Friday, July 24, 2015

Thanksgiving in July: Slow Cooker Stuffing

"Tomorrow, I'm going to make stuffing in the slow cooker."

As a single person, I tend to accumulate a lot of half-loaves of hardened bread in my freezer. It's too stale to make a decent sandwich with, but it's not moldy or bad for me.

So, in the spirit of minimizing food waste, I got to thinking about what to do with hard bread. STUFFING!
Hamilton Beach 33141 4-Quart Oval Slow Cooker
Hamilton Beach 4-Quart Oval Slow Cooker
 (Amazon Affiliate Link)

Bought for myself as a reward 
for finishing NaPoWriMo.

Then, in the spirit of being obsessed with my new slow cooker, I did a Pinterest search for slow cooker stuffing, and found out it's totally a thing.

Slow Cooker Stuffing

12 cups dry bread cubes (The original blogger baked the bread cubes to dry them out, but my bread was already so dry from squatting in my freezer, I skipped that step.)
2 cups celery (about 4 stalks)
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup dried parsley (or 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley if you plan ahead better than I did)
2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
14.5 oz can broth (1 3/4 cups)
1/3 cup butter, melted

1. Combine everything except the broth and butter. Pour the broth and butter over the top. Mix well.
2. Transfer mixture to slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours.

It smelled too good, so at hour 3, I broke into it early. The celery and onions were still raw but the flavors had saturated the bread well. I ate it with a turkey breast and side of mashed potatoes I got at a deli. (What am I, supposed to cook 3 things?! Preposterous.) I let the rest of it finish cooking and stored it to make a week's worth of Slow Cooker Stuffing Sandwiches.

Original recipe from The Kitchen is My Playground. With thanks.

Today's art print is "Bread and Butter" by Robo Rat. Just too cute.

Bread & Butter Art Print

Dealing with Difficult Circumstances: A Conversation

“Tomorrow, I’m going to deal with difficult circumstances.”

Family art print by Ana Yael
"Family" by Ana Yael, a curated
Art Print from Society6
My mom isn't doing so well. Her 5-day hospital stay didn't lead to a prognosis for her brain swelling and confusion. We're still in the dark. She has Neurofibromatosis Type II. She always said her biggest fear was being alive but "checked out." I'm devastated that this is happening, but trying to stay positive by focusing on what's actionable going forward. If you want to brighten my day, register to walk with my team for the NF Walk Los Angeles or donate to show your support.

I'm researching ways to deal with difficult circumstances. More accurately, I have to deal with the difficult circumstances of right now, and I hope to find patterns that will help me cope with difficulties throughout the rest of my life.

I'm not even sure what "deal with difficult circumstances" means yet. Does it mean being able to do your job despite personal stress? If so, when do you process the feels? Does "dealing" mean processing the feels so they don't consume you, or knowing how to get back to being okay after they do?

One thing I do know: "dealing" isn't about "not feeling." One of my friends and I have a system in which, if one of us needs to talk, we say, "I have feels." The other person will ask, "Are they big feels?" The friend who needs help says something like, “They’re medium-to-large feels.” And then we share congratulations, because it's so easy to be numb these days. Feelings show us where the love is.

My anger at the hospital's inattention: it's a disguise for the love I have for my mom. 

To see the love behind negatives is to practice gratitude. Maybe having tools like gratitude is the answer to what it means to "deal with difficult circumstances." I still want some sort of metric to measure my "dealing" by, but I have to come to terms with: that might not be possible. I don't have a strict definition of "success," so why do I need a clear picture of what "dealing" or "coping" look like?

Let's all just feel what we feel.

In the spirit of feels, here's 5 things that I've been returning to a lot lately because they make me feel feelings:

1. "What We Gained in the Fire" by the Mynabirds. Incredible song. My imagination takes me somewhere different every time I hear it. I don't know why YouTube kept taking me out of full screen mode at the end of each play-through, as if I wasn't going to push play and watch it again, over and over.

2. "IDGAF" by Watsky. I love how the video is Watsky having a party with the monsters under his bed. It's a rap about the freedom of living in the moment and having meaningful priorities. And speaking of...

