Author Archives: talkquirkytome

Three books worth your time

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I love reading and I especially love memoirs. I love reading about people’s experiences growing up, or in far off lands, or in their garden, or otherwise living their lives. Here are some of my absolute favorites:

Memoirs

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver: This chronicle of novelist Barbara Kingsolver’s family spending a year committed to eating only locally produced foods, and raising their own made me think more about where my food comes from and to see the value in supporting local farmers and businesses. Kingsolver admits that they were not rigid about their commitment, and that it was a journey. Her insights about their experiences are thought provoking, but not at all in an accusatory way.  She just tells it how it was for her family. Her husband and daughter get in on the act, too, writing scientific snippets and sharing recipes and their own experiences eating local.  This book made me want to break out my gardening gloves and go plant some tomatoes.  The audio book is exceptional, the author reads and her Southern voice is soothing and calm. Listening, I felt like we were sitting at the same table, having a friendly chat.

 

Love in the Driest Season, by Neely Tucker: Foreign correspondent Neely Tucker and his wife are working in Zimbabwe, when they meet a tiny, abandoned, malnourished infant girl, and try to do the impossible, adopt her. The story chronicles their experience as foreigners, trying to adopt in Zimbabwe, a country that does not allow their children to be adopted out of country. I first heard about this book via NPR, during an interview with Mr. Tucker.  At the time, I was researching adoption, and was eager to get my hands on any first-hand accounts of adopting abroad.  The audiobook for this is quite good, too.

 

The Language of Baklava, by Diana Abu-Jaber: I picked this up from the library when I was part of a book club related to food and foodie memoirs. The author is of American and Jordanian descent and her memoir focuses on her experiences growing up in Upstate New York and Jordan, with lush descriptions of the foods from her childhood (recipes included!)  She is tender and astute in describing her family and especially her father, a gregarious Jordanian, making a new life in America with aplomb. After I finished this book, I tried my hand at making baklava, hummus, baba ganoush, and several other dishes that I’d previously been too intimidated to try, opening my mind and enhancing my appreciation for good food from far-flung places.

 

What do you like to read? Have you found any memoirs you’d recommend?

 

How (and where) to eat all the tacos (just in time for Cinco de Mayo!)

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My favorite kind of date night is the kind where we go out to eat. I don’t have to cook or clean up, and I can just sit and shoot the breeze with the man I love best. I am pretty dedicated to making sure one of these kinds of date nights happens weekly. Julio loves sushi and barbecue and I love Asian fusion, so I assumed for last week’s date night we’d hit one of our favorite places. To my surprise, Julio suggested tacos. Julio does not love tacos and only puts up with eating them a few times a month because I love them so. Corn tortillas, flour tortillas, soft, crunchy, chicken, ground beef, beans, cheese, tomatoes, onions, allllll the salsas and sauces! They are so easy to throw together on busy nights and because they are customizable, I don’t have to listen to my kids whine about how much they hate dinner.  What’s not to love? My refrigerator is a virtual taco shrine—jars of wicked hot salsa stand on doilies of Mission tortillas, flanked by containers of shredded cheese and offerings of tomatoes and heads of lettuce. Hail Tortilla, full of carne asada… 

So—why would we go out to a restaurant for something I can make in infinite varieties at home? Because my husband loves me and wants me to be happy.

  Date night

Julio had heard about this place downtown called Tin Roof Tacos, and thought it sounded interesting, so off we went to the “fast-casual” place on 115 S. Broadway, in Boise. Tin Roof Tacos is located in a small strip mall and the place was HOPPING, like, we had to fight for parking, HOPPING! The line was out the door when we arrived at around 7 PM. Fortunately, the line moved super fast, and the menu for all the Texas street-style tacos and beverages is plastered in large print on one wall, so while Julio waited in line, bantering with the other taco pilgrims and with the friendly staff, I set off to wrangle a couple of seats at one of the long, family style tables packed with college kids and families.

Julio went for broke and ordered one of each of the 14 varieties because they looked small, but really it was because I asked him to.  I figured we could take some home for the kids, but really I meant me.

