Challah Days

Feel free to boo me for my pun – I’m used to it. If you’re still here, hi! I hope you’re staying well! So far my loved ones and I are blessedly virus free, though getting a little stir-crazy as we pass the one month mark of the stay at home order.

I’m in a weird place right now. Before this thing hit, I was really happy. I was substitute teaching a few days a week, working on my vintage shop, and spending more time at home, which was really all I wanted when I quit my full-time job back in August 2019. I know I’m not alone in saying this during these tempestuous times, but the past few years have been really challenging. To recap: December 2017: lost my home (and my husband’s job) in the Thomas Fire. February 2019: almost lost my husband in a terrible accident that killed one of his Search and Rescue teammates and embarked his a major healing journey. March 2019: lost my beloved grandfather. March 2020: lost my essential income because of COVID-19.

There’s a word that keeps coming up there: lost. There’s been a lot of loss. And honestly, it’s OK. This is life. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. In my best moments I’m able to thank God for giving me these trials instead of giving them to someone less equipped to handle them. I’m able to identify the blessings in the chaos and all the ways that loss and uncertainty have made me rely more on Him and strengthened my relationships with the people I love.

What’s happening right now is pretty minor. Marshall’s hours have been cut at work and for the first time since I was 15 I don’t have a “real” job, with a regular paycheck. Other people have been hit far harder, financially and health-wise, by this crisis. We’ve been in the process of buying a house and we had to postpone that due to the financial uncertainty, which has been frustrating. As ever, just when things felt like they were on a steadily forward moving path, we hit a roadblock. In my worst moments, I just want to know why. What am I being prepared for? Where is this windy, rocky road taking me, and do I even want to go there?

In all I’ve lost, I’m feeling lost. I’m a solid outline filled in with scribbles of languishing ambitions, half-formed personalities, and battling neuroses. I’ve got a mess of gifts that I’m not sure what to do with. I really want to turn this blog into a place where my passions can meet – photography, writing, reading, music, homemaking, vintage – but it keeps turning out messy. I can’t find the focus that I need. I don’t know how to make all of me, all of my mess, into something palatable and consumable, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe I can’t because I’m not supposed to be. Maybe I should just start where I am and make something with what I have.

That brings me to what I have been doing: making challah. It’s easy, requires fairly few ingredients, looks beautiful, and tastes amazing. I use this recipe from Kitchn and have started making a loaf a week so that Marshall and I can eat it as toast and sandwiches all week. I find the whole process fairly meditative and it always makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, which gets me through some bad days.

Out of curiosity, I decided to research if there is any spiritual symbolism behind baking challah, and to my delight, there is! Here’s an excerpt from The Shabbos Project:

There are seven basic ingredients in a challah recipe; water, yeast, sugar, eggs, oil, flour, and salt. There is a special eighth ingredient that is unique to each and every one of us, and that is our souls. When we are making the challah we are putting our personal energy into the dough.

As we add each ingredient we can add a new blessing to our dough, which will enhance the spiritual blessings, for whoever is eating our challah will also ingest these blessings.

Water: Water represents Torah. Just as we cannot live without water we also cannot live without Torah. Water brings life and nourishment to all things, so it represents the attribute of chessed (kindness). As we add the water, we can think of something in our lives that we want G-d to bless us with in abundant kindness. It should flow down into our lives, just as water flows.

Yeast: Yeast is what enables our dough to rise. Yeast represents growth and expansion. So as we add the yeast, we can think of each one of our family members and friends and pray that they grow and expand in their emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Yeast also represents rising, rising to our full potentials. We ask that God help all of us rise to who we are meant to be in our fullest potential. Yeast in Hebrew is shmarim which comes from the same root shomer, which means protection.

Eggs: Eggs represent the renewal of the lifecycle and the potential of what is about to “hatch.” Again, while making the dough, we pray for life, children, and anything going on in our lives that we want God to reveal to us.

Oil: Oil represents anointing. Oil was used to anoint the Jewish kings. When adding your oil pour a little at a time “anointing” each one of your loved ones by name and pray for their specific needs.

