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pillows in sunIt is one of the ironies of a Chicago winter that the sunniest days are often the coldest. Yesterday morning was in the mid-40s and as the day wore on we watched the temperatures lower so much that by 9 pm it was zero degrees. We knew it was coming so I woke early yesterday on purpose to enjoy the warm weather before the snow hit. It would have been great except the sky was so heavy and gray that I might as well have been in Germany or England. The unexpected warmth also brought rain and melted the snowbanks into wide muddy puddles that covered large expanses of sidewalk. I walked with the hope of a respite from the grey and cold, but all I got was more grey and not-so-cold. So the fact that it was 5 degrees today but sunny as a July day is one of the weather ironies we live with here. Waking and seeing that blue sky, but then parting the curtains further to discover the cars covered in snow and ice is one the jokes that Whoever is in Charge gets to play on us.

On days like that — sunny, but cold — I retreat to my “office” at home, a converted, heated back porch and sit in the “sun patch.” The sun patch is a shaft of sunlight that hits my office in exactly the center of the room and travels to the door in roughly 4 hours. I await the sun patch like it’s a friend visiting from another country. And we are old friends, since I, at four years-old, would wait for it in the kitchen of the house we rented from the Mental Hospital. Then I knew (as I do now) when the sun patch would come and I would wait for it in the kitchen near the door to the basement. I watched the red linoleoum floor intently, waiting as an inch-long stream of sunlight would become a full square, one big enough in which to settle my child body. As the sun moved across the sky I moved with it until I journeyed a few feet from the basement door towards the breakfast room. I seem to remember my mother bearing this with patience as she walked around me, her legs circling me while I sat in the sun patch.

In those days I believed the sun patch was God. It looked remarkably like all the other symbols of God I had seen in the Children’s Bible my parents had given us: a lick of flame, a dove, a blue sky broken with a shaft of light booming words about a son. So, I sat there, in the kitchen saying ‘hello’ to what I thought was God.

“Hi God.” My child self says, waving a small hand.
The sunbeam shifts another inch. Right back at ya.
“Guess what I did today?” I say as I plunk my body down in the center of the sun square.
The sun warms my arms and chin. What?
“I watched Sesame Street and counted with The Count. See…” I hold my fingers up, one by one, to show him.
The sunbeam shifts a bit more. Very good.
“Thanks for coming back. I missed you.”
The hour or two that I was patient I would sit in that square and talk in the way that only children can to someone who does not (by adult standards) appear to be there.

Today, I waited, as I did then, in front of the door of my office. The stream of sunlight grew from an inch to a full shaft, and then, with the eagerness of a Chicagoan disembarking from a plane in Mexico, I spread out a blue yoga mat in the sun patch. The sun patch was just large enough to cover my torso and I spent five minutes readjusting the mat until my face and chest were surrounded by sunlight. After a few minutes the skin on my forehead began to heat up and when I closed my eyes, I could imagine for a minute at a time that it wasn’t Chicago in January, but Chicago in July when this same room heats up to a 100 degrees.

It was there, lying in that sun, chest warming to the heat that I remembered those childhood visits with the sun. I stopped short of my childhood greeting. I was afraid to ask, to wave my hand and say, “Uh..hi..whatever is out there.” So, instead, I lay there and dreamed of more tangible things: trips to Florida beaches, lying on a beach towel in the park down the street with a book unread beside me. I thought of the ice cream parlor on Broadway were Brian and I share sorbet after long bike rides. My visit with the sun lasted a few hours. It ended only when I woke myself from a sleep with the sound of my own snoring. I sat upright, and looked around, as if to say, “What? I don’t snore.” When I woke the sun was long gone and the room was overtaken by a dull, gray gloom.

I sat up and started rolling up my mat. I was still drowsy, so it surprised me when I heard myself say out loud, as naturally as a four year-old, “Bye, God.”