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We ate and ate and ate. We divvied them up, took a couple bites of each, then traded. There is something sublime about tacos and Coca Cola together. It was street food heaven. Fajita chicken, BBQ pulled pork, fried chicken, ground beef, black beans, corn, veggies, steak, brisket, shrimp, and a blizzard of cotija cheese! I am not ashamed to admit we ate alllll the tacos.  I think I heard angels, or maybe it was just The Fitness Marshall videos I turn on to distract Hulk Smash whenever I overindulge. Whatever. We all went away happy. We were too stuffed to consider dessert, but if I had ordered dessert, it would have been more tacos. (Though I hear the rice pudding is delicious.)

tacos!

Julio said he was so full that he didn’t think he’d  want tacos again for a year, but surprise! We went back three days later for more (but we stuck to a more reasonable three tacos each, this time. You know, moderation and all that…)

As I write this, I realize that Cinco de Mayo is just a day away, and though it has nothing to do with commemorating the unlikely defeat of French forces by the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, if you suddenly find yourself in Boise, with an urge to celebrate a foreign holiday, Tin Roof Tacos is a good place to start.

Note: This post is an independent, non-commissioned review, and I was not compensated for it.  It’s just me, sharing my taco love.

empty tacos

Musings on mid-life

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I turn 40 this year. I have been dreading it a little bit, because this is the culturally expected norm, and it seems the accepted thing to do.  I am officially not young anymore.  I’m not really OLD, either, though—which is good, but also kind of bugs me, because I am really looking forward to being the cranky old lady who swears too much and doesn’t give a rat’s arse about what the church people and neighbors think.  Of course, my attitude may be slightly ahead of schedule…

Who Cares!

At any rate, I have decided to declare this year my mid-life crisis year, and do some of the random things I have always thought of doing “someday” or haven’t considered because KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. I don’t have a bucket list, per se, and most of the things I want to do are pretty mundane. and not stereotypical of midlife crises. I have decided not to take a lover, for example. But, letting my kid draw all over her bedroom wall? Sure, why not?

Ellen's Dragon

Most of my midlife crisis will likely be acquiescing to my limitations rather than fighting against them. I’m tired of fighting the inevitable. A few months ago, I quit dyeing my hair to cover the gray, and when I came back from the salon today, my kids were visibly relieved that I merely cut it. “I’m glad you’re back to your natural color,” my 17 year old daughter tells me, “you looked kind of scary when you dyed your hair.”  My fifteen year old son agreed. “When you dyed your hair, you sort of looked like you were trying too hard.” The knotheads.  But, they were right. While I miss having the well defined, expressive eyebrows that coloring gave me, I am cool with my fading red hair.

my hair then my hair now

(Farewell, eyebrows. Hello, new-old me!)

I spent the first part of this year decluttering the house as part of a Lenten challenge. I don’t even celebrate Lent, but I have thoroughly enjoyed off loading a bunch of junk.  Sentimental items I’ve kept for decades really hold no meaning to me anymore, and I had to laugh at some of the things I’ve held onto. She-Ra paper dolls, anyone? Since Lent and the challenge are over, I’ve quit the laser focus decluttering, but I have developed a habit of picking up things as I move about the house and getting rid of whatever I am tired of moving from place to place. There is still a lot of stuff I’d like to get rid of and downsize, so I will likely continue to move them slowly, but steadily out of my home and out of my life.

I am reading more now than I have in the previous few years.  Most books I’ve read in the last seven years have centered on educational philosophy and other non-fiction. I have plowed through several novels since January and it feels so indulgent. When reading fiction, I feel the same way I do when eating a dessert while trying to lose weight. “I am so bad. I should be making better choices.” Nom, nom, nom. Check out this great reimagining of a romance novel cover, by The Wonderful World of Longmire:

For the Love of Scottie McMullet

Oh, but there’s more!

I am also bingeing on my favorite movies and TV shows—because I can.  Folding laundry is fun again. Yes, again.

I am tired of making goals and chasing dreams. I’m not done doing those things, I’m just taking a breather, a sabbatical, if you will. My midlife crisis year is a season of comfort and rest, rather than pursuing the elusive essence of whatever.  I’m settling in and looking forward to being fat and happy.

