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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



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.

berry-glazed donuts

Monday at work, I rushed into my editor’s office and complained about a frightful person who figures heavily on my workload this year. Full of panic, I whispered, “I’m not sure how to say this, but they might have to choose between her or me.”

Later, I stopped her in the hallway to apologize for being so melodramatic. She laughed and said, “No, I loved it! She’s actually human, I thought!”

First, thank God for bosses who are kind and understanding and laugh things off. Second, “actually human”? I keep thinking about that and wondering what impression I’m giving. I promise you, I am fully human:

I gave my boss a childish ultimatum on Monday.

I went home and had a glass of wine after that.

I accidentally got paint on a new sweater last week and I haven’t wanted to cry so hard since we said goodbye to family over Christmas.

There is a giant pile of clothes on my dresser that aren’t yet dirty enough to launder but putting them away feels like way too much work.

I gave major side eye to a woman on the train whose hunter green coat looked horrible with her lime green tights.

I’ve been slowly eating my way through 1/3 of a bag of chocolate chips.

I love doughnuts.

Specifically, I love these doughnuts. I made them Sunday morning (after the paint got on my sweater, but before the dramz at work). Brad took a bite and said, “Now I know what heaven tastes like.” I’m not so superhuman that it didn’t make me grin with pride.

These doughnuts are caramel-y from the coconut sugar and vanilla bean paste, light from the mix of gluten-free flours, and, well, heavenly from the jammy glaze I spread on top. The whole thing is cobbled together, borrowing the base from Shanna, the flour mix from a book recommended by our food editor at work, and the glaze is adapted from another cookbook I baked out of earlier in the week, but the result is one of the happiest surprises to come out of our kitchen in a bit.

Get while the getting is good–it’s only human.

berry-glazed doughnuts (gluten-free)
makes 10 doughnuts, plus 2-1/2 cups sauce
adapted from Food Loves Writing, Zoe Nathan, and Catherine Ruehle

Life changed for the better when we bought a doughnut pan. Baking doughnuts is easier than making pancakes. These come out of the pan easily when they’re still warm, less so when they’re cold. Not that you’d just leave them sitting around, but just in case. 

gluten-free all-purpose flour mix:
2-3/4 cups/430 g brown rice flour
1-3/4 cups/430 g oat flour
1-3/4 cups/230 g potato starch
1/2 cup/90 g cornmeal (I pulsed mine in my blender to get a finer grain)

3/4 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil, softened
1 egg
3 tablespoons water
1/2 cup almond milk + 1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour mix (recipe below)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

berry-cherry sauce:
2 cups frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen antioxidant berry mix (mine featured lots of cherries, but whatever you have will work)
3 tablespoons coconut sugar
1 tablespoon water

First, mix up the flour mix by whisking all the ingredients together in a large bowl. It will make way more than you need for this recipe, but I like it for other things too. Warning: It does make baked goods super tender, but it held up well here. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Then, start the glaze: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes or until the sugar melts to form a thick syrup with the fruit juices and you can easily mash the berries with a spoon. Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Cool completely, then pour into an airtight container and refrigerate.

Finally, make the doughnuts: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease the doughnut pan with coconut oil (or whatever). In a large bowl, cream the coconut sugar and coconut oil. Add the egg, the water, and the almond milk and vinegar, and vanilla bean paste. Mix until combined. In a small bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the doughnut pan, not quite filling each cup. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until the doughnuts feel firm to the touch.

Remove them from the pan, then spoon the glaze over them just before serving. Honestly, I don’t know how long they last because we ate them all in about 15 hours. I’m not ashamed.




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My aunt chastised me over Christmas for not posting more (Hi Auntie!!!), so this is my promise to her that more is coming.

In the meantime, I think these ideas are so interesting.

// My friend, interior designer Brian Paquette, talks in this interview about how every Friday is an “input day” for his office. They do things that feed them creatively: Read, go on walks, visit galleries, have companies come show them new products. I’d like to formalize this in my weekly routine, but I’m not sure where to start.

// This woman also likes to read, make lists, and get rid of things (we might be the same person), so when she recommended Into Mind as a helpful resource for simplifying your life, I clicked in and am still reading.

// “That’s not journalism, that’s copywriting. It’s advertising! To say that no journalist can finance his or her work through readers paying for it is an astonishing indictment of journalism and a lack of confidence in the whole enterprise.”

// The Lone Bellow’s new album just came out. If I were cool, I’d say it dropped. I’m not cool. As I said on Twitter earlier this week, Watch Over Us is my perfect song.