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flowers and candle 2

Learning to count my breaths is the least of my problems. Today, I had a full scale delusion. It’s been snowing all day, and it’s been a surprise. Weather reports said “snow,” but what we got was a constant, start 9 am in the morning and keeping going kind of snow. I left the house at one in the afternoon to do errands and every time I came back to the car I had another inch of snow on my car. The constant snow created driving hazards all over the city and I was driving southbound on N. Lincoln Ave, trying to find a parking space, when I noticed a cyclist coming across the intersection in the crosswalk with the pedestrians. This is when we cyclists cheat a bit. Sometimes we like to think we’re cars, and other times, voila, we’re a pedestrian, riding along in pack of walkers like we’re not on wheels. It’s unfair, and probably not safe, but I’ve done it and I noticed this biker was doing it now. What this meant for me, however, as I sat in a snowy intersection trying to turn right while cars sped past was that I was not prepared for him to switch from pedestrian mode to biker mode without warning. In the decreased visibility I assumed he would stop at the corner with the other pedestrians and wait for the next walk sign before he continued into the next cross walk. Instead, he bore right and tried to make it across before the lights changed. I was in his way and he was forced to stop. Before I knew it, I was turning right, and I heard three loud thumps on the side of my car. So loud, they sounded like a hit something. I turned to look and I saw the cyclist pulling behind my car and shaking his head angrily. That’s when I realized I hadn’t hit anything, he had pounded his fist on my car, thinking I had cut him off, the cyclist-cum-pedestrian.

And this is when it gets weird. I thought I saw myself do this: I stop the car, open my door, catch up with the cyclist as he pulls into the intersection, and grab him by the neck with my mitten-covered hand. I pull him backwards off his bike and slam him down so that his head hits the pavement and then I put my knee on his throat. I hear cars honking, his hands clutch at my leg while I feel his windpipe collapse beneath the weight of my knee.

This was so real and vivid that I was surprised to discovered that not only was I not assaulting a cyclist, but I was in my car, parked at a meter, counting my breaths. Exhale. One. Exhale. Two. Exhale. Three. My mind was so delirious with anger and the attempt to control anger, that I didn’t recognize the sound of my own cellphone. Out of habit, I searched for it frantically.

“Hello?”
“Hi! It’s Alicia! What are you doing?”
“I’m parked in my car trying to count my breaths, because I thought I murdered a cyclist.”

If I was talking to some average person, my response would solicit an “Oh, well, I’ll let you get back to that,” but, thankfully, Alicia’s not average: she’s a psychic. I describe briefly my vision of attempted murder, and instead of suggesting I seek professional help, Alicia (God bless her) laughs heartily and says: “That’s so great!”

Ah, psychics.

We decide to go to lunch.

Later, I describe how instantaneous and explosive my anger was when the cyclist pounded on my car. “The weird thing is that I usually feel huge solidarity with cyclists because I am one, too. So, I couldn’t believe that I wanted to assault this guy. I realized that on more than one occasion I wanted to do exactly what that cyclist did. I wanted to pound on the window of some guy who I thought cut me off. But, when it happened to me, as a driver, I thought I saw myself kill a cyclist for doing the very thing I would have done.”

And that’s when I got it. Oh, I realized, this is buddhism.

Soon after I started the meditation class, I taped to my refrigerator a list of the Six Right Livelihoods which I tore out of a brochure that I got at the temple. I did this not so much as an act of devotion, but more in the spirit of writing the answers to an upcoming quiz in the inside of your cuff. I wanted to know the answer in case the teacher asked the question. And I don’t read it often. I glance at it briefly as I drink orange juice or put butter back. Despite this, I noticed under “Cultivate Compassionate and Loving Kindness” it read: Consider others’ perspectives deeply.

