizing me up, and it is all about meMe. Me. Me.

3.  In assuming that I am the center of the universe and focusing on my own feelings, I neglect to think about others, their concerns, fears and feelings.  I think that others ought to make me feel comfortable, neglecting to understand that I, also, have a role in making them feel comfortable.  In so doing, I put my own needs above the needs of others.

4.  When I put my own needs above others, I begin to self-protect, to defend, to insulate.  My priority is to protect myself from being hurt, and I forget to think about the collateral damage this may cause, how in protecting myself I am liable to hurt others. 

Back in the day when I was a little girl growing up, I had a friend who was shy.  She was the sweetest thing, and much more shy than I.  In Sunday school, if the teacher asked her a question, or if she had to go to the front to drop birthday pennies into the bank, she would turn beet red.  Beet red.  And she would not speak.

She was shy for years, and we went from feeling painfully sorry for her to being used to her.  But then one day (I'm not sure if it was towards the end of high school or the beginning of college), she changed.  She became a wonderful conversationalist, a confident, caring, friendly person.

One time we had a conversation about this, and she said, "I just realized one day, I have to get control of this and stop thinking about myself and start thinking about other people."  So she started listening to other people.  And asking questions.  And listening to the answers and asking more questions.  Eventually, she also started sharing her own thoughts and feelings.

Most people want friends and relationships as much as you do.  Most people are dying for someone who cares enough about them to ask them questions about what they think, how they feel, what they've experienced.  Most of us are on a path together longing for emotional intimacy with our fellow man.  But many of us are afraid to step out and make the first attempt to connect.

We fear rejection so deeply, we isolate ourselves.  Which is crazy, because isn't isolation exactly the thing that we fear as the end result of rejection?

Now, clearly there are people who are only in the world to figure out whether they can use you to get ahead, and whether a relationship with you would benefit them.  If associating with you will help them climb the proverbial ladder, then they are all in.  But if associating with you will not get them ahead, may not result in any payoff at all, then they don't want to have anything to do with you.  You aren't good looking enough, or rich enough, or cool enough, or hip enough, or smart enough, or amusing enough, or whatever enough, and so they are uninterested.  Guess what?  You don't have to worry about them.  They aren't the kind of people who make good friends.  Their rejection will actually free you to find better friends elsewhere.  So go ahead and take the risk!  The only thing you have to lose is that you might be rejected by people you'd rather not invest in anyway.  This is a big win-win.

For adults, it is mind over matter.  Most adults have learned to be polite.  Just take your good manners to the next level and be honestly interested in people.  Try to figure them out, learn about what makes them tick, learn how to make somebody happy, and then do something to brighten her day.  Stop thinking about what makes you feel comfortable and focus on figuring out how to make somebody else feel comfortable.  When you do this, you will be astounded by how much happiness you can bring to people, and in return, how much joy you will experience yourself.

If you have shy children, help them by constantly exhorting them to think about others.  Teach them to be aware of others' feelings.  Say, "How do you think it made her feel when that happened?"  Ask, "What do you think he was hoping when he did that?"  Remind, "People like it when you smile at them!  It makes them happy!"

There may even be times when it is appropriate to tell your children, "You know how you feel awkward when the teacher calls on you in class?  Well, you make Steven feel that same sort of awkwardness when he asks you a question and you won't look at him.  And you hurt Nicole's feelings when you run away while she is trying to share her toys with you.  Even if you think you feel awkward, it is your job to be respectful and kind to others."  A shy child does not need to share stories and anecdotes or talk about his feelings, but he does need to learn to say hello and excuse me and thank you.

Explain that shyness is not an excuse for poor manners.  Good manners are a way that we express respect and kindness to others.  To be rude in the name of shyness is really very selfish indeed.  This goes for children and adults alike.

We are all magnificent creations of God.  He loves us with a love that stretches far beyond any love we could ever hope to express.  He did not try to protect Himself in any way, but laid Himself bare, first by emptying Himself of His divinity and taking on human flesh, then by dying an excruciating death while bearing all the collective sins of the entire world  (Philippians 2:6-8).

Jesus' love for us gives us security and confidence, and it also sets a pattern for us.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, the Bible says in Philippians 2:5.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. 
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 
not looking to your own interests 
but each of you to the interests of the others.  
Philippians 2:3-4, NIV

That is the antidote to shyness.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

On killing

Today I had to kill a snake.

I was taking the dogs out for their walk, and there it was: a small, gray snake, coiled in the gutter at the end of our driveway, its tiny head up at the ready.

Poor little Piper, who is nearing his fifteenth birthday, almost stumbled and tripped on this snake.  Quickly, I yanked his leash aside, pulling him to safety.

I observed the snake closely and it didn't move.  Could it be dead?  Could it be dead if it was still holding its head up like that?  Why did it remain a frozen circle, there amongst all the action of two small, furry, bumbling dogs?

Since it was garbage day, I grabbed the garbage can and ran it along in the gutter, next to the snake.  The snake remained as still as a stone as the wheels of the garbage can passed on both sides.

I wondered if it were literally frozen, a cold-blooded creature that had succumbed  to hypothermia during the night and was now immobile forever.  I ran the wheels of the garbage can directly across the snake.  Then it did move, uncoiling, twitching.

