sunday favorites

A biweekly feature of my favorite recent reads and photos. Enjoy!

Sorry for the quiet, but we’ve been travelin’! We took a four-day camping trip down in Monterey (about 4 hours south of us). We spent two days in the Monterey Bay Aquarium (and still didn’t see everything), hung out on Cannery Row (touristy and expensive), visited a used bookshop, various farm stands, and the Carmel farmer’s market (wonderful and cheap), looked at some walls surrounding homes that the 1% built to block the scenic coastal view (super annoying), swam in the slightly warmer waters of the Monterey coast (absolutely blissful), ate every meal from a cast iron Dutch oven (easier than it sounds), and slept in our tent on top of a mountain (better than I expected). In short, as perfect a vacation as one could reasonably expect.

The highlight of this trip (and the reason we went in the first place) would have to be the aquarium. I’ve wanted to visit the MBA for years. Generally I avoid zoos and aquariums because they’re just sad places to be; the animals and habitats always look pathetic. I think this is especially true for aquariums, because it’s so challenging to approximate the creatures’ natural habitats. The MBA is the great exception to this rule, being the centerpiece of a vast aquatic preserve along the Monterey coast, at the forefront of preservation and education regarding sea life. And this commitment is evident in their exhibits, which are gorgeously appointed with obviously healthy animals, and the care and enthusiasm that the volunteers and scientists demonstrate in relation to their work, and the various services that the aquarium offers, like their sea otter rescue program, seafood guide and research institute. I especially love that they have a volunteer program for high school students. If you ever have a chance to go there, I can’t recommend it highly enough. We spent over 12 hours there and still couldn’t get enough of it.

Needless to say, all of my photos this week are from this trip. The jellies blew my ever-loving mind, which is why you’ll see a number of them below. (You can see the complete album from our trip here.) (Actually, I just realized that a bunch of pictures are missing. They must have not made it off my phone. Will update later.)

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Oh yeah, and I guess I did some reading or whatever.

Do you need an expensive education to be a top chef?

Nice ideas on summer habits worth building.

Body image issues are rough, but this still needs to be said.

Why wars enable abuses on the home front.

The bizarre world of anti-feminist women.

I love this weird and thoughtful photo series.

A home funeral! It’s in my end-of-life plan.

Let’s get real about homestead finances.

Scary news coming out of pork factory farms. (Shocking, I know.)

And finally, some things I want to cook: Tuna Tartare with Nori Chips, Gluten-free Blueberry Goat Cheese Focaccia, Quinoa & Pea Fritters, Roasted Shrimp Enchiladas with Jalapeno Cream Sauce, and Blueberry Chocolate Jam.

Have a wonderful week!

the camera phone blues

Until last month, Jeremy and I shared a cellphone, one of those pay-as-you-go numbers. I just made the leap to having my own phone, with my own number and my own features. I wanted this primarily for my business, and also just to have it, if I’m honest.

I definitely don’t like the feeling of a device taking over my life, which is why I had all “smart” features removed from our shared phone a few years ago. When I started to feel like a lab rat responding to the clicking of the treat button, I knew they had to go. But I’ve settled more comfortably into various technologies in the past couple of years. What’s important to me is that media devices don’t cut into the significant, soulful aspects of my life — not just that which is tech-based, though that does count for something.

Some days I do feel that pressure of having stared into a screen for far too long. But most of the time I’m reading real books, spending time with real people, cooking and making and writing real things, without feeling my pulse jump whenever my phone makes a noise.

Since I was willing to sign a 2-year contract I was able to choose a high-quality phone for free. So I went with the phone that had the best camera. Obviously. Well, maybe not so obvious. I’ve had a serious frowning disposition about the increasing quality of camera phones. I think I’ve mentioned that iPhone ad that makes me crazy — the one that says, “Instead of teaching people to take better photos, why not teach the camera?” Um, maybe because a camera is a machine and cannot be taught? Because tech-dependency makes humans less skillful and resilient? Because blending the development of living beings and machines is the first step to total robotic domination?