If I hadn’t stopped and caught my breath. I would have spent the rest of day seeing myself drag that cyclist to the ground and pummeling him. My breath, and counting it, gave me a momentary pause in the thoughts that were angry. I didn’t decide he was “right” to pound on my car, and I didn’t decide that it was my “fault”. Neither did I stay in my anger, certain that I had suffered an injustice, nor did I suppress it and try to convince myself I wasn’t pissed off. Rather, in the pause of my breaths, I realized that I have done what he has done and in a deeper way, a way that I can’t really describe, I understood that I am him. Buddhism talks about meditating to achieve oneness — to become conscious that we are all one — and I was surprised to learn that I understand a small part of what that means for me. Not anybody else, just me.

The irony is that even though I found that insight, I still can’t count my breaths pass the number five without getting lost in some other thought, which, I suppose, in a Zen-parable sort of way, is me discovering success in failure.

Meanwhile, it snowed and snowed and snowed. It’s cold now too, with temperatures falling into the subzero range. My bike is in the basement out of the snow and wind. I have hit my limits on winter cycling. Even I don’t brave five-below-zero weather (and that’s fahrenheit, not celsius) to ride. When spring comes I suppose I will change my ways and not flaunt the laws that say “me on my bike equals a car.” Ah, the challenges of enlightenment. So it makes me glad that I won’t have to ride for another two months.

Never thought I would say this: “But thank god for subzero weather.”

I have had many Zen masters, all of them cats.

– Eckhart Tolle

I began my first buddhist meditation class this week at a Zen Buddhist Temple four blocks from house, down the street from the Whole Foods where I buy organic buffalo meat. The fact that I still eat meat should tell you that I’m still new to the buddhism game.

If you know know me personally, then you are probably wondering why I’m taking a buddhist meditation class. “Don’t you meditate a zillion hours a day already?” a friend asked.

“Yes. But I don’t think it’s working.”

“How do you know if it’s working?”

“If I knew that I wouldn’t be taking another meditation class.”

One of our exercises involves just counting our breath. Sounds easy, right? Try it. Really. Try it. I’ll wait. Exhale, then think, “one.” Inhale. Exhale, then count “two,” and continue.

Okay, now…did you get to number four without thinking of something else? Yep, and that’s why it’s an exercise. It can be really hard to do.

On an average day, meditation for me looks something like this:

Exhale. One. Exhale. Two. Exhale. Three. Shit, it’s cold in here. What it is, like 20 degrees in here? Yahoo weather said it was supposed to be 34 degrees today but it feels a lot colder than that. Remember that winter in Ohio when you were renting a room over the hardware store and you only had a gas stove in the corner for heat? And remember how four rooms shared like eight amps of power or something really miniscule and whenever Weird Roger turned on his hot plate it would blow the whole circuit and shut off your space heater. And remember how agitated he would get and how you could hear him coming down the hallway to ask you if your hot plate was on and you would tell him ‘yes’ because you didn’t want him to know you had a space heater because he was terrified it would start a fire. Mom’s house burned down in fire a Philippines when she was a little girl and she was terrified of fire too. She would check the stove three times before we left for church on Sundays. And remember that time you came home to their house in Florida and discovered that she had left the stove on while she was gone and then you got terrified? The space heater isn’t too close to the rug, is it? I should check. Nope. Far enough away to not start a fire but close enough so I can feel it. Then why am I so cold? Oh shit…what number am I on? Damn. Now I have to start over… Exhale. One. Exhale. Two. I can’t figure out if I’m sitting in lotus correctly and I don’t know if my hands are in the right position. I was sitting in back during class and couldn’t see her hands. Should I have my hands at my stomach, cupped, or am I supposed to do the mudra thing? Damn..lost count again. One. Shit, no, exhale, then say ‘one’…

And it goes on like that for like you know, forever, or technically, five minutes, whichever comes first.

In my best buddhist-style parable form, I have dubbed this the “Taming the Tiger” exercise that I intend to whip out on beginner novice monks when I become a guru. I could be a guru. Okay, no, I couldn’t, but I could meet a guru some day and tell it to him or her.

