the ordinariness of a 2,000th post

Cleveland Weekend - Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (33)

photo taken by me at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 8/25/2012

I was feeling a little internal pressure to make this particular post Really Freaking Good, something BIG, something memorable, as if this one somehow counts more than the 1,999 other posts I’ve written in this space since August 14, 2008.

You see, for those of you keeping score at home, this is Post #2,000 on this here blog.

I’ve been kicking around what I wanted to do for this milestone and … well … nothing felt good enough. Or ready for prime time enough. Or whatever enough.

And then because I didn’t have a kick ass 2,000th post, I couldn’t post about other things I’ve been wanting to write about during the past few days.

Crazy, right?

Yet, I know I’m not the only person who does this sort of thing. You know, this thing of taking something that is enjoyable and fun (as I consider blogging to be) and overthinking it to such an extent that the result is a froth fraught with stress. You probably have a thing that you’re good at that you’re making more complicated and getting agitated over.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves as bloggers and as writers and as just regular people trying to get by in this world. We need to be a little less hard on ourselves. Maybe just being ordinary is more than okay. Maybe good enough really is good enough.

I’ve been working on trying to understand that a little bit better.

In the meantime, here it is, in all its simple, unvarnished, plain glory.

The 2,000th post.




sunday salon: so, today we’re gonna party like it’s blog post #1,999

The Sunday Salon

Indulge me, my friends, if I seem more nostalgic than usual today, which I am.  Undoubtedly, this is the result of seeing too many Facebook photos of high school and college friends schlepping the equivalent of several Bed, Bath and Beyond stores into dorms that only merely resemble the SINGLE room that I moved into WITH TWO OTHER ROOMMATES nearly three million decades ago.

For whatever reason, there seems to be more than the usual number of these photos – of which I am not complaining, except for the fact that they are making me feel So. Fucking. Old.

Coincidentally (or not so much) I’ve discovered the world of MOOCs (massive online open courses) – which, yes, I know have been around for quite some time now. As I tend to do with every new shiny toy I come across, I’ve been going a little overboard signing myself up for free online courses. I’m currently enrolled in four such classes and a few others starting later this fall.

This weekend, I’m trying to finish up Literature of the English Country House which was offered through the University of Sheffield in the UK (and which ended earlier this month) and Childhood in the Digital Age through The Open University, which ends this week. I’m enjoying the former more; we’re dipping into excerpts from Jane Austen, Dickens and Oscar Wilde and looking at the houses that inspired their work.

My newest course is Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction, taught by Bruce Holsinger of the University of Virginia. This just started but already seems intense in a way that I love; at 8 weeks long and with a lot of readings, it feels like a literature course I would have taken in college.

I don’t need a therapist to tell me that these indulgences are no coincidence, given my mental rewinding of the videotape of my own glory days. Without getting into details that I’m not allowed to write about publicly, suffice it to say that there has been a great deal of reflection in our house lately about choices we’ve made or didn’t make, paths we pursued and those left untrodden.

It could also be the new start that is the school year itself; my kids start 8th grade this week. I am extremely conscious that their own “real world” paths of college or what have you are only five years away. It is the most infinitesimal sliver of time, I know this, but sometimes it seems as if there is a chasm between here and there.

A week ago, this blog celebrated its 7th anniversary. Today’s post happens to be a milestone, too: it’s blog post #1,999. Two thousand posts seems like something to celebrate and I feel like I should be commemorating this. I’ve been kicking around an idea in my mind and the 2,000th post might be a good time to announce it. Stay tuned.

Reading and Reviewing
Not too much to report on the reading front this week. I breezed through The Little Spark: 30 Ways to Ignite Your Creativity by Carrie Bloomston. (I’m thisclose to reaching my goal for the library’s adult summer reading program, so I needed something relatively short.) It’s part motivation, part how-to/workbook, and part inspiration for jump-starting your “little spark” of creativity. I also finished True Stories, Well Told which I mentioned in last week’s Salon post.

The Picture of Dorian GrayStill listening to The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I have less than 100 pages left, so this will likely be finished up this week. I’m reading a new YA novel for a review I’m doing for Cleaver Magazine, and another review was just accepted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is scheduled to appear next Sunday.

Speaking of creating, we’re looking into ways of re-configuring our basement family room/game room area. This is a ridiculously underutilized space in our house.  My overflowing bookshelves live there, my even messier scrapbooking table is there, and aside from the kids going downstairs to watch TV every once in awhile, the entire space is really a glorified storage unit. It would be an interior designer’s dream, seriously. We’re looking into how best to expand the home office space by adding a desk and bookshelves for The Husband.