Maybe I got a little carried away there, but seriously. Photography is a skill. I’ve been fortunate enough to be using a DSLR for years and honestly, my pictures are still not that great. I’m not a professional, I’m not winning any awards. My photos are basically adequate-plus. And the idea that seven years of effort with my Canon, which I have poured out sweat and tears to maintain, can be replicated in two minutes by anyone with an iPhone in their pocket… makes me a little bitter. There, I said it.

And yet, I’ve also been captivated by the kind of photography coming out of the new generation of smartphones. Some travel photographers are beginning to use their phones selectively or even exclusively, and their work is still stunning. Sometimes more so, because you can carry a phone into places where a bulky bag of equipment and 5-pound weight around your neck are not so easy to carry. I’ve been looking over these photos and wondering, what’s the difference? I see no pixelation, no jittery blurring of lines and washing of color that have been characteristic of camera phones in the past. And I’ll admit that hauling around my Canon has been, at times, rather tiresome.

So I got this phone. I’ve been taking pictures with it constantly and I have to say, goddamn. The images are crisp and clear, the colors more spot-on than my Canon. It’s not so great with action shots or very low light, but neither is my Canon. I started to wonder if I could risk taking a road trip and leaving my camera behind. We’re camping in Monterey Bay next week and I thought, Maybe I could get up and down all those steep hills without banging my lens against a rock? How great would that be?

I decided to test the theory during a spontaneous camping trip to Point Arena. Here are the results. (Just as with my Canon, I use small amounts of filtering and editing, mostly for straightness, color, and contrast. If you look closely in #3 you might find the deer.)

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They will do.

I have to admit that my phone is actually better at picking up color and contrast than my camera. And so I’ve decided that a fancy-ass camera phone, at its core, is no different from a fancy-ass DSLR. They’re both tools of the craft. The rules and skills of photography apply either way. The craft is the same. The eye behind the lens makes the picture.

And here’s something else. A big clunky DSLR carries weight in more ways than one. When you pull out that thing — in a restaurant, at an event, on the trail — you must mean business. This is true even as the price has dropped and more people have access to the technology. If I go to a party with my Canon, people anticipate Kinfolk-level renderings of their partying. That makes people nervous and also raises expectations. I’ve gone into bakeries and museums and events and watched servers and owners and friends tighten up when the camera comes out — which in turn makes me feel self-conscious, reluctant to really go for the shots I want. They want everything to look perfect, just-so, for a camera like that, and so do I. Even more so because of their expectations.

A phone, though, is much more lighthearted. For good or ill, people are completely accustomed to seeing a phone in front of your face in every setting imaginable. They’re used to pulling out a phone, taking a selfie with a friend or snapping the cup of coffee and macaroon, and barely even looking at the picture before the phone goes away (not that it ever really goes away). A camera phone might actually lend a looser, more authentic resolution to the photographic moment. And that’s what every photographer is chasing.

P.S. For those wondering, my phone is an LG G2. The photo-processing app is VSCO Cam. Neither company had any involvement in this post; I just wanted to share.

sunday favorites

A biweekly feature of my favorite recent reads and photos. Enjoy!

Ah… summer vacation. Expenses go up, income goes down, kids keep themselves busy by watching Top Chef, taking on the messiest craft projects imaginable, and setting up the tent at random.

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This week I took on my own scary project and learned to use a mandoline. I tried to use one years ago during our ill-fated raw food experiment, and cut myself so deeply I probably should have had stitches. But I’ve longed for the paper-thin slices and other features of a mandoline, so I committed to figuring it out without losing any fingers. I did cut myself at first, because I resisted using the guard — the guard is really there for a reason. So now I use it, and happily slice just about anything that fits into it. It makes beautiful pickles.

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And finally… this smoothie. Oh so good. Tastes like a SweeTart. Made with frozen raspberries and bananas, orange juice, and plain whole-milk yogurt. Get it!

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And a few favorite reads…

When Being a Stay-at-Home Mom Isn’t a Choice. This article highlights one of the most troubling reasons behind the increase in single-earner households.

Related… Social & Economic Benefits of Reliable Contraception.

I’ve never seen The Notebook and do not understand the mass cultural appeal of Ryan Gosling, so I was able to laugh at this without taking it personally.