I took my dogs across the street to finish the essentials, hoping the snake would slither away into the grass.

Usually I don't mind snakes so much (not nearly as much as cats and mice, at any rate).

However, a few days ago Shawn and I were walking in the park, and we happened across a snake on the path.  Rather than sliding away to hide when we approached, it struck at the bottom of Shawn's shoe.  Shawn thought this was funny and began to tantalize it, presenting the thick rubber sole of his sneaker again and again while it made stubborn and repeated strikes, refusing to surrender and leave.

Not enjoying this game, I procured a large stick and forced the snake into the tall weeds along the side of the trail.  I kept my stick with me for the remainder of our walk that day.

Today, I did not have a large stick.  All I had was a garbage can and the encumbrance of two dog leashes with vulnerable little dogs at the ends of them.

The snake had not slithered into the grass when we returned from across the street.  It merely palpitated back and forth in the gutter at the base of our driveway, a foot or two in one direction, then a foot or two back.

"I've damaged it," I thought.  "Now what?"

After returning the dogs to the house, I found a hoe in the garage and went back.

Uncommitted, I had hoped to scoop up the snake on the end of the hoe and remove it to the boulevard, away from our yard.  But I couldn't.  I couldn't get the hoe underneath.  Broken snake, broken situation.

In the end, instinct took over.  I scraped the snake into the grass at the edge of our yard and chopped it up with the hoe, each blow thudding sickeningly through the snake's body into the earth below.  My stomach lurched and my arms trembled.  The belly of the snake turned upward, its exposed white surface signifying the ultimate surrender.  I suppose I put him out of his misery.

I believe this is the first time I've killed something other than a bug.  I didn't like it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Reflections on clothes shopping

  1. I hate clothes shopping.
  2. There is an overwhelming overabundance of clothing that I do not like and would never wear.  There will be no polyester in heaven.  (I am seriously self-editing my word choices here, and I sincerely hope you appreciate that.)
  3. I should not buy it if I don’t love it, because then I will not wear it.  It is unlikely that I will love anything that is hanging on a 70% off rack.  But.  Not impossible.  70% off can help to kindle love.
  4. Trying things on is exhausting.
  5. If I ever do find something that is both comfortable and nice looking, I should buy it, almost regardless of cost.  The rarity of these items protects the budget intrinsically.
  6. Sometimes I do buy things that I do not love, mainly because I spent the better part of the day pulling things on and off my body in an attempt to find some decent clothes.  After awhile things stratify into categories: despicable, blech, ho-hum, possible and not-too-bad.  Sometimes after a longer while, not-too-bad turns into Pretty Good, and I buy it.
  7. Sometimes something I bought turns out to be better than I expected, a favorite item.  Then I wear it over and over until it has appeared in an embarrassing number of Facebook photos, at which time I try to retire it to unobtrusive Saturday afternoons.
 Me in a dressing room
in a maxi dress 
that I did not buy 
because I felt ridiculous in it.

Parenting as children transition to adulthood

I wrote a little bit about dating yesterday, and somehow in so doing, I overlapped into the topic of parenting adult children.

I said, "Adult children can ask their parents for advice, but that is what it is: advice.  Not law.  One lady I know calls it "sharing wisdom."  Parents can share their wisdom forever, but there comes a time when they must recognize that it is no longer appropriate for them to make rules, demand cooperation or institute consequences.  Not appropriate."

I would like to clarify that when I said this, I was writing about parents' relationships to their adult children who are involved in relationships that might culminate (or are looking certain to culminate) in marriage.

When parenting children who are becoming adults, we do not suddenly turn over the reigns upon the occasion of their 18th birthday.  Although we should parent with this goal in mind (being able to confidently turn over the reigns to them when they are around 18), every child is different, and so should be every parenting decision.

I once, long ago, read a blog post about parenting which made a big impression on me.  She was writing about parenting little ones, but she exposed a principle that I think is very valuable.  She said something like this:  "Never try to make a child do something that you cannot make him do."

The issue at hand had been eating.  She was explaining how it is futile to tell a child that he must eat something.  You simply cannot enforce that.  You could sit across the table glowering at the kid for three days, and he could still refuse to swallow his beets, and he would have won.

It is foolish for a parent to put herself into a position with her child where the child can win.

You have to know your position.

So, in the eating example, you can say, "If you do not eat your beets, you may not have any dessert, and you will not be allowed a bedtime snack, either."  This you can enforce.  You cannot enforce, "You must eat your beets."

If you are a real tough cookie, you might even say, "If you do not eat these beets, they are the only thing I am going to offer you to eat for every upcoming meal until you do eat them."  Then, you could put them into the refrigerator under plastic wrap and bring them out for breakfast in the morning.  You could.  I doubt that it would create a positive solution in the end, but you could.

However, you cannot enforce, "You must eat your beets."

Parents need to avoid, at all costs, entering into conflicts that they cannot win.

As kids get older, it can be harder to win.

However, as long as they are dependent on us for survival, we have leverage.  Of course, the whole point of parenting is to get them to be independent of us and able to survive on their own.  Sometimes we should use this leverage (that we have as a result of their dependence) as a tool to motivate them to attain independence.

As parents, we should never underwrite our children's bad decisions with financial support.  It is not only our right, it is our duty.