3. "The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F***" by Mark Manson. This article is my new favorite thing. I don't know if it's pent up anger because of the situation back home or my general disdain for decorum, but I find all the curse words refreshing. It's also funny ("I don’t even know what that sentence means, but I don’t give a [f***]. A bag of burritos sounds awesome, so let’s just go with it.") and quite thoughtful. Sometimes I read something and think, Maybe I should give up being a writer because that person just said everything I've been trying to say. This is one of those articles.

4. "Today Means Amen" by Sierra DeMulder. A spoken word poem that's like a motivational speech. My favorite line is "You, the teacher, the starter's gun, the lantern in the night that offers not a way home, but the courage to travel farther into the dark." It's absolutely beautiful and I cry every time. Big, ugly cries.

5. Enjoying my cats. Sometimes of think of them as tiny tigers. Today I took videos of me waking them up. I had a distract-able moment and couldn't resist. I love how much their personalities show in their reactions, and I love their fat, happy kitty tummies.

I'm having technical difficulties with the videos.
In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of Jolie and Tyrone.
Here's the link to the NF Walk page again. 
Please feel free to comment below if you have any thoughts on how to define "dealing with difficult circumstances" or want to geek out with me over something in my 5 things list.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Three Months of Ukulele: A Retrospective

“Tomorrow, I’m going to play my ukulele.”

My dear friend, Robbie, sent me an Amazon gift card for my birthday. Around this time, I was reading The Art of Asking and listening to Amanda Palmer's Ukulele Anthem on a daily basis. These events collided into one of my best decisions ever: to take up ukulele-playing.

After three months of regular playing, I'm going to use some lyrics from “Ukulele Anthem” to share my experiences learning this instrument.

1. You can play the ukulele too; it is painfully simple. Truth. Have you seen a ukulele? They only have four strings and twelve frets (of which you pretty much use four). The impetus to learn any new skill is the satisfaction of getting something right. So use your left hand to press on some strings, and then you graze your right hand right there along where the body meets the neck. And suddenly you’re overcome with joy.

For me, ukulele has been all up and up. There’s no impossible parts to get stuck on (except the horrific E-chord). I think it’s pretty simple. If you take AFP's advice to limit yourself to three chords, it's even simpler.

2. It takes about an hour to teach someone to play the ukulele. In my first hour, I think I learned standard tuning, three chords (C, F, G), and a strumming pattern (down down up up down up). That's pretty much "taught." I think it was another ten hours before I could switch between the chords quickly, strum while switching between chords, or sing while playing. I'm sure it's much faster for anyone familiar with string instruments.

I'd say it took 18 hours total to master my first song. It was the F.U.N. Song from SpongeBob SquarePants. But quite a few of those hours were spent playing it over and over to myself to bask in my accomplishment. (Sorry, neighbors.) (I mean, you're welcome.) It should also be noted that I taught myself using YouTube videos and the process might be faster with an in-person teacher. But less fun, because you'll probably have to learn Three Blind Mice.

3. You can play the ukulele, too, in London and down under. A soprano ukulele weighs 8-12 ounces. Ounces. That's the measurement pet foster parents use to measure newborn kittens. So, yeah, it's pretty portable. You read “portable” as “adorable” for a second, didn't you? I bring it to meetups and family dinners. Yes, I’ve performed in front of other humans and lived to tell the tales!

4. They're only $19.95. Yeah, especially the ones made for tourists in Hawaii or children. Mine was $29. [Edit: It's since gone up to $39.28.] The quality isn't 100% at the low end, but that doesn't matter if you're using it to sing and scream, right? It's just for fun and expression, so the less perfect, the better. “Flaws” include strings that rattle and a less rich tone.

5. Your fingers suffer. But it hurts so good. The other day it hurt all the muscles and joints of my left index finger to squeeze a spray bottle. I was like, "Sweet, I'm a real musician now." I experienced a similar pride when I developed calluses. They don't hurt, they just feel like when you dip your fingers in Elmer's glue and let it dry. I also have a scar on my right forearm from where the strings attach to the body of the ukulele. They're kinda pokey. I suspect that scar is a badge you don't get to wear if you play a higher end instrument.