Favorite read: How to Live Without Irony. The article fixates on the hipster archetype, but I think it’s relevant for the whole of my generation.

I went to church this morning.

Good words on something that annoys me.

Well, duh.

A sweet story about end-of-life choices.

Gorgeous photos of farmers who happen to be female.

Things I want to cook: Two Bean Salad with Hearts of Palm and Blue Cheese, Loaded Guacamole Vegetarian Tacos, Barbecued Corn Soup with Chicken and Cilantro, Mediterranean Lentil Salad, and Roasted Pineapple Coconut Popsicles.

forcible chick adoption

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So this chicken decides that despite the 104-degree weather it must be a good time to plunk her ass down on a dozen eggs and go all metal on anyone who comes within a 2-foot radius.

In the past it just hasn’t been a good time to have chicks, so we’ve “broken” the nest by temporarily relocating the hen and removing her eggs while she’s gone. This time, though, it’s summer, we’re home all day, and the flock could use refreshing, so we decided to let her go. Then some friends suggested that we just give her some chicks rather than hoping that she’ll really go the distance on the nest.

The idea goes like this: stick some chicks under the hen at night. The chicks will go straight for the warmth of the hen and cuddle up under her. In the morning, the hen comes out of her zombie state, thinks her eggs have hatched, and voila! she’s a mom. Balloons, bottle warmers, and breast pumps all around.

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This sounded like a crazy idea to me. I realize birds are not mammals, but if I woke up with a baby in my bed I would not for one second think that I’d spontaneously reproduced in the night. I mentioned this to my friends with a comment like, “Chickens cannot be this stupid.” My friend said, “You might know it wasn’t yours but wouldn’t you still take care of it?” Honestly I think I’d find the nearest orphanage doorway but I guess that’s just me.

Reasoning that if the adoption didn’t take I could always stick the chicks under a heat lamp, I stopped by the feed store and took the last chicks they had in stock — eight Barred Rocks who were probably five days old. I worried that they might be too old but decided to try it anyway.

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I removed the entire box in which the hen was sitting and transferred her to isolation coop where we brood chicks or keep injured birds. I settled her in with some straw, water, and food, and let her be for the rest of the day. Late that night, I quietly picked up a chick, soothed her until she calmed her peeps (doesn’t that need to be on a T-shirt? CALM YOUR PEEPS), and then tucked her under the hen’s wing. I took an egg at the same time. The hen was a little perturbed, but as any chicken tender knows, you can do anything, absolutely ANYTHING to a chicken at night. It’s both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you can transfer them to new homes, prep them for slaughter, or force them to raise another bird’s offspring without much effort, but on the other hand, skunks can rip their heads off and drink their blood, and in both cases they will basically just let it happen.

After a minute I took another chick and tucked her up under the other wing. (I am referring to these chicks by the female pronoun as a good-luck measure — they are in fact a straight run and anything could happen.) In this case, the chick backed out and then just stood there for a while. When I closed the lid I had no idea what to expect. I just hoped that there would be the typical social reorganization with dawn’s early light and they’d be a happily family.

And they were!

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When I checked on the birds, the mama was sitting on her chicks, all tucked up beneath her. I moved her around carefully so I could be sure they were alive. She was not at all happy with me, and fluffed up her every feather to let me know, which is a good sign that she’s bonded with her babies.

So the next night I transferred some more chicks. I had been planning to do three more that night and then three more on the last night, but I was genuinely concerned about their advanced age — they already had some feathers on their wings — so I decided to take the risk of shoving all six in there and hope for the best. As I said, if it didn’t work out I knew I could brood them myself under the heat lamp.

In the morning, I lifted the lid to find a whole row of tiny beaks peeking out from under Mama’s butt-fluff. Success!

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Here are some things I learned from my research.

1. The hen should be broody for a minimum of one week.

2. Chicks should be less than a week old.

3. Isolate the hen with her nest so she can feel safe and have privacy.

4. Introduce the chicks very late at night when it’s completely dark. Be as quiet as possible, move slowly, and don’t shine any lights on her.