I regret nothing

It’s just a phase…

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My eldest child just got her driver’s license. My husband and I had to kind of push her into getting it, because she was perfectly content to sit shot-gun and read novels while I did all the driving, but, now she’s got it.  I wonder at her hesitancy to venture to the edge of the nest. She wants to be treated like a grown up, but she also still wants to be a kid.  She’s responsible and quite mature in some ways, but in others, she is still very, very young.  I find it both endearing and a little annoying that she still wants to throw herself across me on the couch and have me scratch her back. This is a very strange phase of parenting to navigate. 

 

Ellen driving

I realized the other day, that I am truly out of the “little kid” stage.  My youngest child is six.  She can do most things on her own. Yet, she too, still wants to sit in my lap and be read to.The similarities between the six year old, and my seventeen year old are striking.  They both want to be big, but they both want to be little. 

Neenie in the rain

Homeschooling has given me the unique opportunity to really SEE and experience my kids’ growth and development.  When I was a new homeschooler eight years ago, I asked a veteran homeschooling mama what the best curriculum was. She replied, “Let them be little.” Thinking she was referring to some kind of method book, I pressed for more details.  She replied, “Kids grow up so fast. Don’t be in a hurry to get them there. It comes soon enough.” She wasn’t kidding, though I didn’t really believe her at the time.  The days are long, but the years really are short!

Feeling Fat, Angst, and OH MY GOSH I AM NOW ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE!

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Notice: I swore I would never write about being fat and how much I hate it or start writing about a “weight loss journey” because I am NOT one of those people, except, OH MY GOSH NOW I AM ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. I am doing it and I am both disgusted by myself and proud of myself for putting this out into the world. I did not write this to fish for compliments. I generally like myself and pride myself on being authentic and relatable. That said, I wouldn’t mind being authentic and relatable and also a swimsuit model. Of course, the good Lord knew this and knew I would shamelessly flaunt my assets, so to keep me humble, he made me too short, pasty skinned, and gave me the bone structure of a circa 1970s Little People toy, even when I was young and thin. I will never frolic on a Brazilian beach in a thong bikini, posing for Sports Illustrated, which annoys me, but God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…

Little People 2

I turn 40 this year.  That sounds so old to me, and yes, I am a little angsty over it.  In my head, I still feel like I’m 18, so it never fails to shock me when I see the dumpy, middle aged woman in the mirror.  Who even IS THAT? But I can’t even ask myself “How did this happen?” I know how it happened. My response to stress and big feelings has always been to eat. I am high strung and sensitive, despite my attempts to appear happy-go-lucky and chill, so I am always over-emoting one way or another. EAT ALL THE FOOD, GIRL! 

Over the years, I have sometimes dabbled and sometimes been serious about exercise and diet.  When I have been serious about it, as when I was training daily in Krav Maga and religiously counting calories, I dropped 23 lbs in four months, which was totally awesome. I was still heavier than I wanted to be, but I felt so much better. Then I got a concussion that prevented me from being able to work out for about six months.  It was awful.  And so I ate.  All the weight I lost, I regained, and then some.  Eventually, I started working out again (though not nearly as intensely as before, because the older I’ve gotten, the longer it takes me to recover) but I haven’t been able to push the numbers on the scale (or the pants size) down.  I am strong and I have pretty good endurance, and I know there are some awesome muscles under there, but I feel like I’m wearing one of those inflatable Sumo suits. I hover between a size 18 and 20, which is the largest I have ever been, even pregnant. I know I need to (again) couple my exercise with calorie counting.

sumo suit

My outward appearance does not match the me in my head.  It hasn’t for some time (like, 20 years) and I’ve just sort of tried to ignore it, or blow it off with some humor, or even Pollyanna my way through all the work it takes to look and feel half decent. But now I’m just mad.  I have reached the stage in life where it takes me longer to recover from everything from staying up late to walking the dog. I find myself saying things like “I’m just glad that everything is still working okay,” (which is true) and “I want to lose weight to be healthy, I’m not concerned about looking a certain way,” (which is a lie, because I want to look hot. I want a slim waistline, no belly flab, and perky butt and boobs again.  Is that so much to ask?) My kids  and their friends see me as the fun, but decidedly matronly mom. (I am not opposed to being seen as the FUN MOM, but the FAT MOM? Ugh.) I cannot wear the styles I like because my limbs end up looking like sausages about to burst their cases, or like I put on a circus tent.   I hate this. I HAAAAAATE this.  There is no amount of camouflaging, lighting, smoke and mirrors, or contouring that can hide this.  On the upside, I really do like working out.  A few years ago, Krav Maga classes helped me discover the joy of really moving and working my body. I love feeling muscles move and stretch and burn. I just wish they’d burn calories more efficiently, like when I was 24 or even 34. Come on, guys—get it together!