As long as they need our money to pay for the rent, or the tuition, or the food or the clothing or the wedding or the car or the computer or the cell phone, we have the right and responsibility to say "no" when they act outside of our guidelines.  And they make the decision to abide by our wishes or get along without our support.  It's incredibly simple, really.  And it is okay for them to get along without our support, too.  Sometimes we make unreasonable demands and they say, "Okay," and choose to pay their own bill.  That can be perfectly fine.

We don't control their decisions, but we control whether or not we support them.  That is all.

Monday, August 25, 2014

On dating (hahaha)

So I finally got around to reading this post that was linked in my sidebar:

Of Course Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed

And I also read the post that she linked to in her post, saying, "The arguments in this article are so fundamentally flawed, one has to wonder what sort of homeschooling education produces this logic, or what social bubble spawned the idea that 'courtship dads' are more abusive than others."

I actually liked the post The Christian Pundit was refuting better than her own post.  I also think it is telling that Thomss Umstattd Jr. leaves his comments open while hers are closed. (Even though a lot of the comments are ridiculous; it still shows a graciousness of character to allow them.)

Here's my take:

Number one--Everybody is different.  You can't make a one-size-fits-all rule and demand that all relationships begin by following this prescription.  You just can't; it's stupid.  Yes.  Stupid is not too strong a word.

Number two--Who cares what you call it?  I'm sure those who make up the rules and write the lists have very definite definitions of "courtship" (which probably mostly means that people take steps to be honest and pure) and "dating" (which in those same rule writers' minds is something that oozes with sex and deceit and lack of constancy).  But that's just stupid too.  Nowhere is it written that every date is a dangerous encounter with a wicked person who wants to get all he (or she) can from you while promising nothing.  Many people are open, honest, friendly and pure as they go out for pizza and start to get to know each other... and they call it a date.

The point is this:  if you are a single young Christian rambling along through life, either actively or passively waiting to meet the life partner God may or may not have for you, you need to do several things:

1.  You need to remain morally pure.  No sex outside of marriage.
2.  You need to be honest, with yourself and with others.
3.  (and this should probably be #1 rather than #3) You need to trust in the sovereignty of God:
     > be patient,
     > do not panic and marry the wrong person out of desperation,
     > be at peace as a single person,
     > do not insist on forming your self-image around whether you do or do not have a romantic relationship in your life,
     > put the desire to serve God with your life above everything else.

There are corollaries to these, like talking to trustworthy advisers--parents or pastors or godly friends--and listening to what they have to say.  Like hedging your purity with safeguards.  Like being accountable to someone.

However, none of these corollaries should ever be hard and fast rules, because that is legalism.  Yes.  I do not like to throw around the word legalism.  Often people use it as a derogatory term for those who are concerned about obedience to the Lord.  Obedience to the Lord is not legalism.  Making up rules about how to "do" a relationship with the opposite sex is legalism.

Yes, you should honor and respect your parents, but no, you should not always "obey" them after you are an adult.  They shouldn't be demanding your obedience after you have become an adult, unless you have specific circumstances (e.g. Down's Syndrome) which would indicate that you need a lot more direction than the average person.  Parents must not hold the "I-am-your-mother/father-and-you-must-do-as-I-say" card as a tool for manipulation of adult children.

There comes a time in all of our lives when we are responsible for our own decisions.  Our parents must step back and let us fail sometimes -- or, if we are the parents, we need to step back and let our adult children learn directly from God, without us getting involved and trying buffer every lesson.  Everyone learns best that way.  And (get this) God is able to teach people all on His own.

Adult children can ask their parents for advice, but that is what it is: advice.  Not law.  One lady I know calls it "sharing wisdom."  Parents can share their wisdom forever, but there comes a time when they must recognize that it is no longer appropriate for them to make rules, demand cooperation or institute consequences.  Not appropriate.  (Unless there is physical abuse, in which case, by all means, somebody call the police.)

Whether you call it courtship, or whether you call it dating, it doesn't really matter.

You need to love and obey God. 

You need to have respect for the other person, and a willingness to serve and sacrifice.

You need to be ready to leave and cleave (and the way some families handle what they call courtship, this end goal is very severely hampered... but I've seen parents of children who "date" mess this up, too, so like I said, basing it all on a couple of terms is ridiculous).

You need to be self-controlled, faithful and pure.

The Bible is surprisingly silent on specifics sometimes, and I think this is because every person is different, every culture is different, every situation is different.  We like specifics because they are easy; they give us a checklist.  The harder work comes when we really have to think deeply about principles and how to apply them in our lives... but this is what we have to do.  We have to read the Bible, and think, and pray, and then obey.

And we need to avoid generalizing what worked for us into something that we think everyone else must do.  Like I said, we can "share wisdom."  But after we have, we need to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work directly in the other people's hearts and minds.  That's the only way their righteousness will ever count, anyway.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Get 'er down

I feel as though I ought to write, because it has been ten days.

I think.

There is a lot to say, but also a lot to filter.

My mind is cluttered with hopes, dreams, confusions, concerns, heartaches (simple ones, like headaches, not gut-wrenching ones) and a to-do list.

I looked at pictures to try to stimulate some antidote to writer's block.  We were on vacation in Missouri, visiting Shawn's parents last week, but of course I forgot the camera.  I have a few phone pictures.  Not good ones.

