A further entry in the annals of Joanna Is Not As Cool As You Think: A few months I had to Google FOMO because all the cool kids, etc. I’ll let you in on what I learned: FOMO is Fear Of Missing Out.

I have FOMO right now. Not the fear of missing out on any certain experience or event, but a fear of missing out on producing.

Every day, I go online and see people who write about every book they read (and in a much more digestible format than my long, never quite figured out thoughts), have a specific job for their Instagram account*, those who recap each day or weekend with technicolor photos, offer a new brilliant recipe every other day, have side projects with their friends, or get their thoughts together/organized/online before I remember what day it is. I see people who have a wealth of material they can point to when someone asks, “What have you been up to lately?”

Sometimes I get caught up in the idea that nothing has really happened until I’ve shared it here, on Twitter, or on Instagram. How will you all KNOW that I had a large revelation that will (please, God, please) change and shape my life for the rest of my life if I don’t explain it all here? (I did, and I haven’t figured out how to say it here yet.) How will you KNOW I’m taking advantage of living here by going to cool places if I don’t point it out?

It reminds me of the time I read a blogger’s About Me page and felt bad for 15 seconds because she seemed so cool and so into the same things I am. Then I realized, she’s into the same things I am, she just wrote it down on stone of the Internet!

In this online-centric life, I have to remind myself the doing is the doing. The telling is not the doing. The telling is a nice thing we do when we think someone else might benefit from the telling, or when the telling makes us happy or makes us laugh. We do not do so we can tell. Or at least, I shouldn’t.

To close, a list of potential side projects for me if I ever have the spare time and energy to do them:
// A podcast wherein my friend Keri and I watch movies and talk through them because it entertains us endlessly and annoys NOBODY.
// A retail store of all the things I really really like: books, fine chocolate bars with good-for-you ingredients, wine, llama things. I even have a name for it but I’m not sharing because this is the Internet.
// A series of illustrated children’s books recounting the adventures of my niece Luci and her BFF Leila. Luci and Leila! It practically writes itself! But it does not illustrate itself, so I’m stuck.
// Mystery Project X with my friend Kristin. Don’t ask. We don’t know.

Now I’m dying to know: If you had a side project, what would it be?

*A very savvy friend recently told me he decided one night to start an Instagram account of the wine he drinks specifically so he can A) convince wineries to have him photograph their product lines (he’s a photographer, so this isn’t a pipe dream) and B) because he wants wineries to send him free wine. It’s actually brilliant and a thought I would never have.

americanah

“I didn’t feel black until I came to America.”

Out of all the true, surprising, maddening quotes in Americanah, this is the one–voiced by the Nigerian protagonist Ifemelu–that sticks with me. I’ve spent a month thinking about why. During that month, another black man died in the custody of police in Baltimore. The conversation is getting louder, but in my mind, these nine words ring louder still.

Before reading them, I think I naively assumed identity was self-determined by either intentionally taking it on or intentionally rejecting what other people try to put on you. Yes, I am a bookish disciple of Jesus who is proudly Midwestern, even when that means I’m a little too quaint. No, I’m not a selfish Millennial who doesn’t know how to, like, write without using emojis.

I thought I got to decide all that myself. And the kicker is that, more than most, I do. I’m a 29-year-old white woman raised in a middle class family, college-educated, surrounded by people who believe in me and tell me I get to call the shots in my heart, my life, and my career.

Americanah woke me up to the reality that a 29-year-old black woman raised in a middle class family, college-educated, and surrounded by people who believe in her is told in ways both overt and subtle that she doesn’t get to call the shots, not all the time.

Because identity isn’t always our choice. Identity is often a reaction to what makes You different from Them, and what You and Them think about those differences. Ifemelu wasn’t black until she came to America, where we notice it and mark it and wrap up generalizations and history and misunderstandings and shame in one word. (In an interesting paragraph, Ifemelu says class is Nigeria’s “black.”)

That sentence–and the rest of the book–made me look hard at myself. I’ve always been taught and always believed that color doesn’t matter*, that we’re all precious souls on equal footing with our Creator. But at the same time, I recognized some of the stereotypes she brings up, some malicious, some not (assuming every woman in Africa is some kind of Earth Mother, assuming they need our help and our technology, assuming our literature/fashion/music/you name it is higher quality). I dug into my mind and saw work that still needs to be done on my heart.

It’s hard to say this publicly. I practiced by telling Brad, telling my coworkers, and telling my friends. This is the power of storytelling–to put you in someone else’s skin and realize how you judged that skin before. You come out at the end a little different, if you’re honest with yourself. I’m trying to be honest with myself. It’s been a month since I read Americanah, but it’s still making me examine each thought that comes into my mind. Some are good, some are bad. Each one needs to be held up to the light that will make it shine brighter or burn away what’s not true.