5. Tuck the chicks up close to Mama. They’ll go for the warmth and she’ll instinctively pull them underneath her.

6. If the hen tries to attack the chick, just remove the chick and try again another time.

7. Chicks are naturally born over a period of about 36 hours. You can follow this pattern by introducing chicks over a period of 2-3 days, taking a coordinating number of eggs each time. This probably isn’t necessary but I always think it’s best to follow the chicken’s natural rhythms. (Same reason I don’t force them to lay in the winter.)

8. The hen knows what to do. She’ll teach the chicks to eat and drink water and keep them clean, safe, and warm.

9. The hen can eat chick starter feed, but chicks cannot have layer feed as it’s too high in calcium.

10. The other birds in the flock may try to attack the chicks, so the hen should stay¬†isolated with her chicks for about 3-4 weeks. When she starts to reject the chicks she can be returned to the general population, though the chicks should stick around for another 3-4 weeks, until they’re fully feathered and can hold their own.

garden anxieties

The garden is finally fully planted. Having a full-time job really put a cramp in my planting schedule and everything got in pretty late, but I think it will still work. We’ve got 36 peppers, 6 melons, 2 pumpkins, 8 summer squash, 12 cucumbers, 5 tomatillos, 15 tomatoes, two varieties of corn and beans, and some forgotten number of edamame. It’s glorious. It’s a little overwhelming. It’s extremely tedious to water. I couldn’t be happier.

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Well, I could be a little happier.

When you plant a garden you should expect that some of your shiz is gonna get eaten. Not by you. When you plant something new, you’ve displaced some native thing, and the insects will be super excited for the fresh grub. My biggest enemy in the garden is the cucumber beetle. Those little assholes nearly decimated my eggplant in my old garden. In the end I did something I never thought I’d do — I bought an ostensibly “organic” pesticide, didn’t look at the label, didn’t want to know, and sprayed the shit out of my plants. I just didn’t want to lose anything, you know? I’d made an investment.

I don’t think the pesticide did anything. I never did see fewer beetles in the garden. What happened instead is that the plants just got bigger. They got bigger and fuller and healthier and eventually, a little chomping of their leaves didn’t cause much harm. The plant overcame the pest, without any help from me.

So when I saw some big holes in my cucumber leaves this year, I didn’t worry too much. When the little beetles alighted on my arms every time I watered, I didn’t snap and kill them all with fire. I just kept consistently watering, mulching, keeping the area clear of weeds… tamping down the plants’ stress level, so that instead of fighting for nutrients or wilting in the sun, they could focus on defending themselves and growing. And within a week they’d bounced back. There’s still evidence of insect activity, but so much less. And the plants are flourishing instead of suffering. A suffering plant is obvious in the color of its leaves, the strength of its stems, and just its general demeanor. A happy plant is similarly obvious.

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I struggle a little more with disease and nutrient deficiencies. I’m not experienced enough to identify either one by sight. In the past I’ve struggled with both blight and blossom end rot in tomatoes. My tomatoes this year seem to be growing rather slowly and the leaves are curling. They just don’t look super healthy and I don’t know why. My tomatillo leaves are covered in bumpy yellow-brown spots. No idea what that means. Squash plants are definitely suffering. I just gave them a little organic fertilizer and they look better, but still small. The watermelon plants are going nowhere, even though the other melons are doing well.

I gave up entirely on one bed because nothing I planted there would grow, or grow normally.

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All of these problems give me anxiety. I take it personally when something goes wrong in my garden. It’s even more challenging because the garden isn’t on-site at my home; I drive 20 minutes to get there. So I’m not there first thing in the morning to capture terrorist insects. Sometimes I get really busy and don’t make it over there to water.

I do feel that things will work out, because the plants have their own agenda, which is survival. If I just keep providing what they need, they’ll overcome most challenges. And many things are still working well. I’m very lucky and thankful to have a garden at all.

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sunday favorites

A biweekly feature of my favorite recent reads and photos. Enjoy!

So hey, I joined Instagram. And unlike when I joined Twitter, I think I will actually use Instagram. I’m a pithy person, but Twitter just doesn’t make sense to me. I used it for about ten days and by that point felt completely overwhelmed by it and haven’t been back. I feel similarly about Reddit — it’s just so noisy. Instagram is clean and neat and friendly. So you can find me over there now.