This is Jonathan shooting clay pigeons 
at a shooting range his grandfather took him to.  
He had a lot of fun and was good at it.

Here, Jonathan is target shooting at Grandpa's house.  
Grandpa taught him all about guns.  
He shot pistols, rifles and shotguns, as well as a cross bow.  

I am amused at this picture of Shawn taking a picture of Jonathan.

Jonathan also went fishing and tubing, because Grandpa has a boat on the lake.  I did not take my phone out on the lake, so there are not even any phone pictures of these endeavors.

It was an odd vacation, with only one child.  This may be the first time such a thing has ever happened, except maybe years ago with Shannon, before anybody else was born.  When Jonathan was tubing and knee-boarding, there were no siblings to trade off turns with him.  Grandpa drug him around that lake (a 70 mile lake!) for nearly an hour at 40 mph, no breaks except when the rope broke and we had to stop and tie it back together.  The boy is tenacious.  At one point, Grandpa was trying to knock him off the inner-tube, and he wouldn't let go.  Grandpa tried so hard, steering back over the choppy wake and speeding this way and that, he nearly pitched me out of the boat, but Jon held on until the rope snapped.  Jonathan.  He was sore the next morning, and scratched up because Grandpa's sweet chocolate lab kept jumping into the water and swimming out to try to "rescue" him (which he thought was endearing and cute).

While in Missouri, we also went to Branson and saw Dolly Parton's Dixieland Stampede.  Jokes, music and choreographed horseback riding while we sat in a line and used our fingers to eat chicken off the bones and corn off the cobs, while swilling iced tea out of ball jars.  My favorite was when they raced the baby pigs around the ring, and my second favorite was when the comical character donned a chicken costume and danced... it reminded me of when Jonathan used to be a mascot for the Syracuse Chiefs and dance on top of the dugout every night.

Jon and me at a Chiefs game in 2012 or 2013.

One of Dolly's Dixieland horses, last week.

It was a nice vacation, which was a good thing, because we came home and school started.

Have I ever told you how much I dislike the first day of school?  It was yesterday.  

Jon, who is unsure of his future direction, has moved home and is going to a local junior college this year.  I am glad to have him around, especially since Shawn will be traveling a great deal in the next few months.  It's nice to have at least one of my offspring less than eight hours away from home.  It's also nice to have an inexpensive educational opportunity to bridge the gap while Jon assesses what he really wants to do with the rest of his life.

Laura started working as a special education teacher in Ohio on Monday, too.  It was The First Day of School on many levels. 

My heart and mind overflow with prayers.  This is probably where God wants to keep me, clinging, eyes upward.

I didn't feel like writing, so I just splatted this out, mechanically, unbeautifully.  It's the best you can do sometimes.  Just get it down.  The memories are worth it.  If it's worth remembering, it's worth remembering in rough form.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bare naked soul (aka the kitchen)

I have not wanted to do this post, but I feel as though I should.

So I will try.

First, I put it off because my camera isn't working well.  All the pictures are blurry.  sigh.

Also, the original cabinet color, which I would call pale, dead flesh, actually looks good when I take pictures of it (with this broken camera), much more warm and wood-like than it looks in real life.

Since 95% of the (maybe 12?) people who "read this post" won't read this (meaning none of them, with the possible exception of one), but will only look at the pictures, I should not even waste the time to try to explain.  But anyway.  You will think my cabinets were a better color originally.  I assure you, they weren't.


I am going to go out of my way to try to explain this (defensive a little?  maybe).  I will begin with pictures that I think accurately capture the colors of the cabinetry in my kitchen (at least on my computer monitor), before and after, IN SPITE OF the way they will look in the following "reveal" photographs.  So please, please believe me and use your imagination as you look at the eventual kitchen pictures.

This is a "sample" of the original cabinet color:

When we bought the house off the internet without looking at it, I knew I did not care for the kitchen cabinet color, nor did I like the way it looked with yellow brass hardware and pinky-beige counters.  I thought, "No problem.  We'll just switch out the hardware for some oil-rubbed bronze, and top it with some dark granite counters.  It will be fine."


We arrived and found that:

  1. There was no space to store anything larger than an average sized salad bowl, anywhere in the kitchen.
  2. There was a serious traffic flow problem between the refrigerator and the peninsula (see below).

Imagine yourself standing with your back to the end of that peninsula.  Then imagine opening that refrigerator door.  It was a bad thing.

Clearly, it would be money thrown into a black hole to simply redo the counters on that footprint of a kitchen.

Ach.  I have wandered off topic, or ahead of topic, or something.  How did I do this?

Cabinet colors:


New (I used two, mixed together):
(a rich wood tone that Shawn really liked)
(a dark brown called chocolate that will heretofore look black in the pictures, which is quite distressing to me)

All this is to ask, to plead with you to realize when you look at the pictures:

  1. The original color was, truly, a pale, dead flesh color, and not a whimsical light golden oak color as it may appear.
  2. The new, dark cabinets are a rich dark brown, not a black so dark that it fades utterly into shadow.

Okay.  On with the show.  Back to business.  Here we go.

I really enjoy the way the kitchen is more open around the sink.  There is plenty of space both on the right and on the left.