Sugar: Sugar represents anything sweet in our lives, all the revealed good. We ask G-d for open blessings and open good at this time. Sugar also represents emunah (faith). When we have the proper faith then everything becomes sweet. Even the challenges in our lives we realize are all from G-d and all for the best.

Salt: Salt represents discipline or criticism. It is important to have this, but in smaller measure. When adding the salt we should shake a little off the top. As much as we feel we need to rebuke others, we could always give a little less rebuke than we feel is necessary. Salt also represents purification. We pray that anything that is toxic in our lives, minds, souls, and bodies be removed.

Flour: Flour represents sustenance, not only our livelihood, but also our relationships with others. We pray that G-d should bless us with a livelihood that we should use for the right reasons, and that He helps us sustain a relationship that might need some assistance, and thank Him for the relationships we do have that sustain us.

The last step in making the dough is to take all of these essential ingredients that bring their own important blessings and unify them. We think about the oneness of God and the oneness of the Jewish people, and as we knead the dough this is also a special time to pray for anything you, your family, friends, or the world needs.

This is something I want to keep in mind with my future challah making. It’s a great reminder that whatever I do should be done prayerfully and with intention (Colossians 3:23). It’s also a great opportunity to meditate on the fact that that which is imperfect can still be sustaining. Every time I make a loaf something is “wrong” with it: it’s lopsided, it’s too dense, it’s under-baked. I might get better with each iteration, but it’s never going to be perfect. Nonetheless, it still gets eaten. If I can look at my life and its microcosms in the same way, I think I will be a lot happier.

Not perfect but still good is better than not at all.

Quaran-tertainment: 5 Podcasts for the Lonely

Greetings from isolation!

Here in California we’re entering our first full week of the Shelter in Place order, or the Stay Home Be Well Proclamation, or whatever they’re calling it. Listen: I’m an introvert. I’m in my element right now. I’ve been training for this my whole life. However, I feel a lot of empathy for my sweet extrovert friends whose energy and patience is draining by the hour. I feel compelled to share some advice from my vast experience with solitude, so I’d like to present my first edition of Quaran-tertainment: Podcasts!

I find that podcasts are different from TV, books, and even audiobooks. When you listen to some podcasts it’s more like having a friend in your ear than having someone read something to you, and I find that it’s a great balm for loneliness. And as a bonus, a lot of them are edifying! As my dad likes to say, “Pay attention; you might learn something!”

Here are my top five podcasts for when I’m jonesing for company.

1. Ologies with Alie Ward

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Ologies, hosted by writer and actress Alie Ward, is a great way to brush up on your dinner party conversation (for when we can all get together again). Each episode Alie picks a topic and then finds an expert (or a few!) in that field – an “ologist” – to discuss it with. She’s an adroit interviewer and seems to come up with the questions you’d never think to ask but always wanted to know the answers to. Alie is smart, funny, and conversational, and each episode feels more like a hangout than a lecture.

Recommended episodes: Virology (COVID-19), Bisonology (BUFFALO), Graphology (HANDWRITING/FORGERY)

2. The Bechdel Cast

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I think I’ve plugged The Bechdel Cast on my blog before but I don’t want to miss an opportunity to do it again because I love these women! This pod is hosted by two comedians/writers, Jaime Loftus and Caitlin Durante. Caitlin has a master’s degree in screenwriting (I’ve been fortunate enough to take a couple of screenwriting courses from her!) and applies it to talking about beloved movies through a feminist lens. They use the Bechdel Test as a “jumping off point” to really dive into the representation of women in movies. The episodes are hilarious and insightful and they always have amazing guests.

Recommended episodes: The Princess and the Frog, Erin Brockovich, Love Actually

3. Dolly Parton’s America

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This is a little less “hanging out in my friend’s basement” and a little more NPR but nonetheless, it’s a feel-good listen for a tough time. Journalist Jad Abumrad uses his dad’s unlikely friendship with Saint Dolly herself to embark on a journey through the life and legacy of one of America’s most beloved icons. The result is a series of nine moving, funny, and thoughtful episodes.

