Saturday, November 23, 2013

Real Jobs Series: Samantha from Sierra Water Gardens, The Wedge Ceramics Studio and Stremmel Auctions

*all photos courtesy of Sierra Water Gardens.

I am crazy excited to share Sam's story as the first in this series.  Sam owns my very favorite (FAVORITE) Reno shop, Sierra Water Gardens, as well as a ceramics studio across the street, AND she helps out with the family auctions business.  I met Sam a couple of years ago at Sierra Water Gardens after my mother tried for weeks to get me to go to "the pond shop" (sparking quietly worried conversations between my brother and me about what exactly our mother was pawning).  Finally, one of our mother-daughter days out found us at Sierra Water Gardens and I haven't been able to shut up about the place since.  They are a shop/nursery with a fantastic selection of beautiful and interesting water plantssucculents and air plants, but they are also a beautiful and welcome retreat right outside the heart of the city, with commerce gracefully and cleverly worked into the property.  Sam and Sutter live on the riverfront property and have gravel paths winding through numerous ponds, the whole things strung over with cafe lights.  They've balanced this soft tranquility with modern touches, including structural planters and a stunning greenhouse full of creatively arranged Tillandsia and an inspiring vertical gardening display.  It's pretty magical.  (Side note: Sam provided all of the beautiful air plants I used to make my wedding bouquet, sparking my verging-on-unhealthy devotion to her and her shop.)

I'm so grateful to Sam for launching this Real Job Series.  She has such a unique experience and her answers are clearly very personal and honest and a perfect representation of her.  Enjoy!

Age(ish): 26. 

Tell us a little about the iterations of your career aspirations:
I've never aspired to have a certain career....hence I graduated MSU with an English Literature degree. I knew I didn't want to teach. I didn't want to work at a desk. So I guess I knew what I did not want to do which helped eliminate things. I also knew I didn't care about money. If I liked what I did then I would be fine I figured. However, I graduated college and I found out making money was pretty important to functioning in society. 

What has been your work history to this point?
I grew up working on my family's vegetable farm. So we grew organic vegetables and sold them at Farmer's Markets in Kalispell, MT and Whitefish, MT. I liked it when I worked there in my 20's, but hated it growing up. Looking back I'm grateful. Then I worked at a local nursery called Hooper's Nursery owned by our neighbors. In college I was a nude model for the Montana State University Art Department for 2 years. In the summer's I worked for Glacier Raft Company in West Glacier. Then I worked in a coffee shop as a barista for 3 years. Now I work at Sierra Water Gardens, The Wedge Ceramics Studio and Stremmel Auctions. 

Current job title(s): Owner, manager, and everything else with my husband for our two businesses. I am the tech, web site manager, clerk and registrar for another business. 

How many hours are dedicated to your job each week?
I'm not entirely sure all the time. During the busy season 84 hours a week or more. I'm trying to cut that back and be more efficient with things. We don't have any employees. In the fall winter season 40 hours a week to 20 hours a week. 

Do you have flexibility in your schedule?
Yes and no. Yes in the winter. No in the summer; I am tied so tight to the job. We live where we work so I can be out at night watering and someone can yell over the fence and if I'm in sight I have to answer. Even just to say we're closed, or sometimes let people in to walk around or buy koi food. We can't afford for people to have bad experiences so when it comes to the customer, I can't be flexible with my time. This year we were better about it, but we are working on creating separation between work and our non-work life.

How did you get this job?
Bought one. It was in foreclosure with the property and home. Took a lot of work to get it going again in so many ways. Sutter and I built the other together. The third is Sutter's family's business. 

Is a job in this field something you specifically pursued?
Not really. I wanted to own my own business someday and that was about it. I would say we had opportunities and it is what we did with these opportunities that created our jobs.  

What factors played into you taking this job?
Timing. We had graduated college with English Literature degrees and didn't want to go to grad school and we didn't want to teach. So we were open to possibilities. We also wanted to own our own businesses. Maybe also being stubborn and not worrying about things we should have been worrying about.

Is the job what you expected?
Yes and no. In practical terms yes. The basics of running both businesses are what we expected. But the emotional toll has been tough. I've learned so much in 3 years and the most traumatic is the emotional roller coaster. The highs are so good, but when things get stressful, there is no going home and forgetting about it. I'm still learning about how to deal with certain situations and keeping my emotions out of things so I can deal with it. ALSO… saying No. I'm a people pleaser personality so I have had to learn to say No for my own emotional health. No is a complete sentence. Although I say No thank you. But with all the craziness and hard work and stress it fulfills me like I thought owning a business would. I've learned so much more than I ever thought I would about business and myself. And being about to run businesses with my husband has not been the nightmare everyone told me it would be. We have grown together and at the end of the day, if we talk about work we know exactly what the other person is talking about and our empathy for situations or joy for situations is shared. I love being able to share these experiences with my husband. We've had times where we've had to learn how to work together and respect each other. And we've had to keep any argument or personal frustration with each other out of our business. I know my job is not about my husband, but working with him is the biggest part of my job and a huge joy. We also thought we could do our own accounting and we were wrong. We hired an accountant because we were doing the accounting after a 12 hour day and that was not good for our books or our personal health. It is also hard because sometimes one of us has to make an executive decision without the other and then hopefully we agree. 

One business pays our bills and takes care of our needs. 'Wants' are a different story. We sometimes have a little extra to do fun things, but not often. If we have extra money in the business accounts, we save it to pay bills or improve our property. Our home is on our property where our business is so our business pays for our home. That is so nice and truly makes owning a small business possible for us. Our overhead is low; we are the only employees, we rarely advertise, don't have company vehicles and we don't commute.  The other business was built from what we made at our purchased business and now sustains itself. We make no money at our second business for ourselves. Every cent gets put back into the studio for supplies, bills etc. but Sutter has a studio to work in, and that was the idea and reason we created our second business. . It is feast or famine, and we have to budget so that what we make during the summer can pay the bills through the winter. So income is hard to track, but we talked about the value of our businesses and if we ever sold….. and our lifestyle and sense of purpose is priceless and worth more than any money.

Outline for us an average work day for you:
During our busy spring and summer season we are open 7 days a week. I wake up in the morning get lots of coffee brewed, check emails, Facebook, return phone calls. Maybe shower, get ready for the day. Then, about 7 or 8 a.m. we get outside to water, pick up dog poop, rake, clean up outside, fill the ponds if they are low on water, check the koi tanks. Back flush tanks. If I have time we can run a couple errands, make deposits or check on a couple ponds that are in our Sacred Koi Club. At some point one of us will run over to the studio to check on things. Then we open the shop at 10am and we are usually busy with customers until close at 5:30 helping pick out pond plants, explaining pond plants, trouble shooting algae problems, listening to koi pond stories from customers, watering plants, rearranging displays but we are usually interrupted by customers so the task might be left half finished for a while. Then we get a delivery and I have to open the box take inventory, price things, get them on the shelf. Again we often get interrupted, which is a good thing! But we have to get product out on the shelf quickly because we often have people coming to get it. Then we catch koi out of the tanks, put them in bags with oxygen. We do a lot of talking throughout the day with people answering questions, giving tours and hanging out with friends that stop by. Oh did we get something to eat? This last year I got better at preparing lunch meals the night before or in the morning. But it is so easy for our day to get started without us and then by 2pm we are both crashing. So this is something we have had to work on. And drinking lots of water, which seems easy, but is not always. Sometimes we have events going on at the Wedge so we end up running back and forth. We don't have totally average days, but the nice thing is we are rarely bored. I do get tired of explaining how UV lights work or what options are for combating algae. And things I take for granted as common knowledge about koi ponds and water plants are often things I need to explain over and over to different customers and I feel like a broken record. And then there is the circumstance where we work so hard and people come in and don't want to spend anything, taking up all of our time asking questions, and I mean hours of our time, and then they go buy everything online. That is hard, but then when we spend hours answering questions and the customer buys everything from us it really pays off. So we have to take our time with everyone and hope we've done a good enough job for people to want to spend their hard earned money with us. So our day is spent trying to make every customer happy and making our place a place where people can have a special experience. Because my husband and I are the only ones who take care of our customers, we have relationships with all of them. As our season slows down we spend more time making sure our place looks good, or over taking care of the studio more. And we take more time to have a beer in the afternoon and make sure we have a good lunch. Sutter or I can take time and go do things and leave the shop to one of us. We close for the season Oct. 15 and then we have a lot more flexibility and we take advantage of sometimes doing nothing or going fishing or traveling. We also spend time planning classes and events for next year  for both businesses and setting up and doing auctions. 