_____________________

*Our church is currently going through a sermon series examining movies and the power they have to show us God and Truth. Each week there is a podcast that digs deeper into the topic. A few weeks ago, the topic was Selma and justice. In it, one of the guests made an excellent statement about how being “color blind” is a mistake because that erases a huge part of someone’s identity. Instead, recognize difference, try to understand difference, and celebrate difference. The whole podcast was challenging and encouraging. You can listen to it here. (Episode 3.)

IMG_1131

Update: I originally gave the date at the head of this post as “August 31, 2015.” It’s been a WEEK, y’all. xo

// “What happens when the muscles of cruelty grow too strong?” (FYI: Some strong language.)

// The author behind The Power of Quiet is starting a site and social media account meant to encourage, help, and mobilize introverts (you know, from the comfort of our homes with no one else around). I’m following it and am excited to see what it turns into.

// The winners of last year’s wine competition as chosen by the esteemed brand that employs me. You know, just in case you’re in Whole Foods and have burning wine questions.

// I just discovered a number of gorgeous artisanal magazines: Life & Thyme and The Gentlewoman among them. I love seeing people with a niche passion go out and do their thing.

// The Mill (home of $4 toast that is Totally Worth It, even to this frugal Midwesterner) uses these glasses for water and I love them and will someday get a whole set of them. (Also the site of the photo above. I could move in.)

// Ask a food expert to develop a handful of recipes that use a single ingredient and what do you get? Really adorable, really focused mini-cookbooks. I will take one of each, THANKS.

// These Broccoli Parmesan Fritters are going on our weekly rotation for awhile. So good.

IMG_1175

Have you ever daydreamed about being surrounded on all sides by your favorite thing, be it book, food, puppies, brand of clothing, whatever? When I was a kid I had a serious candy cane addiction. One Christmas I bought a friend a specialty candy cane the length of my forearm (now, as an adult), then wanted it so bad I ate part of the crook and then STILL GAVE IT TO HER.

Yes, the memory of it still burns me with shame. (Sorry, Heidi.)

I used to go outside, look around, and try to imagine the entire world carved out of peppermint. The lawn would ripple red and white, giving way to wider stripes on our house, or pure white peppermint when it snows. And then I imagined eating it all the time. All day, every day. I literally wanted to lick a doorway into our house.

I worked Sunset’s International Wine Competition for four days this week. (6,000 bottles of wine do not move themselves, my friends. Nor do those bottles open themselves, pour themselves out, or push themselves down an uneven tiled hallway to the waiting rock stars of the wine world.) At one point, I looked around at the unrelenting sea of bottles and realized this is that daydream come to life. And honestly, the abundance was hard to fathom. It became silly.

I’m writing this at my dining room table where I can see two boxes and four tote bags filled with dozens of open, half-drunk bottles from the competition and it still seems silly. But I’m using them as an object lesson of grace. The grace of surprise windfalls and unexpected excess. And to remind the person inside of me who has a hard timing accepting good things that it’s ok to receive. No, it’s completely necessary to receive.

It’s also completely necessary to have friends come help us enjoy the excess. Does anyone want to come over for a silly wine tasting bash?

blackberry biscuit cobbler

Things I am good at:

// Reading books about writing instead of writing.
// Talking through movies and TV shows.
// Memorizing song lyrics.
// Breakfast.

Yes, breakfast. Eating breakfast, making breakfast, thinking about breakfast. I’m not sure I’ve gone one day in life without eating breakfast. I can’t even fathom missing it. When someone tells me they’re “not a breakfast person,” it’s like they’ve said, “I kick puppies for fun.” It’s horrific and I must stage an intervention.

Consider this crumble your intervention. It’s almost like dessert and it’s rare for someone to “not be a dessert person.” And it’s easy. I mixed it up last Saturday morning in one bowl and the pan I baked it in. While it baked, I planned our meals for the week and made a grocery list. Between bites, Brad and I played this game I love where we go through a food magazine page by page, read the recipe titles on each one, and decide which on that page we most want to make. It is FUN. Don’t ask questions. Unless it’s How did you guys get so cool?

blackberry biscuit cobbler
makes four servings for the gluttonous (us) and six for the normals

Adapted from Sara Forte’s adaptation of a Bon Appetit recipe, which happens to be one of the magazines we looked through while eating this. The circle of life!

1 cup plus 3 Tablespoons organic einkorn flour
1/2 cup organic rolled oats
3 Tablespoons plus 1/2 cup organic coconut sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons chilled butter (I used Kerrygold, salted. It is my desert island food), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup plain organic yogurt
4 cups (roughly) frozen blackberries
juice from half a lemon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a bowl, whisk together 1 cup flour, oats, 3 Tablespoons sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add butter, using your fingers (or a pastry cutter if you’re profesh) to mix and smoosh until you have pea-sized butter covered in flour (try not to overwork it). Gently stir in yogurt.