We put these little "pull out pantries" on either side of the sink cabinet:

By moving the refrigerator to the other side of the room, we created a large, traditional storage and serving buffet area.  It also gives us extra work space when we get lots of things going at once.

One of my favorite parts of this change is the higher ceiling.  It is uplifting!  Incidentally, I love those little shelves to the right of the sink.  There are similar shelves on the left, but they are not as prominently visible, so the best stuff is on the right.  The top shelf displays this little beauty that I got at an estate sale in our neighborhood:

We are so glad to have the kitchen open, without the constipated blockage we formerly suffered between the old refrigerator and the end of the peninsula!


By moving the stove over to the right, we gained a nice workspace between the stove and the sink.  We also made room for a nice pots and pans cabinet.

We gave up a little bit of kitchen storage here, but we got Shawn a nicer sink:

And... to the left we were able to put in a BROOM CLOSET!
Another view of the pantry,  Yes, we put this in, in place of the desk area.  it was a good change.  I didn't like writing in a kitchen corner (my kids even came home and said, "Mom, why is your computer there???").  And now we have loads of storage, even for large items, like our crock pot and our turkey roaster.  Best of all, it isn't even difficult or painful to get them out!


As you can see here, I am a lazy photographer and got tired of moving things out of view, 
hence the colander of grapes in the lovely white plastic bowl on the counter,
 napkins, mail, a bin of dog medicine, etc.  

Oh!  Haha!  That great big drawer in the middle is my Tupperware drawer.  It is so much easier than it has ever been to put leftovers away!

Well, that gives you some idea.  I am sorry if you liked the old kitchen better.  My guess is, it was probably crafted with more love.  Our contractor experience was bad, and it left me with such a negative taste, I don't even know how I feel about my kitchen.


I like the extra work space around the sink.
I like all the additional and specialized storage we got.
I like having the soffits out and the ceiling higher.
I like my big buffet serving area.
I like my broom closet!
I like the open space without the peninsula.
I like having a gas stove!

I am thankful,
I am very thankful,
and someday I might even get over the traumatized feeling the ordeal gave me.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Sausage and potato pie... GLUTEN FREE!!!

Going gluten free was not so hard for, say, the first four months.  I like meat and potatoes, and meat and potatoes are still very much available.  I don't like sandwiches very much, so not eating them has not posed much of a problem.  I figured out a good gluten free muffin recipe, tasty and satisfying for a breakfast treat.  Gluten free pasta options exist for when a pasta craving arises (not that often).

But pizza.  Ahhhhh pizza.

Gluten free pizza is not . . . I'm not sure what it's not, but it is definitely not something.

There is also a fly buzzing loudly in my window blind right now, making it difficult for me to focus.

I'm trying.

Sausage and potato pie was born from my attempts to come up with a vegetable crust pizza, because there must be some sort of a pizza crust that is better than those tough, flat rice-flour-tortilla things that every pizza joint has available now.  Sausage and potato pie was born from my hope in a vegetable crust pizza, and the comments after this post.

I was asked for the recipe.

There is no recipe.

But I will try to explain how I did it.

***Short version:

Make mashed potatoes.  Season with your favorite herbs and cheeses, generously.  Beat an egg into these mashed potatoes.  Spread in a buttered deep dish pizza stone.

Brown a pound of sausage.  Use some of the fat from the sausage and a drizzle of molasses to caramelize some onion.  Wilt some baby spinach in olive oil and a splash of white cooking wine. **I also meant to saute some nice mushrooms and pile them on, but I realized I had forgotten to buy them.**

Sprinkle grated sharp cheddar on top of the mashed potatoes.  Pile the sausage, onions, spinach and (if you have them) mushrooms on top of the cheese.  Sprinkle a bunch more sharp cheddar over the top over everything.

Bake in preheated oven on preheated stone at 400 until all the cheese is melted and the edges of the potatoes start to turn golden brown.

***Long version:

6 fairly small potatoes (not tiny, but smaller than what I would call medium)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1 egg
2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. minced onion flakes
1/3 cup parmesan cheese (the kind in a plastic can is fine)
1/3 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 lb. sausage (I used gluten free, because this is a GF recipe.  It was rubbery and did not render much fat, which was somewhat but not tremendously disappointing)
1/2 a smallish mild onion (like vidalia, or red)
1 tsp. molasses
1/8-1/4 tsp salt
**1 cup sliced white mushrooms**

2 cups loosely arranged baby spinach (this will cook down to almost nothing)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white cooking wine

1 and 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, or more

You don't need to peel the potatoes, but cut them into small cubes.  Cook in boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes or until tender.  Drain and mash lightly with hand masher.  Add butter and mash some more.

Preheat oven to 400F, with an 11" deep dish pizza stone in it.  Be sure to preheat the stone as well as the oven.

In a small bowl, combine milk, egg, oregano, salt, garlic, and onion.  Beat well with fork.  Beat some of the potato into the milk mixture, being careful not to cook the egg.  Add more of the potato, a little at a time, until the bowl is full.  Then add this mixture back to the rest of the potatoes.  The idea is to be careful and work gradually so you don't cook the egg with the hot potatoes.

Brown the sausage in a skillet or saute pan.  Save the fat.  If you are lucky, you will get enough to caramelize the onion in.  Toss the onion and molasses with the fat until the onion turns golden brown and loses all its crispness.  If you are going to do mushrooms, add them now and toss them around in the pan with the onion until they look and smell delicious.