How much of your energy do you invest in your job? Do you feel it's a good trade for you?
I put in 100% of my energy. Sometimes I don't have much energy, but of what I have I give 100%. I love the trade. I have a lifestyle I enjoy and I know every year we are getting better about time, business, and personal management.With owning our own business we "eat what we kill", or, the harder and smarter we work, the more we make. What we get out is a result of what we put in. We also live and work on the Truckee River. We love being able to fly fish and enjoy our river front property. So if the business does not work out, at least we have a nice place we like to live or could sell. 

Is there room in your job for personal progress or promotion? Is that something that's important to you or that you seek out?
There is always room for personal progress or promotion. And it is very important to me. Everyday I want our business to be better and to look better. I want to learn more and know more. Be better to myself and to my customers. I want to grow personally and I want our business to grow. I like working and doing a good job, it is fulfilling for me. But i also like to be creative and spontaneous. So I have lots of room to work and play throughout the year. It feels good when people want to be at our business and be our customers. And I would love for our businesses, one or both to be featured in a magazine…. like Sunset….. and that would feel good to me. Not only would that help our business, but Reno as well. A rising tide lifts all ships.

What are some things you find fulfilling about your job?
Doing a good job. The challenge. Working with my husband and being about to hang out with our dogs and cats all day. Being creative. Learning new things. Having the freedom to do what I want with our businesses and not having to wait for a boss make a change. We also work our own land, which pays the mortgage on the land. We are the captains of our own ship. 

What are some things that you find challenging about your job?
Separating work and personal life. Defining our own personal space when we allow people into our backyard all day. Keeping the face of our business fresh, so customers see something new and different each time they walk in. Keeping our inventory alive. Keeping it clean, because it is displayed outdoors. Retail environments can also be difficult. Competing with the internet. Answering the same questions all the time and being nice about it. Working with my husband. Being inspired everyday. Some days I just don't feel inspired and I want to be and feel like I SHOULD be. 

Is this what you want to do? Aka is this the job?
For now. We got here by being open to opportunities and new paths. 

Do you feel like you have a relatively balanced life? If, so what do you think helps you feel that way? If not, what do you think would need to change for you to feel that way?
There is no real separation between home, work and social life. Our home is where we work and because we are rarely absent from the street where our businesses are and we have a close community with others on the street, our social life is here as well. We try to take occasional moments to enjoy the tranquility of our yard which we work so hard to keep for the enjoyment of others. We are working on a balanced life, but we are happy and like what we do. Maybe getting away on trips and getting off of our street is good for us. Also locking the gate and doors, but then I sometimes feel trapped.

Of the five markers of a quality life (positive emotion, engagement, relationship, meaning, achievement), which does your job allow you to fulfill? Does your job allow you enough time/energy to fulfill the other ones in your free time?
All. I feel positive emotion everyday, I feel engaged everyday, and I have lots of relationships, I feel meaning in my life and with work for sure I feel achievement. That does not mean that there are not periods of time in a day where I feel like a failure or frustrated, when I wonder if this is all I am meant for. Believe me, I have those afternoons or evenings. If there is anything I'm lacking in fulfillment in my life, I can try to get fulfillment in the off season. My philosophy on my purpose of life is that I must gain knowledge in my life, be kind to everyone and love everyone. Gaining knowledge is easy enough. Being kind is much more difficult, but I strive. And then loving everyone is nearly impossible, but that means my purpose is never done. It may sound like a religious purpose which it is not for me. 

What are your general thoughts about work/this job/life?
I have used two pronouns for these questions. I and We. I think sometimes it is hard to separate the I and We of my job. I do a lot and so does Sutter, but we really feel like a team. I feel that I speak for Sutter and Sutter speaks for me, but we really have to talk to each other.  There is no USB link between us, no telepathy. Our goal and aim is the same, we can never assume we are on the same page. One thing gratifying about our job is that it works well for our marriage. It may not be for everyone, and it may not be for us forever, but for now it works great. 

Free style (anything else you feel compelled to explain/share):
I think an important component of our businesses and our business plan is that we don't have a typical business plan. We go with what feels right and if it works, we keep doing it and if it doesn't, we change. Sounds cavalier maybe or hazardous, but it has led to some good things. Also, we felt like taking big risks on business this young in life is a good idea. I would rather lose everything at age 26 and have time, health and energy to recover financially then take a risk much later in life with more burdens.


Friends, can you believe how beautiful their shop is?  It is clearly a labor of love.  I'm already counting the days till they open again in the spring.  Sam, thank you ever so much for sharing.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Real Jobs Series

Since I began looking for a job last July (and probably for quite a long time before that), not a day has passed that I haven't thought about what I want to do to earn money in my life.

I know I'm supposed to say, "what I want to do for a career," but the truth it it's about the moolah.  Sure, in the most perfect of perfect worlds, I want the activities I choose because they speak to my soul to be the same activities that someone wants to pay me to do, but I've become a bit wary of that fantasy.  Ultimately, what I'm coming to grips with is the fact that I am going to spend quite a lot of the remaining hours of my life engaged in activities I do mostly because I get money in exchange for doing those activities which I then exchange for things I need to stay alive.  I can work with that reality.  I have quite a lot of faith that many of those hours spent exchanging my time for money are going to be enjoyable and rewarding and relationship-building and all those good things that create a quality life.  Truthfully, part of my middle-class worldview is that work is, unto itself, a good thing, so I don't intend to cast a negative shadow on this reality that most of us share.  However, knowing I have a limited number of hours left in my life, I don't want to waste any of them.  I want to get the most bang for those hours, to be smart about what it is I'm willing to exchange those hours for.

As I've waded into this full-time-worker world, I've been shocked at how isolating it is.  We don't talk about the nitty gritty of what we do day to day and we certainly don't talk about how we're rewarded for it, whether that be financial reward or something other, and I think that lack of talking closes us off from a comprehensive understanding of what's out there, which in turn makes it very difficult to make informed choices about what we can really do.

I am almost always in favor of being more open, more honest, of talking more about the nitty gritty of our lives, no matter how mundane it might seem.  I am also selfishly and desperately wanting to better understand this work world in the hopes that, as is the theme of my life, we might not each have to independently reinvent the wheel.  Each of us has learned a lesson or found a new question or something that another person can benefit from knowing; let's share.

I've been thinking for quite awhile about compiling a series about work lives.  So this is it.  I'm putting the call out.  I will, of course, write my own, short though my history may be.  But truly. These are our lives.  If we're going to spend such a hefty chunk of them working, why not do it up right, or at least explore how we can do it better?  I think connecting with and learning from others is a critical part of that journey.