Recommended episodes: I recommend listening to them all in order, but if you’re pressed for time (you’re not, we’re in quarantine): Sad Ass Songs, Tennessee Mountain Trance, I Will Always Leave You

4. My Favorite Murder

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This is at once a basic and polarizing rec: I’m aware that a lot of folks can’t stand this pod and that those who would love it are probably already listening. I just want to extol this podcast as a surprisingly feel-good experience. Karen and Georgia are so open about their messy lives, about mental health and medication and therapy, about their triumphs and struggles. Listening to this podcast, for me, has become less about the true crime stories and more about hanging out with the girls: “sitting crooked and talking straight.” If you can stomach the true crime, this podcast is a worthy investment for the sense of love and community you get from it.

Recommended Episodes: Proclensity (Typhoid Mary & Christa Worthington), Investigateighteen Discovery, Big Sweater Energy

5. Who? Weekly

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I listen to and love a lot of podcasts, but Who? Weekly is the only one that truly makes me sad when it ends. No matter how long the episodes are, I always wish they were longer. Bobby Finger and Lindsey Weber are Brooklyn-based writers and friends, and twice a week they dive into B, C, and D-list celebrity news. The funny thing is, I didn’t care about celebrity news before I started listening to them… and I still don’t. What I do care about is listening to Lindsey and Bobby banter, jamming to their ridiculous segment songs, and laughing aloud at calls from their devoted listeners . Within a few episodes you’ll develop an ear for their inside jokes and jargon, which makes this podcast truly feel like a great gossip session with your best friends. In spite of the potential here for cattiness, Lindsey and Bobby are never cruel and never punch down. In fact, they often have pretty thought-provoking discussions about the nature of celebrity– that is, when they’re not busy discussing the “who”s and “them”s of butter brands.

Recommended episodes: these are more relevant the more recent they are, so work backwards.

Send me your best podcast recommendation! Stay sane and stay healthy (stay sexy and don’t get murdered).

Body Neutrality: Surrendering in the War on Myself

My aunt snapped this photo of me holding a lamb this weekend, and I made it my profile picture on Facebook. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. I hate pictures of myself and usually try to release only a very carefully controlled image on social media. This photo is the opposite of controlled: I’m not wearing makeup, I’m not posing, I’m not using any intentional angles. It’s pretty much my worst nightmare because the truth is that I’m really unhappy with my body right now. I’m unhappy with my face and my general appearance. I’m not saying this to garner compliments or pity, it’s just a fact: if I could snap my fingers and look different, I would.

The body positivity movement prevalent on the internet is, I think, a good thing. It’s a well-intentioned movement away from self-hatred and criticism, from holding all people to an unrealistic standard of beauty. Unfortunately, I also think that body positivity can be unrealistic in its own way.

Something that I’m coming to terms with is that I may never LOVE my body or my looks. I may never look in the mirror and be absolutely floored by self-admiration. However, something I feel I can aspire to is body neutrality.

My body is neither good nor bad–it just is. Furthermore, it’s not the most important thing about me, nor is it the thing that people will remember most about me, at least not people whose opinions mean anything to me. When I see a picture of myself and words like “Disgusting!” and “Worthless!” pop up like garish comic book speech bubbles in my head I’m working on being gentler to myself. There are a couple self-examination questions that help me get there.

What do the people who love me see when they look at me?

I went to the beach with my little cousins recently and I was feeling extremely self-conscious about how I looked in my bathing suit. I almost didn’t want to go because of it. Then I asked myself what my cousins would remember about that day. If they remember anything, they’ll remember me taking them out into the water and helping them float, digging for sand crabs with them, and wrapping their towels around them to keep them warm. They won’t remember me looking ugly in my bathing suit, which leads to the big point: most people, excepting those with severe insecurities of their own, don’t look at you and see your flaws. People remember your attitude, your smile, your words, and your general demeanor. They might remember your lipstick or your cute dress. 99% of people aren’t counting your pores or snickering at the way your upper arms look in that top. And if they are, if that’s the biggest thing they take away from your interaction, their opinion shouldn’t matter to you. The best relationships you’ll make are with the people who look at you and see YOU, not a collage of flawed parts.