A few recent photos…

Made the first harvest from the garden. Dug up these baby potatoes, and picked three wimpy cucumbers that were VERY bitter. These potatoes were rather bitter as well. It’s just been too damn hot.

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Father’s Day was very sweet. I went with the stereotype and found a bunch of grilling gear for Jeremy. The kids made cards and tried valiantly to avoid fighting all day. We did our first grilling of the season, which made the best plate of food I’ve had in recent memory. Then we grilled marshmallows and lit the last sparklers remaining from last year’s trip to Utah.

PSA: Don’t be tempted by those GIANT roasting marshmallows. It’s more fun to have a couple of small ones than to try to plow through one that you can’t even fit in your mouth. (TWSS.)

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I finally broke out the ice cream maker and made this honeydew lemongrass sorbet. It’s very easy so I’m not even going to bother making its own post. Just chop up a honeydew, blend it up with half a cup of sugar, a few tablespoons of lemongrass paste, and the zest of one lime, then freeze it in your ice cream maker. So delicious.

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A few favorite reads…

Love this post on “The Perfect Eater” from Summer Tomato.

I plan to read as many of these as I possibly can.

“That’s racist against white people!”

Fantastic article on making sense of the rhetoric surrounding sugar.

Interesting tour of a fish sauce factory.

Ask a Homo explains “the gay lisp.”

Very inspired by Danielle LaPorte’s post on the breach of sacred containers.

My kids are driving my nuts today, so perhaps we’ll be making these wax paper lanterns.

Did you know that Whole Foods’ cheese is made by prison inmates?

Stuff I want to cook: Tomato Socca Pizza, Apricot Custard Pie with Cardamom Crumble Crust, Plum & Tapioca Pots, Scalloped Beets with Chevre, Rosemary, and Walnuts, and Chopped Thai Salad with Sesame Garlic Dressing.

cherry rhubarb jam

Every year, without fail, I promise to do so much more with cherries. The fruit stand opens up and I whip out cash by the twenties, carrying home big warm bags of cherries like the head of a prize buck, and then I just… eat them. By the handful. Or the bowlful. Five to eight times a day. Maybe I throw them into a batch of ice cream or the errant scone, but none of them make it into the freezer and hardly any make it into a preserve.

So this jam was really an achievement.

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Last year I inadvertently stole a cherry pitter (sorry, Andria!) and didn’t even provide a jar of jam in return (sorry again) (seriously, I need to do that). That cherry pitter has changed my life. Just kidding, such a profound statement should never be applied to a kitchen device. But it has made it much easier to work with cherries. This jam is gorgeously jewel-toned and has a complex, sweet-tart flavor. I love it on toast, but I bet it would be good poured over hot Brie if you’re into that sort of thing (I am not. I really don’t understand the whole cheese+jam thing). I use less sugar than most jam recipes, so Pomona’s Universal Pectin is my standard.

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CHERRY RHUBARB JAM

2 lb. sweet cherries, pitted

1 lb. rhubarb, trimmed and chopped

juice of 1 lemon

3 c. sugar, divided

3 t. Pomona’s Universal Pectin

4 t. calcium water, prepared according to Pomona’s instructions

Combine 1/2 cup of sugar with the dry pectin powder and set aside.

In a large pot, combine the cherries, rhubarb, lemon juice, calcium water, and remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until the fruit has broken down completely. Add the remaining sugar-pectin mix and cook for 5 more minutes.

If you want the jam to be smooth, run an immersion blender through the pot until you like the consistency. Otherwise, just leave it chunky.

To freeze, fill canning jars with the jam, leaving 1″ of headspace. To can, fill sterilized canning jars to 1/4″ of headspace. Remove air bubbles with a skewer, wipe the rims clean, and top with a new lid. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove jars and let stand for 12-24 hours before testing the seal. Unsealed jars can be re-processed, or eaten right away.

Jams with Pomona’s pectin need to be refrigerated to achieve a full set, so just chill a jar when you’re ready. Enjoy!

what I’m doing now or whatever

Sorry for being so quiet. Or maybe I should say you’re welcome.