That said, if you're willing to tell us about your work (And please don't self-censor.  I want to hear from those who aren't sure they're in the right place just as much as I want to hear from those who feel they've struck gold.), please leave a comment or e-mail me at  I'll e-mail you some questions for guidance, then when it's all set and ready to go, I'll share your story here.

Please take the leap.  I think this could be a very good thing.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Best (secret ingredients) Classic Blueberry Pie

Friends, let's talk about pie.

Growing up, we  had pie twice per year, at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Because we lived in interior Alaska and it was difficult for most people to travel home, we had big gatherings for the holidays.  My parents invited those friends and colleagues who couldn't make it to back to their families in the lower 48 into our home, together creating a kind of surrogate family that required multiple card tables unfolded and stacked onto the ends of our humble dining table to create enough space, the whole thing spread over with white tablecloths to create a cohesive unit.  We didn't have a large house or kitchen, but I don't remember either of my parents ever worrying about space.  My father's graduate students and colleagues, my parents friends and our neighbors would pile into our home on dark Alaskan winter holiday afternoons, stomping snow off their boots and piling parkas and other protective gear into mountains in our entryway before filling our home with that bubbling energy of the holidays.

And, of course, nobody came empty handed.

I was always most fascinated by the pies.  The wife of one of my father's colleagues always made the most perfect pies and each year it was taken for granted that she would bring them, always carried in her double decker woven grass pie basket that she probably found at one of the ubiquitous Native Alaskan craft fairs.

Can I say this?  Having somebody bring homemade pie into your home is such a loving gift.  Receiving any gift of food is special, but there's a very warm place in my heart specifically for a pie.  Maybe it's because it recalls those cherished Alaska holidays, our modest house filled with 25 people who became our family during the years we lived there.  Maybe it's the story that pie crust is prohibitively difficult to make, so putting in the effort to do it anyway indicates special intention and care.  Maybe it's that a pie can't really be eaten until there are others to share it with, unlike the more individual cookies or cupcakes.  Maybe I'm just neurotically attached for pie.

Regardless, let's talk about the specifics, okay?

My first several pies were...not great.  I remember once when I was about 8 or 9 buying a regular Halloween pumpkin and roasting it before pureeing it in our neighbor's 20 year old food processor that didn't work very well so I had to use a wooden spoon to push the puree down toward the blades, resulting in a little extra woody fiber being added to the mix.  The pumpkin pie recipe I used was from an ancient Joy of Cooking and called for cooking the filling on the stove top then transferring it to a pre-baked crust instead of the more common baked custard method.  Of course, the pie crust shrunk halfway down the pie plate while it was baking and the fibrous, lumpy filling didn't smooth out and looked quite a bit more like cinnamon tinged cat vomit than a proper pumpkin pie, but I walked the pie over to our neighbors' house anyway, as my friend's mother had requested I bake some pies for a dinner party they were hosting.  Unfortunately, since it was the dead of winter, I was wearing over sized mittens and the pie plate slipped off of my mittened hand while I was ringing the doorbell, the pumpkin pie flying out of the plate and landing face down in the snow.  It is a testament to the sturdiness of that pie that I was able to bend down and pick the entire pie up in one piece, placing it back into its plate, apparently unscathed, and dutifully delivered for their waiting guests.

Thankfully, I've figured a few things out since then.

Number one:  Food Processors Make Happy Pie Crusts

If you like to cook and you don't have a proper food processor, please get one.  I know they're not the cheapest kitchen appliances (I have this one) but it will quickly become the workhorse of your kitchen.  Pesto, nut butter, falafel, hummus, bread will use it more than you expect.  But the real doozy is its ability to practically make pie crust for you.  The key to a great pie crust is to use cold fats and to work them very quickly into the dry ingredients.  You can certainly do this by hand, but you risk the fat becoming too soft and integrating overmuch into the flour.  A food processor gets the whole process over in less than 30 seconds with very little guesswork on your part.

Number two: Use vodka for half of the water for a more tender, easy to work with crust

This is a Cooks Illustrated trick that I've been happily using for the past few years.  One of the more difficult components of pie crust making is adding enough water to make the dough workable without adding so much that the gluten starts to develop (overdeveloped gluten=tough pie crust).  I used to be so cautious about adding water that I'd end up with a hard to work, crumbly crust that was a royal pain in the ass to roll out.  However, gluten will not form in alcohol.  Using a high alcohol liquor like vodka creates a pliable, easy to work crust without sacrificing tenderness.  The alcohol is not at all discernible in the final crust.  Even if you don't use the recipe below, start using half and half water and vodka in your favorite pie crust recipe--it's a game changer.

Number three: Use both butter and shortening

Lots of pie bakers have strong opinions on using all butter or all shortening in their crusts.  Those who prefer shortening say it makes a flakier crust (which is true, but really one for the first day).  Those who prefer butter say it gives a better flavor (which is also true, but butter also has a higher water content which means it encourages gluten development and a tougher crust).  Why not just use both?  You get the best of both worlds.

Number four: Chill your crust

Many of the pies in my life have had their crusts fall off in the oven.  Chilling the dough gives you a bit more structure to work with, and (in my experience) helps the crust hold its shape while it's baking.  Chilling the dough also lets you get away with working the crust less and using less flour while you're rolling it out, resulting in less risk of a tough crust.

Number five: Add grated apple to blueberry pies 

My dad's very favorite pie in the whole world is blueberry and he has asked for a blueberry pie "birthday cake" most years I can remember, but my blueberry pies always turned out soupy.  Adding a grated apple that has had all of its liquid squeezed out and discarded provides the perfect amount of natural pectin to thicken up a blueberry pie.  Again, this is a Cook's Illustrated trick, and it works beautifully.  You can't detect the apple in the final product unless you're really looking for it.

Number six: Cook down your fruit before baking the pie

Fruit tends to cook down quite a bit, which often ends up in a pie with a gap between the fruit and the top crust.  Cooking some of the liquid out of the fruit ahead of time helps prevent this problem.

And finally...

The Best Classic Blueberry Pie

adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.


Into the food processor, place:
  • 1 1/2 c. unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2 T. sugar (optional)
  • 1 t. salt
Pulse a few times to distribute the sugar and salt into the flour.

  • 12 T. butter, cut into about 12 pieces
  • 8 T. shortening, cut into about 8 pieces (I like Spectrum)
Process this for about 15 seconds, until the mixture starts to form clumps and very little loose flour remains.

  • 1 c. unbleached all purpose flour
Give it about 5 2 second pulses.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.  Sprinkle over:
  • 3 T. ice water
  • 3 T. cold vodka (tip: If you're not a vodka drinker, keep a few mini bottles of vodka in your freezer for this purpose.  In my experience, even the cheapest vodka works just fine.)
Mix the liquid into the dough very quickly, making sure you're working the dough as little as possible.  If the dough takes on the texture of play-dough, you're good.  If it's still a bit dry, a bit more liquid until it reaches that play-dough consistency.

Chill the dough while you get the filling ready.

Place into a large sauce pan:
  • 15 oz. frozen wild blueberries
Turn the heat to medium high and cook the berries for 10-12 minutes, until they have reduced by half and most of the liquid is evaporated.

While the berries are cooking, grate:
  • 1 medium apple, peeled (I prefer Granny Smith or Braeburn)
Transfer the grated apple to a fine sieve and place it over a bowl, pressing the apple with your hand or a spoon to force the apple to release its juice.  When the apple is mostly dry, transfer it to a large mixing bowl.