Would I say these things to someone I love?

This is a classic cognitive-behavioral technique: examine your inner monologue and ask yourself if you would speak that way to a friend. If your best friend was wearing a new dress she liked, would you tell her that she really shouldn’t wear it because her belly looked big? Would you tell her not to go on vacation because she was too fat to be seen? Of course you wouldn’t!!!! We encourage the people we love to go after what makes them happy, whether its a cute vintage dress, an adventure, or a new crush. It hurts us to see people we love held back by insecurity because we know how worthy they are and how much they magnify their own flaws. Why shouldn’t we offer ourselves this same grace?

How can I turn this into something constructive?

As uncomfortable as negative emotions can be, they do sometimes exist to tell us something. When I feel uncomfortable with the extra squish on my belly it’s not for purely aesthetic reasons. It reminds me that I haven’t been as active as I’d like to be or that my eating choices haven’t been fueling my body correctly. It’s OK to notice and identify these things. I can turn my dissatisfaction into an action plan: I’ll go to the gym three times this week so that I feel less out of breath going up the stairs. I’ll be more mindful of my eating and see if it improves my energy levels. I’ll try a new mascara because my eyes are a pretty color and I want them to pop. The important thing is not to let it turn destructive: I’m not allowed to exist until I am thinner. I should not be in public without makeup on. I am a failure because I had toast for breakfast instead of eggs. Learning to accept your thoughts in moderation, to allow some and reject others, is a tricky task to learn, but it can make a world of difference.

What is my body doing for me?

We live in a world that constantly presents women’s bodies as a commodity. From a very young age we’re exposed to media that makes us think we exist to be consumed, admired, and judged. In a world that wants us to ask what our body is doing for others, we often forget to ask what our body is doing for us. My heart is pumping blood through my veins. My lungs are processing oxygen. My body helps me walk through nature to see flowers and animals. My body pushes me through the water so I be refreshed by the ocean. My brain takes in words from books and turns them into pictures. Psalm 139:14 says “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” I am a marvelous machine! I am made in God’s image! Even on my worst days, it’s a miracle that I exist at all when you consider the odds. Like one of my favorite songs, Dissect the Bird by John Craigie, says:

The universe is not against you
It went through a lot just to give you a chance
It must have wanted you pretty bad
No pressure though, no pressure though
The universe went through a lot, but no pressure, bro
You don’t gotta be perfect, you don’t gotta be a saint
Just don’t waste it, this was not a mistake.
You’re doing it wrong
Dissecting the bird
Trying to find the song
It’s a miracle that you’re here at all

In a few final words, I do not exist to be consumed by others. I exist to glorify my creator. I exist to better my little corner of the world to the best of my ability. I can do those things in any body: a fat one, a sick one, a disabled one. When I look at my new profile picture, I can choose to see my flaws, or I can choose to see the look of pure joy on my face and remember that beyond the body I inhabit, that’s who I am. Do I love my body? Nope. Do I love myself? Sure do. So, I’m laying down my arms in the war against myself and aiming for solid neutrality. Peace is a noble pursuit.

*featured photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Podcast of the Week: The Soundtrack Show

As a millennial living in a meme-heavy culture, sometimes it’s easier for me to express my feelings in images than it is in words. For example, when I want to describe how I feel about this week’s podcast, The Soundtrack Show, all that comes into my head is this clip of Jenny Slate from drunk history:

To translate into Jenny Slate: “I had to stop listening to The Soundtrack Show because it made me too crazy!!! It would just be like “The Nazgul theme mashes together all the notes from the One Ring theme!!!” and I was like *SCREAMS*”

David Collins, the host of The Soundtrack Show, is a full-fledged genius, and it overwhelms me a little bit. I find myself gasping aloud while listening to this podcast as he points out details in movie scores that flew right past me but have such a major subconscious effect on the viewers. The first Fellowship of the Ring episode literally made me scream out loud in my car.

