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Hi, my name is Joanna. I write this blog, in case you forgot. (I almost forgot.)

I have old news from early summer plus new news from now-ish to share before moving on to…other old things I still want to think about and write about. This is the result of being a long processor. Something happens, but I don’t really understand what happened until three months later when I’ve had time to put the thing in proper context. Indulge me while I get it out of my system:

// Old news: The Casual Vacancy is not a good book. In fact, I didn’t cross the finish line on this one even though I was at an airport for four hours by myself with only the book to comfort me. It was that bad. Putting aside the is-it-there-is-it-not plot, I think J.K. Rowling tried way too hard to remind us this is an Adult book for Adults who are not teens who like magic but Adults who like real Adult things. Her tools were swearing, vulgar language, so much sex, and the most despondent cast of characters. New news: Winter’s Tale also belongs in the category of bad books that were my only consolation at an airport. That is 700+ pages of WHAT?

// Old news: I continue to love virtually every retelling of Pride and Prejudice and Emma I encounter. This time, it’s the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved, both made-for-YouTube web shows that coincide with real-time social media posts by the characters. The episodes are short, the adaptation of each is creative, and if you need any other reason to start watching them immediately I give you these two words: Darcy. Knightley. New news: Austenland. A hillarible movie (and book) I can’t wait to watch again with my friend over Skype while we drink wine and reminisce about when we were young and silly romantics, then laugh about how we haven’t changed at all. If you need any other reason to watch it immediately, I give you these two words: Basically Darcy.

// Old news: We’ve been eating gluten- and cow-dairy-free the last six or so weeks and I have some yummy recipes to share as soon as I resign myself again to being a horrible iPhone food photographer. New news: Today is the third day of a 30-day kidney cleanse. On Sunday, we begin the “juice feast” portion of the cleanse. Garlic juice, y’all. Pray for me.

 

family

Brad’s mom and dad are here this week and all I have to say is: Family is awesome. Particularly parents because they think every meal we make is the tastiest thing they’ve ever eaten, they say you’re the most stunning beauty they’ve ever seen, and every place we show them is so wonderful and we are so clever to bring them there. It is the BEST. Other good things below.

// Watch this five-minute video of an autistic man who can memorize aerial views in minutes, then draw them with insane accuracy. It will blow your mind (and also maybe make your mind feel like a slacker).

// Why writers (and everyone) should read the classics. This article also includes a working definition of “classic” from Ezra Pound that I hadn’t heard before: It is a classic because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness.

// If it sometimes feels like all the gentrified neighborhoods feel the same—artisanal ice cream shop, upscale flea market, cafes with chalkboard menus—it might be because there is a formula.

// This week’s I Love Space entry: a timelapse video of the space station flying through an aurora. (You all are following @Astro_Reid on Twitter, right?)

// Nathan Bransford’s Page Critiques are good reminders of what works in writing–and how important an editor is.

novels

Quotes about writing or reading from People Who Would Know. (All of these from How to Read a Novelist by John Freeman, a comforting collection of short profiles of novelists.)

“Some people think, ‘Oh she’s so virtuous to get up that early,’” Morrison says, letting loose a smoker’s cackle. “It has nothing to do with that. I get up because a) the sun’s up, and b) I’m smart in the morning. I just can’t get it together in the evening.” —Toni Morrison (Me too, Toni. Me too.)

“It’s like going into a dark room,” he says, his voice slowing. “I enter that room, open that door, and it’s dark, completely dark. But I can see something, and I can touch something and come back to this world, this side, and write it.” —Haruki Murakami

“I have a theory,” he says in a deep baritone. “If you lead a very repetitious life, your imagination works very well. It’s very active. So I get up early in the morning, every day, and I sit down at my desk, and I am ready to write.” —Haruki Murakami

“So you have to mistrust your memory. Because memory likes to make things look nice, it likes to make complicated things simplified—and I wanted to write down this mistrust. It’s one of the reasons why I tell stories which begin this way and then I make a correction, a variation.” —Gunter Grass

“I’ve begun working on a writers’ Hippocratic oath,” Wolfe says. “The first line of the doctors’ Hippocratic oath is ‘First, do no harm.’ And I think for the writers it would be: ‘First, entertain.’ Entertain is a very simple word. I looked it up in the dictionary. Entertainment enables people to pass the time pleasantly. And any writing–I don’t care if it’s poetry or what–should first entertain. It’s a very recent thing that there’s a premium put on making writing so difficult that only a charmed aristocracy is capable of understanding it.” —Tom Wolfe