In any case, whenver I think of taming the tiger, I think of Ben, so here he is: Ben the Tiger.

zen cat

Our cat has been constipated. This isn’t funny. Okay, it’s funny now. But it wasn’t funny on Friday night when Ben was hissing at us and swatting the rabbit. It especially wasn’t funny when he was rolled on his side in the kitchen with his back feet lifted up and curled toward his stomach. It definitely wasn’t funny then.

Brian’s odd in emergencies. He’s really calm. When things aren’t critical — when he has to write up something for work or when he’s buying guitar strings –he acts as if it is an emergency and then I spend my time telling him to relax. In a real emergency when a cat or a person is sick, he’s super calm. So calm, you think there’s nothing to worry about. So when we saw Ben’s legs curled up toward his stomach I was amazed that all Brian said was, “Well, I’ll call the vet tomorrow.” And that was it. For me, that was calming. Okay, someone’s got this covered.

It was only one vet visit and 3 cat enemas later that I learn that Brian was actually worried.

“I thought he was going to die.” Brian said later curled up on the bed. “God, it was traumatic.”

“You didn’t act like it was traumatic.”

Brian sighed. “You know I do that. When something’s really wrong I get calm. It’s when things are fine that I freak out.”

And that’s been life in a nutshell, but that’s another blog posting.

Meanwhile, while cat was at the vet have a $300 enema inserted up his ass, I was at home with the other animals. Rosie was hardly fazed. Although there was a moment when we loaded him up in the carrier. She seemed to sniff the cat carrier and whisper to Ben, “I know where you’re going.” The feline version of Dead Man Walking.

Jackson, meanwhile, was busy with other chores.

“Hey, why is there a hole in the green blanket on the bed?”

“Jackson did that.”

“What?”

“She was digging and shredded it with her claws.”

And there are other places too that we find her handiwork. The bathroom, for instance. We have a small, urban apartment so storage for things like toilet paper come at a premium. I try to be “decorative” and stack the toilet paper rolls in a wicker basket on the floor. A few days ago, I found a perfectly round, perfectly brown piece of rabbit poop in the basket. I realized that my attempt at casual decorating in the bathroom just screams “litterbox!” to a rabbit. It probably doesn’t help that we give her toilet paper rolls to play with in her cage (now dubbed “house” in Short Punks lingo).

The fact that I found rabbit poo in the toilet paper was not terribly shocking at the time. It didn’t really become significant until later today, when congested and slightly chilled, I discovered my nose was running and looked for a box of tissues. They were empty so like most people in a pinch, I grabbed a roll of toilet paper from the basket, pulled a couple sheets off, blew my nose and moved on with my life. Looking back on that now, there are so many things about that I would love to change.

This evening, tidying up in the bathroom, I replaced an empty roll of toilet paper with a new one and realized one was slightly damp. This is not unusual. The rolls occasionally get damp from the shower or the sink. Then I turned it over to insert the toilet paper rod. That’s when I found it. Around the tube of the toilet paper roll was a perfectly round stain of rabbit pee.

“EWWWWW!!”

“What??”Brian asked from the kitchen table.

“Jackson peed on the toilet paper.”

“So what? She pees on everything.”

“I blew my nose this roll today!!”

“Oh. Yeah, that’s gross.”

“Ick. I wiped my nose with rabbit pee.”

“It’s just rabbit pee.”

“Nowhere in the english language should the words, ‘just rabbit pee’ come together. Yuck!!’

My annoyance however may have an outlet. I was flipping through an antique cookbook that I bought the other day, The Encyclopedia of Cookery, published in 1954, when I read this item under “rabbit”:

The flesh of rabbit or hare when more than a year old is dry and somewhat tough; the young ones, when nearly full-grown and fat, are tender and make rather delicate eating.