It seems as if there is a lot going on … and I guess there is. Right now, though, I’m savoring this quiet, late summer day on the deck with one of the most picture-perfect days that Pittsburgh has to offer, while trying not to live too much in the distant past or the uncertain future, but right here, in these small but monumental moments.

Weekend Cooking: Small Bites

For this week’s contribution to Weekend Cooking, I thought I would offer you what I’m calling “small bites” – a few fun-sized book reviews that are shorter than regular posts but ones that you might enjoy sampling nonetheless.

Grain BrainGrain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent KIllers
by David Perlmutter, MD with Kristin Loberg 
Little, Brown, 336 pages, 2013

As a child, I remember my dad having frequent headaches (they run on that side of the family). When I got my first headache in first grade, I knew that I inherited this trait.  One of the reasons I decided to go gluten-free two years ago was to see if dietary changes would help with my migraines – and they absolutely have. They’re not completely gone (I doubt they ever will be) but they’re much better than they ever have been…so much so that I was able to discontinue the daily migraine prevention medication I took for several years.

Neurologist David Perlmutter’s belief is that we have the power to change our genetic destiny. Inflammation – particularly in the brain –  is a major culprit for many chronic diseases and he offers a 4 week plan for potentially reversing the course of Alzheimers and other conditions by addressing our consumption of wheat, carbs, and sugar.

“How often do we hear people say things like, ‘I’ll probably get [insert disease here] because it runs in my family.’ No doubt our genetic heritage does play a role in determining our risk for various health conditions. But what leading-edge medical research now understands is that we have the power to change our genetic destiny….We now know that the food we get or avoid, the quality of our sleep, and even the relationships we choose actually choreograph to a significant degree which of our genes are active and which remain suppressed. Here’s what is most compelling: We can change the expression of more than 70 percent of the genes that have a direct bearing on our health and longevity.” (pg. 126-127)

Salt Sugar FatSalt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
by Michael Moss
Random House, 446 pages, 2013

It’s fitting that the cover of Salt, Sugar, Fat looks like a ransom note because in a sense, the food giants that Michael Moss calls out by name in his Pulitzer Prize winning look at the industry are holding the health of millions of Americans hostage with obesity, high blood pressure, skyrocketing cholesterol counts, diabetes, and much more.

What makes Salt, Sugar, Fat especially eye-opening is how deliberate and strategic these efforts have been on the part of nearly everyone involved in getting food on our plate. This is a very well-researched book, with countless examples of how the food manufacturers, chemists, and marketers have exchanged one crappy ingredient for another (reducing fat but increasing the sugar, for example) and how government incentives (who remembers free government cheese?) exacerbate what is an epidemic and major health concern.

Pandoras LunchboxPandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal
by Melanie Warner
Scribner, 267 pages, 2013 

Pandora’s Lunchbox is similar to Salt, Sugar, Fat, but with a little more of a “just-a-regular-mom-like-you” kind of tone. Inspired by Ms. Warner’s quest to discover how long a slice of processed cheese really does last and other similar experiments. Like Michael Moss’ book, Pandora’s Lunchbox also is incredibly well-written and well-researched (Ms. Warner has a background as a reporter writing about the food industry) while shedding a light on the marketing of processed food and the chemicals in some of the most common things we (and our kids) are eating.

Animal Vegetable MiracleAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver
Harper Perennial, 2008 (audio)

My first reaction was that this didn’t seem any different from other books and blogs promoting eating locally-grown, in-season food  – and then I remembered that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was published in 2008, before concepts like farm-to-table and eating what’s currently available were household words.  Seven years later, it’s still relevant and worth reading because there are still people who don’t understand this – although, chances are, if you’re reading this, you probably do.

The Kingsolver family decided to eat locally for a year, either by growing their own food or purchasing very locally, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle chronicles their efforts by the seasons. While this tends to get a little preachy and repetitive at times (you kind of feel bad if establishing a vegetable garden that’s the equivalent of a small farm operation isn’t for you) but it’s well-written and includes brief sections by Ms. Kingsolver’s husband and daughter.

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

Book Review: No Such Thing as the Real World: Stories About Growing Up and Getting a Life

No Such Thing As the Real WorldNo Such Thing as the Real World: Stories About Growing Up and Getting a Life
An Na, M.T. Anderson, K.L. Going, Beth Kephart, Chris Lynch, and Jacqueline Woodson
247 pages 

Imagine you are invited to a small, intimate dinner party being given by an author friend of yours. You eagerly accept because you’ve been to previous dinner parties at this friend’s home, which is how you know your friend is a fabulous cook.

Tonight’s get-together is a potluck. Five other writers will be joining you and your friend. You’ve heard of a few of these folks, but three of them are brand new to you. You go to the dinner knowing that you’re going to find something wonderful on the menu (your friend’s offering) and because they are peers of your friend, something new to surprise you. Chances are, you’ll make at least one new friend as well.