“I feel comfortable operating within stringent restrictions in all the books,” he says—”a list of things I can and cannot do.” He picks up Black Swan Greene, which is told entirely in Jason’s voice. “So, if you write a book in the first person, you can’t give any information to the reader that the protagonist doesn”t know–unless you smuggle it either through the narrator’s stupidity or, in the case of Jason, of this device of him not knowing what he knows. Once you decide the rule, you can see how what happens is dictated. So you don’t have to work out what happens, you just have to work out the rule.” —David Mitchell

“I think about how much thinner literary characters have got since the disappearance of Christianity.” —A.S. Byatt

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Those who know me well know I have a pretty healthy paranoia about technology and privacy. And when I say healthy, I mean I’m convinced Facebook wants to steal all my personal identifying information and use it to strangle puppies. That’s why I deactivated my account a year ago. It had nothing to do with how much time I wasted on it. *Cough.*

ANYWAY. Because I like to feed the worst parts of my personality, I picked up The Circle by Dave Eggers. In it, a young woman gets a job at Circle, a tech company that started by making it easy for everyone to create an online “TruYou” profile. With it, you can make payments, review your favorite products, even vote, and it’s all so friendly because your TruYou is tied to your social security number. When people use their real names, they don’t troll, apparently. (Except we all no there are people on this planet with no shame who would TOTALLY still troll and be really proud of it.) The young woman, who was written so thinly I can’t even remember her name except it starts with an M, quickly and accidentally sets into motion a plan to “complete” the Circle, which involves her sleeping with a lot of people, wearing a camera around her neck at all hours, and tweeting…I mean “zinging” until 3 in the morning. Things rapidly move toward a totalitarian state and people die and there are drones involved.

The first night I started reading it, I had a nightmare about The Circle recording me. The second night I woke up with my own voice screaming in my head, “CHOICE! Choice is what you lose when everyone’s watching!”

(You’re thinking of a word, and that word is tranquilizer.)

It’s not the writing that will make you tense–the writing is only so-so–it’s how much of the technology and the arguments for it you’ll recognize in today’s world. Like 24/7 ankle monitors for infants. Or small cameras ostensibly for monitoring the weather but that could monitor whatever you want. And entire offices being asked to wear stress monitors while at work (scroll down, it happened at LinkedIn). Or asking an app to decide whether or not you belong. WHAT.

This is the part where I mention I just joined Instagram. Run for your lives!

 

santa-barbara

This soul is 28 and tired. Already.

Everybody wonders, What if the worst happens to me? Will I survive it? The worst hasn’t happened to us (thank God), but I never considered the alternative: Sitting on the edge of the worst, sometimes close, sometimes farther away, but always side-by-side, crawling to an unknown end. This crawl diminishes all good things.

I’m challenging myself to see the crawl as a pilgrimage. It’s an epic journey where surprise provision is made, fellow pilgrims join me, and the vistas and the valleys don’t distract me from the goal: to finish well.

When I look at where Brad and I are with a pilgrimage in mind, I know it’s fair to call the day-to-day managing of his illness work. I recognize the constant pressure this journey puts on us and know it needs some relief. I also know relief doesn’t always come from the same source. Saturday, it was yoga. Sunday, it was discovering Two Dots for the iPad and letting my brain play.

Today, I’m drawing a line connecting how needy my soul is for rest and my months-long curiosity about Sabbath traditions. Mainly, as a disciple of Jesus, does this Jewish tradition have anything for me? And how does Jesus reframe the Sabbath for me? (The other, more quiet question: Would I have the discipline to change what’s now a grab-bag of days for one that’s intentional? And even more quiet, but it’s The Big One: If we do change, how would God use this in our lives?)

I need rest. My husband needs rest. Our marriage needs rest. Out of that rest, I want new energy, fresh creativity, and a more true devotion.

That sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I grabbed these quotes from a book by Abraham Joshua Heschel I read on the Sabbath. Read them and tell me you don’t want that kind of rest and peace. They’re helping me think about what a Sabbath day might be for us, but I’m curious if any of you have already done this. Maybe you have another way to refocus. What is it?

 

He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.

 

Relaxation, then, is not an end; it is “for the sake of activity,” for the sake of gaining strength for new efforts. To the biblical mind, however, labor is the means toward an end, and the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work.  …  Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind, and imagination. To attain a degree of excellence in art, one must accept its discipline, one must adjure slothfulness. The day is a palace in time which we build.