There were also helpful step-by-step drawings titled “Skinning and Cleaning a Rabbit.” Jackson just happens to be around six months old now. Hm…some onions, a little garlic, a cup of red wine, and a slow braise could solve all my problems..

jackson-on-radiator.jpg

(small print: no animals were harmed in the making of this posting…or will be…yet)

In my Christmas eve posting, I mentioned my desire to live in an Ikea in the event of an apocalypse. Apparently, one guy decided not to wait for the apocalypse.

http://www.marklivesinikea.com/

Mark Malkoff’s apartment in Queens was being fumigated for cockroaches, and when he had the idea to live in Ikea, Ikea said “yes.” So, if you want to know, as I did, what it would be like to live in Ikea, then you may want to check out Mark’s video.

Brian was right about the appliances though — they don’t work. So, Mark has to shower in the employee shower.

“I don’t know,” he said. “They look weird.”

“No, really. Try it. They’re great.” I said. “See, look, the cork molds to the bottom of your feet.”

“For $120 they should not only mold to my feet, they should get up and make me coffee.”

“Seriously. Just try it.”

We were in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2003 and I was attempting to convince Brian to buy (and I’ll refrain from the brand) an expensive pair of German, sandal-style shoes. The kind you wear with socks. Those shoes. Brian was resisting, and I was insisting. Why? I don’t know, because I had never owned or worn a pair of these in my life. Ever. But, I did see a lot of other people wearing and they always looked really happy in them.

I saw my first pair of “birks” when I transferred to Antioch College in September 1987. I was fresh from a private Jesuit college in New York State, and I pulled into campus and turned into a parking lot on Livermore Street and walked onto Antioch’s campus for the second time ever. The first time was a campus visit in May, after I had been accepted and after I had already left my last school. It had been a one-way, no going-back kind of transfer. I transferred to Antioch without actually knowing what the place looked like because all I knew was that I had to get out of where I was.

In 1986, I was at a “perfectly good” (thanks, Mom) Jesuit college in New York and everyone one I knew majored in finance. Everybody. And it was a big campus. How did I end up here? I wondered, as I wandered campus, aimlessly, disconnected from the things that bonded everyone else: parties, drinking, boys, girls. I sat in classes of 30 or 40 students and doodled in the edges of my notebooks. I opened books and closed them, unread. Something, I thought, is missing. Everyone else is perfectly content, but for me, there was something else I wanted, even if I didn’t know what it was.

In January, shortly after the beginning of my second term there, I bought a book on colleges and started looking. This particular book had a useful list in the back: “Non-traditional Colleges.” Hmm…what are those? Within in a week I had requested information from all of then, and college brochures started appearing in my mailbox like Christmas catalogs. I read them all. And I wish I could say, I could remember what it was that I saw in Antioch’s brochure that made me want to go. It would be helpful, especially right now as I’m trying to write engagingly about the experience. But, useful, potent memories escape me. Instead, I’m left with the idea that Antioch seemed right for me, because in the end, that’s where I went and where I graduated with a degree. And I thank the gods for it. If it hadn’t been for Antioch, I might not have ever graduated from college — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s been immensely useful to me since I, you know, teach in a college now.

My first day on campus, things were already in full swing. A barbecue of some sort had been organized and students gathered around tables with food, that, for me, was wholly unrecognizable. (Falafel, I learned later.) Food at Antioch is where I have my most memories of learning knew things. I saw my first box of soy milk at Antioch. Remember, it was 1987, not 2008. I have distinct memories of one student being fascinated with the way air puffed out of the box, when he cut off the corner with a pair of scissors. He would squeeze the box repeatedly to feel that puff off air against his eye. I remember that tofu and tamari and carob cake were served on the salad bar. (Ironically, all things I cook with now.) I remember cigarettes sold for 10 cents each at Connor House. I remember learning to eat hummus loaded with garlic, and to pull sprouts from the inside of my sandwiches and eat them a thread at at time.