You can either do the spinach in this pan, or saute it separately in olive oil in another pan. Add the cooking wine and let the spinach thoroughly wilt.

Remove the (very hot) baking stone from your oven.  Add 3 tbsp butter to the baking stone.  It will melt fast.  Swirl it around to get melted butter all over the bottom and up the sides of the stone.

Place the mashed potatoes in the stone.  They will sizzle.  Spread them out.  Top with 1/2 cup cheese, the sausage, onions, mushrooms and spinach.  Top with another cup of cheese (or more, as much as you have...)

Bake at 400 for about 20 minutes, until cheese is melty and the edges of the potatoes are turning golden brown.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Midsummer moving, and new homes

This is a guest post by Shannon, who occasionally writes over here.


I have spent a lot of time thinking about what home means.

It has been an odd year with respect to home.  The old home base was in Liverpool.  It moved last summer, from central New York to central Illinois.  New home base feels equal parts familiar and unfamiliar, things I know arranged in a place that I don’t.

Just after my parents moved, or maybe just before, my advisor informed the research group that he had some offers at different establishments.  And I'm practically not even blurring the specifics for you, here.  Everything about the entire process has been frustratingly vague.  And that’s not just frustrating for me, but also for anyone trying to understand my situation.

“So, you’re moving.”

“Probably yes,” I’d say.


“I don’t know,” I’d say.


“I don’t know,” I’d say.

Every question I was asked, I found myself answering with "I don't know."  It was miserable, because I was already feeling anxiety about the tenuousness of my situation.  Perfectly reasonable curiosity from other people who worked in the building, or from other people ("laypersons") who cared about me, became something dreadful that sank and settled into the pit of my stomach, weighing me down every time I was brought forcibly back to look at the issue: I didn’t know what was going on and I was not in control.

Eventually, we worked out the where (Boston), but not any of the details (When? How?).

Ultimately, it took some seriously proactive behavior to sort everything out.  My coworkers, thankfully, are better at being proactive in delicate situations than I am, so Kate worked out an August 1 move date for us – we planned to be roommates in Boston, to solve the problem of the elevated cost of rent.

My boss and I had a conversation that went a little like this.

“Could I possibly move August first?  It would be so much easier with regards to my lease, because that’s when it turns over.”

“I think we could probably make that work.”

“Okay.  Good.  So I am going to Boston this weekend to look at apartments.  If I sign a lease, that’s going to be okay?”

“Yes.  We can make that happen.”

“So I can make arrangements for my lease here to be filled by someone else?”

“Oh, no, don’t do that.  You want to have a plan B.”

The problem, besides the continual sidestepping of questions that desperately needed answers, was that it is not economically feasible to rent two apartments at once on a graduate student stipend.  So we took a leap of faith: Kate and I signed a lease for a beautiful, big two bedroom apartment in almost-suburban Boston, complete with full kitchen (and dishwasher!), and I told Yale Housing to go ahead and fill my apartment with someone who is not me.

The reality of the situation refused to sink in, even after the several hiccups we had getting the apartment.  First, we didn’t technically make enough in combined income to rent the place (they want rent to be a third of your income, but on our budget and in this city, that just doesn’t happen unless you make some really painful sacrifices).  Second, we had to go through a broker to rent an apartment in the Boston area.

This is particularly painful because the broker’s fee is one month’s rent.  We had to be prepared to put three or four months’ rent down on the spot.  We managed it.  I suppose the silver lining is that going through a broker puts a hold on the apartment, so no one else can swoop in and take it out from under you.

We made arrangements to rent the apartment starting July 15, with slightly pro-rated rent for the month of July.  Initially we planned to move on August first, but the landlord didn't want to lose a month of rent.  We thought it would be fine, because we were looking on June 28, and thought it would be unlikely for him to find tenants who were prepared to move into the apartment in the next three days.  We'd move in the weekend of July 26-27. because that was the weekend that Yale Housing wanted me out of my (then) current apartment so that they could clean before the next tenant arrived on August 1.

But then I arrived at work on Monday, June 30th to find Kate frantically printing a copy of the lease.  “Something happened,” she said, “Something went wrong.  Someone else showed the apartment, and those people want to rent it for July first, so we have to sign this now.”

Something had gone wrong on the broker’s end – the end, if you’ll recall, where we paid her $2,000 to make sure that this did not happen – and the hold hadn’t been placed, or observed, or whatever.  So we now had an expedited lease, emailed to us by our broker so we could sign and fax it back.

Turnaround on our end was quick, but we waited days to find out whether or not the landlord had signed.

Eventually we heard: he signed.  We had an apartment.  We breathed many sighs of relief.

And then I realized I had to pack all of my earthly belongings, and I began to despair.  I had too many things, I didn’t know how everything was going to fit, where am I going to get boxes…

One day, Ben made the fortuitous discovery that a lab down the hall had ordered many things that had come in many large boxes.  This went a long way toward helping us obtain moving materials.

I took it, very literally, one day at a time.  The first couple of days that I tackled the task of getting ready to move, I just went through my clothes.  I took the clothes I hadn’t worn in years, the party dresses, and the clothes that just plain didn’t fit anymore, and I put them in a box.  That box sat on my floor as I moved as many clothes-to-keep as I could from my closet to my dresser.  (I had it on good authority that I should move the dresser with clothes in it to save space – we took the drawers out, and then the dresser itself, and moved it that way.)