To this bowl, add
  • 15 oz. frozen wild blueberries (yes, another bag)
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 2 T. tapioca flour or cornstarch
  • juice of one lemon
Mix this together to evenly distribute the ingredients.  Set aside.

Remove your pie crust from the refrigerator and squeeze off about 2/3 of the dough for the bottom crust.  Return the remaining third to the fridge.

Generously flour your (very clean) counter or a Silpat with about 1/4 c. of flour.  Coat the dough with a thin coat of flour and shape it into a disc, then begin to roll it out, always starting from the middle and moving outwards.  Continually rotate the dough to encourage it into a round (ish) shape.  You'll want to roll the dough until it is about 3 inches larger than your pie plate on all sides.  Periodically check that the dough is not sticking--if it is, lift it up and sprinkle more flour underneath.

To transfer the crust, fold the dough into quarters and quickly pick it up to place it in your nearby pie plate, unfolding the dough and arranging it evenly once it's placed.  Trim any overhang beyond 1 inch and return the crust to the refrigerator.

Your stovetop blueberries are likely ready, so remove them from the heat and add them to your frozen blueberry/apple mixture.

Remove the remaining 1/3 of pie dough from the refrigerator and roll it out to just slightly larger than your pie plate.  Remove the bottom crust from the refrigerator, quickly transfer your berry filling into the crust, gently mounting the berries in the center.  Fold your rolled out top crust into quarters, place it on top of the berries and unfold the crust before adjusting as necessary.  Trim any excess crust to about 1".

Fold the overhang of the crust underneath itself and crimp or pinch the crust as desired (I usually go with this method), making sure the crust is sealed well.  Cut 8 generous vent holes in the top crust, then sprinkle with a mixture of:
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 2 t. cinnamon
Bake the pie for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 25-30 minutes.  Your pie is ready when you can see the juices bubbling and the crust is golden.

Remove from the oven and allow the pie to cool uncovered for several hours or overnight.  Do not cover the pie or the crust will lose its flakiness.

Eat up, preferably with a dollop of cinnamon ice cream.


Sunday, October 27, 2013


(Nesting in my reading chair on our Sunday afternoon at home.)

We had a getaway this weekend to San Francisco.

Though we live only four hours away, neither of us has spent much time just being in that city.  So we took some time off of work to drive over the hill and spent two and a half days there, mostly walking (and driving.  oh, the DRIVING.) and a bit of eating and coffee drinking and a healthy dose of "travelling is stressful so let's take it out on each other!"-ing.

Can I just say this?  I am so, so happy to be back in our home.  Not just our physical house (though I appreciate it all the more after the reminder of what the rental market is like in SF), but back in Reno as well.

For many years, I hated this city.  My family moved here from Fairbanks, Alaska, where I was born and had lived until just before I turned 15, to Reno the summer between my Freshman and Sophomore years of high school.  All I dreamed of for the first several years was escaping, and I tried.  I studied in Eugene, Oregon and then Madrid, Spain and partially filled out applications to other schools in the interim, always stopped by the fear of the crushing debt that would accompany such a transfer.  I complained about the layout of the city, of the arid landscape and...I complained about it all.  I wanted out.

But somewhere during those years, I started noticing how the mountains look like they've been draped with velvet when the high desert sun hits just right.  I started realizing what a blessing it is to be able to drive 40 minutes from my front door and find myself in some of the most beautiful wilderness areas in the world.  I went out for hikes and bike rides under endless blue skies all months of the year, only rarely encountering inclement weather.  People who refused to simply up and relocate to already established friendlier communities instead dug their roots even deeper into this one, having bike lanes installed all over the city, developing art collectives, building community food co-ops to rival the best of them, dedicating themselves to making and selling a perfect espresso, building urban farms and community bicycle cooperatives, opening restaurants and breweries rooted in local agriculture, injecting design into forgotten spaces, starting businesses and groups and all manner of join-togethers to make this community one people want to stay in, to thrive in.

It all worked.

And it still costs less than $800 to rent a house in a central neighborhood here.

And nobody cares if I don't put on mascara or wash my hair or put on a real-person outfit before going to the coffee shop for the Sunday morning crossword.

Also, the people.  They are kind.  Running into friends while engaging in the otherwise mundane is one of the greatest gifts of this community.

I dislike the tendency to try to prove one's city to be the best city; it's all so subjective, hopefully tainted heavily with one's sense of belonging to that city, which is a quality built over time rather than something inherent to any place.  So much of what I love about my home is that it is my home--the ease and pleasure of living in this city are important but secondary.

A few years ago, still intellectually convinced Reno wasn't the place for me, H and I were returning from a road trip and I remember driving back over the mountains to our eastern side and feeling my body and mind suddenly at peace.  I realized somewhere, amid all of that busy thinking I wanted to be elsewhere, thinking other cities would be better than ours or somehow more conducive to the kind of life I thought I wanted to live, my body and mind decided to root down right here.  It's a feeling I'm reminded of every time we drive or fly over our mountains, and every time I again feel grateful for a life tied to a home.

I hope you feel exactly the same about your place in this world.


Sunday, September 22, 2013



I've gone back and forth and back again about whether to write about the emotional place I've been in lately.  Usually, it's easier for me to talk about stuff than not talk about stuff (hence going to bed each night categorizing the many instances in which I put my foot in my mouth that day), but somehow,I haven't wanted to talk lately.  I haven't wanted to talk to my mom, or to H, or to my best friend.  I knew there was something big that needed to be said but didn't know exactly how to say it, and I didn't want to mess it up, feeling like the first shot at expressing myself would be the most important one.  I also knew there were no ready solutions, and I didn't want to put others in a place of feeling they had to offer some (truth, I didn't want the offer of band-aids).  So I kept quiet.  I became smaller.

Truth be told, I still don't quite know what I need to say, but somehow I've now started saying it in bits here and pieces there, and slowly I feel like I'm feeling my way through.

When we find ourselves lost, unsure about the future, unhappy in our present place, I think it's so easy for us to feel like we're stagnant, stuck, waiting.  I've certainly felt that way for the past couple of months, despite big things happening (starting a new job, H starting a new path in his education, thinking about buying a house).  There was a piece that just hasn't been clicking, and though I've had moments of joy and peace while distracted, those times when distraction wasn't present brought with them a flood of deep, deep emptiness.  Of being without anchor or guide.  The weekends, strangely, have been the hardest, because it is when I have permission to do something more that I realize I don't right now know what "more" is.  It's a scary feeling.

But in those moments, I looked for ways out.  I read blog posts.  I listened to podcasts and made myself go out on sunny walks and said yes even when I wanted to say no.  And I think, in those actions, though they did not in directly lift the despondency of the moment, a synergy was happening that suddenly, today, gave me back a piece of the self I like.  It all happened behind the scenes, it would seem.

The lesson seems to be to just keep doing, to keep reaching, to keep saying yes even when you want to say no.

I don't write this in any way to worry anyone; I think what I've felt the last couple of months is utterly normal, and I fully expect these times to come in regular waves throughout my life.  I write this because I think it is too easy to go into shame mode, hiding out until the waves pass.  We live in a world where only the edited, flattering photos are put up, the mistakes discarded with a simple click, where we show the fabulous vacations but not the 60 hour drudgery work weeks put in to get there.  We talk about the glitter and hide the crumbs.

But guys, we need to be together in the muck, too.  The connection, the healing happens there.