Collins is extremely knowledgeable, but he presents all the information in a way that is accessible to musicians and non-musicians alike. He introduces some basic music theory, but not in ways that will bore the educated or overwhelm the layman, and the way he does it really enriches the listener and makes them feel like an insider. And, his discussions aren’t limited to theory: he also talks about sound mixing, dialogue, and instrument choice, all of which serve to create an amazing deconstructed picture of movie magic.

I’m a movie score obsessive, but I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing why I like certain scores or why they work, and this podcast is all about that. Collins focuses on the “language of music,” and the different ways that music tells stories, whether or not we’re aware of it. It’s a strong reminder of all the different crafts that go into making a movie, and how, when great attention is paid to detail, the end product can be a truly amazing work of art.

Listen if you like: IMDB trivia, Song Exploder, Unspooled
Recommended episodes: Fellowship of the Ring: the Music (Part I), Great Melodies Tell Great Stories, Doom and Gloom: Music has a word for “Death”

What’s New?

Happy Monday!

I’m sure maybe two of you have been wondering where I’ve been, and I’m here to tell you! As ever, I am staying busy, pursuing new hobbies, drinking a lot of coffee, and listening to podcasts. Here are the big updates:

Marshall got his neck brace off!

It’s been just over 3 months since his accident, and Marshall is finally moving through the world with no crutches and no neck brace! He’s finally been able to start physical therapy and is making great strides in his recovery. I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness and praise – God has been so good to us.

I opened an Etsy shop!

Because I have so much free time on my hands (lol) I finally fulfilled a long-time desire and opened up a vintage Etsy shop. I’m obsessed with vintage home decor and glassware, and I love trying to find treasures at thrift stores, but I don’t have the space or budget to buy everything I like. Re-selling is the perfect solution! I have a blast hunting for unique finds, researching them online, and setting up beautiful product shots to post online.

You can follow me on Etsy or Instagram to see what’s happening there, if you’re so inclined!

I’m getting fit!

I don’t know if you noticed, but the past year and a half of my life has been… challenging. There’s been a lot of stress and grief, and I’ve been busy, unmotivated, and inclined toward comfort eating, which is a pretty deadly combination that left me feeling lethargic, unhappy with my image, and frustrated with my overall health. Now that things seem to be finally settling, I’m getting back into a gym routine and paying attention to my eating habits, and I’m already feeling better. I want to keep a good thing going, so I’m saying it publicly: I’m getting healthy!!!

So, that’s where I’ve been! All these changes in combination has meant less blogging, but I do feel happy and like my quality of life is improving, so I’m OK with it. Of course, as always, I want to try to write more but I’m not going to worry about it just now.

Stay well, my friends, and I’ll post again soon!

Five Things Friday (#51)

It’s Friday, and all I have to say is: ASKSHDGLAGHADJwrghdDRWE!

Translation: I’m tired and not capable of much more than a keysmash. Here are 5 things I like!

1. This article about the 2019 American Copy Editors Society Conference

These are my people, and attending this conference is now on my bucket list.

You could feel the excitement in the room when a slide appeared with the heading “hyphens!” The A.P. is dropping the hyphen in such terms as “African American,” “Asian American,” and “Filipino American.” Froke credited this change to the eloquence of Henry Fuhrmann, formerly the copy chief of the L.A. Times, who wrote, “Those hyphens serve to divide even as they are meant to connect. Their use in racial and ethnic identifiers can connote an otherness, a sense that people of color are somehow not full citizens or fully American.” Fuhrmann, an American copy editor and a beloved aces veteran, whose father was of German and Danish descent and whose mother was Japanese, received an ovation.

You guys! Grammar and punctuation matter and reflect cultural shifts! I feel like I could give a full-on Miranda Priestly speech about it.