6. You'll minimize some stranger's sadness with a piece of wood and plastic. The biggest surprise of this experience has been people's reactions to just the statement, "I play the ukulele." Their eyes widen, they lean forward a little. Apparently, "I play the ukulele" is welcome news. I also noticed that it's less awkward to share than singing. If you just sing to someone without an instrument in hand, they're like, "ew, weird, intimate." Put some chords behind your voice and they're all smiles.

7. Holy fuck, it's so fantastic, playing ukulele. Yes, yes yes yes! The joy I experience from ukulele ranges from a sense of accomplishment when I learn a new song, to a sense of connection when I share with others, and even, on a depressed day, to the meditative comfort of having one earphone in listening to Skeleton by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs while I fingerpicked along to it. And that's all I did that day, all day. And it felt whole, like not a second of that day was wasted.

Now, if you're familiar with the Ukulele Anthem, you might be thinking, "Hey Sarah, aren't you taking this a little too literally?" To which I reply, "Yes. And it's working."

Monday, July 20, 2015

I Love Lamp: The Best Light to Read By

“Tomorrow, I’m going to love lamp.”

An ode to lamp. Okay, it's not really an ode, although I am a poet, and "Ode to Lamp" is officially on my to-write list. I really love my lamp.

Once when I was going on about how great this lamp is, my friend Kat interrupted me to say, "Sarah, sweetie, I love you, and I get it. Okay? I'm right there with you, loving this lamp, but I've heard the reasons so many times I have them memorized."

She then set out to prove her point by listing the reasons why I love the lamp. And, sure enough, she did have that sumbitch memorized.

What Makes a Lamp Loveable?
  1. It's tall, with a bright light on top. This light fills the room and prevents pesky shadows, as the light is evenly diffused.
  2. It has a smaller, adjustable light. This light pivots and can be moved up and down. It's perfect for illuminating a book or a cross stitch.
  3. Shelves! What? Yes! Shelves! I keep tissues on the lower shelf, a cat brush on the top shelf, and a drink in the middle.
  4. It's easy to clean: Not a lot of nooks and crannies. The lampshades are smooth glass cones, the base is chrome, and the shelves are leather (probably vinyl, whatever, works for me!)
  5. Selective lighting! You can have only the room light on, only the reading light on, both, or of course, neither.

So, obviously I'm justified in loving this lamp, but I'll admit I may have brought it up too often. In my defense, the wiring was broken at the time and I thought I'd have to say goodbye forever. This lamp (purchased years ago through is no longer available. It ended up being cheaper to get it repaired than buy a new lamp. Hooray!

I'm sorry to dangle the best lamp ever in front of you and then tell you it's unavailable. I was going to share similar products with you, but there is no lamp that comes close to this level of practicality. Let me know if you find one!

What I would do if I needed to replace my lamp is get an open-shelf bookcase. Then I'd put a lamp on the top to serve as a room lamp, something that directs the light up and out more than down, like the giraffe lamp. Alright, maybe the giraffe is a little out of my budget. But I love him. More reasonably, I'd go for something like the black lamp.

I would also consider: end table, table lamp, and a separate floor lamp. I love glass so that glass table is gorgeous to me. Hmm, all these choices make it seem like I have very modern taste. The mess of colors and patterns that is my living room tells a different story.

rectangular, modern table lamp, black leather base, white lampshade

Today's curated art print: "A little night reading" by DigitalandPhotoA little night reading Art Print

Friday, July 17, 2015

Dream Day: Successes and Lessons

"Tomorrow, I'm going to evaluate my Dream Day calendar."
Corujitear Art Print
One of my goals for June was to figure out what my Dream Day looked like and live it. I made a separate Google calendar with alerts to remind me to switch tasks throughout the day. It included everything from a writing schedule to eating times. I knew from the beginning that something that strict wouldn't work for me, but I wanted to see how it wouldn't work for me, and hoped that some parts would.