 

Even when the soul is seared, even when no prayer can come out of our tightened throats*, the clean, silent rest of the Sabbath leads us to a realm of endless peace, or to the beginning of an awareness of what eternity means.

 *I felt this way yesterday and am so thankful for the people I told who said, “That’s ok, we’ll pick it up for you today and pray. We’ll give you that rest.”

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Do not resent your place in the story. Do not imagine yourself elsewhere. Do not close your eyes and picture a world without thorns, without shadows, without hawks. Change this world. Use your body like a tool meant to be used up, discarded, and replaced. Better every life you touch. We will reach the final chapter. When we have eyes that can stare into the sun, eyes that only squint for the Shekinah, then we will see laughing children pulling cobras by their tails, and hawks and rabbits playing tag. 

N.D. Wilson via Billy Jack Brawner III

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Several months ago, Brad and I sat side by side at our dining table. We ate eggs and spinach as he said, “I think I’m losing weight again.” He was discouraged; we try really hard to get weight on him and keep it. “I looked in the mirror this morning and I can see all my ribs.”

“I wish I could see all my ribs when I looked in the mirror,” I replied.

That sentence hung in the air for a moment while we both realized what that really meant: I want to look like I’m sick, filled with a disease that withholds nutrition from my body, leaving it a weak cage for the brokenness inside.

Just telling you that story fills me with shame. I love the women and girls in my life and more than anything I want them to know their worth isn’t based on how they look, how thick their eyelashes are, whether or not their thighs touch. I want them to know they are the product of the most creative mind, the most gentle and skilled hands, the arbiter of everything beautiful, and that means their worth has nothing to do with how clear their skin is.

Ever since that conversation, I’ve been hyper-aware of how twisted my body image is. I’ll stop right here to say I’ve never had a real problem with body image. Sure, I’ve always wished my stomach were flatter, felt so grateful for the good-legs gene I got from my Dad’s side, and eyed my arms with cautious optimism. But I thought that was normal. And if I judge “normal” by what’s prevalent in every woman’s mind, I’d be right.

But “prevalent” is not my standard of normal. What God says about me should be my standard.

I’m writing this because when I scroll through Instagram and see a photo of someone, I skip right over their face and look at their waist, hips, arms. When I miss a workout, I feel crushing guilt that I’m “letting myself go.” When I wake up with zits, I tell myself I’m a loser. And I’m sick of it. This isn’t abundant life. This isn’t truth.

Magazines, blogs, even friends will tell me to be kinder to myself. But there’s no handhold for me in that statement. Be kinder to myself? Why do I deserve that? Nobody knows better than I do the many ways I fail, the disgusting parts of my heart and mind that don’t merit kindness.

And that reveals the deeper problem: My definition of me doesn’t work. It’s not strong enough to rest on. But God’s definition is. This is the truth I will be repeating to myself until the day I die and I’m released from the burden of physical expectation: God says I’m a temple–a holy place, which makes me holy, which makes me worthy. God says I’m his daughter, which gives me authority and place. God says I am artisanal. God says the final assessment of what kind of person I was won’t be based on how new my shoes are or what my jean size was. It will be based on how I served.

I am the result of loving labor. Perfect labor. You are too. I want to say that again because it’s so important: You are too. Regardless of how you feel about God, He crafted you. And when you feel shame or guilt or disgust about your body, that’s not from Him. He looks at you and sees art and beauty, endless beauty.

So what do we do with this? What are the steps we can take in faith to fight the false messages about our bodies? Here’s what’s helping me:

Gratefulness. This is almost always the first step to perspective for me. Be grateful for what your body can do, what it does for you and for others every day. Every time I go running and am tempted to stop or tempted to hate it, I think how fortunate I am to have legs that can run. Brad can barely walk around the block or get out of a chair–how much more reminder does my stubborn heart need that a healthy body is enough.

DO, don’t look. No good has ever come from time spent looking at my body. Really. Yet I go back to this again and again. I pass by a mirror and check my stomach. I’ll stare at my face for 15 minutes noting what’s wrong and what’s passable. No. The solution is to do something, anything, that refocuses me on what this body can do, not what it looks like. That face, often spotted, can smile at my husband. That chest, regrettably small, can cradle a child’s head. That waist, spilling ever so slightly over my waistband, will some day (God willing) harbor new life. Enough looking, let’s act.