// Finally, we’ve been eating this Lentil and Sausage Soup lately (we used organic chicken sausage) and surprised ourselves by liking this Peanut Pumpkin Stew (we used almond butter).

P.S. I put some books on hold at the library and like a fool, I thought they’d trickle in one by one. They’re all here. Lend me your eyes, friends! I can’t do this alone!



Where do I start? I have the entire back half of 2014 to share with you. All its trips, its visits, its everyday questions and answers, its food.

But that takes time and right now I should be writing about wool insulation, not plumbing my brain for you. So instead I’ll jot down a few sentences from Marilynne Robinson’s new book.

Doll would be glad to see her no matter what. Ugly old Doll. Who had said to her, Live. Not once, but every time she washed and mended for her, mothered her as if she were a child someone could want.

That last phrase almost had me crying on Caltrain. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I want to mother every child, I want all children to feel they are wanted and worthy of being wanted. Sometimes friends ask us if we would ever adopt (this is chatter with friends, not an announcement) and I’ll usually say, “Yes.” And Brad says, “Yes.” And the friend will say, “Like, international? Domestic?” And at the same time I say, “All of them, all of the children,” Brad will say, “She wants all of them, all of the children.” We all laugh, because it’s an outrageous truth.

Or maybe it’s because two weeks ago we flew back here after visiting family where I saw my sister and brother-in-law and Brad’s siblings in the midst of their child-raising. There’s nothing romantic or dramatic about picking out leggings for little girls or hunting down the missing Lego piece. And yet, there is. And both our families do it so well, with so much wanting their children. It was beautiful.


Last year I committed to slowing down my reading. To sip instead of gulp. To relish instead of gorge.

Reverse psychology must work for me because I think I read more in 2014 than the year before, just without the stress of trying to cross a finish line.

I read a lot of losers this year (you can see them all on my Goodreads list here), but there were 10 that stood out as exceptional–books I’ll either read again and again (see number one) or books I never want to see again but definitely made me think (see number eight).

Here’s my list, with some reviews copped from my Goodreads. Do me a solid and tell me your favorite books you read in 2014!

10. What Happened to Sophie Wilder Ambitious in a quiet way–about faith, about motivation, about where those things get complicated, about who gets to write the ending. I hope this author writes more fiction soon.

9. Ahab’s Wife This book was so rich and occasionally weird and always epic. I haven’t read Moby Dick (I KNOW), so this book was a complete surprise to me. But even if you have read Moby Dick, this only glances at Ahab’s story. It’s not fanfic. It stands alone. And the sentences are often beautiful. BONUS: Longbourne was another good read set in another novel’s universe. For Jane Austen fans, it’s worth it.

8. The Circle If you read my review of this book earlier this year, you might be shocked to see it on this list. But even though the mechanics of the story aggravated me, it made me think harder than any book I read this year. And I read a lot of thinking books this year. In case you’re wondering if time has softened the paranoia this book brought on, it has not.

7. Still Writing I finished reading this in a tea shop in Bozeman, Montana, where my sister had sent me with $5 for a drink and a nudge to write. Maybe she didn’t say it out loud, but she’s so supportive of my dreams and my writing, I knew it was implied. This book is full of practical help (“It’s impossible to evoke an entire world at the start. But it is possible to describe a crack in the sidewalk, the scuffed heel of a shoe. And that sidewalk crack or scuffed heel can be the point of entry, like a pinhole of light, to a story, a character, a universe.”) and the sort of gentle, understanding inspiration I need (“It is the job of the writer to say, look at that.” and “Everything we ever write will be flawed.”). BONUS: Jill also gave me The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as part of my tea shop care package, and that story is a sweet, emotional one. It’s for kids, but read it anyway.

6. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage Some writing professor of mine in college spent a bunch of time in our first class explaining how “essay” was a verb meaning “to attempt.” He explained them as exercises in explanation, in form, in cleverness. His class was super boring and it made me stay away from essays for a while. I’ve just recently essayed reading them again this year. (See what I did there?) Ann Patchett is exquisite. This is required reading. That is all.

5. Cutting for Stone Wow, wow, wow. While writing this review I just remembered the slow gut-punch at the end of this book. It was so good. This is a family story set in Ethiopa and New York. I talked to a friend who also read this book and she said, “It’s funny, I don’t remember all the details of the plot, but I can still see it all in my head.” That’s how I feel about Missing Hospital, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, and the ad hoc family at the center of this drama. It’s cinematic. BUT FIRST: Make sure you have a source for good Ethiopian food before reading this. You’re going to need it.