It wasn't until I started talking that I started to feel better.  I didn't start out with a defined story or a linear message with tidy borders.  I started by blurting, "I'm not happy," by saying, "I think I need something different."  Truth be told, though I've started working my way through, I still feel very much in the muck, and while I know much of my way out will be my own willingness to trudge through, it's also the knowledge that a handful of special people have tied ropes to me with the promise to pull me out if it gets too thick.  It is exactly because those ropes are there that I know I won't need them.

Let's give each other permission to talk more, to be honestly and humanly imperfect more, okay?

In the meanwhile, I'm doing.  I want a little more clarity, a little more direction, before I write about specifics.  Things are objectively really really good; it's my place in those things that might need a little tweaking.  At the risk of being annoying vague, I'll leave it at that.  I'll also leave it with a reminder that it is these times, when we're in the thick of the muck, that leave us humbled by gratitude later.  It's the muck, not the glitter, that's the gift.


DIY Backyard Wedding Do's: Round Two

*photos, again, by Lake Tahoe Wedding Photojournalism.

About a week after our wedding fiesta in July, I was out with some friends and after about a half hour of silently enduring their conversation revolving around people and experiences totally foreign to me, I started ribbing them a bit, hinting that I'd like to actually, you know, talk to them while we were hanging out.  In response, one of them asked, "Well, what do you want to talk about?"  Half-joking (but only half), I replied, "My wedding."

His response? "STILL?!"

As I've written, at that time our wedding still weighed heavily on my heart and mindt.  So yes, I still wanted to talk about it.

Two months out, though I've diversified my conversation topics a bit, I still love talking weddings and parties.  I thought maybe my interest was just situational, brought by the fact that I was in the thick of planning my own wedding (don't we all become situational short-term fanatics from time to time?).  As I reflect on this more, though, I realizing event design and planning is what makes me tick.  I love the logistics, the aesthetic play, the collaboration, the balance between creativity and precision.  I love the meaning inherent to celebration.  Of course, I love love love the giddy joy and energy.  It's all SO FUN.  So, I've been thinking about this a lot.  About how to give myself permission to get caught up in this path, to turn it into work I can do regularly.  It's probably another post (and a lot more thinking on my part), but for the moment, there it is.

I've been keeping a running list of more reflections on our wedding over the last couple of months with the intent of sharing them; I got some feedback that the last list was helpful and I hope this one is, too.  As ever, ask questions should you have them.

(Side note: went to the wedding of some dear friends last weekend and let me tell you, it was perfect.  There was so much joy I feel like I got enough fill to last a good long while.  Congratulations, Mike and Drew!)

*I'll preface this by saying I sense I was a little more blunt than usual in this post.  My brain is worn out and it feels more important to get these words out than to wait until I'm more rested.  Forgive me and know the bluntness is from tiredness, not judgy-ness.  xo


I'm an eater.  Prior to the wedding week, I think I'd missed a total of four meals in my entire life.  Then wedding week hit and my regular eating schedule went to hell in a hand basket.  With everything that happened that week, I didn't put any effort into grocery shopping or cooking, and if I remember correctly, we had some old carrots, almond milk, a half stick of butter and some plain yogurt in the house.  The general hub bub killed my appetite, and it wasn't until I sprung for takeout the Wednesday before the boda that I realized how much my body needed calories.  I thought I had just been exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed.  Turns out I was mostly  just hungry.

Stock your kitchen well with things you always enjoy eating that don't require a lot of prep, then eat the damn food.  Make sure you have plenty of snacks around the day of and keep a stockpile in whatever room you'll use to get ready, as that might be the only opportunity you have to sit down with unoccupied hands.  Ask a couple of friends ahead of time if they'll be kind enough to remind you to eat a few times that day, ideally while handing you a spoonful of peanut butter or some sliced apples and cheese.

I know it can be tempting to just not eat, especially if your hunger signals take the week off, but ugly things happen to our brains and bodies when we don't have regular calorie intake; you'll function a whole lot better and enjoy yourself a whole lot more if you feed yourself at regular intervals.

Accept that we're not all planners

I am the planner in our relationship.  When we go on a hike, I'm the one who makes sure we have food and water and some sense of how long the hike will take (two hours?  three days?).  As a teen, H randomly met some people hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and hopped into their hike right at that moment, jeans, Chuck Taylors, no food, no water, no worries.  Just thinking about going shopping without a snack in my purse makes me hyperventilate a bit.

I think we both view our differences as a mostly good thing; we each pull the other a little closer to balance (H is less likely to starve in the woods, I'm slightly less neurotic).  However, filed under "cultural wedding mysteries," there seems to be big push on women in the throes of wedding planning to "include" (i.e. pressure) their partners in the process (note: I'm being heteronormative here, since that's my experience.  Forgive.).  The internet is rife with stories of couples who spent their Friday nights co-designing and letter pressing their save-the-dates, Sunday afternoons making jam together to give as favors, discussing each registry item at length and yadda yadda yadda BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT PERFECT COUPLES DO.  I don't buy it.  I think usually one partner gets into it and the other would rather remain only peripherally involved (or, in my case, tapping out after choosing the keg).  Your partner's interest in wedding planning has very little bearing on the value and security of your relationship.  In fact, unless there are other big red flags going up related to the health of your relationship, it doesn't really mean anything except that you've probably fallen prey to a senseless cultural story that DIT (doing it together) is an essential component to a meaningful wedding.  It isn't.

A happy wedding planning process starts with knowing yourselves and working from that knowledge.  H and I never fought about wedding planning because we both knew from the outset that this kind of stuff isn't H's jam.  Instead of pressuring H to be my planning partner, my mom and I bonded over the planning and H and I connected and decompressed together in other ways that fed, rather than stressed, our relationship.  Sure, I made a point to keep him clued into big decisions and made sure he knew his input was welcome if he wanted to share it, but I also made a point of giving him the space to not care about much except marrying me.  Maybe (probably) your relationship is different from ours, so how you approach this might manifest differently.  Just remember--you and your partner will probably continue to be the people you have been up to this point in your relationship.  Being those people is what got you to the point of thinking it might be a nice thing to get married to each other, so don't try to force radical change just because the wedding industry said that's what couples do.

Hire a  coordinator

Okay, I didn't do this one.


There is absolutely no way we could have had the reception we had if we had done the ceremony on the same day.  I loved loved loved having a private ceremony on a different day, but I get that most people don't do it that way and don't want to do it that way.  For us, however, in addition to giving us the private ceremony and the big party we wanted, splitting the ceremony and reception let me be my own coordinator.  My entire day (really, the entire week before) could be dedicated to prepping and managing the reception.  I wasn't distracted by an impending big life commitment.  I wasn't off hiding from my guests before a walk down the aisle.  I wasn't practicing vows.  I was working my tail off (happily) to coordinate our reception, knowing the actual big important ceremony part was behind us.

You can obviously have an awesome wedding without hiring a coordinator, but if you're doing the ceremony and reception on the same day and it's really important to you to have lots of details and/or vendors and/or a big guest list, get somebody to help you.  Having somebody 100% available to coordinate, whether that's you or someone you hire (or the best, most reliable friend in the whole world who is not in your wedding party or related to you) will make you, your spouse, your family and your guests happy.  Think of it as the key piece that makes sure all of your other hard work and money invested doesn't go to waste. 

Be excited!

You know what really gets my goose?  PATRIARCHY.  When are we going to get some equality in this place?!