Well, I stuck to the strict schedule exactly zero times. But here's what did work:

1. Reminders to eat.
I have habit of distracting myself all day, forgetting to eat, and then eating one huge meal at night. And I wonder why I feel so tired every day! My Dream Day calendar included reminders to eat, which included general amounts (Big Breakfast, Medium Lunch, Snack, Dinner). Those reminders encouraged me to check in with myself and attend to my hunger/fullness levels.
2. Rituals and Sacrifices.
I learned that it doesn't work (at this stage of my life) to assign myself a ten minute slot in which to brush my teeth, and the follow it with a ten minute window for face-washing. What does work is generally putting it into practice that face-washing comes after tooth-brushing. That "Order of Operations" routine ensured that I took care of myself and my home even when I was distracted or tired because there's no thinking about what comes next.
3. Cleaning as Meditation.
Having an alarm tell me when to clean was...ineffective. (Had to prevent myself from writing "stupid.") As I expected would happen, after a few days I developed a Don't Tell Me What to Do attitude at the alert. After a few more days, it became just another notification on my phone that I glance at and ignore. However! I think there was something helpful about seeing the words "Cleaning Meditation" twice a day, like they were planted in my subconsious.
Since I made that calendar, I've been placing less weight on chores. I feel less of a sense of "OMG, I'll be washing dishes everyday for the rest of my life!" and more of a sense of "It feels good to care for my belongings."
4. Confidence my ability to take charge of my time. After how much I struggled to keep a schedule for school or jobs, I believed that I was incapable of maintaining a schedule. I would forever have to deal with erratic sleep times and cancelling plans last minute because I didn't have the "discipline" to follow through.
I'm learning that time management is a skill. It takes practice and patience to master. Establishing routines that work for me requires a deliberate effort, but my Dream Day does not require discipline.
It's like time is an ecosystem and all the tasks sustain each other. My morning routine is smoother if I've done my cleaning the evening before. I have more creative stamina when I start the day off with that productive morning routine. 
5. The Dream Day is a State of Mind
When I imagine my Dream Day from waking to going to sleep, it's ultimately not about the tasks of the thing. It's about how the tasks make me feel. When I say, "I want the sink to be empty before I go to bed," it means, "I don't want to worry about the little things." I want my headspace clear for art and science, explorations, love and loss and sensory brilliance. (Too arty?)
When I sleep my dreams are awake. Art PrintAnd that is why there is no shame in missing a step in the routine. Or totally losing the routine. Or not even trying to have a routine. Routines fit us like clothes. The clothes can be the wrong size. Our bodies can't be wrong. A routine can be the wrong organizational tool for us. We can't fail the routine.

Today's curated art prints were "Corujitear" and "When I sleep my dreams are awake" by Rodrigo Troitino. Love the description on Society6: The best translations for "Corujitear" is to act as a owl around, 'carpe diem and carpe nocte'. Yes, it´s about coffee and good feelings.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sarah Cooks Breakfast: Eggs Over Asparagus

"Tomorrow, I'm going to have asparagus for breakfast."

Did you know that eggs and asparagus are delicious together? I know why. It's because eggs are good with everything. (I'm always on the lookout for vegan alternatives, but nothing comes close.)

Asparagus is a fresh choice February through June in the U.S., and this year, seems to be holding strong into July. It cooked so perfectly. Just the right snap to it. You know how sometimes the skin gets rubbery and you have to kind of pull at it with your teeth? Well, it wasn't like that. It was an easy bite.

I went to El Pollo with my grandparents that night and I told them about my perfectly-cooked asparagus. They looked at me like everything I touch turns to gold.

"Wow! How'd you do that?" Grandma said. Aren't grandparents the best at making grandkids feel special?

Eggs Over Asparagus

Asparagus, ends trimmed
Salt and Pepper
Oil and Butter
Hot sauce (optional)
Cheese (optional)

1. Melt butter into oil in a skillet.
2. Place asparagus shoots evenly in the skillet. Season with salt. Cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes.
3. Create space between some of the shoots. Crack eggs into the open spaces. Cook until egg white are firm. Season with pepper, and more salt if you're any of my grandparents.

Blogger Naturally Ella, who created this recipe, suggests blue cheese or goat cheese on top, but I didn't have any cheese, so I added the hot sauce that came with my Lemongrass Thai the night before.