4. Bel Canto Ann Patchett again. I know this plot seems a little weird: Opera singer, superfan, and assorted others get taken hostage in a house by terrorists in some Pacific island country. With lots of spare time, they learn about one another. That’s really it. But the characters and the relationships are so detailed, and her writing is so beautiful, I was endlessly interested in this book. When I finished, I just looked at the cover and wondered how she did it. I don’t hand out a lot of five-star reviews on Goodreads, but this got one.

3. The Giver Can you believe I never read this as a kid? Reading it as an adult was sobering. It’s thought-provoking, horrifying, and hopeful. It’s not just good, it’s important.

2. Unbroken The scope of Louis Zamperini’s suffering–and that of all WWII vets in the Pacific theater—astonished me. Read this, read this, read this. Not because you want to know suffering but because you want to know redemption.

1. When I was a Child I Read Books There is an essay in here about Moses, the Law, and modern-day liberalness that is changing my life. Still. I read it, I bought it, I will read it again and again. I hope it continues to sharpen me.

Honorary Mention: The Wheel by Wendell Berry. YES, POETRY. I don’t know myself anymore, either.


For everyone whose Christmas holds both joy and pain, who celebrates with sadness on the edges, and for whom the waiting and wanting is more present than content and satisfaction, this carol is for you.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
their old, familiar carols play
and wild and sweet
the words repeat
of peace on earth, good will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
the belfries of all Christendom
had rolled along
the unbroken song
of peace on earth, good will to men!

And in despair, I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
and mocks the song
of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
with peace on earth, good will to men.”

May you hear the bells and have a merry Christmas.



Happy fall from the land of endless sunshine (unless it’s foggy) and relentless 75-degree weather!

This is that time of year when I’m jealous of all of you who don’t live where the weather is always awesome. Because “always awesome” means “always the same.” Even though the temperatures drop more at night and there’s a slight chill in the air, it’s still in the 70s most days. Here’s the nut: It’s not cold enough for hot chocolate. Send your pity and that blizzard breeze to me at 123 I Can’t Believe She’s Complaining, CA. Do not send it to my husband. He’s never been happier, meteorologically speaking.

This weekend I pretended it was cold by making molasses cookies and drinking tea while curled up under a woolen blanket. And actually, it was a little cold in our apartment this weekend because the windows were wide open.

Before I tell you why, can we agree to separate what you see in the picture above from what I’m about to tell you? Good.

They were open because a kind plumber named Cesar and our kind landlord were passing tools through the window while hard at work lifting our toilet off its setting in an attempt to resolve a long-standing plumbing problem. How bad a problem, you ask? Let’s just say we’ve become intimate with our neighbors in a way we never wanted nor dreamt possible.

There is no way to transition from that to these cookies, so let’s just dive right in.

Brad and I completed our one-month kidney cleanse and it was awesome. I usually suffer through cleanses kind of like I’m suffering through this warm fall. But this time I noticed a major difference in my energy levels, the consistency of my concentration, how alert I felt when I woke up, and my stress levels. Now we’re gradually re-introducing the foods we cut out to see how our bodies feel. So far eggs = awesome, oats = bloating, and salmon = thank God we’re eating meat again.

This weekend we introduced gluten again, but wanted to do it gently, so we chose einkorn flour. Our friends Tim and Shanna have posted a wealth of information about einkorn on their blog, and their cookbook, The Einkorn Cookbook, is coming out in December. Pre-order yours, folks, it’s gonna be good. Basically, einkorn is an ancient wheat form with less gluten than conventional wheat. We first made pancakes with it. (If you’re keeping track, pancakes = wonderful.) Then, I got excited to bake again and made these cookies. They’re soft and cakey, and an excuse to eat the molasses my doctor literally just prescribed, like on my care plan prescribed, me to eat more of.

einkorn molasses cookies
makes 2 dozen cookies
adapted from Deliciously Organic

I didn’t roll our cookies in sugar because we’re still limiting our sweets. But you’re welcome to do so before baking. 

2-1/2 cups einkorn flour
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/3 cup raw honey
1/3 cup blackstrap molasses

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the wet ingredients and stir until completely mixed and the dough is stiff. Let sit for five minutes while you line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop up about 1-1/2 tablespoons of dough, roll into a ball with your hand, and place on the parchment. Repeat for all. Press with a fork or with your fingers (that’s what I did–those finger imprints just prove they’re homemade) to flatten slightly. Bake for 10 minutes.