Pour berries in an 8 inch-by-8 inch baking dish and top with the remaining flour and sugar. Squeeze the lemon juice over it and toss to coat. Spoon the biscuit dough evenly over the berries.

Bake until the biscuit topping is brown and sounds hollow when you tap the top and the juices are bubbling, about 40-45 minutes.

 

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

Dear reader,

Did you, like me, grow up in the era of low-rise jeans? Did “hip huggers” not only embrace your midsection but squeeze it into the loathsome muffin top? Did you, as a result, grow up thinking you just had a bad-shaped middle?

If you answered yes, yes, and yes, today I’m setting you free.

WEAR MID-RISE PANTS!

Yes, it deserves the caps because friends: You are not born with a muffin top. It is not an anatomical part. It is not your fault, it is the fault of bad pants. And it’s maybe our fault for succumbing to the trends of our era.

But now you are a grownup and now you must buy mid-rise pants and watch your middle resume it’s smooth(ish) contours. Never worry about bending over again. Never worry about pulling a Britney and showing off your belly button.

I recommend the Dannie pant from J.Crew (I have two pair and they were my personal PSA pants), and these jeans from Madewell that a friend of mine wears and loves and looks awesome in.

Love,
Joanna

P.S. I know that photo is not even remotely demonstrative of what I’m talking about, but I was too embarrassed to ask someone to take a photo of me and my pants.

 

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Time: A weekday, a few weeks in the past.
Scene: at work, drinking hot mint tea and eating cold raw cheese, remembering the day I learned to drink something hot when eating cheese. My Swiss friend Regi was giving me (and a few others) French lessons. One day, she planned an outing for us at the Thoreau Cultural Center in Des Moines. I think it was a meeting of French expats and students. They served so many cheeses, plus fondue, and lots of hot tea. Regi’s native-speaking friends asked us in French to pose for photographs with them–and I understood what they were asking. There’s a weird endorphin release when you understand something out in the wild you previously only knew by the book.

Thinking about it today, isn’t it interesting that when learning a language, the skill that comes first is listening and understanding? I could barely croak out a oui oui, but with careful listening, I knew the gist of the conversations around me.

In English, too often my first impulse is to talk, to share, to get it all out and wait for a reaction. But think of the riches–the endorphin hits!–I’m missing by not sitting back and listening intently, focused on what the talker is saying, really saying in between the words.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

With a title like that you might think that I’m quitting this blog (ha! you can’t get rid of me that easily), or that I’m quitting my job (and miss out on homemade steak fries, grilled steak, orange citrus pound cake two days in a row, apple pie and Pabst Blue Ribbon beers to celebrate a co-worker’s recent citizenship? That’s just this last week. And we’re having a picnic together next week on our lawn. So no.), but it’s not! The big news is that Sinead O’Connor has announced she’s retiring this song.

Part of her explanation (which you can read here), says:

“After twenty-five years of singing [Nothing Compares 2U], nine months or so ago I finally ran out of anything I could use in order to bring some emotion to it. … My job is to be emotionally available. I’d be lying. You’d be getting a lie.”

Her words made me stop and think. For all of us, but especially those of us in creativity-first jobs, if you realize you’re phoning it in, it’s ok to say phoning it in defeats the point and then stop doing that thing. Purpose isn’t found in the tasks we perform by scraping our internal reserves. Idealist Joanna is done speaking and now Realist Joanna will start: If only we could all be in position where we get to make that choice ourselves.

photo: of a recent tour of the design studio responsible for Heath Ceramics, and where it appears as if they never need to phone anything in.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Earlier this week, I read a post by Erin Loechner at Design for Mankind. She compared comparing (especially social media comparing) with grocery shopping while hungry. What’s in someone else’s cart and on the shelves seems so much better than your empty cart. Then she said something that shocked me with its truth:

I am Eve, trading gardens for apples. 

See, I’m avoiding Twitter and Instagram for Lent. Not because I think they’re frivolous or because they drive me to compare (and feel bad and not enough–though occasionally they’re that and more) but because I realized I was giving those little app icons on my phone my best time.

As soon as I woke up, I rolled over and tapped Twitter.

The moment I got home from work (and back on our wi-fi because I am nothing if not data-conscious), I’d flip through Instagram.

And while brushing my teeth and crawling into bed, those last few moments before the light comes off, I’d check it all one last time, like an addict taking one more hit.

I am Eve, trading gardens for apples.

My garden, home to Brad, home to our hopes, home to our laughter, home to our crying, home to our heart-baring conversations–and a whole lot of run-of-the-mill ones, too–ignored so I could take a peek at someone else’s apples.