You can see how beautifully her Sunny-Side Up eggs came out. I wasn't so successful in that department, but hey, I'm learning. And it's delicious either way.
Asparagus and Eggs |  @naturallyella
Sunny Side Up Eggs over Asparagus
by Naturally Ella

Today's art print is Wild Flowers and Spring Asparagus by Olivia Joy StClaire. It's so fresh and vivid, just like today's recipe.
Wild Flowers and Spring Asparagus Art Print

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sarah Cooks Breakfast: Baked Nectarines with Oatmeal

"Tomorrow, I'm going to bake nectarines."
I'm starting to feel organized in my tiny kitchen. I haven't cooked a lot since I moved to L.A. in September. Let's just say they know me at Lemongrass Thai. Since implementing a daily cleaning meditation, however, I've taken command of my space and I'm learning to enjoy cooking in it.

One morning, I set out to copycat a baked nectarine dish I saw on Pinterest. Only...I didn't have the ingredients, so I made up a new dish!

Baked Nectarines with Oatmeal

3 Nectarines, halved and pitted
Apple, chopped
1 packet maple brown sugar oatmeal
1/2 cup hot water
Coconut oil
Brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix oatmeal and water in glass baking dish. If it looks dry, add more water.
2. Place nectarines and apples on top of oatmeal mixture. Coat with coconut oil. Sprinkle with brown sugar. You can stir it all together or bake layered.
3. Cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool for 1-2 minutes. Serve with toast, yogurt, ice cream, or by itself!

It smells A-mazing. It is super sweet, so if you aren't a sweet tooth, you can make it with more oatmeal and add something savory. What's that savory food everyone loves with maple? Oh yeah! Bacon! Or if you're like me, veggie bacon. (No exclamation point there. Veggie bacon's less exciting. I'm aware.)

It feels great to start the day with a creative task like cooking. Cheers to many more mornings like this one!

Today's Curated Art Print: "Apricot/Nectarine/Peach" by Abby Galloway
Apricot/Nectarine/Peach Art Print

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Uterus Speaks: Art Prints for a Nursery

"Tomorrow, I'm going to pick out art for a nursery."

Sometimes my uterus talks to me. It's demandingly to-the-point. The only thing it says is "babies!" Of course, muffled through my belly it sounds more like "berbeesh," but I get the message loud and clear. People receive the same message from their parents, their peers, "the media," or the duderus. It's everywhere.

It's easy to shut it up by researching "birth" or listing off personal freedoms I enjoy.

But it can be fun to indulge the poor bastard once in a while. Today's exercise in indulgence takes the form of art prints that would look super cute in a nursery. I recently became a curator for Society6, and it's rekindling my love for the visual arts. Besides prints, they also have pillows and curtains in case that's a better way to decorate my imaginary nursery.

Here are some of my favorite art prints that would work well in a nursery or child's room.

The "First Aid For Stress" series from Growing Mindfulness by Marisa Garau

Mindfulness Tip #4 Art Print  Mindfulness Tip #3 Art Print  Mindfulness Tip #5 Art Print

"Morning Contemplation," "Embracing the Majestic," "The Blue Cat and The Blossom," and other hand-painted illustrations by Marion Bouquet
Morning Contemplation - hand-painted Illustration Art Print  Embracing the Majestic - Hand-painted Illustration Art Print  The Blue Cat & The Blossom - Hand-painted Illustration Art Print

Animal illustrations by Allanah Brid. Look at the elephant, right in its face.
Blue Elephant Art Print  Counting Sheep! Art Print  Spotty Giraffe Art Print

Tee hee.

"Rain is Bad for Robots," "Sperm Whale Tornado," "When Elephants Dream," and other imagination fuel by David Finley
Rain is Bad for Robots Art Print
Sperm Whale Tornado Pirate (Letterpress Style) Art Print  When Elephants Dream Art Print  

-Jazz Berry Blue. This artist has stylized maps, the American Sign Language alphabet, and other surrealist amazingness as well.

I like that most of these collections can grow with the child. And they all make me smile. I don't know how I would choose!