It was emotionally taxing even just to put my kitchen implements into a tote, carefully packing breakable items in with towels and t-shirts.  There were several days where I only packed one or two boxes and then retired to the bedroom, to stare at the ceiling and wonder if I was going to make it.

I took those carefully folded old clothes to Goodwill, eventually, where a man took them over a counter that seemed like it was just brimming with trash bags stuffed with clothes, and asked me if I wanted a receipt.

“Um, yes?” I said, and he signed a little square of paper and handed it to me.  A blank receipt.  A you-fill-in-the-blanks.  I suppose I could use it as a tax write-off, but I think I might have just lost it in my car.

Kate reserved the UHaul – Ben was moving with us, and we’d split it three ways.  The day before we needed to pick it up, UHaul contacted her to let her know that there was some kind of mix-up and the UHaul wouldn’t be in New Haven, as we’d first thought.  We could pick it up in Meriden, 24 miles away.  For our troubles, they upgraded us from a 17’ truck to a 20’ truck and gave us the extra miles at no extra charge.

It was nice of them to upgrade the truck but I felt that the miles were the absolute least that they could do.  We needed those miles because they’d made us drive the truck from Meriden to New Haven, and we hadn’t had that many to spare after our trip from New Haven to Boston.

So, on Saturday morning, we picked up the UHaul.  Ben climbed into the driver’s seat, and Kate bought a padlock because we’d be storing all of our things in it overnight, on the street.

We packed Ben first, and it went quickly.  He didn’t have very much that had accumulated in his apartment, so it was mainly mattress and box spring, television in the back seat of my car for protection, and a few boxes.  Even with his not-completely-packed status (he’d arrived back from vacation the previous day), it only took us about half an hour to move all of his things into the UHaul and then give his apartment a once-over.

Then we moved to my apartment, propping doors open to move everything.  I felt panicked as we broke down my bedframe and futon into smaller, more manageable pieces.  I’d oscillated between thinking I was fine and thinking that I just had way too much stuff.

As we loaded my things into the truck and I watched it fill up, wondering how we would ever fit all of the furniture at Kate’s place, my anxiety spiked.  Everyone was a little bit quieter at my place, worry gnawing at each person, sweat pouring off of us as we marched in and out of the building, in and out of the truck in the humid afternoon.

Finally, all of my things were in the truck and I found myself despairing, looking at it and not believing that there was any way that everything would fit.

By the time we brought the truck to Kate’s apartment, everyone was hot, sweaty, and fairly miserable.  Moving out is harder than moving in, by the way.  You worry about how to arrange things in the truck, how to fit them, knowing that if you do it wrong the first time, it is going to be an absolute bear to take everything out and play the hugest, most un-fun version of tetris anyone could imagine.

But we needed to finish moving, so we took boxes (one of these was very small, maybe the size of a DVD player, but marked HEAVY and she wasn’t kidding.  Later we asked what was in it, and she looked surprised and then said “well, those are hand weights. I did say it was heavy!” and for some reason this was uproariously funny to us), the boys took the couch and mattress, Kate and I moved the dining set that we’d bought from Diane (her old roommate) and Dan (Diane’s husband as of this past June), we moved dressers and end tables and coffee tables…

Somehow, we found ourselves with all of our things in the back of this UHaul and probably 20% of the space remaining.  It seemed absolutely miraculous to me, but the truck had been packed efficiently.  I guess scientists are good at tetris.

I ran back to my apartment, where I swept and mopped and scrubbed, washed out the fridge and freezer with hot soapy water and reinstalled all of the screens in the windows.  I wiped the sweat off of my face with my only very slightly less sweaty forearm, glad for my recent haircut that let me pile my hair on top of my head, and I switched off the air conditioning unit.

I left that apartment empty except for the envelope that I was supposed to drop my keys in, and I headed back to Kate’s.

A bunch of friends from the department converged on Kate's apartment, and we grilled burgers and hot dogs, had chips and hummus and fruit salad.  It still didn’t feel real, even knowing that my apartment was as bare as the day I’d first walked into it to see where I’d be living, even knowing that everything I owned was in the UHaul parked out on the street.

In fact, it still wasn’t real until people left, and I climbed into Diane’s bed (she lives with Dan now).  I’d never even been in Diane’s room before, and now I felt sort of suffocated by bold orange walls (she didn’t paint them, just didn’t paint over them either) and the white bed in the middle of the room.  I tried to arrange the covers on myself, and I lay there, awake.

I sent out a few roaming texts, and received a number of reassuring responses.  Mom was particularly good while I lay there, awake and in a panic.  I slept poorly in general that night; I woke up every hour and when it was finally morning, I didn’t feel much like I’d slept.

We stopped at Nica’s, our neighborhood… everything?  It’s more than a little grocery store, with its hot bar and made to order sandwiches at the back.  We ordered breakfast sandwiches.  I had bacon, egg, and cheese on a crisp, buttery croissant and a hazelnut coffee, free with the points I’d racked up in previous visits, and we sat quietly around a table outside.  I wondered if I’d ever have one again.