It seems so silly. Why would I ignore what has been planted around me just for me for a small apple slice of someone else’s life? But I did it again and again.

So I’m off until Easter, enjoying the extra time with my head on Brad’s chest in the morning, greeting him first when I get through the door at the end of the day, and teasing one another before we fall asleep. I want to be a gardener of my garden.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

creamy zucchini pasta
makes four servings

This meals is the result of being tired of broccoli, tired of salads, and almost tired of brussels sprouts. It was also born of my life motto: Put an Egg On It. It is good and fast, so it’s becoming part of our weeknight rotation.

1/2 package of spaghetti (we use brown rice to make it gluten-free)
2 zucchini
juice from 1 lemon
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup yogurt
1 bunch green onions
2-4 eggs
olive oil
salt and pepper

Put a pot of heavily salted water on the stove to boil for the pasta.

While it’s heating up, grate the zucchini (I left the peel on) and set it aside. Chop just the green part of the green onion (but save the rest for something else! I love the white part of a green onion), and set it aside.

In a small jar, add the lemon juice, milk, yogurt, green onion, and salt and pepper to taste. Shake it up.

By now, your water is probably boiling, so add your pasta and cook according to the package directions.

In the meantime, heat two or so glugs of olive oil in a skillet. When the oil is hot, crack the eggs in. They should bubble up immediately–this is a good thing. Once the edges start to get brown and crispy, you’ll realize this is a great thing. Don’t touch them until the white is almost fully cooked. (For more detailed instructions for the crispy egg, go here.) Turn the heat off, the eggs will continue to cook while you drain the pasta.

To assemble, put a serving of pasta on the plate, top with the grated zucchini and pour the dressing over the top, then slide a crispy egg on top. Season with salt and pepper.

 

cinnamonwalnutpancakes

I’m not sure why a pancake recipe feels like the best thing to accompany a quick update on Brad’s health. Maybe because every morning when we’re just waking up, still in bed, one of us will always ask, “What do you want for breakfast?” And if I ask Brad, he’ll almost always say, “Pancakes.” (If he doesn’t say pancakes, it’s only because he said “sourdough toast” or “doughnuts” instead.) So in my mind, Brad = pancakes.

January is always a weird month for us. It was January seven years ago that Brad felt the pop in his knee that started the severe onset of his symptoms. We can’t help ourselves: Every January we take stock of how far we’ve come since 2008. And in terms of how Brad feels day to day, the answer is not far. His knees are still very swollen, all his joints now ache and get stiff, his energy comes and goes, and he can’t control his body heat very well. But–and this is a huge, hopeful but–we feel like we know more now about what’s going on inside him than we ever have before. We’re working with extraordinary, curious doctors. We’ve found new ways to measure what’s happening in Brad’s body. (You can read his very organized and scientific update at his blog here.) And we even have some new, very exciting treatments on the horizon. It’s called low-dose antigen therapy and I would explain it to you except I’m not sure exactly how it works yet. All I know is that a few Lyme patients treated this way have reported 40 percent reduction of symptoms after the first treatment, with near or complete cessation for subsequent treatments. To that I say YES. And also LET’S EAT PANCAKES TO CELEBRATE.

cinnamon pecan pancakes (gluten-free)
makes, I don’t know, 12 fist-sized pancakes? Is measuring pancakes with your fist an acceptable thing?

I had cinnamon bread on the brain the morning I made these. I was aiming for pockets of sweet, spicy, crunchy goodness in the pancakes, and this hit the spot. Come visit me and I will make these for you.

1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
4 tablespoons maple syrup, divided
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste OR 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup almond milk or coconut milk
1 cup brown rice flour
2/3 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a small saucepan, heat the walnuts, 3 tablespoons maple syrup, and cinnamon over medium heat until the syrup is thin and bubbly, and it coats the nuts. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the remaining maple syrup, the vanilla bean paste or vanilla, and the milk.

In a small bowl, combine both flours with the baking powder and sea salt.

Begin heating a pan or griddle at this point. I use a cast-iron pan on just above medium heat with a little bit of coconut oil melted in it.

Dump into the wet ingredients and stir just until moistened. Add the nut mixture and stir until combined.

Spoon the pancake batter into the pan (I use my regular soup spoons and usually use 1-1/2 spoons of batter per pancake. Obviously, I’m very official about this whole process). Cook until the edges look dry and the center is bubbling. The bottom of the cake should be golden brown, but sometimes it won’t be depending on how much oil is in the pan. Regardless of the color of your bottom (ahem), flip the pancake! Cook it for another 30 seconds or so on that side.

Serve hot with maple syrup, extra cinnamon, and more pecans.