Give. This is so obvious, but so hard. What are our bodies for? They’re not solely showpieces, they’re meant to serve. Giving your body in service can mean so many things. For me, it’s washing dishes, it’s rubbing Brad’s knees and ankles, it’s helping somebody shlep things to their car. For you, it could mean something totally different. It could mean something radical like traveling across the world or dying for someone. This is the very best our bodies can do.

See what’s real. That identity of being the result of perfect labor, loved by God? That’s true about you, but it’s also true about every woman you see. God help us, we women are so harmful to one another. We judge, we compare, we belittle. (And real talk: I’m the worst when it comes to this.) What if instead we saw what was real in one another and reminded one another of that?

Ask for help. Isolation compounds sick thoughts. Ask for prayer, ask for a real assessment of who you are from someone who loves you and can see the real in you.

Thanks for reading, beautiful.

 

 

 

 

mint chocolate chip ice cream 4

I am totally ok with rationalizations. For example, if you spent a few hours laughing so hard with your sisters that your abs hurt, you don’t need to go running the next day. Maybe not even for a few days. Or if you check more books out from the library than you could possibly read in three weeks, it’s fine* because you’re a better person just for having those books share your home with you. Or if you make a batch of mint chocolate chip ice cream and eat it before dinner, that’s totally fine because it’s definitely good for your gut.

But really, this ice cream is good for your gut–you don’t even have to rationalize. I’ll let Brad explain by breaking down the ingredients:

Coconut: Canned milk is easy. We like Trader Joes light coconut milk because it’s the least expensive and only contains coconut and water. If you’re concerned about BPA in canned goods, try searching for young Thai coconuts. I’ve found them lately at Asian grocery stores for almost the same price as a can. You’ll also get more nutrients from the fresh coconut rather than in a can. The benefits? Unrefined coconut is high in potassium, which is great for the adrenal glands and combatting stress, aside from being an essential nutrient most people are deficient in. It’s also rich in healthy fats and contains nutrients that boost the immune system.

Raw honey: When it comes to sweeteners, it’s best to avoid refined white sugar because it can cause all sorts of havoc in the body. It damages cells and causes imbalance by depleting the body of nutrients. But ice cream needs to be sweet, right? Raw honey is a great alternative because it contains phytonutrients and enzymes that the body needs. And it’s more sweet than sugar so you can use less. It’s best not to use raw honey for children age two and under. Real maple syrup may be another worthy alternative.

Avocado: We found that adding some avocado helps make ice cream creamier and have less of an ice milk texture. Avocados are loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats which help to steady insulin production and glucose release and keep the body’s blood sugar in balance.

Celtic sea salt: Salt often falls victim to association with disease and poor health. While it’s true that most people get too much refined sodium in their diets, natural, untreated, unrefined sea salt is beneficial. It contains trace minerals and natural iodine that is good for the thyroid and helps maintain proper mineral levels in the body.

Vanilla: Vanilla just plain makes ice cream taste like ice cream. Using whole vanilla beans would be ideal, but we often opt for the extract due to cost. Look for extracts without added sugars or extra additives if you can. Vanilla extract contains eugenol, which has antiseptic and anelgesic properties that help to promote clean blood vessels.

Egg yolks: Yolks from the eggs of pasture-raised chickens are good sources of vitamins like A, D, iron and folic acid. They’re easy to digest and contain lots of good, healthy fats. What about cholesterol? Cholesterol is necessary in the body to produce hormones, help with tissue repair and actually protect against cancer and heart disease. It’s the rancid oils and oxidized cholesterol in refined foods that lead to inflammation and chronic disease. It’s best to get your eggs from a trusted source, and preferably soy free.

Peppermint essential oil: If consuming essential oils, be sure to only use a few drops. They can be very powerful! Only take them internally if the oils are from a trusted source, preferably organic or certified as therapeutic grade. Peppermint essential oil aids the immune system and has been found helpful in soothing digestive discomfort.

Spirulina: This blue-green algae is found naturally in the ocean. It’s full of vitamins and minerals and surprisingly a good source of calcium (300% more calcium than whole milk). It’s great for hair and nail growth too. It contains chlorophyll, which is good for making mint ice cream green, and helps with detoxification when the body is too acidic and under stress.

Chocolate: Foods like cocoa, tea, fruits and wine contain polyphenols, which are naturally occurring and provide health benefits like protection from chronic disease, ultraviolet radiation and aggressive pathogens. Recent studies are showing that these polyphenols may even help balance the digestive system by increasing good bacteria and decreasing the bad guys. Like wine, it’s best to consume in moderation and to find good quality, organic, dark chocolate without extra sugar or added milk products.