I will, you know.  I’m going to have to go back to help pack up the lab.  I’m hoping that my boss makes some arrangements for overnights if that’s the case.  I’d really rather not crash on a futon.  But that morning, I wondered if I’d ever have another breakfast sandwich at Nica’s, there in the middle of East Rock where all the graduate students lived.

And then Kate and Ben stopped briefly at work to grab some last things, and I stopped at my apartment to drop off my keys.  I pushed the envelope through the little drop box slot, and when it fell from my fingertips, I felt frightened and morose.  I can’t get back into my building now, I thought.  This is really it.  And then I turned my back, hunched my shoulders a little bit, and climbed into my car.

We drove through the rain, from New Haven to Boston, to get to our apartment.  At times, the rain was hard enough that I despaired some more.  Even knowing that you have a sizable moving crew is not much solace when you think you’ll have to move in a downpour.  Luckily, when we arrived, the rain was not much more than a sprinkle.

I retrieved the apartment keys from a lockbox, locked to the railing at the house, and I let myself in.  Kate’s sister and her boyfriend were the first arrivals, and immediately helped unload the contents of my car.  I’m not sure how much help I was, shell-shocked and moving slowly back and forth, worrying about the slightly muddy footprints being tracked into and onto the hardwood floors of the apartment.  Kate and I hadn’t even decided on bedrooms yet.

When she and Ben arrived shortly afterward with the truck, other people trickled in.  Laura, a postdoc, Steve and Emma, another postdoc and his girlfriend, visiting from the UK.  Clark, a co-worker.  Denise, another co-worker, came later.  As Ben pulled the truck up to the curb in front of the house, I saw an accident out of the corner of my eye.  A car making a left turn onto our street had moved into the path of a bicyclist, and the bicyclist had shattered the car’s rear passenger side window with his body.  It sounded awful, and the car immediately stopped, the driver exited, his hands on his head out of desperation.  The cyclist didn’t move.

Max ran down to the accident and called 911, while people still moved from the truck to the house, from the truck to the house with grim determination.  Emergency vehicles arrived shortly: an ambulance, a police car, probably some others as well.  I stayed back.  I didn’t want to see it, didn’t want to think about it.  Eventually it all faded into the background as our transition marched on.

“So, I was thinking, my bed would probably fit better in the bigger bedroom,” Kate said.  It’s a difficult situation all around, this awkward bedroom-settling thing.  My bed is only a full.  I’m not going to lie, I certainly would have been happy with the bigger bedroom, but I didn’t mind conceding it.  It wasn’t worth haggling over, and having the decision made gave me some direction.  I started to move my things into the smaller bedroom.  In the end, everything fit beautifully (another masterful game of tetris), and the room is small, cozy, and very bright because of its two windows.

It was funny, how fast things came together on this side.  Some of our people unpacked us into the kitchen, which makes every cooking or baking project also a scavenger hunt (but really, they made a lot of sense when they did it, so it could be much worse).  I put things on shelves, in closets; Denise took our empty boxes with her when she left, for her own move in a month.

The UHaul left the curb outside, and I stayed in the apartment, feeling dizzy and disoriented.  I looked at my books, and I looked at my room, I made up my bed and I took a long, lukewarm shower, washing sweat and grime off of my body and out of my hair.  I was absolutely tired, down to my bones.  Fatigue had tried to set in hours ago and had been brushed off, so it returned now – with a vengeance.

I texted Mom some pictures of the apartment, and then I crawled into bed, only leaving once to get some water.  I popped a few Advil tablets and eventually fell asleep.

I woke the next morning knowing exactly where I was.  I’m not sure why I knew; I had expected to be disoriented when I thought about what that first morning might be like.  There’s something nice about having familiar things around you, though, and I had many familiar things in my room.  Rain was pattering against my windowsills, and I checked the clock.  It was only 8:45, but I got up anyway, savoring the ache in my muscles.  Kate wasn’t home, so I picked up a book and sat on the futon.

A few minutes later, Kate and Ben burst, saturated and dripping, into the apartment with groceries.  After they toweled off, we made breakfast: waffles, bacon, and strawberries, and we sat around the kitchen table and ate.

Since then, I seem to have been adjusting to my new surroundings fairly well.  I made my very first batch of cinnamon rolls – with a brioche base, and it was the first time I’d ever tried using yeast in a recipe – and they turned out beautifully.  We’ve gone down into Cambridge to have lunch with Steve and Emma.  Everything is going to be okay.

Everything is going to be okay.

Home.  I’m not sure what home is, anymore.  Home is where the heart is?  Geographically speaking, I have no idea where my heart is, or where it longs to be.  The past year has been rough on my bearings, not that I was ever particularly directionally competent to begin with. 

The apartment that is the first floor of this house feels closer to home than my old apartment did, empirically speaking.  It’s in a location that reminds me a little bit of the suburbs that I grew up in.  I don’t have to walk through a dormitory-esque hall to get to my apartment door, and we have a kitchen with plenty of counter space.

It’s just so new, and my old apartment was so familiar, that I feel jarred and sometimes uncomfortable here.  Not all of the time, but occasionally, for sure.  Nothing quite feels like home anymore, and I suppose nothing will until I finally settle somewhere for the (a?) long(er?) haul.

Still, for the time being, this will do.  This will do very nicely.