My memory is faulty. I remember the tree in front of one of the dorms that turned bright yellow in Autumn and how students, would occasionally stop underneath it to peer up into its leaves. I remember that I learned how to spell differently there. For the first two weeks I couldn’t understand why “woman” and “women” were spelled incorrectly on all the posters. “Wimmin,” they said. Or, “womyn,”they said. Despite my confusion, the posters had done they’re work on me, and by the end of my first term I understood: oh, wo-man, wo-men …you got rid of “man”…oh, I get it!

I came to Antioch clueless. Really clueless. But, thankfully, I left Antioch more aware than when I arrived. I didn’t really understand how much I learned in college until 2000, when I stood in a crowd of students at a university, and protested for new programs for students. I stood there, in a crowd, chanting, and I finally understood. Oh, this is why I went to Antioch. It took ten years, but I finally learned all the lessons that Antioch tried to teach me in 1987, but for which I wasn’t quite ready. For me, at that moment, in the crowd chanting, I realized that lesson: it’s okay, go ahead, protest.

But, I was talking about shoes. Brian chose the closed toe style of shoe. “I don’t want people seeing my toes,” he said.

As he was checking out another memory of these shoes came to me about a student at Antioch who also had just started wearing birks. He was a conservatively dressed student, the only one on campus, as it happens. He wore striped rugby shirts and jeans while the rest of us wandered in a sea of patchouli oil and tie-dye. But, one day, he showed up wearing birks –the hippie shoe.

“Hey,” someone said. “Is he wearking birks?”

His best friend, passing by on his way into the dorm, nodded.

“Yep. He bought them, so he could make it with the earth women.”

(Note: Congratulations to Antioch for remaining open! I wrote in an earlier post that it had closed, but it’s been saved by alumni. So, thank you to everyone who made that possible. Maybe this year I’ll go to the reunion…)

bread

Yesterday I wished I was a food blogger and today, I am. And what qualifies me? The fact that I made this bread today, took a picture of it, and posted it. Presto! I’m a food blog. But just for today. The odds of my taking pictures of my meals everyday are pretty slim. But, despite my hesitancy about food blogging, today is not my first time to cook for others in public. Many years ago, in a lifetime far far away, I trained (ever so briefly) to be a chef.

I was still in college and debating between two careers: writer or chef. For most, this would be a delayed decision. One would normally major in English, learn to write, graduate, and get a job writing. Or, one would skip college and go straight to a culinary arts school. But, I didn’t attend a “normal” college. I went to Antioch College, a liberal arts college in Ohio that requires each student to do “work” quarters in addition to “study” quarters. It was basically a mandatory internship program which we all did.  This meant I could explore two careers at the same time without committing to just one. Some, like my friend Eileen (Hi Eileen!!) paged at the Library of Congress, others interned at law firms. You know, smart jobs. What did I do? I cooked in restaurants. This may seem glamorous now, what with Iron Chef and America’s Test Kitchen, but in the early 80’s nobody thought I was a genius to apprentice in a two and half star restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey. At the time, I wasn’t so sure about it either.

I was a pastry assistant and prep cook. What does this mean? It means I did all the prep for the pastry chef. I made pie doughs, ice creams, butter cream, custard sauces, and when he would let me, cakes. I arrived at 1 PM and left at 11 pm and I worked six days a week. If I was a food blogger, I would probably write lyrical descriptions of silky smooth custard sauces that I lovingly tended. I might write about learning to melt chocolate for truffles or my first time using an electric ice cream maker. I would not tell you about standing in line at the grocery store to buy lettuce for that night’s dinner service. I would probably not tell you about getting yelled at each night by the chef because I rarely washed that lettuce to her satisfaction. And I probably wouldn’t mention the night the cops came to the back door to arrest one of the waiters. If I was a food blogger, I would have sweeter descriptions and more pictures.