contouring

I know I’m fat because of my own choices, and I am working on this. Exercising more, but also (and more importantly) watching my calories and trying to make smart food choices. I don’t even like junk food much, I just like to eat A LOT of the healthy stuff, and apparently, eating A LOT of healthy stuff still makes you fat.  Stupid, man. That’s just stupid.  But, I am sucking it up and disciplining myself. I’ve done it before and I know it works.  I am beginning to see progress again but it is SO. SLOW.  And so easily undone.  I want results NOW, darn it!  This discipline stuff is hard. And annoying.  And why does my body want to cling to every pound harder now that I’m pushing 40? Why do my muscles and joints ache after two consecutive days of Krav Maga or kickboxing workouts? Or 45 stupid minutes on the elliptical?  Life is not fair. Wahhhh!!!

A few months ago, I printed off some inspirational quotes and stuck them to my bathroom mirror, so that every day, I’d see them and read them and be reminded that “I’m doing this for me” and “Nothing tastes as good as fit feels” and “I can get up and get scared or I can get up and get ready.” But this kind of inspo is not working. It is not me.  I have read these horrible quotes so much that now I greet my mirror and my Scotch taped messages with the scorn of a thousand Grumpy Cat memes. 

grumpy cat

 

I joined a workout group at my gym a little while ago, complete with a hard-nose personal trainer. I worked out for 12 weeks with this group and this trainer and while it was fun, I was in good enough shape (under the chub) that it wasn’t much of a challenge.  I couldn’t relate to the trainer at all.  She is fit and she knows her stuff, and she is no-nonsense, but she has never had children and has been a gym rat since high school.  She doesn’t get so bloated the week before and during her period that she doesn’t fit into her jeans.  In fact, she doesn’t wear jeans.  She told me this—she only wears compression shorts. (Occupational necessity, I guess.) Also, she’s 26.   I like her as a person, I admire that she knows 125 variations of squats and can kettlebell with the best of them, and has killer triceps and a butt you can bounce a quarter off, but does she get that just because she can bench press a billion pounds doesn’t mean she can take a hit from a guy twice her size and stay standing? Does she have to cross her legs when she sneezes so she doesn’t pee her pants?

I don’t know that there is a trainer for me in the real world (that I can afford.) So, I decided to make one up.  Yes, I have an imaginary personal trainer.  He (yes, he. I can’t bring myself to swear at a lady.) is a cross between Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,Tony Stark, and Gru, from Despicable Me.  Make fun of me if you will. At least I finally figured out what motivates me.  Smack talk. Anger. Masochism. Macabre silliness. A vaguely Slavic accent. His name is Hulk Smash, because I am incapable of zealous earnestness.   He is the perfect trainer for me because he does not spout fitspo at me.  He barks at me to quit whining and stay on task.  When I swear at him and tell him to go to hell, because I’d rather eat that second helping or sleep in, he gives me a dead-eyed stare as he swats the muffin out of my hands, grinds it underfoot, and orders more time on the treadmill, more reps, more burpees. He is relentless.  When I am feeling discouraged or lazy, he calls me a pansy-ass sissy and reminds me how much I like to hit things. The angrier I get, the harder he laughs. The more he laughs, the harder I work.  When I’m done working out, he applauds me with, “That’s all you got, Hellcat? You better bring your A-game tomorrow.” At that point, I flip him a friendly bird and we call it a day.