That’s what my experience was like upon seeing the short story collection No Such Thing as the Real World: Stories About Growing Up and Getting a Life in the teen section of the library. I knew beforehand that author Beth Kephart had a story included within, and I was highly anticipating reading “The Longest Distance” as I’m a big fan of her work. (Beth Kephart could pretty much write the same sentence repeatedly – like grade school kids once had to do as a punishment – and I’d probably still stand up and applaud its brilliance. I also, in the interest of full disclosure, consider Beth a friend.)

With that, it’s probably no surprise that, among the six stories in No Such Thing as the Real World, Beth Kephart’s “The Longest Distance” stands out to me as the strongest (and is my favorite). For Kephart fans, this story about the shock and aftermath of grieving one’s best friend has glimmers of all that we loved about Nothing But Ghosts. 

That’s certainly not to dismiss the other authors and their stories – quite the opposite, actually. Like the fictional dinner party example earlier, I came away from No Such Thing as the Real World especially wanting more after sampling the offerings of Chris Lynch’s “Arrangements” and An Na’s darkly written “Complication.” Along with Kephart’s story, these two were particularly memorable. I loved the first line of “Arrangements,” which immediately sets the tone of the story by stating:

“The thing to remember about a funeral is that it’s not about you. At least you hope not.” (pg. 175)

and continues with

“Dad insisted – insisted – on appearing at his own wake with a big smile across his face. Whatever the process is in the funeral business for freezing a toothy smile on a guy – probably involving toothpicks, since the undertaker was a local – they must have undertaken it, because Dad lit up the proceedings with this electro grin like the expression on a very fat skeleton head. Some people found the effect unsettling.” (pg. 176) 

I also liked K.L. Going’s “Survival” and Jacqueline Woodson’s “The Company.” M.T. Anderson’s “The Projection: A Two-Part Invention” was innovative in its structure, but came across as a little disjointed to me. (No worries, M.T.: I’m still planning to read your The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing series, so we’re all good.)

In all of these stories, issues of loss and disappointment figure poignantly. All of the characters – contemporaries of the target audience that publisher HarperTeen strives to reach with this collection – are wrestling with grown-up issues such as parental abandonment, the aftermath of incest, the sudden death of a best friend, unrequited love, and inheriting a business (and a reputation) after the death of a parent. Hence, the the title of this collection, which more than lives up to its name by showing that because young adults are dealing with very real issues, the real world is very much right here and now.


Project Food Budget: Week 12!

Project Food Budget 2015

You guys, we made it!  We did this food budgeting and meal planning thing for 12 whole weeks! This is our last week of this project, with a final wrap-up post to follow next Tuesday.

Weekly Spending
This was one of my best weeks yet, with $120.84 spent at ALDI.  (My weekly budget is $150.) There was an additional $39.61 spent on laundry detergent, paper towels, deodorant, a new pair of headphones for The Boy, and a new phone charger for me. (Believe me, the last two items were just as necessary as the deodorant. For real.)

Meal Planning
It’s a typical week insofar as dinners go, with the exception of today when everyone in this house has an appointment of some kind, which will impact dinner. I’m at the podiatrist in the morning, The Husband has a meeting out in Greentree, and both kids go to the dentist in the afternoon.

SundayCrockPot Macaroni and Cheese, from Make It Fast, Cook It Slow, by Stephanie O’DeaNot our favorite recipe of hers because the texture of this is different than we prefer for mac and cheese, but it works when you need a quick crockpot dish. (This cooks in under 3 hours.)

Monday – Pasta with Cheesy Sauce (for The Husband and kids); I had homemade guacamole and chips.

Tuesday – Mega doctor appointment day. Dinner is going to be Something From the Crockpot. Probably soup and maybe cornbread.

Wednesday –  Taco Night or Burritos

Thursday – Chicken strips (veg for us), mashed potatoes, peas

Friday – Make Your Own Pizza Night

Let’s check out how the other Project Food Budgeters are doing as we come down the home stretch.

sunday salon: the gold of our days

The Sunday Salon

“The secret o’ life is enjoying the passage of time ….” 
~ “Secret O’ Life,” written and performed by James Taylor

“Ah! realize your youth while you have it. Don’t squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar. These are the sickly aims, the false ideals, of our age. Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing. . . .” 
~ The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

Whether it was the few crisp mornings this week that seemed to beckon fall or the sun setting off the deck a few minutes earlier each night, I’m feeling somewhat reflective this weekend.