In all seriousness, there is SO MUCH pressure (both covert and overt) on women to find and then marry a life partner.  But then, when we actually find a great partner and decide to get married, we often get slammed (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) for buying into it all and caring about decorations and dresses and cake flavors.  So we go from, "You're not a valid person until you find somebody who will marry you!" to "How can you be a feminist and think any of this is actually important?!"

Here's what I think: if you're excited about your wedding, it is, by definition, exciting.  Sure, not everybody's going to want to hear about what's going on with your planning at every moment, but when somebody seems interested, be excited with them!  Be happy!  Talk about the damn flowers!  The cultural pressure to play it cool about your own fabulous wedding is total bullshit.  It is a great time, so have a great time with it.

Side note: I don't buy into the belief that keeping details about your wedding a surprise makes it more fun for anybody.  The unfortunate fact is most of your guests aren't going to notice the majority of the details you pour your heart and soul into.  Be real: the details are more for you than for your guests, so enjoy them!  Talk about them!  Share the excitement!  I'd argue that most of the fun of the wedding happens during the planning process, not on the actual day, so live it up during those months.  Bonus: your guests will be more clued in to notice the details if they know ahead of time what they're looking for.  It's kind of like telling your spouse "I'm getting my hair cut" so he/she knows to notice it rather than keeping it a secret and then getting hurt feelings when he/she doesn't notice you chopped a 1/4 inch off the bottom.

Buy a loose dress

Oh my goodness.  A friend of a friend is getting married this fall and lost a ton of weight for some reason or other last summer then had her dress fitted to her much-smaller-than-normal frame.  BAD CHOICE.

I get it.  I get that there are thickly woven cultural messages flying around that you have to be skinny on your wedding day, but really, you don't.  Trying to force your normal (for you) sized body into a smaller dress isn't going to make your day better--it's going to make you miserable, not only on the day itself (wearing uncomfortable clothes that restrict breathing isn't my idea of a good time), but also in the weeks leading up to (I don't know about you, but I'm not at my best when I'm hungry).  As a general life rule, it's a good idea to feed yourself, and this becomes even more true when you have so much extra stuff going on.  Give yourself the gift of stable blood sugar and energy levels.

Buying a dress that I knew would fit and be comfortable even if my body size changed a bit was one of the best decisions I made.  I felt awesome in it, I never worried about weight gain leading up to the wedding (which probably sneakily contributed to my body staying pretty stable size-wise) and I was able to be totally present at my wedding (no sucking in, shallow breathing, or swooning from hunger).  Give yourself permission to be comfortable on your day.

Skip the wedding colors

There are definite exceptions to this, but I think more often than not, using only two or three colors in a wedding is a quick way to make the wedding look dated and can also lead to unnecessary stress (Do the flowers match the fabric of the ties and tablecloths?  What about the cake?  Does my makeup clash with the color scheme or complement it?  On and on and on.)  I loved being able to bring in any colors that caught my fancy without feeling restricted by feeling like it all had to match, because seriously, what is with the matching?

Hang with your guests as much as possible

I've said it before, but I could not believe how fast the reception day went.  It truly felt like maybe two hours, and I got nowhere near to feeling satisfied with how much time we got with our guests.  If you're doing the ceremony and reception on the same day, you'll have even less time than we did.  If at all possible, try to get your portraits done before guests arrive, and if you can bring yourself to, hang out with your guests before the ceremony instead of hiding in preparation for a big reveal.  Having so many of your loved ones in one place at the same time is a big deal and may never get a repeat.  Be with your guests; you won't regret it.

Note: we recently attended the wedding of some good friends who had drinks and dinner first thing, then the ceremony, then cake and dancing.  They got to mingle with their guests the whole time.  Genius.  Remember, just because most people do weddings a certain way doesn't mean that's how they must be done.

Food trucks...

Having a food truck catered wedding has been big for a couple of years now, and for the first several months of planning, we thought we'd get one of our yummy local trucks to come up to cater our wedding; it was actually one of the pieces I was initially most excited about.

But then.

We went to eat at the food truck we were thinking of hiring and it took 20 minutes to get our food.  Most food trucks I've eaten at take about this long when you factor standing in line, ordering, then waiting for whatever you ordered to be prepared (this is no diss on the people running the trucks--15-20 minutes seems totally fast/reasonable for a normal quick meal out).  At any event I've been to where there are 20 or more people wanting to order from the same truck, the wait becomes looooonnnnnngggg.  It's all fun and games when you expect that kind of experience and know that you could ditch the wait and go to the restaurant down the street if you want to.  But a wedding is different.  Guests need to be fed on time and relatively quickly (and not stand for an hour in heels waiting for food).  I felt like as a hostess, it was more important to feed our guests good food with relatively little waiting/effort on their part than to impress everybody with my clever idea of food truck catering.  Under normal circumstances, if I arrived to a food truck and saw 110 people waiting in line, I'd ditch it.  Keeping that in mind, it didn't make sense to ask our guests to go through that just because it was our wedding and we decided it would be cool to have food truck catering.

Guys, it was a dream that died a painful, reluctant death.  (This blog post helped expedite the process.)

I suppose some of the issues could be side-stepped by hiring more than one truck, but then you're dealing with trying to figure out how many guests will want to eat at Truck A and how many at Truck B.  You're probably going to have to sign contracts for minimums, meaning you'll spend a lot more than necessary just to make sure the trucks' business expenses are covered and none of your guests end up with limited options just because they're last in line.  Food truck food also tends to need to be made individually, which tacks on significant additional cost (making individual tacos to hand to guests takes a lot more time/staffing than putting out a taco buffet for your guests to make their own, and what about mistaken orders?  Who pays for those?)  Of course, you could just give guests a couple of options rather than access to the whole menu (if you go the food truck route, do this), but then you're really just paying for the symbol of the food truck and the additional employees' time--money that could have just gone into better food.

At the end of the day, while I love the concept of a food truck catered wedding and think it could work beautifully for a 40 person wedding, it was more important to me to a) spend every penny of our catering budget on getting the best food our budget allowed, rather than heaving a good chunk of it into having a food truck serve and b) prioritize our guests being able to party and have fun rather than stand in line at a truck (most guests stay at a wedding for about 4 hours total--you will be sad if they spend a big portion of that waiting in line for their meal).  The food truck idea just seemed like it opened too many opportunities for one of the most important elements of the night to go wrong.

The truck we were going to hire also has a regular catering business, so we just had them do it as a normal catering gig, buffet style.  It worked beautiful and the food was fabulous (seriously, nailed it).  Nobody complained that it wasn't served from a truck window.

At some point during planning, I read a letter from somebody asking for input on her idea to have her wedding ceremony on a lake with all the guests in row boats.  One of the responses was spot on: "If it's about the experience you will make everyone wear life jackets.  If it's about the pretty pictures you won't."  I think the food truck thing (among lots of other creative/different wedding ideas) fits within that response.  Is it about a dreamy idea about a magical wedding that very well may not to as you envision it or is it about making your guests well-fed and comfortable?

p.s. Can you tell I over thought this one?

DIY Invites

I LOVE PAPER.  I'm a little obsessed with letterpress and fonts and all that jazz.  Initially, I was so excited to choose pretty save-the-dates and invites to send out to our guests, but wedding paper gets very expensive very quickly and then mostly ends up in the trash.  I ended up spending $120 total on our wedding paper (about $1 per) by having a graphic designer friend do a very simple layout for the save-the-dates (which I then doctored by sewing crepe paper onto each with gold thread) and buying the design for our invites from Printable Press.  I had all the paper printed inexpensively online and skipped RSVP cards and other extra, instead creating a wedding website using a free template.