Oh, OK, I see. You think this has nothing to do with you.

2. Sara Bareilles’s new album, Amidst the Chaos

It’s really not an overstatement to say that Sara Bareilles is one of the greatest musicians and songwriters of our generation. This album is pretty much flawless.

3. Public Lands Hate You on Instagram

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@adventurousoutdoorbrand is just another company promoting itself at the expense of nature and your public lands. You would think that any company with the word "outdoor" in it would be interested in promoting good outdoor ethics, right? . . Not these guys! When it was suggested by multiple people that picking and trampling wildflowers wasn't a great thing to broadcast to almost 7,000 followers, what did they do? Apologize and take the photo down? Nope. Edit the caption to say that this kind of behavior isn't acceptable? Nope. They just doubled down, saying that the picture was just fine and that there is no way this picture could ever possibly influence people to pick and tread on wildflowers. I'm sure they've deleted all the comments, but there sure were some gems in there. This company is using pictures of someone destroying natural beauty to further their own cause with absolutely no regard for our public lands and the beauty of nature. Spread the word, @adventurousoutdoorbrand has no regard for the preservation of the outdoors. This kind of behavior by for profit companies is completely and totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated by anyone. . . . #publiclandshateyou #protectourplaces #deathby1000cuts #disrespect #selfish #ignorance #peoplesuck #illegal #publiclands #yourpubliclands #ourpubliclands #protectyourpubliclands #seesomethingsaysomething #wildflowers #wildflower #trampled #ruined #flowers #illegalbehaviour #forprofit #profitfirst #highimpact #leavenotrace #wildernessethics #think #wildflowersociety

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I’m generally not a big supporter of so-called call-out culture or public shaming, but I think it’s really important in the age of Instagram influencers and the endless quest for the perfect photo to remind people that their photos aren’t worth the destruction of public lands. Professional nature photographers will be the first to tell you that the most important thing is to leave no trace. Before you take that amazing poppy field photo that’s going to earn 300 likes, think about the message you’re sending.

4. Papio Press on Etsy

Gorgeous nature-inspired illustrations for when you’re feeling a little wild.

5. This video of a raccoon running on a…. raccoon wheel?

Listen, I’m tired, you’re tired. Sometimes you just need to look at a cute raccoon.

Here’s hoping we all get a lot of sleep this weekend and that Monday finds us refreshed and regenerated. See you next week!

Podcast of the Week: Who the Hell is Hamish?

There is nothing I love more than a good grifter story. Dirty John? Yes. The Dropout? Definitely!!! The story about Dan Mallory that broke earlier this year? *Chef’s kiss*. Imagine my delight when The Australian, producers of one of my all time favorite podcasts, released the story of legendary conman Hamish Watson.

There’s just something really satisfying to me about seeing a liar get their comeuppance. Watching years and years of stories unravel and revealing that the emperor has no clothes is a particularly sweet kind of justice. Maybe it’s because I really don’t like liars, or maybe it’s because I hate seeing trusting people taken advantage of. Regardless of the reason, I loved Who the Hell is Hamish.

Over decades and across the world, Hamish Watson swindled people out of tens of millions of dollars. He did it by getting close to people, manipulating their vulnerabilities and manipulating his own persona to gain their trust. This podcast blows it all wide open through interviews with his victims, research on his past, and analysis of his personality.

As I mentioned, this is the second podcast from The Australian I’ve listened to, and they were both impeccably produced and rigorously researched. The reporter on Who the Hell is Hamish, Greg Bearup, is a wonderful storyteller who disappears into the research, never making it about himself but focusing on the victims and the truth. I highly recommend diving into this compelling story.

Listen if you like: The Teacher’s Pet, Dirty John, Australian accents
Recommended episodes: Start from the beginning!