I can attribute this to the shift of seasons, yes, but Oscar Wilde gets a significant share of the blame.  I’ve been listening to The Picture of Dorian Gray on audio, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite classics. It’s all about selling one’s soul for eternal youth and beauty. That seems a little extreme, but if someone wants to make a similar deal in exchange for a few more of those picturesque 75 degree summer days we had last week, I’m willing to talk.

Yesterday marked 25 years since The Husband and my first date with each other.  We both love the chronology connected with such significant milestones and he calculated that this one means we’ve been together for 54% of our lives. Or, looking at this from another perspective, I’ve spent 10 additional years living with The Husband than I did my father, whom I have outlived by two years now.

We have a gift card and had planned to go out to dinner sans kids to celebrate, but something I ate at lunch didn’t agree with me yesterday afternoon. I’ve eaten at this particular establishment before (and had the same meal) so maybe it was just a fluke. It was enough for me to miss Podcamp Pittsburgh, though, which is always one of the best weekends here in the ‘Burgh. Such a bummer, as hanging out with people who are as into this social media thing (or moreso) than I am is always a good time. I’m grateful that the organizers record the sessions and make them available on YouTube, so I’ll check those out when they’re posted.

Friday marked my 7th year of blogging, which is kind of incredible. I reflected on that here, in  “seven years and (almost) 2,000 posts.” 

True Stories, Well ToldIn addition to listening to The Picture of Dorian Gray, I’m currently reading True Stories, Well Told which is edited by Lee Gutkind and Hattie Fletcher. These essays are a collection of 20 creative nonfiction pieces that have appeared sometime during the last 20 years in the literary journal Creative Nonfiction, which I love. I’ve been reading these during my lunch hour and before bed.

They are very well told, solid representatives of the creative nonfiction form. Each piece explores an aspect of one’s relationship to the world – whether that is with others’ aspirations for our lives (“The Wishbone,” by Harrison Scott Key), animals (“Charging Lions” by Chester F. Phillips is one of the standouts in this collection so far) or coping with chemical sensitivity syndrome (“The Butterfly Effect” by Jennifer Lunden).

Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, MaybeThis week I finished Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe, by local Pittsburgh writer Lori Jakiela. It’s a lovely memoir on adoption from the perspective of an adult adoptee who is learning to accept the truths about her biological mother (and family) while also being a mother to her young children.

The time has come to do some weeding of my feed reader. It’s been out of control for awhile now and I need to get this into more manageable shape. I am not keeping up as well with bloggers I really enjoy, especially those who I am not connected with on Facebook.

I’m focusing on blogs that haven’t updated in at least a year. (There were some still in my Feedly that hadn’t posted since 2012!) Most of those I am deleting outright. If the last post was a year ago and it is a blog I once liked, I’m moving them to my newly-created category called Blogs That Have Gone Defunct. That way, if the blogger does return, it will still show up in my feed.

This has been a bit of an eye-opening process. It’s sobering to see so many blogs that have closed up shop, which I can certainly understand. You can’t help but wonder about them and how they are doing, what’s new in their lives.

That’s all for this Sunday. Hope you’re having a good weekend.

seven years and (almost) 2,000 posts later ….

Antique typewriter key, courtesy of Getty Images.

My first grade reading textbook was called “Seven Is Magic” and apparently it made such an impression on me that I can still picture it, 40 years later: a purple cover with a cartoonish magician introducing us to the world of words. Reading was old hat to me by then, having picked up the habit at the ripe old age of three. This comes as a shock, I know.

First grade is also when I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, and to a certain degree that has happened. Maybe not accompanied by the commercial, best-seller status success I’d dreamed would be my life by now, but certainly here on the blog.

It’s a momentous day around here, because today this blog turns seven years old. Most years, I hardly notice the blog’s birthday as it slips away like any other day. For awhile, I had been telling people that I had been blogging for eight years, which I really thought was the anniversary I was celebrating. (I’m better with words than math.) But seven it is, and with this particular trip around the sun, this year felt more significant for some reason.

Turns out, it is. As of this writing, there are thiiiiiiiiiiiisssssssclose to 2,000 published posts here on the blog. Today is post number 1,994 and when I realized that this milestone could possibly coincide with the blog’s anniversary, I thought … whoa.

Depending how you count, you could consider this post #1,999. During this blog’s seven year history, I can think of five published posts that I’ve since removed – three of them rather reluctantly within the past month, I might add.

(I’ve had better months. Let’s leave it at that.)

But this is a longer run than I ever imagined it would be seven years ago, when I was driving home from work one summer’s evening and thought a blog about my kids would be a good way to keep my mom and my mother-in-law sufficiently updated on their grandchildren’s doings from a distance and get me in the habit of writing again.

This space has morphed into more, of course, and has become a significant part of my life – and I intend for it to remain that way for quite some time.

Seven really is magic, indeed.

So very grateful that you are here for the ride.