 

go work out

My favorite bloggers

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I read a lot of blogs, because I am interested in how other people think and live.   I also just like to read good writers.  Here are some of my favorites:

 

Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

This blog was the first one I started following—my friend Ann turned me on to it because we both liked writing and good food and recipes.  My very first blog, www.wheresthebeefbaby.blogspot.com was very much a copy cat attempt at food writing.  I realized early on, however, that I like writing about lots of other stuff besides food, and enjoyed reading Mel’s food and recipe blog more than I liked writing my own.

 

Rage Against the Minivan

I stumbled onto Kristen Howerton’s blog when I was looking into adoption.  Knowing that if we adopted, we would likely adopt transracially, I wanted to gain some insight into that possibility.  Kristen adopted across racial and national lines and also had biological children. What I love about Kristen’s writing is that she doesn’t JUST write about her family and kids, but she keeps it pretty real, talking about frustrations and cringe-worthy experiences as much as the high points.  She uses self-deprecation and sarcasm to poke fun at herself, while remaining pretty upbeat and earnest about her goals to raise good, socially conscious kids.   Kristen is a Christian and pretty liberal in her political views, which I find refreshing and relatable.

 

JJen Hatmaker

I found Jen Hatmaker through Kristen Howerton and I cannot get enough of her writing.  Jen is a Christian writer, but unlike other Christian writers—she is so very real about her life and her foibles, while loving Jesus at the same time.  She is also very social-justice minded, and she is just hilariously relatable.

 

Livesay Haiti by Tara Livesay

Another blogger I found through Kristen Howerton. Tara is a midwife at a maternity center in Port Au Prince, Haiti, and I love her writing for her candid observations about life in a materially poor country, doing work that is so necessary and sacred, but so very, very difficult.  She wears her heart on her sleeve, but if she were calloused and clinical, she couldn’t reflect the beauty and mess that is specific to life in Haiti and universal in being a wife, mother, and woman.

 

Momastery

Written by a woman who overcame alcohol addiction and bulimia (along with a few other things) this a blog I didn’t think I would get into, but find myself turning to again and again.  Glennon Doyle Melton writes candidly about her own struggles in life—which makes her so incredibly relatable.  In being so open about her addictions, anxieties, trials, and triumphs, she has opened the door wide for everyone with insecurities and addictions to overcome them, or at the very least, manage them.  She has built quite a tribe, and through her writing and online activism, I have met and made friends with people (via Facebook) that have enriched my life—that I never would have encountered otherwise. 

 

Awesomely Luvvie

Another blogger I found through Kristen Howerton! Luvvie Ajayi is awesome. Born in Nigeria and raised there and in Chicago, Luvvie’s life is completely different than my own.  She is absolutely unafraid to say what’s on her mind and call people out for their stupid behavior.  She is a Black woman who is intent on building up other Black women, commenting on pop culture, and making fun of all that is ridiculous in the world.  She is hilarious and spot on in her observations. I don’t quite get some of her cultural references (pop, Nigerian, business, etc.) because those have not been my experience, but I’m learning!

Looking Good

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Yeah! Woooo!

I am glad it is 2017. I don’t have any grand plans or resolutions, I’m just continuing to chip away at what I’ve always been working on, but it does sort of feel like January is the “re-set” button on time.  I started homeschooling the kids in a January. Talk about a re-set! At the time, I had plenty of resolutions and grand plans, and none of them worked out like I expected—some things went horribly awry, and others went better (and more differently) than I could ever have imagined.  Homeschooling has been a fantastic lesson in how to live well, because it became a lifestyle rather than something we just “do.”

Midway

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I turn 40 in about seven months and I realize that this means I am likely about halfway through my life, and that from here on, I will slowly deteriorate physically and mentally. Already, I have learned that it takes me longer to recover from late nights and crap food and even exercise, than it did when I was younger. I find my brain sort of short circuiting when I’m tired, making it so I have a hard time remembering words and thoughts. I’m more easily distracted and have a harder time mentally getting back on track. I used to listen to older people talk about how annoying it is to get old and I would shudder inwardly and tell myself “I am never going to get that way!” Well, whether I want it to or not, it’s happening.

I have friends that are younger than me who quip “Age is what you make it!’ and “Age is just a number!” but they are fools, because there really is something ugly and unpleasant about getting older physically and mentally.