Five Things Friday (#50)

We made it to Friday, y’all! Give yourselves a pat on the back and then look at these five things:

1. This delightful twitter thread

This thread contains all the reasons I love going to the movies. It’s such a unique experience of sharing something with strangers. Here’s my contribution:

2. Clare Elsaesser on Etsy

3. Mon Esprit by Sweet Crude

This is currently my favorite song to listen to at ear-shattering volume while driving at night. The VOICE on this woman. The JOY of the band. I love that you don’t need to understand the lyrics to totally understand the spirit of the song. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous.

4. This drawing by slyvox on Tumblr

Miles Morales and sunflowers? Yes please! Look how cute he is!!!

5. The California super bloom

I got to go for a hike on Wednesday afternoon and it’s absolutely stunning out there. So many flowers! It was nice to get some fresh air and be reminded of the way that fire and rain can bring so much beauty to the world. Then, as I was driving to dinner after my hike, The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn” popped up on shuffle, so I read Ecclesiastes 3:1 as I ate dinner:

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away, a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end.

God is really good at giving you what you need to hear right when you need to hear it.

Podcast of the Week: By the Book

By the Book with Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer has quickly become one of my favorite podcasts.

It’s a great premise: two friends, one desperate for the self-help book that will change her life and one deeply skeptical of any pop psychology or new age bullshit. Each episode, they tackle a popular self-help book and live its tenets faithfully for two weeks, then report back on whether or not the book changed their lives.

Kristen and Jolenta’s courageous vulnerability takes this podcast from fun idea to excellent reality. They aren’t afraid to be brutally honest with themselves, laugh at their mishaps, and rope their husbands into their schemes (Kristen’s husband Dean is the breakout star of the show and has gained his own fan club). Their banter is hilarious, but it also frequently veers into the heartwarming: the French Women Don’t Get Fat episode turns into a surprise tearjerker.

These episodes are great because Jolenta and Kristen cut through the fluff to glean the actually effective bits of advice in popular self-help books, creating a podcast that’s not only funny but smart and useful, and far more well-rounded and practical than any self-help book on the market.

Also, not for nothing, the theme song of this podcast, though polarizing among listeners, gets stuck in my head every time I think about it.

Listen if you like: Happier with Gretchen Rubin, self-improvement, wholesome female friendship

Recommended Episodes: The Secret,
How to Write an Ebook in Less Than 7-14 Days That Will Make You Money Forever, Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus

Five Things I Learned from my Grandfather

On Tuesday, March 26th, we lost my grandfather.

I’ve been struggling with putting into words how it feels to lose someone who felt so eternal. He refused to act his age. He was so active and full of life, so present and influential, that none of us could picture life without him. My cousins and I used to joke that when the apocalypse came, the only things left would be cockroaches and Grandpa. It was a coping mechanism, of course – we’d rather be ridiculous than face the reality that one day he would leave us, but now he has, and it’s like a punch to the gut, utterly breathtaking.

My grandpa was a Boy Scout as a teenager, and he mentored hundreds of scouts in our community throughout the years. Therefore, he was prepared, even if none of us were. He never would have left us without being sure we had a strong network to hold us up, and a powerful legacy to remember him by. I’m finding so much comfort in the closeness of our family, the vast number of people stepping forward to speak about how he affected them, and in reflecting on the lessons he left with us.

It feels reductive to try to explain the ways he helped form my worldview in a list of just five things, but if I don’t try to keep it simple, it’s too overwhelming to broach.

1. Family first

Since the eighties, when my parents were first married, my grandpa instituted “Wednesday Night Dinner.” My family is now famous for it – every Wednesday that we can swing it, all of us, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, all get together for dinner at someone’s house. It’s usually just a couple hours after work, but it keeps everyone in touch and in tune.

He also keeps us all together through “The Little House,” his property in Independence, California. It’s just a four-hour drive away, with plenty of space for everyone to park, sleep, and eat without having to spend too much money. It’s a place to bring our friends, a place to relax, and a place to be together. My cousin had her wedding up there. Marshall proposed to me there. Having that shared space for vacations and major life events ensured our connection and involvement in each other’s lives.