Alas, I am not a food blogger. But I did bake bread today and I made it with oatmeal leftover from an experiment in which I tried to make steel cut oatmeal in a crock pot last night while I slept. This is what I pictured when I tried this: I wake late. I yawn and like a coffee commercial, the sun streams through my windows while I taste the first smell of perfectly cooked oatmeal. Then I go to the pot and scoop out a hearty spoonful of perfectly cooked oatmeal, dappled with raisins. That’s what I pictured. This is what really happened: I woke up really really late. I did not smell oatmeal, but I did hear a cat throwing up in the kitchen. Brian gets up to feed the rabbit. I haul out of bed and remember I made oatmeal. I lift the lid and watch bubbles rise from the surface of what can best be described as “cat vomit.”

“How did it come out?” Brian asked as he came up behind me.

“I think I put too much water.” I said. “Maybe it will look better if I stir it.”

It looked about the same, but we ate it anyway. I forgot to add raisins the night before so Brian sprinkled a handful on his bowl before he ate it. It tasted better than it looked. But the other problem was that I had 8 servings of oatmeal. I forgot to cut the measurements in half since there are only two of us. So, this evening, instead of throwing it away, I made oatmeal bread out of 2 cups of congealed oatmeal. It bakes up better as bread. So, now that I’ve sold you on the oatmeal, here’s the recipe for the bread. I improvised this recipe so don’t ask for a reference to a cookbook or a food blog. This one is all mine. ‘Cause remember, I’m a food blogger.

Leftover Oatmeal Bread

  • 2 cups of cooked oatmeal (slightly warmed so that it loosens up. Make sure it’s not too hot or it will kill the yeast)
  • 1 packet of active dry yeast
  • 1 T. honey
  • 3/4 cup of warm water (110 degrees)
  • 6 cups of flour (all-purpose, or half whole wheat and half all purpose)
  • 2 T. cold butter
  • 1 T. salt.

Step 1. Soften the yeast in the water and add the honey. Wait 10-15 minutes until the yeast is foamy.

Step 2. Add the slightly warm oatmeal and mix.

Step 3. Add the salt and butter to all the flour and mix in the butter with your hands until the butter is the size of small peas.

Step 4. Add the oatmeal mixture to the flour and mix until the flour absorbs the moisture. If it appears to dry, add a few drops of water. If too wet, add more flour.

Step 5. Knead the bread until it is elastic.

Step 6. Let it rise for 1 1/2 hours in an oiled bowl.

Step 7. Punch down the risen dough. Knead again for a two minutes or so. Divide into two loaves and let it rise again for one hour. (I cheated today and did 45 minutes.)

Step 8. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Step 9. Once loaves have risen, bake in 450 degree oven for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to 350 and let it bake another 30 minutes or so. Depending on how hot your oven runs, you make need more or less time.

Step 10. When you pull them out of the oven, the loaves should be brown. To check for doneness, flip one out of the pan and tap it on the bottom. It should sound hollow. Today, I used a trick from a food blogger. I used an instant read thermometer. If it reads 190, it should be done. My loaves came in at 200 degrees.

Whew! That was a lot of work. This is explains why I’m not a food blogger. Good luck with that recipe. And the bread? Not bad at all.

orange segment

Really. I love food blogs. I was reading The Pioneer Woman Cooks and it made me wish I was a food blogger. And then I read her other blog The Pioneer Woman and it made me wish I was a self-taught photographer who lives on a cattle ranch with four kids and a cowboy husband. Then I realized I was experiencing blog envy.