I’ve been a little busy. Finishing my last days at work, trying not to grind my teeth or throw coffee on anyone. Spending money intelligently, which is to say right before a total income loss, to establish a business that may or may not but probably will blow up in my face. Wondering why I don’t just apply for that butcher job that I was encouraged to apply for that nobody else has applied for because the hours are terrible-ish. That would probably be the adult thing to do. I would probably get it. But I would never see my kids on the weekends, like EVER.

I’m not panicking yet. Okay, maybe a tiny bit of panicking. Maybe some subconscious panicking, because I’m having night terrors every night, which really come on in times of stress. I’m even having some new terrors. Usually I just dream that someone has broken into my house and is standing over my bed. Sometimes it’s a man, sometimes it’s an old lady. Sometimes I just hallucinate a giant psychedelic spidery-looking thing hovering over my bed. But last week I dreamed that a young girl with long dark hair came to me with flowers. I wasn’t afraid of her so much as just really freaked out that a stranger was in my room. Thanks for the flowers, kid, but seriously. Knock.

What was I saying? Oh yeah. So I’m starting this company. It’s called The Country Gentleman and you can read more about it here.

PSA: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING. NONE. ZERO. ZIP. Probably will make a mess of it. But remember how I said I’d do one thing that scared me this year? I thought maybe I’d take a Zumba class, but instead I quit my cushy job and decided to be self-employed in a notoriously soul-crushing industry. Basically the same thing.

sunday favorites

A biweekly feature of my favorite recent reads and photos. Enjoy!

These first photos are from Isaiah’s end-of-year trip to the coast with his class.

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And… last day of school! Hooray!

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A few favorite reads…

Dating masculine women =/= dating men.

Just FYI, eating marijuana is quite a bit different from inhaling it.

I laughed so hard.

Love this shipwreck photo shoot.

Why it matters that politicians have no experience of poverty.

This makes me want a beehive SO bad.

AGAIN with the anti-GF brigade?

I can relate to Healy’s story of blood sugar fluctuations leading her to abandon a vegetarian diet.

Confronting the problem of misogyny in Buddhism.

Stuff I want to cook: Smoked Salmon & Cucumber Wraps, Chilled Cucumber Avocado Soup, a big-ass sushi cone, Za’atar Lamb Ribs with Quinoa Tabbouleh, and Scandinavian Coconut Cookies with Sea Salt.

doors & windows

So hey. I quit my job.

I’ll just say that the environment was dysfunctional. And although a certain level of dysfunction is inherent in any office environment, recent events tipped it over into too-much territory.

All my life I’ve watched my parents chafe against jobs that gobbled up their time, energy, intelligence, and talent with only money in return, and I always said that I wouldn’t do it, that I wouldn’t sacrifice things like my integrity and health and stable family life for a paycheck. Totally millennial, right? I know, it’s gross. And it’s not even true. At the end of the day there just aren’t that many high-minded, values-centered jobs in the world that pay a living wage. So I took the job that insulted my soul the least — what privilege! And when that wasn’t the case anymore, I walked away.

The panic hasn’t set in yet, although I do have little moments… Did I really just quit a cushy job in a deeply depressed area in the middle of a global economic recession? I have two more paychecks coming and then I’ll have to really get my shit together. So what’s next?

Well, I have a nugget of an idea. Just a bitty nug! An expansion, really, on something I’m already doing. I’ve had little glimmers like this before, and they have NEVER panned out. Mostly because in the eleventh hour my confidence fell to pieces. So I’m staying skeptical.

But if it worked… it could really work. And with no more sitting on my ass under fluorescent lights staring at a computer screen. Although I could always go and do that again if it doesn’t work out.

One reason I feel capable of taking this leap is that I’m no longer where I was before I took this job. I have more skills, experience, connections, practicality, support, boundaries, self-respect, and balance. But more than this, I have more confidence. I can do hard things. I can stand up straight. I can “put myself out there.” At least I think I can.

So that’s where I am for now. One more month of normal employment and then a new project. If this project goes anywhere I’ll be writing about it here. If not, I’ll just let it die like it never was. Stayed tuned?