Joanna again. See? The above information is why, a mere eight hours after this episode, I was eating this ice cream. I almost wish I were joking because it seems irresponsible, but I’m not. And it did make me feel better.

Also: We made a video! A super amateur, first-attempt one because our siblings keep asking for them.

mint chocolate chip ice cream
makes 4 servings

We’ve been attempting this recipe for more than a year. The tough part was the mint flavor. Peppermint extract was medicinal, fresh mint was herbal–and not in a good way, sort of in a grassy way, but the essential oil gets it just right. It is the Goldilocks of mint flavorings.

2 cups coconut milk (we use light because that’s what’s most often available, but full-fat works and is even better)
coconut meat from one coconut, optional
4 egg yolks
1/2 avocado
1/4 cup raw honey
1 Tablespoon vanilla
big pinch of sea salt
4 drops peppermint oil
1/4 teaspoon spirulina powder (or any other green powder)
1 3-oz. bar dark chocolate, chopped

Blend all but the dark chocolate in a Vitamix or blender until creamy. Pour into your ice cream maker and let it do it’s thing. When it’s almost ready, add the dark chocolate and let it mix in. Serve immediately or freeze.

———-

*A friend of mine at work told me she and her friends used to regularly meet for brunch to have “It’s fine” conversations. You blurted to that guy you’ve been casually seeing in a group of friends that you like him? It’s fine. You showed up to work forgetting you had a big presentation that day? It’s fine. You canceled on someone so you could sit at home and watch Amelie by yourself and eat ice cream? It’s fine. I love this. I want to start an “It’s fine” series of posts. Send me your worries, I’ll tell you it’s fine, then we’ll switch.

 

I dug through my blog post drafts this morning and found this one buried back in my 2011 folder. It made me laugh because I was (and still am) SO enthusiastic about that garlic clove soup. And it also captures most what I miss living in California: Simple, silly meals with family where we do dumb things like watch Star Trek.

——–

I love meals with family more than anything in the world except snuggles with Brad. Last Friday night, my mom and dad and sister came over because a glut of CSA garlic compelled us to make THIS.

Yes, that’s right. A 44-clove garlic soup. And because we’re culinary overachievers (and have so. much. garlic.) we doubled it to make 88-CLOVE garlic soup. It’s the healing component to end all healing components!*

Take a look at our full menu:
The soup, which promised to put us in a garlic haze (but was actually really subtle and amazing).
Cold grilled beef roast for those who did not wish to be in a garlic haze.
A big salad with the most perfectly acidic apple cider vinegar (a healing component!) dressing.
Sourdough bread with Brad’s garlicky kefir cheese (TWO healing components!).
A homemade vanilla chocolate chunk ice cream that we all enjoyed while watching an episode of Star Trek. That’s how cool my family is.
Chardonnay to drink.

This was probably the best meal I’ve eaten in six months. I know I said that about chili and cornbread just a few days ago, but I mean it equally for both. They were both the best.

*If you have no idea what I’m talking about: When Brad finished his protocol diet, Tim (his nutritionist) told him to try to include at least one healing component with every meal. Even though we sort of joke about it, I actually take it pretty seriously. And if there’s one healing component we enjoy and would include in almost every meal, it’s garlic.

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Yesterday, two coworkers (friends, really) and I ditched the office for a long sushi lunch. Because my friends are lovely and loving people, they asked for details about Brad’s current treatment. I shared the details and they were both stricken and upset.

I found myself saying over and over again, “It’s OK. It’s not OK, but really, it’s OK.” And now I’m second guessing my response. Is that fake? It’s true in that it neatly summarizes the big picture—we have faith that all this is for something and means something and that even if Brad isn’t cured tomorrow, something valuable is happening in our lives and this world because of this experience, so it’s OK. But we also struggle with how to navigate our day-to-day life, we sometimes feel resentment or jealousy, often we wonder why this pain has to saturate every single part of our life and our marriage and our friendships, we wonder if we’ll get to have kids or if Brad will ever work full time again. We wonder if I can ever get the bandwidth to write the way I want or energy to do anything but exactly what we’re doing now—so that’s not OK. But the first one overrides the second most of the time, so it’s OK.

But that feels so unsatisfying as an answer. I want people to understand that having faith doesn’t mean you paint everything over with happy paint. It means there is suffering and hurt and sorrow, but there’s hope. I’m just not sure how to say that while praying my California roll makes it gracefully from the chopsticks to my  mouth.

photo: a marina on a trail near our apartment.