I never used to read blogs. I barely knew what they were. I came late to the blogosphere as I do to most parties. I show up at midnight (I’m not twenty-two anymore, parties start at 7 or 8 pm in my almost-forty age bracket) and all the canapes have been eaten and the ice has melted. I come late to parties, not because I don’t want to go, but I’m a tad bit — and I’ll admit it here — lazy. I would rather sit on the couch with a rabbit and a cat than get up. This was one of the greatest challenges I faced as a musician who started gigging relatively late in life. Learning to leave the house at 8 PM fully aware that I would not return until 2 AM was a hard thing to learn. Once I left the house, I was fine, but leaving…that was a bitch. So, my late arrival to the blogging party is no great mystery. But, as a result, I see and read great blogs that have had years to develop, while I’m still in the first year trying to learn how to upload photos. I didn’t read these great blogs at the beginning when they were still figuring out themselves, what they were writing about, and to whom they were writing. Instead, I read the blogs now when they are fully-developed and immensely popular and it makes me feel as if my blog is a useless effort. What I really wish is not that I was a great food blogger, but that I wasn’t a “newbie” blogger. I hate being new to things. I hate stumbling around the dark learning to do things. I wanted to be really good at it right now.

Learning to keep up on a blog, has been a lot  like learning to play the drums two years ago. I had to learn to accept that I was learning. I had to learn to be patient with myself. I had to learn the basics, (Hello, rubber practice pad) and then I had to spend a lot of time not playing but just listening to drummers to learn how they played. For blogging this means I have had to read more blogs. I have had to find blogs I like and then when I found them, I have to get over hating them for being so good. Pioneer Woman was like that for me when I found her blog last week while I was looking for a cinnamon roll recipe. There she was all talented and happy and it just made me sick. I wanted to be talented and happy.

That’s when I had to stop. Wait a minute…I am happy, and I’m not untalented. Am I? That’s when I had to look around and see what I had going for me.

1. I’ve got a blog.

2. I am a chick drummer

3. I have a rabbit

4. I have four working limbs, two working eyeballs, and a mostly functioning brain (minus that bit I lost during college, but I didn’t need it anyway).

5. I’m married to a guy I actually really like a lot (as opposed to being married to someone you just sort of like, and that happens)

6. The rent is paid

7. I’m not hungry

So, when I put it all together, I thought, life is not that bad. I’m lucky. Things are good. I’m not a food blogger with a million hits a month and that’s fine. I’m what I’ve heard referred to as a “small blogger.” I like that. It makes me feel like I lost 15 pounds.

So, here’s not to being a food blogger. But, if you really like food blogs, then go to The Slow Cook and check out his blog roll, because I’m still not sure about how to add blogs to my roll.

(Note: And I just have to tell you that while I was writing this, my rabbit went in the bathroom and ate a tampon.)

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Our New Year’s Day was so quiet that none of us moved. We didn’t stir from bed or couch or floor. We lay there yesterday as if time stood still. Yesterday, New Year’s Day, which is dedicated to celebrating the passage of time, we stopped time. We didn’t go anywhere or do anything. We laid around with piles of books and magazines and DVDs. Watch another episode of Battlestar Galactice? Sure, why not. We have all the time in the world.

In my head I had planned a New Year’s post reviewing the events of 2007, all the things I had accomplished (or not) with brief descriptions of praise or apology. That was the plan. And it stayed a plan — some amorphous idea in my brain that may or may not ever exist. It didn’t exist, and it didn’t matter. Would you or I really miss a list of the doings of my life? Or a list of plans for the next year? I wouldn’t. Don’t.

Instead, I’m noticing this moment right now. This one. Writing to you. Listening to the navy beans in the pot on the stove bubbling to softness and headed to a pot of Boston Baked Beans. I hear the pages of Brian’s guitar catalog turn while he eats banana bread. The toilet tank is overflowing again. The rabbit is tossing an alfalfa cube around her cage. Rosie stares outside at the bright, newly fallen snow. Ben…where’s Ben? “He’s on his bed.” Brian says, answering a question I did not ask aloud. Rosie blinks. Brian sighs. I write. My New Year is right now in this new moment. Hello, New Year.

cat asleep


For more about the band, go to: www.shortpunksinlove.com

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