I can't say I absolutely loved our wedding paper (the printing was where I saved the most money, but it also made them look undeniably cheap-ish), but it was a budget sacrifice that was totally worth it.  There will be lots of opportunities to do beautiful paper on a smaller scale in the future, and I'm grateful we had the $1,000 we could easily have spent on paper to invest elsewhere (videographer>pretty save-the-dates, no contest).

Side note: I think it's helpful to give guests a general sense of what will be happening when even if you don't plan to have paper programs printed.  We went with a chalkboard--easy to make, does the job, less trash.  Win win win.

Wedding Website

I did a pretty in-depth wedding website and had guests RSVP there rather than dealing with a bunch of returned paper RSVP cards.  I liked this method because I'm an over-communicator (shocker, I know) and having a website allowed me limitless space to give information about location, whether kids were invited, parking, favorite local spots for out of town guests, registry, acknowledge people who contributed to the fiesta, etc.  I know a handful of our guests never looked at it, but I still think this is a great way to get guests involved and excited for the shin-dig, and it reduces the amount of paper you need to buy and organize when you're brain is already overfull of wedding plans.

Invite kids

If you're planning for out of town guests, you have to either invite kids or find and pay for a sitter.  In my opinion, it's totally not cool to ask out of towners to find and pay for their own childcare when they've traveled to attend *your* wedding.  We did gently encourage people who live in town and have readily available childcare (either family or a frequent baby-sitter) to not bring their kids, mostly due to cost and space (10 extra kids would have required an entire extra table we didn't have room for and about $300 worth of food and rentals), but I contact out of town guests to make sure they knew we wanted them to bring their kids and to not worry about it.  Also, kids are free entertainment.

Send your photographer inspiration photos

Obviously, it's important to choose a photographer whom you like (you're going to be spending quite a lot of time with this person on your wedding day) who has an aesthetic that jibes with yours.  However (and this is probably a rule with anybody involved in the aesthetic of your wedding), words only take you so far in describing what look you're going for.  I made a small Pinterest board dedicated to wedding photos that I liked and shared it with our photographer.  Monique then was able to look at the photos and see elements they had in common, which helped inform what she focused on when shooting our wedding (i.e. more sun washed lighting).

I spoke in the last list about the importance of hiring talented people and letting them do their thing.  I think giving your vendors ideas of what you like and also letting them work their own talents and creativity can co-exist--the key is to communicate well ahead of time about what you're generally looking for, get on the same page, then let them do their work without much in-the-moment input from you.  There's a fine line between giving input and micromanaging.  That line happens well before your wedding, so communicate your style then hand the photography off to your photographer and be grateful to have one less thing to think about.

Talk to your partner about the photography

Monique had the brilliant idea of showing H a couple of wedding website blog posts with examples of typical wedding photographs.  If you're the type of planner to get totally engrossed in the world of planning, you're probably developing ideas about how you want your wedding photos to look.  If your partner isn't spending every free minute on Pinterest and wedding websites, he or she probably has no flipping idea what you're thinking and may be less than enthusiastic when the photos end up taking (what feels like) forever with the two of you sitting on a vintage couch in the middle of a field of wildflowers in full hair and makeup with forced emo facial expressions for a half hour.

So much of maintaining a happy relationship through wedding planning and the day itself is regular communication, with a good portion of that dedicated to discussing expectations.  The photography was one of the more important elements to me, so I made sure to communicate that to H, in addition to discussing what he was comfortable with on the photography front (his only condition was no full frontal nudity, which I guess I can live with).

Incidentally, Monique also suggested having a drink pre-photo sesh.  Smart lady.

Do the wedding portraits

Get photos of all your important people all together, in various combinations.  As life changes, people move away, people pass away, realities become more'll be grateful for a visual reminder of that one day when you were all together, celebrating love and life.  Sure, it may get a little tedious.  Give everybody a drink and soldier through.  You'll be grateful you did.

Think about what you'll wear to get ready

You'll likely want some photos of you and your spouse getting ready.  You don't necessarily need a fancy outfit to put on post-shower and pre-wedding dress, but you'll probably at least want something that's clean and vaguely presentable, since whatever you wear will be documented in you wedding photos.

Do not cut alcohol out of your diet to lose weight (unless you want a teetotaler wedding)

You do not want to get drunk at your wedding, at least not until 90% of your guests have left and it's just you, your spouse and your old high school friends sitting around polishing off the leftover bottles of wine.

If you're somebody who wants to be skinnier than you usually are for your wedding (I won't belabor my take on that any futher), it might seem reasonable to cut out alcohol for a few months before.  Don't do it.  If you do lose some weight, your alcohol tolerance will be lower than usual.  If your body isn't accustomed to alcohol due to months of abstinence, your alcohol tolerance will be lower than usual.  If you haven't eaten much on your wedding day, your alcohol tolerance will be lower than usual.  This all means you stand a good chance of getting shite-faced on the one drink you're going to slurp down at the earliest opportunity on your wedding day.

If you plan to having a drink or two at your wedding, you want to be able to handle that without getting sloppy.  I get that this might sound anti-Puritan, but practice drinking however much alcohol you plan to consume on your wedding day, make sure that amount isn't going to get you beyond slightly tipsy, then try not to surpass that when the big day arrives.

Dial in who will give toasts 

The only regret I have from our reception is not dialing in toasts ahead of time.  I was probably overly concerned about the toasts droning on and on, so we set up ahead of time that my dad would speak, one of H's good friends would speak, then I'd go and we'd be done.  My brother ended up giving a toast last minute, which was beautiful but made me realize I should have let him know ahead of time that we'd have toasts so he could have prepared.  H told me afterward that he felt moved in the moment to say something and I inadvertently cut this off by trying to avoid the dead air that inevitably comes when toasts are opened up to open mic.  It still stings a bit that he didn't get to speak--he told me what he would have said and it was deeply beautiful.  Part of me accepts this as the one necessary glitch in an otherwise smooth wedding, but part of me wishes I hadn't been so concerned with trying to control the thing and instead had allowed the toasts to take on their own life.  I think the lesson here is to plan ahead, then let go.

So, that's it.  I can't say I won't be talking about parties or weddings anymore, because hopefully there will be good reason on the future to break that promise.  But for the time being, I think that's it with ours.  I love it more sweetly as the days pass.  Thanks for reading, friends.




Monday, September 2, 2013

On Saying Yes to More

I started a post this morning delving into into my thoughts about starting my new job.  It didn't go anywhere, so I walked away from it.  

I want a tidy answer about why inserting myself into a 40 hour per week job (in addition to 5 hours on my "fun" job) has been unsettling.  I enjoy the job; when there, I feel engaged with and stimulated by the work, and when I leave, I usually feel happy and gratified.  It's a good job.  I know it's a good job.  I know I'm lucky it was relatively quick and easy for me to find this job and I'm grateful for it.

And yet.

I've held back from unequivocally enthusing about the job without qualifying it with uncertainty.  I've usually attributed this lack of sureness to the two week late-July whirlwind of just barely thinking about looking for a job to my first official day at this one.  There was no process of desperate job-searching, no endless applications or interviews (I tallied two in each category), no months of agonizing fear that I would be unemployed forever, no meeting with the end of several months in a row with only $8 to my name.  I connected this lingering doubt about work to having had an accelerated job-hunting process, believing it isn't about the job or me or anything other than circumstance.  I told myself that as I settled into this work, the ambivalence would pass.