My grandpa taught me that having a close family is an intentional act, and part of that intention is expanding the definition of family. Every year in Independence he hosted the “In-laws and Outlaws Family Reunion.” He loved his sons- and daughter-in-law like they were his own, mentoring them and fostering closeness in them that rivals that of any blood sibling. He was happy to be called “grandpa” by any one of his grand-kids’ friends. One of the greatest joys of my life is how much of a mentor and father figure he was to my own husband, which I’ll talk a little more about later.

Another platitude you might have heard: the best thing a father can do for his child is love their mother. I would be remiss in talking about family if I didn’t mention my grandpa’s deep and abiding love for my grandmother. Their 63-year marriage was an inspiration to my entire family. It taught me what love should look like: generous, playful, and supportive. Their love was the foundation that the house of our family was built, and it’s a foundation that will never waver.

My grandma and grandpa dancing with me (looking at the camera) and my cousin Amy.

2. Do what you love, love what you do

Photo by David Alden Mahan

My grandpa loved nothing more than tinkering. He started his career as a mechanic, worked in the army for a short period, and then founded a steel and welding shop with his father. He loved his job, and could be found at the shop inside and outside of working hours, always tinkering. He always had a project – a car to fix, a trailer to build, a model train to work on.

Not only did he set an example for joyful productivity, he also admired it in others. One of the things I loved best about him was his appreciation for the talents of others. He loved watching other people be good at things and was fascinated by the work and talent of people who specialized in areas he knew little about. He supported my grandma’s workmanship with quilting, sewing, and knitting. He attended almost every one of my brother’s band performances, most of my sister’s stage productions, and many of my shows in my singing/songwriting days. He encouraged everyone he knew to read my book. He was 100% unreserved in supporting people who do what they love, who work hard on a project just for the joy of it with little thought to the profit, because that’s the way he was, too.

3. Give back with what you are given

Never content to keep his joy to himself, my grandpa spent much of his free time educating others about the things he loved. Through the Boy Scouts, he taught other young men about his love for the outdoors. Volunteering with Topa Topa Flywheelers, he taught school kids about antique machinery and agriculture. With the Goleta Railroad Club he fostered the childlike love of trains and all things related by giving kids rides on his speeder car — an activity that brought him as much delight as it did the children.

However, the thing that I am most grateful for is the guidance and mentorship he provided to my husband. Marshall met my grandpa as a teenager through scouting, and always admired him. He shared a similar love of tinkering and building, and I credit my grandpa with helping to develop Marshall’s engineering brain by encouraging him to explore those talents and teaching him to machine.

My grandpa never kept his light under a bushel. He was thankful for his gifts, for his work and for his beautiful family. Marshall saw that light and drew from it, learning countless lessons about what it meant to be a good man. He never grew impatient with Marshall’s insatiable curiosity and taught him everything he could about the outdoors, about machinery, and about life in general. When Marshall graduates this spring with his engineering degree, I know we will both feel my grandpa’s presence and pride. I’m so happy to know the man I get to spend the rest of my life was so inspired by one of the best men in the world.

Marshall and my grandpa — before Marshall and I were even together.

4. Watch the mountains grow

As is evidenced above, Bob Mahan was a busy man, but he always made time to enjoy God’s creation. At the Little House, he would sit out in the backyard around sunset with a glass of Kessler whiskey in his hand. “I’m just watching the mountains grow,” he told me. I sat with him sometimes, especially one summer when it was just he and I up there. He cooked us pork chops and hominy for dinner and then the two of us sat and watched the mountains grow, mostly in companionable silence. There’s a lesson to be learned there, from a man who accomplished much and valued productivity: there is as much value in rest as there is in work.

5. Life is good

In the end, it all boils down to his motto: “Life is good.” It was always accompanied by a grin, and often a thumbs up.

Life is many things. It’s challenging, unpredictable, occasionally frustrating, often sad. As I’m reminded now, it’s too damn short. But when you have the zest for life that my grandpa did, when you love the world around you and the people in it, and when you give more than you’ve received, life is good.

In loving memory of Robert J. Mahan, September 22, 1935 – March 26, 2019