Now, I should say, to people ten or twenty years (or even only five year) older than me I am still a youngster in my prime, and have no reason to start moaning about old age yet, but it’s all relative, right?

I like to think that I’m as young and hip and elastic as I was in my twenties, but I’m not, and no amount of thinking and wishing will make it so.  Maybe with some plastic surgery…

This is the part where I should probably say something conciliatory, like even though I am no longer a slip of a young thing, I am, at nearly forty, really confident in who I am as a person and not all freaked out about what everyone else thinks—and this is true, but I still would like my 18 year old body back, thank you.

I would also like my idealism and sense of invincibility back. I would like to be taken seriously as a human being and not be relegated to “soccer mom” or “someone’s wife.” We praise the young and encourage them because they have their whole lives ahead of them and they can “be anything” they want to be.  One of my pet peeves at church is the focus on telling the kids how awesome they are. They don’t know a damn thing without the generation that came before them, and even thought my kids ARE awesome, they didn’t do it alone.  Sure, they came with proclivities towards kindness and industriousness and studiousness, but if I and my husband and a host of other people our age and older hadn’t nurtured that, my kids would probably be snaggletoothed little trolls. Let’s be real here.

Temptation and struggle don’t go away when you become a grown up and take on adult responsibilities. In fact, I think temptation and struggle intensify. Being a decent adult is hard. Attempting to be an exemplary adult is even harder. I want an A for effort. And a cookie.

Now tell me I’m pretty.

No Regrets

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How do you live so that you have no regrets? I don’t think it’s possible. We all make mistakes that impact ourselves and others, often in ways we may not be able to foresee, and unless one is a sociopath, we will occasionally regret the things that hurt others, especially loved ones.

When we have regrets, I think we need to find, if possible, a way to rectify the damage we’ve done, or the things we’ve lost. If we cannot do that, we need to find a way to forgive ourselves and others and move forward with more understanding and compassion and wisdom. If we can do that, we will truly live a full and meaningful life.

Praise me not, my work hath yet not warm’d me…

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In Shakespeare’s play, Coriolanus, the title character, a fearless Roman warrior then known as Caius Marcius, leads a battle in the city of Corioles, and is wounded. His men admire his ferocity, but worry he is too bloodied to return to the fighting. He shakes off their concern telling them:

“Praise me not, My work hath yet not warm’d me…the blood I drop is rather physical than dangerous to me; to Aufidius thus I will appear, and fight.”

And back he charges into battle.

 Flesh Wound

Though Aufidius escapes, Marcius captures the city of Corioles and is given the honorary title Coriolanus.

When I first read this play, I was training intensely in Krav Maga, and feeling a bit discouraged because I wasn’t physically where I wanted to be with training, after recovering from a concussion some months earlier.  As I do when I’m frustrated with anything, I turned to Shakespeare for some inspiration. I had never read Coriolanus before and was intrigued by the story of this fearless, proud warrior. He’s actually kind of a jerk to the citizens of Rome, whom he feels are weak and fickle, but he’s principled and unrelenting in his commitment to those principles. And he was one heck of a fighter.

I was wowed by his words after being wounded. Nothing was going stop him from getting the job done and taking over Corioles and taking on Aufidius. He wasn’t really doing it for Rome, he was doing it for himself.  Ultimately, his pride  and his disdain for his countrymen are his downfall, but I LOVED his stick-to-it-iveness in battle, because at the time, I was struggling with wanting to quit training and feeling kind of wishy-washy about other things in my life.  Coriolanus wasn’t going to let wounds or the negative opinions of others get to him.  He believed in everything he was doing and barely even acknowledged a gaping, bloody wound as a setback.

Ah, to have such singularity of purpose! To be so focused on a mission, so determined a will to succeed! To be so excellent a fighter! His words gave me courage and strengthened my will to continue in training and rally myself for the trials in life.  Coriolanus was not driven by the desire for power, but for excellence. For whatever reason, that resonated with me. The fact that his desire for excellence turned tragic because of his unbending pride in his own superiority is another topic for another day, and maybe I’ll examine that closer when I need to check my own pride. For now, I will merely focus on his dogged determination to see a task through, come what may.

shark cat