It will.  I know it will, because I know myself well enough to be aware that I always have some ambivalence about big commitments; it's just my way.  I don't worry about it because I have good follow-through and integrity and all that stuff that means I can do the work as the ambivalence dissipates.

However, the intensity of the emotion bubbling up when I'm not at work  tells me there may be a little bit beyond the usual adjustment at play here.  I know the work is good because when I'm there, I feel engaged, motivated, connected--all those things that tell me this is a good fit.  But when I'm not at work--when I'm home in the evening or on weekends--I haven't been particularly happy.  In fact, it's erred more on the side of depression than anything else.  I don't think it's about adjusting to a new job--I think it's about adjusting to a new life without knowing exactly what that life will shape up to be.  I think at least part of it is fear that this is all there is.

I know I've written quite a bit about the adjustment after the wedding, so forgive me for tapping into that again here, but the fact is I was happier over the past year than I remember ever being.  A dramatic statement, yes, but to the best of my awareness it is absolutely true.  I don't believe that happiness was due solely to planning the bash.  Being able to fully be in one of my passions definitely played into it, but I think the overall well-being was broader--I think it is attributable to how many areas of my life were so rich all at once.  Sure, this was overwhelming and frustrating at times, but I can see in retrospect that it was beautifully gratifying, too.

I think, for many of us, it is easy to get caught on the hedonistic treadmill, or that push to constantly chase brief, intense positive emotion.  A burst of endorphins from exercise, having a drink with a friend, going to concerts, taking weekend trips--these all fall under this category.  However, other important pieces of our life must be filled as well to build overall well-being.  Feeling engaged, achievement, building and nurturing relationships, creating, finding meaning--these are all just as important as that addictive, flitting happiness.

Looking back over the last year, it wasn't just the fiesta planning that made me happy, though that process helped me hit all of the above mentioned markers of well-being.  It was also being in school, writing, being challenged intellectually, engaging with several communities in different ways, meeting new people, building relationships, and always, always having a project on which to focus energy.  As much as I put in last year (60+ hour weeks with classes, internship, paying job, thesis writing, wedding planning), I realize now that having so many rewarding things in my life all at once created an overall sense of well-being and gratification--the pay-off was larger than I realized at the time.

I realize that although I have spent much time dreaming of the neat 40 hour work weeks with unscheduled weekends in between, I was happier when life was crazier.

We spend so much time explaining how we don't have time to add more, but I wonder whether that wall helps us (protecting our down-time) or hurts us (prevents us from extending ourselves to build a more fulfilling life)?  If you could guarantee more engagement, achievement, meaning and better relationships by tacking on a few extra hours each day and on the weekends to projects unrelated to your 9-5 job, would you do it?  Do you do it?

I met with a friend yesterday who is building a business beyond her 40 hour-per-week job.  She enjoys her job but is deeply passionate about this burgeoning business, so much so that she devotes 20-30 hours per week to it on top of the 40 she spends at her primary job.  And while I might have previously chalked this up to having poor boundaries or being a workaholic, in being with her and discussing this new business, it became clear that she is deeply, deeply happy.  She has energy.  She is inspired and engaged, excited about what she's doing.  I imagine the energy she gets from it seep into other areas of her life, creating more overall well-being no matter what she's doing in the moment.  Spending time with her helped me realize that working a lot doesn't have to be draining if we are deliberate in what we say yes to.

So that's it.  As much time as I've spent dreaming about the day when I would work 40 hours per week and have weekends free of external demands, I'm realizing more exploration, more commitments, more risking might be where it's at.  Something big and juicy is on the horizon.  I can't wait.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Almond Butter Fudge (sugar free, candida friendly)

This is one I'm really excited about.

Baking without sugar has been interesting.  While I'm comfortable baking with reduced sugar and natural sugar "substitutes" such as maple syrup and honey (really just different forms of concentrated sugar), baking completely without sugar is an entirely different ball-game.  Sugar, perhaps more than any other ingredient, is responsible for the final texture of most baked goods--without it, chasing familiar textures is challenging.  Sometimes, using products like stevia and xylitol, we can achieve flavor pretty close to what we're used to, but without that precious chemical structure of sugar in there, the texture is off (baking completely without grains doesn't help).

While normally I might just toss the whole idea of sugar free baking in the trash, accepting we'd be without sweets for awhile, H needs more calories (there's only so much one can eat of eggs, roasted cauliflower, avocados and steak).  Truthfully, I'm not hitting it out of the park with this sugar-free, grain-free baking--mostly we're settling for mediocre, happy to at least have some variety.

But we're both pretty stoked with this almond butter fudge.

This isn't your grandma's fudge, obviously.  It's quite a bit more subtle and relies more heavily on the roasted almonds than the sweetener for its flavor, but it's pretty lovely still.  The texture is smooth and melting--very much like classic fudge--interrupted by crisp toasted slivered almonds that call to mind the crispy bits in a certain candy bar.  The vanilla and salt add depth and boost the other flavors.  In short, these are delicious--so much so that I've often been choosing them over my stash of chocolate for dessert.  I've been making them every week.

I understand the use of xylitol might put some off.  In researching sugar substitutes, this one seemed like the best bet (i.e. least scary) to me.  If you prefer not to use it, might I recommend substituting 1/3 cup of dark maple syrup for the xylitol/water mixture?  You'll want to heat it to just under boiling, which shouldn't take more than a minute or so, before proceeding with the recipe.  I haven't tried this version myself but trust it would be delicious, especially with the addition of the maple flavor.

Almond Butter Fudge

sugar free, candida-friendly

makes one 8x8" pan, or 16-20 pieces

Line an 8x8" cake pan with parchment paper, allowing the excess to hang over the sides.  Have another piece of parchment ready to press the hot fudge flat later in the recipe.

First, prepare your slivered almonds:

2 T. vegetable or coconut oil
4 c. slivered almonds

  • Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat for about a minute.
  • Add the almonds and stir to coat evenly with the oil.  Turn the heat to medium-low.
  • Allow the almonds to brown, stirring every few minutes to ensure they don't burn and to encourage even toasting.  When most of your almonds are toasted (10 minutes or so), remove from heat and transfer the almonds to a plate to stop the toasting.
Next, prepare your xylitol syrup:

2/3 c. granulated xylitol
1/3 c. water

  • Combine the water and xylitol in a small saucepan over high heat.  Stir to combine, then bring the mixture to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and allow the mixture to simmer (turn the heat down even more if it starts to smoke) until the volume is reduced to 1/3 c.--pour the syrup into a measuring cup to check.  If it needs to reduce more, return it to the pot to simmer for a few more minutes.
  • Keeping the xylitol syrup in the pot with the heat at medium, add:
2 c. roasted, unsalted almond butter (if you only have salted almond butter, omit the salt below)
1.5 t. salt (I prefer this kind of salt for its milder flavor and thyroid-supporting iodine)
2 T. vanilla extract (careful--this may splatter when you add it)

  • Stir vigorously to combine.  If your mixture seizes slightly, you're on the right track--just keep stirring until it's homogeneous.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Add the toasted almonds and stir again to combine.  It's fine if they break--just make sure they're mixed in well.
  • Important: the mixture will be SUPER hot--don't let it touch your skin.
Transfer the fudge to the prepared pan, then place your second piece of parchment over the top.  Using an implement with a flat bottom (a glass or measuring cup), press the fudge evenly into the pan, smoothing the top.  Allow it to sit at room temperature for an hour to cool slightly, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill completely.  Cut into pieces (I usually cut 20 pieces but suit yourself) and serve!  These keep indefinitely in the refrigerator or freezer.